Definitely Limericks by Rory Ewins


One of my areas of limerick writing has been a series of country-related limericks about the Pacific. Rather than bury them in other pages, I thought I’d put them on display here.

Carried over the waves by the breeze,
These people explored the South Seas:
Polynesian, Malay,
Malagasy; today,
Austronesians are known as all these.

For a century, Britain controlled
Half the western Pacific; it rolled
Its possessions all under
One roof. Well, no wonder:
We all tend to hoard when we’re old.

From 1877 to 1976, the British Western Pacific Territories was the colonial entity administering Britain’s colonies and territories in the Pacific. The High Commissioner for the Western Pacific was at first the Governor of Fiji, based in Suva, until Fiji was separated from the High Commission in 1952, and thereafter the Governor of the Solomon Islands, based in Honiara. The BWPT was abolished once nearly all the constituent territories had become independent.

Condominiums, territories who
Shared joint sovereigns: I know of a few
South Pacific ones—there
Was Samoa, and where
Else... New Hebrides... oh, and Nauru.

Three South Pacific countries were once condominiums. The Samoan Islands were a tripartite condominium under Germany, the UK and the US from 1889–99; they would later become Samoa and American Samoa. Nauru was also a tripartite condominium, first as a League of Nations mandate territory administered by Australia, New Zealand and the UK from 1923–42 and again as a UN trust territory from 1947 until independence in 1968. Best-known, perhaps, was the New Hebrides Condominium, under French and British rule from 1906 until 1980, when it became the independent Republic of Vanuatu. In the central Pacific, the Canton and Enderbury Islands, two coral atolls a few thousand kilometres south of Hawaii, were administered jointly by the UK and the US from 1939 until 1979, when they were handed to the newly independent Republic of Kiribati.



The coral atoll known as Canton
Has next to no land you can plant on,
And Enderbury, no
Population, and so
Were an odd place for two powers to rant on.

Thanks to the lure of guano, both the UK and the US claimed sovereignty over these two tiny Pacific islands in the mid-19th century. In the late 1930s this came to a head, with a spat between two of their naval ships leading finally to an agreement to establish a condominium, the Canton and Enderbury Islands, in 1939. Forty years later, the two great powers relinquished control of Canton (population in 2010: 24) and Enderbury (population: 0) to the newly independent Republic of Kiribati.

The Lapita first took a good look
At the Caroline islands of Chuuk;
Then the Spanish got hold
Of them; later, they sold
Them; then Germany... wait for the book.

For such a small place, Chuuk has a rich history. It was first settled by Austronesians, believed to be from the Lapita culture; archaeologists have found evidence of human settlements there in the second century BC. The Chuukese culture grew in the 14th century, two hundred years before the Spanish encountered it. After years of occasional trade, Spain claimed Truk, as it was then called, as part of the Caroline Islands in 1885, but by then German and British missions had been established there, and Spain struggled to impose its rule.

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain sold the Carolines to Germany, who held them until World War I, when Japan (then an Allied country) invaded and occupied them. In World War II Japan operated a large base at Truk Lagoon for expanding into the South Pacific, which the US neutralized in a massive offensive in February 1944 known as Operation Hailstone. The US administered Chuuk and the rest of the Carolines as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until 1986, when the eastern Carolines gained independence as the Federated States of Micronesia, with Chuuk as its largest state. (The western Carolines later became the Republic of Palau.) Lately, Chuuk itself has been pushing to leave the FSM; an independence referendum has been repeatedly postponed.

In a moment of anapest seizure,
I’m struck by a thought that’ll please ya:
You can use FSM
To denominate them!
The Federated States of Micronesia!

This cluster of islands creates
Micronesia’s four federal states:
A million square miles
Of micro-sized isles,
Full of Caroline Islander mates.

The FSM, spread across most of the Caroline Islands north of Papua New Guinea and the Solomons, consists of four states: from west to east, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. While its land area is a mere 271 square miles, it covers a lot of ocean. Around half of its 100,000 people live in Chuuk, a quarter in Pohnpei and the rest in Yap and Kosrae.

Magellan first visited Guam
Many years ago. Loving its charm,
Spain took over, but then
Yankees captured it when
They were doing each other some harm.

Magellan set foot on Guam in 1521, and the North Pacific island became an important stopover between New Spain (Mexico) and the Philippines. Spain ruled it as a colony from 1668 until 1899, when it ceded its Pacific territories to the U.S. after losing the Spanish-American War. American rule of Guam as an unincorporated territory was interrupted by two and a half years of Japanese occupation in World War II, bookended by the 1941 and 1944 Battles of Guam. Enduring all of this have been the Chamorro, the Austronesian people who settled there 3,500 years ago.

