Yesterday morning, we arrived at Kiritimati, or Christmas Island, in the Republic of Kiribati. There are two Christmas Islands (the other one is in the Indian Ocean); this one is located in the Pacific Ocean just two degrees north of the equator.
Even before we set foot on land, the chatter over the radio told us we were visiting in a completely different place than any we had been recently. The language is totally different than the languages of the South Pacific (which are soft sounding with their many vowels.) The fact that certain words or variations of them---kai kai (meal or food), umu (earth oven), and Ki'orana, Kia ora, or Kia orana (hello/may you live long)---are ubiquitous throughout the South Pacific, in countries as diverse as French Polynesia, Tonga, New Zealand, and the Cook Islands, indicates that the people on all of these islands share a common ancestor. The settlement pattern of Kiribati is obviously different from the other Pacific islands.
For those of you (like us) who knew little about this country before we arrived, here is an informative excerpt from the fifth edition of Landfalls of Paradise: Cruising Guide to the Pacific Islands (p. 340.):
The Republic of Kiribati---made up of the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and some parts of the Line Islands---officially came into existence on July 12, 1979, some eighty-seven years after Captain Davis of the British ship Royalist first hoisted the Union Jack at Abemama in 1892, making the island a British protectorate. In the interim, the Gilbert Islands were a part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
The name of the new republic, Kiribati, is pronounced "kiribas." The Gilbertese alphabet contains only thirteen letters, and s is missing; however, t followed by i is pronounced as s. Kiribati is the Gilbertese spelling for "Gilberts." As another example, the island of Betio in Tarawa Atoll is pronounced "bay-sho." Christmas Island is Kiritimati (pronounced "kirisimas") in Gilbertese. The people of Kiribati do not refer to themselves as Kiribatians but as I-Kiribati.
Kiribati consists of thirty-three islands situated approximately 4 degrees on either side of the equator and stretching from 157 degrees W to 173 degrees E, a distance of about 2,400 miles. The ocean area covered approaches 1.5 million square nautical miles. The eastern components---consisting of eight islands each in the Line and Phoenix groups---are in Polynesia. The western component---consisting of seventeen islands, all in the Gilbert group---is in Micronesia.
Thus, Kiribati is the largest and most sprawling island nation we have visited. Christmas Island, or Kiritimati, is proving to be a reflection of the entire republic in that it is a large, sprawling, and dusty atoll with several thousand people living on it. The sheer number of children here is a shock to the senses after the intimate family of Tetautua village with its less than one dozen children, all of whom we knew on a first-name basis. We are sure we will have more to say about this interesting and lively place.