Kiribati -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Kiribati
Capital City: Tarawa
Languages: English, Gilbertese
Official Currency: Kiribati dollar, Australian dollar
Religions: Roman Catholicism, Congregationalist Protestantism
Land Area: 726 sq km
Landforms: Kiribati consists of about 32 atolls and one island (Banaba), with at least three in each hemisphere. The groups of islands are:
* Banaba: an isolated island between Nauru and the Gilbert Islands
* Gilbert Islands: 16 atolls located some 930 miles (1,500 km) north of Fiji
* Phoenix Islands: 8 atolls and coral islands located some 1,100 miles (1,800 km) southeast of the Gilberts
* Line Islands: 8 atolls and one reef, located about 2,050 miles (3,300 km) east of the Gilberts
According to the South Pacific Regional Environment Program, two small uninhabited Kiribati islets, Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea, disappeared underwater in 1999.
Kiribati -- History --
The area now called Kiribati has been inhabited by Micronesians speaking the same Oceanic language since sometime between 3000 BC and AD 1300. The area was not isolated; invaders from Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji later introduced Polynesian and Melanesian cultural aspects, respectively.
The islands were first sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The main island chain was named the Gilbert Islands in 1820 by a Russian admiral, Adam von Krusenstern, and French captain Louis Duperrey, after a British captain named Thomas Gilbert, who crossed the archipelago in 1788 when sailing from Australia to China.
From the early 19th century, Western whalers, merchant vessels and slave traders visited the islands, introducing diseases and firearms. The first British settlers arrived in 1837. In 1892 the Gilbert Islands consented to become a British protectorate together with the nearby Ellice Islands. They were administered by the Western Pacific High Commission based in Fiji. Together they became the crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1916. Kiritimati (Christmas Island) became part of the colony in 1919 and the Phoenix Islands were added in 1937.
Tarawa Atoll and others of the Gilbert group were occupied by Japan during World War II. Tarawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in US Marine Corps history. Marines landed in November 1943; the Battle of Tarawa was fought at Kiribati's former capital Betio on Tarawa Atoll.
Some of the islands of Kiribati, especially in the remote Line Islands, were formerly used by the United States and United Kingdom for nuclear weapons testing including hydrogen bombs in the late 1960s.
Independence to present day
The Gilbert and Ellice Islands gained self-rule in 1971, and were separated in 1975 and granted internal self-government by Britain. In 1978 the Ellice Islands became the independent nation of Tuvalu. The Gilbert Islands became independent as Kiribati on July 12, 1979.
Overcrowding has been a problem for Kiribati. In 1988 it was announced that 4,700 residents of the main island group would be resettled onto less-populated islands. Teburoro Tito was elected president in 1994. Kiribati's 1995 act of moving the international date line far to the east to encompass Kiribati's Line Islands group, so that it would no longer be divided by the date line, courted controversy. The move, which fulfilled one of President Tito's campaign promises, was intended to allow businesses all across the expansive nation to keep the same business week. This also enabled Kiribati to become the first country to see the dawn of the third millennium, an event of significance for tourism. Tito was reelected in 1998. Kiribati gained UN membership in 1999.
In the summer of 2008, Kiribati officials asked Australia and New Zealand to accept Kiribati citizens as permanent refugees. Kiribati is expected to be the first country in which land territory disappears due to global climate change.
Kiribati -- Economy --
Kiribati has few natural resources. Commercially viable phosphate deposits were exhausted at the time of independence. Copra and fish now represent the bulk of production and exports. Tourism provides more than one-fifth of GDP.
Foreign financial aid, largely from the United Kingdom and Japan, is a critical supplement, equal in recent years to 25% to 50% of GDP. Agriculture accounts for 12.4% of GDP and 71% of labour; industry 0.9% of GDP and 1.9% of labour; trade 18.5% of GDP and 4.1% of labour; commercial trade 5.7% of GDP and 1.4% of labour; and service industries 5.7% of GDP and 1.4% of labour. The main trading partners are Australia, USA, France, Japan, Hong Kong and Germany.
In 1956 Kiribati established a sovereign wealth fund to act as a store of wealth for the country's earnings from phosphate mining. In 2008 the Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund was valued at US$ 400 million.
Kiribati's narrow export base and its enormous need for imports contribute to the countryís large deficit in the merchandise trade balance. However, the country has several sources of external income, including fishing licence fees, investment income, seamenís remittances and external grants. These inflows are usually more than sufficient to finance the large trade deficit. As a result, Kiribatiís current account balance has been in surplus most of the time in the past decade. International reserves have remained at around US$300 million since 2001.
Kiribati -- Culture --
Songs and above all dances are held in high regard.
Kiribati folk music is generally based around chanting or other forms of vocalizing, accompanied by body percussion. Public performances in modern Kiribati are generally performed by a seated chorus, accompanied by a guitar. However, during formal performances of the standing dance or the hip dance a wooden box is used as a percussion instrument. This box is constructed so as to give a hollow and reverberating tone when struck simultaneously by a chorus of men sitting around it. Traditional songs are often love-themed, but there are also competitive, religious, children's, patriotic, war and wedding songs. There are also stick dances (which accompany legends and semi-historical stories). These stick dances or 'tirere' (pronounced seerere) are only performed during major festivals.
The uniqueness of Kiribati when compared with other forms of Pacific island dance is its emphasis on the outstretched arms of the dancer and the sudden birdlike movement of the head. The Frigate bird on the Kiribati flag refers to this bird-like style of Kiribati dancing. Most dances are in the standing or sitting position with movement limited and staggered. Smiling whilst dancing is generally considered vulgar within the context of Kiribati dancing. This is due to its origin of not being solely as a form of entertainment but as a form of storytelling and a display of the skill, beauty and endurance of the dancer.
Kiribati -- Political system, law and government --
The Kiribati Constitution, promulgated July 12, 1979, provides for free and open elections. The executive branch consists of a president (, a vice president and a cabinet. Under the constitution, the president, nominated from among the elected legislators, is limited to three 4-year terms. The cabinet is composed of the president, vice president and 10 ministers (appointed by the president) who are members of the House of Assembly.
The legislative branch is the unicameral House of Assembly. Legislators serve for a four-year term.
The judicial branch is made up of the High Court (in Betio) and the Court of Appeal. The president appoints the presiding judges.
Local government is through island councils with elected members. Local affairs are handled in a manner similar to town meetings in colonial America. Island councils make their own estimates of revenue and expenditure and generally are free from central government controls.
Kiribati has formal political parties but their organisation is quite informal. Today the only recognisable parties are the Boutokaan te Koaua Party, Maneaban te Mauri Party, Maurin Kiribati Party and Tabomoa Party. There is universal suffrage at age 18.
In government terms, Kiribati has a Police Force, which carries out law enforcement functions and paramilitary duties, and which has small police posts on all islands, but no military. Security assistance would be provided if necessary by Australia and New Zealand.