By Leonard Fong Roka
To sell her produce Regina Puia travels 45 minutes by boat every Saturday from the Solomon Islands to Kangu and then onto Buin Market or further north to Evo, her matrilineal home.
The mother of four, who comes from mixed Evo (Central Bougainville) and Shortland (Solomon Islands) parentage, lives in Nila Catholic Mission on the east coast of Shortland Island where her husband is a fisherman.
“It takes us less than an hour from Nila Catholic Mission on a fine day to Kangu Beach,” Mrs Puia said.
“We catch vehicles here for a short lift to Buin Market where we sell our goods, do a little shopping, and return home.”
Access to the larger profitable market in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, is a problem for the family since it is hundreds of miles away, while Bougainville is just a stone’s throw. For them Honiara is a strange place, but Bougainville is familiar ground that they frequent with their produce.
“My husband catches fish and we preserve the fish by smoking it. Then every Saturday we head north-east to Kangu, we sell and make big money,” Mrs Puia continued
“One fish goes for a K20 in Buin which means about $60 when I am back in Shortland, but we do not bother to convert [currency] since our shopping destination is always in Bougainville.”
“We only find need to convert only when paying for health and school fees here in the Solomons.”
Shortland is less than 20km directly south from Buin’s Moila Point and 32km south-west of Kangu Beach. Their route to Kangu is a run parallel with the Moila coast with the landmass of Bougainville within their sight.
Most of the island’s aged populace refer to the big island to the north occupied by their relatives as Monahe.
For Regina Puia her main source of income comes from Bougainville, where her eldest daughter is married in Askopan.
Apart from selling her fish at Buin Market, she also has more customers further north in Central Bougainville, who put in order for special events to get fish for special events like feasts. It is for these occasions that Regina travels north by road or by boat with a huge stock of fish to reach her clients.
“My relatives at Askopan in Evo love our fish since my husband is always energetic to respond to orders from Bougainville in time,” Regina said with a laugh.
“We do not like to make our Bougainville customers wait or disappointed.
“They are our source of income when the Solomon economy is problematic and so we work hard to satisfy their needs for cheaper fish prices
“Within Bougainville people say that fish is too expensive and so Solomon fishermen provide competition.”
Regina and her husband are not the only people from the Solomon Islands that are taking advantage of growing demand for goods in Bougainville.
“Arawa town is getting more fresh and dried fish from Choiseul and Western Solomon,” she said.
“Even goods like beer are infiltrating the Bougainville economy and we also have our people employed by Bougainville business firms so this is an opportunity for me.
Regina Puia feels her fish trade is growing in profitability and is sustainable since she has more customers – individuals, villages and even guesthouses in Buin and Arawa.