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Humans of Kiribati

Climate change is undoubtedly the greatest moral challenge of the 21st century. It is challenging our uniqueness as human beings with responsibility and compassion for one another. The mission of HoK is to record, present, and preserve the faces, voices, and cultures of Kiribati. Through online platforms, we aim to raise global awareness of Kiribati and the people on the frontlines of climate change in an age of social media.



Photo/Story: Janice Cantieri

On top of recently losing their wives, both unimane (elders) from Marakei Island just lost their land to the most recent king tide. Itiaake Teuria, 70, on the left, had to move inland with his relatives, but when he passes the place where his old home used to be, it reminds him of the life he built with his wife and the forty-plus years of marriage, they spent on that land. Maneteata Ruotaake, 69, on the right, lost his house, his kitchen, and all his trees, but he refuses to leave his land because his wife is buried here. He wants to be buried with her, even if the waves take away the land before that time comes.

"The dance of life”

Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman

Learned from elders, Kiribati dance is an art, which reflects our strong communal ties. Groups of dancers focus on the movements of their bodies. Their hands, arms, and feet move to the rhythm and beat of the song while their heads and eyes tell the story. Behind the dancers, singers and musicians perform with all their might to make the dance exciting. The whole performance reflects the unity and supports our society provides to one another. The art conveys the idea that “in life, there is always a time for everything, a place for everyone, and amidst difficulties, anxieties, and turmoil life will still go on.”


“What lies ahead?”

Photo/Story: Raimon Kataotao

Looking toward the possibility of what our future brings and seeing this wrecked ship on shore give me butterflies. What will it be like when the next king tide hits our small island? How many houses will be destroyed when it hits? What else will wash ashore? Why do we in the Pacific have to suffer from this? Sometimes I ask myself, “What future lies ahead and how much longer can our motherland battle climate change?”

“Water is life”

Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman

When I returned from Peace Corps service, America was a different place. It was not home any longer—not like it was before I left. Friends and family were happy to see me, but I couldn’t relate to them like before. Striking up a conversation was difficult. They talked about movies, clothes, jobs, and money. Absentmindedly, I just stared in amazement at the number of material things around me. Sleeping in a bed was difficult. I hadn’t slept on something soft for years, and I froze when temperatures dropped below 80 degrees. Water fountains. I - loved -water - fountains. Like no one else! The water didn’t need to be boiled, filtered, and cooled overnight. You just pushed a button and drank!
Things I cherished in the village (talking, close human relationships, and a slower-paced life) did not seem to be valued in America. It was all about going—going to work, going to school, going to appointments. Going, and most of these goings seemed to somehow revolve around money. It was a far cry from the village, where living revolved around people. People, not money, were the focus of life. When I came back, reverse culture shock got the best of me most nights. I would often cry myself to sleep, just wishing to be back home in Kiribati. Like water, Kiribati gave me life. It taught me (an American) what is essential and how to truly live with others!



Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Crystal Campbell

Children in Kiribati are blessings to families. Adoption in Kiribati is a custom that brings people closer together by exchanging children. The practice often helps unite rather than separate families from one another. However, for children adopted outside of Kiribati, the dichotomy of life can be very challenging.  I would say my heart is here … with me in Australia, but my soul is in Kiribati. I have always known since I was little that I was adopted. Aside from my darker skin, I never saw myself as different growing up. I don’t think my friends saw me as unusual. As I grew older, people would ask where I was from. They tried to guess but never got it right—no one knew about Kiribati.

When I told them about a small country in the Pacific Ocean, I’d get, “Why are you here?” or, “Shouldn’t you be in warmer weather?” I always say, “Well, I don’t know because I’ve grown up here, so I don’t know anything different.” I look forward to the day I return someday…

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