The Solomons are mountainous and heavily wooded. The inhabitants are largely Melanesians, although some Polynesians live in the outlying atolls. About one third of the people belong to the Church of Melanesia, and there are minorities of Roman Catholics and other Christian denominations. English is the official language, but a Melanesian pidgin is the lingua franca; there are about 120 indigenous languages.
Farming, fishing, and forestry are the main occupations. Cocoa beans, coconuts, palm kernels, rice, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit are grown. Economic development has been slow, and industry is limited to fish processing, mining, and lumbering. There are large undeveloped mineral resources. By the 1990s, logging levels had become unsustainable and the government instituted regulatory legislation. Timber, fish, coconut products, palm oil, and cocoa are the main exports, while foodstuffs, machinery, manufactured goods, fuels, and chemicals are imported. The main trading partners are China, Australia, and South Korea.
The country is governed under the constitution of 1978. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by the governor-general, is the head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister. The unicameral National Parliament has 50 members, all elected by popular vote for four-year terms. Administratively, the Solomon Islands are divided into nine provinces and the capital territory.
A Spanish explorer, Álvaro de Mendeña de Neira, was the first European to visit the islands (1568), but his colonizing efforts failed. European settlers and missionaries arrived throughout the 18th and 19th cent. In 1885 the German New Guinea Company established control over the N Solomons. The southern islands were placed under a British protectorate in 1893; the eastern islands were added to it in 1898. In 1900, Germany transferred its islands (except Bougainville and Buka) to Great Britain in return for British withdrawal from W Samoa. Bougainville and Buka were occupied by Australian forces during World War I and were placed under Australian mandate by the League of Nations in 1920. During World War II, Choiseul, New Georgia, Ysabel, and Guadalcanal were occupied by the Japanese (1942) but were liberated by U.S. forces (1943-44).
The Solomon Islands became self-governing in 1976 and independent in 1978. The government is parliamentary, with a governor-general representing the British crown, a prime minister and cabinet, and an elected unicameral parliament. In Aug., 1997, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu became prime minister after winning a leadership vote in parliament. Ethnic strife broke out on Guadalcanal in 1999, as island natives fought with immigrants from the island of Malaita. In 2000 the battling between ethnic-based militias intensified, and the Malaita militia took Ulufa'alu hostage in June. The prime minister resigned under duress; Mannasseh Sogavare, who was chosen to succeed him, pledged to seek a resolution to the violence.
After elections held in Dec., 2001, Sir Allan Kemakeza was elected prime minister. Despite efforts to negotiate an end to the violence, it continued, ruining the economy and bankrupting the country. In July, 2003, an Australian-led peacekeeping force entered the Solomons at the government's request to restore order. The operation was largely successful, disarming rebels, arresting their leaders, and enabling people displaced by the violence to return home, and most troops were withdrawn before year's end. Police officers associated with the mission remain in the Solomons.
Corruption accusations against several government ministers led to large losses for Kemakeza's party in the Apr., 2006, elections. Former deputy prime minister Snyder Rini was elected to succeed Kemakeza as prime minister, but Rini's election sparked protests in Honiara by demonstrators upset with his ties to what they regarded as a corrupt administration. The protests turned into anti-Chinese riots because the corruption has been associated with the money and development brought by recent Chinese investors. Additional Australian and New Zealand forces were sent to the Solomons to help restore order, and Rini resigned when he lost parliamentary support. In May, Mannasseh Sogavare was elected prime minister with the support of the opposition parties.
The new government's relations with Australia subsequently became strained when Australia's ambassador criticized a Solomons investigation into the post-election riots as a potential whitewash and was expelled. The situation worsed when Sogavare appointed Julian Moti, an Australian lawyer of Fijian descent who was wanted in Australia on child sex charges, as the Solomons attorney general. Australia sought Moti's extradition from Papua New Guinea, where Moti was arrested (Sept., 2006) while in transit. Moti managed to flee with apparent help from Papua New Guinea and Solomons officials, and then entered the Solomons illegaly and was held there. (His appointment as attorney general was suspended as a result of his illegal entry.)
A Solomons police investigation into Moti's illegal entry resulted in a raid on the prime minister's office. Sogavare criticized the raid as an Australian violation of his nation's sovereignty because of the presence of Australians (hired by the Solomons government) throughout the police force; the Australian government denied having any involvement in Solomons police affairs. A Solomons court cleared Moti of all Solomons charges in December, the Australian-born police commissioner was subsequently declared an undesirable immigrant, and in July, 2007, Moti became attorney general. In Apr., 2007, an undersea earthquake and tsunami caused widespread significant destruction in the W Solomon Islands, devastating the nation's second largest city, Gizo. Sogavare lost a confidence vote in Dec., 2007, and Derek Sikua, backed by the oppostion and some former Sogavare supporters, became prime minister. Moti subsequently was deported to Australia; in 2009 the charges against him were dismissed.
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