NAURU: HISTORY AND ETHNIC RELATIONS OF NAURU

Tags

HISTORY AND ETHNIC RELATIONS OF NAURU

Emergence of the Nation. In 1968, Nauru took over the management of its people and affairs when independence was granted by the trusteeship committee of the United Nations. It took over the running of the phosphate mines in 1970 after paying $13.5 million (U.S.) to the British Phosphate Commission. Those two assertions of social and economic self-reliance released Nauruans from the dominance of outsiders who had exploited the phosphate and the people for seventy years. Mining for phosphate, which dominated Nauruan history in the twentieth century, began when the Pacific Phosphate Company based in Sydney found high-grade phosphate in 1906. This mineral was used to fertilize pasture in Australia and New Zealand. Control passed from Pacific Phosphate to the British Phosphate Commission (BPC) in 1919. BPC was owned by Australia, Great Britain, and New Zealand. In addition to running the mine, Australia became the administering authority under a League of Nations mandate after World War I. Thus, the lives of Nauruans became inextricably tied to Australia and BPC until they achieved independence in 1968. The mine was run using laborers from China and the Pacific islands, particularly Kiribati and Tuvalu. Nauruans chose not to work in the mine other than to hold administrative positions in the 1950s and 1960s. Today most of the administrators are Nauruan, and labor is brought in on contract from the Philippines and India as well as from Kiribati and Tuvalu. World War II left a major mark on the history of Nauru. In 1942, the Japanese invaded, bringing some seven thousand men and military installations and building three runways. Two-thirds of the population was deported to Truk, an atoll to the north, where one-third died of starvation and disease. Those left on Nauru suffered severe privation, including starvation and bombing by the Americans for two years. When Australian forces reclaimed Nauru at the end of the war, the island was a mass of military litter, almost totally lacking in food supplies.

In the 1800s, the island had been a playground for whalers and beachcombers who left behind many English-sounding surnames, as well as guns and gin that added to the damage caused by mining. Nauruans want to rehabilitate the island so that they can use the interior four-fifths that has been mined out. Rehabilitation will be funded by 1993 payments of $120 million by Australia and $12 million each by Great Britain and New Zealand as compensation for mining damage before 1968.

National Identity. National identity as Nauruan remains very strong. It can be claimed only by those born of a Nauruan mother. All Nauruans are registered at birth, or shortly thereafter in the Births Deaths and Marriages register of the Nauru government, under their mother's clan. Failure to register a child as Nauruan eliminates that person from the entitlements of being Nauruan, particularly access to land rights, and to shares in phosphate revenue. A child of a Nauruan father, but whose mother is of another nationality must seek special permission to be registered as Naruan.

Ethnic Relations. Ethnic relations between Naruans and other groups brought into the small island, such as Chinese, Filipinos, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Fijians are marked by clear distinctions—the latter are grouped as Pacific Islanders. Each group is known for its particular place in the phosphate industry, and for the lifestyle adopted in Nauru. For example, the Kiribati men have brought their small canoes, from which they fish to sell to nauruans. All other groups work for Nauruans in one way or the other.