The Mouth of the Matanikau River

Late summer, early fall of 1942, the decisive land battles of the Pacific Theater were being fought on Guadalcanal. There were two key battle locations that, essentially, held the key to victory: Edson’s Ridge and the mouth of the Matanikau River. The mouth of the Matanikau was important because it was the only reasonable place to cross the river due to the density of the jungle upriver (and the upriver depth). Meanwhile, the mouth of the river was essentially a sandbar, so shallow that as often as not the river never actually got around to emptying into the Pacific.

If the Japanese had been able to cross the river, especially given the “cordon defense” employed
by the USMC in the early campaign, they would have had a clear shot to Henderson Field, the true objective of the campaign. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that the mouth of the Matanikau River was one of the absolute most important places in terms of turning the Pacific Theater in the Americans’ favor.

Since then, the Solomons’ capital of Honiara has been built on top of the old battlefields where most of the fiercest fighting on Guadalcanal occurred. Here’s what the mouth of the Matanikau looked like on July 3, 2007:

VIDEO (Quicktime): Mouth of the Matanikau

The route to the mouth of the river runs from the Kukum Highway (which was apparently known as “Highway 50” when it was built by the US military after the campaign) through “Matanikau Village”. There was an original Matanikau Village that existed on this spot before WWII, but it was leveled probably by the naval bombardment that immediately preceded the USMC landing on the island (it had likely already been abandoned by the time that happened). Here’s what the current Matanikau Village looks like (the village is in the heart of The Big City, Honiara, with a population of 50,000; the country has a population of around 300,000):

VIDEO (Quicktime): Matanikau Village

(Apologies for the low quality and tiltyness — I was trying to be inconspicuous for some reason. And for some reason everyone I passed on the way in thought it was funny that I was there, but they didn’t seem to care when I was leaving.)

I guess one could conclude a few things here. A couple conclusions I made:

1. In the Solomons, sites that are held holy by US and Japanese military aren’t considered that way by the locals. At all.

2. The Solomon Islands is a poor country and, aside from the happy people, kind of a sad place.