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Rabi Island

Rabi, Fiji

Rabi is a volcanic island in northern Fiji. It is located 5 kilometers west to Taveuni , in the Vanua Levu Group. It covers an area of 66.3 square kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude  of 463 meters and has a shoreline of 46.2 kilometers. Rabi is home to the Banabans  who are the indigenous landowners of Banaba Island; the indigenous Fijian community that formerly lived on Rabi was moved to Taveuni  after the island was purchased by the Banabans . The original inhabitants still maintain their links to the island, and still use the Rabi name in national competitions.

Rabi was the first place in Fiji where Indian Indentured labourers were employed. When the first Indians were brought to Fiji abroad the Leonidas  in 1879, most European planters refused to employ them because of the extra cost involved. One planter who was sympathetic to Government policies was Captain J. Hill of Rabi Island, and he agreed to take 106 indentured labourers as field workers.

 Prior to the Banaban resettlement on Rabi, the island was owned and used as a copra plantation by the Levers Pacific Plantations Pty Ltd.  At the beginning of World War II , the British government purchased the island with phosphate royalties from Banaba, in the quest to relocate the Banabans  from Banaba.

At the end of World War II, Kiribati’s and Fiji's rulers decided to resettle most of Banaba's population on Rabi Island, because of the ongoing devastation of Banaba caused by phosphate  mining. Some have since returned, but the majority have remained on Rabi or elsewhere in Fiji.

The Banabans came to Fiji in three major waves, with the first group of 703, including 318 children, arriving on the BPC vessel, Triona, on 15 December 1945. Accompanying them were 300 other I-Kiribati. The Banabans had been collected from Japanese internment camps on various islands; they were not given the option of returning to Banaba, on the grounds that the Japanese had destroyed their houses - this was not true. They were told that there were houses waiting for them on Rabi: in fact they were given tents to live in and food rations which lasted for only two months. It was the middle of the hurricane season, and they were still weak from years of Japanese imprisonment: 40 of the oldest Banabans died. They were joined by a second wave between 1975 and 1977, with a final wave arriving between 1981 and 1983, following the ending of phosphate mining in 1979. Recognizing the lack of opportunities for Banabans in their homeland, the Rabi Council  assisted the remaining population to move to Rabi after 1981.

On 15 December 2005, sixty years to the day since the arrival of the first Banabans, more than 500 Rabi Islanders were granted citizenship. These islanders, who had not previously been naturalized, came from the second and third waves of migration, which were technically illegal but tolerated by the Fijian government on humanitarian grounds.

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