An Account of the Gilbert Islands


Father Ernest Sabatier is part of the history of Kiribati. His book: Soux l'equateur du Pacifique was translated into English by Ursula Nixon and published by Oxford University Press in 1977, under the title: ASTRIDE THE EQUATOR - An Account of the Gilbert Islands.

I have taken the liberty of reproducing below, for the benefit of researchers and other interested parties, who would like to learn more about Kiribati, some interesting aspects of Kiribati life, along with some very important observations and recollections of Father Ernest Sabatier, a missionary in Kiribati for many years.

Also, I will be including some of my own comments below, in italics, on certain sections of the text that may need to be discussed and clarified a little further from an I-Kiribati perspective.


Cover of Astride of the Equator
depicting a Kiribati village scene


The Story of the Creation

Before we talk about the race living in the Gilberts let us look at some mythological tales and a few legends. They will act as windows on to the ideas and beliefs of the people and also give some idea of their history. The creation stories have a common base on all the islands but they vary from one narrator to the other in sometimes quite important details. Gilbertese tradition has plenty of thin or uneven patches, for race memory, like that of individual men, is nothing more than a skimming device.

To begin with here is a traditional story from Abemama in the Central gilberts which is one insight into the creation of man and all things. A few notes will help to explain the Gilbertese words which are somewhat difficult to translate. In the beginning there was nothing except three people: Na Areau (Nareau) the Father, Na Areau the Seeker and Na Areau the Small. Where they came from no one knows, though some people say that they came out of three shells. Heaven and earth clung together and there was only he Darkness and the Cleaving together: to Bo ma Te Maki.

Nareau walked hither and thither up in heaven and gave voice to this song:

North I go and tread heaven underfoot.
South I go and tread heaven underfoot.
You know nothing, O Darkness and Cleaving Together.
Spirits do not exist, Nor are there men or any things:
there is only myself, the giant, Na Areau.

Na Areau looked for a soft place where he could penetrate the surface. In the centre known as the Navel, he found a shell (or lump) also called Te Bo Te Maki.

This he pierced with an instrument called Te Wete n Airaro. Na Areau the Small was the first to go through the opening. There he met a second shell called the emptiness. this he opened using his staff and came to a third shell: utter nothingness. Next he came to a fourth shell - nothing remains, and the fifth shell he penetrated was called the Whole and complete.

Here is the song Na Areau made as he got ready to break through the first shell:

We sharpen the point of the staff
To create and examine the world
Oh break the navel of heaven and hell
Now joined together and united.
Who can do this great deed? Only I,
I, Nareau, can do this with my tongue.
There are two tips to it:
One kills and the other devours.
The tongue of Nareau, pointed and baleful,
The tongue of Nareau who rules the heavens.
After breaking through the fifth shell he came to thick darkness. Then Na Areau the Father stretched out his arm and taking hold of the darkness flung it to the east. He turned back and to the sun shone through the opening his arm and made, Na Areau looked through the hole thus made in the shell and dry land appeared: this was Samoa. so the world was created and fixed in its place. suddenly thee was a sound as of distant voices murmuring underground. Na Areau called out: 'Uka (the first man), Nan te WeneWene, Karitoro, Nabawe, Ngkoangkoa, where are you?' Away in the east something collapsed.
'Tabakea is that you?'
'Yes it is I, Tabakea.'
'Come out you others!'
'We cannot. Everywhere the heavens touch earth and bear down on us.'
Then Na Areau commanded Ko Wene (you who are lying down) to lift the heavens. Ko Wene crawled out and lifted the heavens a little. Then it was the turn of Ko Tekateka (you are seated) and after, in turn, came Ko Toro (you are squatting), Ko Katei Babai (you raise your hands), and Ko Tei (you are standing). Eutia (standing on tiptoes) and Ko Tare (you are losing your footing) raised the heavens in their turn as much as they could. The newly created multitudes could breathe more easily but still the sky was too low. The three of high rank discussed the matter and Na Areau the Father had to use the staff with which he had pierced the shells and which had a second name: Te Kai Riki or Riki, if shortened. The meaning is: may you be so. Na Areau spoke to his crowd of helpers: 'Give some food to Riki lest he should eat you when he is hungry.' Two large shellfish were placed on his shoulders so that he only needed to turn his head a little in order to eat or drink. While he worked at his task, they called out to him:
Raise the heavens higher!' 
'How is it now?'
'Higher! Again ... again!'

