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The Commonwealth
Solomon Islands



Did you know:

The Commonwealth Youth Programme Pacific Centre is based in Honiara; it promotes youth development in 14 Pacific countries with a total population of some 31 million. The country is an archipelago consisting of a double chain of rocky islands and some small coral islands; the rocky islands are remarkable for their steep rugged mountains, of which the highest, Makarakomburu, on Guadalcanal Island, rises to 2,293m. Some 79% of Solomon Islands is covered by forest, though this area declined at 0.2% p.a. 1990–2010.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1978
Population: 561,000 (2013)
GDP: p.c. growth: 0.5% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: 2014: world ranking 157
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT plus 11hr
Currency: Solomon Islands dollar (SI$)


Area: 28,370 sq km
Coastline: 5,310km
Capital city: Honiara
Population density (per sq. km): 20

Solomon Islands, an archipelago in the south-west Pacific, consists of a double chain of rocky islands and some small coral islands. The major islands are Guadalcanal, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, New Georgia, Malaita and Makira (or San Cristobal). Vanuatu is the nearest neighbour to the south-east where the archipelago tapers off into a series of smaller islands. Its nearest neighbour to the west is Papua New Guinea.

The country comprises the capital territory of Honiara and nine provinces, namely Central (provincial capital Tulagi), Choiseul (Taro Island), Guadalcanal (Honiara), Isabel (Buala), Makira and Ulawa (Kirakira), Malaita (Auki), Rennell and Bellona (Tigoa), Temotu (Lata), Western (Gizo).

Main towns:

Honiara (capital, pop. 63,300 in 2010) on Guadalcanal, Auki (6,800) on Malaita, Munda (4,900) on New Georgia, Gizo (4,500) on Gizo in the New Georgia Islands, Uruuru (3,300) on Malaita, Buala (2,800) on Santa Isabel, Yandina (2,600) on Mbanika in the Russell Islands, Kirakira (2,000) on Makira, Tulagi (1,700) on Nggela Sule, Taro Island (1,200), Lata (630) on Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Islands and Tigoa (580) on Rennell and Bellona.


There are 1,390 km of roads (mainly on Guadalcanal and Malaita), 2.4 per cent paved, with some 470 km of main roads, the rest private rural-access roads. The terrain is mountainous and there is heavy rainfall making road conditions unpredictable.

The international ports are Honiara (on Guadalcanal) and Yandina (on Rennell Island); other significant ports are Gizo and Noro (on New Georgia). Ferries ply between the islands. The international airport is at Henderson Field, 13 km east of Honiara.

International relations:

Solomon Islands is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, Pacific Community, Pacific Islands Forum, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


The islands are remarkable for their steep rugged mountains, of which Makarakomburu (on Guadalcanal Island) is the highest at 2,293m. There are also several atolls and reef islands, plus several dormant and two active volcanoes. The rivers are fast-flowing and not navigable.


Equatorial; hot and humid. During the rainy season (November to April), there are fierce tropical storms – for example, Cyclone Zoë in December 2002, which devastated the isolated islands of Tikopia and Anuta.


The most significant environmental issues are deforestation, soil erosion, and that much of the surrounding coral reef is dead or dying.


Forest covers 79 per cent of the land, with dense tropical rainforest occurring on most islands, this percentage having declined at 0.2 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. There are large tracts of rough grass on the northern side of Guadalcanal and Nggela Sule. Parts of the coast are swampy, supporting extensive mangrove forests. Elsewhere, the coast is dominated by coconut palms. Hardwoods now grown for timber include mahogany, acacia and teak.


Indigenous mammals are small and include opossums, bats and mice. There are crocodiles in the mangrove swamps and sea turtles nest on the shores from November to February. Birdlife (more than 150 species) includes many species of parrot and incubator bird. Some 20 mammal species and 20 bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).


Archaeological evidence suggests that the Solomon Islands have been inhabited since 1000 BC. European penetration began in 1568 when the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana, exploring from South America, spent half a year in the islands. Believing that gold was present, he gave them the name of Solomon’s Islands, after the legendary King Solomon’s mines. During the 18th century a few European explorers visited the Islands, but made little impression on the inhabitants who lived in small isolated communities, often at war with one another.

In the next century, as Europe’s penetration of the Pacific advanced, naval ships began to call, and missionaries and traders arrived. From 1870, the islands were subjected to ‘blackbirding’ (attacks little different from slave raids), when kidnappers from Queensland and Fiji abducted Solomon Islanders as labour for the sugar plantations. The Solomon Islanders fought back fiercely, leading to slaughter on both sides.

In 1893 Britain made the South Solomons (Guadalcanal, Savo, Malaita, San Cristobal, the New Georgia group) a Protectorate, to which the Santa Cruz group was added in 1898 and 1899. In 1900 Germany ceded to Britain the Shortlands group, Santa Isabel, Choiseul and Ontong Java. With the establishment of the copra industry in 1908, and the spread of Christianity throughout the islands, raiding and fighting as a way of life began to die out, and mission schools provided a basic educational system.

