Solomon Islands

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Oceania (Australasia)

Solomon Islands
Flag of the Solomon Islands Coat of arms of the Solomon Islands
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "To Lead is to Serve"
Anthem:  God Save Our Solomon Islands
Royal anthem:  God Save the Queen
Location of the Solomon Islands
(and largest city)
Official languages English, Pijin
Demonym Solomon Islander
Government Constitutional monarchy
 -  Queen Queen Elizabeth II
 -  Governor-General Nathaniel Waena
 -  Prime Minister Derek Sikua
 -  from the UK 7 July 1978 
 -  Total 28,896 km² ( 142nd)
11,157  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 3.2%
 -  July 2005 estimate 552,438 (U.S. State Department) ( 170th)
 -  Density 17/km² ( 189th)
43/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $911 million ( 171st)
 -  Per capita $1,894 ( 146th)
HDI (2007) 0.552 (medium) ( 136th)
Currency Solomon Islands dollar ( SBD)
Time zone ( UTC+11)
Internet TLD .sb
Calling code +677

The Solomon Islands is a country in Melanesia, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. Together they cover a land mass of 28,400 square kilometres (10,965  sq mi). The capital is Honiara, located on the island of Guadalcanal.

The Solomon Islands are believed to have been inhabited by Melanesian people for thousands of years. The United Kingdom established a protectorate over the Solomon Islands in the 1890s. Some of the most bitter fighting of World War II occurred in the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942–45, including the Battle of Guadalcanal. Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. The country is a Commonwealth realm.

Since 1998 ethnic violence, government misconduct and crime have undermined stability and civil society. In June 2003 (following the Invasion of Iraq) an Australian-led "multinational" force, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), arrived to restore peace and disarm ethnic militias.

The North Solomon Islands are divided between the independent Solomon Islands and Bougainville Province in Papua New Guinea.


Solomon Island warriors with spears in ornamented war canoe
Solomon Island warriors with spears in ornamented war canoe

It is believed that Papuan speaking settlers began to arrive around 30,000 BC. Austronesian speakers arrived circa 4,000 BC also bringing cultural elements such as the outrigger canoe. It is between 1,200 and 800 BC that the ancestors of the Polynesians, the Lapita people, arrived from the Bismarck Archipelago with their characteristic ceramics. The first European to discover the islands was the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, coming from Peru in 1568.

Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-19th century. They made little progress at first, because " blackbirding" (the often brutal recruitment of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji) led to a series of reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labor trade prompted the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in 1893. This was the basis of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. In 1898 and 1899, more outlying islands were added to the protectorate; in 1900 the remainder of the archipelago, an area previously under German jurisdiction, was transferred to British administration apart from the islands of Buka and Bougainville which remained under German administration as part of German New Guinea (until they were occupied by Australia in 1914, after the commencement of World War I). Traditional trade and social intercourse between the western Solomon islands of Mono and Alu (the Shortlands) and the traditional societies in the south of Bougainville, however, continued without hindrance. Under the protectorate, missionaries settled in the Solomons, converting most of the population to Christianity. In the early 20th century, several British and Australian firms began large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the islanders benefited little.

World War II

With the outbreak of World War II, most planters and traders were evacuated to Australia, and most cultivation ceased. Some of the most intense fighting of World War II occurred in the Solomons. The most significant of the Allied Forces' operations against the Japanese Imperial Forces was launched on August 7, 1942 with simultaneous naval bombardments and amphibious landings on the Florida Islands at Tulagi and Red Beach on Guadalcanal. The Battle of Guadalcanal became an important and bloody campaign fought in the Pacific War as the Allies began to repulse Japanese expansion. Of strategic importance during the war were the coastwatchers operating in remote locations, often on Japanese held islands, providing early warning and intelligence of Japanese naval, army and aircraft movements during the campaign. Sergeant-Major Jacob Vouza was a notable coastwatcher who after capture refused to divulge Allied information in spite of interrogation and torture by Japanese Imperial forces. He was awarded the highest award for bravery by the Americans. Islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana would be noted by National Geographic for being the first to find the shipwrecked John F. Kennedy and his crew of the PT-109. They suggested using a coconut to write a rescue message for delivery by dugout canoe, which was later kept on his desk when he became the president of the United States.

