The Island

Browsing bookforum this morning, I come upon an article about the remotest place on earth: Tristan da Cunha, an archipelago smack dab in the middle of the South Atlantic:

Tristan Da Cunha is home to a population of 270 very isolated people, with an economy based in the fishing industry. The climate is sub-tropical, with very little variation in temperature from season to season, and it would probably be a pleasant place to stay... if there were more arable land: the only sort-of level bit of land is located at the northwestern edge of the island, and the rest is mountainous and rocky.

The Wikipedia page contains more neat tidbits:

  • One of the islands is imaginatively named Inaccessible Island. “Attempts to colonize [it] have failed.”
  • “Livestock numbers are strictly controlled to conserve pasture and to prevent better off families accumulating wealth. No outsiders are allowed to buy land or settle on Tristan.”
  • “[T]he population of 271 people share just seven surnames: Glass, Green, Hagan, Lavarello (a typical Ligurian surname), Repetto (another typical Ligurian surname), Rogers and Swain. There are 80 families on the island.”
  • "There are instances of health problems because of endogamy, including asthma and glaucoma, largely because of the inevitable marriages among closely related couples, for example marriages between second degree cousins, that comes with having such a small gene pool.”
  • “The islands' main source of foreign income is the lobster factory and the sale of stamps and coins to overseas collectors”
  • “There is no airport, so the islands can only be reached by boat. Fishing boats from South Africa regularly service the islands.”
  • “Television did not arrive on the island until 2001, and the sole channel available is the British Forces Broadcasting Service from the Falkland Islands.”
  • "Tristan da Cunha's isolation has led to an unusual, patois-like dialect of English.”

I am absolutely fascinated by such small and discrete societies like this one. I dub them “Cheers” societies, because everybody knows your name. Though I do not think I would like to have grown up in a place like Tristan Da Cunha, part of me is envious of having so specific and rare an identity. Even comparatively large places like Rhode Island or Lichtenstein are imagined by my romantic mind as large communities sharing the same neighborhood pool.

Something strikes me as odd about this secretive and exclusive island, however. A cover for the Dharma Initiative, perhaps?