Today is Independence Day in Nauru. Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru, and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia in the South Pacific. Its nearest neighbor is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. Nauru is 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi) in area, with 9,378 residents. It is located almost on the equator northeast of Australia.
Nauru was originally settled by Micronesian and Polynesian peoples and then annexed and claimed as a colony by the German Empire in the late 19th century. After World War I, Nauru became a League of Nations mandate administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. During World War II, Nauru was occupied by Japanese troops, who were bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific. After the war ended, the country entered into trusteeship again. Nauru gained its independence in 1968.
Nauru is a phosphate rock island with rich deposits near the surface, which allowed for easy strip mining operations. It has some phosphate resources which, as of 2011, are not economically viable for extraction. Nauru boasted the highest per-capita income enjoyed by any sovereign state in the world during the late 1960s and early 1970s. When the phosphate reserves were exhausted, and the environment had been seriously harmed by mining, the trust that had been established to manage the island’s wealth diminished in value. To earn income, Nauru briefly became a tax haven and illegal money laundering centre. From 2001 to 2008, it accepted aid from the Australian Government in exchange for housing the Nauru detention centre.
Nauru was first inhabited by Micronesian and Polynesian people at least 3,000 years ago. There were traditionally 12 clans on Nauru, which are represented in the 12-pointed star on the country’s flag. Traditionally, Nauruans traced their descent matrilineally. Inhabitants practice aquaculture: they catch juvenile saltwater ibija fish, acclimate them to fresh water, and raise them in the Buada Lagoon, providing a reliable source of food. The other locally grown components of their diet include coconuts and pandanus fruit. The name “Nauru” may derive from the Nauruan word Anáoero, which means “I go to the beach.”
The British sea captain John Fearn, a whale hunter, became the first Westerner to visit Nauru in 1798, naming it “Pleasant Island”. From around 1830, Nauruans had contact with Europeans from whaling ships and traders who replenished their supplies (particularly fresh water) at Nauru. Around this time, deserters from European ships began to live on the island. The islanders traded food for alcoholic palm wine and firearms. The firearms were used during the 10-year Nauruan Tribal War that began in 1878.
Nauru was annexed by Germany in 1888 and incorporated into Germany’s Marshall Islands Protectorate. The arrival of the Germans ended the civil war, and kings were established as rulers of the island. The most widely known of these was King Auweyida (or Aweida).
Christian missionaries from the Gilbert Islands arrived in 1888. The German settlers called the island Nawodo or Onawero. The Germans ruled Nauru for almost three decades. Robert Rasch, a German trader who married a Nauruan woman, was the first administrator, appointed in 1890.
Phosphate was discovered on Nauru in 1900 by the prospector Albert Fuller Ellis. The Pacific Phosphate Company began to exploit the reserves in 1906 by agreement with Germany, exporting its first shipment in 1907. In 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, Nauru was captured by Australian troops. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom signed the Nauru Island Agreement in 1919, creating a board known as the British Phosphate Commission (BPC) that took over the rights to phosphate mining.
The island experienced an influenza epidemic in 1920, with a mortality rate of 18 per cent among native Nauruans. In 1923, the League of Nations gave Australia a trustee mandate over Nauru, with the United Kingdom and New Zealand as co-trustees. On 6 and 7 December 1940, the German auxiliary cruisers Komet and Orion sank five supply ships in the vicinity of Nauru. Komet then shelled Nauru’s phosphate mining areas, oil storage depots, and the shiploading cantilever.
Japanese troops occupied Nauru on 25 August 1942. The Japanese built an airfield which was bombed for the first time on 25 March 1943, preventing food supplies from being flown to Nauru. The Japanese deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as laborers in the Chuuk (Truk) islands. Nauru, which had been bypassed and left to “wither on the vine” by American forces, was finally liberated on 13 September 1945, when commander Hisayaki Soeda surrendered the island to the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Navy. This surrender was accepted by Brigadier J. R. Stevenson, who represented Lieutenant General Vernon Sturdee, the commander of the First Australian Army, on board the warship HMAS Diamantina. Arrangements were made to repatriate from Chuuk the 737 Nauruans who survived Japanese captivity there. They were returned to Nauru by the BPC ship Trienza in January 1946. In 1947, a trusteeship was established by the United Nations, with Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom as trustees.
