Happy Birthday, Kiribati!

I haven’t talked about the island country of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bass) very often in this blog. So, I thought I’d share some interesting facts about the country on its 39th birthday.

Kiribati is an island group in Micronesia that straddles the equator. It’s 33 islands, of which only 20 are inhabited, are scattered over a vast area of ocean. Kiribati extends 1,800 miles (2,900 km) eastward from the 16 Gilbert Islands, where the population is concentrated, to the Line Islands, of which 3 are inhabited. In between lie the islands of the Phoenix group, which have no permanent population. Total land area is 313 square miles (811 square km).

Most of the atolls rise no higher than some 26 feet (8 meters), making them vulnerable to changes in ocean surface levels. By 1999 two unpopulated islets had been covered by the sea. The threat of rising sea levels, a result of global warming, would be disastrous for the islands of Kiribati.

Kiribati society remains conservative and resistant to change; ties to family and traditional land remain strong. The building and racing of sailing canoes is a common pastime. Musical composition and dancing in customary styles are regarded as art forms and are the basis of widespread competition. The local economy now depends on subsistence farming, fishing, and the island’s prolific stands of coconut palms, and the subsequent sale of copra (coconut meat.)

Kiribati was inhabited for 2000 years prior to European contact. Under British colonial rule, it was known as the Gilbert Islands and was administered along with the neighbouring group Ellice Islands (now the independent Polynesian nation of Tuvalu). Kiribati was granted self-rule by the UK in 1971 and complete independence in 1979.


Where is Kiribati?

Yesterday, July 12, Kiribati celebrated its 39th anniversary of gaining independence. Addressing the nation, Kiribati’s President Taneti Maamau paid tribute to the first leaders who have led the country since independence. He said that over the past 39 years i-Kiribati had witnessed many positive and encouraging changes in their country. Looking to the future, the president cited his government’s vision for the next twenty years which it launched last year.

Mr Maamau said it would guide Kiribati in its journey to become a better, peaceful and prosperous nation, while preserving culture and traditional knowledge.

According to the president, the government had worked tirelessly to create employment. Other areas mentioned by the President in his address include aims to improve education and health. “I wish to thank all of you especially those who have taken part in our nation-wide consultation to discuss your government’s vision which has now been incorporated into that plan,” the president said in his address.

President Maamau described the Kiribati Vision 20 – a long term development blueprint for Kiribati – as the government’s blueprint that will lead and guide Kiribati in its journey to make Kiribati, a better, peaceful and prosperous nation. He said there are four main pillars of the plan such as the economy; peace; backbone of leadership and anti-corruption.

Several Kiribati nationals were given distinguished and excellent awards by the Kiribati government on the 39th independence anniversary in Bairiki, Tarawa.

They are former Kiribati academic and director of the University of the South Pacific campus in Tarawa, Dr Ueantabo Neemia Mackenzie, current civil servants, Dr Buritata Eti Tofiga, Mr Tiaon Aukutino, and former civil servants John Kwong and Norma Timon Yeeting. Congratulations to all for their outstanding contributions to the society of Kiribati.

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