History, Language & Culture Solomon Islands
The Solomons were first colonised by people coming from the Bismarck Islands and New Guinea during the Pleistocene era circa 30,000–28,000 BC, based on archaeological evidence found at Kilu Cave on Buka Island in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. At this point sea levels were lower and Buka and Bougainville were physically joined to the southern Solomons in one landmass ('Greater Bougainville'), though it is unclear precisely how far south these early settlers spread as no other archaeological site from this period have yet been found. As sea levels rose as the Ice Age ended circa 4000-3500 BC, the Greater Bougainville landmass split into the numerous islands that exist today. Evidence of later human settlements dating to c. 4500-2500 BC have been found at Poha Cave and Vatuluma Posovi Cave on Guadalcanal. The ethnographic identity of these early peoples is unclear, though it is thought that the speakers of the Central Solomon languages (a self-contained language family unrelated to other languages spoken in the Solomons) likely represent the descendants of these earlier settlers.
From c. 1200-800 BC Austronesian Lapita people began arriving from the Bismarcks with their characteristic ceramics. Evidence for their presence has been across the Solomon archipelago, as well at the Santa Cruz Islands in the south-east, with different islands being settled at different times. Linguistic and genetic evidence suggests that the Lapita people "leap-frogged" the already inhabited main Solomon Islands and settled first on the Santa Cruz group, with later back-migrations bringing their culture to the main group. These peoples mixed with the native Solomon Islanders and over time their languages became dominant, with most of the 60-70 languages spoken there belonging to the Oceanic branch of the Austronesian language family. Then as now communities tended to exist in small villages practising subsistence agriculture, though extensive inter-island trade networks existed. Numerous ancient burial sites and other evidence of permanent settlements have been found from the period 1000–1500 AD throughout the islands, one of the most prominent examples being the Roviana cultural complex centred on the islands off the southern coast of New Georgia, where a large number of megalithic shrines and other structures were constructed in the 13th century.
The first European to visit the islands was the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neira, sailing from Peru in 1568. Landing on Santa Isabel on 7 February, Mendana explored several of the other islands including Makira, Guadalcanal and Malaita. Relations with the native Solomon Islanders were initially cordial, though often soured as time went by. As a result, Mendana returned to Peru in August 1568. He returned to the Solomons with a larger crew on a second voyage in 1595, aiming to colonise the islands. They landed on Nendo in the Santa Cruz Islands and established a small settlement at Gracioso Bay. However the settlement failed due to poor relations with the native peoples and epidemics of disease amongst the Spanish which caused numerous deaths, with Mendana himself dying in October. The new commander Pedro Fernandes de Queiros thus decided to abandon the settlement and they sailed north to the Spanish territory of the Philippines. Queiros later returned to the area in 1606, where he sighted Tikopia and Taumako, though this voyage was primarily to Vanuatu in the search of Terra Australis.
Save for Abel Tasman's sighting of the remote Ontong Java Atoll in 1648, no European sailed to the Solomons again until 1767, when the British explorer Philip Carteret sailed by the Santa Cruz Islands, Malaita and, continuing further north, Bougainville and the Bismarck Islands. French explorers also reached the Solomons, with Louis Antoine de Bougainville naming Choiseul in 1768 and Jean-Francois-Marie de Surville exploring the islands in 1769. In 1788 John Shortland, captaining a supply ship for Britain's new Australian colony at Botany Bay, sighted the Treasury and Shortland Islands. That same year the French explorer Jean-Francois de La Perouse was wrecked on Vanikoro; a rescue expedition led by Bruni d'Entrecasteaux sailed to Vanikoro but found no trace of La Perouse. The fate of La Perouse was not confirmed until 1826, when the English merchant Peter Dillon visited Tikopia and discovered items belonging to La Perouse in the possession of the local people, confirmed by the subsequent voyage of Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1828.
Some of the earliest regular foreign visitors to the islands were whaling vessels from Britain, the United States and Australia. They came for food, wood and water from late in the 18th century, establishing a trading relationship with the Solomon Islanders and later taking aboard islanders to serve as crewmen on their ships. Relations between the islanders and visiting seamen was not always good and sometimes there was bloodshed. A knock-on effect of the greater European contact was the spread of diseases to which local peoples had no immunity, as well a shift in the balance of power between coastal groups, who had access to European weapons and technology, and inland groups who did not. In the second half of the 1800s more traders arrived seeking turtleshells, sea cucumbers, copra and sandalwood, occasionally establishing semi-permanent trading stations. However initial attempts at more long-term settlement, such as Benjamin Boyd's colony on Guadalcanal in 1851, were unsuccessful.
