Solomon Islands

I first visited the Solomon Islands two years before the end of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP) and have been a constant visitor ever since, perhaps forty times. The Solomon Islands is a large nation in Pacific terms, with a population of around 550,000, almost a thousand islands, a dozen of them substantial, a 5,313 kilometres coast line and a land area of 27,549 square kilometres. Its territorial claim includes 910 square kilometres of ocean with a two hundred nautical mile (321 kilometre) exclusive economic zone of 1.3 million square kilometres. We know that the northern Solomon Islands have been inhabited for upwards of thirty thousand years and that the southern Solomons have been inhabited for at least several thousand years. During these millennia there were always migrations moving through the islands, usually north-south but also in more recent millennia back-migrations from the south, moving north to inhabit the outlying islands. The people owe their origins to a combination of these human movements, with some languages and cultures showing early connections with New Guinea and others with what we know as Polynesia. The majority of the population are usually classified as Melanesians. There is also a substantial Polynesian population, and there have always been occasional links to the Micronesian islands along the equator. The latter were bolstered in the 1950s and 1960s when the British resettled migrants from the Gilbert Islands in several areas of the Solomons, adding to the complexity. I am conscious that the words 'Melanesia', 'Polynesia' and 'Micronesia' have dubious nineteenth century origins; nevertheless they are still widely used, not least by Pacific Islanders themselves. (Sahlins 1963; Hau`ofa 1975; Douglas 1979; Chowning 1977; Jolly 2007)

The Solomon Islands nation is part of a tropical archipelago stretching between the islands of eastern Papua New Guinea and those of Vanuatu. The two northernmost islands in the Solomon Archipelago, Buka and Bougainville, are part of Papua New Guinea, an inheritance from a German territorial claim in the 1880s. They have not been included here, except through a single entry on Bougainville Island. When European borders were redrawn in the late 1890s there was a realignment of territory. The Germans withdrew from their claims south of Bougainville: the Shortlands (Mono excluded), Isabel, Choiseul, Fauro, Ontong Java (Lord Howe) Atoll, and the Nukumanu (Tasman) Group, enabling the British to expand their Protectorate. What became North Solomons Province of Papua New Guinea (Buka, Bougainville and outlying islands) is now an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea and is expected eventually to become an independent nation. (Regan and Griffin 2005) The modern Solomon Islands nation, which became independent on 7 July 1978, includes the same territory as the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1893 and its extension in 1899. The borders of the Protectorate and the modern nation provide the geographic and chronological boundaries of this Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia.

About the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia, 1893-1978

I began preparing the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia in 2005, creating entries on places, events and people. I knew that this would be a protracted project, and truth to tell I did not know what would eventuate. (Moore 2009) The final product, nine years later, has 280,000 words and 703 entries, some small and others covering five thousand words. The 312 general entries cover the years from the declaration of the British Protectorate until independence in 1978. There are also 391 biographical entries, mainly centred on the Protectorate years, although some entries, particularly those on current political and religious leaders, extend to the present.

I might never have begun the task if the Solomon Islands had not undergone a period of instability between 1998 and 2003, after which the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was introduced as a Pacific Forum initiative at the invitation of the Solomon Islands Government to lay the foundations for long-term stability, security and prosperity. As I watched the events unfold I moved from being an historian of the nineteenth-century Solomon Islands (Moore 1985, 2004a) to one also interested in contemporary events. (Moore 2004b, 2005, 2007a, 2007b, 2008b, 2008c, 2008d) I was also slowly working on a history of Malaita between the 1870s to the early 1940s, and from 2005 to 2008 I assisted Sir Peter Kenilorea, the father of the nation, to write his autobiography. (Kenilorea 2008) I am also in the process of assisting Sir Nathaniel Waena, the immediate past Governor-General, to complete his autobiography. All of this fed into the making of the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia.

