We love to travel and learn about the world – better still when it involves beautiful, juicy coconuts!
You see, we’re passionate about all things coconuts and we truly believe that, after years of scouring the globe for the freshest, most delicious oils on the planet, we’ve finally found the countries (and producers) who make the very best.
We’re lucky enough to source our extra virgin coconut oil from some of the world’s most beautiful countries and we never tire of immersing ourselves in each country’s unique and wonderful cultures.
Nowadays, our jars can wing their way from the Philippines, the Solomon Islands or Sri Lanka, right into your kitchen cupboards. Yet, while most would be happy just to enjoy their delicious coconutty flavours, we don’t want to stop there.
Instead, we want to dedicate ourselves (and you, our customers!) to improving the way of life for our coconut farmers and their families. As part of that, we think it’s pretty important for us to learn all that there is to know about these exotic countries.
Want to find out more? Then sit back and enjoy as we prepare to take you on a journey to one of the world’s most beautiful and far-flung places. Welcome to the Solomon Islands, home to just one of our Lucy Bee producers…
With cobalt seas, huge lagoons and snowy white sands, the Solomon Islands look every bit like paradise. Based to the south-east of Papua New Guinea, these volcanic islands jut from the water like something from a dream. Here, you can expect croc-infested rivers, coral-surrounded beaches and soaring mountains, all blanketed in lush, emerald rainforest.
These tropical islands are dotted about the South Pacific in a gentle curve and are made up of an archipelago of 992 tropical islands and atolls. Just over half a million people live on the Solomon Islands, although the country’s capital – Honiara – is by far the busiest area and is tucked away on the island of Guadalcanal. The islands themselves are grouped into nine regions, each with their own little government and their own customs.
So, what of the people? Well, most of the people who live here are known as Melanesian, although there are plenty of ethnic minorities including Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese and even European communities.
Surprisingly, the official language here is English (Queen Elizabeth rules sovereign here), although many don’t actually speak it and communicate in Pijin instead. Perhaps because of the island’s British roots, nearly everyone – a massive 90%, in fact – is Christian.
However, what we find truly amazing - especially given the crystal waters and the beautiful landscapes – is that the islands here are largely unspoiled, even by tourism. Of course, slowly but surely the word is spreading, and more and more eco-tourists have started flocking here to see the islands in all their technicolour glory.
You see, not only are the Solomon Islands renowned for their biodiversity and incredible waters for diving but they’re also home to thousands of exotic plants, marine life and animals. In fact, many of the wonderful species here are native only to these amazing islands.
We’ll go out on a limb here and say this: if you love culture and history, then you’ll be fascinated by these ancient islands. We never stop being amazed by some of the incredible things we learn about the Solomon Islands, which is partly why we’re so excited to share it with you here!
So, what’s the big deal? Well, they’re pretty old, for starters - archaeologists have found evidence that people lived here in caves as far back as 1300-1000BC. Some even believe that Papuan-speakers arrived here as early as 30,000 BC after making their way over from South Asia.
However, we have to wait quite a few years (thousands, in fact) before the first European stumbled across these lovely islands. The first ever European to find his way to the Solomon Islands was the famous Spanish explorer Mendana in 1568, who arrived here from Peru. Before the Europeans got here, the people of the Solomon Islands were supposedly notorious for headhunting and even cannibalism!
Legend has it that it was Mendana who first named the country - Isle de Solomon - after the wealthy King Solomon and the biblical land of gold. Slowly but surely, Mendana was followed by missionaries, traders and labour recruiters from countries across both Europe and Asia.
However, unfortunately the labour trade here became more and more of a problem, with many labourers kidnapped or even massacred. So much so that the British had to step in with a protectorate and, by 1900, the Brits ruled the islands completely, taking the Solomon Islands under their wing from Germany.
It was during this time that British (and many Aussie) companies started to grow a love for the island’s lovely coconuts, planting lots of plantations dotted around the islands. Lots of missionaries also came over during this time, converting most of the island to Christianity.
Fast forward a few years and the Second World War was to spell trouble for these beautiful islands, with much of the fighting focussed here. In fact, things got so intense that many coconut planters and traders were evacuated to Australia and almost all cultivation ceased.
Heartbreakingly, there were heavy losses of life on all sides. To this day, names of key battle sites - Bloody Ridge, Red Beach, to name just a few - remain to mark the brutal campaign.
