The history of colonization of the islands that are now part of Kiribati is one of the biggest mysteries in the development of modern civilization. Presumably, the first inhabitants of the islands were Australoid tribes that settled in this territory over 2500 years ago. Because of its extreme isolation from civilization, the island leads the same leisurely life as hundreds of years ago. This is a real 'lost world' where there is no television, the main entertainment is singing and dancing. Food, like hundreds years ago, is mostly provided by the ocean, and the only radio station is working on a case by case basis. Tarawa Island lies in the center of the northern part of the Gilbert Islands. The atoll consists of 22 'large' islands, of which only eight are inhabited. The largest island of the atoll is South Tarawa, which stretches across the southern side of the archipelago. South Tarawa is strongly urbanized by local standards, but it is a small cluster of houses in the traditional Polynesian style, many of which stand on stilts right in the water.

Bairiki, the capital of the country, appeared after the merging of several villages in the south of Tarawa, and is connected to neighboring islands with a chain of bridges. In Bairiki, there are offices of the Government, the residence of the President, Parliament, the Central Post Office, offices of nearly a dozen banks, the State Library and Archives, National Stewardship Fund, Tourist Office of Kiribati, and various official agencies. In Bikenibeu, one will find the old Central Hospital, the Ministry of Education and Agriculture, the headquarters of Air-Kiribati, the Teacher Training College, Oriental Hotel and the new Cultural Center, which contains an extensive collection of handicrafts.

Betio Island is the most populous place of Kiribati and one of the major industrial centers in the country with a port, a shipyard and the main power station. It is a perfectly flat and nearly naked island. Almost the entire central portion of it is occupied by a broad Hawkins airfield. The smaller islands of Tarawa are full of life: there is Eite Moroney high school, a church and a small fish market, a golf club with nine fields and ponds for fish, the headquarters of the Catholic Church, the College of Saint-Louis, and the tiny reef.

The largest of the outer atolls consists of two large islands - Meank and Maiaki. This atoll is one of the most beautiful places in Kiribati and the largest atoll of the Gilbert island group, a vast turquoise lagoon with a necklace of small islands forming a maze of reefs. Traditional culture is still strong here, and folk dancing, singing and magic continue to play an important role in the local life.

Beru Island is probably the only island in the southern part of Gilbert, which is not of an atoll origin. Just as Tabiteuea, Beru is considered one of the cradles of the local culture. Butaritari Atoll lies north-west of Tarawa and is considered one of the largest atolls in the Gilbert Islands. The deep lagoon of Butaritari opens its passage to the ocean and leads to a few small islands that make up a fairly complex channel. On the southern shore of the lagoon, there stretch mangrove swamps, and in the north there are rugged canyons of the underwater plateau. This is one of the wettest places in the country and one of the finest harbors in the Gilbert group. The main village of the island bears the same name and is the second largest population center in the country.

Abemama Island is located in the central part of Kiribati and consists of a deep central lagoon surrounded by the islands to the north and east. Abemama was once declared the British 'Crown Colony' and has long been considered postal and military capital of the Gilbert Islands, taking benefit from its favorable geographical position. The main attractions of the island are numerous traces of World War II battles, several fishing villages, and the patriarchal endemic species of tiny yellow 'barking' frog.

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Kiribati Traditional Rituals