I made this career transition because of my long-held allegiance to the Solomon Islands (Moore 2001b, 2004a) and my belief that as a historian I need to be involved in the post-'tension' rebuilding and expanding of the fabric of the nation. The Pacific Forum has invested heavily in building peace and strengthening governance in the Solomon Islands. The original RAMSI mandate related to law and order, finances and associated governance issues, and through this RAMSI has successfully helped the nation to create a more accountable and democratic government. Part of this endeavour is to build strong and peaceful communities. As RAMSI enters a final phase, it is important to consider macro-issues such as nation-building. Preservation of historical data and making it easily available is part of this exercise, which led RAMSI to provide the funding that has made this website possible. As the RAMSI presence draws to a close, part of the capstone process is the building of on-going facilities to create a strong Solomon Islands into the future. Integral to this is self-knowledge and pride in the past and building national identity. The digital nature of the project also enhances multilateral relations between Solomon Islands and other Pacific Forum nations in education and human resource development. The project leads by example and could become a template for wider nation-building exercises among Pacific nations. The project seeks to exploit web technology to make the materials available in a sophisticated textual information framework. In the longer term, a second phase may be publication in book form, to make the resources available in remote areas of Solomon Islands and in other Pacific nations. This would be reasonably easy to accomplish and the initial web project has been shaped to enable this future development.

Historiographic Context

There is no recent equivalent of this historical encyclopaedia for any South Pacific nation, and the digital form is certainly unique. Overall, the nations of the Pacific Islands have a limited historical literature and individual citizens have limited access to historical sources. The first attempt at a Pacific historical encyclopaedia was published by Greenwood Press. (Craig and King 1981) A more recent attempt was published by the University of Hawai'I Press. (Lal and Fortune 2000) The best existing historical material is on Papua New Guinea, the largest Pacific nation in terms of geography and population, and Fiji, which was the old core of the British Pacific, and Hawai`I, now a state of the United States. Papua New Guinea is lucky to have the two volume Encyclopaedia of Papua New Guinea (Ryan 1972) edited by Peter Ryan, and Ann Turner's Historical Dictionary of Papua New Guinea. (Turner 2001) Fiji has no similar texts, although this lack is to some extent mitigated by the number of historical monographs. In 2005, I set myself the task of single-handedly writing this Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia. I knew that I had access to sufficient resources through the Pacific Manuscript Bureau microfilms, the archives of the Western Pacific High Commission and the National Archives of the Solomon Islands, augmented by the scattered existing literature. What was not clear to me at the time was how rapidly digital on-line access was growing; it has been a delight to be able to check many details on-line in ways not available to earlier scholars. Presenting the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia in a digital form was in many ways a logical technical follow-on, although it was not something I envisaged when I began the project.

The major historical text on the British Solomon Islands Protectorate is Judith A. Bennett's Wealth of the Solomons (Bennett 1987), a wonderfully researched and rich resource, and there is a very useful compendium by Graeme A. Golden, The Early European Settlers of the Solomon Islands. (Golden 1993) Another valuable resource on the Solomon Islands is Sally Edridge's comprehensive Solomon Islands Biography to 1980 (Edridge 1985), which allows access to the many thousands of items that were written about the Solomons up to 1980. A few colonial administrators have written anthropological accounts or surveyed the material culture of the islands. The doyen is still the first Resident Commissioner: Edridge (1985, 441) lists twenty-four of Charles Woodford's publications, fourteen of which I have used here. Several officials have written autobiographies, which cover the Solomons at least in part: the most recent are by Russell (2003), Tedder (2008) and Smith (2011). Other accounts by officials are used throughout the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia. There are many other texts, but most are focused studies on limited aspects of the islands, not on the whole. Missionaries were particularly prolific writers about the Solomons.

