East Kwaio medicinal plants project to feature in research seminar

This Wednesday, 22 April 2015, the East Kwaio Biodiversity project funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund will feature at a seminar co-sponsored by the Centre for Tropical and Sustainability Science (TESS) and the Australian Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM). The following notice was written by Professor Steve Turton from James Cook University.

"I'm delighted to inform you of our first multi-centre research seminar this year. TESS has joined with the Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine (AITHM) and the Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH) to co-host what promises to be a very informative transdisciplinary research seminar. Our speakers are Dr David MacLaren (AITHM), a public health researcher with two decades of experience in addressing community health issues in remote areas of the Solomon Islands and PNG; and Frank Zich, the meticulous Curator of ATH, with 25-years experience in managing herbarium collections, botanical sampling, developing plant ID tools and taxonomic research.

David and Frank have teamed together with the traditional Kwaoi people of Malaita, Solomon Islands, in an innovative collaborative ethnobotanical project where traditional use of medicinal plants is being enhanced with western scientific knowledge. This promises to be an outstanding seminar and an example of how different disciplines and world views can collide to produce sustainable environmental and social outcomes for Indigenous people."

Details of the free seminar are attached. For more information please email:

‘Seeing is believing’: Success for Solomon Islands Researchers at the Atoifi Health Research Symposium

“Seeing is believing” is how the exceptional presentations at the Inaugural Atoifi Health Research Symposium were described by Professor Ernest Hunter, Professor of Psychiatry from James Cook University (JCU).

Professor Hunter joined chiefs from Kwaio, community leaders, Ministry of Health, Provincial Health and international researchers from Papua New Guinea and Australia at the Symposium held at Atoifi Adventist Hospital on Thursday 12 March, 2015. Solomon Islands researchers presented on studies undertaken by the Atoifi Health Research Group which included: spectacular declines in malaria rates in the East Kawio; community and hospital responses to tuberculosis; village involvement in reducing intestinal parasites; medicinal rainforest plants; primary health care responses to recent outbreaks of measles and bloody diarrhoea and mental health effects of climate change.

Professor Sarah Larkins, Dean of Research for the College of Medicine at JCU told the researchers who had presented that they should be very proud of the quality of their work. “Your presentations today were at a standard that they could be presented anywhere in the world”, she said.

The most heartfelt response to the presentations, however, came from Chief John Laete’esafi, who spoke on behalf of the chiefs of East Kwaio. He stood and explained how the process of community-based research since 2009 had changed the way health was understood in his community and how health services were now responding to the needs of people from the mountains. He told those gathered that because of the community-based research the relationship with the Hospital, which had been tense in the past, has changed and Kwaio people and Atoifi Hospital were now partners.

Mr Humpress Harrington, Lead Investigator of the WHO Capacity Building grant that has funded much of the work, opened and closed the Symposium with a report of research capacity strengthening activities and a final, open session to discuss where-to-next. A large whiteboard was filled with ideas, with Humpress exclaiming, “We need to write more grants, there is more research to be done!”

The week following the Symposium, researchers from Solomon Islands and Australia worked together to progress research projects, community development water and sanitation projects that have been informed research and a biodiversity projects with the Kwainaa’isi Cultural Centre. Other researchers worked on manuscripts to ensure their research is written-up and widely available for people across the Pacific and beyond (see research articles at

The Symposium Proceedings and Book of Abstracts is now available on the Atoifi Health Research Group website, along with PowerPoint presentations shared by each of the researchers:

The next research capacity strengthening workshop is scheduled for July 2015. For more information please contact the lead facilitators for this workshop: Mrs Rowena Asugeni or Mr Humpress Harrington

Photos: (L) The attendees of the Atoifi Health Research Symposium celebrate at the end of a successful day; (R) The Symposium Organising Committee (photos supplied by Benjamin Speare)

Story by Michelle Redman-MacLaren

Atoifi Research Group Team Members Speak at University of Michigan Medical School

