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ETHNONYMS: Guadalcanar, Kaoka


Identification. Among the peoples inhabiting Guadalcanal Island, one of the Solomon Islands, there is found considerable variety of cultural practices and language dialects. This entry will focus upon the people of five autonomous Villages (Mbambasu, Longgu, Nangali, Mboli, and Paupau) in the northeastern coastal region who share both a single set of cultural practices and a common dialect, called "Kaoka," after one of the larger rivers in the area.

Location. The Solomon Islands, formed from the peaks of a double chain of submerged mountains, lie to the southeast of New Guinea. At about 136 kilometers in length and 48 kilometers in breadth, Guadalcanal is one of the two largest Islands of the Solomons and is located at 9°30 S and 160° E. Guadalcanal's immediate neighbors are Santa Isabel Island in the northwest; Florida Island directly to the north; Malaita in the northeast; and San Cristobal Island to the southeast. The islands are frequently shaken by volcanos and earthquakes. The southern coast of Guadalcanal is formed by a ridge, which attains a maximum elevation of 2,400 meters. From this ridge the terrain slopes northerly into an alluvial grass plain. There is little climatic variation, other than the semiannual shift in dominance from the southeast tradewinds of early June to September to that of the Northwest monsoon of late November to April. Throughout the year it is hot and wet, with temperatures averaging 27° C and an average annual rainfall of 305 centimeters.

Demography. In the first half of the 1900s, the population of Guadalcanal was estimated at 15,000. In 1986 there were estimated to be 68,900 people on the island.

Linguistic Affiliation. The dialects spoken on Guadalcanal are classed within the Eastern Oceanic Subgroup of the Oceanic Branch of Austronesian languages. There is a marked similarity between the dialect of the Kaoka speakers and that spoken on Florida Island.

History and Cultural Relations

The Solomons were first discovered in 1567 by a Spanish trading ship, and they were named at that rime in reference to the treasure of King Solomon which was thought to be Hidden there. There was very little further contact with European trading and whaling ships until the second half of the 1700s, when English ships visited. By 1845, missionaries began to visit the Solomons, and at about this time "blackbirders" began kidnapping men of the islands for forced labor on European sugar plantations in Fiji and elsewhere. In 1893, Guadalcanal became a British territory in the nominal care of the government of the Solomon Islands Protectorate, but full administrative control was not established until 1927. An Anglican mission and school was built in Longgu in 1912, and missionizing activities increased in intensity. During this time, and again after World War II, a number of European-owned coconut plantations were established. From relative obscurity, Guadalcanal Island leapt to the world's notice during World War II when, in 1942-1943, it was the site of a definitive confrontation between U.S. Marines and Japanese forces. With the building of an American base on the island, adult males were conscripted for the labor corps and there was a sudden influx of Western manufactured goods. In postwar years, the remembrance of that time of relatively easy access to new and desired Western goods, as well as a reaction to the breakdown of the traditional sociopolitical and Socioeconomic systems, contributed to the development of the "Masinga Rule" movement (often translated as "Marching Rule," but there is evidence that masinga means "Brotherhood" in one of Guadalcanal's dialects). This originally was a millenarian cult premised on the idea that through appropriate belief and the correct ritual practice the goods and largess experienced during the war years could someday be made to return. It became, in fact, a vehicle by which to seek, and by 1978 to secure, the independence of the Solomon Islands from British colonial rule.


Kaoka speakers occupy five autonomous villages, four of which are located on the coast; the fifth is a few miles inland. Each village is made up of a number of hamlets consisting of a cluster of four to ten households, each with its own dwelling and associated gardens, and in traditional times there would also be three shrines, each dedicated to spirit beings. There is only one building style, regardless of the purpose of the Structure: a high-peaked, windowless, thatched-roof affair, with walls made of split saplings lashed together with strong vines and anchored to solid upright beams. Small stones and larger shingle from the beach are spread to make the flooring. Doorways are elevated from ground level, to keep village pigs from gaining entry. Each shrine is decorated with the skulls of ancestors and a carved palisade of representations of spirits is set before the entrance. Because of the local climate and the nature of building materials, a structure is unlikely to last more than five years before having to be rebuilt.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The people of Guadalcanal are slash-and-burn horticulturalists whose principal crops are yams, taro, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Although every head of household will raise a herd of pigs, for coastal peoples the bulk of the day-to-day protein intake is supplied by seafood: fish from the open sea, as well as crustaceans and shellfish gathered from the reefs. Bonito is a great delicacy, but it is unavailable during the season of the monsoons when the winds are too dangerously high for the canoes. The consumption of pork is reserved for important occasions such as weddings or funerals. Fishing is done from plank canoes or from the shore. While there are wild pigs on the island, hunting is not often indulged in and contributes very little to the household diet.