The islands of Gilbert and Ellice
Were named after two British fellice,
And ruled by the Brits
For a century. It’s
What Pacific historians tellice.

The Gilbert Islands (formerly the Kingsmill or King’s-Mill Islands) were named after a British captain, while the Ellice Islands were named after a British politician. After a century of being governed together as a British protectorate and then colony, in the 1970s a referendum saw the Gilbert and Ellice Islands split into the respective colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu, before becoming the independent constitutional monarchy of Tuvalu in 1978 and the Republic of Kiribati (which is wider than what are still called the Gilbert Islands) in 1979.



The Germans went looking for land
In New Guinea, and soon took in hand
Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, plus
Many islands. Some fuss
Decades on saw the colony canned.

German New Guinea was a colony of the German Empire for thirty years, until the onset of a certain war. It consisted of the northern part of the eastern half of New Guinea (Kaiser-Wilhelmsland), the Bismarck Archipelago to the east, and the North Solomon Islands. Germany also administered most of its other Pacific possessions (apart from German Samoa) as part of it, including the Carolines, Palau, Nauru, the Marshall Islands and the Marianas. After the First World War the colony became the Australian Territory of New Guinea, which after the Second merged with the Australian territory of Papua to the south; the combined territory gained independence as Papua New Guinea in 1975.

The island of Bougainville sits
To the east of New Guinea, but it’s
In the Solomons really.
It’s now very nearly
A country, once PNG quits.

Bougainville, a large, copper-rich South Pacific island closer to the Solomons than to New Guinea, has been inhabited for at least 29,000 years. First sighted by the Dutch and named after himself by a Frenchman, it was colonised by Germany in 1886, transferred to Australia in World War I, and then became part of the Australian Territory of New Guinea. Shortly before Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975, Bougainville declared itself the Republic of the North Solomons, but failed to achieve international recognition, so acquiesced to staying part of PNG. In 1988 civil war broke out in the province, resulting after a decade of fighting in greater autonomy; a non-binding referendum in 2019 saw 98% support secession, and the PNG government has set a target date for independence of 2027.

The Solomon Islands had been
Ruled by Britain for years and had seen
A few struggles, but not
Like the battle they got
When on conquest Japan became keen.

The British Solomon Islands Protectorate was declared over the southern Solomons in 1893 (the north becoming part of the German Empire and eventually Papua New Guinea). In 1942 it saw six months of fierce fighting on land, sea and in the air after Japan occupied the islands and Allied forces led by the U.S. counter-attacked. Its capital of Tulagi on its largest island of Guadalcanal was destroyed in the fighting; a new capital was established in Honiara as the protectorate struggled to rebuild in the years after the war. It was renamed The Solomon Islands in 1975 before becoming the independent country of Solomon Islands in 1978.

To be honest, it’s horribly far, a
Long way, to the fair Honiara.
This Solomons city
Has palm trees (so pretty!)
And once bade Japan sayonara.

Honiara became the capital city of the Solomon Islands after Allied forces drove Japan from the islands in World War II, replacing the badly damaged former capital of Tulagi.



In Fiji, hotel workers cry “Boola!”
When greeting a tourist; no fool, a
Fijian, who knows
That this attitude shows
He is tip-worthy. (“Mbula” is cooler.)

Fiji is a popular tourist destination for Australians, in particular, who are greeted at their hotels with exaggerated hellos in the Fijian language. The Fijian greeting bula (literally “life”) is pronounced MBULL-uh, with the mb sound of combine but at the start of the word; the letter b in written Fijian represents this sound. A Fijian who says BOOO-lah is hamming it up for a tourist audience.

The cannibal isles of Feejee
Were unfortunate places to be
For a missionary, who
Could end up in a stew
If he angered a chief. Better flee!

Feejee is an older spelling of Fiji, whose name, as promulgated by Captain James Cook, derives from Tongans’ name Fisi for their neighbouring islands of Viti. Fiji’s neighbours were the initial source of stories of Fijian cannibalism, which today are doubted by some, but which are corroborated by many eyewitness accounts from early European explorers, traders and missionaries. Victims were likely to be baked or roasted rather than stewed, and to be Fijians from neighbouring warring tribes rather than Europeans.

Archaeological evidence points to the Fiji islands first being settled by Austronesians between 3500 and 1000 BC, with Melanesians following a thousand years later. Culturally and linguistically, Fiji has close connections with Tonga and other nearby Polynesian countries, and indigenous Fijians are of both Polynesian and Melanesian descent.