Beginning in the 1840s, and accelerating in the 1860s, islanders began to be recruited (or often kidnapped) as labourers for the colonies in Australia, Fiji and Samoa in a process known as "blackbirding". Conditions for workers were often poor and exploitative, and local islanders often violently attacked any Europeans who appeared on their island. The blackbird trade was chronicled by prominent Western writers, such as Joe Melvin and Jack London. Christian missionaries also began visiting the Solomons from the 1840s, beginning with an attempt by French Catholics under Jean-Baptiste Epalle to establish a mission on Santa Isabel, which was abandoned after Epalle was killed by islanders in 1845. Anglican missionaries began arriving from the 1850s, followed by other denominations, over time gaining a large number of converts.
Colonial period (1886–1978)
Main articles: British Solomon Islands, British Western Pacific Territories, and German New Guinea
Establishment of colonial rule
In 1884 Germany annexed north-east New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, and in 1886 they extended their rule over the North Solomon Islands, covering Bougainville, Buka, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, the Shortlands and Ontong Java atoll. In 1886 Germany and Britain confirmed this arrangement, with Britain gaining a "sphere of influence" over the southern Solomons. Germany paid little attention to the islands, with German authorities based in New Guinea not even visiting the area until 1888. The German presence, along with pressure from the missionaries to rein in the excesses of the blackbirding system, prompted the British to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in March 1893, initially encompassing New Georgia, Malaita, Guadalcanal, Makira, Mono Island and the central Nggela Islands. In April 1896 Charles Morris Woodford was appointed as the British Acting Deputy Commissioner and confirmed in post the following year. Woodford set up an administrative headquarters on the small island of Tulagi, and in 1898 and 1899 the Rennell and Bellona Islands, Sikaiana, the Santa Cruz Islands and outlying islands such as Anuta, Fataka, Temotu and Tikopia were added to the protectorate. In 1900, under the terms of the Tripartite Convention of 1899, Germany ceded the Northern Solomon to Britain, minus Buka and Bougainville, the latter becoming part of German New Guinea despite geographically belonging to the Solomons archipelago. Woodford's underfunded administration struggled to maintain law and order on the remote colony. In the 1890s/early 1900s there were numerous cases of European settlers being killed by islanders, with the British often retaliating via collective punishment of guilty villages, often by indiscriminately shelling coastal areas from gunboats. The British attempted to encourage plantation settlements, however by 1902 there only about 80 European settlers in the islands. Attempts at economic development met with mixed results, though Levers Pacific Plantations Ltd., a subsidiary of Lever Brothers, managed to establish a profitable copra plantation industry which employed many islanders. Small scale mining and logging industries were also developed. However the colony remained something of backwater, with education, medical and other social services being the preserve of the missionaries. Violence also continued, most notably with the murder of colonial administrator William R. Bell by Basiana of the Kwaio people on Malaita in 1927, as Bell attempted to enforce an unpopular head tax. Several Kwaio were killed in a retaliatory raid, and Basiana and his accomplices executed.
World War II
Main articles: Solomon Islands campaign and Japanese occupation of the Solomon Islands
From 1942 until the end of 1943, the Solomon Islands were the scene of several major land, sea and air battles between the Allies and the Japanese Empire's armed forces. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 war was declared between Japan and the Allied Powers, and the Japanese, seeking to protect their southern flank, invaded South-East Asia and New Guinea. In May 1942 the Japanese launched Operation Mo, occupying Tulagi and most of the western Solomon Islands, including Guadalcanal where they began work on an airstrip. The British administration had already relocated to Auki, Malaita and most of the European population had been evacuated to Australia. The Allies counter-invaded Guadalcanal in August 1942, followed by the New Georgia campaign in 1943, both of which were turning points in the Pacific War, stopping and then countering the Japanese advance. The conflict resulted in thousands of Allied, Japanese and civilian deaths, as well an immense destruction across the islands.
Coastwatchers from the Solomon Islands played a major role in providing intelligence and rescuing other Allied servicemen. U.S. Admiral William Halsey, the commander of Allied forces during the Battle for Guadalcanal, recognised the coastwatchers' contributions by stating "The coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific. In addition around 3,200 men served in the Solomon Islands Labour Corps and some 6,000 enlisted in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force, with their exposure to the Americans leading to several social and political transformations. For example, the Americans had extensively developed Honiara, with the capital shifting there from Tulagi in 1952, and the Pijin language was heavily influenced by the communication between Americans and the Islands inhabitants. The relatively easy-going, friendly attitude of the Americans also contrasted sharply with the subservience expected by the British colonial rulers, and profoundly changed Solomons Islanders' attitude to the colonial regime.
