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The Seiber Islands
Wotanberg's Islands in the Sun

A Short History
(Excerpts from A Concise History of the Seiber Islands
by Professor Klaus Werner Immerschreiben)

From Chapters 1-3.

Although the Seiber Islands (Tarafu) consists of dozens of islands, only a handful were able to support permanent communities--Tarafu, Taratupa, Sava, and Mohito. The island of Tarako ("The Dragon"), with long history of volcanic eruptions, was considered to be a sacred placed that could not be visited except at certain times in conjunction with religious ceremonies. (See map of the Islands.)

Long before they were "discovered" by Europeans, the islands were settled by both Melanesians and Polynesians. The language reflects the significantly greater influence of Polynesian culture. [Editor's Note Pending publication of Prof. Immerschreiben's Tarafuan Dictionary, the reader might find this on-line dictionary of the related Rotuman Language of interest.]

Although the inhabitants of the four main islands engaged in trade with each other (and occasionally warred with one another), it was not until the mid-1700's that the islands were unified under the leadership of Kokonaki, the Mua (or "high chief") of Tarafu. After defeating the Mua of each of the other islands, Kokonaki declared himself to be Sau (or "King") of all the islands, which were thereafter to be referred to as Pureaga Tarafu (or "Kingdom of Tarafu").

Surprisingly (at least to a European), Sau Kokonaki followed the custom of other South Pacific islanders and made the position of Sau one which was to be assumed for terms of twenty months by each of the islands's Mau in rotation. He also established a Kautauna'iga (or "council") composed of the high chiefs and chiefs of all the islands (or their representatives) who would meet regularly on the island of Tarafu. The Kautauna'iga could vote a Sau out of office. [Editors Note: Although this scheme was not to survive the arrival of Europeans in large numbers, it did provide the model for the government of the now independent Seiber Islands.]

Unification of the islands did not radically change the day-to-day lives of most of the inhabitants, however, two of the decrees issued by Sau Kokonaki had a profound effect. First, he declared that every inhabitant of the Pureaga was to be treated as a Tarafuan, and this soon became the term used by everyone in the island chain to refer to themselves. [Editor's Note: the word "Tarafu" is now used not only as an alternative name for the Seiber Islands but also to describe indiginous inhabitants of the islands and their descendents, and their religion, culture, etc.] Second, he prohibited the high chiefs and chiefs from waging war amoungst themselves.

From Chapter 4.

Parts of Tarafu were sighted by various Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries--including Spanish, Dutch, and English sailors--who attached various names to their new "discoveries". It was not until 1820, however, that Tarafu was identified as an distinct island group by (and named in honor of) Wilhelm Seiber, a Russian (from Estonia) sailing with famed Russian navigator Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (who was also from Estonia).

In early 1849, the French ship La Belle Aurore made an emergency landing on Mohito while sailing from New Caledonia to Tahiti. During the two weeks spent repairing the vessel, the priest on board attempted to convert the islanders to Christianity. Unfortunately, what interested the somewhat unbalanced high chieftan of the island, Mua Solo (who was named after the island's "Mountain"), even more than the priest's stories about Jesus were the stories the Captain of La Belle Aurore--an unrepentent Bonapartist--told him about his own hero, Napoleon.

Mua Solo was so impressed with what he heard about Napoleon that when the French ship departed he changed his own title from "Mua" to "Napoleon", believing that it meant "emperor". Like his new namesake, "Napoleon" Solo undertook a campaign to conquer the rest of the islands. His efforts enjoyed early success against the other islands, which had become quite pacific (no pun intended) after Sau Kokonaka outlawed warfare. Opposition to the increasingly meglomaniacal "Napoleon" Solo became widespread, even among his fellow Mohitoans, when he announce plans his plans to move his seat of government to the sacred island of Tarako.

From Chapters 5 & 6.

In March of 1849, the British ship HMS Basset sailed into the Seiber Islands on a mapping expedition. HMS Basset was, like its more famous sister ship, HMS Beagle, a 10-gun brig and survey ship.

Under the command of Capt. Jonas Grumby (who had commanded HMS Minnow during an earlier voyage to the eastern Pacific), HMS Basset's mission was not only one of mapping islands in this out-of-the-way part of the South Pacific, but also studying their flora and fauna. To carry out these scientific studies, two scientists were aboard HMS Basset, as well one of their students, a Wolfgang von Weselstein (who would later become Grand Duke of Wotanberg).

The first of the Seiber Islands sighted by the crew of HMS Basset were the four small islands of Sava, Laha, Kama, and Fafa. Owing to the rather gloomy weather that day, the ship's padre (or chaplain)--a rather gloomy man himself--described the islands as looking like the Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse). The name would stick. No landfall was even attempted on these islands at that time owing to the weather and the treacherous reefs.

