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  • One and a Half Pacific Islands/Teuana ao Teiterana n aba n Te Betebeke: Stories the Banaban People Tell of Themselves/I-Banaba Aika a Karakin oin Rongorongola
  • Mary E Lawson Burke
One and a Half Pacific Islands/Teuana ao Teiterana n aba n Te Betebeke: Stories the Banaban People Tell of Themselves/I-Banaba Aika a Karakin oin Rongorongola, edited by Jennifer Shennan and Makin Corrie Tekenimatang. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-86473-523-5; 264 pages, tables, figures, maps, photographs, written in English and Banaban languages, glossary. NZ$39.95.

One and a Half Pacific Islands is a remarkable and moving book, compiled to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the relocation of the Banaban people from their home island in the central Pacific to Rabi Island in Fiji following Banaba's desecration by phosphate mining. A goal of the book, stated in the preface, is to preserve the history and experiences of the Banabans in local fashion: by telling stories. These stories intimately reveal the Banabans' unique—often tragic—history, as told from numerous viewpoints. A number of narratives are presented in both English and the Kiribati language currently spoken by Banabans. Participants include individuals from Suva and Rabi, as well as Tarawa (Kiribati), New Zealand, Australia, Hawai'i, and Europe.

Most stories center on significant twentieth-century historical events: phosphate mining, World War II, and the Rabi relocation. The lives of the Banabans changed permanently and dramatically shortly after 1900, when phosphate was discovered on their small, isolated island, known as Ocean Island to the outside world. After negotiations for mining rights (not entirely understood by the Banabans), [End Page 648] the British annexed Banaba to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate, later to become a British colony. Subsequent mining activity virtually destroyed much of the island. Later, during World War II, the Japanese occupied the island and used the Islanders as slave labor. Eventually, food shortages caused great suffering, and the Japanese exiled many Banabans and other Islanders to other parts of Micronesia, retaining about 150 men to work as laborers. Tragically, when news arrived about the Japanese surrender, the laborers were lined up at a cliff and shot by soldiers. Only one person survived, I-Kiribati Kabunare Koura, whose riveting account of the event and the circumstances of his own survival is one of many personal stories of wartime tragedy.

After the war, the British government declared Banaba—with its now stark landscape of coral pinnacles and rusting mining equipment—unfit for human habitation and relocated the population to Rabi. Life on Rabi was initially a struggle, as the Islanders adjusted to a different geography and climate, while living in tents as they awaited the construction of permanent dwellings. Additionally, the Banabans were coping with a spiritual break from their homeland. The British resumed mining until 1979, leaving behind equipment and buildings to deteriorate on their departure. Today, approximately two hundred Banabans have returned to Banaba, eking out a living on a sliver of unmined land on their once lush island. Banaba was incorporated into the independent Republic of Kiribati, a fact that remains a controversial political issue for many.

The personal accounts comprised by the book have been grouped into four main sections: "Taraan oin Abau—Glimpses of the Homeland"; "Ara Ikawai—Our Leaders"; "Ara Ataei—Our Youngsters"; and "I-Matang—Those From Outside." Directly preceding the first section, eight pages of color images immediately engage the reader's attention and provide a visual context for the Banabans' stories to follow.

"Glimpses of the Homeland" opens with a historical overview of Banaba featuring descriptions of the indigenous lifestyle and the events of the twentieth century, followed by several local legends that editor Makin Corrie Tekenimatang collected from elders in the 1940s. The section concludes with first-person accounts about two important aspects of Banaban culture: catching frigate birds and gathering water at the underground caves. Numerous maps and historical photographs enhance the material.

"Our Leaders" features the moving, highly personal stories of elders and other respected members of the Banaban community. These private histories, some conveyed by descendants of those who have passed away, vividly reveal how past events...


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pp. 648-651
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