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WORLD WAR 2 - THE BATTLE OF TARAWA

The Battle of Tarawa was a fierce campaign which even today leaves the scar in the form of the rusting weapons of war upon the beautiful islets of Tarawa and in particular the islet of Betio. These contemporary images are a reminder of both the brutality and futility of this terrible war and even though these scars are gradually disappearing, the memory of the war and lessons to be learned will hopefully never be forgotten.

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The images on this page show the scars of War that still exist at Betio Islet, Tarawa Island, Republic of Kiribati. The image above left shows the moon over the sands of Betio Islet. American troops landed on the opposite side of the Islet. Above right shows the wreckage of a Japanese light tank on the shore of Betio Islet. It was here that the Americans landed in their amphibian craft. 

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Wrecked aircraft engine on the beach at Betio, Tarawa. 

     

 

Bayonets, water-bottle, wreckage found on Betio.

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The entrance to a bunker lies between a  gun on its mount and a twisted heap of steel.

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Animation: British High Court Judge inspects the
Gilbertese Police at Bairiki, Tarawa Island, plus images of war.

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Sunset on Betio silhouettes a Japanese shore battery

 

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British Government ships and wharf facilities
occupied the site where the US Marines stormed ashore
Happy Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) smiles comprise the Group's best scenery:
L-R: Nei Tarawa, Louisa Foua, Rosa Muller, Tetangi Pine, Aonga Tapungao,
 courtesy Rust In Peace by Bruce Adams.
Same larger photo was also on the cover of Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM) 1969 -
See below * under Parliament House image by Tawaia Buibui.

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Japanese shore gun lying on the reef at Takoronga Point at Betio

Japanese guns command the reef on the ocean coast of Betio.

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

 

*PIM version - 1st from left - Louisa Murdoch: 2nd Nei Tarawa: 3rd Louisa Foua: 4th Rosa Muller:
 5th Tetangi Pine: 6th Aonga Tili: 7th Taoati Tooki: 8th Taberauea Yeeting: 9th Lucy Muller: 10th Nei Nterei
Courtesy: Rust In Peace by Bruce Adams

KIRIBATI

(FORMERLY THE GILBERT ISLANDS)

THE GODS AT WAR IN THE ATOLLS

World War 2 began in Europe and ended in 1945. At the end of 1941, Japan and America entered the war which then came to the Pacific. The war caused many changes and brought new things into the lives of the Gilbertese people and to the islands.

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Relics of World War 2, Tarawa, Kiribati

Japan's military interests in the Gilberts dated from the earliest days of the war. The primary strategic object of the Japanese expansion at the beginning of the war was the occupation and developments of what was called the Southern Resources Area - Southeast Asia and the islands of Indonesia - as that part of the Pacific contained many of the raw materials considered essential to Japan's economic welfare and military potential. It was also believed necessary to maintain free lines of communication between the Japanese homeland and the Southern Resources Area, to cripple naval strength in the Pacific, and to establish a strong defensive perimeter to protect the homeland and its new economic adjunct to the south. This then, was the importance of the Pacific Islands to the Japanese.

The first bombs dropped in the colony were by the Japanese on 8th December 1941, when a four-engined flying-boat dropped six on the Government Headquarters at Banaba. No damage nor casualties were sustained. There were about 100 Europeans, 200 Chinese, 600 Banabans and 800 Gilbert and Ellice Islanders on Banaba at the time. Most of them were working in the Phosphate Industry. Then a French cruiser came bringing cargo and took away all the Europeans and Chinese except for a few who chose to stay.

A few months later the Japanese came to occupy the island. They seized everything of value and rationed food to the people, many of whom showed signs of starvation. A number died from hunger. As in all the other places they occupied, stealing in any form earned serious punishment, sometimes death. These people at Banaba were really hungry. They did not have babai pits or land on which to fall back. They were not allowed to take the few nuts that grew on the island. Even the roots and leaves of pawpaw trees and ren trees were eaten.

