Rebuilding a Community One Coconut at a Time
Nature Pacific is using the humble coconut to build a future for the forgotten people of the Pacific - the Banabans
The coconut tree is commonly referred to as “the tree of life”; a fruit with a thousand uses. And on a tiny, solitary coral island in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 300km east of Nauru with an area of just 6km2, it is the humble coconut tree that is providing the key building block for one community in particular’s future – the Banabans, the forgotten people of the Pacific.
Banaba Island was a community wiped out in the 1900s, destroyed by the discovery and subsequent mining of pure phosphate by governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in one of the most devastating environmental disasters of the 20th century. Add to this an invasion by the Japanese in World War Two where a fifth of the Banaban population was slaughtered and the remaining people were forced to take refuge and relocate to Rabi Island in Fiji.
As a descendant of the European phosphate miners who played an integral part in the destruction of the Banabans’ homeland, I’ve had a passion for retracing the four generations of my family’s history and discovering the rich heritage of the intriguing Banaba community.
And as a native Banaban himself, my now husband Raobeia ‘Ken’ Sigrah, whose own grandfather had been the signatory on the original mining contract, placing his ‘X’ to give the island away for 999 years at 50 pounds per annum, has a deep connection to his homeland.
These facts and our shared vision to redevelop the forgotten island was the catalyst for our passion to help the Banaban people achieve a sustainable future and the driving force behind the philanthropic work our company Nature Pacific undertakes.
|Banaban people caught in the tides of history||Banaban places X's on documents they did not understand||The destruction of Banaban homeland from phosphate mining|
2004 saw the beginning of our virgin coconut oil business Nature Pacific, where we marketed the oil produced by extended family in Fiji in the hope of educating people here in Australia about the benefits of coconuts and the oil that our people had been using for centuries.
We started from very humble beginnings, bottling the oil and using age-old Banaban fragrances from the island flowers to produce products on a more commercial level – all from our garage. Our strong conviction also spurred the idea of every product carrying the Banaban story to educate the public on what happened to its forgotten people.
Today, through the establishment of Nature Pacific – which is proudly Banaban family owned – we have been able to take our philanthropic work to an even broader level and are really starting to see a major difference back home on the Island. Nature Pacific works in a joint venture with an indigenous Fiji owned and operated coconut farm on a nearby island that employs and houses more than 50 Banabans and their families. On our impoverished island of Rabi, the Fiji government is finally backing our ever-growing virgin coconut oil industry and has helped in setting up a biofuel plant on the island as well as a coconut oil plant run by a women’s interest community group that we also sponsor and provide with equipment and an ongoing supply of labels, packaging and fragrance, to act as the local manufacturers for the company’s bottled oils and body products.
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Nature Pacific has also assisted in the creation of the Banaban Child Welfare project, an initiative that was first launched in 2010 to provide primary school education to children from disadvantaged families. Over the years the venture has expanded to a high school level in order to help prevent children from dropping out of school due to poverty. Until 2014, education in Fiji was not free and many parents struggled to fund education for their children and, in some cases, were presented with the heartbreaking task of deciding whether they could afford to send any of their children to school at all. Today the program supports more than 160 Banaban children each year and has shown outstanding academic results.
In 2014, we celebrated 10 years of Banaban coconut products with the launch of a new facility at Varsity Lakes on the Gold Coast: Banaban House – Coconut Lifestyle & Training Centre.
The Centre not only distributes Banaban products worldwide, but also aims to share the Fijian and Banaban way of life through history, food, culture and craft. We sponsor visits from Banaba people to learn about manufacturing and business, and under the guidance of Ken and I, learn how to tap into their island’s rich, natural treasure as a means of providing a sustainable future for their people.
We also sponsor many of the Island’s village sports clubs and schools to assist the community on a wider level. Currently we are working on business training and have many other future projects in the pipeline, while our shared passion to preserve the Banabans’ unique culture is never far from our thoughts.
We knew the strength and resolve our people demonstrate, even after all the suffering and adversity they have been through came from their entrenched cultural practices and beliefs. Therefore everything that we have developed over the years holds these attributes as a priority and a key to the future.
By showing our people back on the Island that there is abundant opportunity surrounding them, we are proud and humbled to offer a helping hand and assist them with the knowhow, the vision and the belief that they can achieve anything. They are not forgotten and together we can work hard to make a difference and really see development and change, even if it is one coconut at a time.
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