Although little prehistory of the Solomon Islands is known, material
excavated on Santa Ana, Guadalcanal, and Gawa indicates that a hunter-gatherer
people lived on the larger islands as early as 1000 B.C. Some Solomon Islanders
are descendants of Neolithic, Austronesian-speaking peoples who migrated
somewhat later to the Pacific Islands from Southeast Asia.
The European discoverer of the Solomons was the Spanish explorer Alvaro
de Mendana Y Neyra, who set out from Peru in 1567 to seek the legendary
Isles of Solomon. British mariner Philip Carteret , entered Solomon waters
in 1767. In the years that followed, visits by explorers were more frequent.
Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-1800s. They made
little progress at first, however, because "blackbirding"--the often brutal
recruitment of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji--led
to a series of reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labor trade prompted
the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons
in 1893. In 1898 and 1899, more outlying islands were added to the protectorate;
in 1900 the remainder of the archipelago, an area previously under German
jurisdiction, was transferred to British administration. Under the protectorate,
missionaries settled in the Solomons, converting most of the population
In the early 20th century, several British and Australian firms began
large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the
islanders benefited little. With the outbreak of World War II, most planters
and traders were evacuated to Australia, and most cultivation ceased.
From May 1942, when the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought, until December
1943, the Solomons were almost constantly a scene of combat. Although U.S.
forces landed on Guadalcanal virtually unopposed in August 1942, they were
soon engaged in a bloody fight for control of the islands' airstrip, which
the U.S. forces named Henderson Field. One of the most furious sea battles
ever fought took place off Savo Island, near Guadalcanal, also in August
1942. Before the Japanese completely withdrew from Guadalcanal in February
1943, over 7,000 Americans and 21,000 Japanese died. By December 1943,
the Allies were in command of the entire Solomon chain.
Following the end of World War II, the British colonial government returned.
The capital was moved from Tulagi to Honiara to take advantage of the infrastructure
left behind by the U.S. military. A native movement known as the Marching
Rule defied government authority. There was much disorder until some of
the leaders were jailed in late 1948. Throughout the 1950s, other indigenous
dissident groups appeared and disappeared without gaining strength.
In 1960, an advisory council of Solomon Islanders was superseded by
a legislative council, and an executive council was created as the protectorate's
policymaking body. The council was given progressively more authority.
In 1974, a new constitution was adopted establishing a parliamentary
democracy and ministerial system of government. In mid-1975, the name Solomon
Islands officially replaced that of British Solomon Islands Protectorate.
On January 2, 1976, the Solomons became self-governing, and independence
followed on July 7, 1978.
Solomon Islands governments are characterized by weak political parties
and highly unstable parliamentary coalitions. They are subject to frequent
votes of no confidence, and government leadership changes frequently as
a result. Cabinet changes are common.
The first post-independence government was elected in August 1980. Prime
Minister Peter Kenilorea was head of government until September 1981, when
he was succeeded by Solomon Mamaloni as the result of a realignment within
the parliamentary coalitions. Following the November 1984 elections, Kenilorea
was again elected Prime Minister, to be replaced in 1986 by his former
deputy Ezekiel Alebua following shifts within the parliamentary coalitions.
The next election, held in early 1989, returned Solomon Mamaloni as Prime
Minister. Francis Billy Hilly was elected Prime Minister following the
national elections in June, 1993, and headed the government until November
1994 when a shift in parliamentary loyalties brought Solomon Mamaloni back
The national election of August 6, 1997 resulted in Bartholomew Ulufa'alu’s
election as Prime Minister, heading a coalition government, which christened
itself the Solomon Islands Alliance for Change. In June 2002, an insurrection
mounted by militants from the island of Malaita resulted in the brief detention
of Ulufa’alu and his subsequent forced resignation. Manasseh Sogavare,
leader of the People's Progressive Party, was chosen Prime Minister by
a loose coalition of parties. New elections in December 2001 brought Sir
Allan Kemakeza into the Prime Minister’s chair with the support of a coalition
of parties. Bartholomew Ulufa’alu is currently Leader of the Opposition.
Kemakeza attempted to address the deteriorating law and order situation
in the country, but the prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness, widespread
extortion, and ineffective police, prompted a formal request by the Solomon
Islands Government for outside help. In July 2003 Australian and Pacific
Island police and troops arrived in the Solomon Islands under the auspices
of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
The mission, consisting of a policing effort, military support, and a large
development component, has largely restored law and order to Honiara and
the other provinces of Solomon Islands and has been seen as highly successful
so far. Efforts are now underway to identify a donor base and reestablish
credible systems of governance and financial management.