He tried hard but could do no more, making so much effort that blood welled from his face and fell on Samoa. Where the blood fell there grew a famous tree: Tere moa te rara: sight of the first blood. 'If I let go,' shouted Riki, 'the heavens will collapse!'

Ten  Na Areau called the Caryatids for the cardinal points. He commanded them to go and support the four corners of the heavens. The four women grew roots and turned into strong trees. Thus the heavens remained high and well supported.

'Have you finished Riki?'
'Yes Na Areau, I've finished.'

Then Na Areau broke Riki's legs and placed his body in the sky. It became Naiabu, the Milky way that we can see up in the heavens. As for his legs, they fell into the sea in pieces and became all the many eels that live there. Now, Riki is the large salt-water eel.

Na Areau the Father withdrew. As Riki raised up the heavens so he ascended with them. He left behind two types of being: men and spirits. The spirits fell on the country where white people lived; the I-Matang. That is why they received intelligence and power as their lot. The species called  men stayed on Samoa and that is why all real men come from Samoa. Meanwhile Na Areau the Seeker and Na Areau the Small had stayed on earth to complete the creation and organization of the world. Everything: men, women, sky, land, north and south, was vague and indistinct and remained shut up in Nei Te Nano (Inside Woman). The first man was called Naewa (He) and his wife was Nei Oa (She) and so all things were ordered and arranged.

Not long after this they saw a basket come down from heaven at the end of a long rope. It stopped right in the middle of the multitude of men. On opening it oh what horror came amongst men! In the basket were naked skulls, white hair, decayed bones, toothless jaws, old age with its stick; all the illness and suffering and miseries of mankind. At the bottom of the basket, most horrific of all these gifts, was Death. 'I cannot bear the sight of what is in that basket,' said Naka. 'I am going away as far as possible.' He said his goodbyes but first shared out the tree of Samoa, Tere moa te rara, amongst those dwelling there. this is the song he made:

Let the eastern side of the tree be for Tabakea (turtle); 

Give the western side to Bakoa; (the shark)
The south shall be for Te Raun and Te Baeao (pearl oyster)
No one dwells at the top of the tree.
Walt though, for men will come from the land of white people.
They will take the top of the tree. but the Gecko (little lizard)
Stands alone and makes the island of Beru.
We did not know that this was an evil place:
We have only known this in the age of men.

Naka went away with his wife Nei Bongibong (night) and his two daughters Nei Mataruarua and Nei Karamakuna. With them too went his son Taranga and his youngest daughter Nei Taunikai. Nor did he forget his two birds: te Kiriri (a sort of sandpiper) who carried news and scattered white pebbles on graves and te Kewe, the curiew, whose shrill cry heralds a death or some important event. In his hand, as a walking stick, and to help him over the water, Naka took a branch from the tree Tere moa te rara. As he travelled he sang thus:

It is all done, all finished; here is Nikunau.
Catch as you may the way of speaking elsewhere,
I use only the language of my own land,
Takoronga of Samoa.
The islands of Tabitgeuea and Tarawa come
Of the same age: the time of Naka the Father;
And the age of Na Areau the Father is gone.

On they went and every time they stopped to rest an island was born where they stood. so they came to Tabiteuea and then to Tarawa. the first piece of Tabiteuea to emerge was Takoronga and there Taranga, Naka's son, lived. Bikeman, in the centre of the lagoon, was the first part of Tarawa to appear from the waters. Tebua-tarawa (a line of reefs) is the body of Nei Bibongibong, Naka's wife. She remained on Tarawa with her youngest daughter Nei Taunikai.

As for Naka, he began to count the waves ... one ... two ... and on reaching nine he went away. He went to the north, no one knows where, with his two elder daughters: Nei Mataruarua and Nei karamakuna. In the north of Makin they show the rock from which Naka took off, carrying his coconut, pandanus fruit, fish (te mon) and Tarakaimautu (meaning happiness, abundance). When his supplies were finished they were renewed. Naka always looked to the north, turning his back on Samoa and the horrible figure of Death who pursued him still and had not ceased to terrify him. Naka's dwelling bars the way of those dead souls who are on the way to Bouru. All souls must go past him. While he waits for them, he spends day and night weaving a never-ending net. this is only a trick, for the movement he makes in handling the mesh is only a way to catch any soul that comes within reach.

