The Solomon Islands, much like the New Caledonian cousins, have a mysterious and interesting relationship with kava. But before we get to that, let’s look at the Solomon Islands as they are today.
The Solomon Islands
The island nation of The Solomon Islands is located at a longitude of a 160 degrees east and latitude of 9 degrees sough of the equator, in the Melanesian region of Oceania. It consists of 992 islands covering over 460,000 square miles of the pacific while consisting of a land mass of only 10,938 square miles. Scattered about this tropical island paradise reside the 581,318 residents. Scattered is an appropriate term as 70-80 percent of Solomon Islanders live a subsistence life in small villages, settlements and islands away form any major urban center (of which there are few). The capital city of Honiara houses nearly ten percent of the population and is it’s governmental and economic hub. Honiara is located on the island of Guadalcanal, which has a rich history of its own.
The island of Guadalcanal has carved out its own space in history and popular culture. Guadalcanal, and its surrounding islands, was the focal point of The Battle of Guadalcanal. This was the first allied assault on the Imperial Japanese Forces during World War II, and in many ways was the turning point in the war for the Pacific. The battle ended in the first decisive victory for the combined Allied forces over the Japanese in the Pacific. It changed the momentum of the war, and for the first time Japan found itself on the defensive.
Not only a turning point in the battle for the Pacific, it spawned the 1943 Twentieth Century Fox World War II classic Guadalcanal Diary starring Anthony Quinn. The film title was in turn later adopted by the 80’s alternative jangle pop group from Marietta, Georgia, Guadalcanal Diary. Fronted by Murray Attaway, this underappreciated Georgian Quintet disbanded in 1989.
Solomon Island’s Name
The name is accredited to the Spanish Explorer Alvaro de Mendana who, en route from Peru, made landfall in 1568. After finding alluvial gold on the island of Guadalcanal, he mistakenly thought he had discovered the source of the biblical King Solomon’s gold mines. Thus, he named them the Isles of Solomon.
Ancient Solomon Island History
Similar to the cultural melting pot of New Caledonia, The Solomon Islands have a diverse history of water born visitors. It’s believed the first visitors to the Solomon Island shores were Papuan speaking settlers approximately 30,000 B.C. Later, Austronesian speakers arrived, bringing with them their own cultural contributions such as the outrigger canoe. Finally, the cultural force that permanently settled the entire region of Oceania arrived: the Lapitas. Skilled navigators, originally sailing from Taiwan and Southern China, they arrived in The Solomon Islands 4000-5000 years ago. Their culture was one of simple clan living: gathering from the seas, domestication of animals (pigs, dogs, etc.), and the farming of yams, bananas, coconuts, and taro. Incidentally, these foods are still the staples of the Solomon Islander’s diet.
Solomon Island Culture
Like all of Melanesia, the culture of The Solomon Islands is a diverse one. It brings together the traditional culture of the Lapita people with a series of European settlers. The above mentioned Spanish settlers most predominantly left their mark in the names of the different islands in the chain. These Spanish explorers were followed in no short order by Dutch, French, German, and finally British explorers. Each of these cultural exchanges influenced the Solomon Islanders in both subtle and obvious ways.
One of the most obvious ways was Great Britian’s declaration of the Solomon Islands being their protectorate in 1893. The British Solomon Islands Protectorate, declared under the guise of protection from the “labor trade” continued until 1976, when self-governing was returned to the Solomon Island people. Completing the process, in 1978 full self-rule was give to the Solomon Islands and they became a sovereign nation. Oddly enough, when self-rule was returned, the Solomon Islanders chose to have a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II being their current head of state. Although, as with most constitutional monarchies, the true power resides in the parliament and the Prime Minister is the true leader.
Today communal, clan and family ties remain strong in these islands with the existence of the Wantok system. A key part of the Melanesian culture, Wantok means people from the same language group. These people are blood relatives and part of the extended family support that assist one another. Kastom, the Pidgin term for custom, refers to traditional beliefs and land ownership-which is reserved solely for Solomon Islanders. Despite the predominance of devout Christians, traditional practices are still being followed, especially by those living in the interior of the country’s larger islands. Off the beaten path, village life remains much as it has been for centuries.
The Solomon Islands and Kava
In the same way Kava seems to have missed the New Caledonia, The Solomon Islands also have only passing acquaintance to kava. To this day most botanists concur no native kava species have been found. Beyond that, it is not consumed in any contemporary capacity anywhere in the archipelago.
There is an ongoing debate on kava being used in the past. There are reports of kava consumption in the far southern islands of Vanikoro, Utupua, and Santa Cruz, but these reports have been openly disputed. If these reports are true, they were most likely temporary transplants from the near by island of Samoa and Tonga, and the populations have subsequently become extinct.
One particular report form the island of San Cristobal of ceremonial kava usage during burials is of note. It is reported that during the ceremony men ground up the root in a stone basin, wrung it out, and consumed it in a small cup. Although there is a debate as to this being kava or the root of another plant P. wichmannii native to the rain forests, it is possible that this was P. methysticum brought back by Solomon Islanders who worked on Fijian plantations. Kava consumption stood in direct opposition to the powerful Anglican missionaries who were prevalent in the area. If this was kava, more than likely the missionaries rooted out and eradicated any populations.
Although not being consumed currently in the Solomon Islands, we can only hope they take a page out of New Caledonia’s book and reintroduce the region to its birthright drink. If kava bars do not show up on the Solomon shores, they can always contact us here at the farm and we’d be more than happy to heed their call.
Kava was cultivated and grown by particular tribe/family in highlands of Ysabel from generation to generation but only as for Traditional medicinal purposes. The early missioneries who return from vanuatu then start to spread the story that it is also consumerble. Also the early missioneries introduce the other species of kava.
There is now a kava bar in Honiara Solomon Islands which was opened since year 2009. Kava is quite popular now, with few retail stores selling them on their shelves. The of Island of Ysabel produce one of the best the finest kava in Solomon Islands and I would said in the Pacific as well.
Tonga and samoa are not nearby islands. If kava was used on vanikoro or santander cruz then it would have come from the nearby Banks islands, which used to actively trade with what is now the southern Solomons.