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Date : 21st August, 2017
Time : 59’ 28”
Total distance run to date : 1170 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1946321183
It’s been a long, hard night in the pub. The scores are tied and the final question will decide who wins this week’s quiz and, with it, the prize of £25 to spend behind the bar. (That’s 0.84 pints each for the five of you at today’s prices.)
“The year 2017 is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 100th anniversary of the birth of US President John F Kennedy. What links these two anniversaries?”
Your finger hits the buzzer and you shout out triumphantly, “The Solomon islands!”
Afterwards, as you sup your 0.84 of a pint, you say a quiet ‘thank you’ to Run the World. For, unless you had a Solomon Islander by your side – and the available data suggests that’s fairly uncommon amongst pub quiz teams – this blog will likely have been the source of your victorious knowledge.
But what, I hear the non-pub quizzers amongst you clamouring, was the Battle of Guadalcanal? Details below in Facts & Stats but, briefly, it was a WWII offensive in 1942 by the Allied forces (led by the US) against the Japanese Empire. It lasted for six months, involved land, sea and air battles and is generally seen, along with the Battle of Midway, as the key turning points in the war against Japan. To this day the Solomons are full of reminders of the war.
Perhaps more worryingly for those of us who think that an understanding of 20th century history and politics is important for a successful 21st century, I can also sense that one or two younger readers haven’t heard of this John F Kennedy character. Again details below, but JFK can perhaps be best understood as the Barack Obama of his day. He was elected President on a vision of liberal enlightenment and progress, had a glamorous wife, and was assassinated in 1963 after less than 3 years in the job. Some question how much he actually achieved during his presidency (apart from numerous affairs including, allegedly, one with Marilyn Monroe) but I think it’s fair to say he was, and probably still is, a hero to many. (Over the whole of his presidency, Kennedy apparently averaged a 70.1 percent approval rating, comfortably the highest of any post-World War II US president.)
If you want to get a sense of the glamour and adulation associated with JFK, then watch the following video of Marilyn Monroe famously singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President’ in front of 15 000 people at his intimate 45th birthday celebrations. (It’s worth watching to the end just to see the cake).
As far as I’m aware, the word ‘hero’ first began to be associated with JFK (on the right in the picture below) during his WWII time in the Solomon islands. Details below as ever, but, in summary, Lieutenant Kennedy’s boat PT – 109 was sunk by the Japanese and thanks to his heroic actions most of his crew were saved. This story was to help him in his future political career, as was his ability to say the right thing at the right time. When asked, at a later date, how he became a hero he replied laconically, “It was involuntary, they sunk my boat”. (There are slightly odd parallels between this story and that of another lieutenant – Prabowo Subianto of the Indonesian army, the anti-hero of last week’s blog about East Timor – whose military exploits also furthered his political career.)
By Collections of the U.S. National Archives, downloaded from the Naval Historical Center , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16522717
Enough history, however fascinating it might be. Let’s get back to the present(ish) day : 21st August 2017 to be exact. As we drove into town from the airport I saw a sign proclaiming that the Solomons were the Happy Isles. I asked my taxi driver if that was true. “Yes”, was his straightforward answer. (‘The Happy Isles’ is the title of a book written by Dick G Horton about the Solomon Islands – a title which was subsequently appropriated by the local tourist industry.)
Certainly my welcome at the Sanalae Apartments, where I was staying, couldn’t have been warmer and later, as I ran round town I began to think he might have been right.
Normally when people speak to me on the street in countries where there are great wealth disparities between tourist and locals, it’s because they want to sell me something. Or otherwise transfer funds from me to them. Which is understandable, if not always pleasant.
But in Honiara (capital of the Solomon Islands) all sorts of passers-by said ‘hello’ or ‘good evening’ or ‘good night’. And then walked on with no apparent interest in anything other than being friendly. You’ve got to love a place like that.
Anyway, on to the run which wasn’t quite so happy. Due to ongoing concerns about my knee, I hadn’t run in the two weeks prior to my arrival in Honiara and I was a lot less fit, and somewhat podgier, than usual. Perhaps it was that, or perhaps it was the fact that I’d started my run at 4pm when it was still plenty hot. Either way, I found the run – along the coastal road, past the central market and through Honiara – unexpectedly gruelling. After 4 kilometres it felt like I’d run 6 kms. After 5 kms it felt like I’d run 8 kilometres. And after 6 kms it felt like I’d run all ten kilometres and I was more than ready to call it a day. But I still had 4 bloody kilometres to go.
I kept going along the coast until the point marked on my map as Iron Bottom Sound. This is not, as it may sound, a place famed for its ferrovial flatulence. Rather it’s the name given by Allied sailors to a stretch of local water where dozens of ships and aircraft were sunk there during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Every year, on the battle’s anniversary, a U.S. ship cruises into the waters and drops a wreath to commemorate those who lost their lives.
