Guadalcanal - Orientation

Identification. Among the peoples inhabiting Guadalcanal Island, one of the Solomon Islands, there is found considerable variety of cultural practices and language dialects. This entry will focus upon the people of five autonomous Villages (Mbambasu, Longgu, Nangali, Mboli, and Paupau) in the northeastern coastal region who share both a single set of cultural practices and a common dialect, called "Kaoka," after one of the larger rivers in the area.

Location. The Solomon Islands, formed from the peaks of a double chain of submerged mountains, lie to the southeast of New Guinea. At about 136 kilometers in length and 48 kilometers in breadth, Guadalcanal is one of the two largest Islands of the Solomons and is located at 9°30′ S and 160° E. Guadalcanal's immediate neighbors are Santa Isabel Island in the northwest; Florida Island directly to the north; Malaita in the northeast; and San Cristobal Island to the southeast. The islands are frequently shaken by volcanos and earthquakes. The southern coast of Guadalcanal is formed by a ridge, which attains a maximum elevation of 2,400 meters. From this ridge the terrain slopes northerly into an alluvial grass plain. There is little climatic variation, other than the semiannual shift in dominance from the southeast tradewinds of early June to September to that of the Northwest monsoon of late November to April. Throughout the year it is hot and wet, with temperatures averaging 27° C and an average annual rainfall of 305 centimeters.

Demography. In the first half of the 1900s, the population of Guadalcanal was estimated at 15,000. In 1986 there were estimated to be 68,900 people on the island.

Linguistic Affiliation. The dialects spoken on Guadalcanal are classed within the Eastern Oceanic Subgroup of the Oceanic Branch of Austronesian languages. There is a marked similarity between the dialect of the Kaoka speakers and that spoken on Florida Island.

History and Cultural Relations

The Solomons were first discovered in 1567 by a Spanish trading ship, and they were named at that rime in reference to the treasure of King Solomon which was thought to be Hidden there. There was very little further contact with European trading and whaling ships until the second half of the 1700s, when English ships visited. By 1845, missionaries began to visit the Solomons, and at about this time "blackbirders" began kidnapping men of the islands for forced labor on European sugar plantations in Fiji and elsewhere. In 1893, Guadalcanal became a British territory in the nominal care of the government of the Solomon Islands Protectorate, but full administrative control was not established until 1927. An Anglican mission and school was built in Longgu in 1912, and missionizing activities increased in intensity. During this time, and again after World War II, a number of European-owned coconut plantations were established. From relative obscurity, Guadalcanal Island leapt to the world's notice during World War II when, in 1942-1943, it was the site of a definitive confrontation between U.S. Marines and Japanese forces. With the building of an American base on the island, adult males were conscripted for the labor corps and there was a sudden influx of Western manufactured goods. In postwar years, the remembrance of that time of relatively easy access to new and desired Western goods, as well as a reaction to the breakdown of the traditional sociopolitical and Socioeconomic systems, contributed to the development of the "Masinga Rule" movement (often translated as "Marching Rule," but there is evidence that masinga means "Brotherhood" in one of Guadalcanal's dialects). This originally was a millenarian cult premised on the idea that through appropriate belief and the correct ritual practice the goods and largess experienced during the war years could someday be made to return. It became, in fact, a vehicle by which to seek, and by 1978 to secure, the independence of the Solomon Islands from British colonial rule.

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