October 26 – Angam Day in Nauru

Posted on October 26, 2015

Nauru is a tiny nation (third smallest in the world)
located on a 
phosphate rock island in the South Pacific.

According to Wikipedia, the Nauruan word “angam” means a lot of different things: jubilation, celebration, to have triumphed over all hardships, to have reached a set goal, and coming home!

So...what are Nauruans celebrating?

It turns out, recovery from near-extinction!

The nation of Nauru is a pretty small island, and there was a time in history when the population was so low, the Nauruan ethnic group was considered to be in danger of dying out altogether.

It was just after World War I, and the German troops had left the island. Nauru had been placed under the authority of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain, and an Australian administrator held a census (a population count). He was upset to discover that the population was as low as it was. He gathered together the Nauruan chiefs and told them that, if they were to survive as a people, they had to get their population up to at least 1,500.

The administrator even offered rewards: he said that, when the population reached 1,500, a public holiday would be declared, and the baby who helped the island attain that number would be declared the Angam Baby and would receive gifts.

It took thirteen years, but finally, on this date in 1932, the Angam Baby (person #1,500) was born. It was a little girl named Eidegenegen Eidagaruwo.

There was a lot of celebration that the goal had been reached!

But you probably know that there were two World Wars, and when World War II occurred, Nauru was occupied by Japan. Most of the Nauruans were evacuated to another island, and tragically, many of them died of malnutrition or disease. Ironically, the Angam Girl Eidegenegen was one of the people who died.

At the end of the war, after the surviving Nauruans returned to their home, it turned out that the population was again well below the magic number of 1,500. The people realized that they should work again to increase their population. This time it didn't take as many years: on March 31, 1949, Bethel Enproe Adam was born, making the population of Nauru once again 1,500.

Note that, although Bethel was born in March, the people stick with the original October 26 date as the official Angam Day.

I bet you are wondering how many Nauruans there are now, more than half a century later. Well, the population now in 2015 is more than 10 thousand people, and about 58% of them are of Nauru ethnicity (the rest are other Pacific Islander peoples with a few people of European or Chinese ancestry). So that means that there are almost 6 thousand ethnic Nauruans!

Why 1,500?

I tried to read up on population science, which brought me to websites like this one, and it seems that the biggest problems for small populations are:

(1) lack of genetic diversity and the resulting inbreeding, which can lead to people with more susceptibility to disease and sometimes even problems with fertility, and

(2) vulnerability to extinction due to a disaster. A volcanic eruption, tsunami, or plague can more easily kill all the residents of an island, for example, if there are only 360 people than if there are 3,600 people!

I couldn't find any evidence that 1,500 people is the recognized number you need to ensure a people's survival. But I did find an article claiming that 5,000 is a magic number for the “minimum viable population” for a variety of creatures. 

Nauru's current population is quite young,
compared with populations of some other
nations, such as these:

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