“A Fijian’s a woman or man
Whose vuvale, when Viti began,
Could be found here for sure—
Not an Indian or
European who’s got a good tan!”

In the Republic of Fiji, Fijian has long meant only an indigenous person from Viti, as Fijians call their country, rather than a descendant of 19th-century indentured labourers from India (who are called Indians, Fiji Indians or Indo-Fijians) or of British colonials (who are called Europeans). Until relatively recently, the collective terms for citizens of Fiji were Fiji Islanders and, for official purposes, Fiji Nationals. In the late 2000s, however, the government proposed expanding the term Fijian to encompass all citizens. The proposal encountered considerable resistance from indigenous groups and politicians, and it will probably take years for such a change to be broadly accepted.

The three-syllable vuvale is Fijian for “family”.

They were promised a fortune, but tossed
A mere pittance; the ultimate cost
Was to land in a place
Where the locals would chase
Their descendants away: Fiji lost.

After the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834, over a million Indians were recruited over eight decades to serve five-year terms as indentured labourers on plantations around Britain’s colonies, a system only marginally better than the slavery it replaced: recruits were often deceived about their destination and the conditions they would face, and were ruthlessly exploited once they arrived. Over sixty thousand went to Fiji, where most worked on sugarcane plantations for the CSR, the Sydney-based Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Their descendants are locally called Indo-Fijians, Fiji Indians or simply Indians, with political subtleties inherent in each label. Fiji Hindi emerged as their lingua franca, a dialect of Awadhi influenced by Bhojpuri, Bihari and Hindustani containing Fijian and English loanwords. In the 1970s and 1980s the Indo-Fijian population approached parity with that of indigenous Fijians, threatening Fijian chiefs’ control of government and leading ultimately to the 1987 Fiji coup. In the wake of the coup, thousands of skilled Indo-Fijians emigrated, to the country’s cost.

In Fiji, the Pacific’s first coup
Was a terrible shock: this was new.
Although no one was dead,
Many Indians fled,
And nobody knew what to do.

On 14 May 1987, Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka staged a military takeover in Fiji, deposing the recently elected multiracial Fiji Labour government of Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra and reinstating Fijian rule. Rabuka’s bloodless coup d’├ętat, the first in the Pacific islands, threw the former British colony into disarray after seventeen relatively peaceful and prosperous years of independence. After a further military crackdown in September 1987, called by some a second coup, Fiji was ejected from the Commonwealth and became the Republic of Fiji. Although there have been periods of multiracial government in the years since, Fiji has also experienced outbreaks of racial violence, constitutional crises, and further coups in 2000 and 2006. One long-term effect has been a significant fall in the Indo-Fijian population (locally called Indians) after many emigrated.

Ba is a town in Fiji—
Not terribly famous, you see—
But though rather forlorn,
It’s where Father was born,
So it’s terribly famous to me.



If you’re in the Pacific, please look
For the island group named after Cook:
Once welcoming whalers
And far-from-home sailors,
They’re paradise now for a crook.

The Cook Islands, which lie in the South Pacific between American Samoa and French Polynesia, were first settled by Polynesians around a thousand years ago; in modern times, the group was a New Zealand territory until becoming self-governing in 1965. Asset protection trusts (designed to shield assets from creditors and legal authorities) now contribute more to the Cooks’ economy than fishing.

Polynesians’ canoes were terrific
At crossing the mighty Pacific.
This bare, remote joint
Was their easternmost point:
Easter Island, to be moai specific.

The moai are the monumental statues of Rapa Nui or Easter Island.

The islands of French Polynesia
Had girls who’d reportedly please ya
When shipwrecked or lost;
Now you’d find, to your cost,
If you asked for this bounty, they’d tease ya.

French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France and its sole overseas country, consists of 121 islands and atolls in five groups: the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and the Austral Islands. Its most famous island is Tahiti, the stuff of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century legend, where visiting European explorers, sailors and artists would take advantage of local women and girls. Contact with Europeans came at a terrible cost to the local Polynesians: Captain James Cook estimated the native population on Tahiti in 1774 to be 204,000, but by the time the French took control and held a census in 1865 they found only 7,169 people of native descent, overwhelmingly because of introduced disease. Today, French Polynesia has a population of around 280,000, with Tahiti representing two-thirds of it; around 78% of the country are ethnic Polynesians. Modern visitors expecting bountiful Tahitian lovin’ are liable to get mutinous looks.

Of the Kingdom, Hawaiʻi, I sing!
Kamehameha I was its king.
It was prosperous, thanks
To the sugar-mad Yanks—
In hindsight, an ominous thing.

