Crescent Island
Crescent is about 9 kilometers outside the western boundary of the French Polynesia 200 mile economic zone, located in international waters between the Kiribati and Pitcairn Island Economic Zones. It is made up of 2 small islets connected by a small strip of sand at low tide. The total land area is about 200 acres. Population of 40 persons and economy depends on Pearl farming and the sale of crafts comprises the entire economy. 796 Euros per annum is the per capita income. English and Crescentese are the languages used.
The history of Crescent Island, told by the Islanders, passed down to each generation by the elders, tells much but leaves much to question. Prior to the 1760s, it is known the inhabitants of Crescent Island were residing on Mangareva, in the Gambier Islands, now part of French Polynesia. With the exception of two men, all the males were former crew members from a British merchant ship that stopped at Mangareva. These crew members decided to reside on the island, abandoning their jobs on the ship. The women were all from Mangareva. As you might imagine, the new inhabitants of Mangareva brought turmoil to the local population. The men brought bad habits to the island. The men 'had their way' with many of the young women and typically refused to help the islanders in the daily work, choosing to consume alcohol instead. The Chief held little power of persuasion over the sailors. For the quality of life to be maintained in such a small and fragile population, the authority of the rulers could not be challenged. A rigid social structure set up with the wisdom of the rulers insured a population explosion would not put an end to life on Mangareva. A structure for work was essential to insure the resources of the island would be managed properly to lead to a life of abundance. While Mangareva had thousands of people, it's resources had to be managed well and size of the population carefully controlled. As the rulers lost patience, action was to be taken to preserve the way of life. The men, their women and those few who 'fell away' from the social structure were rounded up. These few were to be purged from Mangareva. Forced on a raft, they were sent to sea. Their future was bleak. Most people forced to sea were to become food for the fishes. It was purely a death sentence. The odds of landing on a piece of land and beginning life anew was remote. The dozen or so sent to sea were the ones to beat the odds. After several days at sea, the group, near death for sure, found their raft being torn by a reef with a small sand bank in the distance. Making an attempt at land, the group managed to swim to shore and set up housekeeping on what is now known as an islet of Temoe Atoll. Feeling fortunate at beating certain death, the group was pleased with their plight although Temoe offered little. The Crescent Islanders found only breadfruit trees growing on their island. With no boat, the best the inhabitants could do is navigate the sharp coral to pluck small fish from holes on the reef. With no wood for fire to cook food, fish was consumed raw. The islanders realized they must make do without clothing or housing as the only vegetation on the island was needed to sustain life. Mangareva's social structure was nothing compared to the food rationing and hardships endured on Crescent Island. With no leader the group bickered and fought for some time until one islander became known for wise decisions. Although never formally 'elected' as leader, a young man from Mangareva earned the respect of all. His suggestions were followed and life became easier. Life was threatened no less than 5 times over the first 70 years. The biggest threat were the ships from South America. They had a reputation for storming an island, taking all the men, women and children prisoner. They would be taken to South America to be sold as slaves. There were tales of islands found abandoned with no trace of what happened to the people. As such ships approached Crescent three different times, the defenseless population hid amid the brush in the interior of the island, hoping not to be taken. Two times during the first 70 years the island was awash. Once this was due to a cyclone passing over the island. The second time was from high seas from a nearby cyclone. In both instances, life and property was lost.
