British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by John Pitchford
More Condoms Please!
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.

map of Gilbert Islands
Imperial map of Gilbert and Ellice Islands
Colony Profile
Gilbert and Ellice Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 98: October 2009


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