The U.S. employment of tanks in Guadalcanal was hampered by the nature of the terrain
The U.S. employment of tanks in Guadalcanal was hampered by the nature of the terrain

The Solomon Islands was one of the major staging areas of the South Pacific and was home to the legendary VMF-214 "Black Sheep" Squadron commanded by Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington. The Slot was a name for New Georgia Sound, when it was used by the Tokyo Express to supply the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal.

Independence movement

Following the end of World War II, the British colonial government returned. The capital was moved from Tulagi to Honiara to take advantage of the infrastructure left behind by the U.S. military. A revolutionary movement known as Maasina Ruru helped to organize and focus a mass campaign of civil disobedience and strikes across the islands. There was much disorder and the leaders were jailed in late-1948. Throughout the 1950s, other indigenous dissident groups appeared and disappeared without gaining strength. In 1960, an advisory council of Solomon Islanders was superseded by a legislative council, and an executive council was created as the protectorate's policymaking body. The council was given progressively more authority. In 1974, a new constitution was adopted establishing a parliamentary democracy and ministerial system of government. In mid-1975, the name Solomon Islands officially replaced that of British Solomon Islands Protectorate.

On January 2, 1976, the Solomons became self-governing, and independence followed on July 7, 1978, the first post-independence government being elected in August 1980. The series of governments formed since have not performed to upgrade and build the country. Following the 1997 election of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu the political situation in the Solomons began to deteriorate. Governance was slipping as the performance of the police and other government agencies deteriorated due to what is commonly 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 (also known as the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army) and the Malaita Eagle Force (as well as the Marau Eagle Force). (Although much of the conflict was between Guales and Malaitans, Kabutaulaka (2001) and Dinnen (2002) argue that the 'ethnic conflict' label is an oversimplification). For detailed discussions of The Tensions, see also Fraenkel (2004) and Moore (2004).

In late 1998, militants on the island of Guadalcanal commenced a campaign of intimidation and violence towards Malaitan settlers. During the next year, thousands of Malaitans fled back to Malaita or to the capital, Honiara (which, although situated on Guadalcanal, is predominantly populated by Malaitans and Solomon Islanders from other provinces). In 1999, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was established in response.

The reformist government of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu struggled to respond to the complexities of this evolving conflict. In late 1999, the government declared a four month state of emergency. There were also a number of attempts at reconciliation ceremonies but to no avail. He also requested assistance from Australia and New Zealand in 1999 but this was rejected.

In June 2000, Ulufa'alu was kidnapped by militia members of 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 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 (Moore 2004, n.5 on p.174).

In October 2000, the Townsville Peace Agreement , was signed by the Malaita Eagle Force, 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 Isatabu Freedom Movement, 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 Weathercoast of Guadalcanal as the Joint Operations unsuccessfully attempted to capture Keke and his group.

New elections in December 2001 brought Sir Allan Kemakeza into the Prime Minister’s chair with the support of his People's Alliance Party and also 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 and extortion. 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. With the country bankrupt and the capital in chaos, the request was unanimously supported in Parliament.

In July 2003, Australian and Pacific Island police and troops arrived in the Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). A sizable international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia and New Zealand, and with representatives from about 20 other Pacific nations began arriving the next month under Operation Helpem Fren. Since this time some commentators have considered the country a failed state.

In April 2006 allegations that the newly elected Prime Minister Snyder Rini had used bribes from Chinese businessmen to buy the votes of members of Parliament led to mass rioting in the capital Honiara. A deep underlying resentment against the minority Chinese business community led to much of Chinatown in the city being destroyed. Tensions had also been 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. Further Australian, New Zealand and Fijian 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.

