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The Kiribati culture has greatly been preserved by the isolation that comes with being at the heart of the Pacific Ocean. It is complex and diverse, with each island unique having its own unique story to tell of its own traditions, history and place.  Many people remain true to the century old traditions and practices that define what it means to be I-Kiribati.

As I-Kiribati; the value and respect for family, guests, friendship, the elderly and the importance of family & community gatherings and meetings in a mwaneaba (a traditional community meeting house), remain important facets in the culture of Kiribati.  People still live in extended families where everyone supports each other.  As a traveller, learning some local words and being observant of the cultural norms and customs, and a show of respect and understanding of the Kiribati traditional ways can help preserve this beauty.

Christianity also plays a vital role in the Kiribati culture today ever since it was introduced during the 1800s, hence accepted as an integral and important part of the Kiribati culture and livelihood of the Kiribati people today.

The way of living in Kiribati is very simple, where people plan their living according to the day, without worrying about their future, living with the moto “Tomorrow is another day.” Survival revolves around strength, motivation and ambition to live within that particular day. Daily lives revolve around the rise and fall of the tide, dictating fishing conditions and timing and availability of transport.  Sustenance is from the sea, coconut, breadfruit trees and taro pits.

The Kiribati way of life is reflected in the social organization of families, who join together to form clans (te kaainga) that function, according to a set of rules and roles.  Household chores are divided by gender, with men fishing and collecting toddy and doing heavy construction tasks, while women handle child care and chores, cooking and keeping house, basically controlling domestic chores.  While women may fish and often collect shellfish in the lagoon, only the men may go out fishing in the ocean. There is a clear status of ranking in each household, usually headed by the oldest male unless he is too elderly or too sick to be active in which case the next oldest male then heads the family. It is important for the survival of the group that each member fulfils the roles and responsibilities assigned to him/her and this forms their daily livelihood.

The one thing in common for the Kiribati community is that they all gather under a mwaneaba to meet.  The mwaneaba is a traditional community meeting and socail hall which is the most imposing and significant building in Kiribati.  It’s for large meetings and community functions.  The mwaneaba was and remains the most important institutional symbol and foundation of community life in Kiribati where matters of political, social, economic and religious life are discussed and resolved with the leadership of the Unimwane (elected elders) and Christian leaders.  It is also a place of festivities, accommodation, storage and safe refuge from violence.

Another favorite Kiribati architecture is the traditional outrigger canoe – Te Waa. The outrigger canoe is considered a pride of ones family. The canoe would be used as a work horse – patched, worn, repaired – used for fishing, transportation, for fishing and for racing as a sport.  The Kiribati racing canoe is a wonderfully elegant piece of engineering, achieving a fine balance between wind, ropes and sail. Reputed to be the lightest and fastest canoe in the Pacific, and a testimony of the ingenuity of the people of these sparsely resourced atolls. The annual event of racing as a sport has helped sustain and revive the future of the Kiribati traditional sailing canoe.

The traditional dances of Kiribati or ‘te Mwaie ni Kiribati’ are a unique form of art and expression. The movement of the feet, hands and of course the whole body imitates the movement of the frigate bird and the Pacific golden plover bird while walking and flying. The costumes are made out of local materials.  The dancing in Kiribati is just as traditional as the music. There are eight specific dances in Kiribati: Te Buki, Te Ruoia, Te Kabuti, Te Tirere (stick dance), Te Kaimatoa, Te Bino (Sitting Dance). Although distinct, each of these dances share common theme of mimicking the movements of the birds. These bird-like dance moves typically involve outstretched arms, jerking head movements and feet movements.  The mwaie dance  is known to consume the dancers and the singers who sometimes break down during and at the end of a performance due to the emotional intensity of the songs.  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the Kiribati mwaie (te ruoia) that was performed on one of the northern Gilbert Islands (Butaritari Island); he quoted, “Of all they call dance in the Pacific, the performance I saw on Butaritari was easily the best…Gilbertese dance appeals to the soul: it makes one thrill with emotion, it uplifts one, it conquers one: it has the essence of all great art: an immediate and far from exhausted appeal.”

Festivals & Events

The festivals and events in Kiribati reflect the culture of Kiribati which is not only enriched but boasts of a heritage of almost 2,000 years.

The National Day celebrations in Kiribati is the biggest and most celebrated event of the year in commemoration of self-independence from the British Colonial rule on the 12th July 1979.  Every year the 12th of July is celebrated throughout Kiribati and are declared National holidays from the 10th to the 12th July.  Highlights of national event include the 12th July colourful parade, Miss Kiribati Pageant, traditional outrigger sailing canoe race, traditional dance competition, and traditional wrestling competition, prototype canoe racing “Uaia Mwakei” and sporting events.

As a Christian country; Easter & Christmas celebrations are among the Kiribati festivals and events. The Christians celebrate the Easter and the Christmas with much enthusiasm. The islanders of Kiribati are no exception and you can see them enjoying every bit of it with fun. Like all the other festivals and events in Kiribati the people decorate their homes and this is one time when the members of the family join each other for celebration.

