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Solomons - History

Solomon Islands has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is believed that Papuan speaking settlers began to arrive in the Solomon Islands around 30,000 BC. Austronesian speakers arrived circa 4000 BC, bringing cultural elements such as the outrigger canoe. Between 1200 and 800 BC the ancestors of the Polynesians, the Lapita people, arrived from the Bismarck Archipelago.

The first recorded European to visit the islands was the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, sailing from Peru in 1568. Álvaro de Mendaña named them the Islas Salomón. Mendana discovered alluvial gold on Guadalcanal and, perhaps thinking he found the source of King Solomon's great wealth (the Biblical King Solomon's mine), named the islands the "Isles of Solomon," and many of the islands in the Solomon Islands bear original Spanish names. Three subsequent Spanish expeditions were unsuccessful and the Solomon Islands remained undisturbed by outsiders until 1767 when a British Navy expedition under Captain Philip Carteret discovered the Santa Cruz and Malaita Islands.

Whaling boats and traders began to visit the archipelago during the nineteenth century, followed closely by missionaries in the mid-19th century who brought western education and Christian religion. They made little progress at first because "blackbirding", the often brutal acquisition (more akin to slavery than recruitment) of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji, led to a series of reprisals and massacres by Islanders against the newcomers.

The excesses of blackbirding prompted the UK to declare The British Solomon Islands Protectorate over the southern Solomon Islands in June 1893. The British also controlled the eastern group of islands and Germany held control over most of the west. As the result of an Anglo-German Agreement of 1899, the British Protectorate was extended to all nine main island groups now part of the Solomon Islands, while Buka and Bougainville became part of German New Guinea (later incorporated into PNG). Traditional trade and social intercourse between the western Islands of Mono and Alu (the Shortlands) and the traditional societies in the south of Bougainville continued without hindrance. These connections continue to this day.

Under the Protectorate, missionaries settled in the Solomon Islands in numbers, converting most of the population to Christianity. In the early 20th century, several UK and Australia firms began large-scale coconut planting, but economic growth was slow and the Islanders benefited little.

World War II was a significant turning point in Solomon Islands history. With the outbreak of WWII in the Pacific, most expatriate planters and traders were evacuated to Australia and most trade ceased. The sense of betrayal after being abandoned by their colonial “masta” left a legacy of doubt and distrust about the colonial regime. Some of the most intense fighting of WWII occurred in the Solomon Islands, while the Japanese occupation caused hardship and near starvation in some areas.

As early as 1941 the United States and the United Kingdom had agreed that the defeat of Germany would be their top priority in any war with the Axis Powers. Until the Allies had defeated Germany, operations against Japan would be primarily defensive in nature. This strategic judgment, popularly known as the "Germany-first" decision, was based on the belief that Germany was the more dangerous enemy and became the cornerstone of Allied war strategy.

Once the United States entered the war, American strategists discovered that implementing the Germany-first policy was more complicated than they had anticipated. After Pearl Harbor the American public clamored for retaliation against Japan. Further, the stunning series of Japanese victories throughout the Pacific in the six months following 7 December 1941 demanded some military response lest Japanese power in the Pacific wax unchallenged.

The most significant of the Allied Forces' operations against the Japanese Imperial Forces was launched on 7 Aug 1942 with simultaneous naval bombardments and amphibious landings on the Florida Islands at Tulagi and Red Beach on Guadalcanal Island. Guadalcanal Island. The Battle of Guadalcanal became one of the most important, and bloody campaigns, fought in the Pacific War as the Allies began to repulse Japanese expansion. Of the approximately 36,000 Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal, about 26,000 were killed or missing in action, 9,000 died of disease, and only 1000 were captured. The movie “the Thin Red Line” is based on the Battle of Guadalcanal.

The August 1942 invasion of Guadalcanal, grew into an unexpectedly large air-sea-land campaign that absorbed huge amounts of men and materiel. Meanwhile American and Australian Army units drove the enemy from easternmost New Guinea. Together the Guadalcanal and Papua Campaigns by early 1943 had committed more American troops to action against the Japanese than against the Germans, and American military strategists in the Pacific understandably wanted to follow their successes with additional operations to deny the Japanese any respite. Now, they argued, was the time to seize the initiative. Not only had Japanese momentum been halted, but the Japanese had not yet built elaborate defenses on their recently conquered islands. While the moment seemed propitious for an offensive, decisions of grand strategy constrained American operations against Japan.

Solomon Islanders played a significant role in supporting the Allied campaigns. Australian Coastwatchers were often based in the Solomon Islands, and were reliant on the courage and support of local communities for their survival. Coastwatchers also demonstrated great courage. Operating in remote locations, often on Japanese held islands, they provided early warning and intelligence on Japanese naval, army and aircraft movements during the campaign.

An important lesson can be learned from American interactions with the local population during World War II. American soldiers were well liked because they paid well for services provided, interacted positively with locals (e.g. sharing meals as friends), supported local communities and treated people of diverse backgrounds with greater equality than was previously seen. This shows that respect for the local population and equality of treatment are valuable in winning the support of local populations.

Immediately after WWII, the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate was moved from Tulagi (Central Province) to Honiara on Guadalcanal to make the most of the infrastructure left there by departing US forces. In 1952 the UK High Commissioner for the Western Pacific moved from Fiji to Honiara and the post was combined with that of the Governor of the Solomon Islands. The airfield, (the cause of the fighting in 1942) known as Henderson Field, became the international airport for the Solomon Islands.

Local councils were established in the 1950s as the islands stabilised from the aftermath of WWII and Malaitans began to express their will for self determination. At first this was through invoking kastom (traditional law) as a form of resistance in response to external government and the frustration over lack of development and inclusion into the political process. Maasina Ruru was a Malaitan movement protesting against colonial rule, and was a precursor to the militia organisations formed during the latter tensions.

A new Solomon Islands Constitution was established in 1970 and elections were held, although the Constitution was contested and a new one was then created in 1974. In 1973 when the first world oil price shock occurred, the increased cost of running a Protectorate became apparent to British administrators so, following the independence of neighbouring PNG from Australia in 1975, the Solomon Islands gained self-rule in 1976 and full independence on 7 Jul 1978. The Solomon Islands remain part of the British Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth as Head of State. The first Prime Minister was Sir Peter Kenilorea.

The country’s first 20 years following independence were characterized by threats of secession, demands for federalism and riots. This largely reflects the effect of imposition of colonial rule and the subsequent grouping of some 900 islands into a nation, without consideration of the ethnic and geographic diversity of the country.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2018 12:18:00 ZULU