Further reading

  • Randell, N (2003) "The White Headhunter" Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York
  • Dinnen (2002) ‘Winners and losers: politics and disorder in the Solomon Islands 2000-2002’, The Journal of Pacific History, Vol.37, No.3, pp.285-98.
  • Fraenkel, J (2004) The Manipulation of Custom: from Uprising to Intervention in the Solomon Islands, Pandanus Books, Sydney
  • Moore, C (2004) Happy Isles in Crisis: the Historical Causes for a Failing State in Solomon Islands, 1998-2004, Asia Pacific Press, Canberra
  • Kabutaulaka, T (2001) ‘Beyond ethnicity: the political economy of the Guadalacanal crisis in Solomon Islands’, SSGM Working Paper 01/1


The Solomon Islands national football team made history by becoming the first team to beat New Zealand into qualifying for a play-off spot against Australia for qualification to the World Cup 2006. They were soundly beaten 7-0 in Australia and 2-1 at home.

2007 earthquake and tsunami

On 2 April 2007, the Solomon Islands were struck by a major earthquake followed by a large tsunami. Initial reports indicated that the tsunami, which mainly affected the small island of Gizo, was several metres in height (perhaps as high as 10 metres (39 ft) according to some reports, 5 metres (16 1/3 ft) according to the Foreign Office). The tsunami was triggered by an 8.1 magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter 217 miles (349 km) northwest of the island's capital, Honiara, at Lat -8.453 Long 156.957 and at a depth of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles).

According to the United States Geologic Survey the earthquake struck at 20:39:56 UTC on Sunday, 1 April 2007. Since the initial event and up until 22:00:00 UTC on Wednesday, 4 April 2007, more than 44 aftershocks of a magnitude of 5.0 or greater were recorded in the region.

The death toll from the resulting tsunami was at least 52 people, and the tsunami destroyed more than 900 homes and has left thousands of people homeless.

Land thrust from the quake has extended out from the shoreline of one island, Ranongga, by up to 70 meters (230 ft) according to local residents. This has left many once pristine coral reefs exposed on the newly formed beaches.


The Solomon Islands are a constitutional monarchy and have a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Monarch of the Solomon Islands and the head of state; she is represented by the Governor-General who is chosen by the Parliament for a five-year term. There is a unicameral parliament of 50 members, elected for four-year terms. However, Parliament may be dissolved by majority vote of its members before the completion of its term. Parliamentary representation is based on single-member constituencies. Suffrage is universal for citizens over age 18. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is elected by Parliament and chooses the other members of the cabinet. Each ministry is headed by a cabinet member, who is assisted by a permanent secretary, a career public servant, who directs the staff of the ministry.

Solomon Islands governments are characterized by weak political parties (see List of political parties in Solomon Islands) and highly unstable parliamentary coalitions. They are subject to frequent votes of no confidence, and government leadership changes frequently as a result. Cabinet changes are common.

Land ownership is reserved for Solomon Islanders. The law provides that resident expatriates, such as the Chinese and Kiribati, may obtain citizenship through naturalization. Land generally is still held on a family or village basis and may be handed down from mother or father according to local custom. The islanders are reluctant to provide land for nontraditional economic undertakings, and this has resulted in continual disputes over land ownership.

No military forces are maintained by the Solomon Islands, although a police force of nearly 500 includes a border protection unit. The police also are responsible for fire service, disaster relief, and maritime surveillance. The police force is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the governor-general and responsible to the prime minister. On 27 December 2006, the Solomon Islands Government said it had taken steps to prevent the country's Australian police chief from returning to the Pacific nation. On 12 January 2007, Australia replaced its top diplomat expelled from the Solomon Islands for political interference in a conciliatory move aimed at easing a four-month dispute between the two countries.

On 11 July 2007, the Solomon Islands swore Julian Moti in as their Attorney General. Moti is currently wanted in Australia for child-related sex offences. Australian Prime Minister John Howard called the move "quite extraordinary". Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has described the country as the "laughing stock" of the civilised world. However the Australian charges against Moti relate to events in Vanuatu, and parallel charges which the courts in Vanuatu dismissed in the 1990s. Julian Moti has attracted Australian attention because he advised the Solomons Government to inquire into the role of Australian police in provoking the 2006 Honiara riots.

