Joburg Expat: Geography Lessons: Part Two

March 20, 2012

Geography Lessons: Part Two

Flag of Pitcairn Islands. Credit Wikipedia
I know ever since I mentioned them you have been dying to learn more about the Pitcairn Islands. Why them, you might ask?

Well, Zax was reeling off the world's most populous countries to me while I was driving, and I was getting overloaded with too much information, so I had him change course and look at the bottom of the list. And there they were. The Pitcairn Islands have the distinction of being the least populous country in the world, according to Wikipedia. Actually, if you only count independent countries, Vatican City is the world's smallest. But the Pitcairn Islands (UK) are so much more interesting.

"How least populous?" was my first question. 67, was the answer. And do you know how they know this? By UN estimate. I suppose having to count to 67 is too difficult, so an estimate must be obtained.

Bounty Bay. Photo credit: Visit Pitcairn
Over the course of inching our way home on William Nicol Drive, Zax fed me more delicious bits of information: They have one school (all seven children enrolled in 2000), one cafe (open once a week on Friday nights), two TV channels, two cars, and a bunch of quad bikes. They don't have their own currency (NZ dollar) but they do speak their own language (Pitkern), and when a baby was born in 2003 it was a big event, because it had been seventeen years since the previous time. I guess being a doctor or midwife is not a viable profession there. I'm sure the teacher at the school was very happy at the prospect of a new pupil!

You might recall the Pitcairn Islands featuring in the saga of the Mutiny of the Bounty. Yes, that's where the mutineers settled, together with their Tahitian wives, and it is their descendants who form today's four families still living on the main island, which is two miles across.You might also recall the Pitcairn Islands from the captivating account of the whaleship Essex if you've read In the Heart of the Sea, which is about the crew of said whaleship being lost at sea somewhere in the South Pacific and turning to cannibalism in their plight. I still shudder thinking back to that book. The Pitcairn Islands is where they actually stopped briefly and could have been saved, if only they had paddled 100 or so miles to the Southwest (I guess that would have been a lot of paddling!). But unfortunately for them, they left their uninhabited island going the other way, without ever knowing how close they had been to civilization, even if not much of it.

Church. Photo credit: Visit Pitcairn
But there is so much more to know about the Pitcairn Islands. Like, did you know they have their very own internet domain? Holy cow, a whole domain for 67 people. I was already forging plans for a very cool .pn extension when Zax burst my bubble: Selling domain names, together with a bit of tourism, growing some fruit and selling stamps, is a major part of their economy. Sorry, folks, but joburgexpat.pn might have to wait for a while until I can afford to support half of the economy of Pitcairn Islands. In the mean time, please visit their number one tourism site, visitpitcairn.pn, it has less pageviews than my blog. I'm sure they'd be thrilled to get a few clicks. And I can now officially claim that my website has more readers than those of entire countries.

Oh, and this is also interesting: Pitcairn is known for its high quality honey, because it has the world's most disease-free bees, who also distinguish themselves by being particularly friendly, so that the beekeepers there hardly wear any protective gear. And wouldn't you know it, Pitcairn honey is the favorite honey of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles! I have a weakness for good honey and am known to tote honey jars with me on our Germany trips, resulting in very sticky clothes and toiletries on at least one occasion. I now have an urge to try this Pitcairn honey, but I have a feeling it will be even harder to find than chocolate chips here in Johannesburg.

Photo credit: Visit Pitcairn
The Pitcairn Islands were discovered in 1767 by the crew of the British ship HMS Swallow, who named them after Robert Pitcairn, a fifteen-year old crew member who had first spotted land. How cool for a 15-year old to have an entire country named after them, must have been what Zax was thinking when reading this to me. Then they were promptly forgotten, because the captain had charted them inaccurately. They were rediscovered in 1790 by the Bounty mutineers, who were looking for a place to live to escape the long arm of British justice alerted by Captain Bligh, who'd actually made it back to civilization in a mere two years and in nothing more than a long boat, together with 22 of his loyal crew. To avoid detection, they burned and sunk the ship in what is today known as Bounty Bay, where you can still see part of the wreck. Something to put on our scuba diving list!

John Adam's grave. Photo credit:
Visit Pitcairn
So you might think these mutineers and their (perhaps kidnapped) Tahitian wives lived happily ever after in their new paradise on Pitcairn Island, after going to all the trouble of staging a mutiny for that kind of life. But according to Wikipedia it wasn't so happy at all. There was a lot of infighting between the men who stole each other's women, and somebody building a still and manufacturing some kind of mean schnapps didn't make things any easier. So most of the men killed each other, some of the women helped, and in the end there was only one guy left, who managed to bring the whole venture back from the brink and whose name, John Adams, now survives in the name of the capital, Adamstown. Pitcairn Islands became a British Colony in 1838 and was one of the first to extend voting rights to women.

But do you know what? Their gory past must have still very much been in the blood of the descendants, because what did we find scrolling further down in Wikipedia? The "sexual assault trials of 2004." That's when seven Pitcairn men, otherwise also known as 10% of the population, including the mayor, were convicted of sexual assault. This is when the British government had to scramble and set up a prison at Bob's Valley so that these guys could be kept away from the other 57 people on the island. I"m not making this stuff up!

Who says that nonfiction isn't interesting? And that being stuck in traffic is a waste of time?

And no, we have no plans to move, to Pitcairn or otherwise.

3 comments :

cat said...

Totally fascinating

Shaila Sam said...

Love the info . Had heard about the islands but not their interesting history.

Sine said...

Totally useless and yet fascinating stuff, right? I guess it could come up on a geography bee...