Gilbertese (Kiribati) island of the Gilbert Group shown below normally consists of
a strip of land, an encircling belt of reef and a lagoon. The strip of land,
covered with coconut palms is almost on the same level as the high tide. The
highest points are scarcely more than a man's height and comprise sand dunes
formed by a wave stronger than the others - or are shovelled-up heaps of earth
left by people who have been digging a pit in which to plant babai. The
islands of Makin, Kuria, Nikunau, Tamana and Arorae have no lagoon.
interactive map which provides aspects of the sixteen islands of Kiribati.
interactive map provides aspects of the sixteen islands of Kiribati (Gilbert
A typical Kiribati (Gilbertese) village is
clean and tidy with the ground covered by a white layer of coral fragments. Rows
of huts line each side of the road and these are sometimes concealed amongst
breadfruits and pawpaw (papaya) trees. The open-sided huts are pleasant and well
ventilated and are all built on the same model. Every family has three: a house,
a kitchen and a store room. The house is simply a rectangular roof some six feet
above the ground, thatched with pandanus leaves and supported by four posts. At
about table height, there is a very springy floor made of flexible laths.
Between the roof and the floor, coconut-frond mats act as blinds and wind breaks
which are rolled up during the day.
The maneaba is the centre of
the village and next to the war canoe, it is the masterpiece of Kiribati (Gilbertese)
culture. Like the houses, it is built in a rectangular shape and the architect
is normally a village elder who has learnt his trade through experience and from
tradition in his family. The construction of the maneaba is undertaken in
strict accordance with rites and rules which are always carefully applied.
The maneaba is well adapted
to the island climate and to its function. Its roof is supported on
shoulder-high stone pillars and all who enter have to stoop. The Gilbertese are
very comfortable in the maneaba. It is wide, cool and airy and in it the
people feast, dance and sleep - sometimes all at the one time. There are no
constraints in the maneaba. Here, you might even see a Gilbertese
bringing in his grandfather's mummified body to honour the dancing and the
skulls of defeated warriors were traditionally lined up.
Villages and districts both have
their maneabas. They are divided into two groups with different names for
those in the south and the north. Some names, such as Maungatabu - sacred
mountain - clearly indicate a Samoan origin. Each maneaba has a name,
traditions and a personality. All the way around, the maneaba is divided
into places and each family has a set position in official gatherings. A
stranger who is guest in another maneaba enters it under the same beam as
he would in his home maneaba. Anyone, who belongs to several families,
chooses the least cluttered place to sit. As far as official feasts are
concerned, there is a strict code of etiquette to observe. One clan supplies
heralds who announce what the shares of food will be; another family is
responsible for distributing the food. The portion of honour belongs to such and
such a family and in sharing out the food a fixed order of precedence is
strictly followed. The least mistake for the slightest forgetfulness is taken as
Fish is a very necessary part of
Gilbertese life. There are no markets and each man fishes on his own account.
Catching fish is a problem which is only solved through determination and use of
intelligence. The well populated islands consume an enormous amount of fish with
one extended family using up to 20 kilos in two days.
The islands don't always have the
same share of facilities. Some have no lagoon while others have the villages
badly placed if they wish to send canoes out into the ocean. A different type of
fishing is required from one day to the next as the fish are always on the move.
Sometimes, there is no canoe, sometimes no net or no line. Most often, the
fisherman fails in some way: in health, in determination or in courage. On some
islands, many of the young men do not sail a canoe any more and all fishing is
done using a net from the shore. Under these circumstances, their families are
often forced to eat nothing but the smaller fish.
The fishing ground might be the
shore, the lagoon, or the open ocean. There are different types of fish in each
place. The best place to fish is normally the rocky line of reefs around the
island. In the coral chambers and grottos there are a thousand types of fish.
This area is also usually the most impossible to reach because of the great
breakers which constantly batter against the reef. The patches of rock scattered
about the lagoon are also rich in fish. The best fishing ground, however, is in
the open sea within about ten miles around the island. The farther away from the
reef one goes the less chance there is of good fishing.
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