The Pitcairn Islands are a group of five islands, of which only Pitcairn Island is inhabited, in the southern Pacific Ocean, the only remaining British colony in the Pacific. The islands are best known for being the home of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitians who accompanied them, an event retold in numerous books and films. This history is still apparent in the surnames of many of the islanders. With only 47 inhabitants (from 9 families), Pitcairn is also famed for being the least populated country in the world (although it is not a sovereign nation).
History and current events
Main article: History of the Pitcairn Islands
The original settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were Polynesians who appear to have lived on Pitcairn and Henderson for several centuries. However, although archaeologists believe that Polynesians were living on Pitcairn as late as the 15th century, the islands were uninhabited when Pitcairn was discovered by Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros . It was rediscovered by the British in 1767, and named after the crew member who first spotted the island.
In 1790, the mutineers of HMS Bounty and their Tahitian companions settled on the island and set fire to the Bounty. The wreck is still visible underwater in Bounty Bay. Although the settlers were able to survive by farming and fishing, the initial period of settlement was marked by tensions among the settlers that occasionally erupted into murder. Under the leadership of Ned Young and John Adams, these tensions were calmed. After the discovery of the settlement by the British in 1814, the island became a British colony in 1838. By the mid 1850s the Pitcairn community was outgrowing the island and they appealed to Queen Victoria for help. Victoria offered them Norfolk Island and on 3 May, 1856, the entire community of 193 people set sail for Norfolk Island on board the Morayshire, arriving on 8 June after a miserable 5 week trip. However, after 18 months, 17 returned to Pitcairn and 5 years later another 27 returned.
Since a population peak of 233 in 1937, the island is suffering from emigration, primarily to New Zealand, leaving a current population of approximately 47.
There are allegations of a long history and tradition of sexual abuse of girls as young as 10 and 11, which culminated in 2004 in the charging of seven men living on Pitcairn, and another six now living abroad, with sex-related offences including rape. On October 25 2004, six men were convicted including Steve Christian, the island's mayor. See Pitcairn rape trial of 2004
Main article: Politics of the Pitcairn Islands
The Governor of the Pitcairn Islands is the British High Commissioner to New Zealand, currently Richard Fell, who is therefore not resident on the island. The island's daily affairs were traditionally taken care of by the Magistrate, the chairman of the Island Council. Elections for this position took place every three years. Following a constitutional revision in 1998, the previous executive functions of the magistrate were transferred to the Mayor of Pitcairn from 1999 onwards. Until 30 October 2004, the Mayor was Steve Christian; after his rape conviction on October 24 2004, Christian was dismissed after refusing to resign. His sister, Brenda Christian, was appointed interim Mayor on November 7, pending elections scheduled for December 15 2004, which were won by Jay Warren.
Main article: Geography of the Pitcairn Islands
The Pitcairn Islands form the southeasternmost extension of the geological archipelago of the Tuamotus of French Polynesia, and consist of five islands: Pitcairn Island, Sandy Island, Oeno Island, Henderson Island, and Ducie Island. Pitcairn is a volcanic island, and Ducie and Oeno are coral atolls. Sandy Island is a mere sandbar, part of the same atoll as Oeno. Henderson Island is an uplifted coral island.
The only permanently inhabited island, Pitcairn, has an area of 5 kmē and a population density of 10/kmē; it is only accessible by boat through Bounty Bay. Pitcairn is located at .
Henderson island, covering about 67% of the territory's total land area, and supporting a rich fauna in its nearly inaccessible interior, is capable of supporting a small human population, but is not at all hospitable to communications with the outside world, its outer shores being comprised of uniformly steep limestone cliffs of razor sharp coral.
The other islands are at a distance of more than 100 km and are not habitable.
Main article: Economy of the Pitcairn Islands
The fertile soil of the Pitcairn valleys produces a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including citrus, sugarcane, watermelons, bananas, yams, and beans. The inhabitants of this tiny economy exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handicrafts, with barter an important part of the economy. The major sources of revenue are the sale of postage stamps to collectors, honey, and the sale of handicrafts to passing ships, most of which are plying the United Kingdom to New Zealand route via the Panama Canal. Trade is restricted by the jagged geography of the island, which lacks a harbour or airstrip, forcing all trade to be made by longboat to anchored ships. According to some recent media reports, prostitution to ship crews became increasingly common as the postage stamp trade diminished .
The island has a labour force of 12 able-bodied men and an unknown number of able bodied women (as of 1997).
Main article: Demographics of the Pitcairn Islands
Most of the resident Pitcairn Islanders are descendants of the Bounty mutineers, as their surnames show. All Pitcairners are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Pitcairnese is a creole language derived from 18th Century English with elements of the Tahitian language. It is spoken as a first language by the population and is taught alongside standard English at their only school. It is closely related to the creole language spoken on Norfolk Island, because this island was repopulated in the mid 19th Century by Pitcairn islanders.
In September 2003, the first baby was born on the islands in 17 years.
Pitcairn culture, like its language, is a mix of English and Tahitian cultures. A successful Adventist mission in the 1890s was important in shaping Pitcairn society . In recent years, the church has declined, with only about 8 islanders worshipping regularly, but most islanders still attend church on special occasions. The Sabbath is still observed as a day of rest and as a mark of respect for observant Adventists.
The once-strict moral codes, which prohibited dancing, public shows of affection, and consumption of alcohol, have been relaxed in recent years. Islanders may now obtain a six-month license to purchase alcohol; the licence fee is NZ$10.00 for residents and NZ$25.00 for tourists.
- Telephones: There are only satellite phones on the island now. Party lines are no longer connected. Islanders call between homes and ships via VHF radio.
- Radio: There is 1 AM broadcast stations. Walkie-talkie radios are frequently used to maintain contact among people in different areas of the island.
- Television: There are no televisions on Pitcairn.
- Internet: There is one Government-sponsored satellite internet connection, split to many houses on the island. Pitcairn's country code (top level domain) is .pn.
The settlers of the Pitcairns all arrived by some form of boat or ship; the most famous was the HMS Bounty, on which the mutiny occurred and which was burned in Bounty Bay.
Pitcairn Island does not have an airport or seaport; the islanders rely on longboats to ferry people and goods between ship and shore through Bounty Bay. To get to Pitcairn it is necessary to fly to Tahiti, then Mangareva, then embark on a further 30-hour boat ride. There is one boat every several months.
There are no paved roads and no railways. There is 6.4 km of unpaved road. On land, walking has historically been the way of getting around; all-terrain vehicles have become common in more recent years.