Monday, January 23, 2012

Christmas on Butaritari

Ok, time to get these pictures posted. I found it very difficult to put this post together. Think the experience was too personal ... and there were too many pictures to choose from. Hard to leave anything out. Anyway, here it goes.

Butaritari is an atoll about 180 km north of Tarawa ... it's the northern most extent of Kiribati. And it is amazing what differences that short distance makes.
Arriving at the Butaritari airport ... security is not needed ... one big happy family here. Think the white buckets are waiting to be loaded for their trip back to Tarawa. Anybody with kilos left on the baggage limits gets to help transport goods ... I think I had about 6 luggage tags .... for my one bag! No wastage when it comes to transport. "Do not carry packages for others" does not apply here!
On Butaritari there is a lot of wreckage and other debris left over from WW II.
Someone commented on another blog about how disrespectful they thought the I-Kiribati were for not having more respect for those who lost their lives ... sometimes the remains have graffiti on them. My comment ... it wasn't their war ... two countries invaded theirs to have a war ... and left the remains, with little respect for the I-Kiribati. How about they do something to rectify the situation?
Japan and Kiribati have erected some plaques, etc to honour the fallen ... the fallen regardless of their nationality ... I didn't find any plaques from the US being here.
Butaritari is probably the wettest atoll in Kiribati. This is the main road that runs most of the length of the atoll. Those specks in the distance are chickens .... of course they could as easily be pigs, dogs, or cats!
We (myself, Mollie, and Deborah) did get caught in a downpour our first day there. To get out of the weather, we ducked into an almost empty maneaba (community meeting house). Within a few minutes some local boys (men?) approached us. Tiimi (above in the yellow lavalava) speaks English and before long had organised a game of te vinti for us to play. It is a pool-like game using plastic disks and a flat board covered with powder. Think Mollie and Deborah were especially happy to join in ... Tiimi got a lot of their attention!
Christmas Eve started with truck loads of people arriving from villages all over the atoll. At least three church services were held on and around Christmas.
On Christmas Day there were as many people outside the church as inside.
No Santa Clause, no Christmas lights, no Christmas trees, no presents, no kids unhappy because they didn't get what they asked Santa for, no day long TV football games, and no huge meal to over-indulge in. Amazing, without all the merchandising, there was also no stress! What there was ....
... was three days of singing, dancing, and about 150 people sharing the maneaba ... and inviting us strangers (I-Matangs) in to be part of their families. One local couldn't imagine a Christmas where everyone went back to their own homes and spent it alone. I think he might have a point!
The singing and dancing was actually part of a competition between the different villages. The I-Kiribati who are born to dance actually go into a trance-like state (probably like being "in the zone" in basketball?). The two on the left were especially powerful. The look in their eyes said it all! Some of the dances brought the dancer to within centimeters (inches) of me! Sometimes wasn't sure whether I should be afraid or not! No harm came to any spectators!
The hand made decorations were especially beautiful ...
The plastic decorations were very colourful, but just lacked the personal touch. I guess in this type of competition it is not practical to make all your own decorations.
Another past time I participated in was drinking kava with the locals ... some of which were missionaries. The kava here tasted much better than that on Tarawa .... the locals assured me it was the water .... Butaritari has very nice water ... the kava still looks like dish water ... and really doesn't taste too much different, I bet! As one priest told me, "You don't drink it for the taste."
One day I gave my camera to one of the local girls who had befriended us, and asked her to go around and take some pictures. Every time I got my camera out, I was inundated with little kids! She came back with some interesting shots. I liked this man's T-shirt ... "Living the Dream ... Beer Judge"! I think the girls are his nieces.
I thought this shot of her's was especially nice.
The three girls who befriended us were all about 16 and had or were attending school on Tarawa. From left to right ... Kerekeata, Ruute, and Benateeta. One evening I went with them around to several villages to see if we could acquire 6 bicycles so we could all go for a trip the next day. That may sound easy, but the bicycle is the main way they get around, and if you break one, you may not ever be able to get it fixed. And to take six ... that would almost paralyse their day's activities! Anyway, we did manage to acquire the bicycles, through the very kind nature of the people, and spent one day taking a tour of the length of the island. Think we traveled about 70 km (almost 50 miles).
Thanks goodness the atoll is flat! The particular bicycle above had about 3 ball bearings left in the rear hub! The owner was very proud we had used his bike, and even came to the airport when we departed!
Around the atoll are several shrines erected for various purposes. This one, I think, marked the spot where the British first landed. Another marked the sighting of The Virgin Mary, and others were of WW II significance.
We also met many of the girl's relatives. This is Benateeta's auntie in her kitchen making pancakes ... they were very good, too! The big pot in the front contains boiling babai, a yarrow-like plant root. The bai bai is under the plastic bags and coconut. Haven't taken to it as my favourite food, yet!
One person Benateeta was especially interested in me meeting was her Grandfather, because we are of similar age. I'll never forget the look on her face when she commented that her Grandfather and Grandmother haven't been able to walk for some time ... and here I was riding a bicycle around the atoll and doing all sorts of crazy stuff ... I will be printing this picture and taking it too them sometime soon.
The kids of Butaritari are typical of Kiribati kids! They love to have their pictures taken ... then look at the picture on the camera ... don't know what they did before digital cameras! Many of my pictures had a funny blurry spot in the middle ... when I finally looked at the camera, I found a little fingerprint right in the middle of the lens! Think they are threatening me that they are going to do it again! Or they are proclaiming their innocence and asking me to check their fingerprints! I think the boy with the light coloured shorts is the guilty one ... he's not showing his fingers! ;-) Just love these guys ....
This is Kereke I-Benson, a little over a year old. Don't think he has seen many I-Matangs! When I asked about the "Benson" in his name, his mother said that is his Grandfather's name ... I mentioned that I have Bensons in my family ... and maybe we are related! She suggested I should meet his Grandfather .... he's "just over there." After walking through about 3 or 4 other villages, I was able to meet his Grandfather, who spoke very good English ... but was definitely I-Kiribati. He told me how 3 Benson brothers had come from the US before the War, and each settled on different atolls and married local women. One even started the Church of God on Tarawa . You never know ....
One treat we often have is moimoto, the liquid from the inside of a young coconut. Deborah was especially fond of it!
Well, it is very good ... and so pure it was injected intravenously during a cholera epidemic, I am told.
Another popular drink is toddy ... the sap collected from the top of coconut trees. The blossom (I think) is cut in a special way and fitted with a bottle the toddy drips into. Each morning and night the toddy collector climbs the coconut tree to retrieve and replace the bottle. While doing so, they sing special songs to let the women below, who might be using the area for a toilet, know they are not just up in the tree to perv on the women! Hearing their singing in the morning and evening is very relaxing.
This bottle of toddy was almost full when we stopped at this primary school ... in about a minute or less, the girls had nearly finished it! A very popular drink.
Some also leave it for a day or so, as it ferments and becomes "sour toddy" ... haven't taken to it yet, either!

