Volume 72 1963 > Supplement: The evolution of the Gilbertese Boti by H. E. Maude, p 1 - 68
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The Evolution of the Gilbertese Boti

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Memoir No. 35
Supplement to The Journal of the Polynesian Society
The Evolution of the Gilbertese BOTI An Ethnohistorical Interpretation



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“The Evolution of the Gilbertese Boti” was presented at the Tenth Pacific Science Congress. It is published with the financial assistance of the Tenth Pacific Science Congress and the Australian National University.

Printed by Avery Press Limited, New Plymouth, N.Z.

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THE EVOLUTION OF THE GILBERTESE BOTI An Ethnohistorical Interpretation

“IT IS FITTING,” said one of Grimble's Gilbertese informants, “that I should begin with the Beginning of Things. Then there shall be no going back and no confusion of heart.” 1

The historical sense is, in fact, far better developed amongst the Gilbertese than ourselves; for whereas we can, and do, lead satisfactory lives without so much as knowing the names of our grand-parents, the Gilbertese cannot, or more correctly could not, since the very title-deeds to his lands, and indeed his place in the social and economic life of the community, was dependent on his knowledge of his ancestry; or, in other words, on his possession of at least a segment of the oral traditions of his people.


Much progress has been made during recent years in analysing the historical reliability of traditional material emanating from areas and periods as diverse as early Greece, Viking Scandanavia, pre-conquest Central America and tribal Africa. In Polynesia and Micronesia, however, while many traditional texts have been collected, there has been a reaction, in which Professor Piddington has taken a prominent part, against excesses of the early school of historical ethnologists in the Pacific, who used traditional material on an extensive scale in an endeavour to reconstruct events of a relatively remote past, and especially the historical origins of the Polynesian peoples. 2

Nevertheless, as Piddington himself has stated in the case of the Maori, “It is indeed important to distinguish between mythological traditions (including the cosmogony and stories of navigation) and what might be termed tribal narratives referring to the last hundred years or so”. 3 It is essentially with these tribal narratives that the modern Pacific ethnohistorian is concerned; never with the cosmogonic and - 6 related periods, and seldom with the legendary period of the great migrations. 4

In train with current trends in historiography Pacific historians are moving from their former preoccupation with political events towards social and economic studies in which the islander features for the first time as a central figure on the stage. It can be confidently predicted, furthermore, that this tendency will increase as each of the present colonial dependencies gains its independence, and that in the process oral traditions relating to the periods immediately preceding and succeeding European contact are going to be re-examined and appreciated for the unique historical source material which they often contain.

This process is going on all over Africa today, where the tribal historian Vansina reminds us that: “[sources] can be good or bad but there is nothing intrinsically less valuable in an oral source than in a written one”. 5 Indeed, it would seem that we have much to learn from recent African experience in perfecting techniques for evaluating the authenticity, integrity and credibility of oral traditions, as well as for interpreting them, until they are at least as reliable as those employed in the case of written records.

Clearly among any people oral traditions are not transmitted from generation to generation unless there is a sufficiently powerful motivation for undertaking such an onerous task; and this did not exist everywhere in the Pacific by any means, though it would appear to have done so over most of Polynesia and Micronesia at least until fairly recent times.

Even where they exist, however, the translation and interpretation of such records usually necessitates a knowledge both of the local language and the local culture; limitations which again make it probable that progress in this field will be slow until adequately trained Pacific Islanders themselves take over the work.


In his traditional narratives and their supporting genealogies, the Gilbertese, like many other races, recognizes three quite distinct eras: that of the Anti (Gods), anti ma aomata (semi-deified ancestors) and aomata (men); and it is solely with the last period that we are concerned in this paper. 6

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This period may be said to commence with the most famous event in all Gilbertese history: the coming to Beru from Samoa of Tematawarebwe, one of the vanquished in the series of Samoan wars known as Uruakin Kain Tiku-aba (lit. the breaking of the tree of the resting-place of lands), which occurred roughly 480 to 580 years ago, or say somewhere about the year A.D. 1400. 7

There are many recorded traditions of varying lengths covering events in this limited period. These have been obtained from the authorities on the traditions of particular clans on particular islands, and by comparing them with each other a striking degree of agreement is shown concerning the main facts of immediate pre-contact history.

In details they certainly vary, particularly on points in which clan patriotism or aggrandizement is involved, and it is these details that formed the subject matter of the endless debates and arguments so beloved by the Old Men (formerly the clan elders; nowadays a more amorphous body of community leaders). There was seldom argument on the main historical facts, however, these being well-known to all present.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the Gilbertese clan traditions are not mere folk tales, to be recounted for entertainment with such embellishments as the narrator may consider appropriate, but accounts of supposed historical events deliberately memorized; frequently recounted to audiences who could, and did, question and correct deviations from the accepted text; and passed on in due course as a most valuable possession. In the words of a Gilbertese historian: “In the recital of genealogies it is right that it should be given to the younger son to speak with authority, because he does not inherit the best of the property or of the lands: his inheritance is his genealogy.” 8

As will be seen, the clan Karongoa n Uea was considered to be the proper guardian of traditional lore antedating the coming from Samoa, including the creation myths and the stories of the voyages. Karongoa, however, “While pretending to absolute knowledge of the names of the ancestors who arrived from Samoa, and of the social groups to which they belonged, does not claim to be an authority upon the generations locally descended from them. Thus the members of a clan will decide for themselves upon the validity of any man's claim to belong to their

