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Kiribati History


The Republic of Kiribati is located in the central Pacific Ocean and straddles the equator and the International Date Line. The islands are about 4,000-km (2,500 miles) southwest of Hawaii or about 4,500-km (2,800 miles) northeast of Australia. Kiribati is part of the division of the pacific islands known as Micronesia.

Kiribati is composed of coral atolls on a submerged volcanic chain scattered across 5.2 million sq. km (2 million sq. miles) of the Central Pacific. 33 coral islands are divided into three island groups: 17 Gilbert Islands (including Banaba), eight Phoenix Islands and eight Line Islands. Of these 33 islands of Kiribati, 21 are inhabited. Only one of the Phoenix Islands and three of the Line Islands are permanently inhabited.

The capital of Kiribati is Bairiki, on Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Bairiki, an islet of Tarawa, that serves as an administrative center. More than 95 percent of the population lives on the Gilbert Islands. Each atoll has a free, government-maintained medical dispensary and a primary school.

The climate varies from maritime equatorial (central islands) to tropical in the north and sough. The temperatures normally ranging between, 72o F / 22o C and 90o F / 32o C. Humidity is constant at 70% to 90%. Northwest trade winds blow between March and October. From November to April, there are occasional heavy rains, and strong to gale force winds, though Kiribati is outside the cyclone belt.

The principal economic activities are agriculture and fishing. Food crops include bananas, breadfruit, papaya, screw-pine, roots and tubers, melons. Livestock - mainly pigs and Poultry are raised for local consumption. The soil is poor, but the islands are well covered by coconuts, coconut palms provide copra, the main export.

The official language is English, but it is rarely spoken away from Tarawa Atoll. The Gilbertese formerly called themselves I-Tungaru, but are now usually known as I-Kiribati.


Archaeological evidence indicates the Gilbert Islands were settled by Austronesian-speaking people. The present inhabitants are descended mainly from Samoans who migrated to Kiribati at some time during the 11th to 14th centuries. Fiji and Tonga groups arrived and intermarried with the island' inhabitants to form the Micronesian people known as the I-Kiribati.

