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Solomon Islands

Atlas Solomon Islands

Country (long form)
Total Area
10,984.61 sq mi
28,450.00 sq km
466,194 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
Melanesian pidgin in much of the country is lingua franca, English spoken by 1%-2% of population
N/A% total, N/A% male, N/A% female
Anglican 34%, Roman Catholic 19%, Baptist 17%, United (Methodist/Presbyterian) 11%, Seventh-Day Adventist 10%, other Protestant 5%, indigenous beliefs 4%
Life Expectancy
68.86 male, 73.81 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
parliamentary democracy
1 Solomon Islands dollar (SI$) = 100 cents
GDP (per capita)
$2,650 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture N/A%, industry N/A%, services N/A%
fish (tuna), mining, timber
cocoa, beans, coconuts, palm kernels, rice, potatoes, vegetables, fruit; cattle, pigs; timber; fish
Arable Land
timber, fish, palm oil, cocoa, copra
plant and equipment, manufactured goods, food and live animals, fuel
Natural Resources
fish, forests, gold, bauxite, phosphates, lead, zinc, nickel
Current Environmental Issues
deforestation; soil erosion; much of the surrounding coral reefs are dead or dying
Telephones (main lines in use)
7,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
230 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

It is thought that the first inhabitants of the Solomon Islands arrived from the northwest about 30,000 years ago, but the first organised agricultural people didn't settle until about 4000 BC, bringing with them knowledge of sailing, crops and animal breeding. Between that time and about 1600 AD, westward migration by Polynesians and the arrival of the Lapita people from the east created a heady mix of cultural practices in the region. Finding the main islands already occupied by Melanesians, the newcomers settled on the smaller, isolated islands, eliminating any small populations that happened to be in the way. For the next 400 years, these outlying areas became the focus of Tongan and Tokelauan aggression, resulting in a natural fear of strangers. By the 19th century, this fear produced the widespread habit (rarely practiced today) of attacking strangers on sight.

Meanwhile, the Spanish in Peru were starting to look around for new lands. In 1597, Don Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra took off in search of the legendary southern islands or, perhaps, continent. In 1568 his expedition sighted a large island, calling it Santa Isabel, then proceeded to navigate the nearby landforms giving them Spanish names that remain to this day. After six months of conflict with islanders over gold and food, the Spanish headed home. Mendaña described the islands, which he called the Western Islands, in glowing terms. By 1570 they were being referred to as Yslas de Salomon, in reference to the biblical king Solomon, and the name stuck. Though keen to return, Mendaña couldn't raise the funds until 1595, when he set off on an ill-fated attempt to set up a colony. After only two months on Santa Cruz the expedition limped back to Peru, minus Mendaña, who had succumbed to malaria. Ten years later, Mendaña's chief pilot decided to again repeat the mistakes of history. His failure signalled the end of Spanish interest in the western Pacific.

Due largely to bad mapping, Europeans stayed away from (that is, couldn't find) the Solomons for the next century and a half. In 1767, British captain Philip Cartaret stumbled through the island group. He couldn't believe that he'd rediscovered the Solomons, but the people who followed - an assortment of British, French and American explorers, whalers and traders - certainly left their mark in the area. Large-scale traders cut short the Islands' 'Great Peace' with their shonky business practices (robbery, murder) and imported diseases. The islanders quickly grew to hate the traders, and would often kill any white person they saw. Add firearms into this mix of headhunting, 'labour recruitment' (blackbirding) and distrust, and the Solomon Islands quickly gained the reputation for being the most inhospitable place in the Pacific. Even the unstoppable missionaries watched their step.

In the last decade of the 19th century, Britain did land deals with Germany and gained control of the island group, calling it the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. The first resident commissioner, Charles Woodford, took charge from 1896 to 1915. He was an enlightened chap - he never carried a gun - and is credited with planting the seeds of organised government in the Solomons.

In April 1942 the Japanese took the Shortland Islands and then moved to Tulagi. Their treatment of the locals was less than perfect, and when they began building an airfield on Guadalcanal, the Allies took immediate action. Large-scale US landings occurred in August 1942, but the Japanese surprised the Allies and inflicted one of the heaviest defeats in US naval history in the Battle of Savo. For six months the Allies held Guadalcanal and daytime supremacy, while the Japanese launched night raids and shipped in reinforcements. The US gained the upper hand and slowly began regaining the islands - one by one. Provoked as much by Japanese misconduct as by British orders, the islanders remained loyal to the Allies throughout the conflict. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, many islanders - mostly Malaitans - worked at the huge US base on Guadalcanal. It was here - being treated as friends and equals by the US army - that the locals saw that British ruling-class behaviour could do with an overhaul.

After the war, a nationalist, pro-American movement sprang up in Malaita, opposing the continuance of British rule. Mass arrests in 1947 and 1948 curbed the movement's potency, and it died out when the US withdrew in 1950. Britain saw the post-colonial writing on the wall, however, and introduced local government, regional assemblies and, finally, an elected governing council in 1970. Independence was granted on 7 July 1978. Independence has seen stability in the Solomon Islands. Aside from being drawn into the dispute between Bougainville and Papua New Guinea - ties between Shortland Islanders and Bougainvillians have strained the Solomons' relationship with PNG - international events have been rare and minor. In June 1999, the islands were placed under a state of emergency due to racially-related unrest. This unrest, due in part to the large number of people relocating from the island of Malaita to nearby Guadalcanal, spilled over into a coup and street violence in June 2000.

An agreement between the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) and the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) was signed in October 2000, but the peace was short-lived. Sir Allan Kemakeza, who was sacked as deputy prime minister amid financial scandals only months before, became prime minister in December 2001 and promised to restore peace and prosperity. But the violence continued, and Australian-led peacekeepers left in early March 2002 due to deteriorating conditions, with observers describing the situation as 'virtual anarchy.' In 2003, the government invited an international peacekeeping force consisting of a mix of military and police led by Australia to restore law and order to the nation. Initial outcomes are encouraging, with key rebels taking advantage of an amnesty, and Solomon Islanders are hoping that they've turned the law and order corner.