Place: Religion



Solomon Islanders were ancestor worshipers and propitiated them mainly through following taboos they set down, performing rituals for them and sacrificing pigs to them in their shrines. Mana is at the foundation of the religious system, a supernatural power that can be present in various degrees in humans and objects but is always derived from spirits. It is associated with anything outside the natural order of things. The central object of religious practices is to direct mana to personal benefit by securing the goodwill of spirits through sacrifice and offerings. Mana is neither good nor bad but is always a dangerous power. Early Christian missionaries usually mistook mana as something evil, which it was not. The best early explanation of mana was provided by Anglican missionary Rev. R. H. Codrington in his The Melanesians: Studies in Their Anthropology and Folklore (1891).

Related to mana is a belief in the concept of taboo, a system of prescriptive and prohibitive rules backed by supernatural sanctions. There are many taboos which governed daily life to regulate communities, and also taboos imposed for sacred reasons. Taboo violations can displease spirits and their descendants. One of the most common taboos still observed by some is the separation of men and women, seen in their relative physical positioning. This in modern form is displayed by more traditional Malaitan males not walking underneath women (when they are in raised houses) or their garments (if they are on a clothesline), or in the separation of males from females in the services of some Christian churches.

There was never a concept of a supreme deity or superior gods except in Polynesian-influenced areas. The people believe in different kinds of spirits: some were ancestors remembered and venerated, others were 'wild' or unconnected spirits, some of them ancestors who had lost all of their descendants, and others had never been human at all. However, the system is not rigid and over time particular ancestral spirits may become forgotten, be given lesser emphasis, or be superseded by new ones. The spirits of great ancestors are the most venerated. Animals such as sharks or frigate birds have associations with spirits in some places. There are no orders of priests, but some men become specialists and have more important roles in religious ceremonies, performing sacrifices, prayers and incantations. These were usually performed at shrines where relics of ancestors such as skulls and other sacred objects were housed. Sacrifices can be part of large communal mortuary ceremonies, but individuals also formed personal relationships with specific spirits and made private sacrifices to them on a smaller scale. Most sacrifices were of pigs, but in some places in the Solomons, particularly in the Western Solomons, humans were sacrificed for special occasions, usually being war captives, slaves or socially insignificant people.

Although traditional religious practices have been maintained in a few areas, most notably in the Kwaio mountains of central Malaita, the vast majority of Solomon Islanders now profess adherence to a Christian church. Nonetheless, magic and belief in mana have survived into the modern community. Magic practitioners rely more on techniques than their close relationship with the spirit world. They may be called upon to cure diseases or ensure good weather, and usually mix an ability to understand natural phenomena and human ailments with magic and the spirit world. (Starzecka and Cranstone 1974; Scott 2005; Burt 1994; Tromph 1991)

The major influence from world religions has been, again, through Christianity. The Catholic Spanish explorer Mendaña abducted and baptized some Makira Islanders in 1568, but they had no idea what the process meant. The next missionary presence was the short-lived Catholic Mission (q.v.) in 1845, led by Jean-Baptise Epalle (q.v.), consecrated the first Bishop of 'Melanesia and Micronesia'. He was killed and the Catholics withdrew until 1898. The Anglican Diocese of Melanesia (q.v.) was established in 1861, although outreach from New Zealand into the Solomons began in 1852 when the Anglicans started to recruit students for their schools in New Zealand and later (after 1867) at Norfolk Island. They took away mainly young men for some years before returning them to begin mission schools in the islands. The Anglican Mission presence became larger by the 1870s and some islands, such as Isabel, remain predominantly Anglican today. The Queensland Kanaka Mission (q.v.) arrived in the islands informally in 1894 with Peter Abu'ofa (q.v.), and formally from 1904. It became the South Sea Evangelical Mission (q.v.) in 1907. The Methodist Mission (q.v.) arrived in 1902, based in Roviana Lagoon, New Georgia. The Seventh-day Adventists (q.v.) arrived in 1914, also initially based in the Western Solomons. The Assembly of God (q.v.) came in 1971. The Jehovah's Witnesses (q.v.) in 1977, although they had some influence as far back as 1948. (Tippett 1967)

