Rabi Island (pronounced Rambi) is not the smallest inhabited island in the Pacific Ocean, but it could probably boast that it is the smallest inhabited Pacific island with the most extensive information on the internet. This F.D.C. was issued on 10 May 1937 with the Die I 1d green Q.E. and 2d red Die I KGVI stamps, was postmarked TOOWOOMBA/ 9-A10 MY 37/ QUEENSLAND, and was addressed to B. Cobham Esq., Rabi Island, via Fiji. The addressee has not been identified, and the reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
Rabi is a volcanic island in northern Fiji and it lies to the east of the second largest island in Fiji, Vanua Levu, at the tip of the map’s arrow. The island is near the 17 degrees latitude and sits on the 180 degree longitude (the International Dateline). The island is covered with is covered with natural vegetation and has an abundance of coconut trees. It has an area of 66.3 square kilometers, has a maximum altitude of 463 meters and has a shoreline of 46.2 kilometers, with a population of around 5,000. The small Rabi Island's name is obscured at the point of the red arrow (Figure 2).
Rabi is the home to a displaced Kiribati community mostly from Banaba Island (Ocean Island). The indigenous Fijian community that formerly lived on Rabi was moved to Taveuni to make way for the Banabans. Rabi has four main settlements, populated by the descendants of four villages that were destroyed by the invading Japanese forces in the Second World War. Tabwewa Village is the main centre of Rabi, located in the far north of the island; it has administrative buildings, a wharf, post office, court house, hospital, an oval and a guest house. Another centre 14 kilometers to the south, Tabiang, has the only school and an airstrip. Rabi Island is self-governed by its own elected Council of Leaders and Elders and is a privately owned community within Fiji itself.
Rabi Island was the first place on Fiji where Indian indentured labourers were employed. When the first Indians were brought to Fiji aboard the Leonidas in 1879, most European planters refused to employ them because of the extra cost involved. One planter who was sympathetic to Government policies was Captain J. Hill of Rabi Island, and he agreed to take 106 of the indentured labourers as field workers. Prior to the Banaban resettlement on Rabi, the island was owned and used as acopra plantation by the Lever’s Pacific Plantations Pty. Ltd. At the beginning of WWII, the British Government purchased the island with phosphate royalties from Banaba..
At the end of WWII, Kiribati’s (and Fiji’s) British Colonial rulers decided to resettle most of Banaba’s population on Rabi Island, because of the ongoing devastation of Banaba caused by phosphate mining. Some have since returned to Banaba Island, but the majority have remained on Rabi or elsewhere in Fiji, and have become part of the multi-racial mosaic that makes up modern Fiji. Gilbertese is the main language of daily communication on Rabi Island. The Islanders have held fast to many Banaban customs. Development on Rabi is limited and only two manual telephone lines are in operation, and only a few generators electrify the island.