Kiribati architecture and design

I’ve been thinking over the last couple of days…

Even though I’m clearly dedicated to spreading the climate change and rising sea water problems in Kiribati, that’s not entirely why I started this website. I want to share the Kiribati culture. To share the stories of the people so that everyone could learn a little bit more about this wonderful Pacific country. It’s not just huge tides and declining land mass.

Kiribati is a country that is full of amazing weavers, artists, skilled fishermen, dynamic architects and structural engineers. The buildings, fishing equipment, household items, techniques and skills are so unique to Kiribati – and each of them responds perfectly to the way of life that is lived in the islands.

I suppose the most imposing and most significant building is the maneaba – the meeting house. A large building that has the same purpose as a local town hall. It’s for large meetings, events This large structure has a roof of thatched pandana leaves, held together by rope made from coconut husks. The roof is impressively high while the edges of the roof sit so low that most people have to bow when entering in the building. This keeps the building as cool as possible and is without doubt, the best place to be in the humid middle of the day. The are also various similar structures called kiakia’s and te buia’s – which are huts usually for households.If you’ve been to Kiribati and stayed in a hut, it would usually be one of these.

Maneaba 1979
Maneaba 1979

One of my favourite pieces of Kiribati architecture is the traditional canoe – Te Wa. It is held together entirely by rope made of the coconut husks which the women of the village/family make. This rope is a skill in itself and I caused many fits of laughter by comparing my rope to my skilled grandma’s. The canoe is made by the men in the village, but this couldn’t be done without relying on the strength and quality of the women’s rope. A thought which I find so wonderful 🙂

Kiribati canoe, courtesy of
Kiribati canoe, courtesy of


Kiribati canoe and fisherman
Kiribati canoe and fisherman

It is an amazing architectural feat, which can withstand the Pacific ocean and is iconic to the country. Plus, how beautiful are they? There is a fantastic photo essay of the canoe by photographer Tony Whincup – check out the link here – I could look at these images for hours.

The last one I want to focus on are the women’s weaving skills. From coconut tree leaves, pretty much every I-Kiribati woman can make mats, toys, baskets, hats, clothing, fans …(list goes on). The skills that are passed down through the generations are so unique to Kiribati culture and again the quality is awesome. The hands are small, delicate and nimble and they throw hundreds of coconut leaves around like it’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s not. I’ve tried it and I’ll stick to scaling the fish thanks…

Terira (grandma) weaves a basket
Terira (grandma) weaves a basket
Terira (grandma) makes my garland
Terira (grandma) makes my garland


Kiribati weaving
Kiribati weaving

2002 dancer


I suppose why I want to share this, is because Kiribati has such a strong cultural heart full of stories, skills and inventions. It’s not just land that is threatened at each high tide, it’s all of this. It’s a way of life.

Ko raba,

Nei Marita

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Eric Larson says:

    Absolutely correct. The I-Kiribati are geniuses. The craftsmanship of these very utilitarian buildings and tools is astounding. Thank you for highlighting them.

  2. Mareta Iotua says:

    Thank you for sharing on the website

  3. Mireka Taiki says:

    I would suggest that Kiribati government has to look at the engineering of causeways around the islands. There is less or no complications with places that have bridges where the passages are. Do you think the President has used the money that was given as a help to change your climate? It is better to fix up what human being has done to Nature. Nature is seriously warning human beings not to play around with Nature. Fix up all the passages where water used to come in and out, in other words fix up your own mess.

  4. Ata Greig says:

    thank YOU for this website because it is more helpful with my research

    1. No worries! Glad I can help 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s