Once I’d reached Iron bottom Sound (in fact all the waters north of Honiara are part of Iron Bottom Sound) I turned round and ran back to Honiara. It was a grim, grinding-out-the-metres kind of run but eventually it came to an end and I was able to enjoy being in the Happy Isles again.
And there I will leave you with this week’s obscure musical trivia / useful pub quiz fact. Did you know that the hauntingly beautiful ‘Sweet Lullaby’ track by Deep Forest is based around a traditional Baegu lullaby from the Solomon Islands called “Rorogwela”? You do now and, should that information ever prove useful to you, then I trust you will acknowledge your debt to Run the World and make a donation of no less than £25 (or local currency equivalent) to Cancer Research!
Facts & Stats
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.
Solomon Islands is a sovereign country consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania lying to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu and covering a land area of 28,400 square kilometres (11,000 sq mi). The country’s capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal. The country takes its name from the Solomon Islands archipelago.
The islands have been inhabited for thousands of years. In 1568, the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña was the first European to visit them, naming them the Islas Salomón.] Britain defined its area of interest in the Solomon Islands archipelago in June 1893, when Captain Gibson R.N., of HMS Curacoa, declared the southern Solomon Islands a British protectorate. During World War II, the Solomon Islands campaign (1942–1945) saw fierce fighting between the United States and the Empire of Japan, such as in the Battle of Guadalcanal.
The official name of the then British overseas territory was changed from “the British Solomon Islands Protectorate” to “Solomon Islands” in 1975. Self-government was achieved in 1976; independence was obtained two years later. Today, Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of Solomon Islands, currently Queen Elizabeth II, as its head of state.
“Ironbottom Sound” is the name given by Allied sailors to Savo Sound, the stretch of water at the southern end of The Slot between Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Florida Island of the Solomon Islands, because of the dozens of ships and planes that sank there during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942–43. Before the war, it was called Sealark Channel. Every year on the battle’s anniversary, a U.S. ship cruises into the waters and drops a wreath to commemorate those who lost their lives. For many Navy sailors, and those who served in the area during that time, the waters in this area are considered sacred, and strict silence is observed as ships cruise through
PT-109 was a PT boat (Patrol Torpedo boat) last commanded by Lieutenant, junior grade (LTJG) John F. Kennedy (later President of the United States) in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Kennedy’s actions to save his surviving crew after the sinking of PT-109 made him a war hero, which proved helpful in his political career. The incident may have also contributed to his long-term back problems.
After he became president, the incident became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring a song, books, movies, various television series, collectible objects, scale model replicas, and toys. Interest was revived in May 2002, with the discovery of the wreck by Robert Ballard. PT-109 earned two battle stars during World War II operations.
The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and codenamed Operation Watchtower, was a military campaign fought between 7 August 1942 and 9 February 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
On 7 August 1942, Allied forces, predominantly United States Marines, landed on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida in the southern Solomon Islands, with the objective of denying their use by the Japanese to threaten Allied supply and communication routes between the US, Australia, and New Zealand. The Allies overwhelmed the outnumbered Japanese defenders, who had occupied the islands since May 1942, and captured Tulagi and Florida, as well as an airfield (later named Henderson Field) that was under construction on Guadalcanal.
Surprised by the Allied offensive, the Japanese made several attempts between August and November to retake Henderson Field. Three major land battles, seven large naval battles (five night time surface actions and two carrier battles), and continual (almost daily) aerial battles, culminated in the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in early November, in which the last Japanese attempt to bombard Henderson Field from the sea and land with enough troops to retake it was defeated. In December, the Japanese abandoned their efforts to retake Guadalcanal and evacuated their remaining forces by 7 February 1943, in the face of an offensive by the US Army’s XIV Corps.
The Guadalcanal campaign was a significant strategic combined arms Allied victory in the Pacific theater. Along with the Battle of Midway, it has been called a turning point in the war against Japan. The Japanese had reached the peak of their conquests in the Pacific.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly referred to by his initials JFK, was an American statesman who served as the 35th President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. Kennedy served at the height of the Cold War, and much of his presidency focused on managing relations with the Soviet Union. He was a member of the Democratic Party who represented Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate prior to becoming president.
Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy. A scion of the Kennedy family, he graduated from Harvard University in 1940 before joining the United States Naval Reserve the following year. During World War II, Kennedy commanded a series of PT boats in the Pacific theater and earned the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his service. After the war, Kennedy represented Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1947 until 1953. He was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate and served as the junior Senator from Massachusetts from 1953 until 1960. While serving in the Senate, he published Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography. In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy narrowly defeated Republican opponent Richard Nixon, who was the incumbent Vice President.