Nauru became self-governing in January 1966, and following a two-year constitutional convention it became independent on 31 January 1968 under founding president Hammer DeRoburt. In 1967, the people of Nauru purchased the assets of the British Phosphate Commissioners, and in June 1970 control passed to the locally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Income from the mines gave Nauruans one of the highest standards of living in the Pacific. In 1989, Nauru took legal action against Australia in the International Court of Justice over Australia’s administration of the island, in particular Australia’s failure to remedy the environmental damage caused by phosphate mining. Certain Phosphate Lands: Nauru v. Australia led to an out-of-court settlement to rehabilitate the mined-out areas of Nauru.
Following independence in 1968, Nauru joined the Commonwealth of Nations as a Special Member; it became a full member in 2000. The country was admitted to the Asian Development Bank in 1991 and to the United Nations in 1999. Nauru is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the South Pacific Commission, and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. The American Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program operates a climate-monitoring facility on the island.
Nauru has no armed forces, although there is a small police force under civilian control. Australia is responsible for Nauru’s defense under an informal agreement between the two countries. The September 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and Nauru provides the latter with financial aid and technical assistance, including a Secretary of Finance to prepare the budget, and advisers on health and education. This aid is in return for Nauru’s housing of asylum seekers while their applications for entry into Australia are processed. Nauru uses the Australian dollar as its official currency
Nauru had 9,378 residents as of July 2011. The population was previously larger, but in 2006 some 1,500 people left the island during a repatriation of immigrant workers from Kiribati and Tuvalu. The repatriation was motivated by wide-scale reductions in the workforce in the phosphate mining industry. The official language of Nauru is Nauruan, a distinct Pacific island language, which is spoken by 96 per cent of ethnic Nauruans at home. English is widely spoken and is the language of government and commerce, as Nauruan is not common outside of the country.
The major ethnic groups of Nauru are Nauruans (58%), other Pacific Islanders (26%), Europeans (8%), and Chinese (8%). The main religion practiced on the island is Christianity (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic). There is also a sizeable Bahá’í population (10%) – the largest proportion of any country in the world – as well as Buddhists (9%) and Muslims. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. However, the government has restricted the religious practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, most of whom are foreign workers employed by the government-owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation.
Literacy on Nauru is 96 percent. Education is compulsory for children from six to sixteen years old, and two more non-compulsory years are offered (years 11 and 12). There is a campus of the University of the South Pacific on Nauru. Before this campus was built in 1987, students would study either by distance or abroad.
According to Kosmonauta.net, Rosskosmos wants to use a rocket launching platform, which is being build on Nauru for Soyuz rockets. The high rotational velocity of the Earth near the equator is apparently advantageous for launching big rockets, and base costs on Nauru are low. The Russians want to launch a Soyuz-FG first, followed by an older N-1 rocket. The Nauru government is hopeful that this project will boost the economy and create jobs. The image is an artist’s rendition of what a launch would look like.
There is precious little information about cooking on Nauru, and no recipes published that I can find. However, there is general agreement that, as in most of the south Pacific, cooking is an eclectic mix of styles focusing on fish and rice with coconut as a common flavoring. Here is a recipe from Chuuk which is undoubtedly similar to Nauruan recipes. It is no more complicated than poaching fish in a mix of coconut milk and cream served over rice. The cooking liquid can either act as a sauce or can be drunk separately as a soup. When I made it I went with the latter option. You can use any firm white fish filets. You really don’t need a formal recipe for this dish because it is so simple. The only choice is whether to make the cooking liquid a sauce or a soup. If the former then use coconut cream rather sparingly; if the latter (as here) use a mix of coconut milk and coconut cream.
Chuukese Fish in Coconut Milk
Use one good sized filet of white fish per diner.
Place the filets in a heavy skillet and add a 50-50 mix of coconut milk and coconut cream to just cover. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
Bring to a slow simmer, turning the fish once. Do not overcook the fish. It should flake easily but not be dry.
Serve the fish over white rice with a little of the sauce to flavor the rice. Serve the remaining sauce as a soup to accompany the fish and rice.