There were many companion s of Naka's who lived at Samoa or who left after him. they were the Ancestors, the Heroes and the god-men (anti ma Aomata). Together with Naka himself, the best known are Tabakea (the turtle); Bakoa (the shark); Auriaria, Taburimai, Tabuariki (thunder) and the goddesses Nei Tituabine and Nei Tevenei (shooting star). Nei Tituabine left after Naka but no one knew where she want. She returned in a canoe from the land of the white people. It was this canoe and the strangers herein that upset the tree Tere moa te rara whose inhabitants were then scattered. the tree called Tekai n tiku aba or Te Ieretia replaced the fallen tree. On top of it Nei Tituabine placed the two birds she had brought from the country of the whites: Te Take, the red-tailed tropic-bird and Te Koroangutungutu, the yellow-billed tropic bird, together with Nei Tetiennag. those who lived in the tree multiplied in number and then there was discord amongst them. Teuribaba, who lived at the root of the tree, became angry and destroyed it. Nei Tituabine's birds flew away: Te Take landed at Beberiki and Te Koroangutungutu came to Motua. Nei Tetiennang went to Tekirikiri. the other inhabitants of the tree and its shade scattered and followed Naka to the north.  


There are many variations on this tale. According to a story from Tabiteuea and another from Onotoa, the first being was Tebakatibu-Tai (the sun). A large swelling grew on his forehead. this burst and from it emerged Na Areau, his son. He had the same power as his father, and it was he who initiated the creation. The Father allowed his son to do anything, even permitting his own eyes to be torn out in order to make the sun and the moon and thus complete the creation. In another story from Tabiteuea, tebakatibu-Tai's country which was above heaven and earth was called Angatoa. Tebakatibu-Tai had beside him those he created: Ten Nanokai (Lord Power) and Nei Nanomaka (Lady Might). These created Na Areau. He received his might from three ordeals in fire, as follows. A little after his birth he was thrown into the fire and his bones and ashes, gathered in a pool called 'Water of life', were revived three times so that he was formed again. The third time he survived the fire and thus deserved his great power.    

Is thee some trace here of a sun myth from Asia? The cracking of wood being broken for the fire becomes thunder; the smoke is cloud; breath to make the fire burn is the wind and the flames are lightning. the water that was stirred up by the little Na Areau in climbing out of the pool becomes the waves. In 'Myths from the Gilbert Islands', a remarkable article, Arthur Grimble gives the results of his lengthy research into the creation myths. His man story is taken from Beru (southern gilberts). The story of Na Areau the Father is just like that from Abemama at first, but then Na Areau commanded the Sand to lie with the Water. they brought forth children and their names were Na Atibu (stone) and Te Akea (nothingness). Then Na Atubu lay with his sister Te Akea and they had many children. The last of them was Na Areau the Younger.

Then Na Areau the Father went away and the Younger continued the work of creation. First he lay with a women of the south, Nei Aro-maiaki. Their children were the Spirits who dwell in the four corners of the horizon. Samoa and its people were the first to be created, then Tarawa, and then Beru, in the Gilberts. Tabuariki (thunder) and his wife Nei Teiti (lightning) were the first couple on Beru. From there Na Areau came back to the south (Samoa), and with Nei Aro-maiaki he created a multitude of Spirits. The first Ancestor of men was Te I-Matang (a name in fact reserved for white people). The wonderful tree of Samoa sprang from the spine of Na Atibu. Na Areau also lay with the woman of the north, Nei Aro-Meang, and they had many children, including the men of the north: Taburimai and Riki.

In traditions from Nui - one of the Ellice islands populated by refugees from Tarawa and Nonouti - the first land to be created was Tarawa and not Samoa. The first being was Tabakea, the turtle, and the person to organize the first chaos was Auriaria and not Na Areau. Traditional tales from Ocean Island agree with those of Nui. they describe Auriaria and his friends as tall and fair-skinned, whereas Tabakea and Na Areau were short, dark-skinned, dirty and frizzy-haired, with flattened noses and large ears. They tell how Auriaria tipped over Ocean Island, burying Tabakea under it; he now lies there with the rocky island on his back. In these disparate traditions, according to Grimble, we have valuable snippets of history mixed with legend and sure traces of conflict between two races. He draws from this conclusions that we will develop later: that the first inhabitants of Ocean Island and Tarawa were probably a mixed Polynesian/Papuan race and that they were conquered by a seafaring Polynesian race. After this conquest thee was a commingling of race and creation theories.

