The Popular Science Monthly, v35, August, 1889, p.476-488:|
Mr. Woodford made two or three visits to the Solomon Islands, by means of the schooners engaged in recruiting boys to work upon the plantations at Fiji, and returning them to their homes at the expiration of their terms of service ; and by trading-vessels from Sydney. It is not necessary to follow the author in the details of his journeying from place to place, and of bargainings with the natives. We present the more striking incidents of life in this region.
In October, 1885, I left England with the object of paying a visit to the group of islands known as the "Solomon Islands," for the purpose of making collections of the fauna, and, if possible, penetrating to the mountains of the interior of some of the larger islands, which had not yet been visited by white men.
The Solomon Islands are a group lying about five hundred miles to the eastward of New Guinea. They extend for six hundred miles in a northwest and southeast direction, and are situated between the parallels of 5° and 11° south latitude, and the meridians of 154° and 163° east longitude. They were first discovered by Mendaña [Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, 1542—1595], the Spaniard, in 1567, who gave them the name of the Islands of Solomon, in order that his countrymen, supposing them to be the islands whence King Solomon [c. 1011-932 BC] got his gold, might be induced to colonize them.
There are seven principal islands and numerous smaller ones. The total land area of the group I estimate at fifteen thousand square miles, or considerably more than twice the area of Wales.
They present evidences of recent volcanic activity. The island of Savo was an active volcano at the time the Spaniards discovered the group in 1567. There is an active volcano near the center of the island of Bougainville; hot springs and sulphur are found at Savo, Simbo, and Vella Lavella, while Kulambangara [Kolombangara] is an extinct volcano. During my residence of six weeks at Alu [Shortland Island] I experienced frequent shocks of earthquake, but of no great violence.
The mountains of Bougainville rise to a height of 10,000 feet, and those of the other large islands to from 3,000 to 5,000 feet, except on Guadalcanar [Guadalcanal], where they reach an elevation of 8,000 feet. I made three attempts to reach the interior of this island, but was prevented by the hostility of the mountain tribes and the timidity of my guides. The highest point which I attained on Guadalcanar was 1,140 feet.
Tin and copper have been found in small quantities on the island of San Cristoval [San Cristobal, now Makira], while I myself discovered copper on the island of Guadalcanar, and from the northwest end of the island of Malayta [Malaita] I obtained a mineral from the natives which proves to be iron pyrites. The people told me they used it for staining their teeth. The coast natives buy it from the bushmen in bamboos, at the fair that takes place on the coast every two or three days.
The islands are for the most part clothed from the coast to the mountain-tops with the densest tropical forest, in which the immense ficus-trees, of several species, are often conspicuous objects, their trunks covered with creepers and ferns; the undergrowth consisting of small palms of many species, among which and over the trees the immensely long rattans or climbing canes twine in and out in inextricable confusion.
In the neighborhood of native villages the beach will be found fringed with cocoanut [Coconut] palms, but my observation tends to prove that the cocoanut rarely grows unless planted. I know, however, that this is opposed to the opinions of some.
From the trading station at Rubiana [Vonavona, Roviana, Robiana, Ruviana] [island, lagoon & village west of New Georgia], which is the center of the head-hunting district, our first visit was to a small island occupied by another trader. This island he is allowed to occupy on sufferance only. It belongs to the natives of Sisieta [village on New Georgia]; they will not sell it, as they use it for their cannibal feasts. I was told that six bodies were eaten here a fortnight before my visit. From here we went to a town called Oneavesi, and thence crossed to the small island of Rubiana proper, where we found nearly all the men away on a head-hunting expedition to the island of Isabel [Santa Isabel].
I here photographed the interior of a tambu [tabooed] house, the post of which was carved to represent a crocodile. Along the rafters was a row of heads. I also took a photograph of a collection of sacred images, near to which was a heap of skulls, upon every one of which I noticed the mark of the tomahawk. These collections of images are to be found in nearly every town throughout the lagoon, and are strictly tambu. I found out afterward that the natives strongly objected to my photographing them, or indeed approaching them at all.
