After having travelled in various parts of the Pacific, I did not really know what to expect when I boarded the flight to the Solomon capital Honiara. At the intermediate stop in Vanuatu, the passengers that joined our flight, looked altogether different from all the ones I had seen so far; it gave me an idea of what to expect. The first Solomon Islander I talked to, was the immigration officer who, while processing my papers and stamping my passport, solemnly declared that President Obama had just been re-elected. The second was a jovial taxi-driver who, whenever he laughed one of his infectious laughs, exposed brownish-red stained teeth - I soon realized that betel nut is popular in the Solomons (and so is spitting it out on the streets: you often find reddish spots on the streets). When I finally walked around in the streets of Honiara and I got my first real impressions, I realized I had arrived in a diverse country. I saw people black as Africans, others fair-skinned, almost like Europeans, some of the former had blonde hair which contrasted with their dark skin in a way I had not seen before. There were those who I could have believed to be Aboriginals in Australia. Most of the Solomon Islanders are Melanesian, which partly explains their different looks from the Micronesian and Polynesian countries I had seen before. During my stay in the Solomons, this first impression was confirmed over and over again: this is one very colourful people, with very photogenic inhabitants.
As soon as I had dumped my stuff in a room for a night, I went out again, and headed for the market, often the best place to meet people. I noticed people watching me, giggling and laughing, and decided to break the ice. Before I knew it, I was taking pictures of those beautiful smiles, people were posing, a little insecurely; one boy got scared and ran away; a woman handed me her phone number. I felt quickly confident walking the streets and greeting people. That same first night, when I walked back to my resthouse through the dark streets of Honiara, two guys approached me in a way that did not make me feel at ease, and warned me to get off the streets, or I would be robbed. I had perhaps felt too comfortable, and heeded their advice. It was less than two days later that I discovered that my shoes had been stolen during the night: I could not believe it initially, since it didn't seem to fit with the feeling I had with the Solomon Islanders who seemed so kind and welcoming. But then, of course, you can't judge a people by the deeds of one person. Still, it made me more cautious, and I found myself scanning the feet of the men I saw in the streets of Gizo. I soon realized that many did not wear any shoes at all, and their feet seemed incredibly broad - I had a hard time believing anyone would actually fit into my lost shoes. At the same time, when sharing the story with other foreigners I met, I heard all kinds of examples of items that had gone missing, and realized I had to be more cautious about my stuff than in some other countries.
Hiking up the Kolombangara volcano made me realize more than before that Solomon Islanders must have really sturdy soles below their feet: my guides walked up barefoot, and did not seem to mind much which terrain they were walking on. I even saw them walking without a problem on paths made of coral; when I tried it myself, I could only do it carefully placing my feet on the sharp stones, step by step. It only made me admire their agility on their indestructible feet so much more. After visiting several islands, I started to note the difference between the various islanders; not just in their language, but also their physical appearance. When I met a very dark man near Munda, he invited me to meet his wife and daughters: to my surprise, they had a very light coloured skin. She was from the island of Isabel, which is where the Spaniards landed and some continued to live several centuries ago; their legacy can still be seen in the inhabitants of today. One other thing that I noticed, and which I thought really interesting when I considered it more in depth, was that when I told people which country I was from, most were convinced it was an island. At first, it seemed ignorant, but after a while, I realized it made perfect sense. For these are islanders; the identity of people within the Solomon Islands is decided by their island; moreover, all the countries surrounding the Solomons are island nations. For them, it was hard to imagine that you can travel in other continents over land, from country to country. But with all the good experiences I had with Solomon Islanders, there were also some that were plain bad. To begin with, there were the drunken guys who approached me, some in a very annoying way, or following me. I did not always feel warmly welcome like I had in other countries; people sometimes seemed totally indifferent or careless. But then, there was always someone else who would show kindness, who would show a smile, who would be genuinely interested. Considering all the many encounters with the Solomon people, the picture is mixed for me.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Solomon Island people (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Solomon Island people.
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