There is no need for extended commentary on these texts. We need only say, meanwhile, that the oldest parts of tradition, the least touched parts; that is, the songs, retain the idea of an overall. god responsible for creation. It is in this area, where commentators and muddlers have blundered in, that the bard's vision has held firm. The poet speaks for the primeval solitude known by Na Areau, who at last decides to break it and to increase the number of beings around him.

Spirits do not exist,
Nor are there men or any things;
there is only myself, the giant, Na Areau.

Now let us look at more stories which will lead us from legend into history. We are not leaving the human element, nor are we abandoning poetry - in which, at times, we can feel a divine spark.

Te Ngaina and Nei Tebong

Te Ngaina (day) had lost his wife, Nei Tebong (night). he was sad at heart and rest escapd him. so he went to the ancestral goddess, Nei Tituabine.

'What is it, Te Ngaiana?'
'My wife is dead and I am looking for the way to find her again. Can you help me?'
'Of course I can. go on looking for her. le t me war you - on the way you will meet four women. Stay with them and when I call you, follow me.'
To accompany him on his journey Te Ngaina had Te Bai (hand) and Te Wae (foot). When the four women saw him they called to him:
'Come here Te Ngaina.'
The eldest was quick to spread out a mat - the one for visitors. They rolled Te Ngaina up in it and began their sport with him. they turned the mat round and round questioning him ...
'What direction is your head pointing to, Te Ngaina?'
'To the north.'
'What direction is it now?'
'To the south.'

They turned him round and round but he never made a mistake. So they let him go.

'Come along then,' said Hands and Feet to him.

A little further on he met Nei Karamakuna, Naka's daughter. A wizened wrinkled shrew, she snatched the eyes of the dead who were journeying to the country of souls. She was busy counting the eyes, tossing them up and down in her hands. this was her daily task. Nei Tituabine cautioned Te Ngaina:

'The last eyes are your wife's. When she throws them up catch them and then run away quickly to the north.'

Te Ngaina was at the ready behind Nei Karamakuna and snatched his wife's eyes he ran to the land of Naka, gatekeeper to the country of the dead. Naka was busy weaving his net. When Te Ngaina sat down in front of him Naka assumed an air of surprise.

'And where do you come from?'
'That's of no importance, Naka, but have you by any chance seen my wife, Nei Tebong?'
'Oh! so it's your wife who went by not long ago. Wait a little; she'll come back - this is her place. And I'll tell you something - when you see your wife, hold hr fast and put those eyes you have in your hand back into their sockets. then come back to me with her.'

Imagine how happy Te Ngaiana was when he came back! With him was his wife, restored from the dead, her eyes as bright and clear as before. Naka spoke to him:

'Now you're going back to your own land, Te Ngaina. You are lucky - but can you follow the advice I'm going to give you?'
'Of course. you have only to say and I will do it.'

'Then know this, Te Ngaina: the season of the north is over and the season of the south is finished. there is no longer high and low - only time, which never ends. You are going to live with your wife, but do not lie with her for at least three days. Then you and your descendants will be happy.'

Hands and Feet went after Te Ngaina to see the end of the matter. Te Ngaina went into his house with his wife. It was time for sleep but when he moved towards his wife Hands and Feet warned him to be careful.

'Te Ngaina, think of your descendants.'
'Oh I know, I know. I'm going to sleep. The season of the north is over and the season of the south is finished ... no more high ... no more low ...'

But the temptation was too strong and Te Ngaina gave in. There should have been a time of rich living and great joy - but instead a variety of miseries and pains descended on the human race: on our ancestors, on us and on the coming generations. And it is all the fault of Te Ngaina.

Te Kai n Tiku Aba

We will borrow Grimble's information about Gilbertese tradition in looking at the story of the tree Te Kai n Tiku Aba and the causes of its fall. Was this tree the pandanus or a simple creation to show the harmony of the Samoan people in their time of origin? In this legend Auriaria lived at the top of the tree: on its branches were Tabuariki, Riki, Nei Tewenei, and Nei Tituabine. Taburimai emerged from a sort of hump on its trunk. Koura came with its first blossom. Te Uribaba lived near the base and Taranga under its roots. Should we see something in common with Samoa, here? Probably, but in any case the inhabitants of the tree lived together. Auriaria was monarch of the high and Te Uribaba ruled below. The tree grew on the slope of a mountain whose summit smoked and sometimes belched fire. The mountain's name was Sawai, and it was sacred. No Samoans could walk there. Eventually the mountain gave forth a marvellous skull, as high as a house. The skull bore a brood of children who were kept busy searching for food for their father who existed only on cut off heads. there was nothing to find around this cannibal so they had to go down the mountain and hunt far afield. The first brush with Te Uribaba came from Rairaueana, one of the sons of Batuku (the skull). On e unfortunate throw when they were playing with slings hit Te Uribaba in the teeth. He managed to control his rage. 

