Malaita is the largest island of the Malaita Province
Malaita Province
Malaita Province is one of the largest provinces of the Solomon Islands. It is named for its largest island, Malaita . Other islands include South Malaita Island , Sikaiana Island, and Ontong Java Atoll. The provincial capital and largest urban center is Auki, located on Big Malaita...

 in the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

. A tropical and mountainous island, Malaita's pristine river systems and tropical forests have not been exploited. Malaita is the most populous island of the Solomon Islands, with 140,000 people or more than a third of the entire national population. The largest city and provincial capital is Auki
Auki is the provincial capital of Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. It is situated on the northern end of Langalanga Lagoon on the north-west coast of Malaita Island. There are daily flights between the Solomons capital of Honiara and Auki...

, on the northwest coast.


Most local names for the island are Mala, or its dialect variants Mara or Mwala. The name Malaita or Malayta appears in the logbook of the Spanish, who claim that to be the actual name. They first saw the island from Santa Isabel
Santa Isabel Island
Santa Isabel Island is the longest in the Solomon Islands, South Pacific, and the largest in the group of islands in Isabel Province.-Location and geographic data:...

, where it is called Mala. One theory is that "ita" was added on, as the Bughotu word for up or east, or in this context "there." Bishop George Augustus Selwyn
George Augustus Selwyn
George Augustus Selwyn was the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand. He was Bishop of New Zealand from 1841 to 1858. His diocese was then subdivided and Selwyn was Primate of New Zealand from 1858 to 1868. He was Bishop of Lichfield from 1868 to 1878...

 referred to it as Malanta in 1850. Mala was the name used under British control; now Malaita is used for official purposes. The name Big Malaita is also used to distinguish it from the smaller South Malaita Island
South Malaita Island
South Malaita Island, also known as Small Malaita and Maramasike, is a large island at the southern tip of the larger island of Malaita in the eastern part of the Solomon Islands. It is called "small" to distinguish it from the much larger mainland. It is now part of Malaita Province...



Malaita is a thin island, about 102 miles (164 km) long and 23 miles (37 km) wide at its widest point. Its length is in a northwest-to-southeast direction, but local custom and official use generally rotate it to straight north-south orientation, and generally refer to the "east coast" or "northern end," when northeast or northwest would be more accurate. To the southwest is the Indispensable Strait
Indispensable Strait
Indispensable Strait is a waterway in the Solomon Islands, running about 200 km northwest-southeast from Santa Isabel to Makira , between the Florida Islands and Guadalcanal to the southwest, and Malaita to the northeast....

, which separates it from Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

 and the Florida Islands
Florida Islands
The Nggela Islands, also known as the Florida Islands, are a small island group in the Central Province of the Solomon Islands, a state in the southwest Pacific Ocean....

. To the northeast and east is open Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

, except for the small Sikaiana
Sikaiana formerly called Stewart Islands is a small atoll 212 km NE of Malaita. It is almost 14 km in length and its lagoon, known as Te Moana, is totally enclosed by the coral reef. Its total land surface is only 2 km2...

, part of the province 212 km northeast. To the northwest of the island is Santa Isabel Island
Santa Isabel Island
Santa Isabel Island is the longest in the Solomon Islands, South Pacific, and the largest in the group of islands in Isabel Province.-Location and geographic data:...

. To the immediate southwest is South Malaita Island (also called Small Malaita or Maramasike), separated by the narrow Maramasike Passage
Maramasike Passage
The Maramasike Passage is a narrow passage which separates the two islands of Malaita Province in the Solomon Islands, the larger Malaita and the smaller South Malaita Island, also known as Maramasike. A similar passage is found between the Florida Islands. The channel is the result of volcanic...

. Beyond that is Makira
The island of Makira is the largest island of Makira-Ulawa Province in the Solomon Islands. The island is located east of Guadalcanal and south of Malaita. The largest and capital city is Kirakira....

, the southernmost large island in the Solomon archipelago.
Malaita's climate is extremely wet. It is located in the Intertropical Convergence Zone
Intertropical Convergence Zone
The Intertropical Convergence Zone , known by sailors as The Doldrums, is the area encircling the earth near the equator where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together....

 ("Doldrums"), with its fickle weather patterns. The sun is at zenith over Malaita, and thus the effect is most pronounced, in November and February. Trade winds come during the southern hemisphere's winter, and from about April to August they blow from the southeast fairly steadily. During the summer, fringes of monsoon
Monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea...

 blow over the island. Because of the surrounding sea, air temperatures are fairly consistent, with a difference between daily highs and lows averaging to 13.6°F However, across the year, the difference is much less; the mean daily temperature in the warmest month is only 3.4°F warmer than that of the coolest. Rainfall is heavy and there is constant high humidity. The most common daily pattern follows an adiabatic process
Adiabatic process
In thermodynamics, an adiabatic process or an isocaloric process is a thermodynamic process in which the net heat transfer to or from the working fluid is zero. Such a process can occur if the container of the system has thermally-insulated walls or the process happens in an extremely short time,...