Then the people were transported to the other places in the Pacific - Kusaie, Nauru and Tarawa - while 150 unfortunate young men had to stay on at Banaba to work for the Japanese. When the Japanese realised that they had been defeated by the Americans, these Gilbertese workers were blindfolded and, with hands tied at their back, lined up and shot on the cliff at Tabiang. Kabunare of Nikunau was among them, but he fell over the cliff even though he was  not shot thus saving his life.

The first island to be occupied by the Japanese were Makin and Butaritari, on 9th December 1941. The force consisted of 200 to 300 troops from the 51st Guard Force based on Jaluit. At Butaritari the troops landed at Ukiangang. The Commissioner, Mr. H.C. Williams, went to meet them. They held him prisoner and he was sent to Tokyo. The missionaries were also held but were soon released. The troops advanced north and settled at Butaritari village. They chased the traders away, took the things from their stores, and turned On Chong's store into their barracks.

 The people of Butaritari village did not move out of their homes. They lived, as it were, with the Japanese. As time went on they came to realise that some Japanese were likeable while others were not. The people were also used by the Japanese. All the men from Makin and Butaritari were divided into six groups for work. At one time nine American planes arrived and bombed a Japanese ship, but it was not really damaged. After this, Butaritari village people left their village and went to live at Ukiangang or Tanimaiaki. Those who stayed became really friendly with the Japanese. At this stage both the Japanese and islanders were well aware that sooner or later the island would be attacked. The people were also encouraged by the Japanese to leave Butaritari village.

What the Japanese and the islanders feared came about on 17th August 1942, nearly a year after the Japanese occupation. More than 200 marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion under the command of Lt. Colonel Evans F. Carlson landed on Butaritari from two submarines. The primary purpose of this raid was to confuse the Japanese and cause them to divert forces that might otherwise be assigned to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The Japanese, who had been feasting all night, and the Gilbertese coastwatchers did not know what was happening.

Landing on the ocean side, the U.S. marines held the coast watchers until sunrise. Only then were the coast watchers allowed to go and give the news to the Japanese. By this time the Americans had had their trenches dug right across the island from the ocean to the lagoon. On receiving the news the Japanese got ready and advanced north. The fighting, which lasted for three hours, took place where the airfield is today. The U.S. Marines had an easy victory over about 150 of the enemy. Those Japanese who stayed on On Chong's place ran away to Bikati. The Office of the Japanese Command was searched by the Americans and all available papers taken. Their radio stationed at the base of On Chong's wharf was destroyed.

These Americans did not stay long. On the evening of the second day after the raid, evacuation was completed except for nine who were left behind. They later tried to escape but were captured by the Japanese and beheaded. This expedition cost the lives of 30 Marines and many Japanese.

About two days after the raid three Japanese planes arrived to bomb Butaritari village, thinking the Americans were still there, but mistakenly dropped their bombs at the village of Keuea. This bombing killed 41 local people and injured about 12.

Thinking that the Japanese were gone for good, the people of Ukiangang and Butaritari took what they wanted from the Japanese base at On Chong's. They were to pay for this behaviour when the Japanese returned, this time in greater numbers (about 2000 of them) on 19th August, two days after the raid. Discovering what the people had done, all Ukiangang and Butaritari inhabitants were gathered together at Ukiangang. The men were put in a separate group from the women and children. They were lined up on the road and at the head of each row a machine gun was placed. They were kept in this position for three hours. Then an order came that half-castes were to be set free, many claimed to have European blood in them. Contrary to what they had thought, the full-blooded Gilbertese were made to sit down while the half-castes and those who claimed to be half-castes were led to the Japanese Office.

A rumour spread later on that this was to pay for what they did in taking the Japanese things soon after the raid, and that these men were all to be killed. But a Japanese trader, Kansake, who had been on the island before the war, pleaded for the people. He told the Japanese in command that the men would be most useful in helping with the work they intended to carry out. That was why the lives of these men were spared. They were all told to go back home but they were not to walk outside their houses at night. They went back home greatly frightened.

Kansake had been on the island a long time before the war and he had his store there. He married a half-caste from Butaritari and sent his children to be educated in Japan. When the Japanese arrived he was given a high position in the army and became an interpreter, for he knew both English and Gilbertese as well as Japanese. Just before the American invasion, he was sent to the Marshalls with his family.