At another village close by on the same island we again found nearly all the male population absent on the same expedition. The women and those left at home were preparing a feast for them on their return. At the principal canoe-house in another village we visited there were five large head-hunting canoes, profusely ornamented and inlaid with pearl-shell. The house was about eighty feet long, with a high-pitched roof, the end being closed in, but two narrow slits being left for the high prows of the canoes to pass through.
In this house there were eight heads; I recognized among them the straight hair of natives of the Lord Howe's group, and was told that a year or so previously a canoe containing sixteen of them had been driven from Lord Howe's group to Isabel, where they have been caught from time to time by the head-hunters. In another canoe-house in the same town I counted thirteen heads. After some persuasion they carried out the largest canoe for me to photograph.
The Rubiana men returned next day from Isabel with five heads, from three men and two women; they also brought five prisoners alive. During the fortnight that I spent in the lagoon I heard of no less than thirty-one heads being brought home, as follows: Rubiana village, five; Sisieta, six; Kokorapa, three; Lokorokongo, seventeen.
I, for the second time, spent a fortnight at this place; and having on my previous visit gained the confidence of the two chiefs of Sisieta, named Wange and Ingova, I went frequently ashore at their town. On one occasion I saw the inauguration of a large trough for preparing and pounding food, the ceremony taking place in the chief canoe-house of the town.
I was assigned a seat next to Ingova, while above my head were the eight heads previously mentioned. The trough was about thirty feet long, and carved to represent a crocodile. Twenty-two men were seated on each side of the trough, and an old man at either end. They had all their ornaments on, and wore their shields over their shoulders, while their spears and tomahawks were close behind them.
The food, consisting of taro, yams, and nuts, was placed in the trough, and the men sat ready. An old man in full fighting rig was then seen advancing toward the house. Walking up to the entrance, he suddenly started back and raised his spear, exclaiming, "Basioto!" ("A crocodile!") and standing on the defensive.
Ingova then advanced from the interior of the house, and, placing one hand on the crocodile's head, began a speech which lasted about ten minutes. At a given signal the men began pounding the food, all of them keeping excellent time. When they got tired or hot they were relieved by others, and the pounding was continued for over half an hour. I was then asked to go, and, not wishing to offend them, I did so.
On another occasion the author had walked with some natives from Aola, on the coast of Guadalcanar, to a town called Kobua, situated on the river of that name, and about four miles inland...
While walking along the river-bank with my men we heard a number of natives approaching, shouting and making a great noise. I was told they were coast natives returning from a raid upon a mountain town. My men all stood on the defensive with their spears ready poised, and I got my revolver ready, but they proved to be friends. They were very proud of their victory, and told me that they had killed one man and got one alive. I saw the dead man's hand and a piece of flesh carried in triumph by one of them on his spear. I did not see the prisoner, and I was glad to hear afterward that he had escaped. It is these constant raids of the coast natives upon the bushmen, and retaliatory ones on the part of the bushmen upon the coast natives, that render it difficult and dangerous to penetrate any distance into the interior. I had been over three months at Aola before I could induce the natives to accompany me into the interior, during which time I had surveyed all the lower coast of the rivers in the neighborhood.
A typical illustration of the vegetation of the islands is furnished in the picture of the sago palms on the Bokokimbo River, a stream which runs down from the mountains of the interior...
The vegetation is here most luxuriant, and composed of large ficus and other large forest trees, with occasional clumps of sago and areca palms, but few cocoanuts. The river was ascended and surveyed for about ten miles, for the whole of which it runs throxigh a rich alluvial flat, densely wooded.
Valemanga [village, on Guadalcanal], where the author stopped in an attempt to make the ascent of Mount Vatupusau (4,360 feet high), was situated at the height of 800 feet on the top of a narrow ridge, sloping abruptly down on the eastern and western sides...
