Ethnohistory of Nikumaroro
The Nikumaroro Colony: Social Organization and Social History
(Needs a lot of editing; attach footnotes)
- 1 I Kiribati Society in General
- 2 The Mwenga
- 3 Manra: a Model of Phoenix Islands Social Organization
- 4 Nikumaroro and Nei Manganibuka
- 5 The Beginnings of Nikumaroro Society
- 6 Dividing and Allocating the Land
- 7 Burial Customs
- 8 Related Material
I Kiribati Society in General
To understand the context in which aircraft pieces on Nikumaroro were harvested and used, and in which the 1940 discovery of bones occurred, it is necessary to understand something about the colonial village on southern Ritiati and northern Noriti -- its organization, its residents, and how those residents lived and used the land. This in turn requires a little understanding of traditional Tunguru (I Kiribati) social organization and how it evolved in the 20th century. The most pertinent discussion of these topics is by Kenneth Knudson, who studied the community on Manra (Sydney Island) around the time of its relocation to the Solomons. Knudson discusses traditional social organization in southern Kiribati (the southern Gilberts), 20th century organizational changes, and the organization of Manra society as influenced by Harry Maude, Gerald Gallagher, and the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme (PISS). The following is based largely on Knudson's work.
Traditional Social and Residential Organization
Traditionally, each I Kiribati village was organized around a large community meeting house called maneaba. Without a maneaba a village really was not a village. Knudson says:
"Each of the villages of the southern Gilberts may be said to have had its inception when its maneaba, or community meeting house, was erected. The maneaba was a communally-owned building situated on communally-owned land. As such it was a neutral site where village residents came together to discuss matters which affected the entire population and where community-wide entertainment and ritual took place."
The community itself was made up of residential groups known as kainga, and this name was also assigned to the land on which the group lived. Kaingas were basic organizational units in traditional I Kiribati society, and each was understood to be descended from a common ancestral spirit-being or anti. A residential kin group without such an anti was referred to as kawa, and was subsidiary to a related kainga
Each kainga had an assigned seating area in the maneaba, called te boti or te inaki (commonly, boti). These seating areas, and the rights and responsibilities ascribed to them, were extremely important in the life of the community. In a meeting regarding village business, the male elder (unimane) of the kainga occupying one boti had the right to call the meeting, that of a second to speak first and offer an opinion, and that of a third to reply to the second. After general discussion, the unimane of the third boti summarized and that of the second (called Uea -- king or high chief of the maneaba) rendered a binding decision. A similar sequence of responsibilities and rights applied to meetings held to organize and conduct ritual, ceremonial, and festive activities.
Although the kainga with its boti was in many ways the basic element of community organization, there were other kinds of social groups as well. Knudson summarizes:
"To sum up, the pre-contact social organization of the southern Gilberts was composed of the following groups.
Te mwenga: a household group which had as its core a nuclear or extended family but might also include relatives of any degree as permanent or temporary members.
Te kainga: a residence unit consisting of a number of mwenga and subsidiary buildings standing within a circumscribed area. The membership of a kainga consisted of a core of persons descended from a common ancestor plus their spouses and adopted persons. A variant of the kainga, te kawa, was identical except that it had no sacred or religious connotations, and in this respect was subsidiary to an associated kainga.
Te boti: a political unit consisting of the members of a kainga with its associated kawa, if any. The members of these residence units sat in a specific area in the maneaba and could collectively be assigned or assume responsibilities toward the other members of the community.
Te oci: an unlimited bilateral descent group consisting of all the descendants of the founding ancestor (who is himself termed te oci.). The oci as a group was important in the determination of land tenure, and the living members met to settle disputes over inheritance of the property of the founder.
Te utu: a kindred composed of all the living persons with whom ego shared an ancestor. The utu was important in life-cycle events, ordinary social interaction, and the acquisition of skills and knowledge."
Control of Land and Resources
Each kainga owned land on which its dwelling house (mwenga), its canoe house, and the shrine of its ancestral anti stood. Each kainga also usually controlled land at a distance from the village, referred to as buakonikai ("among the trees"). It might also control stone fish traps extending out into the lagoon or reef flat from the beach, sections of reef and lagoon, as well as sections of the reef or lagoon themselves, and portions of babae pits where root crops were grown.