Next it was necessary to build a big canoe, Te Kaburoro (the brain) to go on aids for food to other islands near by.

The first expedition sailed towards Butuna (Futuna?) and the canoe anchored off the west side of the island. The inhabitants, gathered on the beach, watched the handling of the canoe admiringly. Then Batuku's minions fell on them and killed about a hundred of them, for the gaping people had no idea about how to defend themselves. They had no knowledge at all of the art of war. The canoe was piled high with the bodies of the newly born, men in their prime and the bald-headed - the only fit food for the kings of Samoa. The cut off heads were attached to ropes and the blood dripped into the sea. Two fish followed the canoe so as to drink it and even a turtle climbed on to the outrigger the better to taste it. The canoe reached Samoa at the place called 'Decaying men' and here the bodies were unloaded.

In the sharing out, the first part - the cut off heads - went to Batuku and his god Auriaria. this food was taken to the foot of the mountain but no further for the people were afraid to go any deeper on to sacred ground. When Batuku began to eat the mountain smoked angrily. The rest of the food was shared out amongst the families of Samoa. Everyone got their share but Te Uribaba was forgotten. There were only the entrails left for him. he was livid with rage but said nothing. A second expedition went off to Nikumaroro and the events of the first voyage were repeated. Once again Te Uribaba was forgotten when it came to sharing out the food. A third expedition went south and arrived at Tonga. A landing was made at night and the people were taken by surprise and massacred. Their bodies were loaded on the canoes. Te Uribaba had hidden himself under a mat and when the loaded canoes set off he slipped into the water. Seeing the mat the men didn't go out of their way to check it. Te Uribaba swam to land and managed to explain himself so that he wasn't harmed.

Then he got all the people together and taught them how to fight, giving them a real military training. He showed them everything: how to throw darts, how to handle a spear and how to find off blows. Once this was accomplished he went to Butuna and Nukumaroro where he also taught the people there how to defend themselves. Later, when the Samoans came back to Butuna, since they were short of delicacies, thee was no one on the beach to watch them. this was rather strange as it hadn't been like that the first time. When they got to the village they saw only a few old women who ran away into the wood. They were going after them when they stumbled into a regiment of well ordered warriors ready for action. this time it was the Samoans' turn to be massacred. Heads battered in, bellies ripped open and necks sliced through, thee they lay. The only survivor was Kabotaninga one of Batuku's sons. He was taken prisoner and ld to the village. After slashing his head all over, they cut out his tongue. 'Now go back and tell the Samoans that in three months we will come and make war on them.'

Back in Samoa the people were waiting anxiously for the return of the canoe. They saw it coming but it looked as if it was going to go on to the rocks to the north. They went off to meet it and what consternation thee was then. Not only were there of the expected provisions, but there was only one man as crew, covered in blood and unable to speak. they took him away to the village council and questioned him, but thee was no reply. What could they do? The Samoans had been massacred. Who had conquered them? Kabotaninga indicated Samoa. Was it a Samoan? Then they compared all the island families. Is it someone from this family? ... that one? Kaboninga shook his head. When he was confronted with Te Uribaba's family he made no sign. then it was noticed that Te Uribaba was missing. they asked Kotunga where his friend was.

He replied that it was definitely Te Uribaba who had betrayed them and pointed out that Te Uribaba had been very angry at the injustice which meant his share of food was only the engrails. Kabotanging made a sign showing that he agreed with this. then the people knew that without any doubt Te Uribaba had taken his revenge. All that remained was to prepare for war as in three months time the canoes from Butuna, Tonga and Nukumaroro were going to arrive. The canoes came from the west and sailed straight for the northern point of land to land their men. some Samoans went off bravely to meet the invaders. There was some fighting and a lot of Samoans were killed, so that it was necessary to retreat. They now had someone stronger against them, so they planned what to do the following day.

