History of Kiribati: A Pacific Island Nation.

Kiribati 1


Kiribati’s history is thought to have begun around 2000 BC when Austronesian-speaking peoples started to migrate from what is now known as Southeast Asia. The people of Kiribati are Micronesian.

The islands were first sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The residents of the islands were skilled navigators and seafarers, and the British took advantage of their navigational expertise by enlisting many of them as crewmen on their ships.

Throughout Kiribati’s history, the people have relied on fishing, farming, and trading as their primary means of subsistence. The islands were seen as a strategic location during World War II and saw significant military action, particularly during the Battle of Tarawa.

The name “Kiribati” is a local Micronesian variation of “Gilberts” which was the name given to the islands by European explorers. In 1979, Kiribati gained independence from Britain, and its official name became the Republic of Kiribati.


Kiribati, also known as the Gilbert Islands, is an island nation located in the Pacific Ocean. The earliest known settlers of the Gilbert Islands were the Micronesians, who arrived around 2,000 years ago. The Micronesians were skilled navigators and fishermen who used traditional canoe boats to travel across the vast Pacific Ocean. They lived in small communities on the islands, relying on fishing and agriculture for their livelihoods.

In the 16th century, European explorers began to visit the Gilbert Islands. Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira was the first European to discover the islands in 1568. In the following centuries, traders and whalers from Europe and America visited the islands, bringing with them new technologies and diseases.

By the 19th century, the Gilbert Islands were under the control of the British Empire. The islands were visited by famous explorers such as Charles Darwin and Captain James Cook, who made important contributions to the scientific understanding of the islands and their ecosystem.

During World War II, the Gilbert Islands were invaded by the Japanese army, leading to a period of occupation and conflict. The United States eventually liberated the islands in 1943, and they became part of the Pacific Theater of War.

After the war, the Gilbert Islands became a British protectorate and gained independence in 1979. Today, Kiribati is a small, isolated island nation with a unique culture and way of life. The people of Kiribati continue to rely on fishing and agriculture for their livelihoods, and face ongoing challenges such as climate change and rising sea levels.

Key Figures

Kiribati has a rich history that has been shaped by various key figures who have played a significant role in the development of the country. Some of these figures include:

Tungaru Central Committee

The Tungaru Central Committee was established in 1946 with the aim of promoting self-government in Kiribati. It was made up of prominent leaders including Temaikuia Eriaia, Tarewekaitea Beniamina, and Bauro Tiiteiti. The committee played a vital role in lobbying for Kiribati’s independence.

Sir Arthur Grimble

Sir Arthur Grimble was a British colonial administrator who served as the High Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands from 1919 to 1934. He made significant contributions to the development of Kiribati, including codifying the Gilbertese language and culture and introducing a system of government that allowed for traditional island councils to coexist with colonial administration.


Taburimai was a Kiribati activist who campaigned for political independence from British rule. He is known for his role in leading a delegation to London in 1971 to petition for the establishment of a separate government for the Gilbert Islands. He also served as the first Speaker of the House of Assembly after Kiribati gained independence.

Ieremia Tabai

Ieremia Tabai was the first President of Kiribati after it gained independence in 1979. He served two terms from 1979 to 1982 and from 1983 to 1991. Tabai played a crucial role in establishing a democratic system of government in Kiribati and promoting sustainable development.

Teburoro Tito

Teburoro Tito served as the President of Kiribati from 1994 to 2003. He is known for his role in promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development. During his tenure, he established the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which was one of the largest marine protected areas in the world at the time.

Anote Tong

Anote Tong served as the President of Kiribati from 2003 to 2016. He is known for his advocacy for action on climate change and raising awareness of the existential threat that it poses to Kiribati and other low-lying islands in the Pacific. Under his leadership, Kiribati became a symbol of the dangers of rising sea levels and the urgent need to address climate change.

Impact and Significance

Kiribati, as an island nation, has had a unique and complicated history, which has had a significant impact on its development and significance. Some of the key aspects include the island nation’s colonization, the introduction of Christianity, independence, and climate change.


Kiribati was occupied by different groups of people from around 3000 BC onwards, with its first recorded contact with outsiders coming in the form of Spanish explorers in 1606. However, it was the British who colonized the island in the late 19th century, with their influence lasting until independence in 1979.

