Not too long ago before our “cousins” (rebels) ran riot all over the country one of the best places to spend Christmas was on Bonthe Island.
The boat ride on the serene waters on to the quiet island which had clay cobblestone pathways and no vehicular traffic was such an ideal holiday spot that the it soon earned the name Christmas Island.
The only means to reach the Island is by boat, or air and it is the official headquarters of the entire Bonthe District, with all government administrative activities centered there.
The Island is surrounded by mangrove swamps and sea banks, from the length and breadth of the township with dotted islands on the sea face of the Atlantic Ocean over looking Benducha and Mania village.
The sea view of the town ship looks attractive with double storied houses facing the four jetties mostly owned by government and individuals. Scrap metal cargo boats lay beneath each of the jetties in ruins, making it very difficult for boats to dock because most of the jetties are shallow and needs to be dredged. An old clock tower greets residents to the island emphasizing the timeliness of the island and suggesting that time would stand still for those who wish to spend their holidays there.
At the newly rehabilitated Bonthe Jetty funded by the donor community you can clearly see that some of the double storied houses are gradually fading away collapsing due to lack of maintenance.
Equally so some of the SLPMB owned ware houses which used to store loads of piassava when the agricultural sector was booming in the olden days are now suffering from disuse and therefore degenerating slowly.
Residents of the town ship are engaged in fishing – mainly Sherbros while Mendes and a few Fullahs are engaged in petty trading and some agricultural activities which are done on a low scale.
Despite the seeming strong political leanings the township of Bonthe Island has suffered from lack of development. When the agricultural boom period died with the dismantling of the SLPMB the island slowly began to wither and wilt. Ever since, the degeneration of conditions on the Island has continued.
Medical facilities are in short supply, no pipe borne water, no electricity and quality education within the township.
There are however some developmental projects on the ground like the construction of the Bonthe Municipality Council, Community Center and the Norwegian Amputee project which is going on well.
ENCISS and Gobifo are the only two NGOs operating on the Island.
The Bonthe Holiday Village is also a serious prospect for the tourist industry.
Formally known as the Bonthe Complex it is now attracting tourists from all parts of the world including expatriates and researchers who usually spend days visiting the preserved turtle islands and historic slave sites.
The International Game Fish Association with its head quarters based in Florida United States of America have already opened a way-station at the Bonthe Holiday Village, which is now equipped with all types of speed boats and outboard engines, with fishing hooks and nets.
Christmas Island is now ready to host seminars and workshops of national and International organization as it boasts of a unique location, free from urban noise and other social attractions. A standard conference center is also under construction to accommodate the increasing number of bookings for programs.
The hotel at the tourist center is equipped with modern furniture, airconditions, internet facility, gym, laundry, bar and restaurant with competent caterers ready to serve African and European dishes to visitors.
The Islanders are very peaceful, accommodative and intelligent but conservative in nature. Desperation hangs on their faces looking for opportunity to have a job or access to basic necessities to enable them make a decent living.
The entire Bonthe district can now be reached by mobile phone and there are two community radio stations in the District – one on Bonthe Island, and the other at Mattru Jong informing residents about peace and reconciliation and entertainment.
Bonthe district is located in the Southern part of Sierra Leone and divided into two geographical locations. The mainland comprises of six chiefdoms and the Island – five chiefdoms, with over twenty five thousand people residing in the district. Mende and Sherbro is widely spoken in the area, while farming and fishing is their major source of income.
The Bonthe Mainland has the largest share of the district with six chiefdoms and it borders with Moyamba, Bo and Pujehun districts, rice and palm oil production and Rutile mining is one of the major activities in the area.