Industrial Arts. House construction is the most time-consuming of necessary tasks, and it is usually done by a party of kinsmen; it is not the work of specialists. Canoe building, however, is a specialized skill, and only a few men in the Village are held to be fully capable of it. The canoe builder will lend his skills freely to fellow clansmen, but he expects compensation for his work in the form of strings of shell money from anyone not so related. Most other tools used in day-today living that are made locally are relatively simple: fishing lines, digging sticks, and the like. Other items once manufactured locally, such as knives, axes, articles of clothing, and household utensils, have been replaced by store-bought items of Western manufacture.

Division of Labor. Men clear and prepare gardens and build fences, houses, and canoes; they also fish both from the shore and at sea. Women gather shellfish and crustaceans from the reefs and do most of the day-to-day tending of the gardens (weeding, harvesting). Planting is a cooperative effort between men and women. What little hunting that occurs is done entirely by those few men considered particularly adept at it. Domestic chores are the province of women, though many tasks, including tending small children, is often passed along to older daughters. Interisland trading expeditions were traditionally carried out by groups of men of the village, but with the enforcement of colonial interdictions against raiding, such trade no longer requires the large defensive fleets of the past.

Trade. While each household is largely capable of securing an adequate subsistence, there was trade between coastal Villages and people of the interior, as well as overseas trade with other islands in the vicinityin particular with Langalanga Lagoon, on the west coast of Malaita, and with people of San Cristobal Island to the southeast. Langalanga was the source of the shell money used as a currency in trade and for Ceremonial purposes such as the payment of bride-price. In trade for these strings of shell disks, people of Guadalcanal provided surplus pigs and vegetables. San Cristobal was a principal source of porpoise teeth, also used as currency and in Ceremonial exchange, and Guadalcanal provided tobacco in return. Trade with the interior parts of Guadalcanal Island involved the exchange of shell disks, porpoise teeth, salt, coconuts, and limes for tobacco, dogs' teeth, bowls, and shields. Trade was and still is carried out between individuals who have formed a partnership relationship, which is passed along from father to son or from maternal uncle to nephew. Most often, the traders from Langalanga voyage to Guadalcanal with their trade goods, and, though less frequently, the people of Guadalcanal sometimes make the opposite trip. The large canoes in which trading voyages are made are themselves a trade item made on Florida Island and by the people of Marau Sound on the extreme east coast of Guadalcanal.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is reckoned matrilineally. Kaoka speakers recognize five dispersed matrilineal clans, said to have been created through the marriages of the five sons and five daughters of Koevasi, the culture heroine. Each daughter then became the founding ancestress of one of the clans. Localized subclans constitute the core population of each hamlet. Among the people of the interior, there are two matrimoieties, each consisting of a number of constituent matrilineal clans. A male does not usually take up Residence in the territory of his clan until a few years after Marriage, with the construction of his second house, so many of a hamlet's young adult males are, in fact, the sons of clan Members but not clan members themselves.

Kinship Terminology. Among the interior people, a relatively straightforward Hawaiian system is found. Among the Kaoka speakers, the terms for parallel and cross cousins are the same, but they are terminologically differentiated from siblings.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is said to be prohibited between Members of the same matrilineage; therefore, hamlets are ideally exogamous but the village is not because it consists of Hamlets of all five of the clans. The parental generation arranges marriages, holding that young people are unlikely to be appropriately pragmatic in choosing mates. Negotiations for marriage are initiated by the father of the young man, but the responsibility to solicit bride-price contributions is equally shared by the father's clan and that of the maternal uncle. Forced marriages are understood to be less than ideal, and strong objections by either of the couple are enough to break off the match. The bride-price goes, in roughly equal amounts, to the girl's patrilateral and matrilateral kinmuch in the same way that it was collected by the boy's family. After the bride-price is paid, the groom's father arranges for a house to be built near his own, where the newly wed couple will live. Later the couple and their children will move to a hamlet associated with the husband's mother's subclan, where his rightsparticularly to the use of landare of greater significance. Divorce is rare, and the only recognized grounds are cruelty, incompatibility, or adultery. Because it is only in cases of serious bodily harm to the wife that her family can retain the bride-price that was paid, wives are under far more pressure to remain within a marriage than is the case for husbands, although ideally either spouse has an equal right to seek divorce. Polygyny occurred in the past, although it tended to be an option limited only to particularly wealthy and influential men, due to the burden of raising high bride-prices.

