Nauru, officially the Republic of Nauru, and formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country and microstate in Oceania, in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbor is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 km (190 mi) to the east. It further lies northwest of Tuvalu, 1,300 km (810 mi) northeast of the Solomon Islands, east-northeast of Papua New Guinea, southeast of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the Marshall Islands. With only a 21 km2 (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the third-smallest country in the world behind Vatican City and Monaco, making it the smallest republic. Additionally, its population of 10,670 is the world’s second smallest, after Vatican City.
Settled by people from Micronesia and Polynesia c. 1000 BC, Nauru was annexed and claimed as a colony by the German Empire in the late 19th century. After World War I, Nauru became a League of Nations mandate administered by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. During World War II, Nauru was occupied by Japanese troops, and was bypassed by the Allied advance across the Pacific. After the war ended, the country entered into United Nations trusteeship. Nauru gained its independence in 1968, and became a member of the Pacific Community (SPC) in 1969.
Nauru is a phosphate-rock island with rich deposits near the surface, which allowed easy strip mining operations. Its remaining phosphate resources are not economically viable for extraction. Since the phosphate reserves were exhausted in 1990s, and the island’s environment had been seriously harmed by mining, the trust that had been established to manage the island’s wealth diminished in value. To earn income, Nauru briefly became a tax haven and illegal money laundering center. From 2001 to 2008, and again from 2012, it accepted aid from the Australian Government in exchange for hosting the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, a controversial offshore Australian immigration detention facility. The sovereign state is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States.
Nauru was first inhabited by Micronesians and Polynesians at least 3,000 years ago. There were traditionally 12 clans or tribes on Nauru, which are represented in the twelve-pointed star on the country’s flag. Traditionally, Nauruans traced their descent matrilineally. Inhabitants practised aquaculture: they caught juvenile ibija fish, acclimatized them to freshwater, and raised them in the Buada Lagoon, providing a reliable food source. The other locally grown components of their diet included coconuts and pandanus fruit.
In 1798, the British sea captain John Fearn, on his trading ship Hunter, became the first Westerner to report sighting Nauru, calling it “Pleasant Island”, because of its attractive appearance. From at least 1826, Nauruans had regular contact with Europeans on whaling and trading ships who called for provisions and fresh drinking water. The last whaler to call during the age of sail visited in 1904.
Around this time, deserters from European ships began to live on the island. The islanders traded food for alcoholic palm wine and firearms. The firearms were used during the 10-year Nauruan Civil War that began in 1878.