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Introduction

Butaritari (pronounced Pu-tari-tari) atoll is in the Gilbert Islands group of Kiribati. Known as the first island to have battles between Japanese and US forces during World War II, evidence of WWII relics and other historical sites can still be seen nowadays. Butaritari was once a home for Robert Louis Stevenson during the nineteenth century. It was the first island to be sighted by Randell and Durant, the first resident traders. Given its abundance of rain received in a year, Butaritari is a lush and tropical island with widely grown vegetation. Because of this, bananas and pumpkin, apart from other food crops, are shipped to Tarawa for sale.

Butaritari also has a number of easily accessible reefs. Its very deep lagoon has made it one of the best harbours in the island group and it can comfortably accommodate large vessels. Butaritari is also famous for having the best spiritual weapons (black magic) among the islands of Kiribati. They claim to use these spiritual weapons to make people sick, paralysed, mentally retarded and even dead. They can also use it to court a girl or a boy. Up to now, the number of people practising this knowledge is getting smaller. Other cultural shrines such as shrines for Te Binekua (calling of whales), Kaobunang and others have also been erected by the islanders which can also be seen today.

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History and Culture

Butaritari was first sighted by Spanish explorer named Pedro Fernandez de Quiros in 1606 before John Marshall and Thomas Gilbert came upon several of the other islands of Kiribati in 1788.

During WWII, Butaritari and Making to the north were the first islands occupied by the Japanese. On 9 Dec 1941, 200 to 300 troops landed on Ukiangang and later the Americans came on the 20 Nov 1943. Most of the Japanese positions were overrun on the second day of the American invasion of Butaritari. Butaritari was also known as Makin South during WWII.

The knowledge of calling whales and dolphins was practised in the past, especially in Kuma village. This knowledge was only used during the village’s opening events which involved big feast like opening of new maneaba for village, church or schools. The formality of this started off when a person who was knowledgeable in this locked himself up in a local house (buia) for three days before the opening of each new maneaba. On the third day, he came out and whales were seen swimming up to the shore and were taken for meat during the feast.

Traditionally, Butaritari and Making were ruled by a chief who lived on Butaritari Island. The chief has all the power and authority to make and impose decision for Butaritari and Makin. After Kiribati gained independence, the power and authority of the chief no longer exist and the mayor and elderly men are elected and now regarded as heads of the islands that can make and impose decisions regarding the community. Butaritari Island is now having its different head of state from Makin. The general setting up of Butaritari Island is naturally rural and the people still depend on sea and land for daily living and for earning income. The people of Butaritari Island value 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 mini skirts or shorts. A skirt/short covered down to your knees or wrapped around sulus and T-Shirts are preferable. Predominantly, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church are the two major denominations on the islands.

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Geography

Butaritari Island is located north of the equator and south of Makin Island with an area of 13.6km². It's one of the larger atolls in Kiribati with a width of 30 kilometres (east to west) and a length of about 15 kilometres (north to south). It has many islets which are either linked by channels or causeways. The lagoon is very open to exchange with the ocean making the water cool for swimming. The main government headquarters is located at Temwanokunuea village. Other villages also have clinics and police services on them.

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Sights and Activities

  • Escorted starting from the far north east of the island, Kuma village, to the South
  • Visit shrines of calling whales and Kaobunang at Kuma village
  • Visit other remaining shrines on Butaritari
  • Visit Japanese and American base during WWII
  • Visit American airport, war relics which include bunkers, pontoons and airplanes and other war memorial sites at Ukiangang village

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Events and Festivals

New Year’s Day

Kiribati is the first country in the world to welcome in the New Year, albeit at the Line Islands, and events go off nationwide. All bars and guesthouses have something going on, along with traditional celebrations at the local maneaba (meeting house).

Independence Day

This is the main event on the Kiribati social calendar, celebrating the day the Gilbert Islands gained independence from Great Britain in July of 1979. Though the holiday officially takes place on July 12, the festivities last for several days, starting around the 9th. South Tarawa sees most of the action, including obligatory canoe races, kite-flying and traditional dance, along with wrestling, rugby and other sports ventures.

Youth Day

August 4 sees the forward-thinking government focus its energy on the Kiribati youth, with the promise of better opportunities through various workshops and programs. Churches and meeting houses see most activity.

Christmas

Locals attend church followed by much eating, gift-giving and merriment, just like they do back home. In Kiribati, however, there’s also choir singing, dancing, canoe racing, and a myriad of other sports right up until New Year. Locals also go camping in Taiwan Park and visit nearby islands.

New Year’s Eve

A huge event in Kiribati due to its position in the world, this island nation is the first place to countdown the New Year. There are low-key parties on the beaches and in the towns, while all expat bars and guesthouses put on special events.

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Weather

Butaritari enjoys a pleasantly warm, but humid tropical climate. Daytime temperatures hoover around 30 °C yearround with little variation throughout the year. Nights are still pleasantly warm and generally above 20 °C. The wetter period lasts from December to May and concentrates more on the northern part of the island chain. Trade winds blow from March to October. The most pleasant time, weatherwise, is from May to September. Tropical storms can hit the islands during the wet season, but are rarely a reason not to visit the islands during this time, although the humidity and heath combined with the absence of tradewinds from December to March makes this a slightly less pleasant time to visit.

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Getting There

By Plane

Air Kiribati flies to/from Makin and Tarawa.

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Eat/Drink

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Safety

Facilities and services are limited and the island is remote. You will need to be flexible with 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 strongly 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.

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This is version 2. Last edited at 8:24 on May 22, 19 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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