Sunday, July 14, 2019

Nauru: Legends, Traditions and Tales of Nauru, compiled by Timothy Detudamo

Nauru is a tiny island nation in Micronesia, with a population of around 11,000 to 12,000. That does not allow for a large choice of literature. Fortunately our local library has an excellent Pasifika section, in which I found this compilation of legends and stories, along with some cultural information.

Head chief Timothy Detudamo put this collection together from oral sources in 1938. Nauru has changed a good deal since then. It became very wealthy for a brief time, when western nations descended on it to mine phosphate from centuries of guano deposits. Unfortunately the wealth was largely squandered. These days it is largely known for its use by Australia as a place to house would-be refugees arriving by boat from South East Asia.

Thus the foresight in transcribing these tales becomes even more important. I thought I knew quite a bit about the culture and languages of various Pacific Islands but it turns out that what I knew was really quite small. The islands with which I am more familiar - the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga - are Polynesian islands, but Micronesia is quite different. The names in the book, and the terms that had been left in their native language, looked quite unfamiliar, and there were aspects of the culture that are different to Polynesian culture. For instance, the Nauruans practised fish farming - they caught small fish of a certain species, and used them to stock ponds where they grew them to an edible size.

The stories here are fairly simple on the whole, and somewhat repetitive. Strife between different tribes features strongly. There is a glossary at the back of the book but often the only explanation given is "a type of food" or "a type of plant", which could be figured out from the context of the story, so it rather left me wanting to know more.

Nevertheless, I found this slim volume an intriguing introduction to a culture of which I knew very little. Legends, Traditions and Tales of Nauru was published by IPS Publications, University of the South Pacific, in 2008.