Sunday, 18 October 2015

Solomon Islands - The Final Word

I've really enjoyed learning about the Solomon Islands over the past few months.  We haven't had the greatest summer in England this year, so it's been nice to transport myself on a virtual journey to the soft seas of the Pacific ocean!

I was starting from scratch with the Solomon Islands, to be honest, so I've learned a lot about this island nation and it intrigues me - I hope that, one day, I'll be able to visit for myself and understand the real context of everything I've been blogging about.

Summary of the themes

To summarise my virtual learning journey to the Solomon Islands, I started with a bit of history and the first European contact with the islands, during the period of Spanish exploration in the 16th century.  I also learned about the shameful 19th century tradition of blackbirding (kidnapping of Pacific islanders to work on plantations in Queensland) and the fascinating story of Jack Renton.

August saw the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Tatarstan and I took this opportunity to learn about different swimming styles and the contribution made by the Solomon Islands to the Solomons/Australian crawl!

Solomon Islands Fish and chips
In any virtual journey to the Solomon Islands you'll be sure to learn about the Pacific battles in World War Two.  The seas around the Solomon Islands are full of wrecked battle ships and submerged aircraft, as Guadalcanal became a major theatre of war between the Japanese and Allied forces.  As part of my research, I watched Terrance Malick's The Thin Red Line - a beautifully shot movie, which captures the surreal timelessness and brutality of war.

I couldn't really find a national dish from the Solomon Islands that wasn't essentially palu sami (which I've made several times before), so I created my own dish, Pacific-style fish and chips, using ingredients that would be more common in the Solomon Islands.

As usual, I did all of this with a fabulous soundtrack and I managed to find lots of great music from the Solomon Islands, including the lullaby Rorogwela which was sampled by Deep Forest in the early 1990's.


I read four books as part of my research into the Solomon islands - here's the list:

Devil-Devil by GW Kent
Lonely Planet: Solomon Islands (1997) - ed. Mark Honan and David Harcombe - although this edition is almost twenty years old, I still found it very informative and, interestingly, it's hard to find a more modern guidebook on the Solomon Islands.  I guess the rule of 'profit margins' has taken over and publishers are less keen to take on more exotic projects these days - in any case, I love reading guidebooks from the mid-90's as it coincides with the period when I started travelling and, therefore, leads me virtually down alternative paths that my life might have taken!

Solomon Time (2002) by Will Randall is one of the few travelogues based in the Solomon Islands. The story of an English school teacher who gives up his life in the UK, to set up a chicken farm in Rendova, it was an amusing read, but I can't say I learnt a lot from this book.

Devil-Devil (2011) by G.W. Kent - unfortunately, I didn't find time to blog about this wonderful book by GW Kent.  It's a detective novel set in Malaita and Honiara and I really enjoyed reading it, although I don't usually read that genre.  I loved the characters and I learnt a lot about Solomon culture as well - I'd highly recommend this series of novels!

The White Headhunter (2003) by Nigel Randell - a really informative and 'heavy' read, which I used for my blog post about blackbirding and Jack Renton.


I watched three movies in total, that were somehow connected to the Solomon Islands:

The Thin Red Line (1998) dir. Terrance Malick - see the link to my blog post on this above.

Operation Pacific (1951) dir. George Waggner and starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal - this was a more traditional war movie and, as it turns out, was set more around the Philippines than the Solomon Islands.  It was interesting to compare the approach to war movies in the 1950's, when everything was so romanticised and the late 90's, when the real horror of war was more in focus.  It's not a bad movie, as they go and very typical of that era.

Tanna (2015) dir. Bentley Dean and Martin Butler - the London Film festival is on at the moment and I've always intended to go to a showing, but somehow managed to miss this in previous years. Unfortunately, they didn't have any movies from the Solomon Islands on the programme this year, but they did have this wonderful movie from neighbouring Vanuatu, so I decided to watch it as part of my research into the Pacific region.  It's set on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu and a representative of the community in which the movie is shot came all the way to London to talk to us about his culture and traditions.  It was a truly memorable experience and it's a really beautiful movie.

I'm going to try to make a visit to the London Film festival an annual outing that coincides with whichever place I'm blogging about in future (or as close as I can get, culturally).

