Tarawa II (2011)

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  • June 19 – 28, 2011
  • Ric Gillespie and Bill Carter.
  • The full report on the 893 pages collected from the Archive is not yet available.
From the preliminary report to EPAC:
In the past, our research has focused on the early years of the colony on Nikumaroro from Harry Maude’s first visit in 1937 through Paul Laxton’s stay in 1949. Our impressions of the character of island life have been largely shaped by Maude’s Of Islands and Men and Laxton’s Nikumaroro. The documents we reviewed and copied in Tarawa - the diaries, reports, records, regulations, and correspondence generated by a progression of Administrative and District Officers spanning the entire 25 year history of the Phoenix Islands District – paint a rather different picture from the romantic image of pioneering colonists portrayed by Maude and Laxton. Understanding the hardships and strictures under which the settlers lived is important if we are to correctly interpret the archaeological evidence we have uncovered on the island.
The settlement on Gardner Island, as it was known to the British administration for most of the colonial period, was not a transplanted traditional Gilbertese community. It was a British colonial outpost that operated under detailed regulations governing nearly every aspect of daily life from how houses and latrines were to be built to how rubbish should be disposed of (“removed daily and burnt or buried in a place set a side by the Island Council”). To the District Officers, the settlers were not pioneering colonists but “native labourers” working on government service. The laborers cleared land, built infrastructure, and planted crops (coconut, pandanus, babai) with the ultimate objective of the colony repaying start-up costs and turning a profit for the Crown through copra (dried coconut meat) production. The British Empire was not a philanthropic enterprise.