The islands that make up the
Republic of Kiribati (formerly known as Gilbert Islands) are inhabited by
Micronesian people. In 1765 the British commodore John Byron discovered Nikunau;
in 1788 Captain Thomas Gilbert sighted Tarawa, and Captain John Marshall,
Aranuka. The islands - their respective native names being Makin, Butaritari,
Marakei, Abaiang, Tarawa, Maiana, Kuria, Aranuka, Abemama, Nonouti, Tabiteuea,
Beru, Nikunau, Onotoa, Tamana and Arorae - were named the Gilbert Islands in the
Missionaries arrived in 1857, and
three years later, trade in palm oil and copra began, in 1892 the islands became
a British protectorate. In 1915 the islands were annexed to the neighboring
Ellice archipelago (now Tuvalu), to form the colony of the Gilbert and Ellice
Islands. In 1916 Banaba Island became part of the colony. At that time, there
were large deposits of guano (fertilizer from bird droppings) on the island
which were exploited by the British Phosphate commission from 1920, and exported
to Australia and New Zealand. The Banabans were evacuated during World War II
and resettled on the island of Rabi, 2,600 km from Fiji. They were unable to
return to their island because the open-cast mining of guano had made the island
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After discussing different
alternation in 1981 the Banabans obtained an indemnity of 19 million pounds from
the British Government. In 1957 Britain, as part of its nuclear armament
program, detonated three hydrogen bombs near Christmas Island. The Polynesian
population of the Ellice Islands obtained administrative separation in 1975,
arguing that the ethnic, historical and cultural differences between them and
the Melanesian majority of the Gilbert Islands made secession necessary. Under
the name of the Territory of Tuvalu, these islands gained independence on 1st
inhabitants of the Gilbert Islands proclaimed independence on July 12 1979
adopting the name: Republic of Kiribati (the equivalent of 'Gilbert' in
Gilbertese). As the soil is not suitable for large-scale cultivation, copra and
fish are main exports. Copra production is in the hands of small landowners,
while its export is handled exclusively by the national trading company.
Problems facing copra production include abrupt variations in price. fishing is
carried out primarily under agreements with Japanese, US, Korean and Taiwanese
fishing fleets. Kiribati also hopes to exploit deep-sea mineral deposits. The
manganese discovered is considered the highest-grade deposit of its kind in the
world. In 1986 Kiribati began negotiations with the IMF and was recognised by
the UN as one of the world's poorest countries, a fact which gives it access to
certain credit and trade advantages.
A 1989 UN report on global warming
and the possible rise in sea level said that Kiribati could disappear under the
rising sea. In the 1991 elections, Teatao Teannaki won with 46 per cent of the
vote, producing the first change in president since independence. The Government
of Teannaki, accused of misuse of state funds, was forced to resign in May 1994.
In July, opposition coalition Maneaba Te Mauri won a Parliamentary majority and
in September Teburoro Tito was elected President. In 1996, Kiribati signed an
agreement with China, to increase trade between both countries. The following
year Japan contributed $40 million to the construction of Port Betio, one of
Kiribati's largest. due to the low elevation of most of the islands - barely a
couple of meters above sea level - there is a growing concern about the
'greenhouse effect' leading to a rise in sea water levels. If the sea level were
to rise, due to ice meltdowns among other things, the islands would be partially
underwater and lose their sources of drinking water.
Because of its position on the
International date line, Kiribati was the first Pacific island group to see the
dawn of the new millennium in 2000. One of its usually uninhabited territories,
Millennium island, was the center of celebrations that included traditional
dances, in the hours before sunrise. The country joined the United Nations in
1999 and the International Labour Organization the following year. the
archipelago started the new millennium in the International field with an
agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Morocco.
population is mostly of Micronesian descent. Kiribati 97.4 per cent; mixed
(Kiribati and other) 1.5 per cent; Tuvaluan 0.5 per cent; European 0.2 per cent;
other 0.4 per cent. Languages: English and Kiribati (Gilbertese).
Political Parties: National Progressive Party and the Maneaban te Mauri. Social
Organizations: Kiribati General Labor Confederation.
Republic of Kiribati. Capital: Bairiki, Tarawa 25,100
people; (1999). Other cities: Bikenibeu: 7,000; Abaiang 5,300 (2000).
Government: Teburoro Tito, President since October 1994, re-elected in 1998.
Parliament is made up of 39 members, elected by direct popular vote, plus one
representative of Banaba Island. National Holiday: July 12, Independence Day
July 12, Independence Day (1979).
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