Post-war period and the lead-up to independence
In 1943–4 the Malaita-based chief Aliki Nono'ohimae had founded the Maasina Rule movement (aka the Native Council Movement, literally 'Brotherhood Rule'), and was later joined by another chief, Hoasihau. Their aims were to improve the economic well-being of native Solomon Islanders, gain greater autonomy and to act as a liaison between Islanders and the colonial administration. The movement was especially popular with ex-Labour Corp members and after the war its numbers swelled, with the movement spreading to other islands. Alarmed at the growth of the movement, the British launched "Operation De-Louse" in 1947-8 and arrested most of the Maasina leaders. Malaitans then organised a campaign of civil disobedience, prompting mass arrests. In 1950 a new Resident Commissioner, Henry Gregory-Smith, arrived and released the leaders of the movement, though the disobedience campaign continued. In 1952 new High Commissioner (later Governor) Robert Stanley met with leaders of the movement and agreed to the creation of an island council. In late 1952 Stanley formally moved the capital of the territory to Honiara. In the early 1950s the possibility of transferring sovereignty of the islands to Australia was discussed by the British and Australian governments, however the Australians were reluctant to accept the financial burden of administraing the territory and the idea was shelved.
With decolonisation sweeping the colonial world, and Britain no longer willing (or able) to bear the financial burdens of the Empire, the colonial authorities sought to prepare the Solomons for self-governance. Appointed Executive and Legislative Councils were established in 1960, with a degree of elected Solomon Islander representation introduced in 1964 and then extended in 1967. A new constitution was drawn up in 1970 which merged the two Councils into one Governing Council, though the British Governor still retained extensive powers. Discontent with this prompted the creation of a new constitution in 1974 which reduced much of the Governor's remaining powers and created the post of Chief Minister, first held by Solomon Mamaloni. Full self-government for the territory was achieved in 1976, a year after the independence of neighbouring Papua New Guinea from Australia. Meanwhile, discontent grew in the Western islands, with many fearing marginalisation in future a Honiara- or Malaita-dominated state, prompting the formation of the Western Breakaway Movement. A conference held in London in 1977 agreed that the Solomons would gain full independence the following year. Under the terms of the Solomon Islands Act 1978 the country was annexed to Her Majesty's dominions and granted independence on 7 July 1978. The first Prime Minister was Sir Peter Kenilorea of the Solomon Islands United Party (SIUP), with Queen Elizabeth II becoming Queen of Solomon Islands, represented locally by a Governor General.
Independence era (1978-present)
Early post-independence years
Peter Kenilorea went on to win the 1980 Solomon Islands general election, serving as PM until 1981, when he was replaced by Solomon Mamaloni of the People's Alliance Party (PAP) after a no confidence vote. Mamaloni created the Central Bank and national airline, and pushed for greater autonomy for individual islands of the country. Kenilorea returned to power after winning the 1984 election, though his second term lasted only two years before he was replaced by Ezekiel Alebua following allegations of misuse of French aid money. In 1986 the Solomons helped found the Melanesian Spearhead Group, aimed at fostering cooperation and trade in the region. After winning the 1989 election Mamaloni and the PAP returned to power, with Mamaloni dominating Solomon Islands politics from the early to mid 1990s (save for the one year Premiership of Francis Billy Hilly). Mamaloni made efforts to make the Solomons a republic, however these were unsuccessful. He also had to deal with the effects of the conflict in neighbouring Bougainville which broke out in 1988, causing many refugees to flee to the Solomons. Tensions arose with Papua New Guinea as PNG forces frequently entered Solomons territory in the pursuit of rebels. The situation calmed down and relations improved following the end of the conflict in 1998. Meanwhile, the country's financial situation continued to deteriorate, with much of the budget coming from the logging industry, often conducted at an unsustainable rate, not helped by Mamaloni's creation of a 'discretionary fund' for use by politicians, which fostered fraud and corruption. Discontent with his rule led to a split in the PAP, and Mamaloni lost the 1993 election to Billy Hilly, though Hilly was later sacked by the Governor-General after a number of defections caused him to lose his majority, allowing Mamloni to return to power in 1994, where he remained until 1997. Excessive logging, government corruption and unsustainable levels of public spending continued to grow, and public discontent caused Mamaloni to lose the 1997 election. The new Prime Minister, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu of the Solomon Islands Liberal Party, attempted to enact economic reforms, however his Premiership soon became engulfed in a serious ethnic conflict known as 'The Tensions'.
