Banaba Island

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19 Map of Banaba, Kiribati.jpg
Banaba Island (formerly Ocean Island)
Oceania laea location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location in Oceania
LocationPacific Ocean
Coordinates 0°51′34″S169°32′13″E / 0.85944°S 169.53694°E / -0.85944; 169.53694 Coordinates: 0°51′34″S169°32′13″E / 0.85944°S 169.53694°E / -0.85944; 169.53694
Area6 km2 (2.3 sq mi)
Highest elevation81 m (266 ft)
Population335 (2012)

Banaba Island [1] ( /bəˈnɑːbə/ ; also Ocean Island), an island in the Pacific Ocean, is a solitary raised coral island west of the Gilbert Island chain and 185 miles (298 km) east of Nauru. It is part of the Republic of Kiribati. It has an area of 6.0 km2, [2] and the highest point on the island is also the highest point in Kiribati, at 81 metres (266 ft) high. [3] Along with Nauru and Makatea (French Polynesia), it is one of the important elevated phosphate-rich islands of the Pacific. [4]

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

A raised coral atoll or uplifted coral atoll is an atoll that has been lifted high enough above sea level by tectonic forces to protect it from scouring by storms and enable soils and diverse – often endemic – species of flora and fauna to develop. With the exception of Aldabra Island in the Indian Ocean and Henderson Island in the Pacific, most tropical raised atolls have been dramatically altered by human activities such as species introduction, phosphate mining and even bomb testing.

Nauru Republic in Oceania

Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia, a subregion of Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (190 mi) to the east. It further lies northwest of Tuvalu, north of the Solomon Islands, east-northeast of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With only a 21-square-kilometre (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the third-smallest state on the list of countries and dependencies by area behind Vatican City and Monaco, making it the smallest state in the South Pacific Ocean, the smallest island state, and the smallest republic. Its population is 11,347, making it the third smallest on the list of countries and dependencies by population, after the Vatican and Tuvalu.



According to "Te Rii Ni BanabaThe Backbone of Banaba" by Raobeia Ken Sigrah, Banaban oral history supports the claim that the people of the Te Aka clan, which originated in Melanesia, were the original inhabitants of Banaba (Ocean Island), having arrived before the arrival of later migrations from the East Indies and Kiribati. The name Banaba in the local Gilbertese language is correctly spelled Bwanaba, but the Constitution of 12 July 1979 writes Banaba, meaning "hollow land".

Oral history collection of information about something recorded through interviews

Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews. These interviews are conducted with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. Oral history strives to obtain information from different perspectives and most of these cannot be found in written sources. Oral history also refers to information gathered in this manner and to a written work based on such data, often preserved in archives and large libraries. Knowledge presented by Oral History (OH) is unique in that it shares the tacit perspective, thoughts, opinions and understanding of the interviewee in its primary form.

Melanesia subregion of Oceania

Melanesia is a subregion of Oceania extending from New Guinea island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji.

East Indies connote parts of Asia that came under Indian cultural influence, including South, Southeast Asia and the islands of Southeast Asia, especially the Malay Archipelago (except Vietnam which is in the Chinese cultural sphere).

The East Indies or the Indies are the lands of South and Southeast Asia. In a more restricted sense, the Indies can be used to refer to the islands of Southeast Asia, especially the Indonesian Archipelago and the Philippine Archipelago. The name "Indies" is derived from the River Indus and is used to connote parts of Asia that came under Indian cultural influence.

Sigrah makes the controversial (and politically loaded) assertion that Banabans are ethnically distinct from other I-Kiribati. [5] The Banabans were assimilated only through forced migrations and the impact of the discovery of phosphate in 1900. There used to be four villages on the island - Ooma (Uma), Tabiang, Tapiwa (Tabwewa), and Buakonikai. The local capital was Tabiang, now called Antereen.

This article is about the demographic features of the population of Kiribati, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Map of Banaba at the time of phosphate mining Map Banaba Island 1936-en.svg
Map of Banaba at the time of phosphate mining
VillagePopulation (Census)
Antereen (Tabiang)1610883
Umwa (Ooma, Uma)269135155
Tabewa (Tapiwa, Tabwewa)545857

The first known sighting of Banaba occurred on 3 January 1801. Captain Jared Gardner in the American vessel Diana sighted the island. Then in 1804, Captain John Mertho of the convict transport and merchant ship Ocean sighted the island and named it after his vessel.

<i>Ocean</i> (1794 ship) English merchant ship and whaler built in 1794 at South Shields, England

Ocean was an English merchant ship and whaler built in 1794 at South Shields, England. She performed two voyages as an "extra" ship for the British East India Company (EIC) and later, in 1803, she accompanied HMS Calcutta to Port Phillip (Melbourne). The vessels supported the establishment of a settlement under the leadership of Lt Col David Collins. Calcutta transported convicts, with Ocean serving to transport supplies. When the settlers abandoned Port Phillip, Ocean, in two journeys, relocated the settlers, convicts and marines to the River Derwent in 1804.

