Modesty, Hairstyles, and Tradition: A Whole New Culture in the Solomon Islands

culture in The Solomon Islands

foreign-correspondent badge finalThe Solomon Islands, my new home, are an island chain in the South Pacific that few people have heard of before. Even fewer have ever traveled here.

I am based in Honiara, the capital city on the island of Guadalcanal, the site of fierce fighting between the United States and Japanese during World War II. The island chain of over 900 islands is divided up into nine provinces with each one having a different culture, local languages and kastom–or local traditions and beliefs.

The culture here is rich. Although I have only been here for close to two months, it is something that I have not been able to miss and I have been trying my hardest to learn as much as possible.

Each morning as I walk to work–with the dust scattering at my feet after weeks of no rain–I am taking it all in. My route is along a ridge where I can see into the rolling valleys framed by dark blue mountains in the distance.

Out of my gate and into the street, I begin my walk to work with my morning ritual: saying hello to everyone I meet. Solomon Islanders are friendly and smile a lot, but they are for the most part shy at first. A quick glance, a shy smile, a nod of the head or a raise of the eyebrows and we continue past each other. Each moment is a short connection that I savor each morning.

Solomon Islanders are part of the Melanesian culture, which includes the inhabitants in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

One thing many people don’t realize about the culture here is that it is very conservative. This means that dress is conservative and women especially cover up their thighs as it seen as taboo to show them. Even when swimming women will wear long shorts or cover up with a sarong or a lava lava to protect their modesty.

Men and women cannot physically interact in public unless they are family members and in the villages there can be specific areas for men and women for certain things.

They live by the “Wantok system,” in which your family and village comes first and there are intricate traditional ways of life and doing things. Continuing on my walk, I pass by one of many churches on my route. Christianity is the main religion in the Solomons and many people fuse it together with some of the traditional beliefs.

The school children run past me, sometimes putting on their school shirts as they go and smile and wave. A brave one might say good morning.

A truck goes past, roaring down the road, attempting to miss the potholes that create a maze along the roads from the rains. In the back of the truck, at least 20 young people are all waving and smiling at me on their way to work. White mini-buses roll past, reggae music floating out of them.

I walk further down the hill and past the beetle nut sellers, offering this small green nut at small wooden stalls–a nut that is plucked from the tops of the coconut trees. The locals here chew the nut. When combined with a lime substance, it turns people’s mouths red, and the streets, too, when they spit it out. This “chewing” is a big part of the culture here and you will often walk past offices with colleagues sitting together outside, chewing on the beetle nut.

Passing along the main road now I say “Good morning” to more people, wave at more school children on the backs of trucks and marvel at all of the brilliant and unique hairstyles that people have. Hair for me has been one of the things that has been fascinating me the most since I arrived. There is a wonderful array of hair styles, from big Afros to small tightly curled styles, long straight hair and wavy. Hair colors also intrigue me, with black, brown, bits of blonde and red shades too.

Some of the people here from the Malaita Province have naturally blonde hair, and I love it.

I am so intrigued by the culture and cannot wait to get out to some of the other provinces to learn more about my new island home.

About Morgan Pettersson

Morgan PetterssonGrowing up on the isolated West Australian coast, Morgan Pettersson always dreamt of lands far away and at the age of 18, she packed her bags and started her world odyssey. After studying abroad twice in Ireland and Greece, traveling to every continent including the great icy continent as an Antarctic Youth Ambassador and volunteering as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development in Sulawesi, Indonesia, she is now based on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, trying to combine her love of travel with her passion for protecting the environment.
Follow her on Twitter at @morgan_petters, and read her blog here.

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