'Why were you beaten?'
'The opposition is stronger than we are .'
'Did you recognize the leader?'
'Very well ... we'll know tomorrow.'

The next day another squad of Samoans went to fight. They recognized Te Uribaba and using cunning managed to get hold of him and take him off to the council.

'Why did you bring defeat upon us?'
'I was very angry about the sharing out of food! I got only the entrails.'
'Very well ... now, let's make peace.'
'I'd like to.'

To Uribaba and his followers were left to settle on the northern point of Samoa. They stayed there a long time but food was in short supply so Te Uribaba was persuaded to ask his friends to go back to their own islands. Thus they left Samoa, never to return again, and went back to their own lands. As for Te Uribaba, he sailed away to the north. He went by way of Onotoa, Tabiteuea and Nonouti and today his descendants are still there.


One of the sons of Batuku the skull, called Rairaueana te I-Matang (the white person) took it into his head to travel. He sailed the canoe Kaburoro to the north and after some time at sea he met a canoe coming from Tarawa: the Aka-rua-Tarawa. the canoes crashed into each other east of Rotuma. The Kaburoro was damaged and part of her deck was torn away so that it meant going back to Rotuma to have it repaired. the Akarua-Tarawa went on its way towards Samoa and arrived at the place called Makuan te rara (the tide of blood). Taubakarebua, the captain, Nei Marebu, and witch, and Kotei, the soothsayer, came ashore there. For two days food was brought to them but they were to be killed on the third day. One of the Samoans warmed them so they put their canoe in the water at night on the second day. they couldn't sail away as they'd forgotten the rudder so they anchored off the northern point of the island.

In the morning when the Samoans came to kill them there was no one there. they noticed the rudder, however, and assumed that they would therefore return. Out on the canoe, Kotei consulted his Anti (Spirit). The oracle didn't favour a return by day and said they should go back at night. That evening was stormy with thunder and lightning. Kotei said to the person who was going to retrieve the rudder 'While there is lightning notice where the rudder is and when it is dark again, get it quickly'. This was done and the canoe returned to Tarawa. Meanwhile the kaburoro had been repaired and again sailed away to the north. It arrived at the southernmost point of Tabiteuea and Rairaueana and his men came ashore. shortly after they saw a man whose name was Nan Tebuanna. As they were thirsty they asked him for water. He went to get some and when he brought it back also gave them the blood of a sperm-whale.

'Where did you get this blood?'
'It's from a washed up sperm-whale. Everyone is busy cutting it up.'
'Go and get us a piece then.'
'I can't. Thee are too many  people there ... they'd kill me.'
'Go all the same.'

The man went off but the people busy with the whale refused to give stragnes a piece of it. He came back to Rairaueana and said 'I couldn't get near.' With his long spear Rairaueana aimed at the whale's head and it was run through right to its tail. The same blow killed all the people who were busy cutting it up.

'Now cut off your piece of flesh.'
No one dared to come near and from this incident comes the Tabiteuea saying:
'If a dolphin or a whale is washed up don't take the first piece, for that belongs to the people of Matang'.
At first Rairaueana and his followers lived on Tabiteuea south. Then one night they woke to find no roof over them. Auriaria, their god, had carried the house away and they found it at Utiroa in the middle of the island.

We will have to comment on these tales in order to see what history we can glean from them but before going on to the question of the origins of the Gilbertese let us look at their beliefs about the journey made by the soul after death. There we will find the names of countries which will be useful as landmarks on the route taken by the migrants. (See Journey to the land of the dead Web site)

A People's Wanderings

Did these refugees from Samoa find new and uninhabited territory? Only very far away. That they headed north when they made their flight was because they knew the islands were inhabited by a people with whom they had always maintained relations. According to tradition thee were many voyages between the two island groups and in myths and legends we learn that the Polynesians had been to the Gilberts and had left groups of settlers there. Hence the Tongafiti had only to follow the route taken by their ancestors. In the story of the creation we learn that Na Areau having created Samoa went north and established a race of people on Beru, represented by Taburimai and Riki. Later this race migrated to Samoa. Taburimai was known as Auriaria's brother and he, having created Ocean island, went off to look for a second island: Samoa. he came back to the Gilberts, gathered his people together and again set off for Samoa where he stayed until the flight from it. Auriaria was tall and fair-skinned, a contrast to the first inhabitants of Ocean Island, who were small and dark-skinned. In fact he and Taburimai were true Polynesians, as was Nei Tituabine and all who came from Samoa.