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group, and will only go to Karongoa n Uea for information concerning their legendary ancestor who took part in the Samoan immigration.” 9 What is almost certainly the best general history of the Gilbert Islands was taken down by Tione Baraka in 1930 from a leading member of Karongoa n Uea on Nikunau; my indebtedness to this unique manuscript will be apparent. 10

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Taking into consideration:

  • (i) the special function of the clan genealogies and their supporting narratives to the Gilbertese;
  • (ii) the peculiar pains taken to ensure accuracy;
  • (iii) the number of narratives now available for study;
  • (iv) the possibility of comparing and checking records from different clans and from different islands;
  • (v) the fact that most of them have been in any case checked at intervals by recital;
  • (vi) the relative recentness of the events described; and
  • (vii) the exceptional powers of illiterate people such as the Gilbertese to memorize when it serves an important purpose;

it is submitted that Gilbertese oral tradition is, on the whole, as reliable a record of the main recent events (on what actually did happen) as many of the documents accepted by historians.

Documents can err, and so can oral tradition; but even when proved to be mistaken the latter has its value as showing what people believed to have happened and thus, in many instances, what they consider to be reasonable social processes within the context of their particular culture. In a great deal of the argument which follows this is indeed as much as we need require of our illustrative material.


This paper, then, attempts an analysis of the complex of cultural traits, which the Gilbertese associate together under the term boti, by the critical use of oral historical narratives, supplemented by field notes made by two Native Lands Commissioners between 1918 and 1938. 11

The boti has been selected for treatment partly because it throws light on so many other aspects of Gilbertese culture, but mainly because like so much else in Gilbertese life it can no longer be observed as a functioning complex today or remembered in operation by persons still alive. If it is to be correctly interpreted, therefore, it will be by ethnohistorical techniques, or not at all. 12

It is impossible within the limits of a single monograph to deal with every variation in boti structure and function found in the eighteen islands inhabited by the Gilbertese race, and in particular with those peculiar to the culturally peripheral islands of Little Makin, Butaritari, Banaba and Nui.

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With these four possible exceptions, however, the whole maneaba system, and with it the associated boti, was traditionally disseminated from the original prototype maneaba of Tabontebike on the island of Beru by the warriors Kaitu and Uakeia about the year A.D. 1650. The two derived variants of the Tabontebike maneaba structure and boti organization, Tabiang and Maungatabu, were also found on Beru, even if they did not originate on that island.

To avoid confusing the discourse with the minutiae of local variations, the main thread of the argument has been deliberately concentrated on Beru, and whenever possible on Tabontebike, material on other maneaba and other islands being woven in only where necessary to illustrate significant deviations from the norm. In general it may be said that the Beru pattern is found to vary only in detail on the neighbouring islands from Nonouti to Onotoa; but that on the more remote northern islands local political factors, such as the iconoclastic innovations of the Binoka dynasty on Kuria, Aranuka and Abemama, or the centuries of endemic civil war on Tarawa, resulted in more material modifications; while the small size of the two southernmost islands of Tamana and Arorae precluded the development of the full maneaba system. 13

The only previous discussion of the boti in any published work is made by Professor Goodenough in a paper on Malayo-Polynesian Social Organization, based on a visit made by him to Onotoa Island during July and August, 1951. 14 The present study is not intended in any sense to be a critique of Goodenough's work, although it may be that part of the evidence here exhibited may tend to supplement or even to modify some of his conclusions. However, that is a matter for others to decide, after critical comparison of the conclusions reached and assessment of the evidence on which they are based.


Tematawarebwe landed at the south end of Beru, with his parents, two of his brothers named Kourabi and Buatara, and a number of followers, and decided to settle at Teakiauma (approximately half-way up the island). Beru was already inhabited by the descendants of Tabuariki and Nainginouati, but these appear to have been few in number; at all events there was no war, the island was amicably partitioned and the three groups proceeded to inter-marry—Tematawarebwe himself setting the example by taking as his wife Nei Teareinimatang, a descendant of Tabuariki. 15

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The autochthones had a meeting house on Beru even before the arrival of Tematawarebwe, but tradition asserts that it was merely a centre for social functions and was without any of the essential hallmarks of a properly constituted maneaba. 16

For a time Tematawarebwe shared this building, but on his grandson Teweia (see Gen. 1) coming of age he told him to choose a suitable place for a maneaba which was to be a copy of the one they had left behind on Samoa. The site finally selected was at Tabontebike (where the present maneaba stands at Nukantewa) and here Teweia erected the prototype of all Gilbertese maneaba, incorporating timber actually brought from the former edifice on Samoa.

It would be inappropriate here to enlarge on the function of the maneaba in Gilbertese culture, a subject far too vast to do justice to in this study. The focus of the whole social life of the community, in it were held all discussions concerning peace or war or any of the other innumerable concerns affecting the common weal; it was the Law Court, where offenders against customary norms were tried, and disputes heard and arbitrated by the Old Men; and the centre for the many ceremonies and feasts of a formal character, as well as the more dignified community recreations and dances.

