The I-Kiribati people settled what would become known as the Gilbert Islands
between 1000 and 1300 AD. Subsequent invasions by Fijians and Tongans
introduced Polynesian elements to the Micronesian culture, but extensive
intermarriage produced a population reasonably homogeneous in appearance and
European contact began in the 16th century. Whalers, slave traders, and merchant vessels arrived in great numbers in the 1800s, and the resulting upheaval fomented local tribal conflicts and introduced damaging European diseases. In an effort to restore a measure of order, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) consented to becoming British protectorates in 1892. Banaba (Ocean Island) was annexed in 1900 after the discovery of phosphate-rich guano deposits, and the entire collection was made a British colony in 1916. The Line and Phoenix Islands were incorporated piecemeal over the next 20 years.
Japan seized the islands during World War II to form part of their island defenses. In November 1943, allied forces threw themselves against Japanese positions at Tarawa Atoll in the Gilberts, resulting in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific campaign. The battle was a major turning point in the war for the Allies.
Britain began expanding self-government in the islands during the 1960s. In 1975 the Ellice Islands separated from the colony to form the independent state of Tuvalu. The Gilberts obtained internal self-government in 1977, and formally became an independent nation on July 12, 1979 under the name of Kiribati.
Post-independence politics were initially dominated by Ieremia Tabai, Kiribati's first president, who served from 1979 to 1991. Teburoro Tito has been President since 1994, and was most recently reelected in 1998.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of State
Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Kiribati > Map Economy History