Sometimes people ask me to describe the Solomon Islands. They often ask: What are the people like? What is their culture like? What do they eat? I always struggle to answer because the Solomon Islands are very diverse. There are nine provinces spread over 1100 kilometers, with over 70 distinct languages. Generally, the people are Melanesian but there are also a lot of Polynesian and Asian influences. Usually, the answer I give only touches the surface of my experience in 3 different provinces. However, last Sunday (September 16) we got a taste (literally and figuratively) of all the provinces!
I was invited by one of the girls at the school where I am working to attend her church. They meet at a local Community High School. She invited me because it was her international Sunday and she wanted me to see the dances they had all prepared. It was quite the treat! We saw dances or learned about kastoms (traditional practices) from: Temotu, Malaita, Outer Malaita, Rennell, Guadalcanal, Kiribati, Isabel, Choiseul, and Western. We also tasted food from all these places, plus Makira.
The dances began with Temotu, the place where I first left part of my heart back in 2008. I even met a girl from the village where I stayed (though she was away at school while I was there)! They performed a traditional circle dance and two people dressed in kastom attire: tapa cloths, temas (the necklace), and grass skirts.
Later when we had food, I ate breadfruit once again! When I was in Santa Cruz in 2008 it was breadfruit season. We ate so much breadfruit I was tired of it, but that little taste brought a smile back to my face. I hope one day to return to Santa Cruz.
The dances then continued with Malaita. The girl who invited me was part of this dance. Once again, some people wore kastom attire. This time panpipe players performed! Panpipes are elsewhere in the Solomons, but very common in Malaita!
Later I was able to try on a kastom necklace and headpiece, those little shell looking things are dolphin teeth. Don’t dwell on that for too long; know that usually when animals are killed here all the parts are used. Just enjoy the handiwork.
Malaita was followed by some outer Malaitan dancers who have slightly different kastom dances.
The group from Rennell-Bellona sang some songs in the local language and showed their traditional way of greeting.
Rennell-Bellona was followed by Isabel Province. I plan to spend six months next year in Isabel. It was fun to see their local dances. Although I have only been in Isabel for a few days, I am also growing attached to the people from there. And on a side note, I will be dancing with some teacher’s at my school for World Teacher’s Day and the dance performed at church is one I am learning. Stayed tuned for that in a few weeks!
We took a break from dancing for Guadalcanal (where Honiara is). They did not prepare a dance, but they explained their kastom clothes, types of cooking, and how to carry a pot on your head (something else I tried back in Santa Cruz, with little success!).
Next up was Kiribati. There is a lot more Polynesian influence is Kiribati, which is clear in the style of their dancing. The woman’s dance was very similar to a Hawaiian hula.
Finally, we ended with a performance that combined Western and Choiseul Province. They sang multiple Christian songs in their local language and performed actions and dances to go along with them. They also had a very unique version of a bass to go along with the singing.
After the service ended, we enjoyed food from all over the Solomons. I enjoyed it all and Mike ate parts. My favorite was the greens cooked in coconut milk and the cassava pudding.
So all of that is just a taste of the diverse cultures, food, and kastoms in the Solomons. Mike and I took full videos of the dances and way too many photos, so if you ever want to see them, let us know. The files are too big to upload here. This is just a sampling.
Throughout the services, unity in diversity was mentioned. The dances emphasized that even though we are all different, we are together in Christ. The sermon was about how God does not care about the differences between us, he looks at us all the same. For this reason, we all need to be united and like-minded. This is one of the challenges that Solomon Islanders are in many ways still struggling to overcome. Originally, they were not organized by provinces, they each were their own independent groups, but colonial powers united them as one. This has caused tension and fighting in the past, but since the tension in the early 2000s there has been a push for “unity in diversity”. Although we have different languages, traditions, and practices, we are all Solomon Islanders. This is one of the many smaller questions I am interested to explore here in the Solomons. It is not my main research question, but I am interested to see how this manifests itself throughout my research. Today was a wonderful example of the unity that can be found in celebrating diversity.
Research aside, today I enjoyed the beauty of the Solomon Islands. The beauty that is manifested in the diversity of the people. The joy that is evident in their singing. The love they have for dancing and celebration. So to answer the initial questions in just a few words: what are the people, cultures, and food of the Solomon Islands like? Diverse, beautiful and delicious!