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The children screamed with delight as Odyssey cameraman, David Day, danced with one of the locals at a traditional Kiritimati ceremony. They rarely see foreigners, let alone foreigners dancing.
Photo: Josh Jones

October 16, 2000
Coming of Age
Real Audio

Log Transcript

Hi this is Genevieve Johnson talking to you from Kiribati in the central equatorial pacific. It is the eve before our departure on the second leg of our first voyage around the Line Islands. The crew of the Odyssey spent the evening ashore where we were invited to witness the ceremonial 'coming of age' of a 13 year old kiribati girl named Nei detua. We were warmly received and treated as honored guests at this festive occasion, which took place in a 'maneaba' or meeting house at the center of the village. A huge feast had been prepared, including a large pig to be shared amongst the whole village, whom it was customary to invite. At the conclusion of dinner, the tables were cleared and speeches were made expressing pride in this young girl who had now become a woman. The music began and another young girl, a cousin of Nei detua, danced in the style of the South Sea Islands. Then the locals and family members invited the odyssey crew to join the dancing, much to the delight and amusement of the local children who rarely see foreigners, let alone see foreigners dance.

According to I-Kiribati culture, the first sign of womanhood is the onset of the menstrual cycle. For the family of any young girl, this is a time of joy and celebration. For the first 3 days of this transition into womanhood, the girl is housebound along with her Grandmother who will educate her in the ways of her new role as a housewife and mother. She must learn to cook, clean and weave, and is no longer permitted to spend time playing with friends.

Nei detua was seated at a table in the center of the meeting house, where she was accompanied by a young boy. This is a symbol of her readiness for marriage and family. The boy chosen on such occasions may or may not be party to an arranged marriage. Nonetheless, tradition dictates that he must be the first born, as it is this child who will receive the bulk of his parents wealth, in turn ensuring he will be a successful provider for his new family.

Receiving such an invitation allowed us a fascinating insight into a culture that in many ways has successfully managed to integrate the intrusions of the outside world into their oasis in the middle of the sea, while still maintaining much of their traditional lifestyle.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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