Capital Capitals: Oceania

Map of Oceania

Map of Oceania

I’ll continue my trek across the globe learning about countries and their capitals, a journey that can hopefully make a dent (no matter how small) in the geographically-challenged American stereotype. While researching capital cities, I’ve noticed that what defines a country is somewhat ambiguous. Wikipedia, for example, uses criteria for inclusion that requires countries to have a permanent population, a defined territory, government, and a capacity to enter relations with the other states. (Sorry, random man declaring yourself a nation; Wikipedia disagrees with your sovereignty status.)

So, depending on where you look, you might find figures higher than 200 and lower than 190 for the number of independent countries on Earth. In order to be consistent, I will henceforth use countries declared by the Countries of the World website (197 countries, as it turns out, and Stanley, Falkland Islands from last week’s post would be extraneous). This week, I’ll continue in the southern hemisphere to the continent that is apparently comprised of Pacific leftovers plus Australia: Oceania.

Australia – Canberra – Not Sydney. Not Melbourne. The colonies of Australia united in 1901 to form a single nation. At the time, Sydney was the oldest established city, and Melbourne was the largest city. Canberra was chosen as a compromise since both cities thought their city and colony had the best methods of governance and trade and couldn’t agree on which city should become the capital. The rivalry between the two cities still runs strong today with competition over city population and how sports should be played. All the while, Canberra, which is referred to as the “bush capital” for its dispersed natural vegetation, sits as the nation’s capital.

Fiji – Suva – The Australian Polynesia Company sailed up to Fiji in search of new economic ventures. The natives of the island had garnered massive debts with American immigrants. Like credit card addicts, the indigenous people of Fiji couldn’t stop their runaway spending and eventually owed more than they could imagine paying. The Australian Polynesia Company saw an opportunity and paid the debts in exchange for a large portion of land, which eventually became Suva. The Australians later convinced the Fijian government to re-locate the capital to Suva in an attempt to increase their prosperity. Suva made international headlines in 2000 when thirty-six government officials were kidnapped and held hostage for nearly two months in a failed coup attempt.

Kiribati – South Tarawa – I hadn’t heard of Kiribati before researching this, but I had heard of one of its islands. Kiritimati, better known as Christmas Island, is the largest coral atoll in the world, which means it has the largest ring-shaped coral rim encircling a lagoon. Kiribati consists of large collections of other islands dispersed throughout the Pacific Ocean. The islands are separated by as much as 2,664 miles, which is greater than the distance from San Francisco to Philadelphia! The Battle of Tarawa, the first American offensive in the central Pacific, was fought on the capital city’s island.

Marshall Islands – Majuro – The Marshall Islands is spread out over 1156 individual islets and islands with the region Majuro designated as the country’s capital. Majuro is mostly economically viable in the service sector, but recent work has been done on attempting to take advantage of the copious coconut trees in the region. As early as World War II, coconut oil has been used as an alternative to diesel fuel, and Majuro entrepreneurs have been experimenting with this idea.

Micronesia – Palikir – Palikir is the capital of Micronesia, also referred to as the Federated States of Micronesia to avoid confusion with the thousands of islands comprising the region Micronesia, which includes the Marshall Islands and Kiribati among others. The capital city is one of the smallest in Oceania, with a population of less than 7000 as of 2000.

Nauru – Yaren – Nauru, once called Pleasant Island, is the second smallest nation by population. (Vatican City, where the pope resides, is the smallest). It was once under German rule, but after World War I, many of Germany’s possessions were liberated, Nauru included. Interestingly, Yaren is not the official capital, since Nauru does not have one. Yaren is the largest settlement though, and parliament resides in Yaren, so it is considered the de facto capital.

New ZealandWellington – The city of Wellington is considered the world’s southernmost capital city of a free nation. The Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, have three names for Wellington: Te Whang-nui-a-Tara (the great harbor of Tara), Pōneke (Port Nick), and Te Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Māui (The Head of the Fish of Māui). Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, was once the capital but Wellington was deemed a better location for ruling the entirety of New Zealand.

Palau – Ngerulmud – Koror was the capital of this island country adjacent to Indonesia and the Philippines until 2006, when government officials packed up their bags and moved to the newly built capital buildings in Ngerulmud. The young capital city was supposed to have been built by 1996 according to the constitution, but slow construction delayed these plans.

Papua New Guinea – Port Moresby – The nation occupying half of the large island just north of Australia, New Guinea, is considered the most culturally diverse nations in the world, with over 800 different languages spoken in the nation of 7 million. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s largest city and capital, became a strategic point in World War II when the Japanese occupied the city in an attempt to cut off allied support from Australia. Unfortunately for the capital’s citizens though, Port Moresby is one of the least livable cities in the world (139 out of 140 cities analyzed), according the The Economist, which ranked cities based on 30 factors in stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education, and infrastructure.

Samoa – Apia – Apia is officially the only city in Samoa, which makes it a perfect candidate to be the nation’s capital. A harbor in Apia was reportedly host to a game of chicken in the late 1800s. Seven ships from the US, Britain, and Germany were in danger due to an approaching typhoon, but the captains of the ships apparently thought their country’s reputation was at stake; they didn’t want to look like sissies in front of the other countries. No one balked, and all but one ship sunk (British, if you care) and tragically, 200+ lives were lost over the nonsense.

Solomon Islands – Honiara – Just to the east of Papua New Guinea lays the Solomon Islands. At first glance, the capital city appears to be no better than its neighbor’s capital. Honiara has been plagued with violence and political unrest since the late 1990s, resulting in a coup attempt in 2000 followed by more violence and riots. The Australian government intervened, but more violent outbreaks occurred in 2006.

Tonga – Nuku’alofa – James Cook, who was the first European to reach eastern Australia and Hawaii, called Tonga the Friendly Islands due to the natives’ hospitality. The Tonga people invited Cook to their annual worship festivities, which Cook was delighted to join. Apparently unbeknownst to Cook, the chiefs had been planning on murdering him but couldn’t formulate a good plan. Nuku’alofa is said to derive from the Tongan words for abode and love

Tuvalu – Funafuti – About halfway between Hawaii and Australia is the island nation Tuvalu. The capital city Funafuti is another atoll; just a thin area of land surrounding a lagoon. Its widest point barely exceeds the length of a football field and its narrowest point is shorter than most people can throw a ball. To give another perspective on the size of Funafuti, the land area covers an area of 0.9 square miles while the lagoon it surrounds is 106.2 square miles.

Vanuatu – Port Vila – Vanuatu, which translates to “our land”, is another South Pacific island nation and the last nation for Oceana. Port Vila was the site of a recent archaeological dig that found 25 tombs and three dozen skeletons along with pottery as old as the 13th century BC. The capital city is more known for tourism, attracting travelers with its beautiful horseshoe harbor and island markets.

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