The various denominations behaved quite differently in their attitude to localisation of their clergy and teachers. The Anglicans installed their first indigenous deacons and priests in the late nineteenth century and developed an indigenous Order, the Melanesian Brotherhood, founded in 1925, as well as the smaller Sisters of the Cross. The SSEM always encouraged localisation because they did not have a clergy in the same style as did the Catholics and Anglicans. The Methodists always used external Pacific Islanders and local pastors. Esau Tuza (q.v.) and Lesley Boseto (q.v.) were the first ordained Methodist Solomon Islands ministers. The Catholics were more rigid and used mainly French Marist priests and sisters, while developing local Orders for sisters. The first Solomon Islander to be ordained by the Catholic Church was Michael Aike (q.v.) in 1965, followed by Donasiana Hitee and Timothy Bobongi in 1967, and Lawrence Isa in 1968.

Religion in the Solomon Islands

Religion 1970 percent 1976 percent
Church of Melanesia54,004 33.567,370 34.2
Catholic Church30,117 18.736,870 18.7
South Sea Evangelical27,772 17.233,306 16.9
Seventh-day Adventist14,939 9.319,113 9.7
United Church18,075 11.222,209 11.3
Christian Fellowship3,878 2.44,822 2.4
Jehovah's Witness2,496 1.83,530 1.8
Customary Beliefs0 07,130 3.6
Other Religions593 0.4873 0.4
No Religion/unstated1,280 0.81,600 0.6
Total Population160,998 100196,823

Source: Ernst 2006, 172

In the 1970s, about one-third of the population was Anglican (Diocese of Melanesia), with another third split equally between the Catholics and the South Sea Evangelical Church. Most of the remainder were connected to the United Church and the Christian Fellowship Church (q.v.), with about 5 percent still following their ancestral religions. (AR 1974, 19) The largest local indigenous churches are the Remnant Church (q.v.) founded in 1955 and the Christian Fellowship Church (q.v.) founded in 1960.

In the 2000s, 95 percent of Solomon Islanders identify as Christian: 34 percent Church of Melanesia (Anglican), 19 percent Catholics, 17 percent SSEC (the Mission became an independent church in 1964), 11 percent United Church and 10 percent Adventists. The Assemblies of God and the Jehovah's Witnesses, are the largest of the minor denominations. The Bahá'í Faith (q.v.) was established in the 1950s and in the 2000s Islam has made limited inroads, mainly on Malaita. A degree of syncretism in teachings and behaviour is accepted by some denominations. Whole villages often adhere to one denomination. See also entries under Christianity; the individual churches; and the Bahá'í Faith.

Related Concepts

Published resources


  • Burt, Ben, Tradition and Christianity: The Colonial Transformation of a Solomon Islands Society, Harwood Academic Publishers, Chur, Switzerland, 1994. Details
  • Ernst, Manfred, Globalization and the Reshaping of Christianity in the Pacific Islands, Pacific Theological College, Suva, 2006. Details
  • Starzecka, Dorota C., and Cranstone, B.A.L., The Solomon Islanders, British Museum Publications, London, 1974. Details
  • Tippett, Alan R., Solomon Islands Christianity: A Study in Growth and Obstruction, Lutterworth Press, London, 1967. Details

Journal Articles

  • Scott, Michael W., ''I Was Like Abraham': Notes on the Anthropology of Christianity from the Solomon Islands', Ethnos, vol. 70, no. 1, March, pp. 101-125. Details


  • British Solomon Islands Protectorate, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Annual Reports (AR), 1896-1973. Details


Kalabet Fugui and his ancestors skulls at Talito Islet, Ataa, Lau Lagoon, Malaita Island
Clive Moore