1900 was just beginning when this small indigenous race called the Banabans
who had lived peacefully on their tiny central Pacific island suddenly
found themselves thrust onto the world stage.
Buakonikai village prior to the mining of phosphate.
|It was Albert Ellis (later Sir Albert), a supercargo on a ship of the Pacific Island Trading Company who changed the situation rapidly,when he, 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.
many years of phosphate mining, the island lays devastated.
Today on Banaba out of the original 595 hectares (approx. 1,500 acres)
of once lush tropical land, only 150 acres remains unmined, with the whole
centre of the island left with horrific towering limestone pinnacles which
rise to a height of 80 feet in places making the island’s interior
impassable. Masses of rusting mining machinery lays rotting under the
hot equatorial sun, while a small Banaban community of around 100 people
live a traditional life-style amongst the ruins of the old company buildings
on the rim of the island.
Today, while the people struggle to survive under two separate Pacific island nations, the Banabans believe that nothing is more important than the preservation of their heritage and ethnic identity."
Banaban landscape subsequent to phosphate mining, 1931
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