Banaba is prone to drought, as it is a high island with no natural streams and no water lens. A three-year drought starting in 1873 killed over three quarters of the population and wiped out almost all the trees; many of those who survived left the island on passing ships to escape the drought, and only some were able to return, often years later. [3]

The Pacific Islands Company, under John T. Arundel, identified that the petrified guano on Banaba consisted of high grade Phosphate rock.The agreement made with the Banabans was for the exclusive right to mine for 999 years for £50 a year. The terms of the licenses were changed to provide for the payment of royalties and compensation for mining damage [6] [7] , amounting to less than 0.1% of the profits the PIC made during its first 13 years [8] .

John T. Arundel guano and copra entrepreneur

John T. Arundel was an English entrepreneur who was instrumental in the development of the mining of phosphate rock on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Banaba. Williams & Macdonald (1985) described J.T. Arundel as "a remarkable example of that mid-Victorian phenomenon, the upright, pious and adventurous Christian English businessman."

Guano excrement of seabirds and bats

Guano is the accumulated excrement of seabirds and bats. As a manure, guano is a highly effective fertilizer due to its exceptionally high content of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium: nutrients essential for plant growth. Guano was also, to a lesser extent, sought for the production of gunpowder and other explosive materials. The 19th-century guano trade played a pivotal role in the development of modern input-intensive farming, but its demand began to decline after the discovery of the Haber-Bosch process of nitrogen fixing led to the production of synthetic fertilizers. The demand for guano spurred the human colonization of remote bird islands in many parts of the world. During the 20th century, guano-producing birds became an important target of conservation programs and influenced the development of environmental consciousness. Today, guano is increasingly sought after by organic farmers.

The Pacific Phosphate Company (PPC) built the Ocean Island Railway and mined the phosphate from 1900 to 1919. In 1913 an anonymous correspondent to The New Age criticised the operation of the PPC under the title "Modern buccaneers in the West Pacific". [9] In 1919 the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand took over the operations of the Pacific Phosphate Company. The Phosphate rock-mining (for fertiliser), which was carried out from 1900 to 1979, stripped away 90% of the island's surface, the same process which occurred on Nauru from 1907 to the 1980s. [6]

Japanese forces occupied the island from 26 August 1942 until the end of World War II in 1945. [10] The British authorities relocated most of the population to Rabi Island, Fiji after 1945, with subsequent waves of emigration in 1977 and 1981-1983. Some have subsequently returned, following the end of mining in 1979; approximately 300 were living on the island in 2001. The population of Banaba in the 2010 census was 295. [3] Globally, there are an estimated 6000 individuals of Banaban descent. [11] On Rabi Island the names of settlements are the same authentic four names from Banaba Island.

Ocean Island Post Office opened on 1 January 1911 and was renamed Banaba around 1979. [12]

In the 1970s the Banabans sued in the Court of England and Wales claiming that the UK Crown owed a fiduciary duty to the islanders when fixing the royalty payments and the difference in proper rates should be paid. In Tito v Waddell (No 2) [1977] Ch 106, Sir Robert Megarry VC held that no fiduciary duties were owed, because the term "trust" in the Mining Ordinance 1927 was not used in the technical sense, but rather in the sense of an unenforceable government obligation. [13] The claim for the beach to be restored, from the 1948 agreement, was now time barred. The replanting obligations under the 1913 agreement was binding, but also it was limited to what was reasonably practicable. [14]


The woodland of Banaba is now limited to the coastal area and is made up mostly of mangoes, flame trees, guavas, tapioca and common Kiribati shrubs such as the saltbush. Having been mined for over 80 years, the centre of the island has no soil and is uninhabitable. [3]

The village Buakonikai (‘Te Aonoanne’) is now unoccupied. Banaba had three inhabited villages in the 2010 census; Tabwewa, Antereen (also called Tabiang) and Umwa. [3]


Mean monthly rainfall derived from data in the period 1951-1980 Banaba rainfall average.svg
Mean monthly rainfall derived from data in the period 1951-1980

Banaba Island features a tropical rainforest climate, under Köppen's climate classification. Winds between north-east and south-east bring rainfall with large annual and seasonal variability. The period of lowest mean monthly rainfall starts in May and lasts until November. From December until April the monthly rainfall is on average higher than 120 mm. [15]


Banaba Island is a political anomaly. Despite being part of Kiribati, its municipal administration is by the Rabi Council of Leaders and Elders, which is based on Rabi Island, in Fiji.

On 19 December 2005, Teitirake Corrie, the Rabi Island Council's representative to the Parliament of Kiribati, said that the Rabi Council was considering giving the right to remine Banaba Island to the government of Fiji. This followed the disappointment of the Rabi Islanders at the refusal of the Kiribati Parliament to grant a portion of the A$614 million trust fund from phosphate proceeds to elderly Rabi islanders. Corrie asserted that Banaba is the property of their descendants who live on Rabi, not of the Kiribati government, asserting that, "The trust fund also belongs to us even though we do not live in Kiribati". He condemned the Kiribati government's policy of not paying the islanders.

