The Wayback Machine -


Republic of Kiribati

Onotoa is an island in the southern Kiribati Group. It has an area of 13.5 square kilometres and a population of 2,043. Most historians agree that Captain Clark of the British whaling vessel John Palmer discovered Onotoa in 1826. Onotoa was sighted the same year by Captain Chase of the American vessel Japan.



Most Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) people believe that their ancestors were spirits, some created in Samoa and some in Kiribati, and that it was the movement from Samoa that populated the Kiribati Islands for the first time. Modern researchers would agree that a recent migration did probably occur from Samoa to the Gilberts about 500 to 600 years ago.

According to the legends of Beru and some other islands Te Kaintikuaba, was made from the spine of Na Atibu. It was a tree, in Samoa, which was the home of spirits who, together with Nareau the Wise, made the islands of Tungaru (the Kiribati islands). It is a legend that has many variations.

As one legend goes, Nareau the Wise was in Samoa, procreating with the spirits there. One day, he decided to trace the whereabouts of his two children who left Te Kaintikuaba. He left Samoa, heading north, and on his way he created a resting place by trampling the sea and uttering powerful magic. Behold, land was formed with spirits inhabitants on it. This land is now called South Tabiteuea. Feeling satisfied with his marvellous work, he left and went further north. At last, he sighted Tarawa. He stayed on Tarawa and started his work of creating new lands. He used his power to create Makin, Butaritari, Marakei, Abaiang, Maiana, Kuria, Abemama and Aranuka. These are now referred to as the islands of North Kiribati.

kiribati map, onotoa

When Nareau the Wise had enough of these visits, he changed his name to Tematawarebwe and returned to Samoa with three of his sons, Kourabi, Namai and Buatira. On reaching Samoa, he told his sons and some of the inhabitants to carry Te Kaintikuaba away to a place he would show them. The spirits who usually inhabited Te Kaintikuaba were left behind as they were absent during its removal. The tree was carried northwards until it arrived at a village on Beru Island. The next thing that Tematawarebwe and his carriers took was the Umananti (literally house of spirits). This was carried and placed in the central part of the island. This was the maneaba (meeting house). Tematawarebwe ramained on Beru.

The removal of these two things from Samoa affected the remaining members of Te Kaintikuaba. They left Samoa and tried to follow the route that Tematawarebwe and his group had taken. Some of them took the eastern route, some the western and some the central part. Some flew, some swam on the surface of the sea and others swam below the waves. A few of them never reached their destination but created and settled on a number of islands including Onotoa


Captain Davis of H.M.S. Royalist

At 10.45 a.m. I weighed and proceeded for ONOTOA Island, where I arrived at 9.45 the following morning, anchoring in 5 fms. I landed and saw the "Old Men" who told me they wished to have a white Resident in the Group and would contribute towards his support. I spoke to them with reference to the levying of fines, also about entering all fines in a book, which he promised to do. It being Sunday I did not see the missionary who was some distance away. The eccentricities of Trade in these Islands cannot be better exemplified than by that existing at present in this Island. The Traders purchase their copra from the natives at 1 1/2 cents per ton, and sell it to vessels calling at 1 1/4. The difference of course has to be made up in the prices charged by the Traders for Tobacco and Calico.

Captain Davis of H.M.S. Royalist visited Onotoa on 30th May and 24th July 1892 and made the following entries in the ship's log.

Name of King or Chief. His Religion. No King.

160 "Old Men" 50 Police.

Name and Religion of Missionary. Does he trade?

Rev. IGIMON. Samoan. London Mission. Protestant No.

Names of Whites and Traders, Nationality, and for whom trading

THOMAS REDFEARN British. Own account


No. of native Population. Religion. 1050. Protestant.

Increase or decrease. Cause. Decreasing. Unknown.

Marriage Laws. Christian

Labour. About 120 in FIJI, SAMOA, HONOLULU and MEXICO.

(20 of these were lost in the TAHITI).

Productions. Copra, Pandanus, Fish (not poisonous)

Exports annually. About 150 tons copra and 1.1/2 tons sharks' fins.

Weapons and Ammunition. None

Last visited by Man-of-war. H.M.S. Miranda 1886.

Communication with other islands etc.

British Steamer ARCHER and occasional trading vessels.

Landing. Fair, much wading even at high water.

Anchorage. Good in 5 to 10 fms. off N.W. end of island.

Laws and Customs. Fines for not attending church (10 nuts) on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

$50 and loss of land, both parties, for adultery.

$50 for illicit connection. 1,000 nuts for drunkenness etc.

coconut store - onotoa

Coconut store, Onotoa - 1964


Very quiet inoffensive people. A few plover to be shot at low water. About 8 months before my visit to this island a native was hanged or rather was made to hang himself in the Maneaba because he had killed a man who had insulted his wife in Church by putting his tongue out at her.

I found here some restrictions on natives working for the Traders. When I spoke about it to the "Old Men" they made various excuses, but ultimately removed the restrictions.

The Police in this island wear blue clothes carry staves and are on duty on Mondays only. The "Old Men" said they were willing to contribute towards a White Resident's support and would enter all fines in a book as I suggested.

At ONOTOA I found it was the custom when a child died for the foster father to sleep nightly for a certain period, in the grave.

The standard of morality of these islanders is decidedly high. Polygamy and infanticide are almost extinct although in some of the island of the group a certain amount of immorality exists, on the whole they compare most favourably with other islands in the Pacific. Married women are jealously guarded. Eight months before my visit to ONOTOA, a man was hanged, or rather allowed to hang himself for killing a man who, in church, had put his tongue out at his "the murderer's" wife.

 click here Jane's Kiribati Home Page
  click here Jane's Oceania Home Page  
 Jane Resture
( -- Rev. 13th February 2004)