Microstates of Oceania

Oceania is a natural hot spot for the development of unique micro-cultures thanks to the sparse population, limited habitable land mass, and general geographic isolation. These different micro-cultures have led to the development of micro-societies which have, in turn, led to the development of an array of micro nation-states. So let’s dig in!

Nauru                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This second smallest state in the world boasts a whopping 8.1 sq. mi. populated by 9,378 residents. The island has experienced a capricious colonial history, having been unceremoniously tossed among various German, League of Nations, and Japanese mandates. In the late 60’s and 70’s, the country enjoyed the world’s highest per capita income thanks to its large phosphate deposits. Sadly, strip mining and other short-sighted mining practices left the island’s reserves depleted by the 1980’s, creating a huge shock to the nation’s economic livelihood. It was this crisis that led to Nauru’s short-lived status as a tax-haven. Nauru’s status attracted dirty money and unsavory elements to the island, prompting an end to the experiment. In recent years, the nation has been struggling to find more secure economic footing. To that end, the country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, United Nations, and the Asian Development Bank.                                                                                                                      Legally, Nauru offers its citizens some interesting protections. All native Nauruans have some claim to the land and the government, corporations, and any non-Nauruan is not permitted to own land; they may only rent land. Nauruans themselves are pretty unique, boasting the highest proportion of Baha’is in the world (10%) and some of the highest obesity rates. Approximately 97% of men are obese and 93% of women are considered obese. On October 26th, Nauruans celebrate Angam Day which commemorates the revival of the Nauruan people whose numbers have twice fallen below the minimum threshold (1,500) required for the survival of a race.

Kiribati                                                                                                                                                                                                         This Micronesian nation of 103,500 people encompasses some 313 sq. mi. of land area that straddle the Equator and 1.35 million sq. mi. of open ocean. It is the only country with territory in all four hemispheres of the globe. The name Kiribati is a local corruption of the name “Gilbert,” the name originally given to the islands after its European discovery by Thomas Gilbert. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, certain far-flung islands in Kiribati were used by the governments of the U.S and U.K. for nuclear weapons testing. Before the turn of the century in 2000 A.D, Kiribati moved the International Date Line just east of its Easternmost terminus, making it the first nation to witness the dawn of the third millennium. Currently, the nation is focused on preparing for what it perceives to be inevitable sea level rise caused by man-made climate change. Kiribati is an active member of the Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) and a host of other climate organizations. Currently, there are plans to both evacuate large numbers of people from this low-lying atoll nation  and protect certain islands from potential sea level rise.

Marshall Islands                                                                                                                                                                                                    68,480 people call this Micronesian nation home, all 70 sq. mi. of it.  The legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands is hard to ignore as much of the Pacific Proving Grounds can be found in the country. The Pacific Proving Grounds were lands designated by the U.S government in the wake of the Second World War for the atmospheric testing of thermonuclear weapons. In fact, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the U.S, Castle Bravo, took place in this nation. The first hydrogen bomb ever was tested on the country’s island of Elugelab, which resulted in the island’s destruction. Many islands and islanders have suffered from the adverse effects of atmospheric testing. In recent years, the Marshall Islands has made moves towards creating a more ecologically-conscious image by declaring the world’s largest shark sanctuary at 772,000 sq. mi. The U.S government is the mainstay of the Marshallese economy, contributing direct foreign aid and rent for use of the Kwajelein Missile Range.

Tonga                                                                                                                                                                                                                   As one of the region’s more prosperous states, Tonga has benefited from its historical legacy as a unified, organized kingdom. Incorporating 360 sq. mi. and housing 103,036 inhabitants, Tonga occupies the southernmost portion of the Polynesian island chain. Tonga was originally known to Europeans as the “Friendly Islands” due to their warm reception of James Cook. Tonga never lost its sovereignty and to this day maintains its monarchy. Traditionally presided over by the Tu’i Tonga, the chief of the islands, Tonga is now presided over by a constitutional monarchy. The government provides free and mandatory basic education, subsidized secondary education, and scholarships to further education abroad as well as a universal health care system. Like Nauru, obesity is prevalent with 90% of the population considered overweight and 54% considered obese. Also like Nauru, the government precludes foreign entities from owning Tongan land. The constitution observes and enshrines the sanctity of the sabbath. Kava, a Western Pacific specialty, is practically the nation’s official drink and is at the center of a ceremony rich with custom and tradition. The relatively large Tongan diaspora supports the national economy with its remittances.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Tuvalu                                                                                                                                                                                                         The Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu has a reputation for “doing things small”; it boasts 10,837 residents (making it the 2nd-least populous nation in the world) across 10 sq. mi. enjoying the world’s smallest economy by GDP. Tuvalu experienced some of the strongest GDP growth in the Oceania region during the late 1990’s and through much of the 2000’s before stalling out in the face of the global recession. The government spends no money on maintaining regular military forces and minimal spending is given to the country’s police force. Approximately 65% of the work force is employed in the public sector and small-scale subsistence farming maintains much of the population. Remittances from Tuvaluans working on foreign merchant ships also forms an important component of national income.                             Additionally, the government raises substantial revenues from the lease of the country’s top-level domain “.tv” and the production of stamps bought by philatelists worldwide. The Tuvalu Ship Registry, a government agency under which ships of various nationalities may opt to register, came under fire in recent years when it was discovered that Iranian ships were registered in Tuvalu. The benefit to Iranian oil tankers was the ability to fly under the Tuvaluan flag during international boycotts of Iranian oil. Education is free, universal, compulsory for 10 years, and relatively well-funded. The minimum working age is set at 14 and child labor restrictions have been put in place. Overall, a traditional communal lifestyle with the cosmetic and structural facets of Western life is the daily reality for most Tuvaluans.

Federated States of Micronesia                                                                                                                                                        This Micronesian nation comprises some 106,104 people living on 271 sq. mi. of land spread across some 1,000,000 sq. mi. of the Pacific Ocean. The nation has some of the most extensive and best documented human history in the region. The nation is a treasure trove of archaeological sites, many of them stone. The historical saga of the islands is relatively complex thanks to the rise, invasion, and overthrow of a series of dynastic kingdoms dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. On one of the four main islands, Pohnpei, is Nan Madol. Officially registered as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, Nan Madol is lagoon city of artificial islands constructed by the medieval Saudeleur Dynasty. The island of Kosrae also features historic towns and ruins from the city of Lelu (c. 1250 A.D) to burial pyramids found throughout the island.  There is not much economic activity as there are relatively limited phosphate deposits and agriculture is mostly limited to subsistence activity. Today, a growing number of expatriates are attracted to this underdeveloped nation due to its diverse ethnic mix, beautiful climate, and pristine coral reefs.

3 thoughts on “Microstates of Oceania

  1. ermenegilda

    Need to understand “least populous” better… how can Tuvalu be 2nd least? Where do places like Vatican City or Pitcairn Islands fit in? Their populations are smaller, no?

    1. david.losson@gmail.com Post author

      The Pitcairn Islands are and Overseas Territory of Great Britain. Vatican city is the least populous recognized sovereign state that I am aware of.


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