It was in the 1830s that a ship carrying Pastor Nobbs from Pitcairn Island, discovered the island. Pastor Nobbs had been forced from Pitcairn an was in exile. He was on his way to Mangareva. Pastor Nobbs told the rulers of Mangareva of the plight of the Crescent Islanders. The Chief asked that the Crescent Islanders be rescued and brought to Mangareva where a 'welcome home' feast would be held. Pastor Nobbs noted in his journal that Crescent Island was a mere sand bank some 50 miles from Mangareva, inhabited by some 40 wretched and meager souls survived by hand plucking small fish from the reefs and consuming the fruit of the only plant growing on the island, the breadfruit. He noted the islanders were taken to Mangareva where a feast was held. He noted one died from over consumption and several others would have suffered the same fate if he had not forced them to be purged of the problem. It was about this time two French Catholic Missionaries arrived on Mangareva. They were thought to be Gods because a lady known to be capable of seeing in to the future had spoken of a dream where Gods appearing as white skinned men would come to the island. The rulers threatened the visitors with death but they appeared unafraid and quoted from the Bible all the while. This was the proof the rulers needed that indeed these were the Gods the now deceased woman had seen in her dreams. With the acceptance and respect of the islanders, the missionaries set out on a plan to create a showplace in the Pacific. The idea was that such a paradise could be imaged as the greatest among the Pacific isles due to a strong Christian faith. The need for workers was great. Ships were sent to every nearby island to collect the population and bring them to Mangareva to work. The missionaries believed a six day, sixteen hour a day workweek would be needed to complete the restoration of the island and serve as a way to keep the islanders set on principals of Christianity. Idle time was considered evil. Sundays was for a day of Church. The work was enforced by cruel punishment. One six year old boy had been jailed for laughing during a Church service.  With all the construction and congested population came more visiting ships. Now the islanders were not used to such a long and hard day of work and they had no resistance to common illnesses in other parts of the work. People became ill. People died. The soul of the Mangarevan people had been stomped out. All was lost. The old life of relative ease, compared to their current life was gone and was not to return. The Crescent Islanders were among the group.
Pastor Nobbs noted in his journal that the Crescent Islanders 'pined' for their home but states he never heard of their fate. Nobbs was in exile for 6 years before returning to Pitcairn. The oral history of Crescent says that the islanders longed for their home and began planning for an escape from Mangareva. Supplies were stockpiled in hiding places. Late night meetings were carried out. When the time was right, most of the 23 remaining Crescent Islanders set out when the weather and the tide were right for their home. With 16 men and women, the dangerous journey began, but the journey would not remain without peril. Only a day in to the journey, clouds rolled in and a strong wind followed. Three days of stiff winds and squally weather threatened the crew. For sure they were off course for Crescent Island. But once skies cleared, optimism prevailed and after seven days at sea, the group spotted a set of islands in the distance. Late in the day, they made it to one of the two small dots of land. The group set forth planting coconuts and planting gardens. The choices for food greatly increased over the coming years and the hardships of the earliest days were quickly forgotten. The group was sure this was the original Crescent Island. The vegetation was identical. The group was overjoyed. The original islanders lived out their days believing that somehow they had returned to Crescent Island. It was not until the 1880s that the truth was known.  A passing ship called on the island. Their story was told. Then the Captain explained they were over 200 miles from Mangareva. The new Crescent Island was not an islet of Temoe, but a little known reef with two small sandbanks covering just 200 some acres. By this time, overpopulation was taking it's toll. Crescent Islanders had survived about 50 years with no so called leader to guide the use of resources and control population. The Islanders were still Christian, but mixed their lifestyle with the old. Like other Polynesian cultures, especially Marquesasean, children, from an early age, simulated sexual acts and a young woman was encouraged to have many partners. The older men were expected to 'teach' the young women. Young men were frequently with each young girl on the island. As a result, the population of the island went from it's beginning population of 16 to 73, it's peak. By the 1880s, food was rationed. No person could consume more than a certain amount each day. This was required to preserve resources and insure there would be enough to eat in the future. By this time, the older men from each family had chosen to meet each day to determine the jobs to be performed and dictate when sexual relations could occur, all dependent on the resources. This was the first island-wide form of government on Crescent.
Over the years, Crescent was discovered by a few passing ships. Most carried merchandise from exotic ports. Islanders began to work an active trade with some of the passing vessels. Seeing two ships a year was typical by the 1950s. It should be noted, the Crescent Islanders never learned of World War I or World War II until the 1950s. In the 1960s Crescent was less isolated. On average, 5 vessels called on Crescent each year. One or two were ships but the others were private vessels with a small crew exploring the Pacific. Friendships were made. By the 1970s, Crescent had become a well kept secret among the Pacific bound yachts. Even so, only the most adventurous would set out for the tiny isolated island, but those that did, became friends of the islanders, typically making it possible for Crescent Islanders to get items and supplies they needed to make life easier.
