The settlement of part of the islands that today
belong to the Republic of Kiribati probably began in the
1st millennium BC. The ancestors of the Micronesians
probably came from Southeast Asia, later Polynesians
also settled on the islands.
Europeans discover the islands
The first Europeans to discover the islands were
Spanish sailors who traveled to the South Pacific in the
16th century. In 1606, the Spaniard Pedro Fern¨˘ndez de
Quir¨®s sighted the Atoll Butaritari, which belongs to
the Gilbert Islands. The islands were first explored by
the British around 150 years later. In addition to John
Byron and Thomas Gilbert, who traveled to the Gilbert
Islands from 1765, the British James Cook sighted what
is today the main island of the Line Islands,
Kiritimati, in 1777 on his third trip to the South Seas.
After the date of the discovery, he called it "Christmas
From the end of the 18th century, the waters around
the Gilbert Islands were a popular area for European
whalers. The first settlement of the Gilbert Islands by
European merchants took place around 1820. They started
trading in coconut oil and copra. Shortly afterwards,
missionaries began to Christianize the local population.
In 1892 Great Britain declared the Gilbert Islands as
a protectorate area, four years later they were combined
with the nine southern Ellice Islands (today: Tuvalu) to
form the "Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate".
After rich phosphate deposits were discovered on Banaba
in 1900, this island was incorporated into the
Protectorate (in 1979 the phosphate deposits were
exhausted, after which Great Britain withdrew from the
island devastated by the mining).
In 1915 the protectorate was officially declared a
British Crown Colony. Over the next few years, the Line
Island atoll "Ocean Island" (1916), Christmas Island
(1919) and the Phoenix Islands (1937) were incorporated
into the crown colony. Some of the Phoenix Islands
(Canton, Enderbury) were placed under the joint
administration of Great Britain and the USA in 1939 due
to their great strategic importance. The United States
had already claimed the Phoenix Islands in the early
During the Second World War, the Gilbert Islands were
temporarily occupied by Japanese troops, then liberated
by Australian and American troops. More than 8,000
soldiers and many civilians were killed in the battle
for the main island of Tarawa. The island was almost
completely devastated. After the war, the city of
Bairiki on the Gilbert Island of Tarawa became the
administrative seat of the British crown colony "Gilbert
and Ellice Islands".
From the beginning of the 1960s, the colony was
gradually granted internal self-government. A first
parliament was elected in 1967. In a referendum on the
Ellice Islands in 1974, the majority of the population
voted for a separate status for their island group. A
year later, the Ellice Islands were separated from the
Gilbert Islands (and became the sovereign state of
Tuvalu in 1978). From 1977, Britain's Gilbert Islands
were granted full internal autonomy.
In July 1979 the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands
and eight of the eleven Line Islands as well as the
island of Banaba became the independent Republic of
Kiribati within the British Commonwealth. The main city
became Bairiki on the island of Tarawa. The constitution
established a presidential system, and Jeremiah Tabai
was elected the first head of state and government.
In the same year, the phosphate deposits on Banaba
Island were exhausted, the sale of which had made up a
large part of the exports. In order to compensate for
the economic losses, the political leadership of
Kiribati sold fishing rights to Japan.
In the 1980s, the territory was expanded to include
the atolls Teraina (Washington Island) and Tabuaeran
(Fanning Island), which were bought from the large group
Burns Philip. At the beginning of the 1990s, the
Kiribati government announced its plan to move some
5,000 people from the Gilbert to the Northern Line
islands within the next few years. The reason for this
was the lack of settlement area and drinking water on
the Gilbert Islands.
In the presidential election in July 1991, Teatao
Teannaki became Kiribati's new head of state and
government. He was overthrown in May 1994 by a vote of
no confidence, the new head of state was Teburoro Tito.
In 1999 Kiribati became a member of the United Nations
(UN). According to AbbreviationFinder, Anote Tong has been the head of state and
government since 2003.
The main problem in addition to high foreign debt and
a chronic shortage of drinking water for the Republic of
Kiribati is global warming of the earth's atmosphere
(greenhouse effect), which causes sea levels to rise
continuously (due to the melting of the polar ice
masses). It is predicted that the islands of the
Republic of Kiribati, which usually only protrude two to
three meters from the water, will be flooded by the
middle of the century.