The Japanese first visited Tarawa on 9th December 1941. During this visit, they had everybody - Government employees, missionaries and the Gilbertese who were at Betio - gathered on the wharf while they destroyed every means of transport they could find. They went into Burns Philp's store and took the things they wanted. One of their planes destroyed the ship R.C.S. Nimanoa. They also killed one of the mental patients. Everything went back to normal when they left but Burns Philp's store was ruined - the people on Betio went in and took whatever they could lay their hands on.

Their second visit to Betio was after Carlson's raid at Butaritari. This time they came in great numbers and they remained until the Allied Forces destroyed them. The islet of Betio was strongly fortified. Local men were taken to Betio to help this work of fortification. They were taken from all over Tarawa and Abaiang. These men worked in groups. Each week half the men from each village were taken and half left to look after their own families as well as the families of those who were at work. Concrete emplacements for guns of all sizes up to 14 centimeters were constructed, transmitting and receiving stations set up, coconut trees cut into logs and transported from outlying islands, tank barricades and tank pits constructed, underwater obstacles emplaced, and bunkers made for individual rifleman and machine gunners. These labours worked for the Japanese until a few weeks before the invasion of the Americans. As the Americans used to make raids about full moon, the Japanese used to send the labourers home before this time.

All 22 Englishmen and New Zealanders most of whom were coastwatchers on the various islands, were taken to Tarawa and later killed at Betio. The Gilbertese living at Betio, Bairiki, Teaoraereke and Banraeaba left their villages and went to live at Eita, Abatao and Tabiteuea further up the islands.

There were over 2000 Korean labourers with the Japanese at Betio and nearly 500 at Butaritari. Of these, 230 were taken as prisoners of war by the Americans.

The Japanese invasion and occupation of Abemama began on 31st August 1942. Their soldiers stayed there until the invasion of the Americans in November 1943. The Japanese planted their flag and established themselves at Tabonaekana. Again, the people were made to help the work of the Japanese. The Japanese occupation at Butaritari, Tarawa, Abemama and Banaba had great effects on the people both as individuals and as a group. In both occupied and non-occupied islands, fear was general. Even though the Japanese did not occupy all the islands they did make their presence felt by visiting all islands, raising their flag, and giving orders to local government employees to work for the Japanese. These orders, however, were only carried out while the Japanese were on the islands.

Communication with other parts of the world did not exist. When they visited the island, the first thing the Japanese did was to look for wireless sets and destroyed them. Then a great change took place, planes of Admiral Pownale's fast carrier force, assisted by Army Air force B-24's from Canton and Funafuti, attacked Butaritari and Tarawa on 18th and 19th September, 1943, though it was not until 20th November that the American marines really struck the Gilbert Islands.

The original plan for the Allied attack on Japan was to move through the Japanese-held territories of South East Asia and the coast of the Asian continent to Japan. Some time after the Carlson raid, however, this plan was changed, and a drive through the central Pacific was decided upon. In the meantime, in response to the Carlson raid, the Japanese had fortified the Gilberts, particularly Betio, to prevent an Allied invasion.

The Americans obtained information on the Japanese fortifications, landing places, passages, reefs and tides from aerial photographs, submarine reconnaissance and people who had lived in, or travelled through, the Gilberts before the Japanese occupation.

The Gilberts and Nauru were selected as the first places to be invaded in Micronesia. Consequently between May and August 1943, the amphibious training programme started in Hawaii; a final rehearsal was held at Efate in the New Hebrides(now Vanuatu). A few months before the actual invasion, there were frequent aerial and naval  bombardments of the Gilberts, especially Betio.

Almost a casual air pervaded the original Japanese occupation of the Gilberts, a group of sixteen small equator-straddling atolls. Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbour, landing parties from two Japanese destroyers landed on Tarawa, rounded up the European population and informed them that none must leave the island, now part of the Japanese Empire, without the permission of the naval commander. He would establish headquarters on Makin, or Butaritari Atoll, a more northerly island, closer to the Marshalls, where the Japanese had been entrenched since the First World War.

