The island nation of Kiribati
has styles of dance
unique to it. This article looks at those styles.
The uniqueness of Kiribati dance when compared with other forms of Pacific island dance is its emphasis on the outstretched arms of the dancer and the sudden birdlike movement of the head. The Frigate bird (Fregata minor) on the Kiribati flag refers to this bird-like style of Kiribati dancing. Most dances are in the standing or sitting position with movement limited and staggered.
Kiribati dancing can be categorized into seven main styles. Each incorporating the bird-like movements but differences lie in costume, the gender of the dancer, the number of dancers, accompanying music, and the position and movement of the dancer or dancers.
One of the oldest forms is called the Ruoia
. The style requires the dancer or dancers to move in time with a chorus of singers standing behind them. Te Ruoia
usually has three verses each sung with increasing tempo. Within the rouia
there are three subtle forms; te kemai
(usually performed by men), te kabuti
(performed only by woman) and the third is unique to Abemama
atoll where it is greatly stylised. The musical origin of this form of dance is not clear.
or sitting dance is performed by all islands in the Gilbert group
. Most islands (and even villages) have a particular song unique to them. The bino
is performed by both sexes and all ages.
The most widely practised dance in contemporary Kiribati is the Kaimatoa
, literally meaning the dance of strength. The dance tests the dancers physical endurance to outstretch their arms for long periods but it also test the dancers emotional endurance. The music and rhythm is often very emotive and it is not uncommon to see dancers weep throughout the dance. The kaimatoa
can be performed by both men, women and children.
Another form which is relatively modern within the history of Kiribati dance is the Buki
. The buki
originated in the northern islands of the Gilbert group (Butaritari
and Makin). However, it is widely danced in all islands. The dance is only performed by woman and requires the dancer to wear a very thick and heavy coconut frond skirt made of boiled and softened newly sprouted pinneals of the coconut leaf (te kakoko
). The skirt can weigh up to ten kilograms (22 pounds) and generally shin length. As in the other forms of Pacific dance such as the Tahitian hura
emphasizes the movement of the hips. Generally the dancer is required to show effortlessness as if the torso and hips are disconnected. Hence, the torso and shoulders are to be kept as still as possible and the movement of the hips graceful and resembling the movement of water.
The only dance using a type of percussion instrument is the tirere
(pronounced seerere). The tirere
is usually performed by a group of ten to twenty paired dancers. Each dancer has a foot long stick which are struck in time with the accompanying song to create a rhythm. The tirere
is rarely performed in contemporary Kiribati.
Vulgarity of smiling
Smiling whilst dancing as seen in the modern Hawaiian Hula
is generally considered vulgar within the context of Kiribati dancing. This is because by tradition, Kiribati dance was not only a form of entertainment but also as tributes to particular spirits, the unification of two clans (kainga
), a form of oral storytelling and simply the display of the skill, beauty and endurance of the dancer.