Kiribati   Page i Next  


Kiribati on the globeThe Gilbert Islands Colony became the independent Republic of Kiribati on July 12, 1979. Prior to January 1, 1976, it was part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, which which was split into two seperate colonies after the Ellice Islands seceded on that date. The Ellice Islands became the colony of Tuvalu.

The name Kiribati is actually the local spelling and pronunciation of "Gilberts." It is pronounced closest in English to KILLY-BASS or KIRI-BASS, as the "R" in the I-Kiribati language is rolled similar to the French "R".

Kiribati FlagKiribati consists of four districts of islands, which do not have any special political status as such. The main district is the Tungaru Islands, which consists of the sixteen main islands, formerly called the Gilbert group. Banaba, formerly Ocean island, is a single island district to the west of Tungaru. It is not geographically part of the Tungaru chain. The other two districts are the Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands.

The sixteen islands in the Tungaru group are Abaiang, Abemama, Aranuka, Arorae, Beru, Butaritari, Kuria, Maiana, Makin, Marakei, Nonouti, Nukunau, Onotoa, Tabiteuea, Tamana and Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati.

The seven Phoenix Islands are Kanton (formerly Canton), Enderbury, Birnie, McKean, Rawaki (formerly Phoenix), Manra (formerly Sydney) and Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner).

The Line Islands consist of Teraina (formerly Washington), Tabuaeron (formerly Fanning), and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the northern group, Malden and Starbuck in the central group, and Caroline (Millenium Island), Vostok and Flint in the Southern group.

The creation of the Kiribati nation was not without controversy. Not only was Britain strongly against the separation of Tuvalu, the latter had aspirations to a portion of the phosphate mining trust fund, and the Phoenix islands. Neither materialized.

Banaba is a political anomaly. Despite being part of Kiribati, its municipal administration is run by the Rabi Council of Leaders and Elders, which is based on Rabi Island, in Fiji, where most Banabans now live. They were relocated there by the British authorities after World War II. The Banabans claim they are a unique people, distinct from the I-Kiribati. There has been a long standing dispute over royalties from 100 years of phospate mining which virtually destroyed the island. There are strong movements hoping to secede Banaba from Kiribati, with either complete independence or unification with Fiji.

Kiribati at a Glance:

Capital: Tarawa
Population: 105,432
Land Area: 725 sq. km (280 sq. miles)
Official Language: I-Kiribati, English

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