After their significant Naval losses at Midway the Japanese abandoned an intention to extend conquest to the associated Ellice Group (Tuvalu), to the south. Instead they lightly garrisoned two or three of the major atolls in the Gilberts and waited.

In August 1942 a small force of United States Marines landed on Makin and wiped out the garrison. More than the loss, the Japanese felt the humiliation of this incident, and in addition to building up the forces in the group more strongly than before, they adopted stricter measures with the population.

While, on the pendulum swing, the Allied chiefs of staff envisaged their Western Pacific offensive gathering momentum in 1944, they decided to open a limited offensive in the Central Pacific in 1943. With this in view, Colonel Vivian Fox-Strangways, who had been appointed resident commissioner of the group two years earlier but had instead acted as commanding officer of the Solomon Islands Defence Forces, sailed for Funafuti in the Ellice Group and there prepared for an American landing.

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Obstacles intended to funnel Allied landings into vulnerable tracks.
On the ocean side of Betio, they were never challenged.
Rear Admiral Kaiji Shibasaki, Commander of Tarawa, maintained
a headquarters in this blockhouse

He enlisted the ready co-operation of the inhabitants, who gladly evacuated their village for the expected troops and formed a Civil Defence Organisation under his instruction. In this he anticipated the devastating effect bombing raids could have on an island so small that a good golfer can drive a ball clear across it at almost any point.

Following the Marine raid the Japanese had turned Makin, Tarawa and Abemama islands into fortresses pouring in probably 8,500 men with materials. From July 1943 the American build-up in the Ellice Group produced bomber strips on Nukufetau and Nanumea, and a fighter strip on Baker Island almost on the Equator east of the Gilberts.

Americans who invaded Makin on 20 November encountered light opposition and secured the atoll in three days. The main attack on Tarawa developed into a five-day battle fought with extreme savagery.

The main assault here aimed at Betio, two miles of palm and scrub-covered sand and coral at the western end of the lagoon. At no part was it more than ten feet above sea-level, and the defending force of 4,500 Japanese had entrenched themselves securely in pillboxes and dugouts. On the surrounding coral reef they had implanted anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, a double-apron barbed-wire fence, and concrete and coral obstacles designed to funnel in a frontal attack. On the beaches, with log barriers, machine-gun nests and light and heavy artillery they had developed a formidable defence.

The plan of attack called for the US Marines to assault from landing-barges and amphibious tracked vehicles (Amtracs) over the reef. Tacticians, aware that the landing would coincide with the season of neap tide, believed this would cov4er the reef with a depth of five feet of water--an important point--since the landing-barges drew four feet and the reef extended a thousand yards.

Major F.L.G. Holland, a New Zealander who had lived on Tarawa for fifteen years disagreed, warning that no more than three feet of water would cover the coral. Nevertheless the commanders launched the attack as planned on 20 November. The barges grounded hundreds of yards out and the Marines wading that distance waist-deep in water which covered a treacherous footing offered an ideal target to the defenders. The Japanese poured in a murderous fire from their well-sited weapons, yet despite appalling losses the Marines managed to gain two narrow beach-heads by nightfall. They got a few tanks and some light artillery ashore, but only thirty- five of one hundred and twenty Amtracs.

Confused assaults and counter-attacks characterised the bitter fighting of the following days and nights, but at last the Marines gained the upper hand. Throughout the operation naval and air bombardments and ground-strafing aided the land-based attacks, but control of the air was by no means complete and Japanese aircraft inflicted much damage on the off-shore fleet.

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American airscrews sprawl like giant starfish on Tarawa's Red Beach. 

Blackened by flame-throwers, the permanent concrete pill-box suffered more from Allied action than its portable companion.

Both armies showed magnificent courage in the vicious and bloody Battle of Tarawa. The Marines lost 1,090 men killed and 2,300 wounded. After the war, critics blamed the timing of the attack for the heavy losses and contended it should not have been made until the Spring tides, especially as the water-depth over the reef was in question. The miscalculation certainly contributed to the high casualty rate, but the successful action established airfields in the Gilberts from which American planes struck again and again at Japanese bases in the Marshalls.

The British Resident landed on D-day plus two; and on the following day the American commander, General Julien Smith, hoisted the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack together on adjoining coconut palms, nominating a Marine to represent Fox-Strangways, who had provided the flag but was busily engaged elsewhere on the island.