, with a calm, clear morning, followed by a breeze blowing in from higher pressures over the sea, culminating in a cloudy and drizzly afternoon. At night, the weather pattern reverses, and drizzle and heavy dew dissipate the cloud cover for the morning. Tropical cyclone
Tropical cyclone
A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterized by a large low-pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain. Tropical cyclones strengthen when water evaporated from the ocean is released as the saturated air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor...

s are the only violent weather, but they can be destructive.

Like the other islands in the archipelago, Malaita is near the Andesite line
Andesite Line
The andesite line is the most significant regional geologic distinction in the Pacific Ocean basin. It separates the mafic basaltic volcanic rocks of the Central Pacific Basin from the partially submerged continental areas of more felsic andesitic volcanic rock on its margins. The andesite line...

 and thus forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire
Pacific Ring of Fire
The Pacific Ring of Fire is an area where large numbers of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the basin of the Pacific Ocean. In a horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements...

. Earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

s are common on the island, but there is little evidence of current volcanic activity. The main structural feature of Malaita is the central ridge which runs along the length of the island, with flanking ridges and a few outlying hills. There is a central hilly country, between Auki and the Kwai Harbor, which separates the central ridge into northern and southern halves, the latter being somewhat longer. The northern ridge reaches a height of about 3,200 feet (975 m), while the southern goes up to 4,700 feet (1,430 m). Geologically, Malaita has a basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

ic intrusive core, covered in most places by strata of sedimentary rock
Sedimentary rock
Sedimentary rock are types of rock that are formed by the deposition of material at the Earth's surface and within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause mineral and/or organic particles to settle and accumulate or minerals to precipitate from a solution....

, especially limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 and chert
Chert is a fine-grained silica-rich microcrystalline, cryptocrystalline or microfibrous sedimentary rock that may contain small fossils. It varies greatly in color , but most often manifests as gray, brown, grayish brown and light green to rusty red; its color is an expression of trace elements...

, and littered with fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

s. The limestone provides numerous sinkhole
A sinkhole, also known as a sink, shake hole, swallow hole, swallet, doline or cenote, is a natural depression or hole in the Earth's surface caused by karst processes — the chemical dissolution of carbonate rocks or suffosion processes for example in sandstone...

s and cave
A cave or cavern is a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter. The term applies to natural cavities some part of which is in total darkness. The word cave also includes smaller spaces like rock shelters, sea caves, and grottos.Speleology is the science of exploration and study...

Malaitan hydrology includes thousands of small springs, rivulets, and streams, characteristic of a young drainage pattern. At higher altitudes waterfall
A waterfall is a place where flowing water rapidly drops in elevation as it flows over a steep region or a cliff.-Formation:Waterfalls are commonly formed when a river is young. At these times the channel is often narrow and deep. When the river courses over resistant bedrock, erosion happens...

s are common, and in some places canyon
A canyon or gorge is a deep ravine between cliffs often carved from the landscape by a river. Rivers have a natural tendency to reach a baseline elevation, which is the same elevation as the body of water it will eventually drain into. This forms a canyon. Most canyons were formed by a process of...

s have been cut through the limestone. Nearer the coasts, rivers are slower and deeper, and form mangrove
Mangroves are various kinds of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics – mainly between latitudes N and S...

 swamps of brackish water
Brackish water
Brackish water is water that has more salinity than fresh water, but not as much as seawater. It may result from mixing of seawater with fresh water, as in estuaries, or it may occur in brackish fossil aquifers. The word comes from the Middle Dutch root "brak," meaning "salty"...

, along with alluvial deposits of gravel, sand, or mud. The coastal plain is very narrow. Inland soils are of three types, wet black, dry black, and red. The wet black soil, too poorly drained for most horticulture except taro
Taro is a common name for the corms and tubers of several plants in the family Araceae . Of these, Colocasia esculenta is the most widely cultivated, and is the subject of this article. More specifically, this article describes the 'dasheen' form of taro; another variety is called eddoe.Taro is...

, is found in valleys or at the foot of slopes. Dry black makes the best gardening sites. The red soil, probably laterite
Laterites are soil types rich in iron and aluminium, formed in hot and wet tropical areas. Nearly all laterites are rusty-red because of iron oxides. They develop by intensive and long-lasting weathering of the underlying parent rock...

, does not absorb runoff and forms a hard crust, and is preferred for settlement sites.


There are several different vegetation zones, based on altitude. Along the coast is either a rocky or sandy beach, where pandanus
Pandanus is a genus of monocots with about 600 known species. They are numerous palmlike dioecious trees and shrubs native of the Old World tropics and subtropics. They are classified in the order Pandanales, family Pandanaceae.-Overview:...

, coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

s, and vines predominate, or a swamp, supporting mangrove and sago
Sago is a starch extracted in the spongy center or pith, of various tropical palm stems, Metroxylon sagu. It is a major staple food for the lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas, where it is called saksak and sagu. A type of flour, called sago flour, is made from sago. The largest supply...

 palms. Terminalia
Terminalia (plant)
Terminalia is a genus of large trees of the flowering plant family Combretaceae, comprising around 100 species distributed in tropical regions of the world. This genus gets it name from Latin terminus, referring to the fact that the leaves appear at the very tips of the shoots.Trees of this genus...

 grows in some drier areas. The lower slopes, up to about 2500 feet (762 m), have a hardwood forest of banyan
A banyan is a fig that starts its life as an epiphyte when its seeds germinate in the cracks and crevices on a host tree...

s, Canarium
Canarium is a genus of about 75 species of tropical and subtropical trees in the family Burseraceae, native to tropical Africa, southern Asia, and Australia, from southern Nigeria east to Madagascar, Mauritius, India, southern China, Indonesia and the Philippines...

, Indo-Malayan hardwoods, and, at higher altitudes, bamboo
Bamboo is a group of perennial evergreens in the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family....

. In forested groves, there is relatively little undergrowth. In this zone is also the most intense human cultivation, which, when abandoned, a dense secondary forest
Secondary forest
A secondary forest is a forest or woodland area which has re-grown after a major disturbance such as fire, insect infestation, timber harvest or windthrow, until a long enough period has passed so that the effects of the disturbance are no longer evident...

 grows, which is nearly impassibly thick with shrubs and softwoods. Above about 2500 feet (762 m) is a cloud forest
Cloud forest
A cloud forest, also called a fog forest, is a generally tropical or subtropical evergreen montane moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level. Cloud forests often exhibit an abundance of mosses covering the ground and...

, with a dense carpeting of moss
Mosses are small, soft plants that are typically 1–10 cm tall, though some species are much larger. They commonly grow close together in clumps or mats in damp or shady locations. They do not have flowers or seeds, and their simple leaves cover the thin wiry stems...

es, lichen
Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a symbiotic organism composed of a fungus with a photosynthetic partner , usually either a green alga or cyanobacterium...

s, and liverwort
The Marchantiophyta are a division of bryophyte plants commonly referred to as hepatics or liverworts. Like other bryophytes, they have a gametophyte-dominant life cycle, in which cells of the plant carry only a single set of genetic information....

s, with cycad
Cycads are seed plants typically characterized by a stout and woody trunk with a crown of large, hard and stiff, evergreen leaves. They usually have pinnate leaves. The individual plants are either all male or all female . Cycads vary in size from having a trunk that is only a few centimeters...

s as the dominant tall plant.

Like most Pacific islands, there are not large numbers of mammals. Apart from several species of bats, there are introduced species of pig, cuscus, and rodent. There are also dugong
The dugong is a large marine mammal which, together with the manatees, is one of four living species of the order Sirenia. It is the only living representative of the once-diverse family Dugongidae; its closest modern relative, Steller's sea cow , was hunted to extinction in the 18th century...

 in the mangrove
Mangroves are various kinds of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics – mainly between latitudes N and S...

 swamps, and sometimes dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

s in the lagoon. Offshore, Malaitans practice dolphin drive hunting
Dolphin drive hunting
Dolphin drive hunting, also called dolphin drive fishing, is a method of hunting dolphins and occasionally other small cetaceans by driving them together with boats and then usually into a bay or onto a beach. Their escape is prevented by closing off the route to the open sea or ocean with boats...

 Takekawa Daisuke (year unknown), Hunting method and the ecological knowledge of dolphins among the Fanalei villagers of Malaita, Solomon Islands, article retrieved on October 16, 2006. Additionally, there are a great number and variety of birds. Almost every family of avifauna were found in Ernst Mayr
Ernst Mayr
Ernst Walter Mayr was one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists. He was also a renowned taxonomist, tropical explorer, ornithologist, historian of science, and naturalist...

's 1931 survey. Several species of parrot
Parrots, also known as psittacines , are birds of the roughly 372 species in 86 genera that make up the order Psittaciformes, found in most tropical and subtropical regions. The order is subdivided into three families: the Psittacidae , the Cacatuidae and the Strigopidae...

s, cockatoo
A cockatoo is any of the 21 species belonging to the bird family Cacatuidae. Along with the Psittacidae and the Strigopidae , they make up the parrot order Psittaciformes . Placement of the cockatoos as a separate family is fairly undisputed, although many aspects of the other living lineages of...

s, and owl
Owls are a group of birds that belong to the order Strigiformes, constituting 200 bird of prey species. Most are solitary and nocturnal, with some exceptions . Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish...

s are kept as pets. Some bird species are endemic to Malaita, such as the Malaita Fantail
Malaita Fantail
The Malaita Fantail is a fantail endemic to Malaita in the Solomon Islands.-External links:*...


Reptiles and amphibians are common as well, especially skink
Skinks are lizards belonging to the family Scincidae. Together with several other lizard families, including Lacertidae , they comprise the superfamily or infraorder Scincomorpha...

s and gecko
Geckos are lizards belonging to the infraorder Gekkota, found in warm climates throughout the world. They range from 1.6 cm to 60 cm....

s. Crocodile
A crocodile is any species belonging to the family Crocodylidae . The term can also be used more loosely to include all extant members of the order Crocodilia: i.e...

s were once common, but have been so frequently hunted for their hides that they are nearly extinct. There are several venomous sea snakes and two species of venomous land snakes, in the elapid family. There are also numerous species of frog
Frogs are amphibians in the order Anura , formerly referred to as Salientia . Most frogs are characterized by a short body, webbed digits , protruding eyes and the absence of a tail...

s of various sizes.

