The Solomon Islands form an archipelago in the Southwest covering an area of 280,000 square miles (725,197 sq. km.), with land covering 11,599 sq. mi. (27,556 sq. km.) northeast of Australia. With terrain ranging from ruggedly mountainous islands to low-lying coral atolls, the Solomons stretch in a chain southeast from Papua New Guinea across the Coral Sea to Vanuatu. The capital city of Honiara, situated on Guadalcanal (the largest island) has 54,600 inhabitants; the other principal towns are Gizo, Auki, and Kirakira.
The Solomon Islanders comprise diverse cultures, languages, and customs; 93% are Melanesian, 4% Polynesian, and 1.5% Micronesian. English is the official language, however, about 120 vernacular languages are spoken, including Solomon Islands pidgin. Most people reside in small, widely dispersed settlements along the coasts. Most Solomon Islanders are Christian, with the Anglican, Roman Catholic, South Seas Evangelical, and Seventh-day Adventist faiths predominating. About 5% of the population maintain traditional beliefs. Most Solomon Islanders maintain a traditional social structure with their lives rooted in the village.
Although little prehistory of the Solomon Islands is known, excavations indicate that a hunter-gatherer people lived on the larger islands as early as 1000 B.C. The European discoverer of the Solomons was the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana Y Neyra, who set out from Peru in 1567. British mariner Philip Carteret entered Solomon waters in 1767. The UK established a protectorate over the Solomon Islands in the 1890s.
Some of the bitterest fighting of World War II occurred on this archipelago. Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. Ethnic violence, government malfeasance, and endemic crime have undermined stability and civil society. In June 2003, Prime Minister Sir Allen Kemakeza sought the assistance of Australia in reestablishing law and order; the following month, an Australian-led multinational force arrived to restore peace and disarm ethnic militias. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has been very effective in restoring law and order and rebuilding government institutions.
The chief of state (Queen Elizabeth II, since 1952) is represented by a Governor General. The head of government is Prime Minister with a Cabinet consisting of 20 members appointed by the Governor General. The unicameral legislative branch has a 50 seat National Parliament. The bulk of Solomon Islanders depend on agriculture, fishing, and forestry for at least part of their livelihood. Most manufactured goods and petroleum products are imported.
CIA World Factbook, State Department Background Notes, 3/2007, 10/2006