World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Solomon Islands : Overview
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Solomon Islands : Overview, 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce3d2a.html [accessed 6 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Solomon Islands are one of the largest Pacific island states. Most islands are high, mountainous and of volcanic origin alongside some coral atoll outliers. More than sixty islands are populated.
Main languages: Melanesian (about 80 languages), Polynesian (about 5 languages), Pijin, English
Main religions: Christianity (various), animism
Minority groups include Polynesians and i-Kiribati
The rapidly growing population is primarily Melanesian. More than 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and relies on a semi-subsistence agricultural economy. The central chain of high islands was historically occupied by Melanesians, while outlying islands, including coral atolls, were occupied by different Polynesian cultural groups. Many Polynesians have moved to the centre, and especially the capital Honiara.
The Micronesian Gilbertese (i-Kiribati) were resettled in the Solomon Islands from the 1950s, when both the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) and Solomon Islands were British colonies, because of land shortages in the Gilbert Islands. By the 1970s about a thousand Gilbertese were established in the Solomon Islands, growing to around 4,000 by the 1990s, many living in Honiara.
In addition to i-Kiribati, there are small numbers of other migrant groups, mainly around Honiara, including Chinese and Europeans, but their numbers have fallen since independence.
The Solomon Islands became independent in 1978. The population has grown quickly. The economy is dominated by subsistence agriculture. The principal exports have been timber, fish, oil palm and gold, but the export economy was disrupted following economic and ethnic violence that began in 1999. Despite apparent contemporary stability some elements of the pre-violence economy, such as a promising gold mine, have yet to be re-established.
The Solomon Islands has a national parliament of fifty seats and there are nine very weak provincial governments. Economic development problems, and high unemployment, compounded by corruption, a rapidly growing population and substantial migration from other islands to the fringes of the capital, Honiara, resulted in tensions over access to land and employment and an outbreak of violence in 1999, notably between Malaitans – the bulk of the migrants to Honiara and the main island of Guadalcanal, and indigenous Guadalcanese.
There was considerable violence between the Isatabu Freedom Movement, representing dissident Guadalcanese, and the Malaita Eagle Force. Clashes between the rival militias, the overthrow of the government and the collapse of policing led to tens of thousands made homeless, with many fleeing from the main island Guadalcana, for their home islands – an estimated 15,000-20,000 people evacuated in 1999 (mainly to Malaita), and at least 3,000 more hiding away from their villages by July 2000. The crisis, often presented simply as an ethnic clash, took place in a broader context of economic change affected by globalisation, corruption and the failure of a development model based on exploitation of natural resources such as logging and fisheries.
Perhaps as many as 200 people were killed over a four year period until international intervention in 2003 by Australian, New Zealand and Pacific islander police and military forces under the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), the military component of the force has been reduced in 2004-5. While Solomon Islanders largely welcomed RAMSI's work to end violence, criminal activity and restore an effective government and government services, the Solomon Islands is moving to the difficult stage of economic reform. Indigenous landowners and church leaders have challenged proposals for privatization of public utilities and for land registration. Prior to the April 2006 general election major riots broke out in Honiara in which much of Chinatown was burned down and destroyed and many Chinese residents were repatriated.
The April 2006 elections led to one Prime Minister lasting just 14 days before a new one was sworn in, with unresolved questions about corruption and the link between some prominent politicians and civil unrest, indicating the continued existence of political instability. In mid-2006 the Australian government expressed concern over an Australian citizen being appointed Attorney General who they had sought to have extradited to stand trial for sex offences. NGOs like the Solomon Islands Development Trust (SIDT) have surveyed popular anxiety about the lack of basic services, especially in rural areas, while a November 2004 report by Amnesty International has documented ongoing violence against women, even though armed conflict has ended. RAMSI remains in place.
Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples
The i-Kiribati and Polynesians have experienced problems of access to employment, and of access to land in some areas. There are considerable cultural differences throughout the country, not only between those peoples of Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian (Gilbertese) origin, but between the peoples of the west and those of the east, and between Melanesian Solomon Islanders and more recent Chinese residents, many of whom are entrepreneurs. Almost ninety indigenous languages are spoken in the country. Cultural and economic differences have resulted in secessionist sentiments in some areas, especially in the west and also from the Polynesian island of Bellona.
As was evident in 2006 there is strong resentment of the presence of Chinese traders, particularly those who had recently migrated to Solomon Islands. After the violence of April 2006 many returned to China but have not subsequently returned.
There are also issues for the descendants of Solomon Islanders living overseas, including those working in Fiji during the 19th century who remain in the Fiji Islands as members of the Melanesian community. Because many cannot claim land rights, they are organising to claim improved livelihoods. Other Solomon Islands descendants live in Queensland as Australian South Sea Islanders, who are seeking increased cultural links with their ancestral home since their 1994 recognition as a distinct community.