Over the last sixty years, it is amazing
that so many aspects of Kiribati life have changed very little. So many
fundamental things that are uniquely I-Kiribati have been preserved from one
generation to the next. The material on this Web site has been
extracted from a January 1943 issue of National Geographic Magazine.
The photographs were taken by Dr. Raymond A. Dillon.
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The beauty of this young girl typifies in
many ways the beauty of Kiribati. With her delicate features, she flashes a ready smile
displaying clean white teeth. Her abundant hair is black and straight. In previous times,
she would have worn no clothes but civilisation and the missionaries have introduced the
Mother Hubbard for adult women and insisted on at least a little covering for youngsters.
Left: Into the sunset on the vast
Pacific Ocean an outrigger canoe sails for flying fish. Distance has no terrors for
Kiribati navigators, who are taught in boyhood to steer by the stars. Right: A Kiribati boy enjoys a cool place in which to partake of a drink of coconut milk.
The above two images highlight the dancing
agilities of the athletic Kiribati men. In the image above, the backhanded stroke
demonstrated here is one with which a Kiribati swimmer disembowels a shark.
For a special feast, the locals cut up a roast pig. Pork
a rare treat and the regular diet consists of coconut,
babai, taro, breadfruit and fish.
The well-kept houses reflect the clean
healthiness of the Kiribati people. No filthy litter mars the villages, and for
ventilation, the houses are open to the breezes. The building materials come from the sea
with floors and walls made of coral gravel and foundations and pillars of lime from burned
Kite flying is a favourite sport among the Kiribati
people. These 25 ft. kites, flown without tails, depend for equilibrium on perfect
proportion. An expert can manipulate one so that it travels upwind and soars directly
over his head or does battle with another in the clouds.
Tabiteuea locals sail a swift 96 feet, three mastered
outrigger canoe. Its width is five and a half feet, freeboard five feet, and draft three
feet. The outrigger is a single log about 49 feet long and 2 feet in diameter lashed to
the hull amidships by thirteen 20 foot pieces forming a scaffold. The masts are 40 feet
high. Since the deck is only half covered, it is possible to "go below" at any
point. A red flag floats from each masthead. Like the smaller craft, it is
constructed without metal, all parts being tied together with coconut fibre.
From the outrigger, the huge steering oar looks small.
However, for the lads who clamber out on the
framework to keep the speeding craft on an even keel clear
vision of the steersman is vital.
An unexpected puff or flaw could easily fling them
The Maneaba is the central focus of social life in the
village. Standing in the centre of a spacious square, this cathedral-like thatch - perhaps
a 120 feet long by 80 feet wide - is the hub of Kiribati communal life.
Its ridge soars 60 feet high and its sides come close to
the ground so those entering
must stoop. Inside, traditional places are reserved for
At high tide on the ocean beach fishermen boldly launch
their flimsy canoes -
they brave the open sea without any thought of danger.
Kiribati fishermen occasionally find
pearls in oysters taken from the lagoons.
Sticks edged with shark's teeth serve as weapons for the
With such crude knives the daring natives attack and kill
tiger sharks and even the deadly "grey ghost".
Kiribati people in canoes swarm about a
visiting schooner. When not in use, the woven mat sails
are rolled neatly on the outriggers, for there is no room
for them in the slender hulls.