The Banaba, Republic of Kiribati, Message Forum

This Web site was developed and presented by a Kiribati (Gilbertese) person (I-Kiribati),
as well as a Tuvaluan (Ellice Islander), Dame Dr. Jane Resture

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Ocean Island, known by its Kiribati name of Banaba, is one of the many interesting islands in the Republic of Kiribati (Micronesia), as shown on the map (below), as well as being depicted as one of the seventeen rays of the sun on our Kiribati flag (also below). Administered by the Republic of Kiribati from the capital, Tarawa (Bairiki), Banaba has always been and still remains part of Kiribati. 

The Republic of Kiribati is made up of three groups comprising thirty-three islands. These are: the Gilbert Group (Kiribati) which consists of sixteen islands or atolls, as well as Banaba (Ocean Island) about 400 kilometres south-west of Tarawa (Capital of the Republic of Kiribati); the Phoenix Group - eight islands, 1120 kilometres E.S.E. and the Line Islands - eight islands, 2400 kilometres east of Kiribati - the total area being about 5 million square kilometres.

Aerial photograph of Kiribati Parliament House, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati
Courtesy Tawaia Buibui of Kiribati

In the company of the other islands of the Republic of Kiribati, Banaba has its own history, as well as its own unique, beautiful and complex culture that have evolved over many generations. Where Banaba stands apart results from its geographical location and the discovery of phosphate.

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Map of the Gilbert Group, Republic of Kiribati


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The phosphate of Ocean Island (Banaba) has had a great deal of impact on the life, the economy and the history of Kiribati. The people of Banaba purchased another island to replace Ocean Island. This is the island of Rabi (administered from the Republic of Kiribati capital, Tarawa) in distant Fiji - and so many of them have a life spent far from their own country – all because of the wealth to be garnered for someone else’s benefit. However, this relocation was one of many that occurred in Kiribati. The others all resulted from overcrowding on mainly the islands of the southern Gilberts (Kiribati Maiaki). It is a testament to the depth of our culture that these relocations also took with them those things such as our culture, customs and rituals. 

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Buakonikai village prior to the mining of phosphate

Ocean Island is 'nothing but a vast pinnacle up-thrust out of the depths’, built upon by reef-building coral polyps. These polyps can only live at shallow depths of water that allow a certain amount of sunlight to penetrate. Then sand drifted there or the coral itself was ground into a sand-like substance by the sea. As this sand built up above sea level, a great number of sea birds sought refuge there, so that, after a long, long time, their droppings covered the coral with forty-foot deep solid guano. Then all this disappeared below the sea and these forty feet of guano were changed into phosphate. Another sea disturbance thrust this phosphate to three hundred feet above the water and new polyps built a reef around this projection. Birds carried seeds from which trees and plants grew and rotted and formed soil. Sand was washed from distant shores and formed beaches.

Banaba, 1929

It was Albert Ellis (later Sir Albert), a supercargo on a ship, who saved the Pacific Island Trading Company that depended on cargoes of guano for its existence.

Albert Ellis at work in his office on Banaba (Ocean Island)

This Company was on the verge of bankruptcy when Ellis, against the advice of many scoffers, including the Company Directors, took a queer-looking piece of rock to experts in London for analysis. This rock has been used for many years as a door-stop which had been given to him by a friend who had picked it up in Nauru. That piece of rock was made of ‘the purest phosphate of lime yet discovered by man in a natural state’.

The Pacific Islands Trading Company became the millionaire British Phosphate Commissioners, a Company owned jointly by the Governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand. B.P.C. really controlled Ocean Island until the phosphate was exhausted in 1979. Relays of workers had been taken every two years to Ocean Island. This source of revenue had dried up and also the royalties that had been paid annually to the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) Government.

Banaban landscape subsequent to phosphate mining, 1931

Coral outcrop, Banaba

A pre-war photograph of the main road on Banaba as it enters Tabiang Village.
The road is made of phosphate and the coconut palms are growing
in the phosphate deposit.

A pre-war photograph of Tabiang Village, Banaba.
This village was later destroyed by the Japanese.


Early images of Rabi settlement
Photographs: H. B. Maynard

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I have dedicated the following poem to Banaba and the people of Banaba:

Banaba – Our Rock of Kiribati

You still stand proud like a rock
Although they took all you have got
The miners and Japanese
A few of us remain but it is just not the same
And I suppose just not meant to be.

And away with the clouds flying high in the sky
Blows the haunting
spiritual wind again
Wisely ever blowing and always ever knowing
You carry our earthly spirits far away again.

And frigate bird you can fly through the great bye and bye
Man's problems mean nothing to thee
As if Nareau the Wise had given you the eyes
To see right through all the hypocrisy.

For the spirits that guide us, the darkness that hides us,
Besides us always will be
For wherever we go, as both you and I know
We become what we are meant to be.

So good bye you old rock, say farewell to your flock
Now living on an island so far away
For whatever has come cannot be undone
And I will remember you always for the rest of my days
 Banaba – Our Rock of Kiribati.

Poem by Jane Resture

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The cliff where the atrocities took place on Banaba
(See Kabunare's story)

There are many stories of hardship and bravery in the modern history of Banaba. One of these is the murder of so many I-Kiribati and Tuvaluan people by the Japanese at the end (yes, at the end) of World War 2. History does not record the names of most of these people and it is to these unnamed people that I have dedicated this Web Page. However, history does record the name of Kabunare from the island of Nikunau in Kiribati, who escaped the Japanese and the man next to him whose name was Falailiva, from Tuvalu, who did not. (See Kabunare's story). Perhaps I should mention here that Falailiva (Fly River) Resture was my uncle being the elder brother of my father, Robert Resture. Indeed, at this time, Fred Resture, the youngest brother, who was a Government wireless operator for the then Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (now Kiribati and Tuvalu), was also murdered by the Japanese at Banaba... Jane Resture

The following poem was inspired in this case by the frigate bird, as shown on our Republic of Kiribati national flag, flying over the ocean to the backdrop of a tropical sunrise. The frigate bird carries messages from place to place and symbolises freedom and power. Looking at the Republic of Kiribati flag, the seventeen rays of the sun represent the seventeen islands of the Gilbert Group including Banaba. The three waves in the lower half of the flag stand for the Gilberts, Phoenix and Line Island Groups. The vast ocean over which the bird is flying is a reminder that Kiribati is a sea territory with far more water than land.
In making a wish upon the frigate bird and the flying fish, it is hoped that they will carry a message of peace from place to place both over and under the vast Pacific Ocean. It is also hoped that this message is one which will allow the people of the Republic of Kiribati, including Banaba, as well as the rest of the world, to live in peace, prosperity and harmony.
My Wish
by Jane Resture
The frigate bird
The flying fish
It is time for us
To make a wish
And I wish for the sunrise
To be beautiful each time
With days that are perfect
And nights so sublime
And I wish for the sunset
To be like a long red sail
Each and every day
And you and I will always stay
Whatever we wish
Will surely come true
And I wish for happiness
For me and you
And I wish for the world
To live in peace
To live and love as one
To a simple beat
And I wish for us all
To have our lives full of love
Full of joy and happiness
And eternal love

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