On 13 December 2007, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was toppled by a vote of no confidence in Parliament, following the defection of five Ministers to the Opposition. It was the first time a Prime Minister lost office in this way in the Solomon Islands. On 20 December, Parliament elected the Opposition's candidate (and former Minister for Education) Derek Sikua as Prime Minister, with 32 votes to 15.

Foreign relations

Solomon Islands is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth, South Pacific Commission, South Pacific Forum, International Monetary Fund, and the European Economic Community/African, Caribbean, Pacific Group (EEC/ACP)/(Lome Convention).

The political stage of the Solomon Islands is further influenced by its diplomatic importance to the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. The Solomon Islands gives diplomatic recognition to the ROC, recognizing it as the sole-legitimate Government of all of China, giving Taiwan vital votes in the United Nations. Lucrative investments, political funding and preferential loans from both the ROC and PRC are increasingly manipulating the political landscape of the Solomon Islands.

Relations with Papua New Guinea, which had become strained because of an influx of refugees from the Bougainville rebellion and attacks on the northern islands of the Solomon Islands by elements pursuing Bougainvillean rebels, have been repaired. A peace accord on Bougainville confirmed in 1998 has removed the armed threat, and the two nations regularized border operations in a 2004 agreement.


Although the locally-recruited British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force was part of Allied forces taking part in fighting in the Solomons during World War II, the country has not had any regular military forces since independence. The various paramilitary elements of the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) were disbanded in 2003 following the intervention of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), and the RSIP was disarmed. RAMSI has a small military detachment headed by an Australian commander with responsibilities for assisting the police element of RAMSI in internal and external security. The RSIP still operates two patrol boats (RSIPV Auki and RSIPV Lata) which constitute the navy of the Solomon Islands.

In the long-term it is anticipated that the RSIP will resume the defense role. The police force is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the governor general and responsible to the prime minister.

The police budget of the Solomon Islands has been strained due to a four-year civil war. Following Cyclone Zoe's strike on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta in December 2002, Australia had to provide the Solomon Islands government with 200,000 Solomons ($50,000 Australian) for fuel and supplies for the patrol boat Lata to sail with relief supplies. (Part of the work of RAMSI includes assisting the Solomon Islands Government to stabilise its budget.)

  • Equipment:

- Pandur 6X6 APC


The Florida Islands from the air. Photo by Jim Lounsbury
The Florida Islands from the air. Photo by Jim Lounsbury

The Solomon Islands is a wide island nation that lies East of Papua New Guinea and consists of many islands: Choiseul, the Shortland Islands; the New Georgia Islands; Santa Isabel; the Russell Islands; Nggela (the Florida Islands); Malaita; Guadalcanal; Sikaiana; Maramasike; Ulawa; Uki; Makira ( San Cristobal); Santa Ana; Rennell and Bellona; the Santa Cruz Islands and three remote, tiny outliers, Tikopia, Anuta, and Fatutaka. The distance between the westernmost and easternmost islands is about 1,500 kilometres (930  mi). The Santa Cruz Islands (of which Tikopia is part), are situated north of Vanuatu and are especially isolated at more than 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the other islands. Bougainville is geographically part of the Solomon Islands, but politically Papua New Guinea.

The islands' ocean-equatorial climate is extremely humid throughout the year, with a mean temperature of 27 °C (80 °F) and few extremes of temperature or weather. June through August is the cooler period. Though seasons are not pronounced, the northwesterly winds of November through April bring more frequent rainfall and occasional squalls or cyclones. The annual rainfall is about 3050 mm (120 in).

The Solomon Islands archipelago is part of two distinct terrestrial ecoregions. Most of the islands are part of the Solomon Islands rain forests ecoregion, which also includes the islands of Bougainville and Buka, which are part of Papua New Guinea, these forests have come under pressure from forestry activities. The Santa Cruz Islands are part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion, together with the neighboring archipelago of Vanuatu. Soil quality ranges from extremely rich volcanic (there are volcanoes with varying degrees of activity on some of the larger islands) to relatively infertile limestone. More than 230 varieties of orchids and other tropical flowers brighten the landscape.

