02 August 2013

Country Facts I: Oceania

At long last - Country Facts!

This is the first column about country facts here on InfiniteMind! What are Country Facts? Exactly what the name sounds like: country facts! Each column will deal with countries that are related to each other, whether it be by name, or population, or similarities in latitude/area, or even continent.

This is the only one that is ordered by continent, namely the continent (region, if you want to get technical) of Oceania: the Pacific islands! (Australia and New Zealand are not counted, they will be in a different post.)

This column will run every two weeks, on alternating  Fridays. This is so you and me don't get overloaded by trivia columns (remember, Trivialities are supposed to be weekly. I'm not changing that. This column should be done by the end of the year, maybe sooner if I hurry up.)

Here are 12 weird and interesting facts about the sadly often-forgotten, beautiful islands of the South Seas.

But first off, a little bit on Oceania and at least what it is.

Many people think Australia is a continent. You could say that. There's no definite answer. We've been debating it since Captain Cook and the whalers discovered it and there won't be an end. However, the Pacific has quite a lot of islands and of course people live on those islands.

As a result we can't leave those poor islands alone without a continent so many geographers use the region of Oceania instead. My Quantum Pad refers to it as "Australia and the Regions of Oceania". As a result there are 14 nations. One borders Indonesia yet because of plate tectonics and stuff it's considered Oceania. There's Australia, New Zealand, and the other islands I'll list here.

1. Nauru
(unofficial) Capital: Yaren district
Ah, Nauru. If you don't count Vatican City, it's the smallest country by area and population. You can literally jog around the 13-mile island in an hour. It's also the fattest country in the world: 97% of all Nauru men and women are overweight. However, there really isn't a lot of fast food on the island; it's more a matter of them eating too much. How did this come around? In the '60s and '70s, Nauru was the richest country in the world due to phosphate mining, which has since left the island stripped of resources, poor, and exploited.

2. Marshall Islands
Capital: Majuro
The Marshall Islands is home to the Bikini Atoll. (The bikini came out the same week that nuclear testing began on the Atoll, hence its name.) However due to exhaustive nuclear tests in WWII and beyond, today the atoll is uninhabitable. (What's an atoll? A ring shaped coral rim. This is the edge of one, in Hawaii.)

3. Papua New Guinea
Capital: Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea is the country with the most languages spoken, with over 830 languages spoken between 4 million people, which makes the country extremely diverse and multiglottal. As a result English is usually spoken in important matters like law and such, because it's a common language that puts everyone at a disadvantage.

4. (Federated States of) Micronesia
Capital: Palikir
This four-island nation has the US Dollar as currency. This dates back from when the US pretty much controlled half the Pacific region, including some of the nations on here. As a result when Micronesia got its independence they really didn't see a point in changing the money that the people were used to and so to this day they use the US Dollar.

5. Fiji
Capital: Suva
In 1867, a missionary named Thomas Baker was subject to cannibalism along with some of his followers. It's notable because he was the last person to be cannibalized in the country. While he was originally welcomed in the local village where he was preaching, somehow the tribe got angry.

A beach in Fiji. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
6. Samoa
Capital: Apia
Not the cookies - there's an actual country called Samoa! Before called "Western" Samoa, and not to be confused with American Samoa, this tiny island nation decided to "move" west of the International Date Line, to join Asia and Australia. (The IDL used to go right through the island.)

7. Kiribati
Capital: Tarawa
First, make sure you pronounce this 33-island nation correctly! Kiribati is pronounced keer-i-bas (i as in hit). The "ti" sounds like an "s" in the language. And where does this interesting name come from? It's the local pronunciation of Gilberts, because the islands used to be called the Gilbert Islands, named after their British discoverer. Try to see if you can make Gilbert sound like Kiribati. 

8. Palau
Capital: Koror
This tiny nation is barely twice the size of Washington, D.C. and due to its relative closeness to Guam and Japan, is one of the most known and visited islands in the entire Oceanic region.

9. Tuvalu
Capital: Funafuti
This country is made up of nine islands and several atolls, and its highest point is no more than 15 feet above sea level. Due to the country being so flat, it is estimated that it will be one of the first places to go when global warming and rising sea levels reach their full potential.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
10. Vanuatu
Capital: Port-Vila
James Michener visited these islands, among others, in World War II. Vanuatu, in particular, inspired a novel of short stories that he would title South Pacific, becoming a great success in America. It would later become a Tony Award-winning musical in 1951.

11. Tonga
Capital: Nuku'alofa
Tonga is one of the last remaining monarchies left in the world, after its citizens successfully resisted all European attempts to make it a colony, which is really rare. However, in 1900 Tonga did have a treaty with Britain for protection. The present king is King Tupou VI. He has been making several reforms, however, to make Tonga a more democratic and modern state, including ceding most of his power to the Prime Minister.

12. Solomon Islands
Capital: Honiara
Like most of the countries on this list, Solomon Islands saw some pretty heavy fighting in World War II. The most populous island of Guadalcanal, for example, was the site of a very bloody battle. It lasted six months and more than 38,000 people on both sides died.

Now that you've read all these facts, interested in a quiz on the countries? No cheating! :)


Sources: Wikipedia, The Kingdom of Tonga, National Geographic, The World Factbook

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