One of the biggest moments came in July 1942 when Guadalcanal was invaded by the Japanese. Since it’s so close to Australia, the island was seen as a stronghold but the American Navy soon stormed the island, catching the Japanese completely by unawares.
For months, though, the Japanese held their own and holed up in caves, where they sprayed approaching marines with gunfire. Eventually – after months of incessant fighting - the Japanese withdrew completely.
Slowly but surely, the islands started to recover from the war, forming their own local councils to bring the country back into balance. Eventually, the country gained independence from Britain in 1978, just a few short years after Papua New Guinea took its own independence back from Australia.
However, life here hasn’t been easy breezy since. Since 1998, tribal rivalries and ethnic tensions have erupted, causing widespread fighting, particularly between militants on the island of Guadalcanal, who launched a campaign of intimidation and violence towards Malaitan settlers.
As a result, around 20,000 people abandoned their homes, with many leaving Guadalcanal for good. Meanwhile, a rival militia group, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was launched, with fighters staging a coup in June 2000 to force the then prime minister to resign.
A few months late, an Australian-brokered peace deal was signed but fighting and lawlessness continued and the problems seemed to grow and grow. So much so that Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island neighbours to step in and negotiate peace.
To this day, there are problems and the civil war had left the country in ruins. In fact, the World Bank says the Solomon Islands, one of the Pacific's poorest countries, has been hit by successive global food, fuel and financial crises.
As you may expect, life on the Solomon Islands can be completely different from one island to the next. In fact, pretty much every tribe has its own traditions and “kastoms” (a Pijin word for ‘customs’), supposedly handed down from ancestral spirits. Many of the villagers here are so dedicated to their own clans, that there’s even a special word for it, “wantok”.
This word shows just how important kinship is to the people here, who feel a huge duty to those who speak the same language as them (amazingly, there are 63 languages spoken here). Although the official language may be listed as English, only around 2% of the people actually speak it.
Oddly, there are even people here known as the “Salt Water” or “Solwata” (in Pidgin) people, who live on man-made islands. These islands are built using incredible skills handed down from generation to generation, with the oldest of these islands (Sulufou) home to around 2000 people.
If you were lucky enough to visit many of these islands and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time. There are plenty of ancient traditions still in place and even money is a fairly new concept – bartering and shell money (you read that right) are often used as currency instead.
Here, the way of life is fairly simple. Think lots of fishing, hunting and crop growing, while the majority of homes will be bungalows built from timber or cement, with corrugated roofs. As you might expect, electricity on many of these islands is pretty much non-existent, as is transport and phones.
Traditionally, there are also very distinct roles for men and women, all dictated by “kastom”. Household tasks will often fall to the women, while men are responsible for building canoes, hunting, and fishing. Marriages will also usually be arranged and men must look away when talking to a woman who isn’t family out of respect.
While Christianity is a big part of life here, there are also plenty of superstitions and ghostly tales in villages. Traditionally, Solomon Islanders believe that ancestors, although invisible, linger with their own ghostly presence. In fact, many people here will often summon them for help, or even ask them to curse their enemies!
Many of the islanders are also big believers in animism (the idea that animals are spiritual beings with souls). Because of this, the people here will be very considerate of animals and there are even plenty of totem gods – people living inland worship crocodiles, snakes and the owl, while coastal people worship sharks and stingrays.
So, what of the food? You can expect plenty of simple, delicious and nutritious grub – typical dishes include fish, chicken, pork, coconut, sweet potatoes and taro (a potato-like veggie with a nutty taste), although much of what’s eaten is simply what’s available at any given time.
While many developing nations are going through something of a boom, the Solomon Islands is lagging behind and is still recovering from a recession in the early noughties. Sadly, with just $3,400 GDP per capita, these tranquil islands are classed as a lesser-developed nation and poverty is a huge problem for many villagers.
Incredibly, over three-quarters of everyone who works here don’t even do it for money. Instead, they do things such as fishing or farming to support their families and other villagers. And even when people start businesses, they’re small and aimed at villagers – think selling rice, biscuits, food, twisted tobacco, or corrugated roofing sheets.
When it comes to exports, the country is mainly famed for its palm oil, copra (dried coconut), cocoa, fish, and timber, which get shipped out to Japan, the UK, Thailand, Germany and Australia. However, much of the land here is impoverished and can also be wiped out by tropical storms.
Tourism is also a huge part of this nation’s future although, as we mentioned, it’s still largely unspoiled and undeveloped (especially when it comes to transport!), putting many people off. This beautiful country has started to become dependent on foreign aid from across the world.