Looking back to the early 2000s, I wanted to have a ready source of information available for my own future writing. Creating the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia has achieved this. There was also the intellectual challenge of taking on such a demanding project. I have long been interested in the history of the Solomons, concentrating initially on Malaita Island and its connections to Queensland, Australia during the nineteenth-century trade in indentured labour. My first monograph, Kanaka (Moore 1985), was a product of this work. I followed the disturbance that occurred between 1998 and 2003 with great concern and wrote Happy Isles in Crisis (Moore 2004b) about those turbulent years. During the 2000s, as I worked on Sir Peter Kenilorea's autobiography and on my book on Malaita, I was always frustrated by the lack of reliable general historical information about the Solomons. I became aware that I had made small historical errors in Happy Isles in Crisis because I lacked an adequate reference text for checking details. I felt similarly vulnerable when editing Sir Peter's book, Tell It as It Is (2008). I also wanted to return to Solomon Islanders part of their history, in the hope that it would inform present and future generations. I had no idea quite what I was letting myself in for, or the eventual size of the project. It has taken nine years in between many other administrative and research tasks to produce this Encyclopaedia. On the way, I have had to learn about subjects as diverse as seismic activity and yaws to be able to complete the task, and I have emerged from the process a much more enlightened historian.


One of the constant problems has been the spelling of words. There is no standard orthography for Solomon Islands words and one is never quite sure if a peculiar word is a new place name or just an aberrant spelling. One decision I had to make was over San Cristobal Island, which is now known as Makira Island, after a local harbour. Earlier accounts use San Cristoval (or sometimes San Cristobal), but Makira has become the modern norm and I have adopted it throughout except where I need to indicate that it was the original name. Solomons' names often contain a repeated word: Avuavu, `Are`are, Kirakira and so forth. There is no standard way to deal with this repetition and I have tried to follow local customs, which means some inconsistency. Other words have been corrupted. Auki has long been the common spelling of the capital of Malaita Province, and I have used it here, although phonetically 'Aoke is correct. Another flexible name is Nggela, more often written as Gela; and the island group is also sometimes called the Florida Islands. Glottal stops are usually left out by modern users, as are extra defining letters that give a truer rendition, such as Mbuma (Buma) or Mbokonavera (Bokonavera). Solomon Islanders learn to recognise the variations and take them in their stride, while foreigners are often left wondering if two places are the same or different.

Research and Writing

General Entries

I began by collecting material in two categories: general topics and biographical entries. The proclamation of the Protectorate in 1893 was an obvious starting date. The next problem was my cut-off date. I chose 7 July 1978, the date of independence, rather than attempting to cover the post-1978 years. The cut-off point is not a celebration of British colonialism. It is a realization that the colonial years were crucial in creating the modern nation and are worthy of detailed interrogation. The eighty-five years covered are minor when one thinks in terms of people who have lived in the same islands for upwards of thirty thousand years, but these colonial years were important nonetheless and many of the clues to understanding the modern Solomon Islands lie within. Some entries include years before 1893 and others extend beyond 1978; the latter usually only sketch the scene over the last three decades without delving into detail.

Along the way, I have developed a better appreciation of the whole nation, particularly areas I have never visited and individuals with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Unavoidably, readers will at times find the information I have presented incomplete, sometimes because usually reliable sources missed a year or disappeared. One example is the list of Solomon Islanders who received honour awards during the Protectorate years. Because I have found no official lists, these had to be gleaned a few at a time mainly from 1960s and 1970s newspapers. These people all did something exceptional and this example illustrates my feeling that the fragments must be recorded even when important pieces may be missing. The Encyclopaedia covers a huge range of topics, often in considerable detail. Some entries are large, covering thousands of words, while others are short because they note a small development or are a peripheral extension to another subject. For still others, little information is available. I have also cross-referenced as much as I can in order to draw readers' attention to other, supporting entries. Cross-referencing will be extended as this website develops over the next few years.

I should also state clearly that in places I have relied heavily on government-generated sources such as the Protectorate annual or biennial reports and newspapers. Although the official material has been edited to suit this text, often it was not possible to say it in any better way and I have paraphrased the words of past public servants. However, unless text is in quotation marks I have made alterations. And, of course, all information has been filtered through my forty years of historical training, and crosschecked where possible. I would again like to thank my colleagues past and present whose work I have often relied upon, always with acknowledgement. Without their prior work this text would be much poorer.

