The original inhabitants were Gilbertese (or I-Kiribati, in Gilbertese), better known as the Micronesian people. Besides English being the official language, the Gilbertese also speaks a native Micronesian language where the sound of the letter 's' is replaced by 'ti'. That is why "Kiribati" (officially the Republic of Kiribati) is pronounced as "Kee-ree-bus".
Before the arrival of the Europeans, Kiribati's sole inhabitants were the Gilbertese. The Islands were first sighted by British and American ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and were then collectively known as the Gilbert Islands, named after Captain Thomas Gilbert. The Gilbert Islands together with the Ellice Islands was made a British protectorate in 1892, and in 1916, became part of the British Colony. In 1919 and 1937 respectively, the Kiritimati (Christmas Island) atoll and the Phoenix Islands joined the Colony.
In 1971, the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands obtained self-rule and were separated and granted internal self-government by the British in 1975. Gilbert Islands declared independence on 12 July 1979 under its new name Kiribati.
Kiribati has close ties and friendly relationships with most countries including its Pacific neighbours such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Fuji. Relationship between Kiribati and the United States is also excellent. Kiribati signed a treaty of friendship with the United States after gaining independence, and in 1999, Kiribati became a member of the United Nations.
Kiribati is made up of three main groups of islands (the Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands) and its capital, Tarawa, is located in the Gilbert Islands. In 1995, Kiribati moved the International Date Line to include its easternmost Islands, which made it the same day throughout the country. It has the Pacific's second largest Exclusive Economic Zone after French Polynesia.
Approximately 90% of the population of Kiribati lives on the atolls of the Gilbert Islands. Owing to the increasing annual population growth and severe overcrowding in Tarawa, the government has implemented a migration program to migrate some of the population to outlying atolls in the Line Islands.
Kiribati's main source of revenue comes from the issuing of licences to fishing fleets from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States to fish in the vast Exclusive Economic Zone of Kiribati. Another source of revenue is the monies sent back by the Gilbertese who work as seafarers on foreign merchant vessels or in the Phosphate mines in Nauru. Copra, live fish and seaweed are the main exports.
General information of the country:
- Official Name: Republic of Kiribati
- Government type: Republic
- Independence: 12 July 1979
- Total and land area: 811 sq km
- Exclusive Economic Zone: 3,550,000 sq km
- Capital: Tarawa
- Population:(2006 est): 105,432
- Nationality: I-Kiribati
- Ethnic groups: Micronesian: 98.8%, other 1.2%
- Languages: English (official), Gilbertese (I-Kiribati)
- Currency: Australian dollar
- Roman Catholic 52%
- Protestant (Congregational) 40%
- Others 8%