Kiribati Independence Day is a public holiday that is observed on July 12 every year. This day commemorates the independence of Kiribati from the U.K. Festivities last for several days as the government sets the dates for several other public holidays like Gospel Day, National Culture Day, and Senior Citizens’ Day during Independence Week. The capital of South Tarawa has the biggest celebration at the Bairiki National Stadium. Colorful parades, traditional dances, canoe races, kite-flying, and other sports competitions form part of the revelry.
History of Kiribati Independence Day
Kiribati is located in the central Pacific Ocean and is part of the division of the Pacific Islands called Micronesia. There are 33 coral islands consisting of the Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. Most are atolls or ring-shaped islands with central lagoons, except for Banana in the Gilbert Islands, which is a raised limestone island. Only 21 islands are inhabited, with most of the population concentrated in the Gilbert Islands.
The islands came under European colonial rule almost by accident. Several Europeans just happened to end up there as traders or castaways. It was named after British naval captain Thomas Gilbert who came across the islands in 1788 while sailing from Australia to China. In 1892, Britain declared a protectorate over the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands, now known as Tuvalu. They also annexed Ocean Island, now known as Banaba, with the discovery of phosphate resources. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was formed in 1916, and over the next 20 years, other island groups were added, including the Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands.
Banaban residents started litigation proceedings against the British government to demand compensation for environmental damage caused by phosphate mining as well as recovery of lost phosphate export revenues in 1971. They soon demanded independence in 1975 but the British government refused. The Ellice Islands separated from the colony and eventually became part of Tuvalu. Eventually, the Gilbert Islands were able to establish internal self-government in 1977.
Kiribati Independence Day timeline
Samoan people migrate to the islands and Fijians and Tongans soon follow.
Japanese forces occupy the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony and fierce battles between Japan and the Allied forces ensue on the Tarawa Atoll.
The Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands are divided into two separate territories.
The Gilbert Islands gains independence and changes its name to Kiribati.
Kiribati Independence Day FAQs
Is Kiribati a poor country?
Yes. It has a per capita Gross National Product of US$1,420 in 2010 which makes it the poorest country in Oceania.
What is Kiribati known for?
Kiribati is known as a tourist destination. Scuba diving, bird-watching, and fly fishing are popular activities.
What is the origin of the name Kiribati?
It’s pronounced as ‘Kiri-bas.’ The name comes from the local way the name “Gilbert” is said.
How to Observe Kiribati Independence Day
Read up on Kiribati history
They’ve gone from being an almost accidental British colony to a nuclear testing site, and a sinking country. Their background makes for interesting reading.
Fly a kite
Kite-flying is widely enjoyed during Independence Day in Kiribati. Get to an open space like a park and fly your kite as high as you can.
Learn traditional Kiribati dance
It’s distinguished from other Pacific Islander dance styles by the emphasis on the dancer’s outstretched arms and bird-like head movements. Whether it’s the oldest dance style called Ruoia, the most widely practiced Kaimatoa, or the Buki which is only performed by women, there’s a dance style that will suit your skill level.
5 Fascinating Facts About Kiribati
It lies in all four hemispheres
Its islands are widespread and lie on both sides of the equator which is the northern and southern hemispheres and also along the Prime Meridian of the globe which occupies the eastern and western hemispheres.
Fresh water is scarce
It’s a daily struggle to source water as the groundwater is affected by coastal erosion, flooding, and rising sea levels.
Every New Year starts here
This island nation is furthest ahead of Greenwich meantime at GMT+14.
It was a nuclear weapon test site
The British government detonated a series of hydrogen bombs near Christmas Island — now Kirimati — which is part of the Republic of Kiribati.
It is sinking
A rise in sea level due to global warming threatens to sink it completely beneath the sea within the next 50 years.
Why Kiribati Independence Day is Important
It’s the largest coral atoll in the world
Kiribati holds the distinction of being the world’s biggest coral atoll. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral island, reef, or series of islets.
They need to be remembered as a whole before more of the islands disappear
Two islets already sank below the sea by 1999. They need to be recognized as soon as one whole country as much as possible before more of it vanishes.
They have an island called Christmas
Most people associate the word “Christmas” with positive memories. How nice it is to have a place in your country with a name associated with a joyful holiday.
Kiribati Independence Day dates