Gilbert Islands

Gilbert Islands

Gilbert Islands, group of 16 islands, central Pacific, one of the island groups that form the Republic of Kiribati. The group includes Tarawa, Butaritari, Makin, Little Makin, Marakei, Abaiang, Maiana, Abemama, Kuria, and Aranuka in the north; Nonouti and Tabiteuea in the central region; and Beru, Nikunau, Onotoa, Tamana, and Arorae in the south. The total land area is 102 sq mi (260 sq km). The equator runs through the center of the group. Nikunau was explored by British Commodore John Byron in 1765; other islands were explored by captains Thomas Gilbert and John Marshall in 1788, and the remainder were visited between 1799 and 1824. The British made the islands a protectorate in 1892 and a colony in 1915-16. Tarawa, Butaritari, Abaiang, Marakei, and Abemama were occupied by the Japanese in 1941 and liberated by U.S. forces in 1943.

Group of 16 coral atolls (pop., 2005 prelim.: 83,683), part of the island country of Kiribati, western Pacific Ocean. The islands, including Tarawa, the largest, occupy a total land area of 105 sq mi (272 sq km). The British visited them in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in 1892 they became a British protectorate. In 1916 they became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands crown colony. They were occupied by Japanese forces from 1941 to 1943 and saw heavy fighting. Made a separate territory in 1976, they became part of Kiribati in 1979.

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The Gilbert Islands (formerly Kingsmill Islands) are a chain of 16 atolls and coral islands in the Pacific Ocean. They are the main part of the Republic of Kiribati ("Kiribati" is the rendition of "Gilberts" in Gilbertese) and include Tarawa, the site of the country's capital and residence of almost half of the population.

Geography

The atolls and islands of the Gilbert Islands are arranged in an approximate north-to-south line. In a geographical sense, the equator serves as dividing line between the northern Gilbert Islands and the southern Gilbert Islands.

Another method of grouping the Gilbert Islands is by former administrative districts, the Northern, Central, and Southern Gilberts (Tarawa once was a separate district as well).

A group of the southern Gilberts is called the Kingsmill Group, a name that in the 19th century applied to all of the Gilberts.

Islands of the Gilberts

In official north-south order (grouped by former administrative districts), the islands and atolls are:


Atoll/Island Main
village
Land area Lagoon area Pop.
c. 2005
Min.
number
of islets
Vill-
ages
Location
km² sq mi km² sq mi
former district of the Northern Gilberts
Makin Makin 2,385 5 2
Butaritari Butaritari 3,280 11 11
Marakei Rawannawi 2,741 1 8
Abaiang Tuarabu 5,502 4-20 18
Tarawa Bairiki 45,989 9+ 30
former district of the Central Gilberts
Maiana Tebwangetua 1,908 9 12
Abemama Kariatebike 3,404 8 12
Kuria Tabontebike 1,082 2 6
Aranuka Takaeang 1,158 4 3
Nonouti 1) Teuabu 3,179 12 9
former district of the Southern Gilberts
Tabiteuea 1) Buariki 4,898 2+ 18
Beru 1) Taubukinberu 2,169 1 9
Nikunau 1) Rungata 1,912 1 6
Onotoa 1) Buariki 1,644 30 7
Tamana Bakaka 875 1 3
Arorae Roreti 1,256 1 2
Gilbert Islands Tarawa 83,382 117+ 156 3°23'N to 2°38S
172°50' to 176°49'E
1) part of Kingsmill Group proper

Northern Gilberts

The Northern Gilberts (mweang) geographically and traditionally encompass Makin, Butaritari, Marakei, Abaiang (literally northland) and Tarawa. They have unique tonal accents with differences particularly noted amongst Butaritari and Makin inhabitants.

The northern Gilberts have a greater mean rainfall in comparison to the southern and central Gilberts allowing cultivation of a wider crop range. Butaritari and Makin supply most of the bananas sold in Kiribati. The cultivation of taro or babai (C. esculenta) has been historically easier in the northern Gilberts due to a higher water table and regular rainfall.

Central Gilberts

The Central Gilberts or nuka have traditionally included Maiana, Abemama, Kuria and Aranuka. However, the latter three are considered the main islands that have unique historical and cultural characteristics which distinguish the Central Gilberts from the north and south.

The Central Gilberts as well as Butaritari are the only regions which have had an organised and widely recognised aristocracy and royal lineage. The last king of Abemama, Kuria and Aranuka died in the early part of the 20th century.

