KIRIBATI 2000

ABOUT KIRIBATI - THE FIRST COUNTRY
TO GREET THE DAWN OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM

           

With the dawn of the new millennium on the eve of the Year 2000 it was the Pacific Islands of the Republic of Kiribati that were the first to witness this momentous occasion.

When the sun rose on the islands and atolls of this Pacific Island Nation, it was Millennium (Caroline) Island of the Republic of Kiribati that was the first to welcome the dawning of the new era. 

This web page is dedicated to the people of the Republic of Kiribati. It contains details of their history, their unique, complex and beautiful culture, mythology, ethnology, genealogy, customs, rituals and lifestyle.

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In 1994 in a move not much noticed outside Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) President Teburoro Tito unilaterally shifted the International Date Line to the country's eastern extremity.  It was a move initially made to unify the country by placing each part of it on the same calendar day.  However, as President Tito said:  "Later I realized I had accidentally made a good decision."   The good decision was of course that Kiribati would be the first to see the new millennium.

WELCOME EVERYBODY

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Aerial photograph of Kiribati Parliament House, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati
Courtesy Tawaia Buibui of Kiribati

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The Royal Greenwich Observatory and cartographers have accepted Kiribati line change.  Subsequent appeals to the United Nations have met with the response that the date line, which was decided by an International Conference in 1884, is beyond its control. 

Consequently, the first Island to see the new millennium was Millennium Island (formerly Caroline Island) hidden away in the southern Line Islands of the Republic of Kiribati.

Millennium Island is a one kilometre by 10 kilometre atoll made up of 20 tiny islets.  In 1868 it had a population of 27 people but since then little has changed. 

The coconut-treed shores have seen few people this century although, officials on Kiribati did bring cruise ships to Millennium Island for the millennium. A live broadcast by satellite to the world from Millennium Island featuring I-Kiribati dancing and singing were some of the highlights of the world-wide millennium celebrations.        

                      

  Kiribati - Images of Millennium Island

  Kiribati - Millennium Celebrations
Soak in the enchanting sounds of the sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to you 24/7 in 64kbps FM Stereo!

ABOUT KIRIBATI

BACKGROUND

Towards the end of the 18th century, two British Captains Gilbert and Marshall discovered the central and northern islands of the Gilberts group which they named the Gilberts. 

A group further north were named the Marshall lslands. The Gilbert islands straddling the equator are just west of the International Date Line. 

In 1890 Great Britain took control of the Ellice Islands which consisted of 9 islands.  In 1892 the Gilberts became a British Protectorate.

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The Republic of Kiribati consists mainly of the Gilbert Islands, a group of 16 low coral islands or atolls in the Central Pacific between 173 degrees and 170 degrees east longitude and 4 degrees north and 3 degrees south latitude.  From north to south, a distance of nearly 800 km., the islands are Makin, Butaritari, Marakei, Abaiang, Tarawa, Maiana, Abemama, Kuria, Aranuka, Nonouti, Tabiteuea, Beru, Nikunau, Onotoa, Tamana and Arorae.  They are rarely more than six metres above sea level with a total land area of about 275 sq. km.  Most of the Gilberts are atolls - oval, rectangular or triangular shaped lagoons enclosed by reefs on which rest many islets. The equator passes between Aranuka and Nonouti. The islands to the north are in certain ways culturally different from those to the south.

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Kiribati also includes other islands than the Gilberts.  Banaba or Ocean Island lies 400 kilometres to the west of Tarawa (capital of the Republic of Kiribati), and much further to the east of the International Dateline, the Phoenix Group with 8 islands, 1,120 kilometres E.S.E. and the Line Islands - 8 Islands 2,400 kilometres east of the Gilberts - a total of 33 Islands, the total area being about 3.5 million square kilometres.

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About Banaba

The name "Kiribati" is the local language equivalent of the word "Gilberts" and is pronounced "Ki-ri-bas."

THE ENVIRONMENT

Because of the more favourable climate in the north, babai (a taro-like plant) and mai (breadfruit tree) grow better there.  In the south, especially in the old days, famine often plagued the islands owing to long periods of drought.  Babai is grown in dugout pits and needs to be well cared for, or it dies.  This is one reason why people in the south have always been known as more thrifty compared with the open-handedness of the north.

