Formerly called the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati is made up of 33 coral atolls straddling the equator in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The islands were granted self-rule by Great Britain in 1971 and complete independence in 1979 under the new name.
The population of Kiribati, numbering slightly over 105,000, is almost 100% Christian. Of the Christian population, about 50% are Roman Catholic, and 40% Protestant. Other religions represented on the island include Islam, Mormonism, and Baha’i.
Kiribati's people are involved primarily in the fishing and tourism industries. Traditional song and dance hold a prominent place in the hearts and lives of Kiribati’s people, and are time-honored forms of storytelling.
The Bible was translated into I-Kiribati, the national language of the islands, in 1893 and revised in the 1940s and 50s. One I-Kiribati member of the revision team, the now 82-year-old Reverend Kaitara Metai, recalls that the work was interrupted by Japanese invasion and occupation in 1942. Determined to preserve the Scriptures, Metai buried the revised manuscripts in wooden boxes in the sand, along with his other treasured possessions. In 1944, when work could resume, he uncovered this buried treasure and began the revision work with even greater energy than before, because “I loved it so much!” he recalls.
Thanks to the work of God in the lives of dedicated believers like Rev. Metai, the Kiribati people have been able to read the Word in their language for decades. Today, a new translation is in progress, sponsored by all of the Protestant churches of Kiribati.
Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe