By Venustiano Olguín
For the last three months, it has been an inspiration and an honor to get to know Bonnie Hakert Konamauri as she visits family and friends in Oregon and Montana during a short rest from her life’s work as a Baha’i pioneer in the Solomon Islands . At the beginning of her visit in July, Bonnie’s daughter and Beaverton Baha’i member, Julie Hakert, organized an evening event at the Beaverton Baha’i Center at which Bonnie presented a fascinating slideshow about her continuing life and work in the Solomon Islands, which now stands at 23 years.
Bonnie related that she and her husband, Edward (“Ed”), moved to Alaska in 1975. Bonnie, who had been working as a dental hygienist in Montana, continued working in her field in Alaska. Ed, who had been working as an architect in Montana since 1964, was selected to supervise the construction of Homer Hospital in Homer, Alaska. While in Alaska, Bonnie and Ed learned about and embraced the Baha’i Faith in 1977 and began to increase their knowledge and experience as Baha’is. The years passed and Ed’s work as an architect in Alaska was eventually going to end with the completion of the building of Homer Hospital. By that time, as Bonnie and Ed had begun to think about where they would go next, they began to contemplate pioneering for the Baha’i Faith somewhere in the world.
Serving the Faith in Alaska
During their years in Alaska Bonnie and Ed served on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Ridgeway, Alaska and had developed friendships with most of the members of the National Spiritual Assembly, who then relayed to them a call for pioneers by the Universal House of Justice (UHJ). The UHJ is the international, elected governing council of the Faith, which has its seat at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Coincidentally, a request for more pioneers was made by some Iranian Baha’i pioneers, who had an architectural firm in the Solomon Islands.
Ed was offered a job by the architectural firm, which was great news, since it is common practice for Baha’i pioneers to find a way to be self-subsisting wherever in the world they are serving the Faith. At the same time, this meant that Bonnie would be able to devote herself fulltime to teaching the Faith once they moved to the Solomon Islands. The challenge faced by Bonnie and Ed was to sell their house in a timely manner. Despite being told by friends, “You’ll never sell it,” because the Alaskan economy was in a downward spiral at that point, they were able to sell the house in three months.
Leap to the Solomon Islands
In 1988, Bonnie and Ed moved to begin their new lives as Baha’i pioneers in the Solomon Islands, a leap of almost 6,000 miles from Alaska! The Solomon Islands, which form an independent country in the South Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia, consist of nearly 1,000 islands. Among these there are 7 major islands with a population of about 1,000,000. The nation’s capital, Honiara, with a population of about 70,000 is located on the island of Guadal-canal. Despite the British influence, only 1 to 2 percent of the population speaks English. Most speak a Melanesian pidgin dialect, and there are around 120 indigenous languages.
Ed began to work for the architectural firm on one of the islands and Bonnie began teaching children’s classes and working with women in the Baha’i community. She earned a teaching credential from Solomon Island College of Higher Education when she was 52 years old and taught at a boarding school at the Provincial Secondary School and Waimapuru National Secondary School.
During this time, she says, she gained experience in fishing, “sleeping on the floor”, bouts with malaria, which she fought off ten times in five months, as well as learning how to evade rats and giant spiders. These challenges only strengthened her resolve to fulfill her commitment as a Baha’i pioneer.
Perseverance in the Face of Tests
In 1996, Bonnie faced a severe emotional test when Ed passed away. For a while, Bonnie thought of leaving the Solomon Islands, but her memories and a powerful dream about the pioneering work she had shared with Ed, convinced her to continue her work as a Pioneer.
Her resolve to stay was again tested starting in 2000 by two years of lawlessness that engulfed the Islands during which time she lost her home and her teaching pay became irregular. Peace was finally restored and celebrated with ceremonies where guns were ceremoniously destroyed. Despite these severe challenges, Bonnie has persevered in her pioneering work.
She served on the Local Spiritual Assembly of Bita’ama a village on the island of Malaita for 7 years. Currently, she is a volunteer working with the National Spiritual Assembly of the Solomon Islands as a resource person for children’s classes and a representative for the Baha’i Office for the Advancement of Women. Bonnie travels all over the Solomon Islands where Baha’i groups are located. She observes children’s classes, encourages their teachers, and makes sure that they have the necessary materials, as well as the proper training. She also meets with women, encouraging them to form official active women’s groups. Presently, Bonnie resides with other American Baha’i pioneers in Honiara on Guadalcanal.
In carrying out her work in the Solomon Islands, one of the biggest problems is that of transportation because of the oceanic distance between the islands and the lack of transportation on many islands. There are few roads on the major islands and people are transported by 2 and 3-ton trucks or tractor trailers. Otherwise, people walk or use boats or canoes.
Another challenge that Baha’is face in teaching the Faith in the Solomon Islands, is the presence of many large squatter settlements with people from other islands. This causes friction with the local tribes, who own the land, sometimes erupting in violence. Despite these hazards, Baha’i friends are holding children’s classes in some of these areas with often as many as 60 children attending.
Unstoppable Growth of the Faith Continues
“I will stay as long as I can put one foot ahead of the other.”
– Bonnie Hakert Konamauri, Baha’i pioneer to the Solomon Islands
Another indication of the growth of the Baha’i Faith in the Solomon Islands is that four “A” or Advanced Clusters have already been developed, as well as one “C” cluster. An “A” cluster consists of three or four Baha’i communities that have become self-sustaining, have active Local Spiritual Assemblies, and have coordinators to guide the major activities of the Faith in the cluster. “A” Clusters carry on active programs that to build a spiritual identity in their communities with devotional programs, children’s classes, and junior youth groups that include both Baha’is and individuals of other spiritual orientations. These clusters periodically organize Intensive Programs of Growth inviting the general public to learn about the Baha’i Faith and join in the community-building activities.
In carrying on her work with such discipline and commitment, Bonnie follows in the footsteps of a growing number of Baha’i pioneers who have made it possible for the Baha’i Faith to become the second most widespread world religion only 150 years after its inception.
In the Solomon Islands, the Baha’i Faith first made its appearance on March 1, 1954. The first Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1957 and the first National Spiritual Assembly was elected in 1971. Today there are 28 Local Spiritual Assemblies throughout the Solomon Islands.
When asked how long she plans to pioneer in the Solomon Islands, Bonnie replied with a smile, ““I will stay as long as I can put one foot ahead of the other.”