Other themes

As usual there were many other themes that I didn't have time to blog about, but if you're interested in continuing a learning journey about the Solomon Islands, I would suggest the following additional themes:

IATA codes
Missionaries in the Pacific
The Malaita Massacre
The shark callers of the Pacific
The Lau people
DBS - Distressed British Subjects
The Chinese in the Pacific
Te lapa - navigating with underwater lightening strikes
Quonset huts
The Marching Rule movement
The Kakamoras or pygmy people
Nguzunguzu - traditional carvings on war canoes
Pijin English
Richard Francis Burton - the British adventurer and orientalist
Evil spirits like the basana
JF Kennedy's time in the Solomon Islands
Cargo cults

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Solomon Islands - Playlist

I always enjoy discovering new music, when I'm researching for this blog.  I found quite a lot of music from the Solomon Islands, compared to other art forms like literature or movies, so I've made up a playlist of some of my favourites.

Sweet Lullaby - Deep Forest

Probably the most famous of all songs to come out of the Solomon Islands is the lullaby Rorogwela from the Baegu people in Malaita, which was sampled by Deep Forest on their 1992 album, Sweet Lullaby.  

The original vocal was recorded by a Swiss-French ethnomusicologist called Hugo Zemp when he travelled to the Solomon Islands in 1970 and the singer is a woman called Afunakwa.

I was a big fan of Deep Forest when I was a student in the 1990's and I've always loved this song, although I had no idea of its connection with Malaita and the Solomon Islands.

I'm also posting a YouTube video which has the original recording from a UNESCO Musical Sources collection from 1973.

Mato by Narasirato

Solomon Islands is probably most famous for its traditional panpipe music and Narasirato, who come from the island of Malaita, are one of the Solomon's most famous panpipe groups.  They played at festivals such as Glastonbury and Roskilde, so they're well known on the World Music stage.  I particularly liked a song called Mato from their 2012 album Warato'o, but all of their stuff is great!

I found this video on YouTube which will give you a flavour of their music.

Soso Kakoi by Wasi Ka Nanara

Also quite well-known internationally is a panpipe group called Wasi Ka Nanara and I really liked the song Soso Kakoi from their album Sounds of Paradise - Native Pan Flutes of the Solomon Islands.  There's nothing like a soft panpipe breeze from the Pacific Ocean when you're making your way to the train station on a rainy London morning!

I'm sharing a video from YouTube, which was made on a tour the band did in New Caledonia in 1998.

Funeral Song

One of the most beautiful pieces of music I came across was, quite sadly, a funeral song, which appears on the 2011 album Spirit of Melanesia.  The album features a collection of songs from Melanesia collected by the British ethnomusicologist, David Fanshawe, who had died the previous year.  Fanshawe spent around 10 years travelling to the Pacific to record the music of remote islands in Melanesia, but also Polynesia and Micronesia.

If you wish to hear the song, you can get an excerpt on its page at Amazon.

Ta'Umai by Sharzy

When I was in Barbados earlier this year, I heard a lot of reggae music, as we were spinning around the island on the local shared taxis.  There's something about reggae that seems to lend itself to tropical locations and I remember when I was blogging about Fiji back in November 2012, I was surprised to find that a lot of the most popular music there these days, is essentially a Pacific version of that very Caribbean sound!

Reggae seems to be very popular in the Solomon Islands as well and I really liked the song Ta'Umai by Sharzy, a well-known artist from Simbo in the Western Province.  This song comes from his 2010 album, Iu Mi Flow and is an interesting mixture of English, Tok Pisin and Simbo! Another great song for a rainy London commute!

Murderer by Jahboy

Another popular artist of recent years is Jahboy, a.k.a. Kirwan Hatigeva, who combines reggae with a bit of hip-hop.  He's of mixed Melanesian and Polynesian heritage and I really liked the song Murderer from his 2012 album LuvNLife.  

Beautiful girl by DMP

I know it's a bit cheesy, but I developed a soft spot for the song Beautiful Girl by DMP.  I find it really interesting in cultures that are incredibly masculine, how romantic the lyrics of male singers are sometimes and I can't imagine a woman singing a song about a man which has such a note of sad desperation!

Anyway, it's kind of catchy and I'm posting a YouTube-generated video below, so you can hear for yourself.

The Lagoon - conducted by Gavin Greenaway and composed by Hans Zimmer

I wrote about the movie The Thin Red Line in a previous blog post and, whilst I was doing my research, I also listened to the soundtrack for The Thin Red Line written by Hans Zimmer, the German composer who also did The Lion King and Gladiator.

My favourite track was The Lagoon as there is something quite haunting about this piece and it captures the slow-motion horror of the war in Guadalcanal, as well as integrating some native themes from the Solomon Islands. Although it's not traditional music from the Solomon Islands, I still felt it should be represented, as the Solomons and the war in Guadalcanal were the inspiration for the movie and its soundtrack.