Nauru (S1.02)

Audio: S1E02 Nauru

In this week’s episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Nauru, a small isolated island nation in the middle of the Pacific, only 60 km from the equator and about 3,000 km from Australia, the country it is largely a dependent of. It’s a rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags tale of an island paradise, once called Pleasant Island, its disastrous encounters with colonialism and brutal treatment in World War 2. The discovery of rich phosphate deposits led to it briefly being the wealthiest nation per capita for a time, but strip-mining and poor administration left the country where it is today – always in the news for the wrong reasons. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)

Note: We had previously said that we would broadcast our episode on Panama this week, but once again Nauru was in the news, after the release of the “Nauru files” giving details of the scale of human rights abuses in the migrant detention centres the island hosts on behalf of the Australian government. We thought that this episode would give a good background on a country you might be reading a lot about in the next few weeks. This episode was recorded before the files were released, but we do discuss the issues that were highlighted in those reports.

Some things you might want to read/listen more about:

  • Early Nauruan practice of aquaculture – i.e. catching the fries of milkfish/ibiya in the surf and raising them to adulthood in brackish pools inland. This article (Spennemann, 2002) also describes the early history of Nauru and its first encounter with European whaler John Fearn
  • The 10-year long Nauruan Tribal War is summarised in an article on Military History Now – it resulted in the death of about 500 people, nearly a third of the island’s population
  • Nauru: A Cautionary Tale, an essay by Vlad Sokhin in World Policy Journal discusses the squandering of the phosphate resources of the island and also features some great photos from the smallest republic in the world
  • S. E. Morrison’s book History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June 1942 – April 1944 (Univeristy of Illinois Press, 2001) describes the operations in and around Nauru and features the following comments on the then-occupied island:

    But, the more Nauru was studied, the less anyone liked the idea of assaulting it. For Nauru is a solid island with no harbor or lagoon, shaped like a hat with a narrow brim of coastal plain where the enemy had built his airfield, and a crown where he had mounted coast defense artillery. The hilly interior was full of holes and caves where phosphate rock had been excavated – just the sort of terrain that the Japanese liked for defensive operations

  • The Japanese occupation of Nauru and deportation of the native people to Truk Island is described on Wikipedia
  • Radio show This American Life did an episode, including stories from Nauru a few years ago: “The Middle of Nowhere“, emphasising its role in money laundering and how it keeps appearing as a footnote in major world events
  • Australian Radio National’s Earshot has discussed the country’s “bizarre” story
  • Fertiliser island scents musical success: First Night: Leonardo” by David Lister in The Independent describes the opening night of Leonardo the Musical: A Portrait of Love, co-written by Duke Minks
  • Paradise Well and Truly Lost” in The Economist deals with all of Nauru’s problems and how it all went wrong, including how it can be considered a test case for understanding widespread diabetes
  • The music from the break can be found on YouTube

On a slightly lighter note… We are very fond of the names of people from Nauru, such as inaugural President Hammer deRoburt, Duke Minks (the musical guy), Kelly Emiu (chief secretary to the government who was involved in the musical happening) and current President Baron Waqa. And finally, video evidence that Naruans are quite good at powerlifting:

Next week’s episode will be more cheerful, we promise.

Namibia (S1.01)

Audio: Namibia
In this week’s first episode of 80 Days, we are talking about Namibia, a large African nation, sharing its southern border with South Africa and with an Atlantic coastline of almost 1,000 miles, known as the ‘Skeleton Coast’. Major features include the Namib Desert, considered to be the oldest desert in the world and the famous Fish River Canyon. The country is roughly similar in size to Pakistan bigger than France or Germany and one of the driest places on earth. Its history includes colonisation by Germany and South Africa, with independence coming in the 1990s. Today it is a stable and developing young democracy. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Ireland, respectively. (Music by Thomas O’Boyle)

File:Namibia homelands 78.jpeg

Namibia’s history spans over many many centuries and is defined by the movement of, and conflict between, various ethnic, national and colonial groups, starting with the San (bushmen), Khoikhoi pastoral groups such as the Nama, the Herero and Owambo and later the Oorlam – who were descended from Dutch settlers, Africans, and Malaysians among others.

Engraving of Jonker AfrikanerKaptein of the Orlam Nation (d. 1861)

Schwerinsburg.JPG

Schwerinsburg Castle in Windhoek from the German colonial period (Wikpedia)

Namibia became a German colony (German South West Africa) during the “Scramble for Africa” periodof European colonisation in the 1800s and was the location of what became known as the first genocide of the 20th century with up to 80% of the Nama and Herero people dying through violence, being driven to starvation in the desert or death in concentration camps over a short period. This put an end to the uprising led by Samuel Maharero and Hendrik Witbooi.

 

“My hunting grounds have become like a waterless land since he who settled here treats me in such an arrogant manner. And now where may we live – we shall go forth and search”

-Folk song, commenting on German treatment of the native population

During World War 1, South Africa occupied Namibia and consequently annexed the territory, ruling it essentially as a province despite international op
position and demands for self-determination; as a result Namibia experiences the discriminatory features of the apartheid system. Groups including SWAPO led miliary opposition to South Africa from the mid 1950s, eventually leading to independence in 1990.SWAPO Party Logo.png

In comparison to other countries in the region, with similar history of a small population of colonial descendants owning the majority of the property, Namibia has managed the transition to majority rule largely peacefully, pursuing incremental change in land ownership and is widely considered a very stable country nowadays. Compared to neighbouring countries, Namibia has a large degree of media freedom, for instance; over the past years, the country usually ranked in the upper quarter of the Press Freedom Index being on par with Canada and the best-positioned African country. Recent president Pohamba was awarded the Mo Ibrahim African Leadership Prize for his behaviour in office and willingness to leave power at the end of his constitutionally mandated term:

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights.”

The country also has the only constitution in the world that explicitly protects the environment and Namibia is very committed to conservationism, with 42% of the land area under some form of conservation control.

Some sources we consulted and recommend:

Some things that you might want to read further about:

  • “Apollo 11” Cave in the ||Karas region, where some of the oldest examples of portable prehistoric art have been discovered
  • The Herero and Namaqua genocide, labelled the “first genocide of the 20th century” was a harrowing period in Namibian history, resulting in the death of huge proportions of these peoples at the hands of German forces under Lothar von Trotha
  • Bondelswarts Affair – 1917 – a controversial incident in the period when South African was given the League of Nations mandate for the former German colony. An uprising occurred in opposition to a tax on dogs, as a result, hundreds of Khoi-khoi people were killed
  • Trailer for The Gods Must be Crazy, starring Namibian San actor N!xau ǂToma