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Rabi Island Background - Cruise of the Ladybug

Monday, July 22, 2013

The following are some notes on the history of the Banabans on Rabi Island, mostly taken from the excellent "Moon Guide to Fiji".

The people on Rabi island are originally from a 6 square kilometer atoll called Ocean Island, later named Banaba and now part of Kiribati. Ocean Island was exploited by the British for it's rich phosphate mines between 1902 and 1979. The naive islanders agreed to lease their land for 50 pounds per year for 999 years! In the face of a Japanese invasion, the British blew up the mining infrastructure in 1941 and almost all the company employees were evacuated in February 1942. When the Japanese landed in August that year they deported all but 150 of the 2,413 of the local mine labourers and their families to Tarawa, Nauru and Kosrae.

After peace was declared, the British returned to Ocean Island in 1945 and found only the surrendering Japanese troops. Two months later an island native emerged from hiding and told how his people were marched to the edge of a cliff after peace was declared, blindfolded and their hands tied. The Japanese then shot them and the dead tumbled into the sea. The lone survivor was still alive when he hit the water and managed to kick his way ashore and lived on coconuts until the British arrived.

The British government purchased Rabi Island (off Vanua Levu in Fiji) to permanently resettle the Ocean Islanders at the end of 1945. Fijians living on the island were relocated to nearby Taveuni. The nearly 5000 Rabi islanders have their own local government in the form of Rabi Island Council and their own police but are also citizens of Fiji and answer to Fijian authorities. To make things even more confusing, the council also administers their ancestral homeland, the island of Banaba, which is now part of Kiribati. 

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