The maneaba was all that to the Gilbertese, and much more: the traditional club-house of the aged; a pied à terre for the stranger; and a sanctuary for those in flight. All behaviour under its roof had to be seemly, decorous, and in strict conformity with custom, lest the maneaba be matauninga (offended) and the culprit maraia (accursed). 17


The most important function of the maneaba was, however, as nen te boti (the container of the boti). 18 “Far more than a place of social festivities or a hall of debate, it was a tabernacle of ancestors in the male line; a sort of social map, where a man's group or clan could be recognized the moment he took his seat, his totem and his ascendants known, and his ceremonial duties or privileges discovered.” 19

Tradition unites in agreeing that the first boti in the first maneaba were assigned by Tematawarebwe himself:

“But before the work of Tanentoa, the maneaba had long since been provided with three Inaki, which were the boti of the former occupants of the maneaba, Tabuariki, Nainginouati and Tamatawarebwe, in accordance with their decision.

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GEN. 1—THE ORIGINS OF THE BOTI KARONGOA (Boti are shown in capitals under the name of the founder ancestor)
Family Tree. (anti ma aomata), Tematawarebwe TEAKIAUMA=Nei Teareinimatang, Kourabi, Buatara TEKAOTIRAMA, Tanentoa ni Beru=Nei Tenanonimatang, Nei Beruiaki (died without issue), Uamomori, Nanikain, Ten Tabutoa, Beia, Tekai=Nei Teweia, Ten Teweia RAUTETIA=(1) Nei Motuna (2) Nei Anti, (3) Nei Teannako, Teweanti=Nei Tekurabo, Ten Tanentoa=Nei Beiarung, KARONGOA
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The Tabontebike Maneaba

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“For on the east side of the maneaba from the north to the south ends was Tebakoa, which was the Inaki of Tabuariki. And at the north gable end of the maneaba, stretching from the east to the west, was Karongoa, the Inaki of Tematawarebwe. And at the south gable end of the maneaba, stretching from the east to the west, was Tenguingui, the Inaki of Nainginouati.” 20

Tabontebike was the first of many maneaba to be built in the Gilberts and as the people of the boti Karongoa spread out among the islands others were founded by them, in each of which Karongoa held

FIG. 1
Boti in the Tabontebike Maneaba on Beru, after the first partition under Tematawarebwe
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the chief place: examples in the southern islands being the maneaba Tabuki n Tamoa at Teinnang on Beru; Maungatabu at Manriki and Tekobukobu at Nikumanu on Nikunau; Tokamauea at Maeriua and Te Rara ni Matang at Buariki on Onotoa. There were apparently no customary maneaba built on Tamana or Arorae “and when Karongoa people come to these islands they go to their kainga”. 21 It is impossible here to deal with the arrangement of boti in each maneaba, but the similarity in the boti-plan in all Tabontebike type maneaba is striking and the differences can invariably be explained on historical grounds.

There are, furthermore, two other types of maneaba, Maungatabu and Tabiang, which differ structurally in the ratio of length to breadth and internally in the boti-plan and the privileges and duties of individual boti (Karongoa, for example, may not have even a sitting place in such maneaba). 22 Where these differences are of significance to this study they are recorded below.

So far, however, we have accounted for the establishment of only three boti in one maneaba whereas, to mention Beru maneaba alone, there are 30 boti in Tabontebike, 13 in the southern maneaba Tabuki n Tamoa and 18 in the northern Tabiang type maneaba Taribo. It seems that the process of boti formation, other than by conquest, took place mainly during the generations immediately succeeding the coming from Samoa, after which the organization became resistant to further change. By the time of the famous warriors Kaitu and Uakeia (c. A.D. 1650—see Gen. 3), who spread the Beru maneaba system (already well established in the southern islands) through the whole Gilbert Group as far as Marakei, the numbers and identity of the boti were essentially the same as today. 23

By examining the many cases of boti formation given in the general histories and accounts of individual clans we find that they occurred in four ways: by partition; conquest; fission; or consent. It is now proposed to deal with each of these processes in turn, wherever possible quoting specific examples taken from the traditional records.


This was the normal method of creating boti on the first establishment of a maneaba. Indeed, the division of Tabontebike into three boti by Tematawarebwe, already mentioned, is a typical case in point, though it is unusual to hear of so few clans being involved.

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FIG. 2
Existing Boti in the Taribo Maneaba on Beru

Another good example is the Taribo maneaba, at what is now Tabiang. This was built for Tewaroi, who then:

“entered the maneaba on the north side, by the middle post of the gable end. Auriaria entered on the south-east corner and called it Nikumauea. These were the only two first occupants of the maneaba. Tewaroi then called the other clans into the maneaba. Maerua to the south, and the rest of the clans were allotted their boti at the same time.” 24

It would take too long to detail the inauguration of each boti in Taribo, but Namakaina is a typical example:

“Tewaroi then sent one of Nukumauea to call Burabura [a landowner in the Tabiang area] to the maneaba. He came from the east and looked but then went round and entered at the middle of the west - 16 side, called later by him Namakaina. He was met by Ato who gave him his inaai mat and a coconut shell and placed a wreath on his head. Then Burabura sat down at Namakaina where his descendants sit now.” 25

Most of the boti holders in the Taribo maneaba seem to have been persons already resident in the north of Beru, although a few, like Te Atuanimwemwe of Tauma on Tabiteuea, came from other islands.

Probably there is no point in giving further examples, for it seems obvious on the face of it that the founder of a maneaba would conceive the right to allocate its boti by partition.


Tradition is clear that the conquering parties in the many inter-island and civil wars had, or at least sometimes assumed, the right to repartition the lands of the defeated and their boti allocations in the local maneaba.