How were these new arrivals welcome? We don't have very much information about this. Probably the islands were scarcely inhabited at all so those already resident would presumably be hospitable while keeping together until eventually they mixed with their Samoan cousins.

The true Gilbertese can all trace their line of descent back to ancestors who came from Samoa. This is not to say, however, that there is no other blood in their veins. The Tongafiti with their warlike outlook and tendency to dominate everything doubtless ended up by absorbing their rather degenerate cousins with whom they had taken refuge. In fact these cousins had added a negroid strain to their stock when they went to Samoa. Certainly the gilberts were occupied before the Polynesians arrived, because if this were not so then the Samoans and the Gilbertese wouldn't differ at all. In fact the Gilbertese are, on average, shorter, darker-skinned and have more signs of the negro race about them. that is not to say that they have crinkly hair or the bush of hair typical of Melanesians, but they do have flattened noses and thick lips. Admittedly the Samoan people are also of mixed stock: they must have acquired some negroid blood during their lengthy wanderings, but it seems to be less pronounced than among the Micronesians. Nor does the Gilbertese language bear more than a slight resemblance to Samoan. It is much more close, so they say, to Melanesian languages. The conflict and then the friendship and mingling between the two races is borne out by myth and tradition. Na Areau the Younger, who stayed on earth, and Tabakea are older than Auriaria and Taburimai. they are the representatives of this race of smaller people who had long ears, flat noses, crinkly hair and dark skins. the two earlier figures are in conflict with the latter two. For example, Tabakea is defeated by Auriaria and buried under the rocks of Ocean Island. In his struggles against Taburimai, Na Areau is marked by physical inferiority and can only win through using cunning. In the stories which praise him, there is the idea of a weaker race taking its revenge on a stronger dominant people.

Now let us look at some of Na Areau the Younger's tricks, well suited to a timid little fellow cunning enough to save his skin and with a delicate enough wit to laugh a little. He tried to make Taburimai jealous by perpetually going to his wife to ask for fire. He also stole Taburimai's toiddy, and the latter than posted his two birds as sentinels. Na Areau seized them and twisted their tongues so that they could not revfeal who the thief was. All they could do was shake their heads and shrill 'kum kum kum' when they were questioned, and from this came their name. Taburimai had a good idea who the thief was, however, and wanted his revenge. He got Na Areau to help with the construction of a hut, asking him to dig the holes for the posts. Na Areau wasn't stupid and he dug a tunnel along from the hole. When Taburimai ordered his friends to throw stones into the hole to crush the suspected thief, Na Areau hid there. In the maneaba when there is a big celebration or feast, Gilbertese custom has it that food is exchanged. Na Areau tucked into the things prepared by Taburimai's family but when they came to lift off the crust on a pie brought by Na Areau guess what was in the middle. They chased this rude creature but, if he wasn't the quickest, then he was certainly the most cunning. He had a supply of sharply pointed shells with him and he scattered them behind him as he ran. It was then impossible to chase him. On another occasion he changed heads with Taranga, one of Taburimai's friends. Taburimai and his companions thought they had at last got hold of the little creature they defeated, but it was in fact Taranga they killed.

Once when her husband was fighting against Auriaria, Kewe's wife openly admired the Polynesian hero. She sang about her husband thus: 'O the brute with his dark-skinned body! Kewe is dead!' Was the handsome Achilles of the Pacific chivalrous enough to spare the captive woman? The story doesn't say, but in Samoa they declare it was a great dishonour for a warrior to kill women. It must also have been so in the gilberts. The fugitives who went to Samoa stayed there a long time (six hundred years according to the migration hypotheses). They no longer remembered that their ancestors came from the west as for them Samoa was the first land created, the true navel of the world. Their dead went north, towards the Gilberts, where the people had been before they came to Samoa. Those who had remained in the low-lying islands, however, made Tarawa or Ocean Island the centre of the world and the first land to rise from the waves. Their dead went west or up into the sky. the return of the Samoan migrants doesn't seem to have affected Ocean Island. Nevertheless, the rocky island, some 240 nautical miles distant, and the low Gilberts, have the same language. It is also true that in recent times communication between all these islands has been by canoe: though drifting and through organized voyages. 

