Day 55: Facts! South Pacific Edition

I swear, you could do a cursory Wikipedia search on basically any country on earth and you would find at least one interesting fact that you had no idea about before. Today I made a quick tour of the countries of the South Pacific. It’s funny that they’re our neighbours, and yet I know nothing about them. I’d assume the same would go for most Australians unless they happened to be of Polynesian ancestry. So I have learned a bunch of stuff about the Pacific nations today:

– Kiribati is named after Thomas Gilbert, an English explorer who discovered the then-Gilbert Islands on the way home from dropping off the convicts here with the First Fleet. It is so named because “Kiribati” means “Gilbert” in Gilbertese. You see, the Kiribati language is also called Gilbertese, because it was being spoken on the then-Gilbert Islands. So this guy has a whole country and a language named after him. Not bad for a day’s work. And by “day’s work”, I of course mean months and months of sailing around the known world.

– Same goes for John Marshall, who turned left at Albequerque on the same voyage and nabbed himself the Marshall Islands, populated with Marshallese who speak Marshallese. The Marshalls went first to the Spanish, then the Germans, then the Japanese, and then were conquered by the USA during WWII and were made part of the American protectorate of the area. Post-WWII the US bombed the utter shit out of the islands in testing the first nuclear weapons, and the Marshalls have remained in ‘free association’ with the US since independence in 1986, as US aid makes up the vast majority of the Marshallese economy.

– Poor Edward Ellice. He was the English politician who happened to be the owner of the cargo held by the American privateer who happened to sail past the atolls that he thusly named the Ellice Islands. Judging from precedence, you’d imagine he’d end up with his own country and Polynesian language, but alas, when the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were partitioned, the latter became Tuvalu, their language is Tuvaluan, and ol’ Eddie Ellice ended up with diddly squat. Although he did establish the Reform Club, help pass the 1832 Reform Act and consolidate the Hudson’s Bay Company that ended up becoming, well…Canada. But think! He could have had Tuvalu too!

– Tuvalu is made up of nine islands. The word “tuvalu” in Tuvaluan basically means “eight islands”. Don’t ask me to explain these things.

– Nauru is the second smallest sovereign nation in terms of population (after the Vatican) at around 10,000 people. The average Sydney suburb that I live in has twice as many people as the nation of Nauru. Mind blown.

– Probably due to the fact that nobody lives there, in the late 60s Nauru had the highest per capita GDP of any country in the world, thanks to its natural resources. Once the island was strip mined within an inch of its life that wealth disappeared pretty quickly. I think today Nauru relies on Australian aid given in exchange for kindly housing our refugees in detention centres, which can get to be a bit of a touchy subject.

– I had always known the capital of Palau to be Melekeok, but apparently, technically, the capital city is Ngerulmud, in the state of Melekeok. My whole life is a lie! I am ripping it up and starting all over again! Ngerulmud my ass!

– Palau is made up of around 250 of the island group known as the Caroline Islands, supposedly named after King Charles II of Spain, another unlucky guy who got screwed on the “getting a Polynesian language named after me” front. Charles II, as it happens, was the last Hapsburg ruler of Spain, and an exceedingly shitty monarch whose reign encompassed an exponential decline in Spanish power. So he had enough problems to be going on with I guess.

– The Federated States of Micronesia include over 600 islands, so I was surprised to learn that the federation in question is made up of only four states. There’s a bit in The West Wing (Episode 1.21 ‘Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics’) that has Bartlet rattling off inane trivia about the Federated States of Micronesia off the top of his head, and the joke is everyone shaking their heads at how much of a trivia-obsessed nerd he is, but I watch that scene and for me, like, there’s no joke there. To me his response is completely normal and legitimate. If people brought up the Federated States of Micronesia to me, of course I would regale them with information about exactly which island the capital (Palikir) is located on. I live my life hoping against hope that someone will ask me the capital of something. I AM President Bartlet!

My nerd stores are being exhausted right now, and I gotta work, so I may stop here. I haven’t even gone through half of the Pacific nations yet. Which I guess means, stay tuned for Part 2!

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