It was the late 1960s when Crescent issued it's own currency. On being told of money, the islanders decided to give it a go. Notes were exchanged for rice and flour. The currency was backed up with pearls harvested in the lagoon. In recent years, Crescent has become less isolated. Textbooks for schooling, basic food supplies and even a solar powered radio station have taken a place on the island. Western clothes are worn. Houses were built and roofed with tin. The isolated spit of land is far removed from its humble start. Today Crescent has an arrangement with a shipping company to purchase supplies for a once-per-six-month visit. An average of about 3 cruising yachts stop off at Crescent, staying at the guest houses built by the islanders. The Pearl Farm is the economy and source of quality of life for the islanders. Crescent Island is by no means easy to reach and it is still very isolated. There are little comforts of modern life. Crescent remains one of the most unspoilt islands in the Pacific where island traditions, society and customs are a part of daily life.
Today Crescent Island is populated by 40 people sharing a Polynesian-Anglo-Caucasian mix. The language of Crescent is English mixed with some words of Mangarevan and Tahitian origin. Some words are purely of Crescent origin with Polynesian roots. It is thought the men, primarily Anglo-Saxon, prevailed in the English language taking root. Fewer than 530 Polynesian-oriented words are tossed in to English conversations among locals. These words are typically absent from conversations with those from the outside, so the English equivalent is known and used in more formal settings. A few words of local origin have no purely English relative. Crescent Island money has traveled off the island with various visitors in the past. It was in the 1960s the elders decided to issue banknotes for collectors, but few were made. An ambitious project of hiring a company to create the first coins for Crescent Island has been worked out. The Islanders are eager to work out channels of sales and distribution to take the coins throughout the world. It is hoped the sale of the coins will greatly stimulate the economy of Crescent . At present, the only sources of revenue for Crescent are the sale of pearls, crafts and some curios created by the Islanders. Crescent Islanders realize the need for money.
In 2006 they issued a series of three unusual acrylic coins, both to use on the islands and to raise money by selling them to collectors. "Ile Crescent" set consists of: 500 Poa Blue Acrylic (mintage of 511 pieces), 1000 Poa Green Acrylic (mintage of 503 pieces) and 5000 Poa Yellow Acrylic (mintage of 434 pieces). Poa, means “pearl". All three coins have a similar design featuring the sun rising over the island, with the date and denomination at the bottom. Design on coins is of an Island and two plam trees leaning to the right. Each coin is 39 mm in diameter and 5 mm in depth as shown above. Usually these coins come with certificates and a descriptive brochure.
Their designer, Mr. William Turner (based in Cypress, TX). All 3 denominations (500, 1000, and 5000 Poa), dated 2006, are made of fluorescent, see-through, laser-engraved, colored acrylic (blue, green, and yellow, respectively) and were produced by a company called Texas Laser Products. These distinctive, uniface pieces seem to really glow in the dark! There also exists trial 5 initial samples: 2 blue, 2 yellow 500 poa and 1 pink. The manufacturer sent Mr. Turner “to show what he could do with his equipment”.
Mr. Bill Turner’s fascination with Crescent Island began at an early age, when “I read the book Pitcairn Island by David Silverstone in 6th grade”. Years of ongoing research (combined with a deep interest in numismatics) led him to produce his own series of rubber-stamped banknotes for the island (made mostly of marbled, hand-made paper) “sometime during the summer of 2004.” Fortunately, this Crescentese currency has now been expanded to include coins. Their design “is from my newsletter logo for Tropical Frontiers, a travel newsletter I published from 1984 to 1988.” Geographically, Crescent Island “is about 9 kilometers outside the western boundary of the French Polynesia 200 mile economic zone, located in international waters between the Kiribati and Pitcairn Island Economic Zones.” It “is made up of 2 small islets connected by a small strip of sand at low tide. The total land area is about 200 acres” and population consists of roughly 40 islanders. According to Mr. Turner, who has written a lengthy history of the island comprised of fact mixed with fantasy, the original inhabitants of Crescent Island, prior to the 1760s, resided “on Mangareva, in the Gambier Islands, now part of French Polynesia.” Some of its men and women “fell away” from the rulers’ rigid social structure and “were rounded up. These few were to be purged from Mangareva. Forced on a raft, they were sent to sea.” After several days afloat, “the group, near death for sure, found their raft being torn by a reef with a small sand bank in the distance. Making an attempt at land, the group managed to swim to shore and set up housekeeping on what is now known as an islet of Temoe Atoll.” This site, 50 miles from Mangareva and containing nothing but breadfruit trees, became Crescent Island.
Chiefa Coins