On 23 December, Reteta Rimon, Kiribati's High Commissioner to Fiji, clarified that Rabi Islanders were, in fact, entitled to Kiribati government benefits - but only if they returned to Kiribati. She called for negotiations between the Rabi Council of Leaders and the Kiribati government.

On 1 January 2006, Corrie called for Banaba to secede from Kiribati and join Fiji. Kiribati was using Banaban phosphate money for its own enrichment, he said; of the five thousand Banabans in Fiji, there were fewer than one hundred aged seventy or more who would be claiming pensions.

Future prospects

The stated wish of the Kiribati government to reopen mining on Banaba is strongly opposed by many in the Banaban diaspora.

Some of the leaders of the displaced Banaban community in Fiji have called for Banaba to be granted independence. One reason given for the maintenance of a community on Banaba, at a monthly cost of F$12,000, is that if the island were to become uninhabited, the Kiribati government might take over the administration of the island, and integrate it with the rest of the country. Kiribati is believed to be anxious to retain Banaba, in the hope of remining it in the future. Additionally, along with Kiritimati, it is a low-lying coral atoll but less susceptible to rising sea levels.

Further information

Related Research Articles

Kiribati island nation in the central Pacific Ocean

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History of Kiribati aspect of history

The islands which now form the Republic of Kiribati have been inhabited for at least seven hundred years, and possibly much longer. The initial Micronesian population, which remains the overwhelming majority today, was visited by Polynesian and Melanesian invaders before the first European sailors visited the islands in the 17th century. For much of the subsequent period, the main island chain, the Gilbert Islands, was ruled as part of the British Empire. The country gained its independence in 1979 and has since been known as Kiribati.

Geography of Kiribati

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Politics of Kiribati

Politics of Kiribati takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Kiribati is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the House of Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The constitution promulgated at independence on 12 July 1979, establishes the Republic of Kiribati as a sovereign democratic republic and guarantees the fundamental rights of its citizens.

Geography of Nauru

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Gilbert Islands chain of sixteen atolls and coral islands in the Pacific Ocean

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Gilbert and Ellice Islands

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Taetae ni Kiribati or Gilbertese, also Kiribati, is a Micronesian language of the Austronesian language family. It has a basic verb–object–subject word order.

Ieremia Tienang Tabai, born 16 December 1949, was the first Beretitenti (President) of the Republic of Kiribati. During his presidency he was described as being the most able leader of the Pacific island states.

Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Baron Stanmore British politician and colonial administrator

Arthur Charles Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Baron Stanmore was a British Liberal Party politician and colonial administrator. He had extensive contact with Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone.

Rabi Island island

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Coat of arms of Kiribati coat of arms

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The British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC) was a board of Australian, British, and New Zealand representatives who managed extraction of phosphate from Christmas Island, Nauru, and Banaba Island from 1920 until 1981.

Nikunau island

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Phosphate mining in Nauru

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<i>Tito v Waddell (No 2)</i>

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  1. The correct spelling and etymology in Gilbertese should be Bwanaba but the Constitution of Kiribati writes Banaba. Because of the spelling in English or French, the name was very often written Paanapa or Paanopa, as it was in 1901 Act.
  2. Dahl, Arthur (July 12, 1988). "Islands of Kiribati". Island Directory. UN System-Wide Earthwatch Web Site. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "19. Banaba" (PDF). Office of Te Beretitent - Republic of Kiribati Island Report Series. 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  4. C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Phosphate. Encyclopedia of Earth. Topic ed. Andy Jorgensen. Ed.-in-Chief C.J.Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC Archived October 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. Sigrah, Raobeia Ken, and Stacey M. King (2001). Te rii ni Banaba.. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji. ISBN   982-02-0322-8.
  6. 1 2 Maslyn Williams & Barrie Macdonald (1985). The Phosphateers. Melbourne University Press. ISBN   0-522-84302-6.
  7. Ellis, Albert F. (1935). Ocean Island and Nauru; Their Story. Sydney, Australia: Angus and Robertson, limited. OCLC   3444055.
  8. Gregory T. Cushman (2013). Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World. Cambridge University Press. p. 127.
  9. Correspondent (5 June 1913). "Modern buccaneers in the West Pacific" (PDF). New Age: 136–140.
  10. Takizawa, Akira; Alsleben, Allan (1999–2000). "Japanese garrisons on the by-passed Pacific Islands 1944-1945". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942.
  11. Fiji Times, 27 December 2005
  12. Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Premier Postal Auctions. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  13. [1977] Ch 106
  14. [1977] Ch 106
  15. Burgess, S.M., The climate and weather of Western Kiribati, NZ Meteorological Service, Misc. Publ. 188(7), 1987, Wellington.
  16. Wright, Ronald (1986). On Fiji Islands, New York:Penguin, p. 116.
  17. Wright, Ronald (1986). On Fiji Islands, New York:Penguin, p. 152.
  18. Wright, Ronald (1986). On Fiji Islands, New York:Penguin, pp. 115-154.