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Introduction

Marakei is a small atoll in the North Gilbert Islands. The central lagoon consists of numerous deep basins and surrounded by two large islands which are separated by two narrow channels. The atoll covers an area of approximately 40 km². The "katabwanin" is a tradition unique to Marakei; first time visitors need to pay their respects to the four ghosts of Marakei, travelling anticlockwise, before any other activities. Offerings of tobacco, sweets or money at the shrines of Nei Reei, Nei Rotebenua, Nei Tangangau and Nei Nantekimam will secure a happy stay in Marakei.

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 the 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 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.

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History 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.

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Geography

The total land area of Marakei is 14.13 square kilometres. A road circles the island and is 26 kilometres long while the length of the island from the airport and running through the lagoon to Teraereke at southern portion of the island is 9.93 kilometres. It widest width can be found in the village of Rawannawi and narrowest width at Temotu at the western side of the island. Marakei is one of only two islands in Kiribati that encircles its lagoon. The Marakei lagoon is saltwater and deep in some areas, but not tidal. Two narrow channels, which are not navigable at low tide, link the lagoon with the sea; these are called Baretoa Pass and Raweta Pass. Rawata Pass was the location of an obstruction in 1912 after inter-village conflict.

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Villages

The main village is Rawannawi, which at the time of the 2010 Census was home to just over a third of the island's 2,872 people. Other villages include Temotu, Buota, Tekarakan, Bwainuna, Norauea, Tekuanga and Antai.

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Sights and Activities

  • Nature walking
  • Traditional canoeing
  • Snorkeling (please provide your own equipment)
  • Local dancing

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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

Marakei 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

Marakei is served by Marakei Airport at the northern tip of the island (close to the village of Rawannawi). Air Kiribati runs three flights each week to Abaiang and the international airport at Tarawa.

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Getting Around

You can usually get a lift in a local truck to the council/catholic accommodation, it is also an easy work south through the town.

You can hire a motorbike for $20 a day, or a bicycle for $5 a day. If you do get a motorbike make sure you get fuel prior to leaving. Go to the local shop and get at least 2L prior to heading out. that will be enough to do a full lap of the island.

Once in town, talk to your accommodation provider to hire.

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Eat

Most of the food that you will eat is locally produced - fresh fish, te koikoi (shellfish), crayfish (typically upon request), curries with pandanas fruit, etc. The shops tend to only sell the staples - rice, flour sugar and lollies.

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Drink

Marakei is a dry island, so if you would like an alcoholic beverage, you will need to BYO. There is also very limited places with a refrigerator, so keep that in mind if you want a beer.

Water is also a problem if you only drink filtered/boiled water. The guest houses will be able to boil water for you. If you want bottled water, it is in very low quantities in the shops.

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Sleep

The Council guesthouse on Marakei is situated right on the ocean, just outside the main village of Rawannawi. Like all Island Council guesthouses in Kiribati, facilities are basic and food is what is available locally, however its spectacular location and the Marakei tradition of hospitality mean that a stay in the Marakei guesthouse can be a once in a lifetime experience for the well prepared traveler.

Make sure that you organise with at least a few days notice so that they can organise food. You may end up with tinned food, if they cannot source fresh food quickly. You can also try and stay with a local family, be prepared to offer some money to stay there, and of course be prepared with mosquito nets and appropriate drinking water/filters.

The Catholic Guesthouse has buias and rooms available (including the VIP room - ensuite and double bed). $30pp with food. Definitely give sufficient warning, they need time to get food organised. If you have time the food is kangkang (delicious).

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Marakei Travel Helpers

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This is version 3. Last edited at 8:26 on May 22, 19 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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