It remains to find out where the first Polynesians who arrived in the Gilberts between the sixth and thirteenth centuries came from. Was it from Samoa? In that case the Tongafiti swarmed northwards in the same way as they went off to Tonga, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. It wouldn't have posed any problems to these bold sailors who went in all directions from Sawai and Upolu in their large double canoes, possibly the most perfect and certainly the speediest at the time. Nevertheless it is more likely that the first Polynesians came from the west. According to extant theories, their place of origin was the mouth of the Ganges. Invaders from Uru, to the west, chased them away from there some four hundred to five hundred years B.C. The Ganges settlers were a nautical people and their boats saved them. Heading east they looked for new lands, going along the coast of Asia, stopping at islands en route such as Sumatra, Java and Borneo as well as the Celebes. From there, in two waves of invasion, that we have already mentioned, they came to Samoa and the heart of Oceania. A third migration which set off at almost the same time as the second one, reached Hawaii. It's probably an offshoot of the second migration which took the Tongafiti to Samoa, by way of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, where they left settlements. In stories predating those of the return from Samoa - the traditional tales of Ocean Island and Tarawa amongst others - ancestors who came from the west are mentioned. There are details of place names for countries to the west - Nabanaba, Onouna, Teruanuna - and these are difficult to identify.

The Maoris have a tradition which was kept a careful secret for some time and in it is the idea that their ancestors came from Irithia in Asia. In some Gilbertese stories the famous tree of Samoa, Kai-n-tiku-aba is also known as Ieretia. could it be that via the Polynesians who also populated the gilberts, the name of the home area in Asia has been retained? Is it in fact possible to trace Gilbertese ancestry back to Asia? Grimble thinks so. And if only one could identify the stage names for the land of the dead. They are cetainly of distant origin. Why did the Polynesians who made Samoa or Tarawa the centre of the world continue to send their dead so far away? There are curious gaps in their logic. In the names of villages and lands there are embodied ideas much older than any of their myths. 

Bouru is reminiscent of Bourou in the Moluccas and attempts have been made to link this with the Polynesian 'Bolutu'. Matang is close to Matang in Borneo, Medan in Sumatra, Madang in Sumbawa, Malang in Java and Makang in Gilolo. Couldn't Gilolo be the Kiroro of Gilbertese songs? (The Gilbertese have neither 'l' nor 'd' in their language.) Mwaiku the land of souls, has some resemblance to Waigeo, a small island to the east of Gilolo. Tarawa in the Gilberts calls to mind Talowa in the Celebes, Saiawi-ti, near Waigeo - and Maniba, Bangai, Burabura and Beru in the Gilberts have equivalents in the Celebes. Onouna is close to Unauna, west of Gilolo, and could Ruanuna be Lieuenieua in Ontong-Java? here too you can see the Y shape which is used to attach the outrigger to the poles which fix it to the canoe. (Grimble)

All this fits in perfectly with what is known of the route taken by Polynesian migrations. After the Celebes the Polynesians separated, only to be united again later in the island groups of Oceania. The world is not all that big and their canoes sailed swiftly. It was the Europeans who were slow to discover the islands of the Pacific. Did Spanish sailors sight the Gilberts as long ago as the sixteenth century? In 1567 Alvaro Mendana de Neyra was in the region with two ships and on board he had four Franciscans. In 1597 he made the same voyage which ended badly in the Solomons. On 8 July 1606 Pedro Fernandez de Quiros discovered Makin. It was about this time that the Gilbertese saw their first white person. Was he shipwrecked - or a fugitive? He was washed ashore on a craft 'like a chest'. And what a poor state he was in! however, he recovered and tradition has it that he was white-skinned and red-haired. On Beru he fathered twenty-three children and their descendants are scattered throughout the fourteen islands in the group, (Pacific Year Book 1935-36, p.44).

The complete discovery of the archipelago, island by island, didn't take place until somewhat later, between 1765 and 1824, under captains Byron, Marshall, Gilbert, Bishop, Patterson and Clark. In 1824 Admiral Duperry carefully charted the position of most of the islands and in 1841 commodore Wilkes completed this task. On Butaritari he picked up a Scotsman, Robert Wood, who had escaped from some whaling ship or other. wood helped the commodore greatly in communicating with the locals, for he had been there some seven years himself. The first trader operated in the islands about 1837. We don't have a record of his name, but do know that already rum and guns were being sold. 

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