Biographical Entries

The general entries in the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia have firmer boundaries than the biographical entries. The general entries are largely bound by the 1893-1978 years and no attempt has been made to bring them up to date. The biographical entries pose a problem as they lack consistency. While a few entries on prominent individuals are up to date, most are not and stop in 1978. I have also written many small, often fragmentary biographical entries on anyone whom I thought had done something worth recording. Some Solomon Islanders left little mark except being the first in some category. In a young nation they deserve to be known and remembered.

The standard practice in similar national biographical publications is to publish entries only on the dead, which is not possible in a young nation where many of the leaders who steered the Solomon Islands to independence are still alive. One of my aims was to restore as many Solomon Islanders to the historical record as possible. I hope that future generations of Solomon Islands historians will pick up on these entries and expand and update them. Some people, once they emerged, usually through receiving a modern education, remain prominent, but I have been amazed by the number of Solomon Islanders who left home for education in the 1950s and 1960s, travelled to far flung places but then returned and left no further mark on the public record. I suspect that many of them did leave significant marks on the young nation, although they went unrecorded in the sources available to me. I encourage their families to add background and update their entries. There is a section on the webpage which allows readers to send me comments, corrections and new entries. I hope that the number of entries expands and that corrections are suggested, along with supporting references. The digital format makes this easy to accomplish. In the meantime I apologise for my inadequacies.

Several associated problems emerged as I proceeded with the biographical entries. Information available was often frustratingly incomplete. I had no access to the type of birth, marriage and death certificate checking undertaken in many similar projects, such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Too often, I have had to rely on newspaper reports, which every historian knows can be unreliable. But despite these obstacles I have been brazen and pushed ahead. Cross-checking has eased many of my doubts, though occasionally I have found myself puzzled by dead ends or a seemingly impossible date.

A key decision I had to make was who to include and who to leave out? I included as many Solomon Islanders of note as possible, but when it came to foreigners in Solomon Islands history I was more circumspect. Foreigners who married Solomon Islanders are included, but aside from them, I have tried to pick ‘important' people or people who had some impact, even if only through their notoriety or their long residence. For instance, readers will find here some of the Catholic sisters who served the Solomons for several decades and devoted most of their lives to the people. I admire their dedication. I wish I knew more about these women, but certainly they deserve to be recorded for their long service to the people. Sometimes I have found little information on even leading colonial identities, but where possible their names are included, even if only to provide a framework for the next generation of historians. And some cases are just too fascinating to leave out; this is why, for example, Vaudry John Bishop scores an entry as a twice-convicted felon in the 1970s, and Lord Michael Fitzroy deserves mention for being eaten by a crocodile in 1954.

I have been frustrated when I have been unable to find information on people born in the colonial era who became prominent in the post-independence years. I have written entries on all of the Prime Ministers, as information is readily available. However, the Governors-General are a good example of one of the weaknesses. I have good entries on Sir Baddeley Devesi, Sir Nathaniel Waena and Sir Frank Kabui, but not on other Governors-General. I would appreciate receiving entries on the other Governors-General and apologise for not having the resources to create adequate entries.

The intention is that others can now add new entries or extend or correct those already written for the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia. The same applies to images.


The Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia includes more than 1,000 images, mainly photographs. These have been gathered over many years from a multitude of sources. In particular I would like to thank the Solomon Islands Government for allowing me access to their photographic archive and to the Anglican Church of Melanesia for allowing access to the 1906 photographs of J.W. Beattie and to other photographs collected and archived by Bishop Terry Brown. One of the delights of a digital text is the ease with which images can be added. If readers have relevant images available I would be extremely interested in receiving them.


I am quite conscious of the inadequacies of the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia, but having said that I must also say that it is the largest attempt so far to restore history to any area of the Pacific Islands and the most advanced digital source yet produced on any Pacific Islands nation. I will leave it to others to assess the project's significance. One of my reasons for stopping at 1978 was that I felt that it is the task of Solomon Islanders to revise what I have written about their colonial years and also to cover the more than three decades since independence was achieved. Or should I say restored? I only hope that Solomon Islanders will find the encyclopaedia useful and use its contents as building blocks for their own national historical edifice.

Clive Moore
School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
The University of Queensland
June 2013