Commonly referred to as the tensions or the ethnic tension, the initial civil unrest was mainly characterised by fighting between the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM, also known as the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army and the Isatabu Freedom Fighters) and the Malaita Eagle Force (as well as the Marau Eagle Force). For many years people from the island of Malaita had been migrating to Honiara and Guadalcanal, attracted primarily by the greater economic opportunities available there. The large influx caused tensions with native Guadalcanal islanders (known as Guales), and in late 1998 the IFM was formed and began a campaign of intimidation and violence towards Malaitan settlers. Thousands of Malaitans subsequently fled back to Malaita or to Honiara, and in mid-1999 the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was established to protect Malaitans on Guadalcanal. In late 1999, after several failed attempts at brokering a peace deal, Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'aluthe declared a four-month state of emergency, and also requested assistance from Australia and New Zealand, but his appeal was rejected. Meanwhile, law and order on Guadalcanal collapsed, with an ethnically divided police unable to assert authority and many of their weapons depots being raided by the militias; by this point the MEF controlled Honiara with the IFM controlling the rest of Guadalacanal. On 5 June 2000 Ulufa'alu was kidnapped by the MEF who felt that, although he was a Malaitan, he was not doing enough to protect their interests. Ulufa'alu subsequently resigned in exchange for his release. Manasseh Sogavare, who had earlier been Finance Minister in Ulufa'alu's government but had subsequently joined the opposition, was elected as Prime Minister by 23–21 over the Rev. Leslie Boseto. However, Sogavare's election was immediately shrouded in controversy because six MPs (thought to be supporters of Boseto) were unable to attend parliament for the crucial vote. On 15 October 2000 the Townsville Peace Agreement was signed by the MEF, elements of the IFM, and the Solomon Islands Government. This was closely followed by the Marau Peace agreement in February 2001, signed by the Marau Eagle Force, the IFM, the Guadalcanal Provincial Government, and the Solomon Islands Government. However, a key Guale militant leader, Harold Keke, refused to sign the agreement, causing a split with the Guale groups. Subsequently, Guale signatories to the agreement led by Andrew Te'e joined with the Malaitan-dominated police to form the 'Joint Operations Force'. During the next two years the conflict moved to the remote Weathercoast region of southern Guadalcanal as the Joint Operations unsuccessfully attempted to capture Keke and his group.
By early 2001 the economy had collapsed and the government was bankrupt. New elections in December 2001 brought Allan Kemakeza into the Prime Minister's chair, with the support of his People's Alliance Party and the Association of Independent Members. Law and order deteriorated as the nature of the conflict shifted: there was continuing violence on the Weathercoast, whilst militants in Honiara increasingly turned their attention to crime, extortion and banditry. The Department of Finance would often be surrounded by armed men when funding was due to arrive. In December 2002, Finance Minister Laurie Chan resigned after being forced at gunpoint to sign a cheque made out to some of the militants. Conflict also broke out in Western Province between locals and Malaitan settlers. Renegade members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) were invited in as a protection force but ended up causing as much trouble as they prevented. The prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness, widespread extortion, and ineffective police prompted a formal request by the Solomon Islands Government for outside help, a request was unanimously supported in Parliament. In July 2003, Australian and Pacific Islands police and troops arrived in Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). A sizeable international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia and New Zealand, and with representatives from about 15 other Pacific nations, began arriving the next month under Operation Helpem Fren. The situation improved dramatically, with violence ending and Harold Keke surrendering to the force. Some 200 people had been killed in the conflict. Since this time some commentators have considered the country a failed state, with the nation having failed to build an inclusive national identity capable of overriding local island and ethnic loyalties. However, other academics argue that rather than being a 'failed state', it is an unformed state: a state that never consolidated even after decades of independence. Furthermore, some scholars, such Kabutaulaka (2001) and Dinnen (2002) argue that the 'ethnic conflict' label is an oversimplification.
Kemakeza remained in office until April 2006, when he lost the 2006 Solomon Islands general election and Snyder Rini became PM. However allegations that Rini had used bribes from Chinese businessmen to buy the votes of members of Parliament led to mass rioting in the capital Honiara, concentrated on the city's Chinatown area. A deep underlying resentment against the minority Chinese business community led to much of Chinatown in the city being destroyed. Tensions were also increased by the belief that large sums of money were being exported to China. China sent chartered aircraft to evacuate hundreds of Chinese who fled to avoid the riots. Evacuation of Australian and British citizens was on a much smaller scale. Additional Australian, New Zealand and Fijian police and troops were dispatched to try to quell the unrest. Rini eventually resigned before facing a motion of no-confidence in Parliament, and Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as Prime Minister. Sogavare struggled to assert his authority and was also hostile to the Australian presence in the country; after one failed attempt, he was removed in no confidence vote in 2007 and replaced by Derek Sikua of the Solomon Islands Liberal Party. In 2008 a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to examine and help heal the wounds of the 'tension' years. Sikua lost the 2010 Solomon Islands general election to Danny Philip, though after a vote of no confidence in him following allegations of corruption, Philip was ousted and replaced by Gordon Darcy Lilo. Sogavare returned to power after the 2014 election, and oversaw the withdrawal of RAMSI forces from the country in 2017. Sogavare was ousted in a no confidence vote in 2017, which saw Rick Houenipwela come to power, however Sogavare returned to the Prime Ministership after winning the 2019 election, sparking rioting in Honiara. In 2019 Sogavare announced that the Solomons would be switching recognition from Taiwan to China.