Indian Ocean

Far from the coast of any continent and geographically located at 12 10' S 96 50' E is the tiny archipelago known as the Cocos Islands, made up of two large coral reefs. The smaller of the two is a separate island. The larger, located more to the south, is made up of 27 islets grouped around a characteristic central lagoon. Sometimes they are joined at low tide, making it possible to walk from one to another and revealing their characteristic natural formation. In fact, Darwin based his theories on the origins of coral reefs on observations made on this island.

The strategic position of this archipelago, situated in the midst of the Indian Ocean, has been of fundamental importance in the development of the Soul of the World. The diagonal formed by its antipode, the Islas del Maz, is the axis of the primary rotation that made it possible to find the remaining six Vertices of the Cube.

It has a landscape that is typical of tropical atolls: transparent waters, coral reef fauna, vast skies and white beaches. Coconut groves dominate its vegetation. Its climate is seasonless and hot, but softly tempered by breezes and currents from the southeast. It is sometimes shaken by a tropical cyclone or an earthquake. Significantly, it is located very close to the Indoaustralian tectonic plate, where it meets the hyperactive Java Trench.

The human story of the Cocos Islands begins in 1609, when a Captain Keeling discovered the small northern island. Two centuries later, the Scotch navigator John Clunies-Ross arrived at the islands, bringing with him a group of Malaysian families. After building a settlement, he began to commercially develop and improve the coconut trees growing there. He was the first "King of Coconuts," a name inherited by his descendents down to our times. In 1885, the naturalist H.O.Forbes admiringly noted the "affectionate relationship existing between the House, residence of the Clunies-Ross, and Malaysian population of the Cocos." Another famous visitor, Joshua Slocum, describes life on the islands as "Paradise on Earth." And in 1886, Queen Victoria of England granted the Clunies-Ross family complete possession in perpetuity of the islands "above the high-tide line."

Its position as a key enclave between Australia and Africa first brought it a cable station, and then, in 1944, an airport. It also brought the din of war. During the First World War, the German destroyer Enden was sunk off the coasts of the islands. In the Second World War, the Japanese repeatedly bombed the station. John Clunies-Ross IV was killed in one of these bombings. Around this time, a British Navy report said: "The work of the successive Clunies-Rosses may be considered a genuine monument to good government."

In 1955, after a referendum of the inhabitants, sovereignty of the island was transferred to Australia. New political institutions, such as the Cocos Islands Council, have emerged for self-government by its population, who are still known as "a happy, peaceful and stable people." The current population is made up of two communities. The Australian population - some 120 people - live on West Island and are involved with the airport and other government services. The other community, made up basically of Malaysian Cocos Islanders --some 600 people -- lives, with the Clunies-Ross family, on Home Island. The predominant language is Malay, and their religion is Islam. The trade in copra is still enough to provide the basis of the island's economy. This is possibly the reason that tourism has not made much of an inroad into this unique part of the world, despite its airport and its image of island paradise.




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©2002, Rafael Trénor