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Te Aka skeletal remains recovered

Skeletal remains found at Te Aka village site Banaba during an archeological dig 1968

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 All material in this Web Site is copyright © K. Sigrah & S. M. King  2001 or copyright All Rights Reserved.

The following is an extract from: "Te Rii Ni Banaba - The Backbone of Banaba" by R. K. Sigrah & S. M. King.  First Published IPS, University of South Pacific, Fiji 2001, Second edition Banaban Vision Publications 2019New Ebook Edition Available for download





Podcast by Janice Cantieri
Documenting the search for Teimaniaia's Stolen Skull

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Te Aka oral history refers to the special powers of one man named Teimanaia, whom Te Aka revere as their main source of magic power. His magical feats are legendary. He is known as a great warrior who defended his clan and his island during reported invasions before the arrival of the Auriaria clan. Because of Teimanaia’s standing within Te Aka society, succeeding generations of Te Aka people preserved his skull after his death. After generations of reverent care, a European, Dr Gould, took the skull away from our people. BPC records show he was Medical Officer of Health for the Ocean Island Government jointly with the BPC duties between 20 May 1918 and 1933.


According to Ken Sigrah’s grandparents, the doctor learned of Teimanaia’s skull through one of his Banaban workers, Tekiera, who was working under Dr Gould as a dresser. Tekiera was one of Te Aka clan himself and broke clan secrecy, by telling his employer of the existence of Teimanaia’s skull and of how it was much larger than other human skulls that were kept. Dr Gould became fascinated with the story and asked Tekiera to bring the skull to him. Tekiera must have wanted to please his employer and removed the skull without permission from the clan’s sacred bangota. On his farewell night, Dr Gould allegedly used trickery to get Tekiera drunk enough to allow the doctor to take the skull away. From that moment in history, everything is said to have changed. In Banaban philosophy, only when Teimanaia’s skull is returned to its rightful resting place back on the homeland of Te Aka will the prosperity return.



The following story comes from the descendant of Namoti, who was one of the elders of Te Aka clan. Namoti was give the right to make the sacred bunna and oil, which his descendants still make today. The family continues to have strong spiritual ties to the powers of Teimanaia. Teimanaia’s skull was removed from the land of a man called Tanaera, which was in the hamlet of Teinangina. The man’s brother was Tekiera, the man responsible for giving away the skull from the family’s bangota. In 1961, Tanaera’s son Tuteariki had a dream where Teimanaia came to him in the spirit form and told him that his skull was taken to the United States.










Dr Gould, Matron Harkness and hospital boys 1916-17. Tekiera is back row right-hand side


Tuteariki recounted how the tears would fall from the sockets of Teimanaia’s skull when he heard people say that his skull looked like that of an animal. Because of this story, the Te Aka clan believe Teimanaia’s skull is on public display in an American museum. To date, all efforts to confirm this belief have been unsuccessful. The Te Aka clan hopes that through the publication of this story, Teimanaia’s skull will be found.

Note: Doctor Gould’s movements after he left Banaba with Teimanaia’s skull have been traced back to Australia and the United States. After extensive investigations, the whereabouts of the skull has not been located. The search continues.














as published in "Te Rii ni Banaba" For those interested in the search for Teimanaia's skull there is now a copy of Dr. Gould's BPC staff card while he worked on Banaba for the UK government and the BPC. 



The following article was written by Gerard Hindmarsh for distribution to newsletters of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), Pacific Island's Museum Ass (PIMA) and the American Museum Association in Washington.



Known for their great feats of sorcery, the te Aka clan regarded their island home of Banaba (known in modern times as Ocean Island, now part of Kiribati) as the centre of the world. Their oral history is pervaded with the legendary feats of Teimanaia, the great warrior who successfully defended his clan from successive invasions sometime around the 1500AD mark. 

In accordance with their kauiti (magic rituals), skulls of their notables were preserved and used to enhance rites and rituals. None more powerful than the skull of Teimanaia, said to be larger than all others and exceptionally long-jawed, kept in a bangota (ancestral shrine) in the hamlet of Teinangina. 

History turned forever here in 1900 when the British Phosphate Company, later the British Phosphate Commission (BPC), began stripping the island of its massive guano deposits in 1900. Over the next 80 years, they excavated and shipped off almost the entire 595 hectare Island to fertilise the paddocks of New Zealand, Australia, and Britain. Dr Gould, BPC’s medical superintendent between 1918 and 1933, became fascinated with the story of Teimanaia’s oversized skull and used a Banaban who worked as a dresser to sneak it away from its repository in Teinangina and deliver it to him.  

According to te Aka clan spokesperson Ken Sigrah, co-author (with Stacey King) of Te Rii ni Banaba (The Backbone of Banaba) – pub. 2001 by University of the South Pacific); and Ebook published Banaban Vision 2019, no permissions were ever obtained to take the skull from its bangota. He also claims that on his farewell night, Dr Gould allegedly used trickery to get Tekiera drunk enough to take the skull off the island. 

It is now believed Teimanaia’s skull resides in an American Museum, probably in several pieces as it was on Banaba due to it’s regular and reverential anointing with oil. The son of the landowner where the skull was kept had a well publicised dream in 1961 where Teimanaia visited him in spirit form, telling him about the removal of his skull to the United States and describing how tears fell from the eye sockets when he heard people say his skull looked like that of an animal. 

The lot of Banabans has not been a happy one in modern times: Japanese invaders, continued mining, inadequate compensation and relocation of most to Rabi Island in Fiji. It is easy to see why many Banabans believe that only when Teimanaia’s skull is returned to its rightful place will their prosperity return.

Teimanaia’s skull may well be sitting in the basement of some museum in the United States. It may likely be labelled as coming from Ocean Island or ‘Paanopa’, formerly part of the Gilbert and Ellis Island Group, and that it was collected by Dr Gould.

If anyone has any information whatsoever, please contact Ken Sigrah at 


remains podcast search for missing skull
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