Let us take an example from the time of Teinai II, the great grandson of Ten Tanentoa (see Gen. 2). Some Beruans had been murdered on Nikunau and, after refusing to accept the aikarewerewe (whale's tooth) offered in recompense, Teinai “told the people that they should all build canoes, and that they should voyage to Nikunau to take possession of pieces of land as recompense for the murder . . .”. 26

The operation was successful and many lands were seized both by Teinai and his followers, notably the three brothers Tebaka, Katitirakei and Tanoata and Teinai's own brother Baibuke. From our point of view, however, the important account is that of Teinai entering the maneaba of Maungatabu at Manriki, which was not then one of the Karongoa maneaba:

“He came in and sat down on the eastern side, and he named it the Boti ni Karongoa [Boti of Karongoa], and his kainga Karongoa n Uea, and his buakonikai Karongoa right across to the eastern beach. 27 And Teramweai held her place to the south of Teinai, which place is Boti ni Kabaeka.
“Baibuke came to ask Teinai for a place in the maneaba. So he set them a place to the north, which is Karongoa-Raereke; and its buakonikai is Abataninga, where Baibuke hid from Teinai. Kourabi also came to ask for a place; and he appointed him a place on the north also. Then Tebaka came, and he appointed him a place on the west side (this is Buariki). And he gave Katirirakei a place on the south-west (this is Butae ni Kiriri). And Taberannang on the south, eastwards of I-Teikabunawati (this is Benuakura). And Temaiana in the middle of the east (this is Tebakoa), to the south of Teramweai. And Temaiana's canoe companions of Nei Abinoa to the south of

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Inside the Utiroa Maneaba on Tabiteuea, 1841. (From Wilkes 1845:V:56).

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Temaiana also. And Tanina to the south of Nei Abinoa. And Nei Karubea made over all her land to Teinai; so because of this decision the people of Teikabunawati and Karongoa share in all things.” 28

The most celebrated repartition in Gilbertese history was done by Ten Tanentoa (often termed Tanentoa the Great) not in the maneaba of the faction he had beaten in war, which he destroyed, but in Tabontebike, the maneaba of his maternal ancestors.

Koura and his followers had come down from Butaritari to Beru, where he built his own maneaba Maungatabu at Aoniman and made

FIG. 3
Existing Boti in the Maungatabu Maneaba on Nikunau
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himself dictator over the island. 29 Finding his tyrannical ways unbearable the descendants of Tematawarebwe sent for Tanentoa from Nonouti, who succeeded in defeating Koura and burning his maneaba.

For his services in liberating Beru Ten Tanentoa was made Uea (temporal High Chief) over the island, and assumed the headship of the boti of Teakiauma (renamed by him Karongoa), which belonged by custom to his eldest uncle Teweia.

Not only that, but:

“Before Tanentoa entered the maneaba, the news had been long since published abroad that the inaki of the maneaba were about to be completed [or filled in] by him; as a consequence there came from on Beru itself and from other islands those who desired to get their inaki in the maneaba . . . And when he had settled himself in the maneaba, he allotted to the people who had come their boti, and there was no-one who was not provided with a boti in the maneaba.” 30

According to the same authority the persons admitted to Tabontebike by Ten Tanentoa, with the boti (or inaki) allotted to them, were as follows: 31

Persons Boti
Kotua Tekokona
Tekiatau Taurakawa
Teweia Taunnamo [or Rautetia]
Ten Tabuia Nei Koekoe [or Bakarawa?]
Tabanga Keaki
Kobou Keaki-teangabai [or Keaki Rangirang]
Uakeia Te O
Bakoa Maetoa [or Karumaetoa]
Tewatu-ni-Matang Teabike
Mamanti Teinaki-n-akawa
Neui Kaburara
Bue ma Rirongo Bareaka [or Ababou]
Auriaria Umani-Kamauri

As will be seen from Fig. 4 the result of Ten Tanentoa's repartition was to confine Te Bakoa and associated clans (Inakini Bakoa and Nei Abinoa) to the north of the eastern side of the maneaba and to fill in the whole of the south-eastern, southern and western sides with new clans, leaving the founder boti of Tenguingui with only the central inaki in the south, a side which they had formerly held entire.

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FIG. 4
Existing Boti in the Tabontebike Maneaba on Beru

Although Teweia, the builder of the maneaba and, under normal circumstances, head of the Teakiauma boti, was not allocated a position on the northern side with the other descendants of Tematawarebwe but with the new congeries on the east, his descendants still retained part of the Karongoa kawa of Taunamo, 32 important ceremonial functions in the maneaba, and above all the unique privilege of sitting anywhere in the maneaba regardless of boti allocations.

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Throughout the period of boti formation, a favoured method of establishing a new boti was by the division of an existing allocation between the children of the clan head. This clearly was only feasible in the case of clans who had sufficient space available for the purpose.

Taking Karongoa at Tabontebike as an example (see Gen. 2), the clan originally owned the whole of the north side of the maneaba with the possible exception of the two corners. At an early date, however, Tematawarebwe cut off several inaki on the western end to create a separate boti for his brother Buatara. Ten Tanentoa later gave a place to his second (surviving) son Tokia immediately to the east of his own boti (which of course was held by his eldest son Teinai I) under the name of Uman Taburimai.

