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 1820s.

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 uninhabitable.

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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 October, 1978.

The 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: 85,000 (2002)
Land area: 730 sq km
Capital: Bairiki on the island of Tarawa
Currency: Australian dollar
Lanugage: English and I-Kiribati


33 islands and coral atolls, land area 810 sq km, scattered over 5,000 sq km in Micronesia in the Pacific. The climate is tropical and rainy, tempered by the effect of sea winds. The country's large phosphate deposits are now viertually exhaustred. Fishing and underwater mineral deposits make up Kiribati's major economic potential.


Peoples: The 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.


Official Name: 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 (1979).

National Holiday: July 12, Independence Day (1979).


Population: 85,000 (2002); Annual growth: 1.4% (1985-2000)
Estimates for year 2015: 1.3% (2000)
Urban population: 37.3 % (2000)
Urban growth: 3.4% (2000)
Infant mortality: 52 per 1,000 (2000)
Under -5 child mortality: 70 per 1,000 (2000)
Daily calorie supply: 2,982 per capita (1999)
30 doctors per 1000,000 people (1998)
Safe Water 48% (2000)
School enrolment (net):
Primary total: 71% (1994-2000)
Primary School Teachers: one
for every 24 pupils (1996)
386 radios, 36 TV sets (2003 and 40
main telephone lines (2000) per 1,000
Annual growth: -4.2% (2000)
Currency 1.9 Australian dollars = $1 (03/2002)
Cereal imports: 10,812 metric tons (2000)
Food import dependency 39% (1995)
Exports: $4 million (1992)
Imports: $39 million (1952)


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