Knudson notes that each kainga "had its own sacred spot associated with an ancestral deity" It is not clear whether by this he means the shrine built on kainga land, or another spot. As we will see, there is a spot on Nikumaroro associated with the ancestress Manganibuka.
Twentieth Century Organizational Changes
By the time of the migration to the Phoenix Islands, the people of southern Kiribati had been in contact with the outside world for about a hundred years. British administration had resulted in a number of important changes.
Having established its own governmental control, the British administration delegated governance to local bodies established on each island. Each such local government was headed by an Island Magistrate, and typically included as officials a "Chief Kaubure" -- a sort of executive officer -- together with a Chief of Police and several policemen, a Native Medical Practitioner and/or "Native Dresser," and a Scribe. The Scribe's duties included recording births and adoptions, weddings and deaths. A Lands Commission was established to settle land disputes, and basic changes were made both in the organization of society and in how this organization expressed itself in space. Knudson reports:
After the establishment of British rule over the islands, a local government center was built on each island. At this center were the offices of the island government, the residences of the government personnel, jails for men and for women, and a large government maneaba where all the people of the island could gather. Churches were built in each village.
The settlement pattern of the villages themselves was altered in the early years of the twentieth century when the kainga were broken up and houses erected on both sides of a central road to form a line village. With few exceptions, Knudson tells us, by the mid-1930s the closely knit kin groupings of kainga and kawa had fallen away, and a much more loosely organized social organization based on the bilateral kindred (utu) and the household had come into being. The boti, however, remained an important feature of village organization on all islands except Arorae and Tamana.
Communal labor was expected of all village residents; from April through October of each year, all males over 18 years of age were expected to "answer the call" whenever significant public work was needed -- for example, building and maintaining roads, the Government Center, and public buildings. Wages were paid for this work. During the same period, women worked in such occupations as the preparation of coconut rope (sennit), a vital building material.
As a result both of British governmental practice and the spread of Christianity, a seven-day week was observed in Kiribati, with Sunday given over to rest and worship. Major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter were observed, together with New Years and such locally specific events as the pandanus harvest, repair of the maneaba, communal fishing expeditions, and visits by important people.
The basic residential unit in a village like the one on Nikumaroro was the mwenga, or household. Knudson says:
The average number of persons per household in the Gilberts in 1931 was 4.38 and on Beru, 4.24, according to the census of that year. The house site comprised a minimum of three buildings: a sleeping house about 15 feet by 18 feet with a floor raised about three or four feet from the ground, a small cookhouse behind the sleeping house and on ground level, and a canoe shed. The sleeping houses generally had no walls, though many had low walls about two feet high; screens of coconut-leaf matting could be let down for privacy or to keep out rains. It was used for sleeping only, most daytime activities being carried on in the cookhouse or on the ground beneath the floor of the sleeping house. The cookhouse was used for both cooking and eating, and sometimes had an attached room used for sleeping when the household numbered many personnel. The canoe shed and cookhouse frequently doubled as bathrooms for changing wet clothing after bathing.
The mwenga's economy was naturally grounded in the resources controlled by its inhabitants. Major subsistence resources included the lands of mwenga members, and the sections of babae pits that they controlled. The mwenga's male members performed agricultural tasks, including the care of coconuts, pandanus, and babae. Babae plants were grown in large pits dug down to the level of the fresh-water lens. A humus of leaves and grasses was placed around the growing shoots, sometimes packed in and retained by a basket-like container woven of coconut leaves. The tubers took three to four years to reach useful size; since the pit area for growing it was limited, babai was rarely eaten except on special occasions. It was considered to be indicative of the best of hospitality to be served babai when visiting in the house of another.
Fishing and shellfishing were also important sources of food. I Kiribati prefer deep-sea fish, which were obtained by trolling, scoop netting by torch light, and stationary line fishing. On the reef and in the lagoon, spears and knives were used for fishing, crayfishing, and to obtain octopus and bivalves. Divers used "inexpensive goggles purchased from the local store" to protect their eyes and assist in vision underwater. Fish traps -- coral stone enclosures built between the tide lines on beach slopes, passages, and reef flats -- were used to corral fish on ebb tides. Canoe fishing and diving were men's work, though women cooperated in certain communal fishing activities, and presumably could gather shellfish.
