Pitcairn Island

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PITCAIRN TODAY                 





Pitcairn is of volcanic origin; it is approximately two miles long and one mile wide, and reaches an elevation of 340 meters (1,100 feet) at its highest point.  Pitcairn’s area is approximately 1,200 acres (1.75 square miles).  It has a rough, rocky, cliff-dominated shoreline with no safe harbor or anchorage.  The land is hilly, but fertile (nowhere giving easy access to the sea), and the sea is rich in fish.



The main crops consist of arrowroot, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, tomatoes, cabbages, pineapples, melons, citrus and bananas.  Apart from poultry and a few wild goats, there are no farm animals.  Wide varieties of foods, as well as other material needs, are shipped from New Zealand.  



The climate is sub-tropical, generally warm, sunny and moist with a fairly steady breeze.  The mean monthly temperatures vary from 19ºC (66ºF) in August to 25ºC (77ºF) in February; the absolute range is 10ºC (50ºF) to 34ºC (93ºF).  The average annual rainfall is about 2.5 meters (81 inches) – July and August being the driest and November the wettest.  Relative humidity is about 80%.

The Pitcairn Island group – consisting of Pitcairn Henderson, Oeno and Ducie – are governed as a British colony through an administrative headquarters in New Zealand.  



Pitcairn is a British Overseas Territory and the British Government administers the Island through the appointed Governor of Pitcairn who also serves as the British High Commissioner to New Zealand.

Locally, the Island Council, consisting of a Mayor, a deputy Mayor and five elected members, tends to local governance matters. Each of the seven Council members hold portfolios, which includes Legal, Policies, Human Rights, International Affairs, Operations, Natural Resources, Community Development and Finance & Economics.  Four of the portfolio holders, i.e. Operations, Natural Resources, Community Development, and Finance & Economics line manage four Division Managers who manages the on-island operations aspects of the Government such as island maintenance, shipping arrivals, communications medical services, postal services, etc.  

The Pitcairn Island Office in Auckland, New Zealand administers the Islands financial needs and tends to matters that cannot be dealt with on the Island.  


The primary government source of revenue are three-fold: from the sale of colorful postage stamps – locally and abroad – to both collectors and tourists alike; from registrations under Pitcairn's top level domain name .pn; and from aid money provided by Her Majesties Government.  Pitcairn’s police officer acts as the customs and immigration agent; other local officials include Island Secretary, Postmaster, Education Officer, Communications Officer, and Quarantine and Conservation officer. Government departments include the engineering, works and electrical depts.  


More information about the Government can be found on its website www.pitcairn.pn




Island government workers, among the native population, are modestly salaried (most hold positions of varied importance and expertise); a small pension is paid for those over 65 years.  Personal income is generally derived from commemorative postage stamps, woodcarvings and basket weavings sold to passengers and crew of passing ships, some of which stop for a few hours of trading, and from mail order customers overseas.  


Land Ownership:

Land formally was held under a system of family ownership, based on original division by Fletcher Christian and his companions, and modified after their return from Norfolk Island in 1864.  Up until recently each family had several plots of land for their home and gardens under a more traditional land use/ownership system. Recently a land reform process was implemented where land registration gives the government more control for better title record keeping.



The population rises and falls from time to time, usually maintaining a steady 40 -50 islanders plus a few off-Island professionals including the school teacher, a police officer seconded from New Zealand, a doctor, and occasional visitors from outside.  The majority of Pitcairn descendants live in Norfolk Island and New Zealand with a few scattered around the world. Many remain in contact with their ancestral homeland.  



The only church is Seventh-day Adventist, of which many islanders are members; the minister is assigned from overseas on a rotational basis.  



Pitcairn’s school system is based on the New Zealand curriculum, with one teacher assigned on a one or two-year contract.  Education is compulsory between the ages of 5 and 16 years. A local preschool teacher is employed for preschool children. Also a local culture teacher is employed who teaches the children local culture including the Pitkern language. Secondary school children often travel to New Zealand for higher school education.



Until recently there was no resident doctor, the pastor’s wife/husband was in the past required to be a Registered nurse – more recently a doctor is posted by government contract.  

The resident doctor administers the health clinic along with his/her staff assistant from the community.  An additional community member serves as the dental officer who is capable of routine dental care and is available for general x-ray needs.  The clinic is well supplied with emergency and daily medication needs.  Should an emergency occur where the clinic cannot give sufficient care, a call will be put out for any passing ship to stop and take the patient to the nearest emergency facility – sometimes many days away (after a diverted ship arrives – which could be several days away as well).  Such emergencies are rare, but very possible.  [Visitors should be well aware of this situation.]  Most pregnancies are sent to New Zealand in their later stages as a precaution.  There have been very few deaths due to medical need – acute appendicitis has been one cause.  




