Private Island Polynesia: Swains Island 📍
A tiny US island in the middle of the South Pacific (📍Bonkers Borders Series)
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Private Island Polynesia:
It’s not Sprain. Its Swains Island. Sorry had a brain fart, But glad I did because that’s a good story too…
Swains Island is a 1 sq mile atoll in the South Pacific. It’s closest neighbors are the 3 islands of Tokelau, part of New Zealand, and the Somoas (American Somoa and the country of Somoa).
Here’s the story: Local Tokelauans had been visiting the island for a long time. By the mid 1800s, Americans and French were also stopping by regularly. No one knows who “Swain” is exactly, but an American named Eli Jennings and his Somoan wife claimed to have bought the entire island from a British guy who said he discovered it (funny enough, the purchase supposedly included a bottle of gin, which would be the second time this week that liquor has been used to claim an island).
The Jennings family ruled it privately for the next 70 years. They ran a coconut plantation and about 100 people lived there. It’s got to be said that the story’s not rosy – locals were pushed out by foreigners, and Jennings had a hand in the slave trade.
In the 1920’s, the US officially annexed it as part of American Somoa, but gave the Jenning’s (sss) the right to keep running it. and Tokelau became part of New Zealand.
Despite the shady origin story, by the 1980s it was generally accepted that the place was American. Except for the people of Tokelau who added a fourth star to their flag in 1997 widely thought to represent Swains Island.
Today, the island has no permanent population but the US still considers it “owned” by the Jennings family. New Zealand acknowledged it was American in the 80s, but Tokelauns drafted a constitution that included it as theirs (and at same time voted to stay part of NZ).
The island has a seat in the American Somoa government. The current representative is Su’a Alexander Jennings.
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