Coconuts were once stored in okai, small houses especially built for holding the nuts for future use in time of need, as during a drought or as a dowry when a daughter married.  The pandanus fruit, which is seasonal, can be made into tuae, kabubu or karababa, preserved foods that can be stored for many years.  Fish is salted and dried in the sun for future use, and coconut toddy is boiled to make kamaimai.   Well-water can be very brackish.  The houses, rectangular in shape and sometimes with raised floors, have thatched roofs of pandanus leaf and walls made with coconut frond sticks.  In former years, people wore skirts made from coconut leaves.

As there is more sea than land, the only means of transport in the old days was the canoe.  Such craft are still used for fishing and travelling short distances within the lagoon.  A bigger version of the canoe, te baurua, was used for travelling among the islands.  It was fashioned from the trunk of the uri tree (Guettarda speciosa) and was owned by the whole island or a village.   Its manufacture took months and even years of arduous and skilled labour. Cord made from coconut husk fibre was used to bind the different canoe parts together.  Today, te baurua is built with imported timber and other foreign materials.

Aluminium boats with outboard motors sometimes replace
the traditional I-Kiribati hand-built canoe.
A modern boat built on Tarawa to be
used for  inter-island transport.

To take a trip from Tarawa to Butaritari, travellers could not just sail straight north to their destination.  They had first to stop on Abaiang where they would be received as guests of the people there.  Kiribati hospitality would not allow visitors to pass by without making them welcome.  Each village on Abaiang would take turns to feed and entertain the travellers in their maneaba (public meeting house) for weeks and even months.  The visitors, whether they liked it or not, had to stay and could leave only after repeated, carefully worded and well-timed requests to do so, and when the people of Abaiang then allowed them to leave.   This was the usual custom of travelling in the old days.

The Kiribati people live very close to nature, and since it plays a great part in forming or influencing the culture they have, such a simple and restricted environment as found in Kiribati has resulted in relatively simple living. The people have a name for everything in their environment, no matter how small.   Because of this closeness to nature, their language is rich in matters that have to do with their environment.

THE MANEABA (PUBLIC MEETING HOUSE)

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Central to Kiribati social and political life is the maneaba (sometimes spelled mwaneaba).  Its history is said to go back to the time when people were anti (spirits).  

The first maneaba, called Tabontebike, is said to have been built on the Island of Beru in the south by Tanentoa of Beru. 

It is in the maneaba that the elders from each extended family sat in council, making decisions in disputed matters involving more than a single family. 

Decisions reached under the roof of the maneaba became laws that were carried out under pain of excommunication from the community.

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Beru

Traditionally, the maneaba is divided into a number of boti, which refers to sitting space assigned to each extended family in the community.  The speaker at a maneaba meeting is chosen from a certain family;  he who responds represents another boti and the message is passed on by someone from still another kin group. 

Traditional Gilbertese (Kiribati) dancing in the maneaba

A Gilbertese (Kiribati) elder doing the chant

Then the matter to be discussed that day is ready for debate by all who are seated in the maneaba.  The structure of the maneaba reflects the social structure of the island community.

When one is visiting another island, he is always invited to sit in the boti to which he is related.  When questioned by the elders why one boti and not another was chosen, he should be ready to justify his claim by tracing his family's genealogy to its root.  Unless the elders are completely convinced, the visitor will have to sit in the boti reserved for strangers and other guests.

The maneaba was later adopted by the British administration as a centre for the social life of the community.  Here visitors are welcomed and entertained, and government officials conduct discussions with the villagers and relay decisions from the central administration.  Traditional or customary penalties for stealing and incest have long since been superseded by fines in the form of money or by imprisonment for a number of months or years depending on the severity of the crime.  Today, especially in South Tarawa, stealing is becoming a serious problem in the overcrowded urban community.

KIRIBATI CULTURE

ARTS AND SKILLS

Kiribati dancing is an art.  Like other social functions, it is rather formal with very little movement compared to the dance in some other Pacific islands.  It may be very boring for those who do not know anything about dance in Kiribati.  Appreciation comes from knowing something about the subject.  I suppose that Kiribati dancing in its formality reflects the society, while in a more general view it reflects the way people look at life.  The singers sing and clap with all their might to make the dancing more exciting.  The dancers and their concentration on movement - a time for the hands or feet to move, the position of the eyes, a time to smile and a time to look grave and serious - all of this may symbolise that amidst life difficulties, anxieties and turmoil, life still goes on and there is always a time for everything.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of Kiribati Mwaie (Ruoia) that was performed on one of the northern Gilbert Islands (Butaritari): "Of all they call dance in the Pacific, the performance I saw on Butaritari was easily the best...Gilbertese dance appeals to the soul: it makes one thrill with emotion, it uplifts one, it conquers one: it has the essence of all great art: an immediate and far from exhausted appeal".

