How did Solomon Islands get its name?
It was 1568 when the Spanish Navigator, Alvaro de Mendana, discovered the islands. He named the archipelago, “Islas Salomon,” believing this was the area of the South Pacific where King Solomon got the gold he used to build the Temple of Jerusalem. The name was changed upon their independence to “Solomon Islands,” removing “The” from the official name.
How did Tuvalu get its name?
Tuvalu used to be called, “The Ellice Islands” or “Lagoon Islands.” Tuvalu is an old name meaning “Eight Standing Together.” Although Tuvalu has a total of nine islands; three reef islands and six true atolls, only eight were inhabited, as one has very little land that is above sea level. The name reverted back to Tuvalu when it gained its independence.
Where are Solomon Islands located?
Solomon Islands consists of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands, located in Oceania. They lay east of Papua, New Guinea, northeast of Australia and northwest of Vanuatu. The islands cover a land area of about 11,000 square miles. The country’s capital is Honiara, located on the Island of Guadalcanal.
Where is Tuvalu located?
Tuvalu is also located in Oceania, in Polynesia, in the Pacific Ocean. It lies about 2500 miles northeast of Australia and is approximately half way between Hawaii and Australia. It lies east-northeast of the Santa Cruz Islands, which belong to Solomon Islands. Also, it is southeast of Nauru, south of Kiribati, northwest of Samoa and north of Fiji. It is a tiny, country, covering only ten square miles of land. However, they are spread out over a large, economic zone of 289,500 square miles. The highest elevation is only 15 feet above sea level. Global warming and rising sea levels are major concerns for this country.
A brief history of Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands are believed to have been settled by Austronesian people, sometime around 2000 BC. For centuries, many self-governing villages speaking separate languages lived on the six, big, volcanic islands and scores of atolls in the Melanesian archipelago. They lived largely unbothered by foreigners until the 1800s, when traders and missionaries from Europe, America and Australasia arrived to barter food, labor and goods.
In 1886, a German protectorate was established over the northern islands. In 1893, the southern islands became a British protectorate until 1899, when all of it was transferred to British control. The British interest was in the supply of workers to fuel the sugar estates in Queensland and Fiji, much more than it was for the protection of the islands. Disease and tribal wars followed and many areas known as “waste lands” were leased to foreign companies to produce rubber, copra (the dried kernel of the coconut) and vegetable oil.
Solomon Islands had only their land and labor to sell. For years, young, fit men were taken forcefully by “Blackbirders” (Slave Traders) to Fiji and Queensland. They were often brutally treated but by the 1920s conditions somewhat improved. Living together on plantations gave men the chance to learn a common language known as “Pijin English.” By the mid-twentieth century, many Chinese had come to settle, displacing European traders and plantation owners.
During World War II, Japanese forces occupied Solomon Islands. The counter attack was led by the US Marines who landed on Guadalcanal and Tualgi in August of 1942. Some of the most brutal fighting of World War II took place on the Islands for nearly three years.
Solomon Islands eventually gained independence on July 7, 1978. Like many newly, independent nations, there has been ongoing ethnic violence. In July of 2003, the Governor General issued an official request for international help. Australia committed the largest number of troops to restore order and police the islands. Although things have gotten better on the islands, ethnic tensions remain. The government is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy.
A brief history of Tuvalu
It is believed the earliest settlers on the islands were Samoans, Tongans and settlers from other Polynesian islands sometime around the 14th century AD. A couple of the islands were then discovered by the Spanish, in two separate expeditions, in 1568 and 1595.
In 1819, a ship owned by Edward Ellice of Britain visited Funafuta and named the islands “Ellice islands.” From 1850-1875 there was a dark period where “Blackbirding” took place; the kidnapping of islanders for forced labor on plantations in Fiji and Queensland. Between this and European diseases brought there, the population diminished from about 20,000 down to 3,000.
In 1877 the Ellice Islands become a British protectorate. In 1916 the Gilbert islands joined the colony, until 1974 when 90% of the Polynesians voted for separation. In 1975 the islands were renamed “Tuvalu” and full Independence was given on October 1, 1978. In 1989 the UN listed Tuvalu as one of a number of island groups most likely to disappear beneath the sea in the 21st century, due to global warming. It remains the country’s number one concern.
Due to salinization of the soil, subsistence farming became extremely difficult. Thankfully, the country got lucky on two fronts; in 1998, it began leasing its 900 number to a foreign company, and then it established its TV revenue. The TV agreement with a US company generated enough funds for Tuvalu to apply to join the United Nations in 2000. The lease expires in 2020 but will have proven to be highly lucrative. They also make money with their postage stamps and coinage, both of which are sought by collectors.
Solomon Islands Culture
The population of the Solomon Islands is about 690,000. The majority of the people are ethnically Melanesian, but there is a small percentage of Micronesian and Polynesian, as well as ethnic Chinese. The official language is English, but there are 63 other distinct languages. Most people speak pidgin known as “Solomon’s Pijin.”
