We had already explored several other places nearby in Polynesia and Melanesia.
On the map, the island stronghold with a mysterious biblical name continued to attract us.
After months of Australian roaming, we finally surrendered to the call. We spend a kite of pasta and buy international flights. We took off from Brisbane.
A few hours later, we are about to land in Honiara, the main city on the island of Guadalcanal and the capital of the Solomon Islands.
On board the plane, there are only four or five Westerners and none of them seem like the conventional tourist or adventurous backpacker.
When we arrive, everyone has transfer waiting. We are approached by a good native Samaritan. On account of him and the scarcity of tourist accommodation, we ended up joining the Christian community of the Melanesia Brotherhood's home, the Chester Rest House.
The old taxi climbs a rocky slope and drops us off at the base of a white wooden building. Brother Henry descends the last steps of the staircase and welcomes us in his temple, in a simple but immaculate room, equipped with two separate beds, leaves with prayers hanging on the walls and several crucifixes.
The room opens onto a balcony overlooking Honiara, an adjoining strait of the South Pacific. And to Malaita, the island opposite.
Honiara, Great City of Guadalcanal, Peculiar Capital of the Solomon Islands
The afternoon was about to begin. Half recovered from the onslaught of the long drive from Sydney, we walked down the hillside we'd slumbered on down an almost goat path to the main avenue of Mendana.
A punishing sun shines. Hundreds of passersby walk mournfully, on a long two-way pilgrimage under the sheds or in the shadow of the city's buildings.
They are almost all Melanesians, with very dark skin as the geographical term indicates. We only find exceptions each time we peek into the crowded stores, invariably belonging to Chinese emigrants.
We would join several, but by that time, we couldn't resist Frangipani, a New Zealand expatriate's ice cream shop where dozens of customers lined up outside.
Before nightfall, we shop for fruit and vegetables at a traditional Melanesian street market, and for preserves at one of the many bell-grocers.
We explore as much of Honiara as we can. Convinced that much better of the Solomon Islands awaited us, we lost our minds again and invested in a domestic flight.
Flight to Gizo over the Breathtaking Solomon Islands
The next day, we traveled 380 km to Gizo, considered one of the most attractive of the vast archipelago.
During this flight, we enjoyed the marine exoticism of that nation, carved in shades of turquoise and emerald in a coralline South Pacific, shallow, dotted with dense forests.
We land on the nearby island of Nusatupe, from where we are transported by boat to a jetty in Gizo, the capital of Gizo.
We installed ourselves in a so-called Naqua inn.
as in Honiara – where we had already peeked at dozens of stores and talked to a young woman Cantonese who showed us his pigeon (dialect with anglophone basis) of Guadalcanal – we went back to buying fruit at the market and visiting Chinese stores.
They were – also in Gizo – dark, stuffy, filled with everything you could imagine and run by Chinese people aided by a few native employees and security guards.
The Chan Brothers and the Chinese Stores of Gizo and Solomon
We took the opportunity to continue to satisfy the curiosity about how so many Chinese changed their lives and opened businesses in the Solomon Islands and elsewhere in Melanesia and Polynesia.
We asked to talk to the owners.
The Chan brothers enter, lead us to the seclusion of an office. There they tell us their story: “our father and uncle prevented the Japanese invasion of Guangdong (Southern China). They fled on a steamboat that took a month to arrive.
At that time, there were already Chinese people here.
They had to flee again when the Japanese invaded the Solomon Islands.” The famous battle of Guadalcanal, which we have followed in countless narratives in TV historical documentaries, comes back to us.
“Our father joined the Americans and was a cook,” continues Charlie. With the defeat of the Japanese, he could choose to go to the USA or for China.
He decided to stay at Salomão and brought our mother. We are already the third generation. Before the independence of the United Kingdom (1978) people lived much better.
Now, as you've noticed, too many Chinese have started to accumulate, too much competition.”
This was one of the milder problems that Hong Kong-educated Laurie and Charlie had to face.
The Tragic Interethnic Conflicts of the Solomon Islands
In 1998, an ethnic conflict broke out in Guadalcanal and Malaita that pitted Guales, Malaitinos and other ethnic groups on one side or the other.
Viewed in a simplified way, the dispute had its origins in the discontent of the Guales with the population, territorial and political domination of the Malaitians.
Thousands of inhabitants were victims of popular clashes and between newly formed militias. No political measures appeared to be successful.
As such, in July 2003, police forces from Australia and other Pacific islands established camps under the name RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands). The chaos did not stop there.
In April 2006, allegations that the newly elected prime minister had used Chinese and Taiwanese bribes to buy the votes of members of parliament were the pretext for stoking long-standing resentment against the growing Sino-community.
Honiara's Chinatown was destroyed. China had to send planes to evacuate its citizens.
"We were not attacked here, but we had weapons prepared and loaded for whatever came and went, the Chan brothers confess to us."
But the calamitous tide of Solomon extended further in time.
Saeraghi's Desolate Coastline and the Little Singers We Found There
We hitched a ride in the back of a truck full of natives.
We travel the entire south and west coast of the island towards Saeraghi, one of its most appealing beaches.
Along the way, we were able to understand the power of the last of the cataclysms to affect the archipelago.
In April 2007, the region shook under the effects of an earthquake of 8.0, near Gizo and at shallow depths. The first tremor was followed by 45 replicates with an intensity greater than 5.0.
If these shakeouts caused limited destruction in the sparsely urbanized nation, the ensuing tsunami swept nearly a thousand homes, killing 55 people. Left thousands homeless.
The coast we traveled was one of the most affected and, even many years later, when we reach Saeraghi, the impact of the first wave, more than 10 meters high and the torrent of water that followed, is still visible.
The truck drops us off in front of the cove. Although we see some wooden houses, it seems abandoned. On the beach, we come across a group of native children in full bathing fun in and out of the shallow, warm and green sea.
Without any awareness of the dramatic past of that place or why the presence of outsiders, the kids drop their canoes and the inner tube they entertain. Come and investigate us.
We ended up spending the afternoon with them, playing amphibious.
The truck that's supposed to pick us up came back almost two hours late. To make up for it, the kids secure us with a small gala of the little singers of Saeraghi.
Among so many other tropes, while sharing the whirling air chamber, they chant in mode hip hop and with enormous enthusiasm, some contemporary success of the Solomon Islands.