BANABA ISLAND IN KIRIBATI

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BANABA ISLAND IN KIRIBATI

Banaba Island, an island in the Pacific Ocean, is a solitary raised coral island west of the Gilbert Island chain and 300 km east of Nauru. It is part of the Republic of Kiribati. It has an area of 6.5 km²,[1] and the highest point on the island is also the highest point in Kiribati, at 81 metres (266 ft) high. Along with Nauru and Makatea (French Polynesia), it is one of the important elevated phosphate islands of the Pacific.

History
According to "Te Rii Ni Banaba—The 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 local tongue meant "stony". Sigrah makes the controversial (and politically loaded) assertion that Banabans are ethnically distinct from other I-Kiribati. The Banabans were assimilated only through forced migrations and the impact of the discovery of phosphate in 1900. There used to be 4 villages on the island - Ooma (Uma), Tabiang, Tapiwa (Tabwewa), and Buakonikai. The local capital was Tabiang, now called Antereen.

Phosphate rock-mining (for fertiliser) from 1900 to 1979 stripped away 90% of the island's surface, the same process which occurred on Nauru from 1907 to the 1980s. Japanese forces occupied the island from 26 August 1942 until the end of World War II in 1945. The British authorities relocated most of the population to Rabi Island, Fiji after 1945, with subsequent waves of migration in 1977 and 1981-1983. Some have subsequently returned, following the end of mining in 1979; approximately 200 were living on the island in 2001. Globally, there are an estimated 6000 individuals of Banaban descent. On Rabi Island the names of settlements are the same authentic four names from Banaba Island.

Geography Climate
Banaba Island features a tropical rainforest climate, under Koppen'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.

Politics
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, it is the only island in Kiribati that is not a low-lying coral atoll and less susceptible to rising sea levels.

Literature
A lengthy account of the Banaban's struggle with the British Phosphate Commission, the British government and, latterly, the Kiribati government, as of 1985, can be found in the book On Fiji Islands by Canadian author Ronald Wright. This also contains descriptions of Rabi Island, to which the Banabans were, in the majority, removed after WWII.