Concept: Business, Indigenous


Judith Bennett's The Wealth of the Solomons provides an excellent description of the limited development of indigenous business. The bigmen who became middlemen in the whaling era, and the 'passage masters' who controlled labour recruiting from the 1870s to the 1920s, could have developed into an entrepreneurial class. However, they were limited by the presence of the European and Chinese traders who ensured that any indigenous entrepreneurial spirit was stifled. The Chinese in particular undercut European traders and prospered, but this made it hard for any Solomon entrepreneur to survive. The Protectorate Government did nothing to encourage indigenous entrepreneurs until after the Second World War. There were some early successes. Early in the twentieth century, Peter Waitasu (q.v.) ran trading vessels out of Ugi, and Sango of Talise on the south coast of Guadalcanal had planted coconut groves and ran a few head of cattle. Langalanga Malaitans owned cutters and charged to take stevedores across to Tulagi to work on the visiting steamers. Burns Philp & Co. (q.v.) lent money to Langalanga Malaitans to buy boats to transport labour to Tulagi.

A few Solomon Islanders paid the necessary £10 to obtain hawker or store licenses. On Isabel and Malaita, the first indigenous store licenses were issued in 1933. On Isabel, ten were issued in 1934, seventeen the next year and fifty-two in 1937 along with similar numbers of hawker licenses. Isabel's people had also developed a considerable trade in trochus shell and used their boats to trade directly with Tulagi. In the Western District there was a combination of local trade in commodities with trade of export items, and, as in the Russell Islands, the people were able to sell produce to companies to feed plantation labourers. Savo people sold pigs to Nggela and Malaita, and Nggela people became middlemen in pig trading to Malaita, plus they provided shell for production of valuables in Langalanga Lagoon. In addition, Nggela people supplied food to Tulagi and worked as wharf labourers there.

In the Shortlands, there were similar numbers of indigenous licensed traders as in Isabel but the strong presence of the Methodist Church in the New Georgia Islands, which also had trade stores, and of Chinese traders, held back similar development. Bennett notes that in the 1930s the six Chinese boats trading around Malaita left little scope for indigenous entrepreneurs. Enterprising men were absorbed into the Methodist Church networks. Local produce became available to ship in the mid-1930s and a Gizo Chinese trader provided local people credit to purchase cutters and auxiliary vessels, which linked in Roviana, Simbo and Kolombangara villagers to the New Georgia circuits. This was the first time credit facilities had been extended to Solomon Islanders, and it enabled them to cut out middlemen traders. Many began to prosper and they provided cheaper services to villagers, but there were always pressures from kin that could sap profits and energies. An indigenous trader-class developed in the 1930s, which owned trading and fishing vessels. In the western part of the Protectorate cash began to replace barter trade and trade in shell valuables. (Bennett 1987, 208-209, 252-257, 267-268)

Related Concepts

Published resources


  • Bennett, Judith A., Wealth of the Solomons: A History of a Pacific Archipelago, 1800-1978, University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1987. Details