Another event which deserves special mention among the festivals and events in Kiribati is the Youth Day which is celebrated on August 5th. The young people play a major role in the politics and economy of the country. The government provides full support for all the youth programs and one can find the government taking interest in the betterment of youth. 10th of August is known all over Kiribati as the National Youth Day and one can see a number of important programs on this day where the young people can interact with each other and come up with interesting solutions and ideas about the many problems that plug today’s society.

WWII’s Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Makin “Te Kaukinangananga” on the 20th November are special events held annually to honor those who perished and to celebrate the liberation of Tarawa and Butaritari during WWII.  The Battle of Tarawa commemoration annually takes place at Betio on South Tarawa while the Battle of Makin is also commemorated on Ukiangang Village on Butaritari Island.  Both events are often attended by war veterans and families of those who fought during these battles.

The following are declared National Holiday event dates in Kiribati.

New Year’s Day – 1st Jan

International Women’s Day – 8th March

National Health Day – 8th April

Good Friday – 19th April

Easter Monday – 22nd April

Gospel Day – 10th July

National Culture & Senior Citizens Day – 11th July

National Day – 12th July

Natonal Youth & Children’s Day – 5th August

National Education Day – 4th October

Human Rights Day – 10th December

Christmas Day – 25th December

Boxing Day – 26th December


Make your trip to Kiribati a positive experience for both you and the people, and with your help we can make Kiribati a better place for everyone to enjoy.  Whilst, during your stay we ask that you respect our ways and be mindful of the following:

Manners, Behaviour & Social Norms

  • Remember you are a guest – always behave respectfully
  • Treat all people with respect and politeness
  • Be aware of local religious and social customs
  • Behave respectfully especially in villages, religious and cultural areas
  • Learn key words in the Kiribati language. Using some local words is certainly appreciated by the locals, and will put you in good stead in making new friends.
  • The locals love to have their pictures taken however we do ask that you respect the dignity and privacy of others and ask before taking photos.
  • In all aspects of life, humility and humbleness are admired.
  • Direct eye contact is uncommon, and it is inappropriate to look directly at one of higher status. Touching of heads is considered extremely intimate, and the top of the head is a taboo area. Similarly, do not raise your hands/arms above another person’s head (for example by leaning on a mwaneaba roof).
  • Don’t walk across or cut between the gaze of talking individuals. Go around them or stoop or when you do, bend down below eye level and pass, and use the word “matauninga.”
  • Please be mindful not to speed alongside a mwaneaba or church where there is meeting gathering or church service in session. It is expected that you get off your motorcycle and push it or if you are in a car, drive slow until you have passed by the mwaneaba or the church.  This is more applicable on the outer islands.

Dress Code

  • Loose cool clothing is encouraged to suit the hot climate, however it is important that you dress modestly in villages, religious and cultural areas. A sarong and local tailored blouse (Mauri wear) is the sort of wear popular among women in Kiribati. Women are advised not to wear skimpy clothing in public or in the village. Women may wear bikini on private or isolated beaches, but if you intend to go into the village please cover up by putting on a t-shirt and a lavalava (sarong).  Nude and topless swimming / sun bathing is not acceptable throughout Kiribati.  Wearing a sarong (lavalava) is required when attending functions in a mwaneaba (a meeting & social hall).


“Te Mweaka” Custom 

  • “Te Mweaka” is a customary practice that applies to first time visitors when visiting a place or island for the first time. On most islands and places in Kiribati, a first time visitor will be required under the traditional initiation protocol of the island or place to be escorted to the shrine(s) of the paramount guardian spirit(s) of the island.  This custom will require that the visitor must provide tobacco(s) offering to the shrine(s).  The offering is traditionally called “Te mweaka” and nowadays tobacco (Irish cake tobacco aka “Te Boa”) is often used as offering.  The moral of this traditional custom is to introduce new visitor(s) to the ancestral spirit guardian; request safeguarding; permission to conduct activities and to bestow luck to the visitor during his/her stay on the island.

“Te Mwaneaba” Customs: The “Mwaneaba” is a communal traditional meeting house or social hall which remains the most important institutional symbol and foundation of social and community life in Kiribati. It is important to consider the following customs when invited to a function in a mwaneaba:

  • Stooping: In the mwaneaba it is considered respectful to stoop when walking through people sitting down. Use the word “matauninga” which is a polite word of saying ‘excuse me.’
  • Sitting Manner: As guests you will be allocated your place to sit where you will be facing the host or the elders sitting on the opposite side. To face away or to turn your back is considered rude.  Sitting with your feet pointing towards a person can be interpreted as a rude and a challenge. In the mwaneaba it is customary to sit on the floor with your legs crossed or feet tucked in underneath the other, this is called ‘te kabari.’  It is likely that you will sit on the floor for a long time, which can get a bit uncomfortable. So try to bare until you will be told by the Master of Ceremony (Te Tia Babaire) that you can relax your legs, but if you do, please make sure your head is pointing towards the group, as it is considered rude to do otherwise.


Support local Initiatives

  • Support local communities by purchasing local products, arts and crafts.
  • If you want to gift money, support community projects rather than individuals.


Help Minimize Environmental impact

  • Show the locals that you care about the environment by disposing of rubbish carefully, recycle where possible, reuse your drink bottles and shopping bags; involve and educate the locals so they too can help make Kiribati a better place.
  • Do not leave your rubbish take them with you
  • Minimise water and energy use.