THE WARRIORS OF BERU -
CONQUEST OF THE ISLANDS

           

The campaign most famous by virtue of its size and its consequences is the one known as the Kaitu and Uakeia war. If we count by generations (ten to twelve) then it went on for 250 years. It started from Beru, a little island in the south, which was overpopulated. Kaitu, the instigator, was an enterprising fellow who had his way because of his energy and his presence. As for Uakeia, he was steeped in the occult and was both strategist and soothsayer. With his thirty-two round pebbles or his palm-ribs, he knew what to do. And who would have dared to contradict him?

 

The great war canoes put to sea. There were thirty-seven of them, if the king of Abemama's book, giving their names, is to be relieved. Until recent years, it was possible on Abemama to see a relic of this fleet: the Kororimoa (first to land) - Kaitu's ship. Doubtless she had been repaired several times in the course of more than two hundred years - but her line and character had been retained, together with her name, for only one piece of wood at a time was replaced, as it decayed. She was twenty metres long and 2.10 metres high. The outrigger, which still exists, was thirteen metres long and the booms which attached this to the canoe were about eight metres long. This was only a medium-sized canoe. If we count at least twenty men to a canoe there was a force more than six hundred strong men to a canoe there was force more than six hundred strong - somewhat swollen by the women who went along, for the names of several are mentioned.

The fleet set off towards Onotoa but didn't land there. The first landing was made in the south of Tabiteuea. The locals there all fled, warning the northern villages. They organised their warriors to check the invaders. Where should they hold the battle? Kaitu referred to Uakeia, who consulted his oracles. The answer was clear. The clash would be on Tabiteuea at Tabuaeroa where a piece of land between two islets was left uncovered at low tide. For a whole day and night the Beru army worked out a plan of campaign. Along the edge of the passage they set up thirty stone men, two spans high, armed with multi-pronged wooden spears. They resembled Gilbertese warriors so well that the Tabiteueans would be taken in. The next morning, seeing these mighty figures among the ranks of warriors they took them for chiefs of Beru and they turned tail and fled. There were no canoes to help their escape. They had to use makeshift rafts and many were drowned.

Two northern villages, Temanoku and Tekabuibui, were spared, thanks to he intervention of Kourabi, one of the Beru chiefs, for his grandfather and uncles lived there. Another man, Tabora, spoke up. He originally came from Beru. His request that his land and the place where he got his crabs should be left to him was respected.

Emboldened by this success, which cost them little, the conquerors went on northwards. Queen Tabiria of southern Nonouti, gave them a good welcome; her villages were spared. The rest of the island was conquered without a blow being struck. We can imagine the chaos, with the defeated getting away from island to island and spreading panic in the north. Abemama, Kuria, Aranuka, Maiana, Tarawa, Marakei and Abaiang were occupied in this way by the Beru warriors and it didn't cost them a single man.

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(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 11th July 2009)