Nonouti is an atoll and district of Kiribati.
Nestled among the islands in the southern Gilbert group and the third largest island in the country, it is well known regionally and even world-wide for being the first island in Kiribati to have the Roman Catholic Church established in 1888. Catholicism is now the strongest religion in Kiribati. A monument, in commemoration of this, was erected in Taribo at Taboiaki village. A large traditional meeting house in Kiribati called ‘Te Aake maneaba’ is also found on Nonouti Island. This maneaba is built for members of the Roman Catholic religion only.
The northern part of the island is cut by several passages forming many islets and flats that can be reached during high tides by boat or on foot during low tide. A cleft near the middle only allows access to ships of less than a thousand tons. With these many islets and flats with less human intervention, Nonouti Island has excellent breeding ground for marine resources. Nonouti Island has excess number of bonefish compared to other islands in the Gilbert group and in January 2010, Nonouti Island has just been declared as another bone fishing game destination in the country in addition to Kiritimati Island in the Line Group. Nonouti Island has uninhabited islets with untouched nature and environment which are ideal for hideaways, picnics, relaxation, swimming, snorkeling and beach games with no-one to disturb you.
Nonouti Island is located in the Southern Gilbert group and has an area of 29.2 square kilometers. The village of Matang serves as the government center for the atoll which includes an administration building, the police station and a hospital. The only government Junior Secondary School is also located here. At the second village north of Matang is the George Eastman High School, owned by the Kiribati Protestant Church.
The history of Nonouti started off with the arrival of the traders and whalers in the early 1800’s. Later in 1870’s, a recruiting ship came about to recruit people to work in Tahiti. Betero and Tiroi from Nonouti were among these people. They stayed in Tahiti and became strong members of the Roman Catholic Church there.
In 1888, the Roman Catholic missionaries from France arrived in Nonouti. Close to where the first catholic missionaries arrived in 1888, just behind the apse of the Catholic Church in Taboiaki village, are the 6 graves of important foreign missionaries and people to the Catholic Church. Opposite this Catholic Church is the biggest meeting house in Kiribati known as the Aake Maneaba.
Nonouti Island was traditionally ruled by the elderly men (unimwane). Following independence of Kiribati from the British colony, the 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) 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 bikinis, mini skirts or shorts. A skirt/short covered down to your knees or wrapped around sulus and T-Shirts are preferable.
Visitors should aware when traveling to Nonouti Island 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 need 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.