Allied with dancing are the arts of composing and weaving.   Like other Pacific islanders, I-Kiribati love to sing. Composing in the old days was always done by te ibonga, a magician or sorcerer.  The new song was created with the help of the anti. Te ibonga had to perform certain acts and observe certain rites afterwards the words and tune of the song would come to him in a dream or be taught to him by the spirits.  Te katake, a chant sang very slowly, was an old form of singing usually done by elderly men and women.

Weaving is a skill as well as an art, and the Kiribati women are very fine weavers.  Designs used in weaving are family property, and mothers passed the skill on to their daughters.  Besides weaving fine mats for sleeping, they also make baskets, hats and fans.  Pandanus leaves are used, and sometimes coconut leaves.   The application of easily procured commercial dyes is not unknown today, no doubt in preference to local dyes which are prepared much more laboriously. 

Besides the heritage of land, other family treasures consist of skills in fishing;  forecasting the weather by observing clouds, waves, winds and birds;  navigating by the stars at night and by birds and clouds during the day; building canoe; cutting toddy;  cultivating a babai plant in a special kind of feeding (te ribana) to enlarge their size; medicine such as special drinks for treating certain diseases or illnesses;  massaging and bone-setting;  and embalming. 

These skills are usually kept within the family, and can be transmitted to strangers or others outside the kin group only as a special favour, for example, to show gratitude for care or love in time of sickness.  Even when this happens, all of the skill is not revealed.  The last of it is reserved for the person who cares for a parent on his or her death bed.  Sometimes, when a parent dies in the care of a stranger who took pity, the latter may publicly challenge the otherwise rightful heirs to claim that he or she gain full possession of the skill in question.

Each of the Islands of Kiribati has its own culture and consists mainly of very small, low, white coral islands or atolls which in most cases has a number of quite small islets which are separated from one another by narrow passages of water from the lagoon side to the ocean.  Not all these islets are inhabited.  A typical island or atoll is simply a series of very narrow strips of land forming an arc which partially encircles a lagoon on the western side.

Prior to World War I many people outside the Pacific Islands had never heard of the Gilberts Islands.  On a small map there was no mention of them, while a very large map would show only a number of very small dots.  However, since the Pacific War (World War II) and the famous Battle of Tarawa, more is known about them but one still meets people unaware of their existence.  In the early days travelling to the different islands was quite difficult, but nowadays airstrips have been built on all the islands to and from Tarawa where the Tarawa Air Terminal is located at Bonriki.

click here Jon Stevens' comprehensive site on The Battle of Tarawa and WW2 in the Pacific.
click here Tarawa - Images of War, Accommodation, Restaurants, Recreation, Sports, etc.

THE GILBERTESE (KIRIBATI) FLAG

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As Kiribati lies astride the Equator, the Flag features a tropical sunrise with the frigate bird flying over the ocean.  The frigate bird carries messages from place to place and symbolises freedom and power.  The seventeen rays of the sun represent the sixteen islands of the Gilberts and Banaba (Ocean Island).   The three waves in the lower half of the Flag stand for the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Island Groups.  The vast ocean over which the bird is flying is a reminder that Kiribati is a sea territory with far more water than land.

Thus it can be said that Kiribati, as a new and independent nation that combines traditional and modern institutions in a distinctively Kiribati character and as a small nation that is lost as it were in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, proudly raises its Flag alongside those of other nations of the world. 

THE GILBERTESE NATIONAL ANTHEM

Stand up, I-Kiribati,
Sing with jubilation,
Prepare to accept responsibility and to help each other.
Be steadfastly righteous,
Love all our people.
Be steadfastly righteous,
Love all our people.
The attainment of contentment and peace by our people
Will be achieved when all our hearts beat as one.
Love one another,
Promote happiness and unity.
Love one another,
Promote happiness and unity.
We besiege you, O God,
To protect and lead us in the years to come.
Help us with your loving hand.
Bless our Government
And all our people.
Bless our Government
And all our people.

NEXT TO KIRIBATI 2000 ... PAGE 2>

(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 3rd May 2012)