Apparently they aren’t. They’re actually just ‘Solomon Islands‘ with no definite article.
I’m trying to research this in a hurry, and as I do so I uncover such a maze of weirdness that it’s almost tempting to make something up.
But perhaps some of the facts (and no doubt my misinterpretations of them) are a bit muddled up.
Anyway, basically it’s because a Spaniard found some Gold there, became convinced that meant there was loads of gold there, and therefore that they might be the sources of the wealth of King Solomon, son of David. The one that liked cutting up babies. Wisdom of Solomon and all that.
(As an aside, one of my favourite representations of this is in Joseph Heller’s ‘God Knows’. I never finished the book, but it basically tells a tale of King David looking back on his life from a sarcastic young Jew to an aging cynic who won’t talk to God anymore. It’s utterly hilarious, and the first thing in a long time that almost made me want to read the old testament in any kind of detailed way.
Anyway, this is a long parenthesis, but I haven’t made my original point yet. Basically, David laments the fact that Solomon is considered wise for telling the arguing parents to cut the baby in half to settle the dispute. Heller’s David basically says that Solomon wasn’t making a clever point, but being utterly serious.)
So Solomon was a King in the middle east right? He was rich and wise (maybe) and all that jazz. So his gold must have come from somewhere.
This leads to one of the popular myths of the age of exploration. The Mines of King Solomon. It was like the Fountain of Youth. Essentially, I think it was a way of explorers getting patronage. A story you tell to the royals and nobles to get them to give you money to go on a wild adventure.
Untold wealth, eternal youth, they were all apparently just around the corner. And boy does it make historical fantasy into an exciting and rich and occasionally pretentious genre.
So when the Spaniard found some gold on some islands, he claimed they were the Islands of Solomon.
But I don’t get how they thought the ancient King got all the way round the world to Oceania. I mean. A boat is the obvious answer, but doesn’t it take away some of the thrill of adventure in discovering new worlds if you acknowledge people got their before you?
It seems like a bit of a geographical hiccup to me.
History is a wonderful thing, because it gives us these weird little stories. We can find a name we’ve never heard before, and hear how their imagination, or possibly just their desire to keep on getting paid, led to a ‘new world’ in many senses.
Of course, painting it as adventure makes us ignore the slavery and mass murder inherent in imperialism.
Rebranding, again. Makes you think.
Illustration by Lucy.