Fresh water came from wells throughout the village, controlled communally. Although in theory the kainga no longer controlled land, reef, and lagoon, "it was considered proper to ask permission of the appropriate household before foraging in areas which belonged to other boti groups". The traditional diet of fish, shellfish, coconut, pandanus fruit, babae, and coconut toddy (kaewe) was supplemented by purchased items such as tea, canned fish, and rice.
Non-local foods and other goods were usually purchased through local trading cooperatives. Such organizations had existed for some time in Tuvalu, and in the early 1930s Harry Maude brought the idea to the Gilberts where it was enthusiastically embraced. Cooperative societies with officers were established, cutting across traditional organizational lines, though the paid personnel of each society usually comprised a single scribe to keep the books and tend the store. A building was constructed in each village to house the cooperative's activities and goods. Although the cooperative societies provided the basis for a cash economy, very little cash was in circulation in the islands, the only persons with regular money incomes being the officers of the island government, employees of the local co-operative societies, and mission personnel such as schoolteachers and local pastors. At the village level the picture was one of a subsistence economy with money used only for the purchase of a few items such as cloth, soap, kerosene, tobacco, matches, and tools; these items having come to be considered necessities. The funds for such purposes were acquired through the sale of copra, and this also was the means for paying the annual land tax levied by the central administration. There may have been more of a cash economy on Nikumaroro, whose initial adult male residents were all government employees working to clear the land.
Traditional I Kiribati religion featured deities and founding ancestors who were active in the creation, and from whom modern kainga descended. These and other supernatural but humanoid creatures were called anti, as distinguished from living people and their immediate ancestors, called aomata. Anti could control aspects of nature, but did not always do so; they could be called upon, if one knew how, to influence the weather, the sea, and the productivity of land and water, as well as love, learning, warfare, and prowess in the dance. A rich body of tradition recounted the exploits of the ancestors and other anti, forming the history that accounted for the settlement of islands, the creation of kainga, the distribution of specialized knowledge, and the collective history of the Tunguru or I Kiribati people. Ancestral anti were called upon by descendant kainga to advance their purposes, and to give direction to rites of passage.
Ghosts were also known as anti. Each individual was understood to have a spirit, or tamnei, which at death traveled to a spirit home in the west. To get there, the tamnei had to pass a series of tests, and if it was not successful it wandered about the homes of the living as an anti. Such unquiet spirits could be dangerous to the living, though the exact nature of the danger does not seem to have been very thoroughly formulated. Pregnant women were thought to be particularly vulnerable to harm by anti. Particular spots were known as locations where anti were particularly likely to be encountered, and hence tended to be avoided.
Certain individuals were understood to be adept at contacting and obtaining the assistance of anti, and were called upon by individuals and the community for their services. Knudson says:
If a sorcerer decided to use his knowledge he retired to a private spot, generally near the sea. The presence of the person, if any, who had requested his services, usually was required. The equipment used included a coconut leaf trimmed to the size of the person for whom the sorcerer was acting, and some coconut oil scented with flowers or other aromatic materials and perhaps containing other ingredients important for the purpose. The sorcerer used explicit incantations to summon his anti and command it to do his bidding
Christianity came to Kiribati in two major forms: as the Roman Catholic Church and via the Protestant London Missionary Society. These authorities were often at odds with one another, but they were united in their opposition to traditional "paganism." In theory, the influence of the Christian missionaries caused the propitiation of ancestral dieties to fall away, but Knudson reports that traditional rites continued to be carried out where the missionaries were not very powerful, and in secret even where missionary influence was more pervasive.
Manra: a Model of Phoenix Islands Social Organization
Nikumaroro was unusual even among the Phoenix Islands in that its initial adult male colonists were all government workers, whose long-term involvement as settlers was by no means certain. Regular settlement was intended, with the development of a local community or communities along the lines discussed above, but it was delayed first to allow time for the growth of productive coconut plantations on Nikumaroro, and later by the death of Gallagher and the onset of World War II. From the perspective of other PISS-colonized islands, the "long-postponed settlement of colonists on Gardner," as Knudson calls it, did not even begin until the late 1940s or early 1950s.
