The explorers and missionaries who visited the Solomon Islands from the 16th century onward, were repulsed by hostile and cannibalistic populations with the result that the archipelago was colonized only near the end of the 19th century when it became a British protectorate in 1893 (as a response to German and French competition)
The warlike traditions of the Melanesians persisted somewhat abated under the protectorate until the Japanese invasion in 1942. That was followed by a bloody six month battle won by the Americans in 1943. Sixty seven warships were sunk, the Japanese lost 40 000 men and the Americans 7 000. The capital Tulagi, which had been destroyed during the war, was replaced by Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal where the Americans had built a military base.
After the war, the Malaita islanders voiced their desire for autonomy, the British introduced regional assemblies and eventually established a Governing Council in 1970. Finally independence was granted in 1978. Since then, he country has been managed more or less correctly in spite of strong rivalries between the islands.
Presently Honiara is besieged by a conflict opposing the island's tribal communities who are the traditional owners of 90 percent of the land to squatters from neighboring Malaita Island who have settled in the region to work in the capital.
The Guadalcanal people chased the Malaitans off a few years ago but as these could not find free land on Malaita, they came back heavily armed and a few hundred of both sides died in the struggle. There was a kind of truce when I was there but it was not safe to go outside of the city. I was therefore unable to visit the villages of the interior as I intended so I went to visit another island, Gizo, in the northwestern part of the archipelago.
The government seems impotent before this conflict. The police force is involved because police officers refuse to arrest members of their own community. No one knows how this will end. Too many guns, too much unemployment and a weak police force contribute to make Honiara a kind of "Wild West" where it is not wise to go out at night for the time being. Even in the daytime one has to watch his back. The assistant High Commissioner for New Zealand was assassinated while I was in Gizo. When I left on March 22nd there was talk that New Zealand might send armed forces to reestablish order.
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From Port Vila, I changed planes in Nadi and flew to Honiara, here on the northern coast of Guadalcanal Island.
The sea in front of Honiara has been called "Iron Bottom Sound" because of the large number of warships, mostly Japanese, that were sunk there during World War II. Half a century later, the coral encrusted wrecks provide havens for a multitude of tropical fish and have become great attractions for scuba divers.
My flight from Nadi arrived at 11:30 at night so I had to pay a taxi the equivalent of 8 $US for the short run that would have cost 40 cents by minibus during the daytime.
Guadalcanal has a number of fancy hotels with matching prices like this one, the Mendana Hotel which is right in town. Being of a naturally modest nature and having no need to impress myself I chose to stay at the United Church Resthouse rather than here.
I did not have the use of the Mendana's beach but I had the privilege of meeting friendly ordinary people who made me feel welcome and who felt free to tell me about the difficulties the ongoing crisis was causing them.
The United Church Resthouse had no beach but it was up the hill behind Honiara where there was a nice breeze which was definitely a plus in this hot, muggy weather. This was the view from the verandah.
Next to me, my host Jeffrey Simbe and his family.
Also staying at the UCRH, was Alistair Melaou who happened to be one of the airport security policemen.
The fast food restaurants of the downtown Plaza shopping center were built outside in the traditional style to harmonise with the Honiara Museum across the street..
Here we have one of the buildings of the Honiara Museum.
Examples of Solomon Islands architecture were on display on the museum grounds.
It would have been more interesting had there been posters giving some information about these houses. I took photos anyway.
Here is another traditional house, this one with an oval floor plan.
This small one must have been for family without kids!
Not far from the museum is the Honiara Cultural Center and Art Gallery which also displayed traditional island architecture.
This fine structure was an exception for it had a small sign indicating that this style comes from Papua New Guinea.
The Cultural Center had a stage but no shows were being presented while I was there.
Many Solomon Islanders are addicted to chewing the betel nuts sold by these street vendors.
A wide variety of ferries, big and small, link Honiara to the other islands of the archipelago.
Here are two more.
I couldn't travel outside of the capital because of the crisis so I decided to visit the western islands. I flew to Gizo, with a stop in Seghe to pick up two passengers, and booked a berth on the ferry for the return trip to Honiara.
There were few passengers. The September 11th events reduced the number of tourists everywhere and the Honiara struggle kept them away from the Solomons.
Munda was the scene of fierce fighting before the Japanese were driven out during World War II. Many of the airstrips presently use in the Pacific islands were initially hewn out of the jungle for military purposes, some by the Japanese, some by the Americans.
Access to Gizo (the village), on Ghizo Island from the air is through this small airport on the nearby Nusa Tupe Island.
The low island in the foreground, in this view from the ferry to Gizo, is Nusa Tupe and the volcano in the distant background is probably Mount Mase on New Georgia Island.
The Solomon Air boat ties up at the public dock in front of the town's best hotel, appropriately called Gizo Hotel.
Gizo, a quiet place of 4 000 inhabitants, is the second-largest town after Honiara which has only 40 000.
The fish market, next to the public dock, is more rudimentary than the fruit and vegetable market that is held under shelters seen in the background on the left.
The Gizo Hotel was nice but I found an equally nice place for one tenth the price (without air con of course).
The administration building and police headquarters are also in the center of town not far from the dock..
I chose to stay at the Rekona Resthouse where I had a nice room with a balcony view and the use of the kitchen for the equivalent of 7 $US.
I was the only guest when I arrived but then, a tribal chief from a neighboring island and his two assistants came to Gizo for a regional meeting and I had someone to talk to other than the owner Ivan that you can see on the stairs in this picture.
On the eve of my planned departure for Honiara I learned that the ferry Tomoko on which I had booked passage was not leaving.
When I tried to find out why, I was given a number of embarrassed answers by different crew members such as: "there's no money for fuel" or, "there is not yet enough cargo and passengers to make the trip worthwhile" or still, "the captain is sick". Finally, after much insistence, I found out that the crew, who were from Guadalcanal, had been threatened by Malaitans who demanded protection money to let them dock in Honiara. Political unrest is always a good occasion for ordinary crime to raise its ugly head.
I had no choice but to fly back and had the good fortune that the plane was not full. The assistant High Commissioner of New Zealand had been murdered while I was away and the town was abuzz with rumors and speculations about the political or merely criminal motive for the act. After a few more days. I flew back to Nadi.