The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi spanned almost the entire nineteenth century, from its foundation in 1795 by King Kamehameha the First (kah-MAY-uh-may-uh) until the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s government in 1893. Over the course of the century, sugar came to dominate Hawaiʻi’s economy, and American plantation owners increasingly demanded a say in its politics. In 1875 the US Congress agreed to a treaty guaranteeing reciprocity of tariffs, in exchange for securing land for its navy around Pearl Harbor. Within two decades, the monarchy had been overthrown in a coup d’├ętat led by wealthy sugar planters and businessmen; after a few years as the Republic of Hawaii the islands were annexed by the United States in 1898 as the Territory of Hawaii, which became the fiftieth U.S. state in 1959.

Hawaii—the island, da kine
Is more than volcanoes. Come dine
On our nuts by the kilo
While staying in Hilo!
You’ll love our black beaches—so fine.

Bra, the Big Island, as we all know it,
Grows plentiful produce. I’ll show it:
Macadamias, guavas,
Bananas—our lava’s
Made perfect conditions to grow it.

The largest of Hawaii’s islands is home to three active volcanoes (Hualālai, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea) and two extinct ones (Kohala and Mauna Kea), the lava from which created its black sand beaches. Most of the state’s tropical fruit and all of its commercial macadamia nuts are grown in its rich soils. The Big Island has a small population—even its biggest town of Hilo is only a town—but played a large role in Hawaiian history as the home of Kamehameha the First.

Da kine is a versatile phrase from Hawaiian Pidgin which as an adjective means “good” or “best” and as a noun can mean “that”, “it”, “that thing”, “that kind of thing” or “thingamajig”.

Honolulu trip? Don’t bother tryin’
Pearl Harbor—you’ll only start cryin’—
Or beaches: instead,
Why not hike Diamond Head?
A volcano is highly Hawaiian.

The capital city of the US state of Hawaii has many attractions, brah.

It’s a town with a whole ’nother layer,
A lexicographical playa.
Those Hawaiians love vowels
Much as lyin’ on towels—
Little wonder it’s called Aiea.

That’s ah-ee-AY-ah, a suburb of Honolulu.

Aloha’s a word for “hello”—a
Hawaiian term, wouldn’t you know—a
Pronouncement of greeting
(They use it when meeting),
But also farewell: so, aloha!

“Check out Barbara’s bra, braddah.” “Ahh,
It’s a 36D, is it?” “Ya,
So it’s far from petite.”
“On display in the street,
Though?” “We are in Hawaii, eh bra.”

Bikinis are one thing, but she’d still get some funny looks if she wore her underwear out in the street in Honolulu. The Hawaiian term bra(h), equivalent to bro, gets some use beyond the islands in surfing circles; eh bra(h) (“hey, brother”) maybe less so.

Fo hear dem Hawaiians, their Pidgin
Sounds somewhat like English, a smidgen.
Da kine talk, of course, is
A creole, say sources
Of note fo whom words are religion.

Hawaiʻi Creole English, known to locals as Pidgin, developed in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Hawaii from the islands’ melting pot of languages, mainly English, Hawaiian, Portuguese, Japanese and Cantonese. Although most of its words come from English and superficially it might sound like slang, Hawaiian Pidgin is a true creole: it became many children’s first language and by the 1920s was spoken by most of Hawaii’s population. In 2015 the US Census Bureau added it to the list of official languages in the state.

In Pidgin, fo can mean “for” or “to”, and Pidgin-speakers, like non-rhotic English speakers, don’t pronounce the r in words like hear, while different th sounds become t or d (ting, dem).

In Hawaii, a haole named Curt
Wearing shorts and a tropical shirt
Hit the beach for too long.
Now his skin looks all wrong.
“Brah, use sunblock. That burn’s gonna hurt.”

Because he’s a haole (which rhymes with scowly), it’s really going to hurt. This local term originally from the Hawaiian language is primarily used to refer to people of European ancestry, especially those from or culturally akin to the continental United States. Some consider it a pejorative term, but it is regularly used in a neutral or even positive way.

American Samoa is not
Quite a country; its people have got
Only limited rights.
When they move to new sites
On the mainland: no vote. Which ain’t hot.

The eastern half of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific has been a United States territory since 1899 and known by its current name since 1911. As an unincorporated territory, its people are born U.S. nationals but not citizens, unless they are born to U.S. citizens; most American Samoans who move to other U.S. territories or states therefore have no automatic voting rights there. The territory’s only federal representative is a non-voting delegate to Congress.

Where was German Samoa? This test
Is too easy: you know that the rest
Was American, yes,
Which was east? You can guess
That this colony lay to the west.