The government's plan for Nikumaroro can be glimpsed in what was actually done on Manra, as described by Knudson. Nine families of permanent settlers were landed on Manra in 1938, together with a couple of native laborers, a native policeman, a radio operator, and other government officials. Gallagher remained on Manra most of the time, while Maude shuttled back and forth bringing more colonists and necessary supplies. Work was first devoted to laying out and constructing villages and the government center, and to demarking land for allocation to settlers. Demarking and distributing land was extremely important, of course, since land and its resources would be the basis for each mwenga's economic self-sufficiency. Hence it was determined to divide the planted area (which already contained 7,000 coconut trees) into blocks of land containing 25 trees each. Each adult settler was to receive one block in the center of the plantation where the trees were of best quality and a second block at the fringes of the planted area. Lots were drawn to determine the assignment of blocks, and two weeks were allowed after the drawing during which time exchanges could be made and complaints heard.
Each family constructed its house and outbuildings on its selected land, forming two villages named "Mauta" and "Ona" in honor of Maude and his wife, Honor. Houses were at least 25 yards from one another, and though "no rules had been laid down for their size or appearance, it had been made clear that the ordinances concerning sanitation and beautiful surroundings would be strictly enforced. A government station was established, on which were built residences for the Native Magistrate, and other government personnel, together with a combination "rest house" and maneaba, a hospital and dispensary, a government store, a cooperative store, and a copra storage building. Houses were also constructed for Gallagher and for Maude, but it is not clear whether these were in the government station or elsewhere. Later a permanent maneaba for the whole island was added, together with a Native Court House.
Pigs, chickens, and such food plants as bananas, pandanus, Ficus trees, papaya, and babai arrived on May 1, 1939 with Maude, together with materials for the construction of a large concrete cistern under Jack Kimo Petro's direction. The island government was organized, including a Magistrate, Chief Kaubure and Kaubures from the two villages, Chief of Police and four policemen, and a Scribe.
Once the permanent maneaba was completed, a major debate broke out about boti. Since the colonists were from different islands, it was not clear whose kainga had genealogical primacy, and hence whose unimane should occupy which boti.
"Gallagher finally settled the dispute by suggesting that the traditional boti system be abandoned. Instead each household was to be given its own place to sit with no one being allowed in the place he had been accustomed to in the Gilberts. This was accepted. The household heads referred to themselves as bakatibu, or ancestors. The new sitting places were not referred to as boti, (but) as ana tabo Toma or ana tabo Tabora ('Toma's place' and 'Tabora's place'), and so on through the list of household heads. In honor of Gallagher, the maneaba was named tabuki ni Karaka or 'Gallagher's accomplishment.'"
By the time of Gallagher's death and the outbreak of World War II, Manra had a population of 302 colonists ; land had been allocated, mwenga were in place on their lands, the Government Station was in operation with its public buildings, an administrative system was in place, and a kind of kainga-like organization had been established to structure participation in the life of the maneaba. As in southern Kiribati itself, the people of the island were organized in a way that reflected a blend of traditional lifeways with British administrative concepts, and a subsistence with a cash economy. The Nikumaroro colony would follow a similar trajectory, but would be several years behind Manra in its development. In its early phases, it was organized in quite a different manner, and this organization seems to have become "frozen" in place during the War years.
Nikumaroro and Nei Manganibuka
I Kiribati trace their ancestry to islands somewhere in the west referred to as Matang. Tradition says that many I Kiribati sojourned in Samoa before migrating to the islands of Kiribati. A number of stories tell of an island to the east or south of Samoa called Nikumaroro. In some traditions this island, and the practice of taking its people to feed the kings of Samoa, was involved in the dispersal of the ancestral I Kiribati among the atolls to the north.
