Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
Pacific Island Guide > Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
Kiribati was formerly known as the Gilbert Islands and was named after the British Captain Thomas Gilbert, who sighted the islands in 1788. The name Kiribati is derived from the local pronunciation of "Gilberts".
Kiribati consists of about 32 atolls and one island, Banaba. The groups of islands being:
- Banaba (or Ocean Island): an isolated volcanic island between Nauru and the Gilbert Islands
- Gilbert Islands: made up of 16 atolls located some 930 miles (1,500 km) north of Fiji.
- Line Islands: made up of 8 atolls and one reef, located about 2,050 miles (3,300 km) east of the Gilbert Islands. These include Kirisimati, or Christmas Island, which is the largest coral atoll.
- Phoenix Islands: made up of 8 atolls and coral islands located some 1,100 miles (1,800 km) south-east of the Gilbert Islands.
The population in 1995 was about 80,000.
For further details about the geography of these islands, click here.
For Kiribati research tools and web sites see Portal:Kiribati.
The Gilbert Islands lie south of the Marshall Islands and north of Tuvalu. Tarawa is the most populous island. The climate is equatorial. There are no rivers, but most islands enclose a lagoon. The islands are:
Abaiang, Abemama, Aranuka, Arorae, Beru, Butarituari, Kuria, Little Makin, Maiana, Marakei, Nikunau, Nonouti, Onotoa, Tabiteuea, Tamana and Tarawa are geographically connected. Banaba, a mined-out phosphate rock island, is nearby and is included politically in the chain.
Formerly known as the American Islands. They are a group of islands in the central Pacific Ocean, south of Hawaii, between the equator and 6°N, and about 160°W.
Kiritimati (Christmas Island), Tabuaeran, Palmyra Atoll and their attendant islets belong to the USA. They are so named because they were frequented for their guano by traders from the United States. Guano and mother-of-pearl shells are the principal articles of export. Kiritimati is probably the largest atoll in the Pacific (it is about 90 miles in circumference).
Currently there are about 5,300 people on Kiritimati, 1,800 on Tabuaeran, and 2,000 on Teraina (formerly Washington Island) for a total of 9,100 on the Kiribatese portion.
Malden, Starbuck Island, Flint Island, Vostok Island and Caroline Island, which form the Southern Line Islands, are all uninhabited.
The American Islands in this group, Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef are all usually uninhabited.
The Line Islands form the time zone with the latest time in the world, UTC + 14, with the same time of the day as Hawaii, but one day ahead, and even 25 hours ahead of some other islands in Oceania.
The chain includes Kanton (or Abariringa), Enderbury Island, Rawaki (formerly Phoenix), Manra (formerly Sydney), Birnie, McKean, Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner) and Orona (formerly Hull). Previously uninhabited, Orona, Manra and Nikumaroro islands were colonized with people from the overcrowded Gilbert Islands between 1938 and 1940. By 1963, the three settlements had failed and the entire population was moved to the Solomon Islands. These three islands now have virtually no permanent population.
1300: Samoans, Fijians and Tongans merged with the older population.
1777: Discovered by British Captain Cook.
1800s: Whalers arrived in northern islands
1837: British settlers arrived
1850s: Protestant missionaries arrived
1857: Hiram Bingam, a Protestant minister on Abiang, devised a written form of the language
1886: British, German, and Americans traded with the islands. Some islanders were kidnapped and taken to Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii, and Central America as slaves.
1888: The islands were annexed by Great Britain with a view to laying the Pacific cable with Tabuaeran (then Fanning Island) as a relay station. That cable functioned between 1902 and 1963 except for a short period in 1914 when German naval forces landed at Fanning to cut the cable.
1892: The Gilbert and Ellice Islands became a British protectorate. Headquarters were in Tarawa.
1880s: The Phoenix Islands were annexed by Britain
1900: Banaba was annexed by Britain, and mining of phosphates began until the total island’s soil was removed. The total population of the islands dwindled to about 300.
1915: The Gilbert and Ellice Islands became a British Crown Colony.
1919: Kiritimati (Christmas) Atoll became a part of the colony.
1935: The USA took over Howland and Baker islands
1937: The Phoenix Islands became a part of the British colony.
1938: The United States claimed sovereignty over Kanton and Enderbury
1939: The USA and Britain agreed to exercise joint control over the two islands for 50 years.
1941: Tarawa and others were occupied by Japan. All but one man in Banaba were massacred.
1943: U.S. forces reclaimed the islands. Inhabitants of Banaba were moved to Rabi Island, Fiji because of land loss.
1975: The Ellice Islands separated and became Tuvalu.
1976: The LDS Church Education system started a program in Kiribati.
1979: Kiribati became an independent Republic that remains part of the British Commonwealth.
1984: LDS Church Membership was 500.
- Civil registration (birth, marriage and death records) began in 1898.
- Land records and land court records are microfilmed from 1948-1991.
- Some genealogies go back 16 generations.