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World War II thrust the Solomon Islands on to the center stage of world history. In 1942, Allied forces took the offensive in the South Pacific, landing on Guadalcanal to seize a Japanese airstrip under construction. Renamed Henderson Field - today Honiara's International Airport - the landing field became the focus of savage air, land and sea battles for control of the Solomons. Loss of the Solomons was the first in a series of bloody island defeats that led to the surrender of Imperial Japan.
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Guadalcanal and the Solomons possess a longer history, of course. The islands have been inhabited for some 60,000 years as succeeding waves of Austronesians, Melanesians and Polynesians settled there. Western contact came in 1568 with the arrival of Magellan's expedition. And during the 18th and 19th centuries, whalers, traders in sandalwood and beche-de-mer, and finally enterprising capitalists exploited both the islands and the islanders. Some 29,000 islanders were lured to labor in the Australian sugar fields, a practice known as blackbirding. In 1893, the United Kingdom proclaimed the islands a protectorate, intent on eradicating blackbirding, exploitation, tribal warfare - and cannibalism.