"This was the custom of Tamoa (sic: Samoa): the first-born children of the land called Nikumaroro, which lay to southward, were taken to be the food of the Kings of the Tree. That was the food of the Kings, even the first-born." (Grimble)
"Then went Nareau to visit the people of Nikumaroro. He lay with a woman named Nei Mai, and begot a son on her, the man Teboi." (Grimble
"It was Teboi who arose to prevent the canoe of the people of Tamoa, when it came from the East (sic) to take away the first-born. He arose and stood before the canoe to destroy it. After that, he made war upon Samoa, and behold! The people of Tamoa were conquered by Teboi, the son of Nareau with Nei Mai.
That was the reason why the people of Samoa were all scattered abroad." (Grimble)
Traditions also recount that the ancestress Nei Manganibuka (a.k.a. Temanganibuka), closely associated with the buka tree (Pisonia grandis) brought the arts of navigation to many of the islands. For example:
"(Nei Manganibuka's) brothers were jealous of her (sic: for her skill in navigation), and they sought a chance to do her to death. So they took her out fishing, and when their canoe was far from land, they cast her into the sea. And she drifted away, and stranded on Nikumaau, and she planted her float (betia), which was the branch of a Buka tree." (Grimble)
"The woman Temanganibuka (the branch of the buka tree), the daughter of Nakuaumai, set forth in her canoe and sailed eastwards; she carried with her a branch of the buka tree." (Maude & Maude)
"Again she sailed southwards, and did not lower her sail until she came to Nikunau. On that Island she landed, and planted the Manganibuka which she carried. The branch grew roots and became a tree, and one of the branches of the tree was Teraka, the navigator." (Maude & Maude)
"Kobure and his sister Nei Manganibuka sailed away (from Samoa) and, when they reached Nikunau Nei Manganibuka jumped overboard and swam ashore. There, she married and bore children. It was through Nei Mangainbuka that the Nikunauans became skilled navigators" (Maude & Maude)
Although different traditions associate Nei Manganibuka with different islands both in Kiribati and in the legendary West, when the PISS exploration party arrived on Gardner Island in 1937 --
"Gardner was called 'Nikumaroro', after the home island of a Gilbertese ancestress Nei Manganibuka, who swam from her land I-am Tamoa (under the lee of Samoa) to Nikunau in the Southern Gilberts, bearing the branch of the first buka tree in her mouth. Nikumaroro was known to have been covered with buka trees and the delegates were firmly of the opinion that it was none other than Gardner, now rediscovered by her descendants" (Laxton).
The association with Nei Manganibuka was reinforced early in the colony's history when Nei Aana, wife of the island's first Magistrate Teng Koata, encountered the ancestral anti herself:
"The wife of Teng Koata, the first island leader, had been walking one afternoon and saw a great and perfect maneaba, and sitting under its hith thatched roof Nei Mananibuka, a tall fair woman with long dark hair falling to the ground about her, with two children: she conversed with three ancients, talking of her island of Nikumaroro, and its happy future when it would surely grow to support thousands of inhabitants" (Laxton 1950)
The Beginnings of Nikumaroro Society
Unlike Manra and Orona (Hull Island), Nikumaroro was not initially colonized by large numbers of would-be settler families. Because it hosted far fewer coconut trees than the other two islands, because it had no existing structures or wells, and because Maude was skeptical of the capacity of soil in which buka grew to support coconut palms, his approach to Nikumaroro was more deliberate. A ten-man working party was landed first, composed of government employees, to seek water, construct basic facilities, and begin clearing land for plantations.
The working party was made up of potential colonists, however, and they did not want to be parted long from their families, so families followed in the spring of 1939, and the skeleton of an island government was established. Teng Koata -- the magistrate of the island of Onotoa, where he had distinguished himself for leadership in the course of a dangerous religious dispute in 1931, became the first Nikumaroro Island Magistrate. The other standard government positions were apparently not filled, though Native Medical Practitioner Tutu spent a good deal of time on the island and the redoubtable Jack Kimo Petro supervised construction work.
The first few months were difficult, mostly because water was not immediately found. To this day, the descendants of the first settlers sing a song about "the great search for water" that occupied their ancestors' first weeks on the island. There were also problems with four members of the original party, all from Arorae, who were unhappy and had to be replaced.