There is no taxation on Pitcairn, instead all able-bodied men and women undertake civil obligations when needed, generally consisting of manning the longboats to retrieve any arriving cargo and passengers from the supply ship.



Public electricity is generated by diesel power plants and are available between 8am and 1pm and again from 5pm to 10pm every day (10 hours) and supplemented by private generators as needed by individuals.  Most homes have 12 volt lighting for when the main electricity is off. 115 volt electricity may be available in most homes.



Three and four wheeled ATV’s, mostly quad bikes are the main forms of transportation. There are two cars. Heavy equipment includes four tractors, one CAT loader, one CAT excavator, a bulldozer and a small excavator. There is also a 10 tonne mobile crane which is mostly used to unload cargo from longboats at the dock side.



Local ‘telephone’ communication was mostly via house–to-house VHF radio.  Outside communication was mostly via international marine satellite (voice and FAX) plus HAM radio.  

Recently a modern communications system was installed which includes 24-hour Internet and telephone service (both local and International) to all homes and most Government offices and facilities. There is one ISDN facility for video conferencing.



Currently there are three satellite TV channels, CNN, Turners Classic Movies and the Hope Channel broadcasted on the Island with more channels planned in the future. DVD’s also provide the islanders with additional entertainment to TV.  There are three FM radio stations broadcasting mainly music for most of the day.



Currently there are two monthly newsletters:

The Miscellany - is published by the school (edited by the teacher), and posted to subscribers around the world. Subscription details can be found on their website www.miscellany.pn

Dem Tul is published by co-editors Kari Young and Julie Christian.  Copies are found on this website by clicking here.





Gardens are found in numerous places around the island.  Sites are selected for soil type and exposure to best suit the crop being planted.  Everyone tends to his, or her, individual garden needs – a hired tractor or dozer may do initial clearing and tilling.  Garden maintenance is by hand hoeing and tilling. There are also numerous orchards which include oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, pawpaw, and avocado. Bananas grow tend to grow wild mostly in valleys.



Pitcairners love their fish and go fishing often.  One favorite is the small nanwi, caught along the rocky shoreline – usually eaten deep fried with a squeeze of lemon.  Other popular fish types are red snapper, tuna, wahoo, jack, grouper, whitefish, parrot, wrasse, trigger, sergeant major, butter and many others.  



Traditional foods include pilhi (a starch based staple made from bananas, potatoes, pumpkin, breadfruit or arrowroot), bananas, rice, fresh fruit (passion-fruit, papayas, oranges, lemons, limes, melons, mangos, pineapples), arrowroot, taro yams, corn, plus most of the foods we all are accustomed to.  Coconut is added as flavoring to many dishes.  Everyone makes fresh homemade bread, rolls, breadsticks, pastries, etc.  Food needs are met by gardening and personal special orders via the supply ship.  



The small Store provides many basic items (food, dry goods, hardware, lumber); it is open three mornings a week. The Store also coordinates the special orders.   


Handicrafts and souvenirs

Everyone makes handicrafts.  Some people specialize in certain types of items (woodworking, basket weavings, jewelry, printed t-shirts and hats) depending on their particular skill or interest.  Woodcrafts include sharks, fish, birds, turtles, Bounty and longboat models, bowls, vases and many more.  Weavings include covered and uncovered baskets in many shapes, sizes and colors – some with ‘Pitcairn Island’ woven in [if ordered, your name could be included, too].  T-shirts and hats are printed or sewn with many artistic designs conceived by the island vendor.  Colorful postage stamps (both mint and cancelled) are offered for sale by everyone.  Often you will find someone sanding on a wood carving while ‘relaxing’ at home, or wherever he or she may be. 


Supply Ship

Currently, a chartered supply ship arrive approximately four times a year bringing fuel, food, mail and needed supplies. During each visit the supply ship make two sailings between Mangareva, in the Gambier Islands and Pitcairn to uplift and drop off passengers and tourists.

Supply ship day is a big one.  The delivery of needed goods and supplies is much anticipated.  The contracted ship will stop to offload food, building materials, supplies, fuel, etc.  There may be several 6-foot containers to lower into the waiting longboats below.  The work is often dangerous as the sea is not often kind.  The crews work many hours, loading the boats, making sometimes long runs back to the landing in Bounty Bay (often in rough seas) to unload and do it all again.  Hoisting cargo nets of bulky supplies or containers down into a bobbing longboat from a rolling ship requires a skill and ability unique to Pitcairners – injuries are few, but the potential is very real. 



