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Extract from Cranstone and Starzecka The Solomon Islanders [p15 -16]

Warfare was endemic. It varied from a traditional and continuing state of war between communities to sudden, temporary outbreaks of raiding or ambush. The number of individuals involved could be a few or a few hundred but casualties in any one confrontation were usually slight. Traditionally in all the larger islands and some of the smaller one there was antagonism between the inhabitants of the interior, the 'bush people', and the coast dwellers , the 'saltwater people'. This hostility was linked with cultural differences between the two groups: the bush people relied on agriculture whereas for many coastal people fishing was the mainstay of the economy and the sea-going canoes gave them mobility which the bush people were denied. In conflicts, the coast dwellers were usually aggressors and victors.

Headhunting was restricted to the central Solomons and had religious importance, heads being associated with mana and the ancestor cult. The custom of preserving heads as trophies existed throughout the islands. This was done as a sign of power and success, whether the heads were those of enemies or transgressors within the community. Headhunting was also carried out on an individual basis by professional headhunters whose services could be obtained upon promise of payment of 'blood money'. Cannibalism was practised locally but usually not concurrently with headhunting. It had ceremonial character, the victim being a sacrifice.

The principal weapons were spears, clubs and bows and arrows. The spear was the main fighting weapon, used both for thrusting and throwing. Spears were usually made of palmwood and had multiple barbs either carved or made of wood or bone and lashed to the head. Foreshafts were decorated with plaiting of yellow, red and black orchid stems in the north-west and were carved or had pearl-shell inlay in the south-east. ...

Clubs were made of wood and were used to deflect spears and to administer the coup de grâce as well as for hand-to-hand fighting. The clubs of Malaita and Ulawa were lozenge or baton-shaped and had coconut-fibre binding at the butt end. In the central islands clubs were often paddle-shaped. Shafts were decorated with plaiting of coloured vegetable fibre or the butt end had a carving of small human figures. One type of San Cristobal club had a very distinctive sickle shape and was especially well adapted to parrying spears. They could be decorated with carving or pearl-shell inlay. Stone-headed clubs used as weapons occurred in Rennell and Bellona. In Malaita the small stone-headed clubs with shafts inlaid with pearl shell were for ceremonial use. Other ceremonial clubs differed from functional weapons by the richness of decoration, the basic shape being the same.

Bows were used locally but widely. Arrows had reed shafts and palmwood foreshafts and were not feathered. They had barbs, either carved or lashed on; especially dangerous were arrows with barbs of human bone for they contained mana of the dead man. In Bougainville barbs were deeply undercut so that the head broke off in the wound. ... Arrows were never poisoned but magical substances (which could cause tetanus) might be smeared on them.

The sling was used in some localities, mainly for attacking tree houses. Shields were used in many areas. They were usually narrow and light, made of wicker or parallel slats lashed together. In Florida and Guadalcanal oval wicker shields were used; in Ysabel and Choiseul, rectangular slab shields. Elaborately decorated shields, with designs of pearl-shell inlay and shell beads, were purely ceremonial, used in presentations among chiefs.


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