Head Hunting in the Solomon Island – 1800 to 1931

In the early 1800’s, British whaling ships moved from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean as the U.S.A developed. In so doing, they came across many of the islands in south-east Asia and the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands. In those days, the people of the Solomon Islands built their canoes and houses with sharp stones as they did not have metal for knives. The British sailors on the ships traded knives & axes for supplies and favours from the local people. Those tribes that were quick to trade gained the advantage over their neighbours. In this way the tribes from the Roviana area became strong and were feared throughout this corner of the Pacific. Under the guidance of the local chief, war canoes (tomoko) were prepared which could seat 50 or 60 warriors and capable of crossing large stretches of open sea in search of skulls and slaves. The people were animist by belief, meaning that their lives were controlled by the spirits of their dead ancestors. The male skulls (the slaves collected were women & children) had a value for earthly power for the chief and also for a guarantee of passage into the next life. The value of skulls was as follows, in ascending order: pig, child, man, warrior, chief, white man! It is important to understand that these people were not cannibals.

The first Governor General (Woodford), who established the British Protectorate in 1902, was determined to stamp out the practice, but he died before this was achieved. The Rev John Goldie was also keen to stop head hunting, but after nearly 30 years of preaching and persuading, he too was unsuccessful. Finally the British navy achieved what the politicians and missionaries had failed to do, despite their best efforts.

Nowadays the people of Roviana look back on head hunting times with some dismay and most are grateful for the work of Rev John Goldie, his wife Helena and others who gave up comfortable lives in Australia for the bush and uncertainties of life in the Solomon Islands.

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