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Solomon Islands - A Brief History

Posted by Abeiku Ebo on

Solomon Islands - A Brief History

The Solomon Islands are believed to have been settled by Austronesian peoples around 2000BC. For centuries many self-governing communities speaking separate languages lived on the six big volcanic islands and scores of atolls in this central Melanesian archipelago.

Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana de Neira sighted the islands in 1568 and named them The Islands of Solomon, in the mistaken hope of mineral riches matching those of the biblical King. In 1767 English explorer Philip Carteret 'rediscovered' the Solomon Islands. They continued largely unbothered by foreigners until the 1800s when traders, planters, whalers and missionaries from Europe, America and Australasia arrived to barter food, labour and goods, evangelise and settle.

Early colonial interest

European powers were competing for influence in the Pacific and in 1886 a German protectorate was established over the northern Solomon Islands following the Anglo-German Treaty. In 1893 the southern Solomon Islands were brought under a British protectorate. Under the 1899 Samoa Tripartite Convention the northern Solomon Islands was transferred to British control in exchange for Western Samoa. British interests lay in the supply of workers to sugar estates in Queensland and Fiji and less in the protection of Solomon Islanders.

Officials and missionaries quelled squabbles and attracted planters and entrepreneurs. Justifying policies favouring foreigners ahead of Solomon Islanders, Resident Commissioner Woodford wrote

"My opinion is that nothing …can prevent the eventual extinction of the Melanesian race."

Commercial Exploitation

Disease and tribal wars had de-populated many areas and large so-called 'waste lands' were leased to foreign companies to produce rubber, copra and vegetable oil. European planters and traders bought freehold land from their Melanesian neighbours then sold it at huge profit to big companies such as Levers. In 1912, the British Government decreed that it alone could buy and lease land, thereby cutting traders' profits and increasing official revenue.

And Brutal Blackbirding

Solomon Islanders had only their land and labour to sell. For years, young fit men had gone – or been forcefully taken by 'blackbirders' – to  Queensland and Fiji, and many now enlisted on Solomons plantations. Often brutally treated, their poor housing and inadequate food led to outbreaks of dysentery and similar diseases. By the 1920s conditions were better, but wages remained low and men's absences at work weakened village and family life.  Living together on plantations gave men the chance to learn about each other in a common language - pijin English.

By the mid-twentieth century, many Chinese had come to settle, sometimes displacing European traders and plantation owners.


Impact Of World War

There were few opportunities for Solomon Islanders to advance and in 1939 village headmen asked Government and missions to build schools and dispensaries, increase wages and copra payments and move towards "a native parliament". These requests were dismissed by officials and missionaries, whose authority diminished from 1941 to 1945 as Commonwealth and US forces fought the Japanese in central Solomon Islands.

Political Tensions And, Ultimately, Independence

Impressed by American generosity and equality, many Islanders resented the post-war return of planters and officials. The 'Maasina Rule' – a brotherhood movement seeking local control – spread from Malaita to other islands. After several arrests, but without bloodshed, Maasina Rule and similar groups lost impetus when Island Councils were introduced in 1953.

Historian Judith Bennett has commented that in the mid 1960s Britain's  amble towards self-government rapidly escalated into a breakneck gallop towards independence.

Significant Events Since Independence

1980 Sir Peter Kenilorea re-elected Prime Minister.

1981 Solomon Mamaloni elected Prime Minister.

1984 Kenilorea elected Prime Minister.

1986 Ezekiel Alebua elected prime Minister.

1989 Mamaloni elected Prime Minister.

1993 Francis Billy Hilly elected Prime Minister.

1994 Mamaloni elected Prime Minister.

1997 Bartholomew Ulufa'alo elected Prime Minister.

1999 Ethnic strife breaks out on Guadalcanal island.

2000 Malaita militia detains PM Ulufa'alo; replaced by Manasseh Sogavare.

2001 Sir Allan Kemakeza elected Prime Minister.  Negotiations to end violence unsuccessful.

2003 Solomon Islands Government asks Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) to restore order.

2006 After Snyder Rini elected Prime Minister, violent protests are directed mainly against Honiara's Chinese residents. Rini resigns; replaced by Manasseh Sogavare.

2007 Major destruction in Western Solomons after earthquake and tsunami.  Vote of no confidence in Sogavare government after Julian Moti, facing criminal charges in Australia, appointed  Attorney-General. Derek Siku elected Prime Minister.

2010 Danny Philip elected Prime Minister.

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