The Culture

Solomon Islanders’ obligations to their clan and village bigman (chief) are eternal and enduring, whether they live in the same village all their lives or move to another country. As in most Melanesian cultures, the wantok system is observed here. All islanders are born with a set of obligations to their wantok, but they’re also endowed with privileges that only wantok receive. For most Melanesian villagers it’s an egalitarian way of sharing the community assets. There’s no social security system and very few people are in paid employment, but the clan provides economic support and a strong sense of identity.

Melanesian culture is deeply rooted in ancestor worship, magic and oral traditions. Villagers often refer to their traditional ways, beliefs and land ownership as kastom; it’s bound up in the Melanesian systems of lore and culture.

The Solomons’ 2014 population was estimated at 610,000. Melanesians represent 94% and Polynesians 4%. The large Micronesian communities who were resettled from Kiribati by the British in the 1960s are still called Gilbertese. The remainder of the population is made up of Asians and expats, mainly Aussies and Kiwis. Most of the population lives in rural villages.

About 96% of the population is Christian. Of these, 35% are members of the Anglican-affiliated Church of Melanesia and 20% are Roman Catholics.

Islanders still practise pre-Christian religions in a few remote areas, particularly on Malaita; in other places traditional beliefs are observed alongside Christianity.

Arts

Solomon Islanders are incredibly musical people – it’s a must to go to a local church service to listen to the singing. The Malaitan pipe bands (or bamboo bands) are amazing. In ensembles of 12 or so members, the band plays bamboo pipes in all sizes bundled together with bushvine. They’re played as panpipe and flutes, and as long tubes whose openings are struck with rubber thongs to make an unusual plinketty-plonk sound. One of the most famous panpipe groups is Narasirato (www.narasirato.com), from Malaita; this group has gained international recognition. They mix classic Malaitan panpipe music with contemporary beats.

There are also strong carving traditions in the Solomons. Carvings incorporate human, bird, fish and other animal motifs, often in combination, and they frequently represent deities and spirits. Woodcarvings are inlaid with nautilus or trochus shell. Decorated bowls and masks are widely available, as are stone replicas of traditional shell money.

Shell money is used in Malaita, while in the Temotu Islands red-feather coils are still used.