Next Teinai I allocated the eastern inaki of Karongoa to Matanuea, the son of his third wife Nei Barauri, the new boti being called Te Katanrake. Akau II, his son by his first wife, inherited the headship of Karongoa, in accordance with custom, while Kourabi the son of his second wife Nei Teuia was given lands at Temanoku on Tabiteuea and became one of the most celebrated figures in Tabiteuean history. 33 On another point of custom, it is interesting to note that although Teinai had another son, Tekarokaroni Mataia Uea, “he had no share of the kainga because he was illegitimate, and had but few possessions”. His fourth and final wife, Nei Uto, had no children.

Teinai's son Akau II again divided Karongoa, by inserting a boti called Karongoa Raereke between Uman Taburimai and Te Katanrake for Baibuke, the son of his second wife Nei Bannae; while his grandson, Teinai II, made the final partition of Korongoa by creating the boti Teuribaba for his two younger children. To quote the Karongoa historian:

“Teuribaba was given a place by his father on the west of the stone in the middle of the north side in the maneaba; and his kainga was Uman Taburimai: 34 these things were the property of Teuribaba, whose wife was Beruiaki. And his brother Akau shared them with him. And Teunaia inherited all the properties which had been settled of old, whether on Beru or Nikunau, and on Tabiteuea, Nonouti and Onotoa also.” 35

Te Bakoa was another founder clan with plenty of space at Tabontebike, and when two groups of immigrants arrived at Beru claiming descent from Tabuariki through the ancestral figures Temaiana and Nei Abinoa, the second wife of Tabuariki II, the boti was split up into three: Te Bakoa n Uea, Inaki ni Bakoa and Nei Abinoa. 36 And again in Taribo, Namai partitioned the boti Tabukaokao, which occupied virtually

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GEN. 2—FISSION OF THE BOTI KARONGOA (Boti are shown in capitals under the name of the founder ancestor)
Family Tree. Ten Tanentoa=Nei Beiarung, KARONGOA, Teinai I=Nei Teunnang (of Onotoa), (2) Nei Teuia (of Onotoa), (3) Nei Barauri (of Beru), Ubaitoi (died without issue), Tokia=Nei Taennang, UMAN TABURIMAI, Kourabi (to Tabiteuea), Matanuea, TE KATANRAKE, Akau II=(1) Nei Takori, (2) Nei Bannae, Baibuke, KARONGOA RAEREKE, Teinai II=Nei Aoniba, Teunaia=Nei Tauai, Akau te Korotatae=Nei Teboiuea, Teuribaba=Nei Terubeieta, KARONGOA N UEA, TEURIBABA (to Tabiteuea), TEURIBABA
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the whole of the east side of the maneaba, between Tabukaokao n Uea (the head clan—represented by himself), Tabukaokao n Taetae (the Speaker for the group), Taumanua (Namai's Servers) and Katibanga (the Speaker's Servers).

Another fission which may be mentioned is that of Te Nguingui, made during Ten Tanentoa's partition but almost certainly with the agreement of the clan. Here a large slice of the boti was given to visitors from Tarawa claiming relationship, who called their section Karumaetoa. Nei Ati was also said to have been divided between the descendants of Te Kai, Tabuekia and Tabuae te Baobao, under the names of Nei Ati Meang and Te Ngeangea.

Where one finds more than one boti in a maneaba bearing the same name this can usually be attributed to fission. For instance, from Fig. 3 it will be seen that, owing to a division between the brothers Butikong, Temai and Teitia, there are no less than three Buariki at Rungata; and indeed it would seem probable that in Tebaka's time Buariki filled the whole of the north-western sector in Maungatabu.

When the boti was already small the usual procedure was apparently not to partition it but to let more than one group share the space. Thus Teinai III (see Gen. 3) decided that at Manriki two of his sons should both sit in Karongoa, but Akau in the northern half as the Uea (chief) and Katiua in the southern half as the Speaker, while Katata should go to Teinguaki, where there were already several sharers. 37 Again in Taribo there are three sharers in the boti Otowae, the sub-clans Taebaba, Tenini and Anteuri; and in the fifth generation from the joint founder Teimone (see App. 5) Tenguingui was divided internally between the twin brothers Tebatengeri and Tebatemaran, who took the east and west halves respectively.


Individual clans could also be allocated boti by invitation or permission of the Uea of the maneaba, no doubt after due debate. Clearly such an accretion to the boti structure would be unlikely to arise after the conquests of Kaitu and Uakeia, for few Gilbertese except from Butaritari, Makin or Nui would then be without a boti affiliation.

Examples from Tabontebike would seem to be the admission by Ten Tanentoa of Tabanga, Koura's son, after his father's flight to Nikunau and death, the new boti being called Keaki; 38 of the descendants of Bue and Rirongo from Tarawa, who were given Ababou; and of the descendants of Nei Temaiti, who came from Samoa via Arorae, Tarawa and Onotoa, and were settled in Katanaki.