School isn’t even compulsory here and just 60% of kids have access to a primary school. This gets even worse when children are secondary school age – just 32% of boys attend school and only 27% of girls.
The problem is that there’s a huge lack of government funding - the percentage of the government's budget allocated to education dropped to 2.2 per cent in 2010 from 9.7 per cent in 1998.
Given this, it’s no surprise that very few people here are literate. With only 17% able to read, the literacy rates in the islands are one of the worst in the entire Pacific.
Sadly, as the poorest country in the Pacific, one of the biggest problems facing the Solomon Islands is poverty. Close to 23% of people live in poverty here, which became a growing problem following the civil war.
A problem which only grows worse when you consider all the natural disasters that hit these islands. For starters, there was a Tsunami in 2013, triggered by a huge earthquake which destroyed thousands of homes. As if that weren’t bad enough, tens of thousands of people in Honiara were left homeless by flash flooding and heavy rains that hit the islands in 2014.
It’s legal to work here from the age of 12. It’s a catch 22, really – to overcome the crippling poverty, many parents and families make their children work (including many young girls who work as servants), with as many as 24% of children between the ages of 10 to 14 years in child labour.
So many of us take everyday things for granted. Things like education, food on the table, a warm bed and clean water. Yet, for these villagers, none of these things is guaranteed – and more than 70% of the population, especially those in rural areas, don’t have access to proper sanitation.
Heartbreakingly, 19% can’t even get hold of clean water and this is a leading cause of death in young children. One quarter of the deaths in young children is preventable and is due to something as simple as diarrhoea, triggered by poor hygiene.
There’s a huge problem with malnutrition in kids, too, with many unable to enjoy nutritious, healthy meals. In fact, around one third of youngsters here have stunted growth, while 5% are completely emaciated.
As you can probably tell, poverty plagues the islanders’ health, meaning many diseases – including things as simple to treat as diarrhoea – are rife in villages.
These illnesses come from the villager’s dependency on open water sources, which is often contaminated by animals or the villagers themselves.
Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands has one of the highest incidences of malaria outside Africa. As if that weren’t bad enough, there’s even been a surge in so-called lifestyle diseases - including heart problems, stroke, cancer and diabetes - thanks to a growing dependency on imported, processed foods like canned meat, white rice and flour and sugar.
Sadly, it’s not always easy to treat these illnesses since reaching basic health facilities often takes days of travel. Even then, the very basic medical supplies that are available to villagers will often run out, while the country’s poor economy means that many hospitals have been forced to close.
You see, simple things, that we often take for granted here in the UK, go amiss here, and there’s also a huge shortage of doctors – the island is one of 57 countries deemed to have a critical shortage of health workers – with as few as 0.21 doctors for every 1,000 people.
Given all this – and the fact that the islanders are hugely superstitious – perhaps it’s no surprise that many will turn to traditional healers when they’re sick. In fact, most villagers believe that every disease has a spiritual cause, and “kastom” medicines and healers are widely used to treat all sorts of problems – diarrhoea, malaria, ulcers, diabetes, STDs, cancer, asthma and high blood pressure.
In a country where poverty and disease is rife, coconuts offer islanders a lot of hope. In fact, they are one of the most important crops on the Solomon Islands, where a flabbergasting 600-800 million are produced each year.
That’s a lot of coconuts…
Yet while that does provide a ray of hope, the problem is that a lot of these coconuts are inaccessible. Or, if villagers can access them, the cost of transport is so high that it cripples any potential businesses.
Thankfully, that’s where a nifty little technique called Direct Micro Expelling – or DME, to keep things easier – comes in. DME is how our very own Lucy Bee coconut oil is made and it’s designed to support those tiny, remote villages in the Solomon Islands that have little in the way of technology.
You see, DME is the fastest imaginable way of producing extra virgin coconut oil in these remote, far-flung areas and was first introduced by a British scientist on the atoll islands of Tuvalu.
So, how does it work? Well, using this method, de-husked and fully mature coconuts will be split in half, before the fresh flesh is grated from the nut. Small batches of this grated flesh (think 10 to 15 coconuts worth) will then be dried on a stainless steel drier, which is fuelled with coconut shell! How clever is that?
All in all, the coconut only needs to be dried for about half an hour before it’s tipped into a stainless steel cylinder to go through a manually-operated press. This step is also super quick, meaning our Solomon Islands’ extra virgin coconut oil is about as fresh as you could ever hope to buy.
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