During the next three days the Marines marched the entire length of the horse-shoe shaped necklace of coral islands, liberating the villages and killing the last Japanese defenders. On this march the Gilbertese mostly joined the columns, carrying equipment and climbing the palms for drinking nuts for the soldiers. On Abemama, the last of the garrisoned atolls, the Japanese, aware of the course of the fighting, committed collective suicide before the Marine landing.

 

 

Two Gilbertese men inspecting the crop in a taro or babai pit, dug down to sea level to find moisture in the porous coral island.

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The coconut economy of such coral islands as the Gilberts is a difficult one, demanding the utmost of the inhabitants. The idyllic life depends, not on the beneficence of Nature, but upon the resources and energies of the people. Here the human has had to develop techniques that permit survival. To grow taro or babai, the starchy root that is his only food crop, he must excavate a pit about twelve yards square and perhaps two yards deep--deep enough, anyway, to reach down to the table of fresh water that collects at sea-level below these porous islands where no fresh water flows.

He may only do so once every twenty years or so; but the labour is enormous. In the pit the farmer keeps a constant plantation of taro growing replanting the tops as a cutting whenever he harvests the root. He can do this at most seasons, but since the vegetable takes a year to develop, his pit must be large enough to feed his family for that length of time. Other staples are the coconut and, in season, the breadfruit. But the taro pit requires a constant cultivation, the farmer building baskets round each plant to secure the liberal applications of leaf mould without which it could not thrive.

The coconut and the pandanus provide house-building materials, the open, airy houses being raised on palm-trunk piles, fastened with coco-fibre rope, and roofed with pandanus. An almost necessary addiction to the family menu is the juice collected from the young flower shoots of the coconut palm.

Most of the economy centres on the lagoon and the reef; the men fishing each day from canoes; the women and children walking the reef at each low tide to collect reef animals like the octopus, the clam, and the crab. The other food supply comes from pigs and hens, staples of the economy throughout the Pacific.

But the joy of island life comes most deeply from the well-developed social sense of the islanders, their joy in singing and dancing, and the extrovert happiness with which they share every piece of good fortune that comes their way. They became best known, perhaps, by the radio talks of Sir Arthur Grimble, and his books, Pattern of Islands and Return to the Islands.

The Gilberts, administered with the Ellice Group (Tuvalu) form one of the few remaining British Crown Colonies in the Pacific. Its administration centre was then in Honiara in the British Solomons, but a Resident Commissioner had headquarters on Tarawa. The colony covers almost a million square miles of ocean and includes a few others and clusters of atolls of which Phoenix Atoll, with eight islands is the largest. Perhaps best known is Canton Island, which became an air base during the war, and in the early post-war years a refuelling stop for trans-Pacific air services. With the development of longer-ranging aircraft it has been relegated to the category of emergency airport.

Other islands of some importance was then Ocean Island (Banaba), and now Christmas and Fanning Islands. A consortium representing Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom has worked the valuable phosphate deposits of Ocean for many years. The Japanese occupied it during the Second World War, but it saw no action. Fanning Island, until 1963, contained a repeater station for the trans-Pacific cable service between Canada and Australia. Then a coaxial cable replaced the old link and eliminated the island's function. In wartime, United States and New Zealand forces garrisoned Christmas Island, a neighbour of Fanning in the Line Group, and in postwar years both Britain and the United States have conducted nuclear tests there.

Fiji Airways then operated regular schedules from Fiji to Tarawa, with a stop at Funafuti in the Ellice Group (Tuvalu). Tarawa contained at that time a small hotel and two licensed clubs but 1999 sees Tarawa developed into a first class accommodation destination being serviced by Air Nauru. Packages combining Tarawa and Nauru are available from Australia with departures from Melbourne and Brisbane. Christmas Island has limited Aloha charter flights/Coral Pacific Airlines from Honolulu only. Visas are required for entry to Kiribati. Packages from Australia combine Tarawa with Nauru.

