During my time on Fanalei, I learned that relocation from the island to the adjacent mainland of South Malaita is already occurring. Villagers try to escape from the incoming high tide, which regularly floods large parts of the settlement.
People of Fanalei only own very little land on the mainland and relocation of currently around 300 people had already caused major land disputes. The remaining inhabitants of Fanalei Island fear that they will trigger even greater discontent and disputes among the people on the mainland. Therefore, they choose to stay on the island although they believe that the place is no longer safe from the sea.
In an attempt to learn more about Fanalei’s history and the complicated land ownership in South Malaita, I visited the Solomon Islands National Archives in Honiara. I learned that the people of Fanalei and Walande are originally from North Malaita and settled on small islands off South Malaita to pursue lucrative dolphin hunting here. Their history as migrants from North Malaita explains why Fanalei and Walande speak a different language than the surrounding villages on the mainland, practice different customs and traditionally did not own any land on the mainland.
I also learned that the passage between the mainland and Fanalei Island had once been much smaller, which provided excellent conditions for hunting dolphins, which would swim towards the mangroves in the passage and could easily be caught by blocking the entrances to the passage.