REPATRIATION TO RABI
The question of obtaining a future and more suitable homes for the Banabans had been under consideration by the Colony Government for many years partly because of their increasing numbers but also because the extension of phosphate mining operations was gradually restricting the living areas. Ultimately the place would be worked out and a large population could not live on an island consisting of bare coral pinnacles. Consequently, after careful official investigation the island of Rabi in the Fiji Group was bought outright with money from the Banaban Provident Fund. Pending their occupation of the property, the coconut plantations were worked by one of the large copra companies on short lease. It appeared at the time that the natives might not wish to migrate for some years to come, but World War 2 brought about many unforeseen developments.
Following on the occupation of Ocean Island by the Japanese, another change of fortune befell the Banabans and they were soon in dire distress again. Not only did they experience the cruelty and terrorism tactics of the Japanese, but drought conditions set in before long, and food supplies ran short. The Japanese meanwhile had deported a lot of the natives, including Gilberts and Ellice (now Republic of Kiribati and Tuvalu) Islanders, to Tarawa, and eventually they sent the rest of the Banabans to Nauru and Kusaie (Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia) in the Caroline Islands. The only natives retained on Ocean Island were the ill-fated Gilbertese and a few Ellice Islanders who were all killed by the Japanese with the exception of Kabunare from Nikunau Island in the Southern Gilberts. Either at that time or perhaps earlier, the Japanese destroyed practically every native hut on the island; not a single Banaban home was left standing. The need for an early repatriation to Rabi after the war was evident.
A group of Banabans at Rabi
The following description of Rabi Island, including photographs by H.B. Maynard, are from Mid-Pacific Outposts by Sir Albert Ellis, published by Brown and Stewart Limited, Swanson Street, Auckland, 1946:
"The island has scattered around the coast some 3,000 acres of coconut plantations. These had been planted between the years of 1880 and 1934. All are in good bearing. In the centre of the island is a bush clad ridge, having slopes which are not unduly precipitous. Nearly all the numerous bays and inlets around the coast are fed by small streams, and, along the northwest coast, there are numerous stretches of coral sand beach backed by sandy loam flats, planted in coconuts between the foothills and the sea.
The soil of Rabi is as fertile as that of its big neighbour Taveuni, which is known as 'The Garden Of Fiji'. Mangoes, pawpaw, and breadfruit are now bearing, and almost any tropical fruit or vegetable will grow here.
Prefabricated houses at Rabi
As is common with high islands, the rainfall on the southeast coast is greater than that on the northwest. Furthermore, the porous sandy loam on the northwest quickly absorbs what rain there is. Living conditions here are, therefore, much more pleasant than on the southeast coast. It is for this reason that I chose Nuku for the preliminary settlement.
All photographs are by H.B. Maynard
The reference to the small streams is of particular interest. In past years the Banabans have always stipulated that any future home for them should have running water, and we should contemplate the difference between the routine of collecting the day's requirement of water with coconut shells in the Ocean Island caves and the unlimited supply almost at their back doors at Rabi."
It was Harry Maude who presided over the Banaban lands settlement of 1931-32, to the time when he purchased Rabi, on behalf of the Banabans, in 1942. Maude also conducted the discussions which resulted in the Banabans deciding to settle there temporarily in 1945 and their final decision to make the island their permanent home in 1947.