Party: Western Breakaway Movement
In the mid-1970s, politicians in the Western Solomons began to agitate for separation of the region from the Solomon Islands, or for provincial status. They were influenced to some extent by the 1975 Bougainville movement to secede from Papua New Guinea. Those in the Western Solomons arguing for separation cited a variety of factors: the region's economic importance, the common darker skin colour of its people, and its unique languages, values and history. One issue related to land, in that most of the Solomons' plantations were in the West and in the 1970s alienated land was gradually being restored to customary ownership. In 1977, the Legislative Assembly passed an act to transfer large areas of leased land to the control of the national government. The Western District government controlled little land.
The people of the Western Solomons are distinct in appearance, physically dark-skinned and more resembling of the people of Bougainville and Buka than those of the central and southern Solomons. They claimed to be economically supporting the rest of the Solomon Islands, although statistics did not support this assertion. They claimed that the Roviana language was a lingua franca for the people of the Western Solomons and was the language used by the area's major Christian denomination, the Methodists, and by the Seventh-day Adventists. But there were many other Solomon Islanders living in the West: of the area's 1970s population 12 percent were not born there, most of those being from Malaita, Guadalcanal and the other central islands. People in the West wanted to control migration into their district, and there was a clear fear of Malaitan migration, intermarriage and possible future dominance. Part of the difference was claimed to be historical, in that Isabel, Choiseul and the Shortland Islands had been part of German New Guinea (q.v.) until 1899-1900, although in actuality that difference had little impact on the respective peoples. Another factor that unified people of the Western Solomons was the two Christian churches-the Methodists and Seventh-day Adventists-which were the first in the area in the 1900s and 1910s. There was a Catholic minority, and no Anglican presence. (Melanesian Nius, 9 Feb. 1977) In early 1977, Geoffrey Beti (q.v.), member for Roviana, placed a motion in the Legislative Assembly for the separation of the Western Solomons, but this was withdrawn the following August. (STT 1 Feb. 1978)
The Western Council did not demand a separate state, although some local politicians did. What most Western leaders wanted was to negotiate maximum autonomy within the Solomons state. Although there was no political party, a Western Breakaway Movement Working Committee was formed at Munda on New Georgia in January 1978. The main political force behind it was John Talasasa, member for Vono Vono, but there was no core to the Movement and it was weakened by collective leadership. The situation worsened just before independence in June 1978 when the Solomons News Drum published 'West Wind', a scurrilous poem that attacked the integrity of the people of the Western Solomons. This did great damage to relations between the West and the rest of the nation. Initially, it was thought that the poem had been written by the Prime Minister's special political secretary. Its real author, Lemuel Maealatha, was later sent to prison for sedition for three months and the national government paid $7,000 in compensation to the Western Provincial Assembly. In April 1978, six members of the Legislative Assembly from the West walked out of the House. There were calls for a referendum on independence and in 1978 the Kausimae Committee looking into provincial government was blocked from taking evidence in the West.
Western Province did not celebrate independence in 1978, although quietly, a year later, Prime Minister Kenilorea (q.v.) was able to visit and the national flag was raised. After independence, Francis Billy Hilly (q.v.) resigned from Cabinet in 1981 and became President of Western Council. He was also appointed Chairman of a new committee to deal with the political affairs of Western Province. (STT 19 July 1978, 27 Sept. 1978, 18 Oct. 1978, 22 Nov. 1978; Premdas, Steeves and Larmour 1984; Kenilorea 2008, 253-254, 261; Scales 2007)
- Kenilorea, Peter, Tell It As It Is: Autobiography of Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Kenilorea, KBE, PC, Solomon Islands' First Prime Minister, Clive Moore, Centre for Asia-Pacific Area Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 2008, xxxvi, 516 pp. pp. Details
- Solomon Toktok, 1977-1992. Details
- Premdas, Ralph R., Steeves, Jeffrey S., and Larmour, Peter, 'The Western Breakaway Movement in the Solomon Islands', Pacific Studies, vol. 7, no. 2, 1984, pp. 34-67. Details
- Scales, Ian, 'The Coup Nobody Noticed: the Solomon Islands Western State Movement in 2000', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 42, no. 2, 2007, pp. 187-209. Details