Sailing further south and finding better weather, a much larger island (Tarafu) was sighted. After sailing along the western side of the island, HMS Basset dropped anchor in a large bay on the southern end.

After confirming that he had "discovered" a previously uncharted island, the Captain named the bay "Basset Bay" in honor of his ship, and the island itself "St Hubert" in honor of the ship's patron saint. However, this name was almost immediately changed by a nearly tragic event.

As the first boat from HMS Basset neared the shore it nearly foundered in the suddenly heavy surf. Captain Grumby (or "Skipper" as he was affectionately referred to by the crew)--who had assumed a Washingtonesque pose at the front of the boat--was thrown into the water and might have drowned had it not been for the heroic efforts of an Irish seaman known only as Gilligan. Upon reaching shore, the shaken and grateful Skipper announced that the newly discovered island would be named in Gilligan's honor. Being a humble man (and deservedly so), Seaman Gilligan declined this honor, asking only for a three-hour tour of the next "real" port HMS Basset reached.

(When HMS Basset made a stop at San Francisco later that year, Gilligan got his three-hour tour. Unfortunately, he never returned to the HMS Basset--and was presumed to be a victim of "Gold Fever". Capt. Grumby would himself later emigrate to the United States upon his retirement in 1856.) [Editor's Note: Ironically, the relationship and adventures of two of these men's descendants would be fictionally portrayed in the American TV series "Gilligan's Island".])

From Chapters 7-9.

After ensuring that the native population on the island posed no threat (indeed, they were both friendly and quite grateful to be freed from the increasingly despotic rule of "Napoleon" Solo), the scientific team was left on St Hubert, while HMS Basset set out to map all of the Seiber Archipelago. During this six month period, while the scientific team explored St Hubert, Wolfgang von Weselstein--whose real interest was foreign languages--became quite fluent in the Pureagan language and developed a dictionary which--with some additions--is still used to this day. [Click here for an excerpt of this Tarafuan-English dictionary.]

More importantly, however, during this six months he came to know and love both the island of St Hubert and its people. Although, he became increasingly convinced that the future of his own people in Wotanberg was linked to that of the people of St Hubert, he also learned from the people of the island to be patient. This patience was to be rewarded when--over 30 years later--Grand Duke Wolfgang of Wotanberg would acquire the Seiber Islands as his Grand Duchy's colony.

Excerpts from Chapters 10-12 are under construction.

From Chapter 13.

In 1881--long after "Napoleon" Solo was crushed beneath a huge statue of himself that he was attempting to raise on Tarako, after 16 years of conflict between the British and Germans over who should control the islands, and only 2 years after a vocanic eruption forced the evacuation of all those who had settled on Tarako when the Germans opened it up for agricultural development and destroyed most of what they had built on the formerly tapu island--Grand Duke Wolfgang convinced both Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm I that the Seiber Archipelago ought to be ceded to his Grand Duchy as a colony. (Frankly, this had not taken a great deal of effort on the Grand Duke's part since neither monarch had found the islands to be very profitable, and were troubled by reports that an increasing number of Tarafuans had seen the recent volcanic eruption as having profound religious implications.)

Rejecting the advice of his Chancellor, Grand Duke Wolfgang (as well as his wife, various government officials, and a platoon each from Sir Trevor's Foreign Company of Foot and the Grand Ducal Dragoons) made the still quite arduous trip to the Seiber Archipelago in 1882. Although 30 years of British and German influence and rule had forever changed the islands, Grand Duke Wolfang found that many of those Tarafuans he had come to know and respect in 1849 remained his friends.

Grand Duke Wolfgang (and his wife) stayed in the Seiber Islands for over six months to ensure a smooth transition to its new status as a Grand-Ducal Colony. After consulting with his old friends, others in the islands, and his own advisors, the Grand Duke realized that he could not, and should not, try to "unscramble eggs" in an attempt to restore the Islands to what it was when he first visited it. However, he did declare that the Grand Duchy's ultimate goal was to establish an independent constitutional monarchy for the islands based on the principles established by Sau Kokonaki. To this end he ordered that although, for the forseeable future, a Wotanberger would serve as "Guardian" (or "Hua'a") of the Islands, the traditional chiefs of each community would be immediately restored to positions of responsibility within the new colonial administration. Those Europeans who had settled in the Islands would be permitted to stay, but would eventually have to choose between being integrated into the new political order or remaining as resident aliens.

Of obvious concern to the Europeans, regardless of the choice they might make in this regard, was whether their existing property "rights" would be respected. The Grand Duke decreed that they should be respected with two important exceptions:

Some property was taken from Europeans (with compensation, of course) where necessary to permit and foster the existence of traditional Tarafuan communities.

