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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The human history of the Solomon Islands begins with the first settlement at least 30,000 years ago from New Guinea. They represented the furthest expansion of humans into the Pacific until the expansion of Austronesian-language speakers through the area around 4000 BC, bringing new agricultural and maritime technology. Most of the languages spoken today in the Solomon Islands derive from this era, but some thirty languages of the pre-Austronesian settlers survive (see East Papuan languages).
Sikaiana, then known as the Stewart Islands, was annexed to the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1856.
Missionary activity then started at the mid 19th century and European colonial ambitions led to the establishment of a German Protectorate over the Northern Solomons, following an Anglo-German Treaty of 1886. A British Solomon Islands Protectorate over the southern islands was proclaimed in 1893. German interests were transferred to the United Kingdom under the Samoa Tripartite Convention of 1899, in exchange for recognition of the German claim to Western Samoa.
Japanese forces occupied the Solomon Islands in January 1942. The counter-attack was led by the United States; the 1st Division of the US Marine Corps landed on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in August 1942. Some of the bitterest fighting of World War II took place on the islands for almost three years. Tulagi, the seat of the British administration on the island of Nggela Sule in Central Province was destroyed in the heavy fighting following landings by the US Marines. Then the tough battle for Guadalcanal, which was centred on the capture of the airfield, Henderson field, led to the development of the adjacent town of Honiara as the United States logistics centre.
The impact of the war on islanders was profound. The destruction caused by the fighting and the longer-term consequences of the introduction of modern materials, machinery and western cultural artefacts, transformed traditional isolated island ways of life. The reconstruction was slow in the absence of war reparations and with the destruction of the pre-war plantations, formerly the mainstay of the economy. Significantly, Solomon Islanders experience as labourers with the Allies led some to a new appreciation of the importance of economic organisation and trade as the basis for material advancement. Some of these ideas were put into practice in the early post-war political movement "Maasina Ruru" - often corrupted to "Marching Rule".17
Elections were held again in 1970 and a new constitution was introduced. The 1970 constitution replaced the Legislative and Executive Councils with a single Governing Council. It also established a 'committee system of government' where all members of the Council sat on one or more of five committees. The aim of this system was to reduce divisions between elected representatives and the colonial bureaucracy, provide opportunities for training new representatives in managing the responsibilities of government. It was also claimed that this system was more consistent with the Melanesian style of government, however this was quickly undermined by opposition to the 1970 constitution and the committee system by elected members of the council. As a result, a new constitution was introduced in 1974 which established a standard Westminster form of government and gave the Islanders both Chief Ministerial and Cabinet responsibilities. Solomon Mamaloni became the country's first Chief Minister in July 1974.
Even as late as 1970, the British Protectorate did not envisage independence for Solomon Islands in the foreseeable future but shortly thereafter, the financial costs of supporting the Protectorate became more trying, as the world economy was hit by the first oil price shock of 1973. The imminent independence of Papua New Guinea (in 1975) was also thought to have influenced the Protectorate's administrators, however, outside of a very small educated elite in Honiara, there was little in the way of an indigenous independence movement in Solomons. Nonetheless, self-government was achieved in January 1976 and after July 1976, Sir Peter Kenilorea became the Chief Minister who would lead the country to independence. This was achieved on 7 July 1978 and Kenilorea automatically became the country's first Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was formed to uphold Malaitan interests. The Government appealed to the Commonwealth Secretary General for assistance. The Honiara Peace Accord was agreed on 28 June, 1999. Despite this apparent success the underlying problems remained unresolved. The accord soon broke down and fighting broke out again in June 2000.
Malaitans took over some armouries at their home island and Honiara and helped by that, on June 5 the MEF seized the parliament by force. They claimed that the government of the then Prime Minister, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, had failed to secure compensation for loss of Malaitan life and property. Ulufa’alu was forced to step down.
On 30 June Parliament elected by a narrow margin a new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare. He established a Coalition for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, which released a program of action focused on resolving the ethnic conflict, restoring the economy and distributing the benefits of development more equally. However, Sogavare’s government was deeply corrupt and its actions led to the downward economic spiral and the deterioration of law and order.
The conflict was foremost about access to land and other resources and was centered around Honiara. Since the beginning of the civil war it is estimated that 100 have been killed. About 30,000 refugees, mainly Malaitans, had to leave their homes, and economic activity on Guadalcanal was severely disrupted.
Continuing civil unrest led to an almost complete breakdown in normal activity: civil servants remained unpaid for months at a time, and cabinet meetings had to be held in secret to prevent local warlords from interfering. The security forces were unable to reassert control, largely because many police and security personnel are associated with one or another of the rival gangs.
In July 2003 the Governor General of Solomon Islands issued an official request for international help, which was subsequently endorsed by a unanimous vote of the parliament. Technically, only the Governor General's request for troops was necessary. However, the government then passed legislation to provide the international force with greater powers and resolve some legal ambiguities.
On July 6, 2003, in response to a proposal to send 300 police and 2,000 troops from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to Guadalcanal, warlord Harold Keke announced a ceasefire by faxing a signed copy of the announcement to the Solomons Prime Minister, Allan Kemakeza. Keke ostensibly leads the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, but has been described as marauding bandit based on the isolated southwestern coast (Weather Coast) of Guadalcanal. Despite this ceasefire, on July 11, 2003 the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation broadcast unconfirmed reports supporters of Harold Keke razed two villages.
In mid-July 2003, the Solomons parliament voted unanimously in favour of the proposed intervention. The international force began gathering at a training facility in Townsville. In August 2003, an international peacekeeping force, known as the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and Operation Helpem Fren, entered the islands. Australia committed the largest number of security personnel, but with substantial numbers also from other South Pacific Forum countries such as New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea (PNG). It acts as an interim police force and is responsible for restoring law and order in the country because the Royal Solomon Islands Police force failed to do so for a variety of reasons. Peacekeeping forces have been successful in improving the country's overall security conditions, including brokering the surrender of a notorious warlord, Harold Keke in August 2003.
The government continues to face serious problems, including an uncertain economic outlook deforestation, and malaria control. At one point, prior to the deployment of RAMSI forces, the country was facing a serious financial crisis. While economic conditions are improving, the situation remains unstable.