Fish and aquatic invertebrates are typical of the Indo-Pacific
The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region of the Earth's seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia...

 region. There are a few species of freshwater
Fresh water is naturally occurring water on the Earth's surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, and underground as groundwater in aquifers and underground streams. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and...

 fish (including mudskipper
Mudskippers are members of the subfamily Oxudercinae , within the family Gobiidae . They are completely amphibious fish, fish that can use their pectoral fins to walk on land...

s and several other species of teleost fish), mangrove crab
Mangrove crab
Mangrove crabs are crabs that live among mangroves, and may belong to many different species and even families. They have been shown to be ecologically significant in many ways. They keep much of the energy within the forest by burying and consuming leaf litter. Along with burrowing in the ground,...

s and coconut crab
Coconut crab
The coconut crab, Birgus latro, is a species of terrestrial hermit crab, also known as the robber crab or palm thief. It is the largest land-living arthropod in the world, and is probably at the upper size limit of terrestrial animals with exoskeletons in today's atmosphere at a weight of up to...

s. On land, centipede
Centipedes are arthropods belonging to the class Chilopoda of the subphylum Myriapoda. They are elongated metameric animals with one pair of legs per body segment. Despite the name, centipedes can have a varying number of legs from under 20 to over 300. Centipedes have an odd number of pairs of...

s, scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

s, spider
Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs, and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms...

s, and especially insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s are very common. All common orders of insects are represented, including some spectacular butterflies. The common Anopheles
Anopheles is a genus of mosquito. There are approximately 460 recognized species: while over 100 can transmit human malaria, only 30–40 commonly transmit parasites of the genus Plasmodium, which cause malaria in humans in endemic areas...

 mosquito ensures that vivax malaria is endemic.

Malaitans once believed in anthropoid apes that lived in the center of the island, which are said to be 4-1/2 to 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and come in troops to raid banana plantations.

Demographics and culture

Malaitans are of a varying phenotype
A phenotype is an organism's observable characteristics or traits: such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior...

. The skin varies from rich chocolate to tawny, most clearly darker than Polynesia
Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

ns, but not generally as dark as the peoples of Bougainville
Bougainville Province
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, previously known as North Solomons, is an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. The largest island is Bougainville Island , and the province also includes the island of Buka and assorted outlying islands including the Carterets...

 or the western Solomons, who Malaitans refer to as "black men". Most have dark brown or black bushy hair, but it varies in color from reddish blond, yellow to whitish blond, to ebony black, and in texture from frizzled to merely wavy. Tourists often mistakenly believe the blond hair of Malaitans is bleached by peroxide
A peroxide is a compound containing an oxygen–oxygen single bond or the peroxide anion .The O−O group is called the peroxide group or peroxo group. In contrast to oxide ions, the oxygen atoms in the peroxide ion have an oxidation state of −1.The simplest stable peroxide is hydrogen peroxide...

, but this is not so; the blond or reddish hair colour is quite natural. Male-pattern baldness is widespread, but not as common as among Europeans. Most have smooth skin, but some grow hair on their arms, legs, and chest, and have beards. Most Malaitans are shorter than average Europeans, though not as short as Negrito
The Negrito are a class of several ethnic groups who inhabit isolated parts of Southeast Asia.Their current populations include 12 Andamanese peoples of the Andaman Islands, six Semang peoples of Malaysia, the Mani of Thailand, and the Aeta, Agta, Ati, and 30 other peoples of the Philippines....

s. Relatively robust physiques are more common among coastal populations, while people from higher altitudes tend to be leaner.

Languages and ethnic groups

Malaitans speak a variety of languages within the Malaitan language family, a subbranch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages
Malayo-Polynesian languages
The Malayo-Polynesian languages are a subgroup of the Austronesian languages, with approximately 385.5 million speakers. These are widely dispersed throughout the island nations of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean, with a smaller number in continental Asia...

. The diversity is not as great as once thought, and some of the groups are mutually intelligible. Some of the exaggeration in the number of languages may be due to the inappropriateness of lexicostatistical techniques
Lexicostatistics is an approach to comparative linguistics that involves quantitative comparison of lexical cognates. Lexicostatistics is related to the comparative method but does not reconstruct a proto-language...

 and glottochronological analysis
Glottochronology is that part of lexicostatistics dealing with the chronological relationship between languages....

, given the widespread use of word taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

 and metathesis
Metathesis (linguistics)
Metathesis is the re-arranging of sounds or syllables in a word, or of words in a sentence. Most commonly it refers to the switching of two or more contiguous sounds, known as adjacent metathesis or local metathesis:...

 as word play
Word play
Word play or wordplay is a literary technique in which the words that are used become the main subject of the work, primarily for the purpose of intended effect or amusement...

