The Kiribati woman

I recently had an article published in Australian magazine Frankie. In the article I wrote about by hesitation to be labelled a climate change activist and also what it means to explore your culture.

I’ve always tried to be upfront with my readers and explain that I grew up in country Victoria (not in Kiribati) and that I am on an ongoing journey to explore what it means to be I-Kiribati. In fact, that’s why I started this website in the first place!

In this recent article, I mentioned that for a number of years, I’ve tried to uphold what it means to be an I-Kiribati woman. And even though I feel I-Kiribati and no one can deny me that, I’ve been thinking ‘what does this actually mean?’ What does it mean to be an I-Kiribati woman?

Image courtesy of Pinterest
Image courtesy of Pinterest
Image courtesy of Pinterest
Image courtesy of Pinterest

Thinking about Kiribati women, immediately my mind conjures up a beautiful brown woman with wide hips (perhaps with a child sitting on one side), wearing a lava lava (sarong) and tiibuta (traditional top), sweeping the ground outside the hut, singing whilst flipping her long black hair into a traditional comb.

Isn’t that a beautiful image? And no doubt there are so many I-Kiribati women that are actually doing this right now!

But…I don’t do any of this. I wear jeans most days, I don’t sweep all that often (there’s a confession!) and I don’t have a child sitting on my hip. So how do I know I’m a Kiribati woman when my image of a ‘typical’ Kiribati woman is so far from the person I am?

Image courtesy of Pinterest
Image courtesy of Pinterest

12 years ago, I knew I was I-Kiribati, but I’m not sure if I really felt it.

But now I am older, a tiny bit wiser, have spent more time in the islands and have made a conscious effort to get to know the Kiribati women in my family. In doing so and their welcoming me as ‘the white child’, I feel like the depths of my soul have grown deeper and wider and there is so much I-Kiribati in that soul. Christ, if I knew I was going to get this romantic about being I-Kiribati, I would have given you more warning when I started writing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Kiribati woman isn’t everything that you see in the pretty tourists pictures (even though the women are gorgeous). In my own cultural journey, these points are just some of the reasons I allow myself the title of upholding what it means to be a proud I-Kiribati woman:

Photo taken by Sarah Anderson
Photo taken by Sarah Anderson
  • To be proud of the body that has been passed down to me through generations. I’m proud of these hips, this skin and even the god-ugly thumbs that are an exact replica of my grandmothers. Trust me, they’re awful, but they’re mine and I love them.
  • To be vocal about sharing the stories of Kiribati women
  • To be vocal and active about the rights Kiribati women deserve
  • To respect the men in our family and understand their cultural barriers and expectations. And of course to give them as much love as I do the women.
  • To understand the necessity of speaking about Kiribati issues such as domestic violence, health and climate change; issues that are significant topics that our future generations rely on us to speak about.
  • To support the achievements of the citizens and the country as a whole. And also be critical when I expect more from the country and its citizens.

I could go on but this pretty much sums it up for me. This could be totally different to every single other I-Kiribati woman out there and of course that’s okay! This is just what speaks to me and how I feel like I maintain my culture.

What do you think? Anyone else out there keen to share the ways they ‘feel’ a part of the culture they belong to?

Nei Marita

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Eric Larson says:

    You make great points. Activism is easy for the press to cover, but it often requires simplifying a complex reality for the sake of marketing. Some people are comfortable with the compromise, but others aren’t. Be true to your observations and respectful of everyone and the wisdom of your words will be heard.

  2. Pete Malavisi says:

    I am currently working as an australian volunteer in Kiribati, half way through my assignment with 6 months to go, great story and yes your description of Kiribati women is spot on, well done for your words and effort to learn more about your culture and history.

    1. Hi Pete, thanks! Enjoy your time in Kiribati.

  3. Rod Wells says:

    Mauri Nei Marita.
    Great comments and I am sure you are learning how important the I Kiribati (Gilbertese) culture is.
    What islands does your family come from. I.e Tarawa, Maiana for example.
    Having lived in the Gilbert’s, many years ago It had taught me how to appreciate what we have and to experience outer island living is a great way to embrace this wonderful culture. The women have exceptional leadership skills and this is also a wonderful trait they have. All the best. Thank you. Ko rwaba


    1. Hi there Rod, thanks for reading! I am from Marakei and Tab North. I know a lot more of my Marakei side but am slowly collecting the knowledge of my Tab north side. And yes, there is nothing else like outer island living! Thanks 🙂 Marita

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