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Potty Training in the Pacific - Gilbert and Ellice Islands

Identify the training needed - training for training’s sake was really a waste

By John Martin

My own education in becoming a training specialist included the Hotel & Catering Industry Training Board’s Training Skills Certificates, including Level 3 ‘Organising Training’ and an eight-month post-graduate course to achieve the Institute of Training and Development’s Diploma in Training Management.

In terms of the ‘Training Cycle,’ we were lectured on the need to firstly identify what training was required, under what circumstances, and for whom. We were asked to give examples of how a training need is identified. I took great pleasure in relating my first Identification of a Training Need (ITN).

I had been recruited by the Overseas Development Agency to become a Marine Training Officer at the Tarawa Marine Training School on one of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands in the Pacific. This was to be my first attempt in a training appointment. It was to be a dual role. Not only as a trainer, but also as the Catering Officer of the residential school – and, as it transpired, their training ship.

Around 120 boys from the islands were recruited each year to undertake training to become seamen to work in overseas ships. There were three intakes each year. After the first four months, those that had managed to remain on the course were selected to specialise in one of three departments. Deck, Engine or Catering. Approximately 50% to deck, the other half split between engine and catering. After eight months, those still on the course, spent their final period of training on the training ship, undertaking duties that they had learned in the school.

As Boibotu, my local alternate had been on the ship for over six months while there had been no catering training in the school after Popu had left to take over the hotel on Funafuti, the capital of the Ellice Islands, I was told that my first ‘stint’ would be on the T.S. ‘Teraaka’, an inter-island passenger vessel for the 29 inhabited islands of this British colony. It was said that Tito used to use it as his yacht when visiting Yugoslavian ports on the Aegean coast. She had been heavily modified for her current role.

During our first voyage south to the Ellice and Southern Gilbert Islands, I thought I ought to check on the trainee’s toilets. No-one else seemed to be doing it. Pulling open a door I came face to face, well not quite face to face, with a rather surprised trainee, sans shorts and underpants standing with each foot on the rim of the toilet running a roll of toilet paper between his legs. On questioning him (a bit later), it appeared that no-one had instructed him on how to use a flush toilet. No wonder there were no seats and lids left on any of the toilets in the trainee ablutions, either on the ship or in the school. It somewhat amazed me that after eight months trainees were still not using toilets in the way for which they were designed. And we were due to send them overseas to work on a variety of nationality ships.

Unless one was provided with a government-sponsored house, no other houses had a toilet. For most of the islanders their dwelling was either a wooden hut or raised wooden floor above the coral sand, a pitched pandanus thatch roof and woven pandanus mats suspended around the sides as walls and that were rolled up during the day, leaving them open. As the islands were coral atolls no one lived very far from the sea.

The normal routine for relieving oneself was to wait until high tide was about to ebb, wade out into the lagoon (for those islands that had tidal lagoons) or ocean side in your lavalava, do your business, and let the tide do the rest. Clean bottom and all.

A typical Gilbertese village. A young girl with her family’s supper.

It also had the added benefit of reducing the school’s toilet roll consumption. They also got to understand about anaerobic digestion. The school’s ablutions ran into cesspits dug in the coral. The bugs in our gut do not like chewing paper. If there was too much, the trainees on afternoon work parties between the end of lessons and evening meal because of misdemeanors could expect to be on digging out a cesspit.

Two cohorts of trainees in their respective groups for morning parade.

As the school was on the edge of the lagoon, once ‘school’ was over for the day, the boys could change out of uniform into ‘mufti’ and many preferred to undertake their ablutions in the traditional way – if the tide was right!

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Rokie Cumming
Rokie Cumming
Sep 26, 2023

Hello John! Really enjoyed this post, thanks so much for making the effort to put it online. Really took me back. We lived on Betio (1972 - 1974). Of course we knew the Marine Training School! (Unexploded bomb in the compound one time meant everyone had to evacuate to the far end of Betio while it was detonated - were you there then?) In fact we had at our place a small unofficial recruit. Someone made our little boy a uniform and he had a small cap (have I still got it? maybe). Very smart. And he had his own Marine Training School on our garden. To some it resembled a dirty old crate off some ship, but he…

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