KURIA

Republic of Kiribati

Kuria is in the central chain of the I-Kiribati islands and has an area of 12.3 square kilometres and a population of 862.

           

Central I-Kiribati Group

ORIGINS

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.

kuria

 
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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.

POLITICAL STRUCTURE

In most of the northern islands, there are several district leaders, each of whom lead a group of kaainga. On Abemama - Kuria - Aranuka one chief was recognised as paramount. From Nonouti southwards, the unimane (old men) dominated the communities through the maneaba and provided political leadership. Oral traditions from the northern islands suggest that a few kainga were able, over time, to assume a dominant position over their neighbours. Sometimes this was because the dominant kainga was acknowledged as a "parent", being the original kainga from which the others had separated. Another factor was the ability of some kainga to seize and hold the land of others, as warfare in pursuit of land and status was common in the northern islands.

The chiefly dynasty of Abemama, Kuria and Aranuka was only consolidated after the arrival of Europeans. The heads of the kainga were always consulted on matters affecting the community and could initiate action, but always they were obliged to seek the approval of the chief, who provided overall leadership and regulated relationships amongst the kainga.

moonlight on Kuria 

THE CIVIL WARS

Abemama, Kuria and Aranuka were united under Karotu, the Uea of Abemama in the 1840s, after a number of battles. When Karotu was Uea of Abemama only, there was a rebellion against him at Kenna, the most densely populated area of Abemama. He escaped to Aranuka where he lived in a sanctuary at Kauake. On arrival at Aranuka, the Aranukans regarded him as a captive and wanted to kill him. Ten Temea, who ruled both Kuria and Aranuka at this time, gave the order to kill Karotu. But on the last day before Karotu was to be killed, Ten Tekimai, Ten Tetabo's spy and closest advisor, told Karotu to send Nei Teaa, his beautiful wife, to collect firewood and give it to Ten Temea. Karotu sent his wife to do this, telling her to go with coconut oil and a mat. Temea saw Nei Teaa and instantly fell in love with her and later, he slept with her. This made Temea change his mind and the next morning, he called everyone to the maneaba and said, "I have news for you. You will not kill Karotu". Karotu's feet were washed, the club that he was going to be killed with was removed, and a large heap of food was placed in front of him. A huge feast follows. The washing of a person's feet was an act which recognized greatness and high status; the removal of the club and the feast symbolized peace and harmony between the two parties.

Temea knew that Karotu would probably try to kill him when he found out that he had slept with Nei Teaa so he escaped to Maiana. Before he left, he gave Karotu the right to rule Kuria and Aranuka. This paved the way for the unification of these three islands.

In 1878, Binoka became the Uea. There were opposition from outside the family and some from his own relatives, due to Binoka's cruelty and to his increasing demands for copra to pay off debts incurred when he bought a schooner. Binoka had a great interest in trade, firearms and the manufactured goods brought by traders. His needs for land increased accordingly. As his commercial plans developed, he bought a ship which he could not pay for easily unless Kuria and Aranuka were fully incorporated under his leadership. He therefore tightened his control over them and they gave him their produce.

On all three islands, there were girls available for Binoka. No girl was allowed to marry until Binoka had seen her. The usual practice was for every girl to visit Binoka at the time of her first menstruation. He could do with them as he pleased. Binoka ruled with a firm hand and European technology. Binoka ruled until his death, before the arrival of Captain Davis of Royalist in 1892. He concentrated on trade, showing his interest in European visitors and the changes brought about by them.

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Jane Resture
 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 14th April 2012)