It has been a while since I have installed drupal 6 anywhere but I’m pretty sure I know the problem you are having. One of the instructions states to copy default.settings.php to settings.php. You may have interpreted this instruction to RENAME the file but that would be WRONG. You have to have BOTH default.settings.php AND settings.php in your sites/default directory
That is in the install guide on the drupal website. Too bad I had been trying to figure this out many moons ago without looking there. Took me a couple of weeks lol. Talk about having a duh moment.
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