chapter  8
Recovering Ocean Island
ByKaterina Martina Teaiwa
Pages 14

My story is about a two and a half square mile island in the central Pacific that

became the focus, along with nearby Nauru, of British, Australian and New Zealand

agricultural desires for nearly a century. Banaba, also known as Ocean Island,

translates as ‘the rock’ in the Kiribati (Gilbertese) language. Indigenous identities

here and across most of the Pacific are deeply rooted in place. In the Kiribati

language this is reflected in the term te abawhich incorporates both the land and the

people, and kainga, ‘the place that feeds’, that also refers to the local family unit. Both Nauru and Banaba are rich in phosphate rock, the essential ingredient in

super phosphate, a fertiliser used intensively on Australian and New Zealand farms

for most of the twentieth century. Through an eighty-year process of mining, the

rock of both these islands was scattered across countless farms in and beyond the

British antipodes. In this version of Banaba’s rich and complex history, I juxtapose

the stories and perspectives of several communities connected to the mining

venture across time and space. There are the Indigenous Banabans who essentially

lost their land rights; Gilbertese labourers who signed up to work in themines on the

lands of their distant Banaban relatives; and the Rabi Islanders, the Banabans who

now live on Rabi in Fiji and perform a specific version of their historical drama every

year on December 15, the anniversary of their Fiji landing. These are combined with

a visual and literary reflection of phosphate history fromNew Zealand and Australia.