If combining Tarawa with Nauru, accommodation in Nauru is at the Menen Hotel. Prices are in Australian dollars and valid from 14th October 1996. Tarawa may be combined with Pohnpei, Guam and the other Islands of Micronesia.

Kiribati packages include economy airfares, accommodation, continental breakfasts in Tarawa and airport transfers. Departures from Melbourne on Friday evening, or Brisbane early Saturday morning. Kiribati may be combined with Nauru. Prices on request.  

ACCOMMODATION

HOTELS

Accommodation in Tarawa is available to satisfy every requirement from the most luxurious to accommodation that will allow the visitor to experience the traditional lifestyle.

The Otintaai Hotel offers 40 air-conditioned rooms with private facilities. Rooms have fan, refrigerator, tea/coffee facilities and balcony overlooking the lagoon. Each room also is equipped with International Direct Dial (IDD) telephone. Visitors staying at the Otintaai Hotel can be picked up from the airport and deposited at the airport when they depart. Rental cars are also available for sightseeing and shopping. Telephone: +686 28084; Facsimile: +686 28045

The Tarawa Hotel is located at Ambo on South Tarawa and offers six rooms with private cooking facilities, two toilets, two showers, two kitchens, two lounges and refrigerators. It is situated close to the main road, handy to public transport and is opposite the famous Ambo Lagoon Club. Telephone: +686 21445

MOTELS

Mary's Motel stands near the Nippon Causeway at Bairiki. Mary's Motel provides eight accommodation rooms, style accommodation, fully air conditioned with fridge and especially a tea/coffee-making facilities. Also there is a nice restaurant for people who want to experience the very best of island cuisine. They serve excellent International, Chinese, Japanese and local dishes. There is also a licenced bar where one can unwind after a busy day of sightseeing and shopping. Telephone: +686 21164/21362  

The Betio Motel welcomes visitors to enjoy the comfort of its air-conditioned dining room. There is a delicious international and local menu available. The Betio Motel is also equipped with a satellite television service. Visitors are always welcome at the Betio Motel. Telephone: +686 26361; Facsimile: +686 26048

The Lagoon Breeze Motel is situated about half way between the airport and Bairiki. The Motel has a very nice park and is close to the lagoon. It has eight rooms with fans. Other facilities are shared kitchen and office service with Internet.

The Sweet Coconut Motel is located near the ocean side at Tebunia on South Tarawa, about fifteen minutes drive from the airport. Facilities include three double rooms and two single rooms with private cooking facilities, shower and shared toilet. Telephone: +686 21487

Buariki Hideaway Guest House at Buariki is the ideal choice for someone wanting to see traditional lifestyles in Kiribati but does not have time to go to the outer islands. The resort has four small double guest houses and one large guesthouse with kitchen, toilet and shower. Activities offered are snorkelling, fun water sports, exploring and village tours. Telephone: +686 26695 E-mail buariki@tskl.net.ki

Mauri Paradise is a resort situated at Buariki village in North Tarawa just a few yards from the edge of a very pleasant lagoon. There is no electricity on this part of the island. Facilities include one diving boat, a set of scuba diving equipment and traditional sleeping accommodation. Besides the dive tours, the resort also offers traditional activities such as fishing. The resort is about one-and-half hours by boat from the main towns of South Tarawa. Telephone/Facsimile +686 21646

CAMPING GROUNDS

There are no facilities for camping. Picnic sites are however available at off-lying islets in Tarawa and the outer islands. Visitors are advised to take their litter with them when they leave. The land is privately owned on the outer islands.

RESTAURANTS AND NIGHT SPOTS

Matarena offers a fully licenced restaurant. It is situated in the capital Bairiki and offers European and Chinese-style cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also an adjoining public bar and general store.

The Royal Bar is situated near the centre of Betio islet. It is fully air-conditioned and cold beer and soft drink are always available. The bar opens every evening from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and later at weekends. It is the favourite haunt of many expatriates and is the weigh-station for the Betio Game Fishing Club.

Ambo Lagoon Club is situated on the lagoon side and incorporates a variety of entertainment. These include a swimming pool, volley ball, a safe swimming lagoon and a dart facility. There is also a large Maneaba which incorporates a bar which is ideal for that special party. Everybody is always welcome at the Ambo Lagoon Club.