Presently, however, reliable water was found, it became clear that coconuts would grow in at least some buka soils, and more settlers were allowed to immigrate. By the time Gallagher shifted his residence from Manra to Nikumaroro in September of 1940, the island had a population of seventy. Gallagher promptly set about to make Nikumaroro the "model island" of the PISS.
Progress toward fulfillment of Gallagher's goals, and the creation of a stable, self-sufficient colony, was halted by Gallagher's death and the onset of World War II. The colonists were left in an odd condition -- many or most men still technically on the government payroll as members of a working party clearing and planting government-owned land, without kainga land of their own, but with no regular government oversight. They apparently received rations on an irregular basis from the British authorities based on Canton Island, and then small salaries. District Officers based on Canton Island visited from time to time, and the U.S. Coast Guard operated its Loran Station on the southeast end of the island during the later War years, but the colony lacked direction. The people of Nikumaroro continued to serve as government employees, rather than forming a self-sufficient community of mwenga controlling their own land, reef, and lagoon resources.
With neither land allocated to them to develop and maintain for the good of their own mwengas, nor management direction to maintain and expand the government plantations, the colonists spent the War years maintaining the village, engaging in subsistence agriculture and fishing, and making handicrafts for sale to the Amerians.
Koata returned to Kiribati and was replaced by Teng Ioakina in 1941. With the onset of World War II, routine recordkeeping on Nikumaroro seems to have ended, or at least the records have not yet been found. We know from Laxton's subsequent report that Iokina's tenure lasted until 1945, when he was succeeded in rapid succession by Ten Tiriata (1945-46), Ten Iobi (1946-47), Ten Rereia (1947), and Ten Aram Tamia -- Gallagher's former servant -- from 1947 through the beginning of Laxton's tenure in 1949. We have no further data on the organization of Nikumaroro society and its transformations until 1949, when Paul Laxton arrived with the responsibility to reorganize and redirect the island's population.
Dividing and Allocating the Land
It appears that Gallagher intended to divide the island's productive land into parcels that would be assigned to the various mwenga, but he barely began this program before he was first drawn away to help establish the coastwatcher network in Tuvalu, and then struck down. In May of 1941, after commenting that land clearing had been delayed by damaging storms, he reported that the village area had been largely put to rights and that:
"Work was also commenced on the demarcation and plotting of landholdings on the south-west side of the island and some twenty of these lands have been taken over by labourers who intend to remain on the island as settlers" (Gallagher progress report).
When Paul Laxton arrived, he found the Government Station and village in good order, but the plantation had languished.
"In such an easy atmosphere the pioneer industry of the early days had been, perhaps, forgotten, and visiting District Officers found a clean, well-kept village but little work on felling bush and planting new areas.
From West Africa, Mr. Cartland arrived in Tarawa in April 1947 and early noted that the young settlements in the Phoenix Islands were not making the progress towards providing space for further settlers that had been hoped. (Nikumaroro) was also the cause of unnecessary expense because the settlers were still receiving wages for clearing plantations which they had not, in fact, cleared" (Laxton 1950).
Although he never says it in so many words, it appears that Laxton, and his superior Mr. Cartland, felt that an important part of making the colony economically self-sufficient would be to relocate the residential core of the village. As government employees, the colonists lived adjacent to the Government Station. Laxton set about to complete the job of allocating land to the mwenga, and either at his instigation or because it was the natural thing to do in their cultural context, the colonists dispersed to set up housekeeping on their newly assigned lands, effectively abandoning the village they had maintained so carefully during the War. One has to wonder if this relocation strategy was not designed in part to break the spell of Gallagher, and his dream of Nikumaroro as colonial center -- to focus attention away from the by now somewhat mythic past, and toward the hard economic realities of a self-sufficient future.
In any event, Laxton set about with a will to complete the allocation of the land, and to move forward with clearing and planting the island. In this cause, most of the colonists seem to have willingly enlisted, and new settlers of like mind were brought in from Manra.