. According to Harold M. Ross
Harold M. Ross
Harold M. Ross is a cultural anthropologist who studied the Baegu community and culture on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands. He conducted his field research in the mid-1960s and summarized his research for his doctoral thesis, publishing his work and receiving a PhD in Anthropology...

, from north to south along the island's axis, the linguistic groups are roughly the Northern Malaita languages (more properly a collection of dialects without a standard name, generally To'abaita, Baelelea, Baegu
Baeggu language
The Baeggu language is spoken by the indigenous people of the North Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands. In 1999 there were 5,900 people known to speak the language. The language is largely intelligible with Baelelea, To'aba'ita, and Lau.-External links:*...

, Fataleka, and Lau
Lau language (Malaita)
The Lau language is a Malayo-Polynesian group language spoken on northeast Malaita of the Solomon Islands. As of 1999 it had about 16,937 first-language speakers, with a large number of second-language speakers through Malaitan communities in the Solomon Islands, especially in Honiara.-Sample...

), Kwara'e
Kwara'ae language
The Kwara'ae language is spoken in the north of Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands. In 1999 there were 32,400 people known to speak the language. It is the largest indigenous vernacular of the Solomon Islands.-External links:**...

 in the hilly area between the ridges, Kwaio
Kwaio language
The Kwaio language, or Koio, is spoken in the centre of Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands....

 in about the geographic center of the island, and 'Are'are
'Are'are language
The Are'are language is a language that is spoken by the 'Are'are people, who live mainly on the Solomon Islands. It is spoken by 17,800, which makes them the second largest language in the Solomons after the Kwara'ae...

 to the south. Each of these spreads across the width of the island. In addition, there is the Langalanga in a lagoon on the west coast between the Kwara'ae and Kwaio regions, and Kwarekwareo on the western coast between the Kwaio and 'Are'are regions, which may be a dialect of Kwaio. Sa'a
Sa'a language
Sa'a is an Oceanic language spoken on Small Malaita and Ulawa Island in the Solomon Islands.-External links:* A Liturgy for Melanesia in Sa'a*...

, spoken on South Malaita, is also a member of the family. Mutual intelligibility is also aided by the large degree of trade and intermarriage among the groups.

The peoples of Malaita share many aspects of their culture, although they are generally divided into ethnic groups along linguistic lines. In pre-colonial times, settlements were small and moved frequently. Both agnatic descent (patrilineal lines from a founding ancestor
An ancestor is a parent or the parent of an ancestor ....

) and cognatic descent (through links of outmarrying women) are important. These lineages determine rights of residence and land use in a complex way. In the northern area, local descent groups, united in ritual hierarchies, are largely autonomous, but conceptualize their relationship as a phratry
In ancient Greece, a phratry ατρία, "brotherhood", "kinfolk", derived from φρατήρ meaning "brother") was a social division of the Greek tribe...

 in a manner similar to certain groups in highland New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

. In the central area, local descent groups are fully autonomous, though still linked by ritual. In the south, the 'Are'are people developed a more hierarchical organization and more outward orientation, a cultural tradition that reaches its peak on the hereditary chiefs and rituals of Small Malaita to the south. One exception to these generalizations are cultures which have migrated in more recent times, such as the northern Lau, who settled in several seaside areas (and offshore islands) in southern Malaita about 200 years ago, and with whom there has been little cultural exchange.


The traditional religion of the island is ancestor worship. In one oral tradition, the earliest residents knew the name of the creator, but thought his name was so holy that they did not want to tell their children. Instead, they instructed their children to address their requests to their ancestors, who would be their mediators. In some parts of Malaita the high god responsible for creation, who has now retired from active work, is known as Agalimae ("the god of the universe"). Congregations of local descent groups propitiate their ancestors at shrine
A shrine is a holy or sacred place, which is dedicated to a specific deity, ancestor, hero, martyr, saint, daemon or similar figure of awe and respect, at which they are venerated or worshipped. Shrines often contain idols, relics, or other such objects associated with the figure being venerated....

s, led by ritual officiants (fataabu in northern Malaita). On Malaita, many shrines have been preserved, not only for their sanctity but also because they serve as territorial markers that can resolve land disputes.

With European contact, Catholics
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and Anglicans
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 spread their gospels, and many missionaries were killed. The South Seas Evangelical Mission (SSEM, now known as the South Seas Evangelical Church, SSEC), a fundamentalist Protestant church originally based in Queensland
Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

, made considerable inroads by following the imported workers home to their native islands. More recently, Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual...

 and the Seventh-day Adventist Church
Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week, as the Sabbath, and by its emphasis on the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ...

 have converted many. Many Malaitans have been active in the Solomon Islands Christian Association
Solomon Islands Christian Association
The Solomon Islands Christian Association is an ecumenical Christian non-governmental organization in the Solomon Islands. The association comprises the five largest Christian churches in the country, the Anglican Church of Melanesia, the Roman Catholic Church, the South Seas Evangelical Church,...

