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A traditional I-Kiribati thatched house or 'maneaba'.
Photo: Chris Johnson

January 19, 2001
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey.

Last night we anchored just outside the lagoon of Abemama, a beautiful pacific atoll in order to complete some minor maintenance work.

Abemama is probably about as remote a place as one can get. It is one of the outer islands of the Gilbert Island group here in Kiribati. Setting foot on shore is akin to stepping back in time, it is a place little disturbed by outside influences. With no tourism here, outsiders rarely visit, and local tradition remains strong. Abemama is a chance to experience I-Kiribati culture as it was 200, 500 even 1000 years ago.

'Tioti' invited us into his maneaba to share stories on whales, the sea and making copra.
Photo: Chris Johnson

A few of us took the dinghy ashore and watched as two local fisherman netted fish in the shallows of the reef. We walked to the waters edge to meet them with our Kiribati Fisheries observer Taoai, and were greeted with warm smiles and invited back to their home. We followed the fisherman down a lonely dirt track, coconut palms as far as the eye could see in every direction. Upon reaching their Maneaba we were invited to join the family The two young sons walked off into the surrounding palm forest, returning minutes later with armfuls of Coconuts. These were cut open and we shared coconut milk and easygoing conversation, with Taoai translating for us all. As we sat cross-legged on the hand-woven mats, under the high sloping thatched roof, we realized we had been invited to enter the authentic world of I-Kiribati culture. Time appears to be an illusion here, life is unhurried, relaxed and there is always time for laughing and casual discussion. The distinct lack of unnecessary material possessions, seem to allow more time for family. Their affinity to nature, provides the I-Kiribati's with all forms of sustenance, with all else is being provided by each other. We observed a closeness, patience and gentleness rarely seen in our fast paced western world. For what little it appeared they had, their generosity was limitless, coconuts were continually forthcoming and they wondered whether we would stay for a meal and a game. Their lifestyle seemed simple yet fulfilling, they all laughed heartily, suggesting it would not be possible for I-Matung (a generic term for all foreigners who come from far away), to live as they do. I wonder if they're right!

The men chattered and smoked tobacco rolled in Pandanas leaves, while the women wove baskets from coconut palms and prepared the morning catch of fish. Just outside the Maneaba lay a spread of copra, coconuts opened and left to dry in the sun. Copra is sold on the world market, the coconut oil used in sunscreens and skin lotions. Completely self sufficient, they told us they sustained themselves on a staple of fish, shellfish, coconuts and the occasional pig, which were killed for feasts and celebrations. Several small piglets, no doubt the centerpiece of future festivities, cavorted and played around the maneaba. They had a well that tapped into the natural freshwater lens, a fire pit, racks for hanging and drying fish and a never-ending supply of fresh coconuts. For one afternoon, two completely separate cultures came together, each being given a unique insight into the unfamiliar world of the other. We said our good-byes and gratefully accepted a parting gift of a hand woven basket containing coconuts and fish. As we made our way back through the thick palm forest, to an unspoiled beach and clear warm ocean waves, we couldn't help but think; perhaps it is they who are the fortunate ones.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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