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Family Tree. Teunaia=Nei Tauai, Namai I=Nei Mangonikua, Nunaia=Nei Nuati, Bakarerenteiti=Nei Tuatua, Nei Mangonikua, Kaitu, Teinai III=Nei Teboiuea, Akau III=Nei Buangui, Katata, Katiua, Naingunimaen, Nei Aoniba, Namai II=Nei Tenangimawa, Toamannang=Nei Mamaua, Ten Nunaia, Nei Beiatarawa, Arikinebeia=Nei Taborerewa, Tanentoa, Nei Tautong, Nei Tekaeeti, Temarebu=Nei Tekarau, Rokea=Nei Taeriba, Tannang I=Nei Nne, Nei Terariki, Kourabi=Nei Teribunikarawa, Tabanga, Nei Taeriba, Tannang II=Nei Tekonrenga, Kourabi, Tebutoa=Nei Tuturenga, Katokiau, Baraka=Nei Ruteta, Tione (born c. 1900)
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A visitor from Tarawa called Auatabu, the son of the Uea Kirata II, was not only called into Taribo by Tewaroi but because of his rank Tewaroi gave him his own boti and moved elsewhere; later he married Tewaroi's daughter. 39 On a subsequent occasion Tewaroi again moved in favour of an invitee, Namai from Samoa, who called his boti Tabukaokao after the land which became his kainga.


It is difficult to conceive of a boti ever becoming extinct by natural means (as long as its existence served some function); for even if all direct male descendants of the founder were to die without issue (which can but seldom occur), one of the last survivors would surely have maintained the succession by adoption, or alternatively someone descended through a female would have been sent to fill the impending vacuum on the taboni kamawa principle, to be described shortly. As will be seen on p. 28 both these expedients were in fact used in relatively recent times to prevent the clan of Te Katanrake at Tabonte-bike from dying out.

It so happens, however, that as a Native Lands Commissioner I was concerned in what must have been a rare, if not unique, event in Gilbertese history: the extinction of a boti by decision of the maneaba.

The defendants were the clan Birimo, who claimed descent from Kameang and Nei Kamaiki, legendary ancestors said to have been with Tabuariki on the first settlement of Beru, through a line of ancestors which, 12 generations ago, included the following:

Family Tree. Bakauaniku II=Nei Teitirua, Moiwa=Nei Teramweai, Teiaintoa, Ruatoa, Toanimatang

The complainants were their neighbours in Te Kaotirama (see Fig. 4), who alleged that this section of the Birimo genealogy was, in fact, a garbled version of the Te Kaotirama genealogy:

Family Tree. Toataing=Nei Temabine, Nei Kataunoa=Teiaintoa I, Moiwa=Nei Teramweai, Teiaintoa II 40

and that the clan Birimo should therefore form part of Te Kaotirama.

The point at issue was referred by the Old Men to their colleagues on Nikunau, where Moiwa and his wife had lived, and eventually a - 25 rather ambiguous reply was received which nevertheless was held to support Te Kaotirama's claim. It was therefore decided to abolish the boti Birimo in the Tabontebike maneaba. No action had been taken to enforce this decision, however, by the time I left Beru; and I doubt somehow if it ever was.


(a) The General Rule

In the course of our work as Native Lands Commissioners both Grimble and the writer heard many cases involving disputed descent within boti discussed and settled by the Old Men of different maneaba. Boti membership was still valued for a practical reason and the rules governing membership and succession strictly adhered to by the authorities on traditional custom within the maneaba hierarchy.

The general rule can be stated quite simply and categorically: “Descent, determining membership of the social group possessing a given boti, is reckoned patrilineally on all islands”. 41

Grimble gives a good illustration of this rule in his notes on a dispute submitted to his arbitration on Beru:

“An elderly man named Rioti claimed membership of the boti Karongoa-n-uea, which had consistently been denied his ascendants in the male line for several successive generations. He provided me with a list of 20 lineal ascendants, alleged to be males back to his ancestor Kirata the First, a semi mythical Chief of Tarawa, known to be of the Karongoa-n-uea group. None disputed the authenticity of the names he furnished; issue was joined on a point of sex. It was argued by the opposition that an ascendant in the sixth generation back from Rioti, named Tearoko, was not a man but a woman. Under these circumstances, it was insisted, Rioti must count his boti-descent, not from Tearoko, but from her husband, who belonged to the Ababou group. Rioti himself admitted such reasoning would have been perfectly just had Tearoko been indeed a woman; his whole argument was limited to showing that this person had been a man.” 42

(b) Succession to the Boti Headship

The oral traditions of the race show that this has been the rule governing clan membership from the creation of the first boti to the present day. Perhaps it can be seen most clearly by considering one of the main exceptions to this general principle: the special position that arises when the atun te boti (head of the clan) dies leaving only daughters. In 1931, for example, there was a dispute on Beru as to the succession to the headship of the clan Karongoa n Uea at Tabontebike—the Uea (Chief) of the first and most important maneaba in the Gilbert Group. It had repercussions on other islands, notably on Nikunau and - 26 Onotoa, and its settlement led to much airing of historical precedents governing boti descent and eventually drew the following expression of general principle from the Old Men:

“The ‘karimoa’ should always be the head. 43 When there are only female children to the head the next of kin being a male takes on the duties until one of the female children has a male child when he becomes the head of his mother's boti. If they only had females again they would wait until these females had a male child.” 44

Or to quote from notes made some years later during the hearing of another case involving succession to the headship of a clan:

“If a man dies with only female issue the eldest daughter becomes the head of the utu. 45 If her father's branch was the senior in the clan she is recognized as the head of the clan but takes no active part in clan ritual and cannot speak in the maneaba. Her place in ceremonial is taken by her father's brother. Her own son, however, will become head of the clan, or utu, and on arriving of age will take over his duties from his grandfather's brother.” 46

The woman is said to be the kawai (path, or road) for “passing on” her father's boti to her son.

