Republic of Kiribati

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Tamana is an Island in the southern Kiribati Group. It has an area of 4.8 square kilometres and a population of 1,351. Tamana is unique among the islands of the Kiribati group in that it does not have a lagoon.



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The 1840's brought whalers with their need for refreshment and their need for women. The whalers started the beginning of a more permanent relationship with the islands. The southern Gilberts were a regular base for these whaling ships since the sperm whales frequented the areas south of Tamana.


As more and more whalers came to the area, the Gilbertese acquired a reputation for being cunning and treacherous. There are numerous accounts of whaling ships and their crews being attacked. Traditionally, the Gilbertese believed that anything that came to the shore of the island belonged by right to the island people.

Kiribati Ilands

Furthermore, if the stranger came to an island, it was thought that he was coming as enemy to attack, or was fleeing his home island for some reason. In the former case, a battle would be fought; in the latter, the visitor would probably be taken as a toro (a servant) of a high chief or king. If he were luckier, a family may adopt him.

Because of their guns, the whalers were often considered enemies. At first, the Gilbertese were ignorant of the power of the gun but they soon came to realise how futile it was to fight them. However, this did not totally wipe out opposition by the islanders; and they continued to oppose the whalers. When they succeeded in attacking and plundering a ship, they shared the loot among themselves with little concern for the strangers who have dared entered their waters. Despite the difficulties encountered ashore, contact was still made, especially because of the desire for women and food. It was hard for the whalers to make themselves understood and in trading transactions it was easy for disagreements to arrive. Such things such as iron hoops and beads were traded for coconuts or other foods.

Sexual favours were also sought by the whalers. On some islands, the women, most probably the nikiranroro (single women who were not virgins and married women who were not living with their husbands) were made available for the tobacco which was so much in demand.

Constant contact at some islands allowed the islanders to gain access to axes, knives, nails, cooking pots, and other items which were extremely desirable and very useful to our forefathers.

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