The Marching Rule Rebellion in the Solomon Islands from 1944 to 1955/56

Courtesy of OSPA

by Chris Cochran (Administrative Officer, Solomon Islands 1967-1982)
The Marching Rule Rebellion
Maasina Rule
In 1944, at the end of the war in the Pacific, Solomon islanders rebelled against the return of the British to rule them, preferring the Americans with their anti-colonial opinions and masses of cargo given to the islanders, with promises of more to come. A potent mix.

Starting in Malaita and fanning out to neighbouring islands, Britain lost most administrative control except for judicial services, which the rebels wanted us to continue to provide. However, one small artificial island in the Lau Lagoon, of just 300 people in the rebel-heartland island of Malaita of 50,000 withstood pressure to conform to the rebellion. Sulufou, the tiny loyalist island, flew a large Union Jack daily from a high flagpole. As the rebels canoed past Sulufou they exchanged verbal insults such as "Inpoo" (meaning "big man"), implying they were nothing; a tiny number in the mass of rebels. There was no cooperation at all, and general surliness, except on this one small artificial island of Sulufou. The people there made it very clear they did not want to return to the old ways of magic, kastems and inter-tribal wars. They wanted peace and development. Their Leader, Wate, displayed great shrewdness and vision to see there was no going back to the old ways. A small man of great stature and wisdom. A giant amongst dwarves.

Among the mass of rebels my predecessor Tom Russell once heard laughter and noise behind a barricade. He sneaked a look and found children playing cricket - so all was not entirely lost!

There were lots of big meetings between rebels and a small group of administrators, in which demands for freedom were made, and the UK told to leave. The meetings were tense and threatening, with thousands of rebels armed with guns, clubs and spears shouting threats and demanding the departure of the white man, facing a few courageous administrators.

On one famous occasion they deflated the rebels by saying 'We have heard your demands. We will consider them carefully'. Then, turning to his two DOs, the DC said 'Is it time for morning tea?' and standing up he walked through the dense armed crowd in total silence, and proceeded to the DCs house. Upon reaching it safely, he sat down on the verandah and was served tea and biscuits by a terrified and shaking house-boy. The huge crowd was at first stunned into total silence, then on reflection roared with laughter and dispersed. On reaching home, they were questioned by their wives - who wore the trousers - and were severely criticised for being so weak and lacking in courage.

The Marching Rule Rebellion
Duke of Edinburgh at Malaita
The administrators patrolled vigorously despite being ignored, but they were under great stress and strain. Very few administrators completed the full two-year tour on Malaita, containing and pushing back Marching Rule. Most left exhausted and were no further forward than when they had started. Malaitans of all shades are particularly difficult and tough to govern. You had to be very tough to survive mentally and physically. Among the very few who were, were Tom Russell, later Governor of the Caymans; Colin Allan, later Governor of the Seychelles and Solomon Islands; Val Anderson, later Resident Commissioner New Hebrides; and Gordon Skipper, later head of NZ VSO. These Colonial Service administrators were a brave and tough bunch indeed to endure Marching Rule and survive it. One who did not was Resident Commissioner William Marchant, who was invalided out after waking up at night, suffering nightmares and shouting he was being murdered by the rebels. The rebellions went on for five more years until 1955, with arrests, ambushes, skirmishes and some killings, until both sides grew bored and tired of it. The rebels realised co-operation was more profitable than rebellion, and gave up in 1955 with remnants continuing into 1956; living on its legends to this day.

As for the one loyalist village. It profited immensely, as Wate wanted, living off Its loyalty too, reminding anyone of it who would listen. They were immensely brave to remain loyal in a sea of rebellion. Their old flag of defiance remains to this day; moth-eaten, torn and ragged; a gentle reminder of their loyalty to the Crown. They are repaid with a Royal Visit every time royalty is in town, especially the Duke of Edinburgh, who must know it well from several personal visits. They are very upset that he is retiring and not returning.

But the Marching Rule legend lives on to this day, with both sides very proud of what they did and endured from 1944 to 1955/56.

British Colony Map
Malaita Map Showing Sulufou Island (Sulu Vou)
Colony Profile
Solomon Islands
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 114 (October, 2017)


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