Story by David Akin, University of Michigan

On 16 February, three members of the Atoifi Health Research Group gave a talk about Atoifi research projects and related topics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor in the United States. David Akin and Chiefs Jackson Waneagea and Esau Kekeubata, who work on the Biodiversity Project funded by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and other Atoifi-based research and health service delivery initiatives, were invited to speak to a seminar sponsored by the Health Equity Scholars Program (HESP). HESP is focused on learning about and addressing health disparities in Southeast Michigan, but invited the Atoifi Research crew because its seminar series also addresses related topics from elsewhere. Anthropologist Akin began the presentation with an overview of religious rules in the mountains of Kwaio, and a brief history of how these have affected people’s access to health care in the past. Kekeubata then discussed how Atoifi’s relationship with mountain Kwaio communities has evolved, and how the hospital is now working to address long-term inequities in the delivery of health care to people there. Waneagea concluded by describing how mountain Kwaio people view these changes and the increased health services that Atoifi now provides them. A question and answer session followed, and many attendees later commented on the rousing success of the event.

For more information about HESP, please visit:

Photo (L-R): Chiefs Esau Kekeubata and Jackson Waneagea at the University of Michigan (photo supplied by David Akin)

Two Members of Atoifi Group Visit the U.S.A.

Story by David Akin, University of Michigan

Two members of the Atoifi Health Research Group have returned to Kwaio from a month-long trip to the United States and Australia. Chiefs Jackson Waneagea and Esau Kekeubata, who work with the Biodiversity Conservation Project, and other initiatives based at Atoifi Hospital, arrived on 30 January in San Diego, California, where they visited the Tuzin Archive for Melanesian Anthropology at the University of California’s Geisel Library. Hosted by Katherine Creely, who oversees the Archive, they examined archived materials collected by anthropologist Roger Keesing, who studied Kwaio from 1962–1993. Copies of many of his papers, provided by the Tuzin Archive, are now held also by the Kwaio Archive, located at Kwainaa`isi in the Kwaio mountains. Another highlight of this leg of their trip was a visit to the world famous San Diego Zoo.

From San Diego, Waneagea and Esau traveled by car with Creely and David Akin to Santa Fe, New Mexico via the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Wupatki National Monument (site of several pueblo ruins over 900 years old), Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert, and the Grand Canyon. A Park Ranger who tracks nationalities of park visitors told Waneagea and Esau that to his knowledge they were the first Solomon Islanders ever to visit the Grand Canyon.

In Santa Fe they attended the Annual Meeting of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania ( where they took part in the special session “Second Lives: Archiving Anthropological Field Materials” organized by Creely and Akin. Esau spoke to the group about the Kwaio Archive project and its importance for the Kwaio community, and expressed thanks for support it has received from Creely and the Tuzin Archive, and for the work of archivists generally. ASAO’s Pacific Islands Scholars Fund helped fund their travel to the conference. Anthropologist Christine Jourdan, long a friend of the Kwaio community, also helped, and while in Santa Fe she worked with Esau and Waneagea on documenting Malaitan marriage practices.

From Santa Fe they flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan to spend two weeks with Akin and his wife Terre Fisher. There they delivered two lectures to University of Michigan anthropology students—about shell money, and Kwaio marriage—and a third lecture at the UM Medical School about health research projects and practices at Atoifi Hospital. They also visited the UM School of Music Library with ethnomusicologist Kelly Askew and information technology specialist Tom Bray to see how the library has cataloged the newly acquired Sarkisian Collection of African Music, to get ideas for managing the Kwaio Archive’s musical holdings. Later they visited the exhibit “Medicinal Plants and Gardens” at the UM Museum of Art, and also the UM Matthaei Botanical Gardens, which provided a warm respite, since, during their stay in Ann Arbor, Waneagea and Esau enjoyed the second-coldest February in southeastern Michigan since 1875.

Tufala traveled home via Cairns, where they worked with research partners in the Tropical Herbarium at James Cook University and met with Atoifi Health Research group colleagues to plan the Inaugural Health Research Symposium (12 March 2015).

Photo (L-R): Esau Kekeubata, Waneagea Jackson & David Akin visit the Grand Canyon (photo by Kathy Creely)