All property rights on the island of Tarako were terminated to ensure that at least one island in the Islands would be preserved in its natural state. The selection of Tarako was, of course, perhaps compelled by the fact, that it would in any event be unsuitable for resettlement for some time owing to the effects of the volcanic eruption. It was also reasonable in light of the island's great historical and cultural significance, and the fears of many Tarafuans about losing not only their land, but their identity to a tide of Europeans. [Editor's note: The island and 10 kilometers of ocean surrounding it are now a national park with limited access for both scientific research and special cultural and religious activities.]

Just as his predecessor Grand Duke Gottfried I had done in Wotanberg itself in 1696, Grand Duke Wolfgang also decreed that religious freedom of all persons (including those who still adhered to the traditional Tarafuan religion) would be respected by the colonial adminsitration. (Upon his return to Wotanberg, Grand Duke Wolfgang was criticised by fellow members of the Church of Wotanberg for having failed to agressively support the growth of his own church in the archipelago. Although a devout member of the Church of Wotanberg--who even used his own personal funds to establish a parish on St Hubert to serve fellow members of the Church who would be coming to the archipelago as part of his colonial adminstration--the Grand Duke believed that the cause of Christ would not be served by the interdenominational competion and conflict which had occurred on other Pacific islands.)

One of the most important tasks facing Grand Duke Wolfgang was to ensure that the future leaders of the islands would be able to deal responsibly with the independence that he wished to grant them eventually. To this end, when he returned to Wotanberg, the Grand Duke brought with him a number of the sons and daughters of the traditional chiefs to be educated in Europe, as well as other young islanders. Recognizing that no nation can survive unless it can protect itself, the Grand Duke brought back recruits for Sir Trevor's Foreign Company of Foot, with the understanding that they would ultimately return to the archipelago and form the core of the islands' own defense forces.

Excerpts from Chapters 14-17 are under construction.

From Chapter 18.

[Editor's Note: The information in this excerpt (and later ones) in bold face was not made available to the public until after the Seiber Islands declassified it in 1998. Professor Immerschreiben was instrumental in convincing the government that the veil of secrecy maintained by the government of the Grand Duchy of Wotanberg for over 100 years was no longer necessary.]

In 1892, the colonial government commenced a series of expeditions to completely survey the Seiber Islands. These expeditions were led by Hans Koenig (a native Wotanberger) and David Solomon (an English colonist who chose to stay in the islands after the Grand Duchy's takeover). The Koenig-Solomon expeditions were completed in 1895 and detailed maps were produced in time for the 25th anniversary of the by the Grand Duchy's takeover of the islands.

The maps made public in 1896, did not, however, reflect the most important discovery made by Koenig and Solomon. Since they had first explored, then colonized the Seiber Islands, Europeans searched in vain for some wealth in the islands besides their beauty and agricultural products. Both the British and Germans had been quite unsucessful in this regard, but, in 1895, Koenig and Solomon discovered gold at a hitherto unexplored part of the dense jungle three miles inland from the northern coast of Basset Bay. The Koenig-Solomon party also discovered evidence at the site indicating that in ancient times the gold deposit had been "worked", a fact which verified the underlying truth of tales--often told in both the Seiber Islands and the Marivellas--of an island with a "Gold Monkey".)

The colonial government quickly dropped a tight lid of secrecy on the find and moved quickly to ensure the security of the site. A 20-square mile area surrounding the site was designated as a "military training area" with 7 Dragoon Platoon of the Grand Ducal Dragoons and a platoon from the Seiber Rifles aggressively patrolling its boundaries to prevent any incursions. (Eventually, a special company-sized unit--the so-called "Training Detachment"--was established to provide security for the area.)

The government also took steps to begin the orderly exploitation of the site for the benefit of the Seiber Islanders (and, of course, the Grand Duchy). For this task, the Siebenzwergegoldbergbaugeselleshaft (loosely translated as the "Seven Dwarves Gold Mining Company and usually referred to simply as "7Z") was called upon to both construct and operate the mining facilities, which had been secretly named in honor of Koenig and Solomon. [Editor's Note: 7Z continued to operate the Koenig-Solomon Mines under contract with the government of the Seiber Islands until 1982 when mining operations became uneconomical.]

In addition, the Grossherzogliche Eisenbahngeselleshaft ("Grand-Ducal Railway Company") was called upon to construct and operate a narrow-guage railway from the Koenig-Solomon Mines to the village of Magkekoro where there were limited, but adequate port facilities.

Excerpts from Chapters 19-45 are under construction.

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