Abaiang is an island in Kiribati. Perfectly situated close and next door to the capital, Tarawa, it is the first island popping up out of a traveller’s or expatriate’s mind when looking for other choices of island for hideaways. It is also a home for two famous resorts in Kiribati, Ouba Islet Resort and Teirio Beach Resort. Abaiang is famous for having pristine beaches and a sparkling blue lagoon. A good glimpse of one of it very beautiful and white sandy beaches can also be seen when looking at the island’s direction from the north end tip of South Tarawa. It is in Abaiang that you can see historical landmarks made by the white colonizers of the island, a Negro cannibal who landed on Abaiang in the early days and founders of Protestant Church in Kiribati. Abaiang is also known to all as a house of the first church in Kiribati and also has a distinction of being one of the cradles of Christianity and schools both of Protestants and Catholics in the Kiribati group. Other visible attractions include shrines, well of high chief of Abaiang in the early days and sites of pioneers of the island. With a wide range of historical and cultural cultural attractions seen, the only home for two famous resorts in Kiribati and its closeness to the capital, Abaiang is considered one the marvellous and convenient laidback hideaways in Kiribati.
Abaiang Island has a total land area of 16 square kilometres and an estimate distance of about 23.8 miles from North to South. It has a latitude of 1°57’N and a longitude is 172°53’E. The main government center is located at Taburao village. The island also serves as a home for two secondary schools, each of them owned either by Roman Catholic Church or Kiribati Protestant Church. The island has a population of 5,502 (2005 census).
Interestingly, the history of Abaiang Island started off with the belief that ancestors living on it were known to be spirits, some of them created in Samoa and some in Abaiang. Years passed by and then real people came along followed then by the arrival of Reverend Dr. Bingham and his team, international traders, beachcombers, whalers and even labour traders. Colonizers then came along too and hoisted Union Jack on the island.
The first church in Kiribati also established on Abaiang Island in 1859 by Reverend Dr Hiram Bingham and his team. Reverend Dr. Bingham, his wife and his team were sent from America in 1856 to set up a mission in Kiribati. Their arrival in Abaiang was coincided with a war between Ten Temaua and Ten Teiwaki. Reverend Bingham and his team stayed with Ten Temaua. Ten Teiwaki took immediate fancy for Mrs. Bingham and announced that he will take her as his wife only if he won the war but unfortunately, he lost it. Their arrival on Abaiang also marked the important era in the establishment of the first Protestant Church in Kiribati.
In a traditional context of Abaiang Island, it was a paramount chief who ruled and provided overall leadership of the island in the past. Following independence of Kiribati, the overall leadership of Abaiang changed whereby the Mayor (formerly Chief Councilor) and the elderly men are now playing the role of providing political leadership for the island. Abaiang island still values the importance of family and respect of the elderly, guest hospitality, cultural practices and coming together under the maneaba (traditional meeting house) to socialize and feast.
Dress code is also restricted on the island. Casual wear is preferable and women are not allowed to walk around with bikinis, mini skirts or shorts. A skirt/short covered down to your knees or wrapped around sulus and T-Shirts are preferable.
Traditional welcome for first time visitors
a) The traditional welcoming custom of Abaiang is known as “Te Karaaun”.
b) Garlanded with Ten Tanini.
c) Escorted to Ribono village and taken around the village in an anticlockwise manner (the only village to do the anti-clockwise escort).
d) Te Karaaun starts from Tekabwarinuea maneaba, then to shrines such as Beiamatekaai, Rianaba islet, Kaiea’s well, Maatere the cannibal, Naikamawa, Moua’s Kautae (fishing scoop net), Moua’s tangana (traditional pudding made from babai or taro), the King’s hook, Naikamawa site and Naibunaki site and then back again to Tekabwarinuea Maneaba.
e) Escorted to Tekarano village. Visitors should aware that garlanding will be done here if not done at Ribono village.
f) Escorted to the rest of the villages to visit shrines and other cultural and historical sites.
There are assigned persons to do Te Karaaun to visitors and this will be done on your first day of arrival to ensure that guests are safe during their stay on Abaiang. If not on the first day of arrival, then this will be done early on the second day of arrival. Visitors should prepare to leave gifts such as sticks of tobacco especially at each of the shrines.
Visitors should aware when traveling to Abaiang that facilities and services are limited and the island is remote in nature. You will need flexibility in your plans to allow for instances where there may be transport delays. It is highly recommended that you take additional supplies of drinking water. Medical facilities are limited on the islands to a local clinic and village nurse. Pharmaceuticals are not available and you will to ensure you have any medications you may require and basic medical supplies. Please also ensure you have advised family and friends of your travel plans and when you expect to return.
It is also important to note that as a sign of respect you will need to leave offerings at a number of the shrines you visit. Tobacco/cigarettes are the traditional offering. If you are interested in participating in any cultural activity please have it arranged prior your travel or you can ask around the local people and they are usually most obliging.
Communications while on the island may be limited; however some villages will have a public phone.