Marakei is an island in Kiribati.
Marakei Island is unique among the islands in the Gilbert Group for being the island with a deep blue lagoon located in the middle of it. It is the only island in Kiribati with a gripping traditional welcome known as Te Katabwanin for first time visitors. With less interruption from World War 2, it is in Marakei that you can experience the natural environment with a simple traditional lifestyle. If you have a longtime dream to have a real taste and sense of living in a traditional and cultural setting, Marakei is your island. Marakei is also known as a “land of women” as related to its history where spiritual guardians of it are all women. Shrines of these spiritual guardians can also be found on the island.
Visitors should aware when traveling to Marakei 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. Accommodation is basic and food will be what is available locally. 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. Communications while on the island may be limited, however most villages will have a public phone. It is also important to note that as a sign of respect you will need to leave offerings at a number of the shines 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.
Marakei Island is a ring shaped atoll with an area of 13.5 square kilometers. It has a population of 2,741 (2005 Census) and located north of Abaiang Island and 49.60 miles north of Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. The main administrative center is located at Rawannawi and serves as headquarter for schools, police services and clinics. The only government Junior Secondary School is also located at this village. Two causeways have also been constructed to join the island in a one ring shape and to give smooth access of any means of transport on the island. The flight to Marakei Island from only takes around 15 minutes only.
History, tradition and culture
The history of Marakei started off with the undated arrival of King Kirata who went there in search of his sister who married away to the island of Marakei. While there, he firstly initiated a term Te Katabwanin when he sent his bodyguards around the island to check whether there might be hindrances to face before searching for his sister. He sent two bodyguards; one went clockwise while the other went anti-clockwise. His bodyguard who went clockwise was found dead. From there, Te Katabwanin in an anticlockwise manner was started and noted until today that it is safe to do it in that manner. Then, followed by the arrival of the crews of Hernando de Grijalva’s vessel San Juan in 1857 that were known as the first discoverers of the island. Later, it was resided by white traders like Harry Holderson, John McCarthy, James Byrne and John Sandbergen. Labor traders also sighted Marakei Island and recruited some islanders to work as laborers in Guatemala. Then occupied by the Japanese in 1941 and liberated by the US forces in 1943.
Marakei Island was traditionally ruled by the elderly men (unimwane) in the past. Following independence of Kiribati from the British colony, ruling system for the islands of Kiribati was restructured and then the Mayor (formerly known as Chief Councilor) was elected through a vote to work together in collaboration with the elderly men. These are the only people who can make and impose decision regarding the community. It is also part of the island’s culture that importance of family, respect of the elderly as well as guest hospitality are to be upheld. Participation in cultural practices as well as coming together under the maneaba to socialize and feast are also valuable elements of the island’s culture. The island’s economy is predominantly subsistence with copra and fisheries, the main source of islander’s earnings.
The islanders are very religious following the arrival of the churches on the islands. Predominantly, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches are the two major denominations on the island. Other religions include Church of Christ of Latter Day Saint (LDS), Church of God and Seventh Day Adventist.
The code of dressing is also another matter of concern on the island. It is culturally preferable that all women and men should use casual wear. Particularly, women are not allowed to walk around with bikins, 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
The moral of this traditional custom and presented gifts is to let these spiritual guardians know you and to assure you good health and good fortune during your stay. If it is your first time to Marakei Te Katabwanin must be performed on your first day of arrival on the island.