Travel Tales

Kiribati - Paradise on Earth

Kiribati map


Because I admired the beauty and tranquility of Kiribati and the group of 33 coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean , straddling the equator and bordering the International Date Line, I used them as an exotic locale in my novel: Murder by Roses. Prior to their independence, they were named the Gilbert Islands , in honor of Thomas Gilbert who crossed the archipelago in 1788.

I first discovered this tropical paradise when we took a cruise ship around the Hawaiian Islands.


Kiribati is pronounced Kiribas in Gilbertese, but it is officially the Republic of Kiribati, which was originally inhabited by a Micronesian ethnic group which spoke the same language for 2,000 years, prior to coming into contact with Europeans. These islands were first sighted by British ships in the 18th century, and colonized by settlers in 1837, becoming a British protectorate and a Crown colony in 1916. Although i-Kiribati is widely spoken among the natives, English is their official language.

Tarawa Atoll and other islands of the Gilbert group were occupied by Japan during WWII. Tarawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in U. S. Marine Corps history when they landed in 1943. Line Island and other atolls were used by the United States and Great Britain for atomic bomb testing. The Gilbert Islands gained self-rule from Britain in 1971, and Ellice Islands broke away also becoming the independent nation of Tuvalu in1978. In 1999, Kiribati gained UN membership. Their currency is the Australian dollar.

In 2002, Kiribati passed a controversial law enabling their government to shut down newspapers, and limiting freedom of speech, but overall it has one of the most positive records of human rights in the world. And that is why when I needed to hide a character who was being accused of murder, I stuck him on a coral atoll where nobody could find him, until he could establish his defense.

Most of the country's population, around 88,000, live in the Gilbert Islands. Only three of the Line Islands are inhabited. Kiribati maintains good relations with its Pacific neighbors: Japan, Australia and New Zealand for their survival and foreign aid. In 1999, they announced they would lease land on Kiritimati ( Christmas Island ) for US $840,000 per year, for 20 years to Japan to build its unmanned space shuttle Hope-X, but the plans were eventually cancelled by Japan. Kiritimati is the world's largest atoll. Banaba is a raised coral island that was once rich in phosphates which were aggressively mined. Most of their houses are made of materials from coconut and pandanus trees.


Christianity is the main religion, as it was introduced by the Protestant and Mormon missionaries; although Roman Catholicism predominates. When I spoke to Tiriamtika my guide, (who is photographed next to the coconuts,) he explained in very good English, that the coconut palm is the most common form of vegetation, (as you can see in these photos) which produce copra. Seaweed and fisheries are still widely used as a form of economic subsistence.



In my Author's Note in Murder by Roses, I talk about the problems of global warming and the greenhouse effects on Tuvalu. Since I have always loved the ocean, I was distressed that maybe some of the low-lying atolls, no more than six feet above sea level, might be swallowed up by the sea, and the inhabitants of Tuvalu will have to repatriate to New Zealand. Kiribati, seems to have a significant land mass so it will not be adversely affected by rising water levels.

This is becoming a widespread problem throughout Oceania, and has prompted the Pacific Island Government of Tuvalu to commence legal action in the International Court of Justice, against countries responsible for polluting and greenhouse emissions. The refusal of the United States and Australia to sign the Kyoto Protocol raised the alarm in the Pacific region.

Popularly, for tourism, but incorrectly, Kiribati's 1995 act, moved the International Date Line far to the east to encompass Kiribati's Line Islands groups, so that they could claim Kiribati as "the first country to see the dawn of January 1, 2000 ," and also renamed Caroline Island, "Millennium Island."

Although our ship only spent one day anchored near Kiribati, I chose to walk around the beach barefoot taking pictures of the white powdery sand, aquamarine waters, and thousands of coconut palms, singing: "I'm As Corny As Kansas in August; I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair; Bali Hi," and one of my favorites: "Some Enchanted Evening," fantasizing I was in South Pacific; which I was!

All you have to do is look at my photos to see there really is a paradise on earth.


Now - if only Eve hadn't handed Adam that apple we wouldn't have been kicked out of it! Then again, maybe she gave him a coconut filled with rum. Delicious stuff! With a backdrop of such beauty who can resist writing a romance novel.



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