What Should I Know About Nauru?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

The Republic of Nauru is a Micronesian island nation. At 21 square kilometers (8.1 square miles), it is the smallest island nation and the smallest independent republic in the world. It is also the only republican state in the world without a capital.

Nauru is an island nation in Micronesia.
Nauru is an island nation in Micronesia.

The island was first settled by Micronesians and Polynesians at least 3,000 years ago. There were traditionally twelve tribes on the island, referenced in the 12-pointed star on the country's current flag. The first European to visit Nauru was Captain John Fearn, a whaler, in 1798. In the ensuing years, European deserters and criminals came to live on the island, and Nauruans began trading native foods for firearms and liquor. These new imports exacerbated a tribal war that broke out in 1878 and raged for ten years, reducing the population by about a third.

The Nauruan Tribal War ended in 1888 when Germany annexed the island and banned firearms and alcohol. The island was established as part of Germany's Marshall Islands Protectorate, and the Nauruan King, Aweida, was allowed to retain his authority. The same year, Christian missionaries arrived at the island.

New Zealand prospector Albert Ellis discovered phosphate reserves in the area in 1900, and the Pacific Phosphate Company made an agreement with Germany allowing the company to mine and export the phosphate. Germany lost the territory during World War I, and the island became a mandate territory administered by the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. The three countries formed the British Phosphate Commission (BPC), which took control of phosphate mining, in 1919.

During World War II, Nauru was occupied by the Japanese, who deported 1,200 Nauruans to work in the Chuuk Islands. It was liberated by Australian forces in 1945, after three years of occupation. Following World War II, the United Nations designated the island as a trusteeship, and the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand again shared administrative rights and duties.

Nauru became self-governing in 1966 and gained its independence following a two-year constitutional convention. Ownership of phosphate deposits transferred to the nationally owned Nauru Phosphate Corporation (NPC) in 1970. The depletion of phosphate reserves has led to economic and political strife. Between 1989 and 2003, the country had 17 changes of administration.

Though Nauru had the world's highest per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the early 1980s, it now suffers from serious economic difficulties. The national bank is insolvent, and the unemployment rate is 90%. It now heavily relies on economic aid from the Australian government. In exchange, Nauru houses a detention center for those who seek asylum in Australia.

The population of Nauru is mostly indigenous, with 58% native Nauruans and 26% other Pacific Islanders. Chinese and Europeans each make up eight percent of the Nauruan population. The majority religion is Christianity, and Baha'i is a significant minority religion. The high standard of living enjoyed in the region during the 1970s and early 1980s unfortunately contributed to obesity; 90% of adults are overweight. This has lead to widespread health problems, notable Type II Diabetes, and a lowered life expectancy.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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