, a national inter-denominational organization that set a precedent for cooperation during the period of independence. The Kwaio
Kwaio is an ethnic group found in central Malaita, in the Solomon Islands. According to Ethnologue, they numbered 13,249 in 1999. Much of what is known about the Kwaio is due to the work of the Marxian anthropologist Roger M...

 people have been the most resistant to Christianity.


For the most part, the Malaitans survive by subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture
Subsistence agriculture is self-sufficiency farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families. The typical subsistence farm has a range of crops and animals needed by the family to eat and clothe themselves during the year. Planting decisions are made with an eye...

, with taro
Taro is a common name for the corms and tubers of several plants in the family Araceae . Of these, Colocasia esculenta is the most widely cultivated, and is the subject of this article. More specifically, this article describes the 'dasheen' form of taro; another variety is called eddoe.Taro is...

 and sweet potato
Sweet potato
The sweet potato is a dicotyledonous plant that belongs to the family Convolvulaceae. Its large, starchy, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots are an important root vegetable. The young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens. Of the approximately 50 genera and more than 1,000 species of...

es as the most important crops. After the establishment of government control, a plantation was established on the west coast, near Baunani. However, many Malaitans work on plantations on other islands in the archipelago, for most the only way to buy prestigious Western goods. Retail trade was largely conducted by Chinese merchants, with headquarters in Honiara
Honiara, population 49,107 , 78,190 , is the capital of the Solomon Islands and of Guadalcanal Province, although it is a separately administered town...

, and dispatching goods to remote locations on the island, where they are sometimes purchased by middlemen who keep "stores" (usually of suitcase side) in remote places.


The Malaitans are famous for their music and dance, which are sometimes associated with rituals. Several of the groups, including the 'Are'are, famous for their panpipe ensembles, are among SSEC members whose traditional music is no longer performed for religious reasons. Secular dancing is similar to widespread patterns in the Solomons, following patterns learned from plantation labor gangs or moves learned at the cinema in Honiara. Sacred dances follow strict formal patterns, and incorporate panpipers in the group. Some dances represent traditional activities, such as the tue tue dance, about fishing, which depict movements of the boat and fish, and the birds overhead.

Malaitan shell-money, manufactured in the Langalanga lagoon, is the traditional currency, and was used throughout the Solomon Islands, as far as Bougainville
Bougainville Province
The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, previously known as North Solomons, is an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. The largest island is Bougainville Island , and the province also includes the island of Buka and assorted outlying islands including the Carterets...

. The money consists of small polished shell disks which are drilled and placed on strings. It can be used as payment for brideprice, funeral
A funeral is a ceremony for celebrating, sanctifying, or remembering the life of a person who has died. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from interment itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor...

 feasts and compensation, as well ordinary purposes as a cash
In common language cash refers to money in the physical form of currency, such as banknotes and coins.In bookkeeping and finance, cash refers to current assets comprising currency or currency equivalents that can be accessed immediately or near-immediately...

 equivalent. It is also worn as an adornment and status symbol
Status symbol
A status symbol is a perceived visible, external denotation of one's social position and perceived indicator of economic or social status. Many luxury goods are often considered status symbols...

. The standard unit, known as the tafuliae, is several strands 1.5 m in length. Previously the money was also manufactured on Makira
The island of Makira is the largest island of Makira-Ulawa Province in the Solomon Islands. The island is located east of Guadalcanal and south of Malaita. The largest and capital city is Kirakira....

 and Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal is a tropical island in the South-Western Pacific. The largest island in the Solomons, it was discovered by the Spanish expedition of Alvaro de Mendaña in 1568...

. It is still produced on Malaita, but much is inherited, from father to son, and the old traditional strings are now rare. Porpoise
Porpoises are small cetaceans of the family Phocoenidae; they are related to whales and dolphins. They are distinct from dolphins, although the word "porpoise" has been used to refer to any small dolphin, especially by sailors and fishermen...

 teeth are also used as money, often woven into belts.

Early settlement and European discovery

Malaita was, along with the other Solomon Islands, settled by Austronesian
Austronesian languages
The Austronesian languages are a language family widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with a few members spoken on continental Asia that are spoken by about 386 million people. It is on par with Indo-European, Niger-Congo, Afroasiatic and Uralic as one of the...

 speakers between 5000 and 3500 years ago; the earlier Papuan speakers are thought to have only reached the western Solomon Islands. However, Malaita has not been archaeologically examined, and a chronology of its prehistory is difficult to establish. In the traditional account of the Kwara'ae, their founding ancestor arrived about twenty generations ago, landed first on Guadalcanal, but followed a magical staff which led him on to the middle of Malaita, where he established their cultural norms. His descendents then dispersed to the lowland areas on the edges of the island.

