Whilst the lUD was the core of the family planning programme in the Gilbert and
Ellice Islands, we experimented with the other methods of which, curiously, the
most popular seemed to be the condom. The condom, especially after a skinful of sour
toddy, becomes a somewhat cumbersome appliance tending to detract from the real
thing. So why was tiny Tamana Island demanding them by the thousands?
Records showed that just about every woman of child-bearing age, married or not, on
the island had eagerly accepted the Intra Uterine Device. 'Leave no loop-hole unplugged'
was the motto of the redoubtable commando unit of OSAS doctor and nurses which
toured the islands with incredible success. Everyone knew of Tamana's reputation as the
rather more libertine of these otherwise pretty straight-laced islands. What else was there
to do on a lump of coral it took me just under the hour to run round if I really pushed it.
It is the world's smallest, remotest, most densely populated reef atoll. It is a precarious
place where euthanasia by voluntary starvation of the oldies and infanticide of the newborn
was sometimes necessary. But so much happens there, as I was to find out a few
years later as their District Officer, wrecked and somewhat damaged in the perennially
fearsome surf and coping with sectarian violence, murder of the wireless operator and
the apparent loss of most of the cash on the island - another story.
On my next family planning trip round the islands, I called at Tamana to congratulate
it on becoming, sort of, inverted top of the lowest fertility ratings in the territory thanks
to the loop and maybe belt and braces condoms. This, of course, all done in the
'Pacific Way' with dancing, singing, prayers, feasting and interminable oratory from the
gerontocracy and me. During my speech I tentatively broached the subject of the mindboggling
numbers of condoms requested. This provoked a somewhat ribald, jokey
repartee which gave full rein to the island's many stand-up comics as well as deadly
serious stories of desperate times when babes were thrown over the reef. Thank God for
family planning was the theme of many prayers.
All very well, but I still could not relate condom consumption even to the much
vaunted miraculous virility of the island's elders - and all this decades before Viagra.
There were over ten fertile women to one lucky man in the relevant age group, most of
the rest were overseas crewing on German ships. So what was going on?
I got the low-down from the island Executive Officer who produced two condoms and
a torch, and deftly fitted the one over the other: "The perfect seal!"
Thus, the subsistence resource of tbe island was immeasurably enhanced. Before the
arrival of the condoms, it could take a full day swimming in the ocean with home-made
spear, goggles and, if they could be afforded, flippers, too often in a vain attempt to bring
back the evening meal in this lagoon-less reef atoll.
Fishing by condom-secured torchlight opened up an underwater supermarket of
piscatorial delights, undreamed of since creation. The men could now continue fishing
into the night, doubtless returning too clapped to do more than drink their toddy, eat their
catch then sleep the sleep of the just.
Thus, the good old condom possibly served its purpose in a rather different way and
I had no qualms about ordering more of the things financed by the 101 charities
dedicated to saving our planet from over-population. The London Rubber Co. etc must
have rejoiced as much as the island's underwater fishermen.