Domestic Unit. The household consists minimally of a married adult male, his wife, and children, but frequently it also includes an aging parent (either the husband's or the wife's) and unmarried siblings of the husband. In particular, an unmarried or divorced woman will turn to her brother's household as her proper home, should the need arise. A newly married son and his wife will live temporarily in the boy's father's house until their first independent dwelling is built nearby, but they will build future houses in the hamlet of the boy's uterine uncle.

Inheritance. Use rights to land for adult males follows clan membership, and clan lore is passed from uterine uncles to nephews. But a father will pass to his sons the practical knowledge and skills he has accumulated (e.g., garden magic, technical skills such as canoe building). Heritable personal property is minimal because at the death of an individual his or her closest kin ritually express their grief by the destruction of part of such propertyclothing is burned, canoes are broken apart, and the likebut a man's principal heirs are always his uterine nephews.

Socialization. Children are reared primarily by their mothers for the first few years of life, but all members of the Household and both maternal and paternal kin will intervene with corrections or scoldings when necessary. Children are expected to learn early on the value of sharing and respect for the belongings of others. Girls begin their practical training in adult skills and roles early on, but boys do not begin to go about with their fathers until they reach the age of 7 or so, at which time a man might make a small fishing rod for his son and take him down to the beach. At a fairly young age a father will give his son a small pig to raise, and both he and the boy's uterine uncle will begin to take his practical education in hand. Fathers teach their sons skills but not clan lore. If there once were boys' puberty rituals, all memory of them has been lost, but girls still undergo facial scarring when they are about age 12 or 13.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The five dispersed matrilineal clans form the largest unit that establishes kin-based rights and obligations, specifically regarding hospitality, but at this level these rights and obligations are somewhat attenuated. The localized subclan of the hamlet serves far more significantly as a unit of organizationfrom this level community work parties for the clearing of gardens, women's gathering groups, and the like are drawn. For overseas trading expeditions, men from a number of hamlets in the village cooperate; these groups crosscut subclan ties.

Political Organization. The traditional system relied on the influence of senior men to whom others in the hamlet would turn for help in resolving conflicts or organizing work parties on a scale larger than the household. Leadership was traditionally based on the amassing of wealth (in the form of strings of shell money) and prestige. The largest unit of Organization and cooperationfor overseas trading expeditions and for warwas the village, and the most influential of the hamlet headmen would lead his fellows in achieving consensus for such decisions. This system suffered early from the effects of colonization and missionization when the bases of Village and headman influence were suppressed by church and administrative policies.

Social Control. Shaming was traditionally a principal means of securing appropriate social behavior, although recourse was often taken to the counsel of hamlet or village headmen when disputes or asocial behavior required outside intervention. Training from childhood is geared to inculcate qualities of cooperation, respect, and tolerance, but in the day-to-day life of the hamlet and village frictions do arise Between individuals. At such times, other kin will try to intervene to bring the miscreant to his or her senses. When necessary a hamlet or village headman will step in to mediate and effect a reconciliation between mutually offended parties. Now recourse is taken to courts and government councils.

Conflict. Conflict might arise over theft or the killing of another man's pig, but the principal cause is said to be adultery. When this occurs between members of different villages, it may be redressed through "death sorcery." If an individual is thought to have been killed by sorcery, a diviner identifies the sorcerer and countersorcery is attempted. Open violence used to be resorted to if the victim was an important leader; this method involved hiring a party of warriors, not of the victim's subclan, who would undertake to kill the sorcerer and bring back his head, after which the kin of the slain sorcerer had to be paid compensation in shell money and teeth.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Each of the five matrilineal clans derives its charter from stipulated descent from one of the five sons of the culture heroine, Koevasi, who is said to have created the first humans. Each clan has three classes of spiritsspirits of the dead, shark spirits, and snake spiritsall possessing nanama, which is a power that can be exerted by them on behalf of the living. Such intervention is sought through sacrifices to the shrine of one or another of these spirit types, and each has associated with it certain food taboos and restrictions as to who may be present at the sacrifice. One particular class of the spirits of the deadwarrior spiritsinfluenced success or failure in war, while all other ancestral spirits were primarily involved in maintaining the health of their living descendants. The assistance of shark spirits was sought in circumstances to do with fishing or overseas trading expeditions, and snake spirits were particularly helpful with regard to gardening. Ancestral spirits could be invoked by sorcerers to cause death or illness in others, as well as to remove the death or sickness spells cast by others. Christian beliefs and practices were introduced by Anglican missionaries in 1912, and the church has had no little success, although early efforts at missionizing went a bit astrayan attempt to translate the Book of Common Prayer into the Kaoka language in 1916 was received as gibberish. Today, however, both Christian converts and non-Christians tend to hold both the introduced religion and the indigenous one as valid, and there is a tendency to fit Christian teachings into traditional terms.