Most islanders live in close knit communities of extended families, and while largely Christian, many still follow traditional systems of beliefs. Land ownership, they call Kastom, refers to their traditional Melanesian roots. Although nearly 70,000 people live in the capital city of Honiara, the majority still live in rural villages, based on a subsistence economy of fishing, hunting and growing crops. People still barter and use shells for money, although they do have their own currency. Most houses are built on stilts to keep their homes cooler and most don’t have electricity, telephones or other modern amenities.
Music and art play an important role. Traditional music uses instruments such as the slit drums, panpipes and the conch shell. Solomon Islanders are also known for their handicrafts, like intricately carved, dark ebony hardwood with inlaid mother of pearl. Basket weaving and wicker weaving are also traditional art forms.
On the islands about ten percent of the indigenous dark skinned people have strikingly, blonde hair. Some islanders theorize that it was due to a diet rich in fish or excess sun exposure or from distant European ancestors. It turns out, a geneticist discovered a gene variant responsible for blond hair on the islanders, that is distinctly different from the gene that causes blond hair in Europeans.
The population of Tuvalu is only 11,000 today. The tiny islands’ nation is the second least populated and fourth smallest, landmass of any country. It is listed as the least visited country in the world. It has strong Polynesian culture with a laid back and friendly attitude. Pacific island traditions are commonplace in Tuvaluan culture. This is most evident in their dance. Fatele is the traditional dance that is performed to celebrate leaders and was performed when Prince William and his wife officially visited the islands in 2012.
Each family has skill sets known as salanga, which are performed within the community. The typical trades are fishermen, house builders, and boat builders and these trades are passed on from parents to their children. They have community halls known as falekapule where villagers gather for general meetings and celebrations. The Tuvaluan community is extremely close knit. Nearly the entire population is Christian which was the religion brought to Tuvalu with the earliest European settlers. The official language is Tuvalu which is similar to Polynesian. English is also spoken and taught in schools.
Solomon Islands and Tuvalu Cuisine
Solomon Islands have more land mass to grow food and therefore have a bit more variety in their cuisine than Tuvalu. Both countries rely on imports from neighboring countries. The main staple of Solomon Islands is fish, which is cooked in all sorts of ways from grilling, to boiling, to frying. The fish is served with an assortment of side dishes which include coconut, sweet potatoes, rice, taro roots, taro leaves, cassava, bananas and their very famous breadfruit called ulu. Poi, is made with fermented taro root and is considered the national dish of Solomon Islands.
In Tuvalu, they also have an abundance of seafood choices and therefore fish, crabs and even sea birds are the typical protein. Coconut, in one form or another, is used in nearly every dish. They have a different sort of taro that grows which is called “swamp taro” and the root and leaves are used to make side dishes along with bananas and breadfruit.
So let’s enjoy a meal from the Islands:
Taro Root Chips
Tuna Coconut Curry
Palusami (Corned Beef with Taro Leaves and Coconut)
We set the scene by displaying staple ingredients from both islands, on top of a tapa cloth. We added palm fronds and shells for a little island flair.
For the first course, we nibbled on some fried taro root chips that were simply lightly salted. Taro root is a resistant starch and is considered to be good for the gut.
For the main course, we had a tuna coconut curry, that was served with rice. It was fantastic. We absolutely loved the flavors; with spice from the curry powder and hot chilies. Of course, you must use very fresh tuna, like you would get on the Islands. If you wanted to be adventurous, you could make your own coconut milk as they would there. However, the recipe can easily be made with canned coconut milk.
The tuna was served alongside a favorite dish; popular in both countries, called palusami. It is a surprisingly easy to make dish. Although some people may shy away from canned, corned beef, (aka spam) one can imagine how much the taste of meat, an occasional break from fish, is a welcomed flavor on these remote islands. It would typically be made with taro leaves, which you likely can find in a good Asian store, otherwise you can substitute spinach, which is also very tasty.
For dessert, we enjoyed a simple coconut pudding that reminded us a bit more of jello than a pudding. The pieces were served in a coconut shell. It was a sweet treat to end our Island meal.
To be honest, finding recipes for these incredibly, remote Oceania islands was challenging, to say the least. I am certain my recipes from Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Samoa would all be applicable to these island nations as well. We loved our last experience on Christmas Island in Kiribati. Perhaps a fishing trip to these remote islands is in order as well. One thing is for certain, the ocean is a truly spectacular paradise for divers, snorkelers and fishermen.
As we say goodbye to these islands, I leave with a hope of peace for Solomon Islands and a prayer for Tuvalu, that it remains above sea level.
Until next time,
Tofa (Goodbye in Tuvalu)
Lukim iu. (Goodbye in Pijin)