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Ambo Lagoon Club, South Tarawa

The Night Spot is one of Kiribati dancing places. A visitor is always welcome at the night spot where you can enjoy yourself dancing and drinking with many young pretty girls and for the ladies meeting handsome young and more mature men!! The Night Spot is open every day of the week, so a visitor is always welcome to join in the fun.

SHOPPING

One Stop is a small supermarket situated in the Government's centre of Bairiki, Tarawa. It has a wide range of fresh, frozen and dried goods and open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses and yoghurts are imported weekly by plane from Australia. All staff are English-speaking and are famous for their friendly service.

Fern is one of the supermarkets in Tarawa. It sells fresh vegetables, chicken, meat pies, cloth and everything that a visitor needs to buy including a selected range of wine. Visitors are always welcome at the Fern store which opens seven days a week.

SPORTS AND OTHER ACTIVITIES

Sailing and other water sports, fishing, soccer, cricket, squash and tennis are the popular sports and now there is a diving club in Betio as well as a diving resort in North Tarawa. Bottle and weight belts are supplied, but divers should bring their own regulators, masks and fins. Advance booking is essential because the amount of rental equipment is limited. To prevent coral cuts, sandshoes should be worn when walking on the reef.

A favourite swimming area in Tarawa is on both sides of the Dai Nippon Causeway around the area close to the channel or off the small islets of North Tarawa. There is a 36 Norman Cross trimaran with sail and auxiliary power available for charter by the day or for longer periods. It is fully equipped with all safety equipment and has a professional skipper. Its day capacity is up to 17 persons and overnight is eight. Advance booking is essential at Facsimile: +686 28539.

Sightseeing is popular, in particular the wide variety of World War 2 relics still evident on Betio islet. If the visitor is lucky enough, he may be at Tarawa on the night of a flying-fish drive, when islanders paddle their outriggers or boats to stations at spaced intervals around the lagoon. Each canoe carries a torch of burning coconut stems, and the whole lagoon seems dotted with lights, each flame expanding and contracting with movement, and in its spasmodic glow lighting the beautiful brown skins of the fishermen. The flying fish break the surface and fly toward the lights, only to strike the nets and drop into the hull of the canoes. Fish that are not immediately eaten are sun-dried, and used as reserve food.

For the above, the Gilbert Islander has to be ever on the alert. The rainfall of his island may vary between fifteen inches or a hundred and thirty from year to year; crops can fail, and starvation reach uncomfortably close. But his Micronesian heritage stands him in good stead; he can survive happily, and raise his laughing children where humans from more fortunate places would perish from want. For him life is relaxing; but relaxation is an attitude of mind, and a communal one.

HANDICRAFT

Handicraft centres and shops are located on South Tarawa and provide a variety of local handicraft for sale to visitors. These include shark tooth swords, local fans, mats, trays and wooden spears. Contact the Itoiningaina Handicraft Centre, Teaoraereke, Telephone: +686 21038, the RAK Handicraft Centre, Tangintebu, Telephone: +686 21132 and the AMAK Handicraft Centre, Bikenibeu, Telephone: +686 28517.

For more information on the Gilbert Islands (Republic of Kiribati) please contact: The Kiribati Visitors Bureau, P.O. 510, Betio, Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati; Telephone: +686 26158/26157; Facsimile: +686 26233

THE AFTERMATH OF WAR

The relics of World War 2 seem strangely inappropriate--the concrete pillboxes, the rusting landing craft, the shattered guns, all the futile imprints of an alien war.

The people of Tarawa are more conscious today of that war than the people of any other Pacific Island with the Solomons, and Guadalcanal, especially, running a close second. Much of this is due to the fact that the leftover junk of the war was something that could be promoted as a visitor attraction. But this attitude was something that was pressed upon them, either by the need for tourism to booster a fragile economy as in Tarawa, or by growing pressure of visitors who were finding their way there to see their old battle haunts and so refreshed local interest, as in Guadalcanal. If the old marines were returning, usually with their wives, children, grand children and even great grand children, why not make it easier for them to relive the old days?

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(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 27th May 2012)