The islands contain several active and dormant volcanoes. The Tinakula and Kavachi volcanoes are the most active.


Its per capita GDP of $600 ranks Solomon Islands as a lesser developed nation, and more than 75% of its labor force is engaged in subsistence and fishing. Most manufactured goods and petroleum products must be imported. Until 1998, when world prices for tropical timber fell steeply, timber was Solomon Islands main export product, and, in recent years, Solomon Islands forests were dangerously overexploited. Other important cash crops and exports include copra and palm oil. In 1998 Ross Mining of Australia began producing gold at Gold Ridge on Guadalcanal. Minerals exploration in other areas continued. However in the wake of the ethnic violence in June 2000, exports of palm oil and gold ceased while exports of timber fell. The islands are rich in undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, and gold.

Solomon Islands' fisheries also offer prospects for export and domestic economic expansion. However, a Japanese joint venture, Solomon Taiyo Ltd., which operated the only fish cannery in the country, closed in mid-2000 as a result of the ethnic disturbances. Though the plant has reopened under local management, the export of tuna has not resumed. Negotiations are underway which may lead to the eventual reopening of the Gold Ridge mine and the major oil-palm plantation.

Tourism, particularly diving, is an important service industry for Solomon Islands. Growth in that industry is hampered, however, by lack of infrastructure and transportation limitations.

The Solomon Islands Government was insolvent by 2002. Since the RAMSI intervention in 2003, the government has recast its budget, and has taken a hard look at priorities. It has consolidated and renegotiated its domestic debt and with Australian backing, is now seeking to renegotiate its foreign obligations. Principal aid donors are Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, and the Republic of China.

Recently, the Solomons courts have re-approved the export of live dolphins for profit, most recently to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This practice was originally stopped by the government in 2004 after international uproar over a shipment of 28 live dolphins to Mexico. The move has resulted in criticism from both Australia and New Zealand as well as several conservation organisations.


As of 2006 the majority 552,438 people on the Solomon Islands are ethnically Melanesian (94.5%), Polynesian (3%) and Micronesian (1.2%) are the two other significant groups.

There were 74 languages spoken in the Solomon Islands, although four of these are extinct. On the central islands, Melanesian languages (predominantly of the Southeast Solomonic group) are spoken, on the outliers Rennell and Bellona to the south, Tikopia, Anuta and Fatutaka to the far east, Sikaiana to the north east, and Luaniua ( Ontong Java Atoll, Lord Howe Atoll) to the north, Polynesian languages. Immigrant populations of Gilbertese (i-Kiribati) and Tuvaluans speak Micronesian languages. While English is the official language, only 1-2% of the population speak English; the lingua franca is Solomons Pijin.


A Malaitan Chief.
A Malaitan Chief.

In the traditional culture of the Solomon Islands, age-old customs are handed down from one generation to the next, allegedly from the ancestral spirits themselves, to form the cultural values to Solomon Islands.

The most popular sport in the Solomon Islands is soccer, with netball also quite popular.

Radio is the most influential type of media in the Solomons Islands due to language differences and illiteracy. the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) operates public radio services, including the national stations Radio Happy Isles and Wantok FM, and the provincial stations Radio Happy Lagoon and Radio Temotu. There is one commercial station, PAOA FM, that broadcasts in the Solomons. There is one daily newspaper Solomon Star ( and one daily online news website Solomon Times Online (, 2 weekly papers Solomons Voice and Solomon Times, and 2 monthly papers Agrikalsa Nius and the Citizen's Press. There are no TV services based in the Solomon Islands, although satellite TV stations can be received. There is free-to-air access to ABC Asia Pacific (from Australia's ABC) and BBC World News.

Solomon Islands writers include the novelists Rexford Orotaloa and John Saunana and the poet Jully Sipolo.

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