Between the end of the Second World War and the final decade of the 20th Century, the Solomon Islands slowly attained more and more autonomy. The British Protectorate had gradually brought a system of local councils and elections, and firsthand experience had convinced many islanders to adopt increased organization and trade.
From the 1940’s onward, movements such as Maasina Ruru and the Moro Movement saw islanders embracing independence and a prouder cultural awareness, partially inspired by the ideas and humane conduct of American (and especially African-American) soldiers during the war. Though the British government suppressed these movements whenever possible, the islanders continued to practice civil disobedience until some limited autonomy was achieved in 1951.
However, the British protectorate was not seriously considering Solomon independence until the 1970’s — and much of the impetus came from the 1973 oil crisis, which added significantly to the growing feeling (at home and abroad) that the various far-flung remnants of the British Empire were becoming too costly to maintain.Though independent under a single name, the Solomon Islands were not quite united. By the end of the century, “The Tension” between the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (later renamed the Isatabu Freedom Movement, after a pre-colonial name for Guadalcanal) and the Malaita Eagle Force turned into outright armed conflict. The resulting disruption of civil and economic life on Guadalcanal and the surrounding islands ultimately led to appeals to foreign assistance, officially issued in 2003.
Meanwhile, the islands had been hit by a succession of cyclones (most notably, Tia in 1992 and Zoe in 2002) which depleted the Solomon Islands ability to provide relief on its own behalf. Australia and other South Pacific nations contributed to a peacekeeping force designated RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands), which arrived in August of 2003.
In 2007, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake killed 52 people and destroyed over a dozen villages. The resulting tsunami was powerful enough to take lives as far away as Papua New Guinea. UNICEF, Red Cross, and the United Nations promptly supplied aid and established emergency camps and field hospital, but many remote villages waited days for agencies to arrive.
Most recently, the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed by Minister for Peace and Reconciliation Sam Iduri, modeled after Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s South African commission of the same name. Bishop Tutu assisted and gave an opening speech at the launch of the commission, which held its initial public hearings in March 2010.
The importance of venerating one’s ancestors is given eerie power by the sight of the skull houses and shrines. Though barriers of language and culture (and years!) may hamper easy empathy with the headhunters of Simbo, one can easily imagine a spirit-shadowed existence in which the departed are around us all the time, influencing our lives in countless subtle or obvious ways. Whether you call it ‘magic’ or simply ‘history’, it is real enough — and should be respected at all times.