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Banaban Landowners Visit their homeland

Ocean Island 1967

By Stacey KingPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
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Banaban Rotan Tito visiting his ancestral village Buakonikai devastated by mining 1970s

This 'Snippet’ of Ocean Island history was supplied by Banaban Heritage Society (BHS) [1] member, Marion Laritz from an article written by a fellow Island resident, Mr. R. Williams and published in the local newsletter, The Nautilus, Volume 2, Edition 3, November 1967.

Honoured Guests

It is rarely that something really interesting happens to liven up our small island existence, a spot of leave, a new arrival or a new radio station. So it was with great interest that we learned of the impending visit of the island’s landowners from their island of Rabi (pronounced Rambi) in the Fiji Group. [2]

They had chartered a Burns Philip vessel to visit their Island home, most of them had not seen for 20 years or more. Their main objective was to examine some new mining land required by the British Phosphate Commission (BPC). [3]

The following are a few quick notations of some of the more prominent members of the party.

Banaban Elders delegation in London,1970s. to commence legal action against UK government. Rotan Tito, (centre with hat), Keith Christopher (standing behind Tito) with hat.

The manager of the group was Tebuki Rotan, son of the Chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders (RCL) [4] and a prominent councillor and pastor who studied at Oxford. He assumed responsibility as the main spokesman.

His father, Rotan Tito [footnote], accompanied the group. While not the major spokesman, he showed he held the respect of everybody as Leader of the Banaban people by his able manner in all discussions and his splendid physical bearing for a man of his age.

He led the way right to the business end of the rugged bush treks, leaving much younger ones of us panting quite a way behind.

The third member of the leading Banaban trio was their treasurer, Keith Christopher, who clearly knew where every penny should be. At the same time, he regaled us with many of the Island’s ghost stories. Along with Tebuke Rotan, these two had a wonderful grasp of world affairs.

Banaban Elders taken on Rabi 1995. Tekoti Rotan (younger brother of Tebuke Rotan front left), Keith Christopher (back left), Kaiekieki Sigrah (back right) (Stacey King Collection (1995).

Two very important people accompanied the group. Their special advisor, Mr A.D. Patel, a prominent Fiji lawyer and Leader of the Opposition in the Fijian Government. He brought his charming wife with him on the trip.

The other was their surveyor, Mr John Wil-liams of Rabaul, who had an extensive survey practice throughout the Pacific. He was formerly an Australian from Queensland.

Tebuke Rotan visited his homeland Banba for the last time with ABC Foreign Correspondent film crew in 1997.

Among the other members of the party were three members of the 1947 Banaban visit to Ocean Island after the war. Kautuntake was the instrument man for the 1947 survey party and again for Mr. Williams on this trip. Tokinteiti and Uaieta were part of the marking party. Another member of the present survey team was Tororo, the brother of our popular resident Ba-naban representative, Kaiekieki. Also remembered by many of us was Abatai, the former resident Banaban representative before Kaiekie-ki’s present term.

All appeared to enjoy their short stay here on the Island, although they complained of the heat, explaining that the climate is much cooler at Rabi but quite wet. Some of the questions asked about the island by some of the younger ones in the group showed they remembered little of their home island.

So with mixed feelings, we farewelled our visitors as they left for Nauru to meet with another famous Banaban landowner, Hammer de Roburt.

As the last launch left the boat harbour, the elder Rotan waved his fishing hat many times over his head in farewell and cast it over his shoulder into the water. An old custom marking respect and friendship as two elders part after a happy meeting.

Rotan Tito outside UK High Court, London 1978.

Footnote:

Rotan Tito was born on Banaba in 1900 and led his people in the 1970s through one of the most protracted legal battles, Titi V Waddell, in the United Kingdom’s history. After Rotan Tito’s lifetime battle to seek justice for his people, his life ended in 1984. He was laid to rest in his family’s ancestral village of Buakonikai, which had been transposed to the Banaban’s new island home of Rabi in Fiji.

Originally published 'Snippets of the Past' Banaba/Ocean Island News No. 13 (Jan-Feb 1995)

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To learn more about Banaban history and their struggle to seek justice:

Banaban Study Series:

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1. Banaban Heritage Society: https://www.banaban.com/about

2. Banaban community Rabi, Fiji: https://www.banaban.com/banaban-community-rabi-today

3. British Phosphate Commission: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Phosphate_Commission

4, Rabi Council of Leaders: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabi_Council_of_Leaders

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About the Creator

Stacey King

Stacey King, a published Australian author and historian. Her writing focuses on her mission to build global awareness of the plight of the indigenous Banaban people and her achievements as a businesswoman, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

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