Malaita was first known to Europeans by the Spaniard Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira
Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira
Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira was a Spanish navigator. Born in Congosto, in León, he was the nephew of Lope García de Castro, viceroy of Peru...

 in 1568. An account by his chief pilot, Hernando Gallego, establishes that they called the island Malaita after its native name and explored much of the coast, though not the north side. The Maramasiki Passage was thought to be a river. At one point they were greeted with war canoe
A canoe or Canadian canoe is a small narrow boat, typically human-powered, though it may also be powered by sails or small electric or gas motors. Canoes are usually pointed at both bow and stern and are normally open on top, but can be decked over A canoe (North American English) or Canadian...

s and fired at with arrow
An arrow is a shafted projectile that is shot with a bow. It predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.An arrow usually consists of a shaft with an arrowhead attached to the front end, with fletchings and a nock at the other.- History:...

s; they retaliated with shots and killed and wounded some. However, after this discovery, the entire Solomon Islands chain was not found, and even its existence doubted, for two hundred years.

Labour trade and missions

After it was re-discovered in the late 18th century, Malaitans were subjected to harsh treatment from whaling
Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales...

 boat crews and blackbirders
Blackbirding is a term that refers to recruitment of people through trickery and kidnappings to work as labourers. From the 1860s blackbirding ships were engaged in seeking workers to mine the guano deposits on the Chincha Islands in Peru...

. Contact with outsiders also brought new opportunities for education. The first Malaitans to learn to read and write were Joseph Wate and Watehou, who accompanied Bishop John Coleridge Patteson
John Coleridge Patteson
John Coleridge Patteson was an Anglican bishop and martyr.Patteson was educated at The King's School, Ottery St Mary, Eton and then Balliol College, Oxford. He was ordained in 1853 in the Church of England...

 to St John's College, Auckland
St John's College, Auckland
The College of St John the Evangelist, located in Meadowbank, Auckland, New Zealand, is the theological college of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia...

. Later, many labourers learned to read and became Christian, and some were disappointed with the Australian decision to repatriate its workers as part of the White Australia Policy
White Australia policy
The White Australia policy comprises various historical policies that intentionally restricted "non-white" immigration to Australia. From origins at Federation in 1901, the polices were progressively dismantled between 1949-1973....

. The skills of literacy and protest letters was a precedent for the later Maasina Ruru
Maasina Ruru
Maasina Ruru was an emancipation movement for self-government and self-determination during and after World War II, 1945–1950, credited with creating the movement towards independence for the Solomon Islands...


Many of the earliest missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were killed, and this violent reputation survives in the geographic name of Cape Arsacides, the eastward bulge of the northern part of the island, meaning Cape of the Assassins. The cape was even mentioned in Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

's epic novel Moby Dick by Ishmael, the novel's protagonist. Ishmael talks of his friendship with the fictional Tranquo, King of Tranque. However, some of the earliest missionaries were Malaitans who had worked abroad, such as Peter Ambuofa
Peter Ambuofa
Peter Ambuofa was an early convert to Christianity among Solomon Islanders who established a Christian community on Malaita, and a key figure in the history of the South Seas Evangelical Mission ....

, who was baptised at Bundaberg, Queensland
Bundaberg, Queensland
Bundaberg is a city in Queensland, Australia. It is part of the Local Government Area of the Bundaberg Region and is a major centre within Queensland's broader Wide Bay-Burnett geographical region...

 in 1892, and gathered a Christian community around him when he returned in 1894. In response to his appeals, Florence Young
Florence Young
Florence Selina Harriet Young was a New Zealand-born missionary who established the Queensland Kanaka Mission in order to convert blackbirded labourers in Queensland, Australia. In addition, she conducted missionary work in China and the Solomon Islands.-Life:Young was born in Motueka, South...

 led the first party of the Queensland Kanaka Mission (the ancestor of the SSEC) to the Solomons in 1904. Anglican and Catholic churches also missionized at this point. As the international labour trade slowed, an internal labour trade within the archipelago developed, and by the 1920s thousands of Malaitans worked on plantations on other islands.

Establishment of colonial power

At this time, there was no central power among the groups on Malaita, and there were numerous blood feud
Blood Feud
"Blood Feud" is the twenty-second and final episode of The Simpsons second season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on July 11, 1991. In the episode, Mr. Burns falls ill and desperately needs a blood transfusion. Homer discovers Bart has Burns' rare blood type and urges...

s, exacerbated by the introduction of Western guns, and steel tools which meant less time constraints for gardening. Around 1880, Kwaisulia, one of the chiefs, negotiated with labour recruiters to receive a supply of weapons in exchange of workers, based on a similar negotiation made by a chief on the Shortland Islands
Shortland Islands
The Shortland Islands are group of islands belonging to the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, at . Named by John Shortland, they lie in the extreme northwest of the country's territory, close to the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. The largest island is Shortland Island...

; this weapon supply gave the chiefs considerable power. However, labour recruitment was not always smooth. In 1886, the vessel Young Dick was attacked at Sinerango, Malaita, and most of its crew murdered. In 1886, Britain defined its area of interest in the Solomons, including Malaita, and central government control of Malaita began in 1893, with the proclamation of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, claiming to regulate the local warfare and unfair labor trade, although it coincided with the German acquisition of territories to the west and French interest in those to the east.

