Broken English in the Solomon Islands

Reminder for the crew at Papatrua Island Retreat

“There’s no excuse for not learning the language,” an ex-voluntary aid worker on the flight from Brisbane to Honiara told me.

“You should learn Pidgin.”

Her name was Tania. She had previously worked in the Solomon Islands for two years as a torture and trauma psychologist with victims of domestic violence. Tania was on a trip back to visit a pregnant friend – a local. Tania had “culturally integrated” herself, she claimed.

I became a bit suspicious of Tania and wondered if she was patronising me, the tourist, but I uncharacteristically bit my tongue, offered a few perfunctionary questions and let her rattle on. Typical bloody ‘pat me on the back’ aid worker, I thought, telling me what I should do. Not everyone has the facility or time to learn a foreign language and I’m one of those people.

Most of us pass through places making an effort to remember a handful of key words and phrases, usually enough for a smile, a bit of understanding, and some help to move along. That’s where the learning fizzles.

Though on one point Tania and I agreed wholeheartedly. Conversing with people in their native tongue, understanding the nuances, peculiar expressions, and gestures of communication, offers deeper cultural insight than you might experience just getting by with an, “Hola, dos cervezas por favor.” For the anthropologically inclined traveller this is priceless.

“They will really welcome you in the villages if you make an effort to speak Pidgin,” the ex-expat continued. “It’s easy to learn, easy. They’ll love it.”

Of course, Tania was right. It is fair and reasonable to expect visitors to at least try. I’d give it a bash. “Pidgin is broken English,” people kept on telling me.

Too true. If you speak a shortened, rudimentary version of English you are halfway there. Then a handful of words in Pidgin can be strung together with English to do more than get by and order beer.

Interestingly, the legacy of English colonialism has left some old, sophisticated words in working use, such as ‘fetch’. Watch out for these, they will surprise you.

Auki Motel sign

Also, the Spanish-born Mendana was the first European to discover the Solomons and it follows that some Pidgin words are cognisant of Spanish. For example, in Pidgin, ‘to know’ is savvy, for which the Spanish verb is saber. Other words are identical, such as ‘grapefruit’ – pomelo in both Spanish and Pidgin.

Depending on the region, the word fela, as in the colloquialism for ‘man’, is thrown in willy nilly. And adding em to the end of words also seems to help people’s understanding.

After a couple of months, some effort and a lot of encouragement my Pidgin was fluent enough for a few meaningful conversations, which were enjoyed immensely.

Here are a few words and phrases that will be useful. They are pronounced as they are read, with short vowels and a hard R.

Mi – I

Yu – you

Yumi – us, let’s

Fela(s) – me, him, her, them

Yes – yes

No – no

Stap – stay

Savvy – know

Long – for, in, by, over

Barava – very

Pikinini – child/children

Gud – good

Garem – have

Bae – will

Kai Kai – food

Fis – fish

Kumara – sweet potato

Mi set – I’m set/ready

Moa – more

Lil bit – a little bit

Angre – hungry

Fullup – full of food


Mi stap lo Honiara lo five days – I will stay in Honiara for five days

Yu garem lil bit moa rice – Do you have a little bit more rice

Mi fela barava angre – I am very hungry

Bae mi go lo boat – I will go to the boat

Yu fela set? – Are you ready?

Yu garem pikinini? – Do you have children?

No moa kai kai mi fullup – No more food for me, I’m full



About Keri Algar

Keri has an insatiable appetite for travel, discovery and surf. You may find her among the happy isles, smiles and empty barrels of Melanesia, or swinging her hips at a Spanish fiesta, underwater in Mexico, on top of the Argentine alps, or at home in New Zealand with her nose in a book. She is delighted by difference - both people and places, and is inspired by those who follow their own path through life with passion and courage.


  1. Yustan says:

    Mi stap lo honiara one year hem na mi sabe pidgin lil bit.

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