Solomon Islands — History and Culture
The Solomon Islands is a fascinating archipelago. Not only are the local traditions and customs still very much practiced on a daily basis, but modern European influences are also found. The country is more renowned for its recent upheavals, which have been stopped for the time being.
At the time the first Europeans began visiting the Solomon Islands, the country was nothing more than separate Pacific islands notorious for cannibalism and headhunting. Spanish explorers were the first to visit the archipelago in the 16th century. It wasn’t until 1893 that Britain declared the Solomon Islands as a protectorate. This was implemented to stop the ‘blackbirding’ trade, which saw many native islanders taken as slaves to the agricultural plantations of Fiji and Australia.
Over the next 10 years, more islands became part of the Solomon Islands British protectorate. By 1900, the areas formerly administered by Germany were handed over to the British. Missionaries, whose attempts to spread Christianity prior to 1893 led to revolts by locals, began to successfully convert the native population to Christianity. Large scale plantation firms also settled in the Solomon Islands at the beginning of the 20th century. Coconut plantations became the main source of income for locals.
WWII saw the stoppage of most plantations across the Solomon Islands. Expatriate workers were forced to evacuate to Australia or New Zealand. Fierce battles, such as the Battle of Guadalcanal, raged on between 1942 and 1945. Many thousands of soldiers and native civilians lost their lives during the Solomon Islands campaign. Visiting the Guadalcanal American War Memorial is a must.
Following the war, the Solomon Islands enjoyed a more stable administration, resulting in the increase in governmental independence. However, it wasn’t until 1976 that Britain granted the Solomon Islands full independence. This was greatly influenced by the independence of Papua New Guinea from Australia the year before.
However, since independence, the Solomon Islands have experienced anything but smooth sailing. Ethnic tensions led to civil unrest in the late 1990s and this is still simmering today. Large scale rioting rocked the capital, Honiara, in 2006, but eventually the violence was quelled thanks to intervention from the United Nations, led by Australian, New Zealand, and Fijian forces. In 2007, a horrific tsunami and earthquake hit the archipelago, resulting in more than 50 deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Visit the National Museum of Solomon Islands (Mendana Avenue, Honiara) for further information about the country’s history.
Due to European influences throughout the Solomon Islands’ history, Christianity is the predominant faith in the country. More than 95 percent of the population follows some sort of Christianity, including South Seas Evangelists, and Catholics. Traditional culture is still prevalent throughout the country, but traditional lifestyles exist side-by-side with European influences.
In the rural areas of the country, tribal customs are the most important social norms. Traditional bartering systems are still used between many of the village areas. Even the village life is relatively similar to that of the time of pre-European arrival. Items are made from local leaves and grasses, and traditional music is still heard. In addition, the ancient form of the Solomon Islands dance can also be found.