Modern day travelers marvel at the natural beauty and rugged landscapes of this part of the world. Jean Marque was a former New Orleans maritime attorney before he changed gears to spend time learning and writing about this part of the world. New Orleans is a far cry from these environs, and maritime law is even farther away from the point of view of civilization. But his former occupation as an attorney provides the discipline and background that permits him to admire and engage with this new realm in a way that we all can admire and benefit from. Here are some of his findings.
The Solomon Islands, a sovereign country, are part of the Melanesian or Soloman Islands’ archipelago in the South-Western Pacific Ocean, somewhat northeast of Australia. The Melanesian archipelago consists of a number of large islands covering the province of Bougainville Island, an autonomous province of Papua New Guinea and the nation state of theSolomon Islands. A sovereign state is a a term used for a juridical entity of the international legal system that is represented by a centralized government, which has the ultimate independent authority over a geographic area, in this case the Melanesian archipelago consisting of many islands.
While the elements work overtime in the Solomons to eradicate most traces of humanity, there are nevertheless several well-preserved archeological sites and linguistic evidence to assist us in drawing a loose portrait of its earliest years.
Settlers from New Guinea likely provided the islands with the first wave of immigration. Some believe that Papuan-speaking settlers began to arrive around 30,000 BC from New Ireland, another island within the Melanesian archipelago. From around 4,000 BC onward, Austronesian speakers arrived, and later between 1200 BC and 800 BC the ancestors to the Polynesians, the Lapita people, arrived. Nevertheless, Solomon Islanders speak languages not seemingly related to any other in the region. The Austronesian brought their culteral elements with them including the out rigger canoe. The most solid findings (distinctive pottery shards) reflect an unmistakable Lapita influence during the 1200-800 BC period.
Landing on what they named Santa Isabel, the first European to visit the islands was a Spanish navigator by the name of Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira who had sailed from Peru. The Spanish sailors predictably wore out the islanders’ friendly welcome. The Spanish required more supplies than the Santa Isabel islanders could provide. In addition they reacted rather strongly when offered “a quarter of a boy with the arm and hand”. A second expedition by Mendana in 1595 established a more permanent colony (which lasted a whole two months) at Graciosa Bay on the island of “Santa Cruz” (Nendo). The people of Solomon Islands were notorious for their headhunting and cannibalism which was serverly curtailed after the arrival of Europeans.
British explorer Philip Carteret made the next European sighting of the Solomons in 1767, during his whirlwind three-year circumnavigation voyage. While no actual contact with islanders was recorded during the expedition, this inaugurated a more concerted colonial phase in which other British, French, and Dutch expeditions visited more frequently.
The height of colonial intrusion occurred with the onset of Christian missionaries during the latter half of the 19th Century. German and British interests competed for control of the islands until 1899’s Samoa Tripartite Convention, when the United Kingdom was given sovereignty. Interestingly, the Stewart Islands (actually the tiny atoll of Sikiana) had been claimed by Hawai’i in 1856, and the residents unsuccessfully asserted US citizenship after the annexation of 1898.