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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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.
|Atoll/Island||Mainvillage||Land area||Lagoon area||Pop.c. 2005||Min.numberof islets||Vill-ages||Location|
|km²||sq mi||km²||sq mi|
|former district of the Northern Gilberts|
|former district of the Central Gilberts|
|former district of the Southern Gilberts|
|Gilbert Islands||Tarawa||83,382||117+||156||3°23'N to 2°38S172°50' to 176°49'E|
|1) part of Kingsmill Group proper|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gilbert Islands showcases lighted boats in annual event: Community invites public to traditional sail-by holiday parade.
Dec 09, 2006; Byline: Beth Lucas Dec. 9--Santa's sleigh will glide through the Gilbert Islands tonight -- across the lake in the community's...