"The allocation of the island lands on 31 March 1949 is shown in Appendix III (to Laxton's 1949 report) and the sketch maps in Appendix IV through VI. The initial settlement party received grants of land from Mr. Gallagher, and a promise of land in the 'kainga' area of Noriti. These were supplemented by a grant of laned on 'Nutiran" for experimental purposes, and grants of small plots on the southern end of the 'Ritiati' area to bring up the number of bearing trees owned by each 'utu' (family) to approximately two hundred. The area allocated to each settler amounts to some 4 to 5 acres, varying according to the quality of the land. The best land, that on Ritiati, has been reserved for five leasehold families from Sydney Island" (Laxton 1949).
"Following Aram, whose bare feet move easily over the sand while we break through and flounder in the land-crab holes, we reach the area towards the landing place where bush has been allowed to encroach on and choke the growing coconuts, and here we find the working party, engaged in hacking it clear again under the burly Tem Buake, Island Chief of Police. It is tough discouraging work in the heat and we laugh with them at their feckless neglect which has made it necessary.
Nothing had been said overtly, but it was understood that the island would not be abandoned; some would return (to the Gilberts), but the majority intended to stay. Next morning therefore we put the working party into clearing and making development roads which had been surveyed during the preceding days. We went to the landing place, and cleared the cross-track from there to the lagoon. To the south, the land Noriti was still dense jungle. Through this we cut our way, choosing a line some forty feet from the lagoon, Aram the Magistrate and Buake the Chief of Police led the way, swinging cane knives.
The planning complete, the erection of houses commenced with the same speed and drive as had characterized the clearing. Some built new houses, driving the four corner posts of stout pandanus or of 'te non' tree, pre-fabricating the roof and calling on friends to raise it onto the corner posts. Terutning one evening we met a house walking along from the old village, chanting, while forty bare feet below the skirting indicated its means of propulsion" (Laxton 1950).
Underscoring the break with the old life, the island's system of governance was reorganized:
"It was time to form the Island Government, and this was done. Ten Aram Tamia, works Supervisor and acting Magistrate, did not wish to remain longer, looking for more highly paid work on Canton Island or elsewhere. Ten Buake replaced him. Appointed too were the 'kaubure', the Island Policy, the Boat Captain and the Scribe, while the 'old men' selected their members of the all-important island Lands Court" (Laxton 1950).
The colony not only survived but grew considerably after Laxton's reorganization. We have not carried out any detailed research regarding its latter phases, but the accounts of former residents and evidence on the ground indicate that as much as half the native vegetation was cleared and replaced with coconut trees, some of which survived and some of which did not. Houses were constructed on Nutiran, across the channel from the original village, and extensive babae pits were dug there. Nikumaroro was the site of a school that served all the Phoenix Islands.
During the same period, however, a lengthy and destructive drought caused the belief to grow among the Phoenix colonists that the colony was a failure. Knudson describes the course of events from the perspective of the Manra colonists:
"It appears that this lengthy (drought) crisis prompted the unimane of Sydney Island to request the government to move them elsewhere. The request was not a unanimous one. There was considerable discussion of the matter, with some of the elders agreeing and some disagreeing. The young men appear not to have been in favor of moving. Those I talked to in the Solomons said they enjoyed the dry climate and felt that there was always sufficient food.
As the drought continued the elders gradually came to agree among themselves that the island was not permanently habitable. Finally in the early 1950s they sent a deputation to Tarawa. Convinced that Sydney Island had been the hardest hit by the droughts, and that there was little chance that conditions there could be much improved, the officers of the central administration determined to move the islanders elsewhere" (Knudson).
By the mid-1950s, relocation of the Manra colonists to the Solomons had begun, and by the early 1960s Orona and Nikumaroro were abandoned as well. The name Nikumaroro survives today as that of a village on Waghena Island in the Solomons, inhabited by ex-colonists and their descendants.
There's an interesting video posted by FEMA about a cemetery in American Samoa damaged by the recent tsunami. The second part of the video has a traditional Samoan family head talking about how and why people there are usually buried close to the family dwellings (they're still alive, still with us). The same pattern is evident on Nikumaroro (In I-Kiribati tradition, they migrated to Kiribati from Samoa). The video is something of a reminder of the way ancestral human remains are honored in the area, which in turn suggests why folks would be very careful with human bones found out in the bush.