1606 - Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandex de Quiros discovers Butaritari and names it Buen Viaje.
1765 - Commodore John Byron encounters Nikunau in HMS Dolphin.
1788 - British naval captains Thomas Gilbert and John Marshall locate several more islands when sailing from Sydney to China. Other islands recorded by Europeans between 1799 and 1826.
1820 - Russian Krusensten (hydrographer) name the Gilbert Islands group.
1850 - After trading vessels begin visiting the group from about 1850, some beachcombers became traders and agents for firms in Australia, Germany and the US. Other traders also appear. Coconut oil is chief commodity of trade until replaced by copra about 1870-1880.
1857 - Rev. Hiram Bingham, a Protestant establishes a mission on Abaiang.
1870 - Samoan clergy, sponsored by the London Missionary Society establish missions in the islands.
1875 - Christian missionaries first arrived in the northern Gilberts.
1877 - Governor of Fiji is appointed as High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. This gives the governor jurisdiction over British subjects; authority is exercised through British naval commanders.
1888 - Roman Catholic priests of the Sacred Heart order begin work, using Nonouti as their first base.
1892 - Captain E. H. M. Davis of HMS Royalist proclaims the group a British protectorate at Abemama. After the British flag is also raised over Tuvalu, a new protectorate is established at Butaritari.
1896 - New British protectorate established at Tarawa.
1900 - Banaba is annexed by Britain following the discovery of phosphate, and placed under resident commissioner's jurisdiction.
1907 - Exploitation of Banaban phosphate has become so important that the protectorate's headquarters are transferred to that island.
1915 - After obtaining formal approval of the native governments, Britain annexes Gilbert and Ellice Islands by an Order-in-Council.
1916 - Order comes into effect on 12 January, from which date the two groups become the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. That year, Banaba and also Tabuaeran (Fanning) and Teraina (Washington) Islands (which Britain had annexed in 1888 and 1889 respectively) are incorporated within the colony, as are the three Tokelau Islands (then known as the Union Group), which had been a British protectorate since 1889.
1916 - The islands gave up their sovereignty and became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. The colony was later extended to include most of the Phoenix and Line groups from 1916 to 1937.
1919 - Kiritimati (Christmas) Island, annexed in 1888, is added to the colony.
1925 - Tokelau Islands transferred to New Zealand administration because of the difficulty of communicating with them from Banaba.
1937 - The uninhabited Phoenix Islands become part of the colony. Three of the Phoenix Islands, Nikumaroro (Gardner), Orona (Hull) and Manra (Sydney), are colonized in 1938 by Islanders from the southern Gilbert Group.
1939 - British Government agrees that two of the Phoenix Islands, Kanton and Enderbury, should be administered jointly with the US because of their value in trans-Pacific aviation.
1941 - Two days after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft bomb Banaba and reconnaissance parties land on Tarawa and Butaritari. Most Europeans are evacuated. Some government officials and missionaries elect to stay and are joined by coast-watchers sent from New Zealand. Twenty-two Europeans are subsequently killed by the Japanese.
1942 - Japanese occupied the Gilbert Islands during World War II (1939-1945).
1943 - American forces invaded Tarawa and drove the Japanese off most of the islands.
1945 - Banaba reoccupied. Japanese had massacred all but one man of the imported labor force. Native inhabitants, the Banabans, had been deported to Nauru and Kosrae. (Caroline Islands). After rescue, Banabans elect to live on Rabi Island, Fiji, which had earlier been bought for them.
1951 - First of three biennial conferences for magistrates was held.
1957 - Three hydrogen bombs were detonated in the vicinity of Kiritimati (Line Islands), as part of the British atmospheric testing program.
1963 - Executive council and advisory council are created to give Islanders an advisory role in government.
1967 - Advisory council replaced by a house of representatives with no legislative powers, but can make recommendations to governing council.
1971 - House of representatives replaced by legislative council of 23 elected members, three ex-officio members and two public service members; and government council is superseded by an executive council. Powers of both still limited.
1972 - Colony ceases to come under the jurisdiction of the Western Pacific High Commission. Resident commissioner, Sir John Field, is sworn in as governor. At end of 1972 the colony becomes responsible for Southern Line Islands.
1973 - 1st US Peace Corp Volunteer assigned to Kiribati.
1974 - Colony moves towards ministerial form of government. The legislative council is replaced by an elected house of assembly, and a chief minister. Later that year, the Tuvaluans, by an overwhelming majority, vote in a referendum to secede from the colony.
1975 - Ellice Islands seceded to form the separate territory of Tuvalu. Banabans initiate suit against British Government, claiming back royalties and recompense for damages to Banaba.
1976 - High court in London reaches decision in Banaba issue; no back royalties, but British Government is found to have failed in its obligations to Banabans. Later, compensation paid by British, Australian and New Zealand governments.
1977 - January 1st, Internal self-government was granted to the Gilbert Islands and Kiribati name adopted.
1978 - Ellice island group was achieved independence as the Dominion of Tuvalu.
1979 - July 12th, Kiribati Independence Day, became the 41st member of the Commonwealth. The Republic of Kiribati now consists of the 16 Gilbert Islands, Banaba, the eight Phoenix Islands, and eight of the Line Islands. September 1979 treaty of friendship with the United States to relinquishes all claims to 14 islands in the Line and Phoenix groups. Kiribati agrees to joint administration of Kanton Island. Mining on Banaba ceases.
1981 - Banabans won compensation from the British government for revenues from phosphate mining over the previous 50 years.
1983 - US Senate approves recognition of Kiribati's sovereignty of the Line and Phoenix groups.
1984 - Population estimated at 61,400. Approximately 90% live in the Gilbert Islands, and more than 30% live on Tarawa.
1990 - Population estimated at 72,298.
1992 - Population estimated at 74,700. Kiribati's legislature approved a proposal to seek compensation from Japan for damage caused during World War II.
1993 - The government adjusted the International Date Line to the east of its easternmost island. This will make Kiribati the first inhabited country in the world to see the dawn of the new millennium.
1995 - Population estimated at 79,000.
1996 - North and South Tarawa were linked by a series of causeways and bridges.
1997 - Population estimated at 82,449.
1999 - US PCV celebrating 25 Years in Kiribati.
2000 - Kiribati 1st to welcome the new millennium from Millennium Island (Caroline).
Excerpted from: Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia
Copyright 1994, 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.

Excerpted from: Asia Point Network.
Copyright 1997-99 All Rights Reserved.

Excerpted from:
Copyright 1998 Hanson Cooke Ltd.

Excerpted from: Robert C. Kiste, B.A., Ph.D.
Professor of Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Studies
Director of the Center for Pacific Island Studies, University of Hawaii.

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David W. Brummel, Louisville Colorado
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Last updated, March 17, 2011