Land Tenure in Solomon Islands: Past, Present and Future

AuthorJennifer Corrin and Graham Baines
PositionDirector, Comparative Law, Centre for Public, International and Comparative Law and Professor, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland/Research Fellow, School of Social Sciences, The University of Queensland
Since the arr ival of foreigners i n Solomon Islan ds the most perpl exing question
has been how to ba lance land as a sp iritual and so cial ideal with l and as an econom ic
base. Law refor mers have strug gled with the com peting aims of reta ining land unde r
customary t enure, whilst oering su cient certainty for it to be us ed for purposes other
than subsist ence gardening and small l ocally owned projects.  e other, related, questio n
has been whethe r suitable arra ngements can be m ade for customar y land to be used a s
security for in vestment. is articl e traces the attempts that have b een made to convert
customary l and into a form of tenure that facil itates economic develop ment. It examines
government p olicies and leg islation that h ave attempted t o convert land f rom a social
framework to a for m of property th at can be owned and d iscusses the i mpact of these
arrangement s on village communities. Wh ilst the focus is on Solomon Isla nds, reference
is also made to initiatives in neighbouring Pacif‌ic Island countries where similar issues
have arisen . e article c oncludes that , to date, Solom on Islands has fai led to f‌ind an
appropriate s ystem that responds to the ne eds of its population.
I. Introduction
[L]and was a n ancestral tr ust committed t o the living for
the benef‌it of them selves and generat ions yet unbor n. Land
thus was t he most valuable herita ge of the whole communit y
and could not be l ightly pa rted wit h. This is bas ed on the belief
that depar ted ance stors super intended the e arth ly aa irs
of their liv ing descenda nts, prote cting t hem from disa sters
and ensur ing thei r welfare, but dem andin g in retur n strict
compliance w ith time -honoured eth ical prescrip tions.
Reverence for ances tral spi rits was a c ardin al point of
* Direct or, Comparati ve Law, Centre for P ublic, Int ernation al and Compa rative L aw and
Professor, TC Bei rne School of Law, The Un iversity of Que ensland.
** Research Fellow, Sch ool of Social Scie nces, The Univers ity of Queensla nd.
58 [Vol 27, 2020]
tradit ional faith a nd such reverence dict ated the preser vation
of land which t he living sha red with the dead. 1
These words from t he late Sir Gideon Zoleveke captu re the vital sig nif‌icance of
land to Solomon Is landers. Land ha s long been a source of tension , not just between
settlers a nd the indi genous population ,2 but also a mongst Solomon Isla nders
themselves .3 Since the arr ival of foreigners, the most p erplexing question ha s been
how to bala nce land as a s piritua l and social ideal w ith land a s an economic ba se.
Land reform ad vocates and law reformers have s truggled wit h the competing ai ms
of retai ning land under cus tomary tenur e, whilst oering s ucient certai nty for it
to be used for pur poses other than subs istence gardenin g and small loca lly owned
projects, shou ld the commu nity wi sh to do so. The other, relat ed, quest ion has
been whether su itable arran gements can be made for cust omary land t o be used as
securit y for investment.
This ar ticle traces the at tempts that have been ma de to convert customa ry land
into a form of tenu re that faci litat es economic development in S olomon Islands .
It exami nes government pol icies and legi slation th at have been employed in a n
attempt to c onvert land from a social f ramework to a form of propert y that can be
owned. It a lso discusses the i mpact of these arra ngements on villa ge communities.
The thorny ques tion of how best to r esolve land di sputes is out side the ambit of
this a rticle but gains some ment ion in areas where it is i nextricably entw ined with
the mai n issues under discus sion. Whilst the foc us is on Solomon Islands, refer ence
is also made t o init iatives in neig hbouri ng Pacif‌ic Isl and countr ies where sim ilar
issues have ar isen. The art icle concludes that, to dat e, Solomon Islands ha s failed to
f‌ind an appropr iate system th at responds to the needs of it s population.
 
Solomon Island s is made up of 26 ma in island s and hundre ds of smal l islands
and islets , almost 350 of which a re inhabited . It has a land are a of about 28,000 km2,
around one t hird of the size of Ta smania, s pread out in a 1,360 km l ong, double chain
1 Gideon Zoleveke “ Tradit ional Ow nership a nd Land Pol icy” in Pete r Larmou r (ed) Land in
Solomon Islands (Instit ute of Pacif‌ic St udies, Univers ity of South Pac if‌ic, Suva) at 4.
2 For exa mples of disputes be tween Solomon Isla nders and settle rs see Judith Benn ett Wealth of
the Solomons (Universit y of Hawaii Pr ess, Honolulu, 19 87) at 71.
3 See, for example , Toata Molea an d Veikila Vu ki “Subs istence f‌is hing and f‌i sh consum ption
patter ns of the sal twater pe ople of Lau Lago on, Mala ita, Solom on Islands : A case stud y of
Funa’afou a nd Niuleni Isla nders” (2008) 18 SPC Women i n Fisheries Bul letin 30. See a lso text at
fns 9 and 10 be low.

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