Friday, 31 July 2015

Solomon Islands - Welcome to the Happy Isles!

The first time I remember becoming aware of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, was when I was living in Thailand in 2004 and I used to watch the weather reports on Australian TV.  I'd never heard of this interesting-sounding place, although I probably had a vague awareness that the Solomon Islands existed.  Ever since then, I've had a mild fascination with this small nation, in the western Pacific Ocean and, it goes without saying that I'd love to visit sometime although, for now, a virtual journey to the Solomon Islands will have to do!

The quest for El Dorado

As I've started my research into the Solomon Islands, I'm already making connections to places I've blogged about previously, namely Oaxaca in Mexico, Yemen and Fiji.

When I was blogging about Oaxaca, I learned about the arrival of the Spanish in central America - the disastrous first contact with Mesoamerican people, such as the Aztecs and the bloodthirsty greed for gold that led the Spanish to Peru and the search for the Golden one or El Dorado.

Beach near Havalo by Jenny Scott
The story of European contact with the Solomon Islands very much starts in Peru.  Having failed to find the fabled El Dorado in the Amazon jungle, the Spanish listened to Inca legends about Tupuc Yapanqui and the discovery of a fabulously rich kingdom of Terra Australis in the Pacific ocean.  In 1567, Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, the nephew of the governor of Peru, managed to convince his uncle to fund an expedition in the Pacific ocean, which ultimately brought him to what we now call the Solomon Islands.

The expedition was a disaster but, rather than admit this and in the hope of funding a second, more successful expedition, Mendaña returned to Peru with stories of a wealthy Pacific kingdom, which soon became known as the Solomon Islands, named after the wealthy Biblical King.  Mendaña eventually died in the Solomon Islands, on his equally disastrous second expedition, but the name has survived to the 21st century - a strange Middle Eastern reference, in a faraway place.

The Queen of Sheba and the man-eating myth

In 2011, I blogged about the Queen of Sheeba and her visit to King Solomon, a prototype of subsequent diplomatic missions.  Mendaña's tales from the Pacific also set in stone a pattern of cultural interaction, where Europeans began to believe that cannibalism was widespread amongst the people of the Pacific and this reminded me of the research I did when I was blogging about Fiji in 2012 and Obeyesekere's study of the man-eating myth.

The Lost islands and World War Two

House in Havalo village by Jenny Scott
After two unsuccessful attempts by the Spanish to colonise the Solomon Islands, they pretty much remained lost in time, as contemporary maps of the Pacific were so inaccurate, that the Solomon Islands was believed to be much further to the east than they actually are.

Despite this loss of contact between Europeans and Solomon Islanders, the European memory of the islands remained and, even today, many of the main islands Santa Isabel, Santa Cruz and Guadalcanal still have the names that were originally given to them by the Spanish in the 16th century.

Guadalcanal is probably the most well-known of the islands and became a theatre of the Pacific war in the 1940's, when the US army fought the Japanese to gain control over this strategic island group, so close to Australia. The British first started getting interested in the Solomon Islands towards the end of the 18th century, but it wasn't really until the 1890's that they established a protectorate over the island group and the British Solomon Islands joined the world stage.

British interest in the Solomons was mostly linked to their fledgling colony in Australia, but also the fact that, in the late 19th century, the Germans were muscling in on (what is now) Papua New Guinea.  A strange anomaly in the Solomons' story is that Bougainville, one of the islands in the Solomon group, is now part of Papua New Guinea rather than the modern-day nation of Solomon Islands.

Man in canoe by Jenny Scott
Islands adrift in time

The Solomon Islands has a couple of nicknames; the Happy Isles and the islands adrift in time.  I'm looking forward to finding out more over the next couple of months, reading, listening, cooking and watching movies associated with the Solomon Islands.  I do hope you'll join me on my virtual journey to this remote corner of the Pacific!

Image credits:

For this first blog post, I wanted to highlight the photos of Flickr member Jenny Scott, a.k.a. Adelaide Archivist.  Jenny took these photos in Halavo village, which is on the Nggela Sule island in the Solomons' central province.  Thanks Jenny for sharing these images using the creative commons license.