|Capital||Bantam (Home Island)|
|Government||Hereditary absolute monarchy|
|King||John George Clunies-Ross|
|Currency||Indonesian rupiah (Rp)|
The Cocos Islands lie in the Indian Ocean. They are claimed by the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand as the "Cocos (Keeling) Islands" but have functioned as an independent micro-kingdom since 1983. They are not to be confused with the Isla del Coco, also called Cocos Island, in the Pacific Ocean, a Costa Rican island annexed to Colombia in 2001.
The Clunies-Ross family from Shetland established a coconut plantation on the uninhabited islands in 1827. Most of the islands' population is descended from workers on the plantation; today approximately 80% of the islanders are Malay-speaking Sunnis. In 1886 Queen Victoria granted the Clunies-Rosses title to the islands in perpetuity, and the family began styling themselves "kings". In 1955 Britain transferred the islands to Australia, though the family still owned the islands and continued to run them nearly as they had before; however, Australia did appoint a Supreme Court to establish and maintain the rule of law and to harmonize the island's law code, mostly derived from Singapore, with that of Australia.
Australia continued to slowly end family rule on the Cocos. A UN mission was invited to the islands in 1972. It condemned the Cocos' autocratic power structure. Finally, in 1978 Australia forced John Clunies-Ross to sell the islands, keeping only Oceania House, the family seat. In 1979, a Council was created to govern the territory. As a sign of how discontented the islanders were after 150 years of virtual serfdom, they sent a petition to Canberra in 1980 asking the government "to do whatever is necessary to remove John Clunies-Ross permanently from the Cocos Islands".
History since 1983
Three major Australian cities were hit by Soviet nukes in 1983. The loss of contact with the Australian mainland, and the suddenly chaotic world situation, meant that the Clunies-Rosses were now all the islands had.
For a long, critical period, the Commonwealth of Australia was forced to neglect its newest territory. The Cocos were essentially cut off. In the short term, the people could live on high-calorie coconuts - which the Council now attempted to ration - and on the catch of local fishermen. But this state of affairs could not last indefinitely without something else to fuel the economy.
The Clunies-Ross family, out of power for less than five years, no longer held title to the lands. They did now possess a very large amount of cash, however, and they had begun to invest in a shipping fleet. Both the ships and the money could rekindle the Cocos' economy, providing jobs, trade goods, and a connection with the outside world. Armed with these assets, John Cecil Clunies-Ross presented himself to the Council as the islands' savior. However, his offer was somewhat less than altruistic. Accustomed to being obeyed, John Cecil demanded that in return for his aid, he be placed in charge of the islands once again. The Council had little choice but to comply with his wishes.
The return to family rule was not difficult from an organizational standpoint. The legal structure from the islands' long period as a fiefdom was still in place; Australia had not had a chance to reform it yet. John Cecil was not so brash as to dismiss the Council or the Supreme Court, but because of his control over the Cocos' economy, ultimately he was able to limit these bodies to being mere advisors. Economically, the Clunies-Rosses had driven production and consumption for the islands' entire 150 years of human habitation; it felt natural to have them back in that position of power.
John Cecil also knew that his newfound position depended on prolonging the breach with Australia. His ships would ensure that the Cocos would have jobs and remain connected to the world, but it was to Indonesia that they sailed, not Australia. John took full advantage of the disorder in Indonesia, willingly trading and dealing with all sides in Indonesia's many internal conflicts. It was only in 1989 that Australia sent an expedition to the Cocos Islands, and it found John and his son firmly in control and uninterested in returning to Australian rule. The family shipping fleet had secured a lucrative contract from the new, federalized government of Indonesia, providing a valuable new source of income. Clunies-Ross had become a major economic force not just in the Cocos, but in Indonesia as well.
Late in 1992, Australia hit the Sultanate of Aceh with sanctions after its invasion of Indonesian Sumatra. As a minor act of retaliation, Aceh recognized the Cocos Islands as an independent state and provided a small amount of aid. So far, neither Australia nor its successor, the ANZC have gone to the trouble of trying to take the Cocos militarily, though they have never dropped their claim to them.
The Cocos continued to pursue closer relations with Indonesia in order to avoid dependence on Australia. In the late 90s, the islands' home currency, the rupee, was pegged 1:1 to the Indonesian rupiah. The rupee was finally abandoned in favor of the rupiah on October 24, 2009. In 2000, King John Cecil entered a state of near-retirement, handing over most responsibilities to his son John George. The king died in April 2010 at the age of 82, and John George immediately assumed power as the new monarch.
The creation of the League of Nations in 2008 presented the ANZC with a new avenue for retaking the islands. So far, the issue has not yet been brought before the League - since its foundation it has been completely occupied with one crisis after the other. But the ANZC does plan to raise the issue eventually, and there is no question that the League would then side with them and authorize force to retake Australia's wayward territory. So unless the kingdom can find a creative way to maintain its independence, its takeover by the ANZC is probably only a matter of time.
The Cocos' territory is the same as before Doomsday: two atolls, North Keeling Island and the South Keeling Islands, separated by about 40 km. The small north atoll is uninhabited. The southern atoll forms a U-shaped ring of islands approximately 15 km across. The main islands, clockwise from the northeast, are Direction, Home, South, West, and Horsburgh. Of these, South Island is uninhabited.