Southern Gilberts

History

Prehistory and discovery by Europeans

Prior to the Gilberts' discovery by Europeans, the islands had been inhabited by Micronesians for several millennia. The first such parties were 1788 Captain Thomas Gilbert in the Charlotte and Captain John Marshall in the Scarborough. Messrs. Gilbert and Marshall crossed through Abemama, Kuria, Aranuka, Tarawa, Abaiang, Butaritari, and Makin without attempting to land on shore. In the years that followed, many ships ran across the little islands and atolls of the Gilberts in the course of their travels in the central Pacific. Several Gilbert's believed to be in close relation are today in the United States. John Gilbert Jr. is believed to live in the gulf coast area of the United States and would be a descendant and would in fact be considered a Count of the Gilbert Islands and the Republic today.

Further exploration

In 1820, the islands were named îles Gilbert (in French) by von Krusenstern, an Estonian admiral of the Czar after the British captain, Thomas Gilbert, together with the neighbouring îles Marshall. Two ships of the United States Exploring Expedition, and , under the command of Captain Hudson, visited many of the Gilbert Islands (then called the Kingsmill Islands or Kingsmill Group in English). While in the Gilberts, considerable time was devoted to mapping and charting reefs and anchorages — but a huge Maneaba of Tabiteuea was burnt and Gilbertese killed.

Colonial rule

A British protectorate was first proclaimed over the Gilberts by Captain Davis of on 27 May 1892. In 1915, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were proclaimed a colony of the British Empire.

Population

The natives of the Gilbert Islands are Micronesian, similar in many respects to the natives of the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. At the time of the Japanese invasion in 1942, they were a self-governing people, with their tribal consciousness undisturbed by the British system of colony government and administration. Loyal to the British, the Gilbertese looked with dissatisfaction upon the prospects of coming under the rule of the Japanese. During their stay in the Gilberts, the Japanese did nothing to change the opinion of the Gilbertese on this score.

At the outbreak of the war, about 78% of the native population were said to be Christians. This group was divided mainly into two denominations: Congregationalists (43%); and Roman Catholics (35%). The rest of the population were largely semi-pagan agnostics; they did not adhere to the Christian faith, nor did they retain much of their beliefs in their own ancient gods.

Native diet during this time consisted mainly of fish, coconuts, pandanus fruit, babai (swamp taro), chicken, and some pork. Housing for Europeans employed in the island was simple. Their houses were constructed of both European and native materials and were generally of the bungalow type. There was no tourism.

Economy

The principal industry found in the Gilberts was the production of phosphate from the deposits on Ocean Island and Fanning Island. In addition, coconut palms were cultivated on some of the islands. All labor was supervised by the British and every effort was made to see that the wages and living conditions were fair and adequate. Sanitary inspections by the British did much to improve the general living conditions on most of the islands.

Administration

Judged to be about 84% literate, the Gilbertese responded readily to the colony's educational efforts. All education in the islands came under the supervision of the Colonial Education Department whose aims were to educate native boys for employment in government and commercial work, and to standardize the level of education throughout the colony. The bulk of the education was provided by the missions, which maintained all the village schools and trained the native school teachers.

With the availability of European-style medical care life improved. The Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme sought to provide an outlet through the development of three uninhabited atolls in the Phoenix Islands and was the last attempt at human colonization within the British Empire.

World War II

On the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Gilbert Islands, occupying them by December 10..

On 17 August 1942, 221 U.S. Marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion were raided Makin from two submarines. The raid was intended by the Americans to confuse the Japanese about US intentions in the Pacific. It is instead believed to have alerted the Japanese to the strategic importance of the Gilbert Islands and led to their reinforcement and fortification.

Tarawa and Abemama were occupied in force by the Japanese in September 1942 and during the next year garrisons were built up on Betio (Tarawa Atoll), and Butaritari (Makin Atoll). Only nominal forces were placed on other islands in the Gilberts.

On 20 November 1943, the United States Army and U.S. 2nd Marine Division landed on Makin and Tarawa, initiating the battles of Makin and Tarawa, in which the Japanese were defeated. The Gilbert Islands were then used to support the invasion of the Marshall Islands in February 1944.

Self-determination

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands became autonomous in 1971. From 1976 to 1978, the Ellices were separated, and the Gilberts became the Gilbert Islands colony, which issued stamps under that name. In 1979, the Gilberts opted for independence, becoming the independent nation of Kiribati.

Notes

External links

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