Introduction / History
The Cocos Islands (sometimes referred to as the Keeling Islands) are a group of 27 coral atolls in the Indian Ocean to the northwest of Australia. British Naval Captain William Keeling is believed to have discovered these islands in 1609 but it would be the 19th century before the islands would become populated. The islands were annexed by the United Kingdom in 1857 and were transferred into Australian control in 1955. Only two of the islands are inhabited with West Island housing ethnic Europeans and Home Island being home to ethnic Malays.
Despite knowledge of the islands for over 200 years, it was not until the early nineteenth century that they were settled. Initially, the islands were considered valuable due to their location on a trade route from Europe to the Far East. Later, they would become vital due to military operations outposts for support of allied countries in WW2.
Where are they located?
The 27 coral islands are arranged in something like a horseshoe shape and are located in the Indian Ocean to the northwest of Australia. The land area of the two inhabited islands (West and Home) is approximately 8.5 miles in total.
What are their lives like?
The climate of the Cocos Islands is tropical with high humidity. Trade winds buffer the temperatures slightly for much of the year. The tropical cyclone season runs from October through April. The population of the inhabited islands is around 600. The islands are flat coral atolls with little arable land. Only small amounts food is grown locally, however, coconuts are plentiful. Freshwater is obtained by collecting rainwater in underground reservoirs. (1)
Most of the people of the Cocos Islands (Home Island) are of Malayan descent with small numbers of people having ancestors from China, Papua, Africa, and the East Indies. The Malaya live primarily on Home Island. The society that exists today has been held together for eight generations by its isolation, shared economic endeavors, strong family loyalty, a deepening commitment to Islamic religion, and their unique version of the old Malay language of the East Indies. Few outsiders have lived among them and little has been recorded about their cultural and traditional practices. (2)
Despite their disparate origins, the Cocos Malay people achieved an identity of their own within one generation of settlement. The "Cocos-born", as they were officially referred to, lived separately from both the Javanese contract laborers and the European owner-settlers. They had their own mosques, their own leaders, and their own ceremonies.
Today the cornerstone of the Cocos Malay society and the focus of each individual's life is the Islamic religion. Few depart from its teachings and observances. Despite their self-imposed isolation, elements of the English-Scottish traditions of the early overseeing families have been absorbed into Cocos Malay cultural practices. Certain foods, dances and musical influences have a western flavor. (2)
Throughout each year, a large number of ceremonies are held at various houses in the community for a wide range of family celebrations. These include house blessings, welcomes, farewells, boat launchings, remembrances of deceased relatives, circumcisions, Koran readings and other family events. The most significant celebration of the year for the Cocos Malay people is Hari Raya Puasa, the day that marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. The Cocos Malay people have shown a remarkable flair for adaptation despite their desire for isolation by accepting new cultural elements and blending them with traditions of their own. (2)
Several items to keep in mind when encountering the Cocos Malay people are to dress conservatively out of respect to the Muslim community, remove shoes when entering a house or mosque, enter a house at the backdoor unless the front door is propped open, use the right hand for eating, greeting, or serving, and refrain from touching anyone on the head. West Island is much more western in its customs and culture. Typical resort dress is common there. (2)
West Island is much more modern with western amenities available and tourism common. West Island offers several options for accommodation with multi-unit bungalows and motels located near the heart of the modest business district. Each location offers quick access to the beach. Four TV channels, three radio stations, telephone service, electricity, and air conditioning are available. At some locations on the island, internet and mobile telephone service are available along with DVD players, fax, and copy machines. There is one airport, several paved roads, and many dirt paths servicing the islands. The Australian Dollar is the currency and most major credit cards are accepted and encouraged. There is little opportunity to exchange currency on the islands. It is best to exchange currency prior to visiting the islands. Australian government and law are the basis for order in the islands. There is a small police force and the islands are not involved in any international conflict.
What are their beliefs?
The island people are primarily of the Sunni Muslim faith and speak Malay and English. Three mosques are known to exist but no information about houses of worship of other faiths could found.
What are their needs?
The Cocos Islands need Christian missionaries skilled in outreach to Muslims. With a small amount of tourism existing on West Island, outreach to people of other religions is also possible. Opportunities to help with medical and dental services are also available to missions-minded people
* Pray for God to give an opportunity for Biblical Christianity to be proclaimed on these islands.
* Pray for local converts to be prepared for ministry unto their neighbors.
* Pray for their protection and provision while they engage in spiritual warfare.
Text source: Wallace Revels