In the case of an ordinary member of a relatively unimportant boti it might not, of course, matter very much if, having only daughters, his grand-children entered the boti of their fathers rather than his. It could even be a move up in the social scale and be in other ways advantageous for them and, as we shall see, it would not affect their buakonikai inheritance though it would their kainga of residence. In such cases it is understood that the rule enjoining the transmission of boti membership through the daughter was regarded as permissive and not mandatory; it all depended on a variety of special circumstances. But when the succession to the headship of a boti was involved procedure was more strictly prescribed and enforced.

There are many illustrations of this principle in the genealogies. Thus, to quote from the genealogy of the clan Te Kaotirama (already mentioned in another connection):

Family Tree. Toataing=Nei Temabine, Nei Kataunoa=Teiaintoa I, Moiwa=Nei Teramweai

Here Toataing had no sons so his boti passed by means of his daughter to his grandson Moiwa. 47

Grimble quotes another example from the genealogy of the family of the High Chiefs of Abemama (the boti are given in parentheses):

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Family Tree. Boutu (Kaburara), Nei Kanekia=Tebaomao (Maerua), Karotu (Kaburara)

Boutu had only one child, his daughter Nei Kanekia, who married a Maerua man. Her son, who would normally have sat in Maerua, under the special circumstances took his grandfather's boti of Kaburara. 48

(c) The Taboni Kamawa Principle

A second exception appears to be one of convenience, designed to relieve sitting pressure in an overcrowded boti. In such cases a man with several children may on occasion send any other than the karimoa (though usually only daughters) to the boti of their mother, the principle being stated in the well-known Gilbertese saying, te taboni kamawa botin tinam (the boti of your mother is a place for making room). 49

(d) Uxorilocal Residence

While a wife normally sat in her husband's boti and lived in her husband's kainga (see p. 33), cases arose from time to time when for a variety of reasons, of which the most usual was the location of the utu's main buakonikai lands, a man might decide to reside in his wife's kainga.

Should this kainga be situated on another island (or occasionally, in another district on the same island) where his own boti was not represented, the children of the marriage would normally sit in their mother's boti.

To take two examples from the Teuribaba clan genealogies:

Family Tree. Akau=Nei Teboiuea, Nei Terenganuea=Kimaeri, Temoti

Akau (Te Korotatae) was one of the two founders of Teuribaba (see Gen. 2) and was a large landowner on Beru. When his daughter married Kimaeri from Tabiteuea he came to live on Beru and their son sat in his mother's boti.

Family Tree. Akau IV=Nei Teruru, Teuribaba IV, Kaboka II, Nei Teinanaba=Boua, Rubenteiti

Akau IV was descended from the other branch of the Teuribaba clan and when his daughter's husband Boua from Nonouti migrated to Beru the grandson, Rubenteiti, adopted his mother's boti. 50

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Even though he may not normally sit in his mother's boti, a Gilbertese can still endeavour to use it temporarily as a “second string” when visiting an island where his father's boti is not represented, in the hope that the members will feel some obligation, in conformity with the custom of kaeninima or karokaro, to look after him during his stay. 51 This they may or may not do, according to the circumstances in each case, but in any event the obligation will be less keenly felt than it would be by the members of his father's boti. 52

(e) The Effect of Adoption

This subject has been dealt with in a previous paper in which it was pointed out that while an adopted child can always sit in his true father's boti:

“In the majority of cases he will, with the consent of his adopter, transfer to his adopter's boti; he will still, however, retain his right of sitting at any time in his real father's boti. It might happen, of course, that his adopter belongs to the same clan as his true father, and this will always normally be the case when the adopted is, through males, of the same utu or kindred as the adopter.” 53

It may be appropriate to conclude this section on descent in the boti by quoting the case of Te Katanrake, as it illustrates several of the exceptional expedients mentioned above, including adoption, as a means of providing a head for the clan.

Family Tree. Terawati=Nei Katiria (of Nikunau), (Benuakura), (Te Katanrake), Nakuo, Nei Bwebwe=Kamarie, (Te Katanrake), (Te Inaki ni Bakoa), adopted, Beniata, (Te Katanrake)

Here the boti Te Katanrake was in danger of dying out, as two out of Matanuea's three sons (see Gen. 2) had gone to live on Nikunau. However, Terawati of Benuakura married one of Matanuea's descendants on Nikunau and brought her to his kainga at Tabontebike. Their son was thereupon directed to take his mother's boti, and became its head. Being without issue he adopted his nephew Beniata, who left his father's boti of Te Inaki ni Bakoa and eventually succeeded Nakuo as head of Te Katanrake. 54


The Gilbertese never lived in their maneaba, except temporarily when visiting other islands, but in clan hamlets known as kainga

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Fig. 5-Kainga of Tabontebike Maneaba

- vi Page is blank

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usually grouped round it and extending along the lagoon shore to the north and south. From the sea the western shore of any island was typically a long line of green coconut palms broken every few miles by a large maneaba standing in its cleared ground, with on either side the congeries of associated kainga dwellings: a unique and rather spectacular sight.

During the course of lands settlement work I visited and examined the sites of all the old kainga on Beru; noting their location and position relative to their maneaba and to each other. It will be sufficient for our purpose, however, if we deal with one maneaba only here; and Tabontebike is our obvious choice.