Home Island is the center of activity, containing both the only large settlement, Bantam, and Oceania House, seat of the royal family. A new house for the Cocos Islands Council was built at the south end of Bantam, facing the lagoon, in 1990. West Island contains the islands' only airstrip and the former Australian government buildings. The only entrance to the atoll's central lagoon is to the north, between Horsburgh and Direction Islands. The main anchorage is to the south of Direction.
The western tip of Direction Island features the most significant construction project on the islands since Doomsday: Fort Direction, usually called the Battery or the Fort. The king had the fortification built using hired labor and expertise from Indonesia in 1987. Built to defend the Cocos against pirates, the Battery commands the channel entering the atoll as well as the entire anchorage area to the south of the island. Warning shots from the Battery greeted the Australian expedition of 1988 and helped prevent the islands' immediate re-annexation.
The Cocos are an absolute monarchy in that the king has no real constitutional checks on his power. The Supreme Court of 1983, made up of Aussies appointed by the Australian government, was initially kept, along with the Council. The members of the court were banished one by one over the years, however, for various offenses, and replaced with loyal allies of the family. The council ultimately made its peace with the system, and it has therefore kept a good deal of authority over day-to-day affairs. It currently consists of six members elected annually, with the king allowed to cast a tiebreaking vote.
The monarchy itself is a little idiosyncratic in that the Clunies-Ross family have taken on very few of the trappings of royalty. They do not wear any crown, although a highly stylized crown does appear in the national seal and on the state ensign (see below). The correct way to address the king or regent is "Mr. Clunies-Ross," not "Your Majesty" or any more traditional style. As John George told an Australian reporter in a sympathetic interview in 2009, "We're kings because we're the hereditary rulers of a country. If there was a better name for that than 'king', we'd use it. We really don't go in for a lot of that royalty nonsense, robes and crowns and maces and all that."
The following may be changed by the caretakers of the nations mentioned.
Besides Aceh and Indonesia, the Cocos' independence has been recognized by most nations of the South American Confederation and their allies. The Foreign Secretary of the SAC once described the ANZC's claims on the Cocos as "imperialistic". This is somewhat ironic in that the Clunies-Ross regime is about as imperialistic a system as it is possible to find anywhere. Cocos state-owned ships have occasionally traded in the South Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Rayalaseema, which may amount to tacit recognition by those states. Closer to home, Singapore recognizes the Cocos, while Brunei and the Philippines do not.
The ANZC and its allies in North America and Europe do not recognize the Cocos, nor would they have much reason to do so. Indonesia's recognition of the kingdom has been a point of friction between it and the ANZC, even as they pursue closer relations and economic interdependence with one another. The Foreign Ministry of the Union Interim Parliament of India has said that it considers the Cocos to be ANZC territory.
The King of the Cocos Islands conducts a good deal of diplomacy personally but also employs a Foreign Secretary. Cocosian Ambassadors have offices in Banda Aceh, Yogyakarta, and Singapore.
The shipping company owned by the Clunies-Ross family helped ensure the islanders' survival and quickly became the mainstay of their new economy, transporting people and cargo around the western parts of Indonesia. The need for a new identifying flag quickly became apparent. The colors black and gold were chosen primarily because they were different from any flags of the islands' neighbors. The saltire represents the Clunies-Ross family's Scottish origins, and the crescents represent the Islam practiced by the island's other inhabitants. There are four crescents for the four inhabited islands: Home, West, Direction, and Horsburgh. The national flag is used on land and serves as the jack of all Cocos ships.
The state ensign, or Black Ensign, is the flag most frequently encountered. It flies on all ships owned by the royal family. When the Cocos Islands represent themselves diplomatically in other countries, they usually use the Black Ensign to represent their country rather than the national flag. The Green Ensign is the civil flag used at sea. It flies on vessels owned by private individuals, mostly small fishing boats.
The state of the world today makes strict observation of quarantine necessary whenever a ship is infected with disease. The Cocos Islands' quarantine flag is the state ensign with colors reversed, no crown, and a somewhat narrower saltire. Put another way, it is the standard yellow "Q" flag defaced with a small black design suggesting the national flag.
Where a coat of arms might be expected, the Clunies-Rosses use a very simple cypher: the monogram "JR" in a modern, Gothic typeface, beneath a stylized crown. John George used the same cypher as both king and regent, so it can be interpreted to stand for "John Rex", "John Regent", or even "John Ross". Cocos Islands passports, first introduced in 1996, use a slightly more elaborate form of the cypher, putting the letters and crown within a wreath of palm leaves and coconuts, together with the name of the kingdom in English, Malay, and Indonesian. The cypher with the wreath can be found on some other documents as well. In 1994, the islands adopted a civic seal, the main features of which are a palm tree and four coconuts representing the four main islands. The seal is mostly used on Council documents and within the Council's meeting house.
- Monarchies in the Former Commonwealth (1983: Doomsday)
- The Clunies-Ross Dynasty - from ABC
- The Man Who Lost a Coral Kingdom - from BBC