An interview with: Jasmine Navala-Waleafea and Julian Maka’a

Athanasios VenitsanopoulosNews

The International Authors Forum (IAF) has undertaken research into the situation of authors around the world, their work and whether they can make a living from their work. As part of the resulting report, Creating a Living: Challenges for authors’ incomes, IAF Steering Committee member Katie Webb (FUIS, Italy) interviewed Jasmine Navala-Waleafea, president of the Solomon Islands Creative Writers Association (SICWA), and Julian Maka’a, former president of SICWA.

SICWA is the umbrella body for all writers in the Solomon Islands and occasionally publishes works of its members or other interested writers who submit works. The organisation was founded back in the 1980s and had the help of the former Institute of Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific (USP) based in Suva, Fiji, in publishing a number of books by Solomon Islands writers. With a decision by USP to do away with the Institute, SICWA, like its sister country bodies, is struggling to get works published through its own means, though it is determined to continue.

Katie: I’m here in Honiara with current Solomon Islands Creative Writers Association (SICWA) president, Jasmine, and former president Julian. Tell me about yourselves and your work with SICWA.

Jasmine: My name is Jasmine Navala-Waleafea. I come from two Island Provinces here in the Solomon Islands; partially from Choiseul province and Guadalcanal, but I now reside in east of Honiara.

I joined SICWA way back in 2011, but have known about SICWA since my childhood. My father used to be a member, along with Julian and the others. My father was my close mentor, so I found myself nurturing my interest in writing just by looking at what he’d done and had the intrigued feeling to do my own pieces.

It was a crucial moment when I took the initiative to join the group, because now I got to work together with these writers whom I have always envied from a distance! I have continued to be part of the group – making contributions and sharing poems – but when I found out that it’s not just this small group of people in Honiara with this interest and there are many others across the region whom I can share this same passion with, it added more fuel to do publications!

Like others around the country, I was an amateur myself. I do know of gifted writers out there, but they are often shy when it comes to putting their writings forward and having them being published. They might have many more other reasons as to why they might feel that way about their work, but what inspired me to put my work out there, is when I have included in my work “messages” that are necessary for the audience. Messages that would bring hope or views on an issue that we face in our community. I believe that’s why I often feel comfortable in ensuring that my work is brought out there.

There’s a lot of work yet to be done in ensuring that we coordinate properly nationwide and network with local writers here in the Solomon Islands. It’s a challenge when you don’t have a desk to coordinate from and the association works on an ad hoc basis. It is only when we want to publish something we have to look for donors and probably it’s because we do not have in place a framework to guide us on how to go about publication and other writing activities.

Julian: My name is Julian Maka’a and I come from Makira province. I’ve been with the association since its formation in 1983, after a literature lecturer from the University of the South Pacific (USP, Fiji) came and conducted a three-day weekend workshop on writing.

Post the workshop, I wrote a collection of stories. It was published in 1985, called The Confession and other stories. Then I wrote other stuff which was published in regional magazines, especially by the USP. At the time we were lucky because we had the support of the USP Institute of Pacific Studies, which had a lot of influence in creative writing in the Pacific. They were helping all the other member countries as well.

About five years ago, that programme wound up and the university decided it should concentrate on academic publications, so they cut out the creative arm of publishing, leaving us in limbo. Working within our network, we were later able to publish two collections of a book called Talemaot which means “say it out or share it out”.

The costs of printing is expensive for the team and it became an issue. So at one time, I came across these self-publishing opportunities and I tried one and was successful. I think one of the latest collections I compiled is out there on the internet.

K: What do you think in your work [with SICWA] about copyright issues and related areas of interest for authors? Is there a place for it in the work of SICWA?

Jasmine: If you were to ask all published authors for SICWA and ask about their work and how it’s been protected? I think they will really value the idea of copyright because they do have a connection with their work. And when there is no protection on how their work can be used, they are reserved on joining an association that would not protect them once getting their work published.

I think it’s time that the association deals with this. We need to revisit our existing copyright laws and be involved in the consultation process of the intellectual property bill in the pipeline and see how we can tailor those to our advantage. We are grateful for the initiative by IAF and there will be no reservation if members knew or would know that we have an affiliation with IAF who work internationally on protecting copyright issues. I guess they will be more willing to see their work being treated in that manner.

Julian: I think most of us are not familiar with copyright, because although we know it is in our law, it’s not being implemented and you have a lot of piracy of works. We don’t know also if having a copyright law is as really effective and would mean you can earn from your creative work; and that’s something we need to embrace. What Jas has said is true, our members really support SICWA having the benefits of a strong copyright law, which would ensure that our hard work generates some economic benefits for us as writers or artists.