Religious Practitioners. Each shrine had a priest, knowledgeable in its specific taboos and procedures, to whom Others of the clan or subclan would turn to conduct sacrifices or for divination. Magic and sorcery were practiced not by such priests but by men of the community to whom the ritual knowledge had been taught by paternal kin (for curative, agricultural, and fishing magic) or received from a clan relative (for death or sickness sorcery). Any effective headman was considered capable of casting spells, for it was held that his success was contingent upon access to the spirits' nanama.

Ceremonies. Ceremonial feasts were held on the occasion of weddings and funerals, as well as to celebrate a birth or the construction of a new house or canoe. Each householder in the subclan holding the feast contributes as much surplus garden produce and pigs as he can, for it is his largess on these occasions that gain him prestige and influence in the Community. The planting of crops involves the use of garden magic, and invoking the assistance of spirits calls for a sacrifice, Usually of a pig.

Arts. Animal ballets are often performed during the course of feasts. The composition of such ballets is determined by specialized choreographers and performed by skilled local dancers, always male. On the coast, only choral music accompanies the dances, but in the interior there are also orchestras of panpipes. Women have dances as well, although these are not associated with celebrations and consist simply of a shuffling circular movement to the accompaniment of a chorus.

Medicine. Disease and death were held to be caused by sorcery, for the most part, although they were believed also to result from the direct displeasure of spirits without the involvement of humansin the case of taboo violations, for example. Treatment for illness required the assistance of a Magical specialist, who through divination would attempt to determine the cause of the sickness and the appropriate curative procedures.

Death and Afterlife. The traditional religion held that one's deceased ancestors still could be petitioned by the living through the intervention of nanama, and mortuary practices reflect that belief. At the death of an individual, close kin gather to host a meal for the rest of the village. Burial practice varies according to subclan tradition and other factors and includes burial at sea, exposure of the corpse, and interment in the floor of the deceased's dwelling; this last is the most common. For two or three months the deceased's nearest kin observe a number of taboos, and villagers respectfully refrain from loud or boisterous behavior to avoid giving the appearance of taking pleasure in the death and thus giving rise to suspicions of sorcery. When enough time has passed and decomposition of the body is sufficiently advanced to permit the removal of the skull, the chief heir secures the services of a ritual expert to take and clean the head, which is then hung under the eaves of the house. A series of ritual payments have been exchanged between the kin of the surviving spouse and the kin of the deceased, and the deceased's clothing is burned by his or her brother or nephew. A feast is held to mark the end of the mourning period. The skull is then installed in the hamlet shrine and a small pig is sacrificed to the spirit of the dead person, which remains in the vicinity to Influence the affairs of his or her survivors and descendants.

See also Malaita, San Cristobal


Belshaw, Cyril S. (1954). Changing Melanesia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hogbin, Ian (1938). "Social Advancement in Guadalcanal." Oceania 8:289-305.

Hogbin, Ian (1964). A Guadalcanal Society: The Kaoka Speakers. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.


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Guadalcanal Largest of the Solomon Islands, c.970km (600mi) e of New Guinea, w central Pacific Ocean; the capital is Honiara. Guadalcanal was the scene of heavy fighting between Japanese and US troops in World War II. The chief products are coconuts, fish, fruit, and timber. Area: 5302sq km (2047sq mi). Pop. (2002 est.) 120,100.

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GuadalcanálAl, bacchanal, cabal, canal, Chagall, Chantal, chaparral, gal, grand mal, Guadalcanál, Hal, La Salle, mall, Natal, pal, pall-mall, petit mal, sal, shall, Val •Iqbal • Parsifal • mescal • decal •caracal • Amytal • Nembutal •Pentothal

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Guadalcanal an island in the western Pacific, the largest of the Solomon Islands, which during the Second World War was the scene of the first major US offensive against the Japanese (August 1942).

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