The short-lived colony of German Samoa, given to Germany in 1899 after the Second Samoan Civil War, lasted until the outbreak of World War I, when it was occupied and subsequently governed by New Zealand as Western Samoa until its independence in 1962. Western Samoa became independent in 1962; in 1997 it renamed itself the Independent State of Samoa, or simply Samoa, over the protests of the neighbouring territory of American Samoa.


New Zealand

To New Zealanders, Godzone is home:
God’s own country of bountiful loam,
A magnificent sweep
Of volcanoes and sheep.
Heaven knows why a Kiwi would roam.

Over 40% of New Zealand’s 4.9 million people declared themselves non-religious at the 2018 census, making Godzone one of the least religious countries in the developed world. Almost 90% of its population live in urban areas, and over half a million New Zealanders live overseas.

“It’s a horrible slur—it’s immense!”
(In New Zealand, to some it makes sense,
When talking of Auckland,
To call the place “Dorkland”—
This Dorklander’s taken offence.)

In Christchurch, the South Island city,
The churches looked ever so pretty,
Until a big quake
Gave ’em all a good shake
And a bunch tumbled down. Such a pity.

New Zealand’s second-largest city suffered a 7.1-magnitude earthquake on 4 September 2010, destroying many of its historic buildings and badly damaging its infrastructure. Amazingly, because the quake struck at night rather than during business hours, nobody was killed. Sadly, the next one was far worse...

First pictures and trinkets and plaster,
Then masonry, faster and faster,
Shook madly and tumbled,
As everything rumbled
In Christchurch’s second disaster.

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February 2011 did far more damage than the earlier one because of its proximity to the city and the ground’s surface. Because it struck at lunchtime it also claimed many lives, making it one of New Zealand’s deadliest natural disasters.

“Why’s it CHCH for Christchurch, NZ?
Should be CHCHCH,” Christopher said.
“Christ, there’s three cees and aitches
In Christchurch—see, mate?” “Jus’
Ch-choose CH-RST-CH-RCH instead.”

For this verse, you have to pronounce the South Island city’s abbreviation of CHCH as CHUH-chuh, like the locals do (although they might spell it CHIH-chih); hence, also, CHUH-chuh-chuh and chuh-urst-CHUH-urch, like the locals don’t. When I lived there, I lovingly called it Chirst-chruch, in honour of the typos I kept making in emails.

Dunedin, New Zealand: elite
University; Scottish retreat.
From Moeraki, not far: go
More south in Otago
And look for a bloody steep street.

Dunedin, named after Edinburgh, was a Māori area long before it was settled by Scots in the late 19th century. It’s a pretty place full of Victorian buildings and home to the University of Otago, the country’s oldest and considered one of the world’s best. Thanks to its student population, the city has long had a thriving musical scene. It’s also home to Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world.

To its north in the South Island’s Otago region is Moeraki, a small town with a beach dotted with distinctive rounded boulders. To its east lies the Otago Peninsula, nesting site of albatrosses and penguins and home to New Zealand’s only “castle”, Lanarch, built in the 1870s by a homesick... Australian.

In New Zealand, the sun is inclined
To rise first during summer, we find,
In our city of Gisborne
(Yes, city! Like Brisbane).
Don’t stare at it, son—you’ll go blind.

Gisborne used to claim to be the first city on Earth to see the sun rise each day, but Samoa and Tokelau shifting the dateline around themselves in 2011 put paid to that for most of the year, although it’s still true in the summer months. Local government reforms in 1989 and 2002 complicated the definition of city in New Zealand, and by population Gisborne now falls short of city status. Try telling that to the locals, though.

Alexander, this Hamilton’s not
Named for you: it’s New Zealand’s, that’s what.
Fourth most populous city
You’ll find here: a pretty
Nice place. Why not give it a shot?

(Sorry—thrown yours away, I forgot.)

Hamilton, an inland city south of Auckland on the North Island, was awarded the title of most beautiful large city in New Zealand in 2020. It was named after Captain J. F. C. Hamilton, who was killed in battle against the Tauranga Māori in the 19th century (perhaps while yelling “JFC!”). Local Māori have called for the city to be renamed Kirikiriroa, after the Māori village that was there before colonial invaders effed it up.

Hastings happily nestles near Napier
On the North Island. Many a drapier
Set up shop on their streets,
I suppose. (Hey, it beats
Other rhyme schemes. Yep, mind like a rapier.)

The New Zealand region of Hawke’s Bay is home to the “Twin Cities” of Napier, on the coast, and Hastings, about 18km inland. There are further towns close to and between the two, and no doubt the whole lot will one day turn into a megalopolis (by New Zealand standards, anyway) with a new name: Nastings, perhaps, or Happier.

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