Kennedy’s time in office was marked by high tensions with Communist states in the Cold War. He increased the number of American military advisers in South Vietnam by a factor of 18 over President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In April 1961, he authorized a failed joint-CIA attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He subsequently rejected plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to orchestrate false-flag attacks on American soil in order to gain public approval for a war against Cuba. In October 1962, U.S. spy planes discovered that Soviet missile bases had been deployed in Cuba; the resulting period of tensions, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly resulted in the breakout of a global thermonuclear conflict. Domestically, Kennedy presided over the establishment of the Peace Corps and supported the Civil Rights Movement, but he was largely unsuccessful in passing his New Frontier domestic policies. Kennedy continues to rank highly in historians’ polls of U.S. presidents and with the general public. His average approval rating of 70% is the highest of any president in Gallup‘s history of systematically measuring job approval.
On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the crime, but he was never prosecuted due to his murder by Jack Ruby two days later. Pursuant to the Presidential Succession Act, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president later that day. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin, but various groups believed that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. After Kennedy’s death, many of his proposals were enacted, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Revenue Act of 1964.
The Happy Isles was a book published in 1965 by Dick G. Horton, a District Officer in the Protectorate from 1937 to 1942 and a coast watcher during the war. The title was adopted by the fledgling tourist industry as the slogan to depict the Solomon Islands. The phrase has entered the vocabulary and is commonly used to describe the Solomon Islands.
“Sweet Lullaby” is a song by French world music/ethnic electronica Deep Forest which originally appeared on their eponymous album. The song gained popularity in 1992 and 1993 when it was released as a single, becoming a top 30 hit in many European and Oceanian countries. In 1994, it was re-released in remixed versions.
The song is based around a traditional Baegu lullaby from the Solomon Islands called “Rorogwela”, and uses a vocal sample originally recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugo Zemp in 1970 and later released by UNESCO as part of their Musical Sources collection. The lyrics refer to a young orphan being comforted by his older brother despite the loss of their parents.
The music video, directed by Tarsem Singh, was also nominated for several awards at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. The video consists of a little girl riding a tricycle in front of iconic scenes from around the globe (e.g. Moscow, Barcelona, New York City, Varanasi, and other locations).
More on the people and culture of the Solomon Islands from their Tourist Office
The capital, Honiara is a fast growing city of approximately 70,000 people where modern urban life and technology sit side by side with ancient traditions. However the majority of Solomon Islanders are still living in rural villages where they are mostly involved in a subsistence economy and life can appear a long way from the 21st century.
The concept of money is relatively recent in Solomon Island culture and barter and alternative forms of currency such as shell money are still practised.
This subsistence existence is based largely on fishing, hunting and crops and the shelter constructed from local timbers. Many people build houses on stilts which helps keep them cool during the warm humid months. Electricity and other infrastructure including telephone and transportation are often lacking.
Typical food eaten in the Solomons includes fish, chicken, pork, coconut, sweet potatoes and taro. The country’s main food market is the Central Market in Honiara. A hub of noise and colour, the market has a huge selection of fish and fresh produce brought in from outlying islands as well as crafts, jewellery and other items and is a fantastic cultural experience for visitors.
As well as agriculture and forestry, tourism is a very important sector of the small but growing economy.
There is a small but growing population in the Solomon Islands of approximately 550,000 people. Solomon Islanders are predominantly Melanesian – about 95% – with smaller Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese and European communities. More than 90% identify as Christians.
Kastom and Wantok
There are many cultural differences in traditions and kastom in the Solomons, particularly depending on kinship and clan ties.
Kastom is a Pijin term derived from ‘custom’. Throughout the Solomon Islands, kastom represents the idea of culture or traditional ways of doing things and together with the Wantok system, is central to village life and the way the society is organised.
Wantok literally means ‘one talk’, describing the way villagers feel a duty to those who speak the same language and why kinship and clan ties are strong in the Solomons. There are 63 distinct languages spoken in the islands though Pijin or Pidgin English is also used by most people as a common language. Under wantok, individual members of a family or clan will always be well supported by their fellow clans people.
English is the official language and one of the obvious cultural influences that remains in the Solomons, left behind from the period when Britain was historically associated with the islands.
The Solomon Islands have also adopted a constitutional monarchy. A Governor General is in place as the British Queen’s representative and a Prime Minister heads the democratically elected Government.
World Bank Data
Here’s the latest World Bank data for the Solomon Islands – with the year 2000 as a comparison.
GDP $1.20 bn 2016 $435 m 2000
Population 599 k 2016 413 k 2000
Primary school enrolment* 114% 2015 86% 2000
CO2 Emissions 0.35 2014 0.36 2000
% below poverty line*** 12.7 2013 NA
Life expectancy at birth 70.5 yrs 2015 63.1 yrs 2000
GNI per capita $1880 2016 $1010 2000
*Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students
** Metric tons per capita
***The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)
Greatest Sporting Nation Data
Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how the Solomon Islands performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:
Global Cup – 90th
Per Capita Cup – NA
The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive annual ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce an annual per capita ranking.