The Solomon Islands chain consists of several large volcanic islands to the south-east of Papua New Guinea, as well as outlying islands and atolls. The terrain is mountainous and heavily forested.
More than 90% of the islanders are ethnic Melanesians, but there has been intense and bitter rivalry between the Isatabus on Guadalcanal, the largest island, and migrant Malaitans from the neighbouring island.
The former British protectorate is striving to recover from civil unrest between the groups in 1998-2003 that brought it to the brink of collapse.
An Australian-brokered peace deal was signed in October 2000. But lawlessness continued and an Australian-led multinational peacekeeping force arrived in July 2003. It only left in 2017.
During the Second World War the island of Guadalcanal saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific theatre as the US battled to wrest control of the territory from Japanese occupiers.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general
Prime minister: Rick Houenipwela
Rick Houenipwela, commonly referred to as Rick Hou, was elected prime minister in November 2017, following the dismissal of Manasseh Sogavare through a no confidence motion.
A member of parliament since 2010, Houenipwela briefly served as minister of public service in 2011 and minister of finance and treasury between 2011 and 2014.
He was governor of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands for more than a decade, and was an adviser to the World Bank executive director from 2008 to 2010.
The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) operates a public radio service. A high rate of illiteracy means that radio has a greater reach than the press.
Australia has donated equipment to SIBC and has sponsored programmes aimed at promoting peace. Press freedom is generally respected, says US-based Freedom House.
Some key dates:
1899 - Germany cedes the northern Solomon islands to the United Kingdom, which had declared a protectorate over the southern Solomon islands in 1893.
1942 - During Second World War the islands are occupied by Japan. There is very heavy fighting, especially on and around Guadalcanal. The Japanese are forced from the islands by the Allies in 1945, and British rule is restored.
1946 - An independence movement, Marching Rule, is established.
1976 - The islands become fully self-governing.
1998-2003 - Crisis - referred to locally as "the tensions" - sees fighting between militants from Guadalcanal island and the island of Malaita. A regional peacekeeping force helps to stabilise the nation but stays for 14 years.