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Author Topic: A question for our British members  (Read 18115 times)

Ric Gillespie

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Re: A question for our British members
« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2011, 06:11:15 PM »

Thank you gentlemen. Let me explain why I asked.

The question arose out of my suspicion that some folklore had crept into our understanding of the island's history.  In the literature about Gardner Island/Nikumaroro, there are references to "Karaka" and the notion has grown up within TIGHAR that this was the local Gilbertese rendering of Gallagher and that, after his death, the island's village was named Karaka in his honor.  The problem is, "Karaka" is not a transliteration of how Gallagher pronounced his name.

We know how Gerald Gallagher pronounced his own name.  When I interviewed his friend and fellow Colonial Service officer Eric Bevington in 1991, I pronounced Gallagher the way we say the name in this country - Gallager (with a hard second G).  Eric quickly corrected me. It's Gallaher (silent G).  He also explained that Gerald was "as English as I am" and that his nickname "Irish" was a good-natured pejorative.  Gerald's ancestors, however, were indeed Irish and the family's pronunciation of the name as "Gallaher" was probably an echo of the original Gaelic "Ó Gallchobhair."  Anglicization resulted in "Gallagher "which, as you have confirmed, English speakers often pronounce "Gallager."  My own family name, "Ghilleaspuig" in Scots Gaelic, suffered a similar fate. It was anglicized to Gillespy and finally to Gillespie. Such was the price of uniting the kingdoms.

There is no "G" in the Gilbertese language. English words with a hard "G" are transliterated with a "K" replacing the "G."  Hence, "Gilberts" becomes "Kiribati" (with the "ti" pronounced like "s" - so "Gilberts" becomes "Kiribas.") No Gilbertese who knew Gerald Gallagher personally would render his name as "Karaka."   The only non-
European person we've ever talked to who was on Gardner Island when Gallagher was there, told us that he was known as "Kela," which is, at least, a reasonable transliteration of "Gallaher."  (Incidentally, Gallagher always referred to the island as Gardner.)  So where did "Karaka" come from?

The village was never named or re-named "Karaka."  On the map created from the 1938/39 New Zealand Survey, the Gilberetese work camp is labeled "Keresoma." Other than that, as far as we can tell, the village had no name distinct from the name of the island.   

The first reference to Gallagher as "Karaka" appears in District Officer Paul Laxton's article "Nikumaroro" (Journal of the Polynesian Society, Sept. 1951) in which Laxton describes a maneaba (meeting house) that was built and named Uen Maungan I Karaka (Flower to the Memory of Gallagher or The Flowering of Gallagher's Achievement). A 1954 map of the island drawn by District Officer Freegard designates the plot of land we call the Seven Site as "Karaka."

It would appear that the transliteration of Gallagher's name as "Karaka" was the invention of a later English District Officer (probably Laxton) who never knew "Irish" personally.




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Chris Johnson

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Re: A question for our British members
« Reply #16 on: September 18, 2011, 02:16:18 AM »

Thanks Ric and Richie.

How does the Laxton article fit in with the 1954 map by District Officer J. N. Freegard that labels the parcel of land for the 7 site as Karaka? Suppose if Laxton coined the name Karaka in 1951 it could have come into common usage by the officers.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: A question for our British members
« Reply #17 on: September 18, 2011, 10:08:11 AM »

How does the Laxton article fit in with the 1954 map by District Officer J. N. Freegard that labels the parcel of land for the 7 site as Karaka?

The first map that shows the area we call the Seven Site is a hand-drawn, undated, unsigned, land-allocation map.  Plots of land around the island are numbered and a key provides the names of the individuals to whom the plots are allocated.  Plot number 5, for example, is allocated to "Abera."  On that map the Seven Site is shown as plot 25 and the key says that it belongs to "Komitina" - the transliteration of the English word "Commissioner."  All British administrators were known to the workers by the general term Commissioner.  The map designates the southeast tip of the island as "Amerika," so it must post-date the allocation of that land to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1943.  The village area is labeled "Ritiati" - the transliteration of "Richards," the High Commissioner in office when the colony was approved in 1937 - but the next district "Noriti" - "Norwich" - is not shown.  "Noriti" was demarcated by the time Laxton was there in 1949 so the map must date from some time between 1943 and 1949.

The point is, before 1949 the plot of land that Freegard called "Karaka" in 1954 was "Komitina." 

Suppose if Laxton coined the name Karaka in 1951 it could have come into common usage by the officers.

Laxton's article was published on 1951 but he was on the island for three months - January, February, & March - 1949.  Paul Laxton was the District Officer and lands Commissioner for the Phoenix Islands District and he was there to kick ass.  The colony had stagnated during the war and he was there to implement what he referred to as "a hard, realistic, Gideon-like policy" whereby "the weaker members should pack up and go."  The remaining colonists would have to buckle down, get to work, clear more land, plant more coconuts, expand the village, etc.  Part of the new development was the building of a "permanent maneaba" (meeting house).  This was the structure that was named Uen Maungan I Karaka (Flower to the Memory of Gallagher or The Flowering of Gallagher's Achievement).  Laxton writes, "Thus they commemorate the English gentleman whose devotion and leadership made their new home possible."  Uh huh.  What could be more politically expedient for Laxton than to encourage the islanders' beatification of a British administrator?  I strongly suspect that "Karaka" was Laxton's invention and that, as you suggest, the name was passed along to later District Officer's.  We'll get Laxton's article up on the website soon.

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