Identification. Malaita is one of six large islands in the double chain that forms the Solomon Islands, formerly the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. As the most populous island in the Solomons, Malaita has long been a source of plantation labor, and in earlier decades its people were famed and feared for their violent resistance to European invasion. The island remains noteworthy for its strong cultural conservatism.
Location. Running northwest to southeast and being about 160 kilometers long and up to 40 kilometers wide, Malaita lies at 9° S and 161° E. The island is mountainous (rising to 1,540 meters) and comprised of rain forest, with Lagoons along parts of both coastlines. The island of Maramasike is separated from Malaita proper by a narrow channel.
Demography. Malaita had a population in 1986 of about 80,000, with some 20,000 more Malaitans living elsewhere in the Solomons.
Linguistic Affiliation. Malaita languages fall into the Malaita-San Cristobal Group of the Southeast Solomonic (Oceanic Austronesian) languages. Southeast Solomonic may turn out to fall within a subgroup of Eastern Oceanic languages, along with North-central New Hebridean, Fijian, Polynesian, and Nuclear Micronesian languages; but so far the evidence is inconclusive, clouded by the shared retention in all these languages of many Proto-Oceanic features. Malaita is divided into a series of languages or dialects (mainly running in stripes across the island) although their precise Relationship is not yet established. The most recent Subgrouping establishes a subgroup of Northern Malaita Languages, consisting of a northern dialect cluster (To'aba'ita, Baelelea, Baegu, Lau, Fataleka), Kwara'ae (with 18,000 speakers, the largest language group), Langalanga, and Kwaio. (There is some evidence that the latter two, along with two smaller language groups, form a separate Central Malaita Group.) 'Are'are and Sa'a (spoken on Maramasike) seem to form a subgroup with the Makira (San Cristobal) languages, although on cultural and other grounds a closer affinity of 'Are'are with the Malaita peoples to the northwest (Kwaio, etc.) seems likely.