The Solomon Islands ‘Ethnic’ Conflict – Considering the Malaitan and Gwale Identities

  • Abstract:

    The relationships between individuals, and the categories used to differentiate individuals from one another are central to the rationale for the outbreak of violence. There is overall agreement within academic literature the label ‘ethnic conflict’ was too broad and totalizing to fully explain the parameters of the conflict, however there is no doubt identity politics had a significant role to play in both the outbreak of violence and the continued segregation affecting Honiara. The exploration of the concept ethnicity within a Melanesian context is given added complexity as it centralizes cultural or linguistic markers, assuming a euro –centric framework where the markers are understood. Frequently however, ethnicity is a contested and muddled term and essentially highly driven by social context. With the increase in movement away from ancestral homes in search of employment and opportunity identity markers have grown in importance within Solomon Islands, as such this paper reflects upon the importance of identity politics within Solomon Islands, isolating the Malaitan identity. The argument concentrates upon the relevance of the term ethnicity, as used in relation to the labels Gwale and Malaitan. The aim of this paper is to raise relevant issues pertaining to the use of ethnicity within a Melanesian context, providing a discussion of the historical inclinations towards locally based identity and the problems with wholesale use of ‘ethnicity’ to explain Malaitan identity in Solomon Islands. Overall, this paper seeks to fill a gap within literature to discuss whether the social facts of Malaitan identity align with recent attempts at a universal definition of ethnicity.