History of Kiribati

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The islands which now form the Republic of Kiribati have been inhabited for at least seven hundred years, and possibly much longer. The initial Micronesian population, which remains the overwhelming majority today, was visited by Polynesian and Melanesian invaders before the first European sailors discovered the islands in the 16th century. For much of the subsequent period, the main island chain, the Gilbert Islands, was ruled as part of the British Empire. The country gained its independence in 1979 and has since been known as Kiribati.

Contents

Pre-history

The I-Kiribati or Gilbertese people settled what would become known as the Gilbert Islands (named for British captain Thomas Gilbert by von Krusenstern in 1820) some time in between 3000 BC[1][2] and 1300 AD.[3] Subsequent invasions by Samoans and Tongans introduced Polynesian elements to the previously installed Micronesian culture and invasions by Fijians introduced Melanesian elements, but extensive intermarriage produced a population reasonably homogeneous in appearance, language and traditions.

Colonial era

European contact began in the 16th century. Whalers, slave traders, and merchant vessels arrived in great numbers in the 19th century, and the resulting upheaval fomented local tribal conflicts and introduced damaging European diseases. In an effort to restore a measure of order, the Gilbert Islands and the neighboring Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) were forced to become the British protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1892. Banaba (Ocean Island) was annexed in 1901 after the discovery of phosphate deposits.

The entire collection, plus Fanning and Washington islands (part of the Line Islands), was made a British colony, also called Gilbert and Ellice Islands, in 1916, as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (a colonial entity created in 1877, governed by a single High Commissioner) until 1971, only five years before its abolition. One very famous Colonial Office proconsul was Sir Arthur Grimble (1888–1956), at first as a cadet officer in 1914, under Edward Carlyon Eliot who was Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands (now Kiribatii & Tuvalu) from 1913 to 1920. This period is described in Eliot's book "Broken Atoms" (autobiographical reminiscences) (Pub. G. Bles, London, 1938) and is also featured in Sir Arthur Grimble's "A Pattern of Islands" (Pub. John Murray, London, 1952) along with Grimble's later work there, finally as Resident Commissioner in 1926. Most of the Line Islands including Christmas Island, the Phoenix and even the Union (Tokelau) islands (until 1925) were incorporated piecemeal over the next 20 years.

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