Auki was established as a government station in 1909, as headquarters of the administrative district of Malaita. The government began to pacify the island, registering or confiscating firearms, collecting a head tax, and breaking the power of unscrupulous war leaders. One important figure in the process was District Commissioner William R. Bell
William R. Bell
William Robert Bell was an Australian-born official in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, who served as the District Officer of Malaita from 1915 until 1927. He was killed while collecting a head tax from the Kwaio of central Malaita...

, who was killed in 1927 by a Kwaio, along with a cadet named Lillies and 13 Solomon Islanders in his charge. A massive punitive expedition
Punitive expedition
A punitive expedition is a military journey undertaken to punish a state or any group of persons outside the borders of the punishing state. It is usually undertaken in response to perceived disobedient or morally wrong behavior, but may be also be a covered revenge...

, known as the Malaita massacre
Malaita massacre
The Malaita massacre inflicted a large number of deaths on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands in late 1927. William R. Bell, the District Officer of Malaita in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, and many of his deputies were killed by Basiana and other Kwaio warriors as part of a...

, ensued; at least 60 Kwaio were killed, nearly 200 detained in Tulagi
Tulagi, less commonly Tulaghi, is a small island in the Solomon Islands, just off the south coast of Florida Island. The town of the same name on the island Tulagi, less commonly Tulaghi, is a small island (5.5 km by 1 km) in the Solomon Islands, just off the south coast of Florida...

 (the protectorate capital), and many sacred sites and objects were destroyed or desecrated. Resentment about this incident continues, and in 1983 leaders from the Kwaio area council requested that the national government demand from the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 about $100 million in compensation for the incident. When the central government did not act on this request, the council encouraged a boycott
A boycott is an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for political reasons...

 of the 1986 national elections.

World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, which played a major role in Solomons history, did not have a major impact upon Malaita. Auki became the temporary capital when Tulagi
Tulagi, less commonly Tulaghi, is a small island in the Solomon Islands, just off the south coast of Florida Island. The town of the same name on the island Tulagi, less commonly Tulaghi, is a small island (5.5 km by 1 km) in the Solomon Islands, just off the south coast of Florida...

 was seized by the Japanese, and it too was briefly raided by Japan, but little fighting happened on the island. Malaitans who fought in battalions, however, brought a new movement for self-determination known as Maasina Ruru
Maasina Ruru
Maasina Ruru was an emancipation movement for self-government and self-determination during and after World War II, 1945–1950, credited with creating the movement towards independence for the Solomon Islands...

 (or "Marching Rule"), which spread quickly across the island. Participants united across traditional religious, ethnic, and clan lines, lived in fortified nontraditional villages, and refused to cooperate with the British. The organization of the movement on Malaita was considerable. The islands was divided into nine districts, roughly along the lines of the government administrative districts, and leaders were selected for each district. Courts were set up, each led by a custom chief (alaha'ohu), who became powerful figures. The British initially treated the movement cautiously, even praised aspects of it, but when they found there could be no common ground between the government and the movement, retaliated firmly, with armed police patrols, insisting that the chiefs recant or be arrested. Some did recant, but in September 1947 most were tried in Honiara, charged with terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

 or robbery, and convicted to years of hard labour.

However, the movement continued underground, and new leaders renamed the organization the Federal Council. The High Commissioner visited Malaita to negotiate a settlement, and proposed the formation of the Malaita Council, which would have a president elected by members, though they would have to recognize the government's authority and agree to cooperate with their administrators. The council became the first installment of local government in the Solomon Islands, and its first president was Salana Ga'a. The establishment of the council reduced the tension on Malaita, although Maasina Rule elements did continue until at least 1955. The council was shown not to be simply appeasement, but submitted nearly seventy resolutions and recommendations to the High Commissioner in its first two years of existence.


The Solomon Islands were granted independence in 1978. The first prime minister was an 'Are'are, trained as a South Seas Evangelical Mission teacher. The provinces were re-organized in 1981, and Malaita became the main island of Malaita Province. Malaita remains the most populous island in the country, and continues to be a source for migrants, a role it played since the days of the labour trade. There are villages of Malaitans in many provinces, including eight "squatter
Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use....

" settlements that make up about 15 percent of the population of Honiara
Honiara, population 49,107 , 78,190 , is the capital of the Solomon Islands and of Guadalcanal Province, although it is a separately administered town...

, on Guadalcanal.

Malaitans who had emigrated to Guadalcanal became a focus of the civil war which broke out in 1999, and the Malaita Eagle Force
Malaita Eagle Force
Malaita Eagles Force is a militant organization, originating in the island of Malaita, in the Solomon Islands.It was set up during 'The Tension' in the Solomons, which were mainly centred on Guadalcanal, to defend diasporic Malaitans in Guadalcanal and the property of Malaitans that have left the...

 (MEF), led by Jimmy Rasta, was organized to protect their interest, both on Guadalcanal and on their home island. The organization of Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has contributed to the infrastructure development of the island.

Further reading

  • Guppy, Henry B. (1887) The Solomon Islands and Their Natives. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co
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