...and was surrounded with a stockade about seven feet high, with a narrow opening, closed at night, through which we squeezed one by one. In weak places, sharpened bamboos were stuck in the ground on the inside of the fence to transfix any one breaking through. Walking into the center of the town, I inquired for the head man, and when he appeared I held out my hand to him, which he took, and then he put his arms round me and embraced me. The settlement consisted of ten or a dozen houses and thirty inhabitants...
At dusk we were conducted to a perfectly clean new house, with, as usual, the bare ground for floor, and were supplied with cooked yams. After we had finished our meal, the whole town crowded into the house, and my men sang a song, and when they had finished the women of the town sang one of their dismal chants.
In the midst of the performance, Sosoni, one of my men, suddenly sprang to his feet, and, after a short speech, presented the chief man of the town with three or four sticks of tobacco. I had not intended to make my present before morning; but, as I thought the opportunity a good one, I gave Beta an axe, a knife, and some pipes, matches, and a quantity of tobacco, and told him to present them with a suitable speech.
Shortly afterward one of the men of the town stood up, and, leaning his two hands upon his tomahawk, returned thanks. Each man before commencing his speech gave a shrill scream, I suppose to attract attention, but the singing went on all the time.
A few days after this, eleven natives, consisting of six men, three women, two little girls, and a baby, arrived at Aola, being the sole survivors out of the thirty inhabitants. The town had been attacked at daylight two days after the author's visit, and the old chief, Tambougi, who had given the traveler the affectionate embrace, was among the killed.
Natives of different parts of the group differ considerably from one another, but they belong to the Melanesian or Papuan type.
The natives of Buka and Bougainville and of the islands of Bougainville Straits and of Choiseul are intensely black in color, but as one journeys eastward the color changes to a dark brown. They have woolly hair, but occasionally natives are met with wavy and in some cases straight hair. The men wear no clothes beyond the T-bandage usually met with among savage races, but frequently men are seen without even this.
The natives of Alu, however, wear a small piece of calico round the waist. On San Cristoval and the more eastern islands the women wear a small plaited square of grass fiber, about six inches by four, which is suspended round the waist by a string and hangs down the front. Upon Malayta they wear the same, but one frequently sees women without even this.
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Solomon Islands News
The UK established a protectorate over the Solomon Islands in the 1890s. Some of the bitterest fighting of World War II occurred on these islands.
Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. Ethnic violence, government malfeasance, and endemic crime have undermined stability and civil society.
In June 2003, Prime Minister Sir Allan KEMAKEZA sought the assistance of Australia in reestablishing law and order; the following month, an Australian-led multinational force arrived to restore peace and disarm ethnic militias. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has generally been effective in restoring law and order and rebuilding government institutions.
CIA World Factbook: Solomon Islands
Area of the Solomon Islands:
28,450 sq km
slightly smaller than Maryland
Population of the Solomon Islands:
July 2009 estimate
Languages of the Solomon Islands:
English official, spoken by 1%-2% of pop.
Melanesian pidgin is spoken most
120 indigenous languages
Solomon Islands Capital:
Giant Clam Mariculture Hviding 1993
...Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal Shaw 1992
Army Air Forces in WWII v4 Craven 1983
Tojo Meets a Wildcat Popular Science Aug 1943
Guadalcanal: The Jap LIFE Magazine Dec 27, 1943
Guadalcanal Shores LIFE Magazine Apr 19, 1943
Solomon Islands Battle LIFE Magazine Oct 26, 1942
online or download:
Grammar & Vocabulary... Lau Language Ivens 1921
Pacific Islands Pilot USHO 1920
The Ways of a South Sea Savage Williamson 1914
Report on the British Solomon Islands Woodford 1897
A Naturalist Among the Head Hunters Woodford 1890
Two cannibal Archipelagoes:
New Hebrides & Solomons Adams 1890
The Solomon Islands Guppy 1887
Discovery of the Solomon Islands in 1568 v1 Mendana
Discovery of the Solomon Islands in 1568 v2 Mendana
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