What else comes to mind when I look at this picture, comes from a comment by Marita about domestic violence on her blog ( ... "2 out of 3 women in Kiribati are subjected to violence" ... on some Pacific islands, 50% of the women's first sexual experience is rape ... when we were riding along on bicycles, one man in his 20s looked at Rute in such a way shivers ran up and down my spine ... these bright girls have aspirations, they have futures and dreams in mind that just might change Kiribati ... and all that could be dashed by one man's greed for power or sex. 2 out of 3 ... oh how I hope all of these girls escape that statistic. And all others, as far as that goes.On a less sobering note, I-Kiribati are very creative and resourceful. I don't know if this is unique here, but it is a great way to add gutters to a corrugated roof ... cut a slit in the PVC pipe and slip it over the roofing. Works well.
And, if you are given coconuts ... this is a bit of scaffolding behind the Catholic Church across from St Peter's Square.

Something new .... I want to show you the uninhibited laughing from the belly that is so common among the I-Kiribati. So, I am going to attempt to add a video ... never tried that before! I asked Deborah to do something funny to get the girls to laugh ... I-Matangs dancing always makes I-Kiribati laugh! Hope you can see, or at least here what I've uploaded. Thanks Deborah for being such a good sport!
If all you needed to do to be healthy was laugh, I think the I-Kiribati would be some of the healthiest people in the world!


  1. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because trough them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Kiribati? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Kiribati in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Calle Valencia,39
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez

  2. Gosh Dennis, it's been so long since I checked out your blog; so many bloggers today have quit their blogs and upload onto facebook instead. I really enjoyed your stories and photos and I think the I-Kiribati have the right idea when it comes to Christmas. How much longer will you be over there?

  3. greetings from istanbul.i want to write about kiribati and football.can you help me?