Ancient History of Solomon Islands

Postage stamp with portrait of King George VI, 1939

The Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in the Melanesia region of Oceania in the Pacific.

Pre-History of Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands’ human pre-history originates with the first Papuan town at least 30,000 years ago from New Guinea. They described the furthest development of humans into the Pacific until the growth of Austronesian-language speakers through the region around 4000 BCE, bringing new maritime and agricultural technology. Most of the languages expressed today in the Solomon Islands derive from this period, but some thirty languages of the pre-Austronesian settlers remain. Most of the people that lived there back then were Papuans.

There are protected various pre-European cultural buildings in the Solomon Islands, notably, Nusa Roviana shrines and fortress (14th – 19th century CE), Bao megalithic shrine monument (13th century CE), Skull island (Vonavona) – all in Western territory. Nusa Roviana fort, memorials, and encompassing villages served as a center of regional trade networks in the 16th – 19th centuries. Skull shrines of Nusa Roviana are sacred regions of legends. Better known is the Tiola shrine – a place of legendary stone dog which shifted towards the direction where the invader of Roviana was coming from. This archaeological monument characterizes local Roviana culture’s fast development through headhunting and trade expeditions turning into a local power in the 16th – 17th centuries.

European contact

The Spanish conquistador Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira first mentioned Santa Isabel island on 7 February 1568. Finding clues of alluvial gold on Guadalcanal, Mendaña concluded he had discovered the source of King Solomon’s wealth and named the islands “The Islands of Solomon.”

In 1595 and 1605, Spain again sent several campaigns to observe the islands and institute a colony; however, these were ineffective. In 1767 Captain Philip Carteret rediscovered the Malaita and Santa Cruz Islands. Later, French, Dutch, and British navigators toured the islands; their reception was often unfriendly.

Museums with important collections of Solomon Islands artifacts include the Peabody Museum of Salem, the Bishop Museum, and the South Sea Islands Museum.

Colonization

Sikaiana was invaded and annexed to the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1856. Hawai’i did not sign the official annexation, and the United States denied recognizing Hawaiian sovereignty over Sikaiana when the United States annexed Hawai’i in 1898 CE.

Christian missionary activity then began in the mid 19th century, and European colonial goals led to establishing a German Protectorate over the North Solomon Islands, which included parts of what is now the Solomon Islands, after an Anglo-German Treaty of 1886. A British Solomon Islands Protectorate over the southern islands was announced in June 1893. German interests were shifted to the United Kingdom under the Samoa Tripartite Convention of 1899, in exchange for accepting the German claim to Western Samoa.

In 1927 District Commissioner William R. Bell was murdered on Malaita, along with a cadet named Lillies and a dozen other Solomon Islanders in his charge. An extensive punitive expedition, known as the Malaita massacre, followed; at least 60 Kwaio were slaughtered, nearly 200 detained in Tulagi (the capital of the Protectorate), and many objects and sacred sites were desecrated or destroyed.

Independence (1978)

Even in the early 1970s, the British Protectorate did not imagine Solomon Islands’ independence in the foreseeable future. Shortly thereafter, the financial costs of maintaining the Protectorate became more troublesome, as the world market was hit by the initial oil price shock of 1973. Historians also evaluated the following independence of Papua New Guinea (in 1975) to have moved the Protectorate’s administrators.

Outside of a tiny educated elite in Honiara, there was little in the way of an aboriginal freedom movement in the Solomons. Self-government was conferred in January 1976, and after July 1976, Sir Peter Kenilorea became the Chief Minister who would lead the nation to independence. British granted independence on 7 July 1978, and Kenilorea became the country’s first Prime Minister of Solomon Islands.

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