Culture of the Solomon Islands

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The culture of the Solomon Islands reflects the extent of the differentiation and diversity among the groups living within these islands that are within the part of the Pacific Ocean known as Melanesia, with the peoples distinguished by island, language, topography, and geography among the Solomon Islands.[1] The Solomon Islands includes some culturally Polynesian societies which lie outside the main region of Polynesian influence, known as the Polynesian Triangle. There are seven Polynesian outliers within the Solomon Islands: Anuta, Bellona, Ontong Java, Rennell, Sikaiana, Tikopia, and Vaeakau-Taumako.

Traditional culture[edit]

Vella Lavella girl with painted face and shell ear ornaments, c. 1900

In the traditional culture of the Solomon Islands, age-old customs are handed down from one generation to the next, allegedly from the ancestral spirits themselves, to form the cultural values to Solomon Islands.

Tepukei (ocean-going outrigger canoes)[edit]

Tepukei (ocean-going outrigger canoe) from the Santa Cruz Islands

Some Polynesian societies of eastern Solomon Islands built ocean-going outrigger canoes known as Tepukei. In 1966 Gerd Koch, a German anthropologist, carried out research at Graciosa Bay on Nendö Island (Ndende/Ndeni) in the Santa Cruz Islands and on Pileni and Fenualoa in the Reef Islands, and returned with documentary film, photographic and audio material. The films that Koch completed are now held by the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB) in Hanover.[2]

He brought back to the Ethnological Museum of Berlin the last still complete Tepukei from the Santa Cruz Islands.[3]

Contemporary culture[edit]

In the contemporary Solomon Islands, as elsewhere in Melanesia, kastom is the core of the assertion of traditional values and cultural practices in a modern context.[4] The Kastom Gaden Association,[5] for example, advocates growing and eating traditional foods rather than imported ones.[6]


Language families of the (geographic) Solomon Islands
Red: North Bougainville
Blue: South Bougainville
Green: Central Solomons
Grey: Austronesian
Orange: Yele (out of area)

There are 60–70 languages in the Solomon Islands.[7] Most of these are Austronesian languages, though the Central Solomon languages such as Lavukaleve constitute an independent family. (Two other language families are spoken on Bougainville, which is geographically part of the Solomon Islands if not within the national boundaries.) The lingua franca is Pijin, and the official language English.

The status of the Reefs – Santa Cruz languages were once thought to be non-Austronesian, but further research found them to be divergent Austronesian languages.[8] The neighbouring languages of Vanikoro are also heavily relexified Austronesian languages.[9]

An indigenous sign language, Rennellese Sign Language, has gone extinct.

Ceremonial shield, Solomon Islands, circa 1800, from the LACMA collections

Notable figures[edit]

Notable figures in contemporary Solomon Islands culture include painter Ake Lianga and musician Sharzy. Writers include John Saunana and Celo Kulagoe.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Solomon Islands Profile". BBC News. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  2. ^ "IWF Wissen und Medien". Film Achives Online. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  3. ^ "Short Portrait: Gerd Koch". Interviews with German anthropologists: The History of Federal German Anthropology post 1945. 20th December 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "The Politics of Indigenous Identity, Ethnicity and Tradition", University of Hawai'i, Center for Pacific Islands Studies
  5. ^ "Gaden", not "Garden". The word belongs to the Pijin language, not English.
  6. ^ "Don’t rely on import food: Kastom Gaden", Solomon Star, May 5, 2008
  7. ^ Ples Blong Iumi: Solomon Islands the Past Four Thousand Years, Hugh Laracy (ed.), University of the South Pacific, 1989, ISBN 982-02-0027-X
  8. ^ Ross & Næss (2007)
  9. ^ François (2009)
  10. ^ "English in the South Pacific", John Lynch and France Mugler, University of the South Pacific