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Excerpt: "Te Rii Ni Banaba - The Backbone of Banaba"

by R. K. Sigrah & S. M. King

New Ebook Edition Available for download

 First Published IPS, University of South Pacific, Fiji 2001, Second edition Banaban Vision Publications 2019.

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


The release of a new history book titled Te Rii Ni Banaba- The Backbone of Banaba,  is the first documentation of traditional Banaban history from the Banaban perspective.  Much of the information for this work was supplied by Banaban elders and clan members involved in the events depicted. Before now, one of the major problems has been that the history of Banaba was written only by Europeans with vested interests in either the Colonial government or phosphate industry of the time. Unfortunately, this led to the distorting of traditional Banaban history and leading to disputes over certain cultural practices. Because of the complexities of Banaban clans and their important roles within Banaban society, previous works have focused on certain clans who have inherited customs from their Kiribati ancestry.

It is said that Te Aka clan are the original inhabitants of Banaba, coming from Melanesia before that area was invaded from the East Indies and nearby Kiribati. The history of Te Aka clan or people has only been touched on by the famous Pacific historian Dr Harry Maude and anthropologist Dr Ronald Lampert.

Because of the secrecy surrounding this particular clan and the likelihood of misinterpretation, the release of this book challenges many previous writings recorded on Banaban history, especially those of Arthur Grimble, former Resident Commissioner for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now the independent nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu), and historian of Kiribati. This book clearly shows the people of Banaba to be a completely different group of islanders with unique customs and traditions that have only altered because of invasions and forced migrations.

The annexation of Banaba into Kiribati in the 20th century was driven by financial and political motives following the discovery of one of the world’s richest deposits of phosphate and the colonization of the island by the British. The first author of this book is a Banaban, Raobeia Ken Sigrah, who is a descendant of Te Aka clan and official spokesperson for various Banaban clans. He has obtained approval from his clan elders on Rabi for this project.


The site of the old Te Aka village dig conducted by R. Lampert in the 1960s


The site of Te Aka village on Banaba is surrounded by controversy and secrecy and is said to be sacred and taboo. Even the dominant British Phosphate Commission (BPC) discovered just how mysterious and sacred this site was when it attempted to mine the area in 1964.  After partly bulldozing the site of the old village maneaba (traditional Banaban community meeting house), workers realized its sensitivity and quickly ceased all mining in the area until an archaeological dig of the village site was conducted.

After the removal of numerous Banaban artefacts and skeletal remains from the site, the BPC resumed the clearing of all the trees and vegetation and destroyed ancient te Aka cairns (strategically placed rock monuments to signify areas for sacred rituals). The following night the company's efforts to begin mining were again thrown into chaos when the man in charge of the operation died mysteriously. All mining then ceased in the region.

Today Te Aka site, which covers about one-fifth of a hectare, is like an island in the middle of the mined out interior, amidst a forest of 18-metre limestone pinnacles. It is incredibly difficult to negotiate and climb through this dangerous region of the island and the Banabans still regard the area as tabu and therefore only accessible to the te Aka descendants themselves. The te Aka site is a strangely beautiful, eerie place, so silent, left unmined amidst so much destruction. It was not until the authors first commenced work on this book that their research would lead them to the actual discovery of precious and priceless te Aka artefacts and ancestral remains from this old sacred village site.  By the conclusion of this important project two separate collections, one held at Australian National University, Canberra and the other by Peter Anderson would be donated back to the te Aka clan descendants giving the people a tangible link to their heritage.

Te Aka skeletal remains recovered

Ancestral remains recovered from Te Aka site during an archeological dig conducted by Dr. Ron Lampert 1960s

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