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Young i-Kiribati children performing traditional Kiribati dance called the Te Tirere. Photo / Susana Suisuiki / via RNZ
In the space of a week Kiribati has drawn the attention of Pacific and global leaders – mostly for political reasons after its prime minister withdrew the country from the Pacific Islands Forum ahead of this week’s leaders meeting in Suva, Fiji.
But the i-Kiribati community in New Zealand, although small, is celebrating and encouraging the next generation to stay connected to their Kiribati identity.
The community gathered together in South Auckland for an event as part of their language week programme.
New Zealand Kiribati National Council project manager Kinaua Ewles hoped the language week, which was now in its third year, would increase the awareness of Kiribati as many people outside the Pacific community were unaware of its existence.
“The challenge is nobody knows about Kiribati. The promoting of our culture [has been] very limited in the past but after the government has given us the opportunity to recognise it officially, our Kiribati language week, and we incorporate that together with our Kiribati independence and it makes Kiribati more well known.”
Born and raised in Kiribati, Ewles migrated to New Zealand to study education then headed back to teach at various schools in some of Kiribati’s outer islands.
Ewles is a teacher at Papakura’s Cosgrove School but ensures her spare time is dedicated to teaching the Kiribati language and culture to the children within her community.
One of her students, Johfritz Francis, said although he was born in New Zealand, he credited Ewles for encouraging him to be proud of his Kiribati roots.
“We’ve been meeting up this whole week starting from Sunday. I can understand Kiribati language, I just can’t [speak] it.”
Climate change and rising sea levels in Kiribati has led to a significant outward migration of people to countries such as New Zealand.
The i-Kiribati population in New Zealand is a more recent settler group compared with other Pasifika communities.
Bwateine Ioote, who migrated to Aotearoa in 2009, said she had a difficult start settling in.
“It was very hard when I arrived here because we find difficulty for the rent and we live on our own, but the time we involve in the community then everyone helped.”
Ewles said Kiribati’s rich history has had an impact on the region and hoped the next generation continued to uphold the culture.
“The strength of the relationship in our Kiribati culture and its connections has been built up and developed from one generation to another and this is what we need to see every year.”
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