The British colonization of Kiribati saw a significant impact on the country, mainly in terms of its customs and practices. Part of this was the relocation of the capital city, from Abaiang to Tarawa, which was chosen because it was easier for the imperial powers to govern. Kiribati was also used for a variety of purposes, including as a phosphate-mining site, which saw its people exploited and significant damage done to the island’s unique ecosystems.


Christianity was introduced to Kiribati in the early 19th century, with the arrival of Christian missionaries. The introduction of Christianity, mainly the Protestant faith, saw significant changes in Kiribati’s traditional beliefs and practices. Many of the old ways were banned, including traditional dances, and instead were replaced with practices like church attendance and Bible studies.

The impact of Christianity on Kiribati is significant, with the religion playing a significant role in the lives of the people to this day. Churches are a central part of community life, and religion continues to guide social and cultural norms.


Kiribati gained independence from Britain in 1979, following a period of colonization that lasted almost a century. During this time, there were significant changes in terms of the country’s governance, administration, and economy.

The impact of independence was felt throughout the country, with Kiribati now having its own government, constitution, and legal system. The country now has a unique identity, separate from its colonial past, giving its people a sense of pride in their heritage.

Climate Change

Climate change is having a significant impact on Kiribati, with rising sea levels threatening to submerge the island nation. Kiribati is one of the world’s lowest-lying countries, with the average elevation of the islands being just two meters above sea level.

The impact of climate change on Kiribati is significant, with the island nation facing the loss of its land, culture, and way of life. This has led to international recognition and aid from the global community, raising awareness of the urgency of the situation facing Kiribati.

In conclusion, the impact and significance of Kiribati’s history cannot be overstated, with colonization, Christianity, independence, and climate change all playing a significant role in the development and identity of the island nation. Despite the challenges facing Kiribati, its people remain resilient, proud of their heritage and determined to preserve their culture and way of life.

Social, cultural, or political context

Kiribati is an island nation in the Central Pacific Ocean. It was previously known as the Gilbert Islands and consists of 33 coral islands, with the majority of its population residing on the capital island of Tarawa. The nation is highly influenced by its social, cultural, and political context, which is deeply embedded in its history.

Pre-colonial era

The pre-colonial era of Kiribati history can be traced back to more than 2000 years ago when the islands were first inhabited. According to oral traditions, the settlements were established by brave men and women who sailed across the Pacific Ocean in outrigger canoes. These settlers were skilled navigators and seafarers who had a deep connection with the ocean and relied on fishing and agriculture for their livelihood.

The natives of Kiribati were organized into clans, and social hierarchies were determined by birth and occupation. The community was led by chiefdoms, which were responsible for maintaining order and resolving disputes. Religion also played a significant role in the social and cultural life of Kiribati’s indigenous population.

Colonial era

The colonial era of Kiribati history began in the late 19th century when European powers started to establish their presence in the Pacific region. In 1892, the British declared the Gilbert Islands a protectorate and annexed it to the British Empire. The colonization of Kiribati had a significant impact on the social, cultural, and political context of the island nation.

Under British rule, the traditional social structure of Kiribati was disrupted, and new forms of authority were established. The British introduced a system of land tenure and gave ownership of the islands to foreign planters and traders who exploited the indigenous population for cheap labor. Furthermore, Christianity was introduced, and it gradually replaced the traditional religion of Kiribati.

World War II

World War II had a profound impact on Kiribati and its people. The islands became a battleground between the United States and Japan, and the fighting resulted in significant damage to the infrastructure and loss of life.

The war also marked the end of British colonial rule in Kiribati, as the islands were transferred to New Zealand’s administration in 1945. The administration of New Zealand led to the development of new infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and airports, which helped modernize the country.


Kiribati gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1979, making it one of the youngest countries in the world. The social, cultural, and political context of Kiribati has continued to evolve since then.

The government of Kiribati is a parliamentary republic, with a president as the head of state and a prime minister as the head of the government. The country’s legal system is based on English common law, and its economy is primarily driven by fishing and agriculture.

Culture plays a significant role in the social fabric of Kiribati. Music, dance, and poetry are essential aspects of Kiribati’s traditional culture, and events such as the Te Riri Kiribati festival provide a platform for celebrating and preserving the country’s heritage.

In recent times, Kiribati has faced many challenges, including climate change, overfishing, and unemployment. The rising sea levels pose a significant threat to Kiribati’s existence as most of its population lives in low-lying areas. The government and the people of Kiribati are making efforts to address these challenges and to safeguard their country’s future.

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