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Solomons - People

Solomon Islands has 28,400 square kilometers of land, with a population of 598,860 (September 2015 estimate). Solomon Islands has a population density of 21 people per square kilometre. The capital and largest city is Honiara, with a population estimated at 67,000. There are no other cities with a population of more than 10,000 in the country. Most people in Solomon Islands are ethnically Melanesian (94.5%). Other large ethnic groups include Polynesian (3%) and Micronesian (1.2%), with a few thousand ethnic Chinese in the country.

Within the Solomon Islands the most fundamental group is the extended family. The family in its current form extends to business interactions, and political alliances at all levels. The extended kinship group or laen is bound together by descent and can cover a wide area. Solomon Islands, like other countries in the region, have a ‘Wantok’ system of tribal relationships. The Wantok system stems from the word 'one talk', which could be loosely defined as those speaking the same language and is a marker of collective identity. Wantok relationships permeate every aspect of a Solomon Islanders’ life. It is a unique system of expressing shared social obligations and extending favors through non-kinship relationships.

In modern Melanesia, international economic development (logging and mining) have caused the formerly classless Melanesian societies to become class-stratified, with politicians, public servants, and entrepreneurs constituting an emerging elite on the islands. Moreover, at least in the English-speaking areas, the elites increasingly share a common (Westernised and consumerist) culture and common political and economic interests that cut across cultural, linguistic, and national boundaries.

While English is the official language, just 1-2% of the population speaks English. Pijin is spoken by the majority of people. There are also 74 distinct local languages, of which 70 are still “living languages”, and numerous local dialects of these languages. These languages or dialects can even be limited to just one or a small group of islands. Melanesian languages are spoken mostly on the main islands.

Traditional tribal dynamics are being pressured by population growth, an increasing youth bulge, life span, birth and death rates, limited and distributed health services, a starch based diet, urbanisation and employment pressures. These are creating a culture that is shifting from a family/tribal-centric view that values group over individual to a more ego-centric view that values individuals over group; however, family and tribal loyalties still underpin all aspects of Solomon Islands society.

At least 39.5% of the population is under 14 and only 3.5% is over 65. 57% of the population is working age and the median age is 20.6 years old. Additionally the population growth rate of 2.4% with 1.02 males to females born, is very high. The birth rate is over twice that of Australia. (Australia has a rate of 1.2%) The life expectancy of 74 years (Australia is 82 years) is surprisingly very high when considering the basic Solomon Islands health services, the starch laden ‘subsistence’ diet (fishing and farming), and the exposure to extremes of nature. Each year the population shifts to the urban centres by 4%, creating pressure on employment and government provided civil services.

Culturally the (western) Polynesians are conditioned to high population density, have strong institutions of marriage and well-developed judicial, monetary and trading traditions. Melanesian societies (likely ancestors of the present-day Papuan-speaking people) and their customs differ marginally, emphasising communal welfare over individualism, and the communal ownership and working of land. Islanders in the west and north (Choiseul, Western and Isabel Provinces) reflect some Papuan influence after generations of living and trading with each other. They are different in customs and traditions, as well as the more obvious signs of language, darker skin color and Papuan facial features.

Religion is an extremely important part of Solomon Islands life. 97.1% of Solomon Islanders are Christian, with major denominations including the Anglican Church of Melanesia (35%), Roman Catholic (19%), South Seas Evangelical Church (17%), United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (11%), and Seventh-day Adventist (10%). The Anglican Church of the Province of Melanesia is the official name of the largest church in Solomon Islands, but it is usually shortened to the Anglican Church of Melanesia or ACOM, and within the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu the Church is often called simply Anglican.

The South Seas Evangelical Church (SSEC) is an evangelical, Pentecostal church in the Solomon Islands. The SSEC is strict with regard to behaviour of its members, who are not permitted to drink alcohol, chew betel nuts or smoke. SSEC discourages performance of traditional forms of music, such as 'Are'are panpipe ensembles, because they are seen as related to the traditional ancestor worship, the spirits of which are considered "devils."

The rest of the population adheres to Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the Baha'i faith, and “Kastom”. Of the remaining 2.9%: 0.2% have no beliefs, 0.3% are unspecified, and 2.4% practice indigenous religious beliefs. Importantly, religion has been intertwined with previously held customs and beliefs so that traditional spirits are as influential as Christianity in shaping how people behave. According to the most recent reports, Islam in Solomon Islands (mainly in Malaita) is made up of approximately 350 Muslims, including members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Kastom is the pijin derivative of “custom” and refers to the culture and tradition of people of Solomon Islands, which can vary markedly across communities. Kastom can be considered in the light of the interaction between church, state, historical, social and political factors. Kastom is the contemporary beliefs which have been born out of pre-contact traditions and are ideologies which empower traditions and practices. An alternative use of kastom is one of opposition originally to British rule. There is extensive variation across the Solomon Islands in the concept of kastom and how it is invoked.

Around 80% of the national population live on low lying coastal areas. The capital city of Honiara is the only major area of economic activity and attracts increasing numbers of youth and adults per year from other islands seeking employment and income. Urban migration is estimated at 4% and with the current rate of growth the national population is expected to double by 2020.

The Solomon Island’s Human Development Index (HDI) was 0.510 in 2011, and is one of the lowest in the Pacific, and it ranked 142 out of 187 countries. On the achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) a range of social indicators show that the country is likely to meet Goal 2 (Achieve universal primary education) and Goal 5 (Improve maternal health). Females still have less access than males to secondary and tertiary education while women have poor access to health and family planning services in the rural areas. According to the ADB (2010) much of the improvement in the HDI was the result of significant overseas financial and technical assistance, with aid levels increasing from 22% of GDP in 1990 to 66% of GDP in 2005. An analysis of household income and expenditure data collected in 2005/06 shows that situations of hardship and poverty is rising with 11% of the population experiencing difficulties in acquiring basic needs.

Solomon Islands have fewer surviving females than males in all age groups (male/female = 1.10; Solomon Islands Government 2000). Sex ratio at birth has recently emerged as an indicator of certain kinds of sex discrimination in some countries. For instance, high sex ratios at birth in some Asian countries are now attributed to sex-selective abortion and infanticide due to a strong preference for sons. This will affect future marriage patterns and fertility patterns. Eventually, it could cause unrest among young adult males who are unable to find partners.

A 2011 study of the growth and nutritional status of females in Roviana (population 12 235) included anthropometric measurements for 1243 voluntary participants from seven villages. The results showed that females were better nourished than males; weight-for-age z-scores, for instance, were better for females than those for males throughout all age groups, with statistical significance in the following age groups: younger than 5 years, 10-14 years and 15-19 years. The same pattern was also observed for adults. Results suggest that gender inequality might not be caused by social discrimination.

In 2015, male to female ratio for Solomon Islands was 103.38 males per 100 females. Male to female ratio of Solomon Islands fell gradually from 110.76 males per 100 females in 1970 to 103.38 males per 100 females in 2015.

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