Also known as: Gilbertese; I-Kiribati; Tungaru

The Gilbert Islands, or Kiribati, are a string of atolls in eastern Micronesia. Although the people of these islands shared a common language, there were considerable cultural differences between the islands north and south of the equator, with the former being more hierarchical than the latter. A notable feature of the indigenous Gilbertese religion was the worship of the sun.

Show Map of Location

Traditional Culture(1880)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 190-199
Nature god(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 190-199
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 190-199
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 20-27
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 20-27
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 193

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 19, 21-22, 24

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 195-196
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 194-196
Myth of humanity’s creation Present, and creationist (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 192
Primordial pair Absent (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 190-199
Culture hero(es) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 190-199

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Dobbin (2011), pp. 193

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 219
Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Grimble & Grimble (1972), pp. 59-60

Mana

Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Grimble & Grimble (1972)
Grimble & Maude (1989)
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Grimble & Grimble (1972), pp. 196
Largest religious community Larger than a household, no larger than the local community (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 6-8
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 17-19, 199-201
Political and religious differentiation Considerable overlap between religious and political leaders (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 7
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 219-220

Rites

Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 52-56
Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 52-56
Piercing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 52-56
Tattooing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Hage et al (1996), pp. 345
Genital cutting Absent from culture (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. 52-56
Social Environment +
Population 34,000 (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 6, 10, 94
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 6-9
Importance of Patrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Lambert (1991), pp. 122
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Lambert (1991), pp. 122
Kinship system Hawaiian (Source)
Lambert (1991), pp. 122
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 8
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Lambert (1991), pp. 122

Conflict

(No) external warfare Occasional, at least every generation (Source)
Koch (1986), pp. 245
Macdonald (1982), pp. 1-13
Conflict within community Moderate (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 8-10
(No) internal warfare Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Bedford, Macdonald & Munro (1980)
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 3, 10-11
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 307.4 (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. xviii
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Distance to nearest continent 3508.0 (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. xviii
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Absent: No evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.23
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 16
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Minor (Source)
Koch (1986), pp. 70-73
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Koch (1986), pp. 1-73
Land-based gathering Major (Source)
Koch (1986), pp. 1-73
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Absent (Source)
Koch (1986), pp. 1-73
Agriculture / Horticulture Major (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 3-4
Koch (1986), pp. 1, 52-69

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Major (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 4
Koch (1986), pp. 10-52
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Major (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 4
Koch (1986), pp. 10-52
Water-based gathering Major (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 4

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Absent (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 1-73
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture Four or more (Source)
Grimble & Maude (1989), pp. xviii

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Atoll (Source)
Bedford, Macdonald & Munro (1980)
Island Size (km²) 39.0 (Source)
Bedford, Macdonald & Munro (1980)
Maximum elevation (meters) 5.0 (Source)
Bedford, Macdonald & Munro (1980)

Location

Latitude -1.2 (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 6
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 174.7 (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 6
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1880-2013)Expand All +
Religious History +

Conversion

Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a top-down process. (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 31-53
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 31-53
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 31-53

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Present, but did not survive to the present-day (Source)
Maude & Maude (1981), pp. 312, 315
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Immigration Absent (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Language shift Medium (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence Medium (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)

Modern Infrastructure

Air travel Present and long-distance (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Sea port Present (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely involuntary (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 68, 114, 141-166
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Macdonald (1982), pp. 70, 75-93, 126-129, 142, 141-148, 151-156,
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
Current Culture(2013)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Macdonald & Foster (2021)
External Links
References
Bedford, R., Macdonald, B., & Munro, D. (1980). Population estimates for Kiribati and Tuvalu, 1850-1900: Review and speculation. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 89(2), 199-246.

Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ol/summary/v047/47.2.blevins.html

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20172322

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014). http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm.

Dobbin, J. (2011). Summoning the powers beyond: Traditional religions of Micronesia. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C. D. (eds.). (2020). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (23rd ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. Retrieved from http://www.ethnologue.com

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from maps.google.com

Grimble, A. & Grimble, R. (Ed.) (1972). Migrations, Myth and Magic from the Gilbert Islands. London: Routledge.

Grimble, A. F. & Maude, H. E. (Ed.) (1989). Tungaru Traditions: Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved from https://ehrafworldcultures-yale-edu/ehrafe/fullContext.do?method=fullContext&forward=browseCulturesFullContext&col=collection(%27/eHRAF/ethnography/Oceania/OR06%27)&docId=or06-006&page=or06-006-002679&offsetId=or06006002668

Hage, P. Harary, F., & Milicic, B. (1996). Tattooing, Gender and Social Stratification in Micro-Polynesia. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2 (2), 335-350. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3034099

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3629696.

Kiribati National Statistics Office. (2005). Census of Population and Housing - 2005. Retrieved from: http://www.spc.int/prism/country/ki/stats/Census2005/reports/KIR%20Report%202005%20-%20Volume%20II%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Koch, G. (1986). The material culture of Kiribati. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies of the University of the South Pacific (G. Slatter, Trans.). Retrieved from https://ehrafworldcultures-yale-edu/ehrafe/citation.do?method=citation&forward=browseCulturesFullContext&col=OR06KiribatiOceaniaOceania&docId=or06-009&tocOffsetId=tocPubInfoP

Lambert, B. (1991). Kiribati. In T. E. Hays (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of World Cultures Volume II: Oceania (120-124). New York, NY: G.K. Hall & Co.

Macdonald, B. (1982). Cinderellas of the Empire: Towards a History of Kiribati and Tuvalu. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Macdonald, B. K. & Foster, S. (2012). Kiribati. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Kiribati

Maude, H. C. & Maude, H. E. (1981). Tioba and the Tabiteuean Religious Wars. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 90 (3), 307-336. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20705580