The Solomon Islands were occupied by the Japanese army during the Second World War, and counter-invaded by American and Allied troops. There was almost continuous fighting from 1941 to 1943, and Guadalcanal was the scene of a six-month battle which was crucial to the outcome of the war in the Pacific. The Solomon Islanders fought on the side of the Allies, achieving renown for their courage in battle, and several were subsequently decorated.

After the war, the movement for self-determination gathered strength. There was political unrest in Malaita and elsewhere, which was eased by the setting up, from 1952 onwards, of local government councils, elected by universal adult suffrage.

In 1974 the governing council approved a constitution that provided for a governor and a legislative assembly of 24 elected members. In 1975 the name ‘British Solomon Islands Protectorate’ was formally changed to the present name. On 2 January 1976 the country became internally self-governing, proceeding to full independence on 7 July 1978. Solomon Islands came to independence under the leadership of Peter Kenilorea (later knighted), who had three periods in office, the first two consecutive. He was succeeded by his deputy Ezekiel Alebua in 1986. Other prime ministers since independence include Solomon Mamaloni, leading the Solomon Islands National Unity, Reconciliation and Progressive Party (1981-84, 1989-93 and 1994-97), and Francis Billy Hilly, leading the National Coalition Partners (1993-94).

At the general election in August 1997 Prime Minister Mamaloni’s main challenger was Bartholomew Ulufa’alu, leading a new group, the Alliance for Change, comprising several small parties and independents. The new coalition won, and Ulufa’alu became prime minister.

In July 1998, while parliament was in recess, Ulufa’alu dismissed Finance Minister Manasseh Sogavare and brought two members of the opposition Group for National Security and Advancement into the cabinet. Sogavare then led a group of six MPs to join the opposition, and though he could barely command a majority in parliament, Ulufa’alu appeared determined to continue in government.

Intercommunal conflict In the latter part of 1998, growing intercommunal tensions in Guadalcanal Province erupted into violence. The indigenous people of Guadalcanal were concerned about continuing settlement on the island of large numbers of Solomon Islanders from other islands and especially from Malaita, who dominated the national public service and the private sector in the capital, Honiara, located in Guadalcanal.

During 1999 the violence intensified and many thousands of Malaitans (including many long-standing residents of Guadalcanal) were driven to take refuge in Honiara or return to Malaita. In June a state of emergency was declared and, at the government’s request, the Commonwealth Secretary-General sent Sitiveni Rabuka, former prime minister of Fiji, to broker a peace deal. Agreement was reached on restoring peace and on the longer-term achievement of a more equitable ethnic balance in the national public service and the police force. A Commonwealth peace-monitoring group was to be provided.

Commonwealth-brokered peace Following further unrest, in August 1999 Rabuka brokered a new peace agreement (known as the Panatina Agreement) which included a reduction in police presence in Guadalcanal Province with effect from mid-August. In September 1999 the state of emergency was ended and in October a Commonwealth peace-monitoring group began supervision of the handover of arms by the militants. However, ethnic unrest continued into 2000, led by opposing militia – Malaita Eagle Force and Isatabu Freedom Movement. In June 2000 the Malaita Eagle Force took the prime minister and governor-general captive and compelled the prime minister to resign. When it was able to convene a quorum of members on an Australian warship, parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister and he formed a new government. With the support of the Australian and New Zealand Governments, the warring militia and the national and provincial governments engaged in a peace process leading in October 2000 to the signing of a peace agreement in Townsville, Australia. This provided for a general amnesty for all members and former members of the militia on the condition that they hand in their arms within a given timeframe, and economic development of the island of Malaita.

Former militia members were to be involved in the collection of arms and the return of law and order, and an international monitoring team was to supervise the handover of arms. Sporadic outbreaks of violence continued. Another peace agreement was concluded in February 2001 but still there were armed militia at large and many weapons remained in the hands of former militia members.

In June 2003 Solomon Islands’ then prime minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, with the unanimous approval of parliament and the support of regional leaders, accepted Australia’s offer to lead an international intervention force to restore law and order. The force of some 2,200 soldiers and police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, began operations in July 2003. Its first priority was to disarm the various militias and restore order. By 2005 the force had been reduced to a few hundred.

History of the Solomon Islands

A People Divided - Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands: living with mangroves

Learn more about Solomon Islands on The Commonwealth site Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Discovery Of The Solomon Islands
by Thomson, Basil, Ed. in two volumes (1901) (pdf)
Volume 1 | Volume 2

The Solomon Islands and their natives
by Guppy, H. B. (1887) (pdf)

Headhunting In The Solomon Islands Around The Coral Sea
by Caroline Mytinger (1942) (pdf)

Solomon Islands, a Tour of the beautiful island of GHIZO

Solomon Islands Travel

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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