The Banabans were gathered on Tarawa after World War II and told they could not return to their homeland - Banaba. They were moved to Rabi Island in the remote north-east of the Fiji Islands Group
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The following accounts of the early history of Rabi prior to European arrival in Fiji comes from David Stanley’s – Fiji Handbook by Moon Publications (copyright).
EARLY RABI HISTORY
In 1855 a Tongan army conquered Fijian rebels on Rambi (Rabi) at the request of the Tui Cakau on Taveuni. On their departure a few years later, this chief sold the island to Europeans to cover outstanding debts. In 1941 the British government purchased Rambi Island from the Australian firm Lever Brothers for 25,000 pounds to serve as a new home for the Micronesian Banabans of Ocean Island (Banaba) in Kiribati, whose home island was being ravaged by phosphate mining. The war began before they could be resettled, and it was not unit December 1945 that the move was made (Stanley 1993: 179)
View of Nuku village Rabi Island, Fiji
THE PURCHASE OF RABI ISLAND BY THE BANABANS
The details of the actual purchase of the island by the Banabans and from excerpts taken from Harry Maudes’ – Memorandum – The Future of the Banaban Population of Ocean Island; with Special Relation to their Land and Funds for Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony in 1946 while he was the Chief Land Commissioner and the man responsible for arranging the purchase of Rabi.
A young Harry Maude working the Colonial Office
(11) A Future Home for the Banabans
28. As long ago as 1914 the Authorities were worried about the fate of the Banabans when the phosphate industry on Ocean Island came to and end, and in 1927 the creation of a Provident Fund was proposed, which should be sued for the purchase of a future home for the community. The Resident Commissioner pointed out that if the phosphate industry was to fail “the race would literally be blotted out of existence: five hundred and fifty denaturalized natives could not possibly live on the interest yielded by the Banaban Fund”. The Banaban Provident Fund was commenced in 1931, with the approval of the Secretary of State, and financed by the transfer of £20,000 from the Old Royalty Trust Fund augmented by 2d.per ton royalty under the 1931 Resumption Settlement little interest was taken in the project for a future home by the Banabans themselves for some years, since they feared that it might be a trick to have them removed from Ocean Island in order to facilitate the operations of the British Phosphate Commission, and it was not until 1940 that they proposed the acquisition of Wakaya Island, in the Fiji Group. In their proposal, the Banabans made it clear that they were unwilling to consider Wakaya as a replacement for Ocean Island, but desired it to be regarded rather as a second home. They felt that the younger generation was growing up in too Europeanised an atmosphere and that, if they were to preserve their racial identity they were insistent that their rights to land on Ocean Island should continue undiminished. A survey of Wakaya was accordingly undertaken, which showed it to be unsuitable for ht support of a large population owing to the shallow depth of most of the fertile soils and the poor water supply.
(12) The Purchase of Rabi Island.
29. Investigations were thereupon instituted as to the availability and suitability of other islands in the Fiji Group for settlement by Banabans and, as a result, an offer was made by Messrs. Lever’s Pacific Plantations Proprietary Limited, to sell the island of Rabi, off the coast of Vanua Levu, for the sum of £A.25,000. Rabi was found to be very suitable for colonization: 27 square miles in area, it is roughly triangular in shape, with the greatest length of 9 miles and the greatest width of 4½ miles. A central mountain peak, 1,550 feet high, is buttressed by ranges of hills extending to the north-east, west and south-east, The coast has several deep indentations providing good anchorages, with excellent fishing grounds in the vicinity. There are three flourishing coconut plantations at Vunisinu, Suetollu and Nuku, and the soil in most parts of the island is suitable for the growing of garden crops. On the south and east coast, the conditions are damp and somewhat gloomy, but the north shore (with Nuku in the centre) enjoys a dry climate such as the Banabans are accustomed to, with broad sandy beaches along which they could build their villages.
30. On the offer being conveyed to the Banabans, they were a first unwilling to consider the purchase of Rabi, as they still considered that Wakaya was the better island of the two for their purposes. However, on the High Commissioner notifying them that he was unwilling to consent to Wakaya being brought except in conjunction with Rabi, they agreed to the purchase of both islands. In deciding thus they were actuated by the High Commissioner’s statement that the option on Rabi had been obtained at the lowest state of depression in the copra market and that the island was a bargain at the price. This statement appears to have been fully justified, and there is little doubt that the island could be sold today at a appreciable profit. The Banabans, therefore, may be said to have intended Wakaya to be their future home and Rabi and investment. Unfortunately, however, nothing came of the project to buy Wakaya, as the price of £F.12,500 for which it was offered by the Trustees of the estate was considered to be too high and the counter-offer of £F.5,000 made by the High Commissioner was not accepted.
31. Rabi has accordingly purchased the freehold in March 1942, the transfer being made to “His Britannic Majesty’s High Commissioner for the Western Pacific”: the entire island was included in the sale, with the exception of a Fiji Government reserve of 50 acres. An agreement was then entered into with Messrs. Lever’s Pacific Plantations Proprietary, Limited, by which they became tenants of the island until such time as it should be required by the Banabans, at a rent based on the price of copra which, at the price then ruling, amounted to approximately £A.1,000 a year (Maude: 1946: 10-12).
Harry and Honor Maude at Adelaide University the depositary of their papers