Biographical entry: Gorai, Joni


'Big' Joni Gorai was an important chief in the Shortland Islands in the second half of the nineteenth century. Judith Bennett's research provides us with a good picture of this complex and powerful man. He was a nephew of the chief Barara, who tried to assert supremacy over the chiefs of Mono Island, and was a close friend of the early trader Alexander Ferguson. Gorai was able to play traders off against each other and thereby remain dominant because there were so many, particularly after German New Guinea traders began to arrive in the 1880s. Gorai's daughter Tanutanu Galaga married John A. Macdonald (q.v.), son of the earliest trader in the Solomons, J. C. Macdonald (q.v.). She died in childbirth soon afterwards. Gorai controlled access to copra in the Shortlands and southern Bougainville. He would work on credit and even demanded whaleboats in payment for services. His house had sash-windows, kerosene lamps and European furniture, small cannon, a dozen rifles, clocks and mirrors and a picture of Queen Victoria. He used his nephews as his agents, and one of them, Ferguson (named after a trader), lived on a small island off Alu and also had a huge house full of European furniture. Gorai also had and liked to wear a full uniform of a British Admiral with belt and sword. It is said he had one hundred wives.

When Gorai's son Patricio (q.v.) was converted to Catholicism in 1909 it created an inroad for the Mission. However, Gorai also continued to behave as a traditional warrior bigman and Bennett records that he once led a party of seven canoes to Taitama on Choiseul and killed chiefs. He was still alive in the 1920s when Collinson was in Shortlands. (Collinson 1926, 127-28; Bennett 1987, 37, 57, 60, 70, 80, 96, 97-98, 114, 215)

Related Places

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
  • Collinson, Clifford W., Life and Laughter Midst the Cannibals, Hurst and Blackett, London, 1926. Details