In addition to the supply ship the variety of ships that used to stop to trade are now few and far between.  But an occasional passing freighters will stop for a couple of hours and a longboat load of islanders will go out with goods to trade for cash or commodities, such as food and drinks from the cook, cash for their handicrafts or possibly a much needed bearing or metal part from the engineer.  Scheduled stops by cruise ships are looked forward to for a pleasant day of trading socializing with the sometimes hundreds of passengers.  Occasionally, small adventure cruise ships, usually with fewer than 200 passengers, stop by bringing people ashore to enjoy a day of trading and exploring on Pitcairn.  During the non-cyclone season, quite a number of ‘yachties’ will stop by for a day or so on their way from the Americas to tour the Pacific islands.  Every visitor is well treated, fed and housed on Pitcairn and depart saying it was the best stop of their voyage.  


Civic Obligation and Volunteer work

Civic Obligation on Pitcairn is a means of serving the community.  There are no income or sales taxes on Pitcairn; instead, service is rendered for the good of the community by asking all able-bodied persons to show up - when called – to perform civil obligation.  This can consist of - most importantly - to man the longboats for going out to an arriving ship; possibly to perform needed road maintenance; cleaning, repairing of public facilities or dealing with other matters concerning the community as a whole.  Even when not required, islanders will show up in force to help a fellow member of the community to build his house or cement a well, for instance. 


Places To See:

Pitcairn has a number of interesting places to see.  Well known are Bounty Bay, the final resting place of The Bounty, and the Square.  The Edge provides a great view of Bounty Bay; Garnet’s Ridge offers a spectacular view of both Tedside and Adamstown; Tedside is a great secluded place to just visit and, perhaps, find Ms T, the resident Galapagos turtle; the Highest Point is a popular spot to visit; Ship Landing Point overlooks the edge and Bounty Bay; Saint Paul’s, another secluded place, has a beautiful tide pool, and looks great when the surf is up or down; Down Rope – a special isolated spot – has a sandy beach and a cliff wall containing ancient Polynesian petroglypths.  There are many other vistas and places to see, both in Adamstown and around the island, to peak your interest … one of the most popular is Christian’s Cave, just outside Adamstown. 



Pitcairners are hard workers, but they do find time to relax and have fun even though their island doesn’t have modern innovations such as theme parks or luxury resorts.  There are three satellite TV channels. Everyone has video players to show DVD movies on TV screens. Videos are often shared around town with whoever asks to borrow one.   People frequently visit each other in the evening to share a dinner or a movie; whenever someone has a birthday; the entire town is invited to come to the party – which includes a potluck dinner.   Occasionally there would be a day’s outing where the whole community would be invited to a picnic or a game of cricket or tennis.

Auto Valley is a place for outings on Pitcairn.  The large, open field contains a tennis court, volleyball court and picnic facilities where everyone will go to enjoy a pleasant summer day.  Sometimes, a fishing trip can become a family outing with a meal cooked over an open fire.  Occasionally, the islanders will take ‘a trip around the island’ in the longboat – stopping at various places to fish (both off the rocks and trolling); kids and adults alike will enjoy swimming and diving from rocks in a small cove and an enjoyable excursion into Gudgeon is usually included.  Gudgeon is a cave at water line – there is a sandy beach inside; the small entrance opens into a large, wide room carved out by wave action.   

Oeno Island is another place for an outing.  About once a year, in mid-summer, a large group of Islanders will pack up everything they need for a two-week holiday on Oeno.  Two longboats are fitted out with protective coverings and canvases for the 10-hour overnight trip to Oeno.  Most people will sleep along the way waking up to the beautiful coral atoll about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north-west of Pitcairn.  Campsites are promptly established; meals are prepared on a ‘take turn’ basis, then everyone sets out to explore, fish, swim or relax.     



Share-out is an event that takes place whenever islanders receive something (usually from a passing ship) intended for everyone.  For instance, if a ship donates a supply of food goods, fuel – anything – the commodity will be divided into equal shares for each family and distributed in a fair manner.  After an occasional fishing trip one of the longboats (where many of the islanders participate), the total catch is divided into equal portions and shared out to each person who participated.  



Life on Pitcairn is never dull – there is always something to do.  The isolation is extreme; Pitcairn is one of the most isolated communities in the world – hard to get to and far from everything.  It takes a special kind of person to live on this remote island with limited access to what the outside world has to offer, but most people here are satisfied and do not miss what is out there.  They have all been away, and they always come back to their homeland.  Visitors who come here usually soon understand why, and seek to come back themselves. It is a special place!

More information about how to visit Pitcairn can be found on the tourism website www.visitpitcairn.com.