Situated in the mid-Pacific, the islands adopted the name Kiribati (pronounced “Keer-ee-bus,” a corruption of their former name “Gilberts”) upon independence from Britain in 1979.
Geography: Kiribati consists of three groups of tiny, very low-lying coral atolls scattered across 1,930,000 sq. miles (5 million sq. km) of ocean. Most of the 33 atolls have central lagoons.
Climate: Central islands have a maritime equatorial climate. Those to north and south are tropical, with constant high temperatures. There is little rainfall.
People and Society: Officially I-Kiribati, many local people still refer to themselves as Gilbertese. Almost all are Micronesian, apart from the inhabitants of the island of Banaba, who employed anthropologists to establish their racial distinction. Most people are poor subsistence farmers and many travel abroad to work. The islands are effectively ruled by traditional chiefs.
The Economy: Since exhaustion of Banaba’s phosphate deposits in 1980, copra (dried coconut) and fish have become the main exports. Foreign aid and remittances are vital to compensate for Kiribati’s isolation and lack of resources.
Insight: In 1981, the UK paid A$10 million to Banabans for the destruction of their island by mining
Official Name: Republic of Kiribati
Date of Formation: 1979
Capital: Bairiki (Tarawa Atoll)
Total Area: 277 sq. miles (717 sq. km)
Density: 361 people per sq. mile
Languages: English*, Kiribati
Religions: Roman Catholic 53%, Kiribati Protestant Church 39%, other 8%
Ethnic Mix: Micronesian 99%, other 1%
Government: Nonparty system
Currency: Australian dollar = 100 cents