15 Apr 2013

British files show colonial grip on Banabans

10:45 am on 15 April 2013

Declassified files from the British colonial era show how leaders from Rabi island in Fiji were denied cash they said they needed to build an economy.

Officials tracked the islanders' movements in the fear they were buying arms and ammunition for an insurrection.

Ben Lowings reports from London.

"The Rabi islanders had many causes for grievance against the British. They were originally from the island of Banaba. They allowed a British monopoly over its lucrative phosphate deposits. When deported from Banaba by the Japanese during the Second World War, the British persuaded them to move to Rabi Island, which was to become part of Fiji. They could build a new life on Rabi, using a share of the depleting mineral riches of Banaba. But the Rabi islanders said their phosphate royalties were not enough to build a capital fund to meet their needs. Britain, they said, had written off them off with contempt, as an obscure Pacific people. Officials in London noted the islanders' discontent. They refused to accept the Banabans' demands. Securing the minerals was their priority. They worked to ensure the islanders could not co-ordinate resistance, declare independence or acquire weapons if their struggle became violent."