From the diagram setting out the Tabontebike hamlets at Fig. 5 it will be seen that there were forty-two in all. Three of them, however, were situated across the narrow strait (now bridged) which separates Nukantewa from Teteirio, and one, a special case, was several miles away on the very southern tip of Beru. The main body of thirty-eight were roughly coterminous with the modern government village of Nukantewa, one of the largest in the Gilbert Islands. At least ten of these were considered not to be kainga proper but merely kawa, of which latter there were several others separated from the kainga group to the north and south and especially at what is now the village of Aoniman.

Heads of boti would not, of course, live in kawa, which were merely groups of houses located on sites which possessed neither religious nor ceremonial significance. All clan gatherings were held in the kainga, and here the clan anti (tutelary deities) were worshipped. Furthermore, at least in more recent times, residence in a kawa was not necessarily confined to the members of a single boti.

(a) The Formation of Kainga

We have already seen how Tematawarebwe landed at the south end of Beru and eventually decided to settle at Teakiauma. On his way north he tried out the possibilities of two alternative sites for his final home—Taunamo and Uman Taene—but eventually rejected them because “they would not be seen from the sea”. 55

These three localities became the kainga of Karongoa 56 and here Teweia built the Tabontebike maneaba on a protuberance reclaimed from the sea and enclosed by a bono (sea wall). Here also the other founder boti set up their kainga, Te Bakoa to the immediate west, and Te Nguingui to the south, of the maneaba.

From Fig. 5 it will be seen how the kainga of the related boti of Karongoa and Te Bakoa were formed by subdivision, and others not so related by filling in such vacant places as might be available; allocations of both kainga and buakonikai lands being made by agreement of Karongoa at the same time as the allocation of a boti. The relationship - 30 of a kainga to its boti is obvious from the fact that where there was not already an established place-name the kainga is almost always called by the same name as the boti, or by one alluding to it (e.g. Bareaka to Ababou, the members of which are invariably spoken of as the Bareaka people). Another indication is seen in the phrase “e bon tau te boti ma kaingana” (each boti is provided with its kainga). 57

To illustrate the process of division let us take the kainga Uman Taene, which originally must have covered the whole of the foreshore to the north-west of the maneaba. We are told that its partition:

“was first arranged by Tanentoa: the northern part was Teinai's portion; and the southern Tokia's; and both were provided with their share of buakonikai. 58 The second partition was made by Teinai I: the eastern part and its buakonikai for Matanuea; and the western part and its buakonikai for Akau. The third division was made by Akau: he divided it in half; Karongoa Raereke, which is to the north, was the share of Baibuke; Karongoa n Uea, which is to the south, was the share of Teinai II.” 59

Ten Tanentoa possessed several kainga and buakonikai lands on all islands south of Nonouti, including Maeriua on Onotoa, Tebao (later called Teneinei) on Tamana and Taribo on Arorae, and both he and his son Teinai spent much of their time voyaging from island to island looking after their property. Later on cadet branches of the family became established as heads of the Karongoa clan at these localities.

While most clans had special privileges and duties in the Tabontebike maneaba, which will be discussed later, in only one case, that of Te Inaki n Akawa, did this necessitate the location of a kainga away from the main group. This clan was descended from Te Mamang, who came to Beru with Tematawarebwe but was directed to live at the south end to look after the Karongoa fishing rights there. In return for presenting Karongoa with the larger fish caught Te Inaki n Akawa had the right of going out to fish first.

(b) Inside the Kainga

Fig. 5 shows that Karongoa n Uea were in the unique position of having two kainga, Teakiauma and Uman Taene. This was due to the fact that while Tematawarebwe himself had settled at the former locality, Ten Tanentoa set up his kainga at the latter, presumably because it was nearer to the maneaba, and here his son and grandson were buried. It is understood, however, that Teakiauma remained the ceremonial centre for all the Karongoa associated clans (Karongoa n Uea, Karongoa Raereke, Uma n Taburimai, Te Katanrake and Teuribaba).

It will be seen from the genealogical tables (Gen. 1-3) that, until the time of Teunaia, Karongoa n Uea was in the happy position of being able to subdivide its boti and kainga between the male descendants of Ten Tanentoa in the senior line, or else to send the younger - 31 sons away like Kourabi (and others not listed) to look after the Karongoa lands on other islands, where they founded their own branches of the clan.

In later years, however, and starting with Teinai III, Karongoa n Uea followed the practice of all other clans and provided for its various emerging descent groups by merely assigning them particular locations within the kainga itself. Here were built the mwenga and subsidiary buildings of members of the boti; 60 while in front of the whole kainga, looking from the sea, stood the small maneaba of the clan, 61 where the various clan ceremonies took place and the clan deities were propitiated. Farther in front and on the crest of the beach were the line of bareaka (canoe sheds) of the group.

A graphic picture of the Karongoa kainga as it stood about the year A.D. 1675 is given in the account of the internal kainga partition made by Teinai III:

“This man married Nei Teboiuea, the daughter of Kaitu and Nei Kaue. Teboiuea bore children, and these are their names: (1) Akau III; (2) Teng Katata; (3) Teng Katiua; (4) Ten Naingunimaen; (5) Nei Aoniba. He prepared things for these children of his: he built three bata, and these are the names of those bata, (1) Natu-n-urea, (2) Tauan-te-Buangui, (3) Atuni Kiebu. He did not break the old customs of Karongoa; but he arranged for the possessions of his children. Those three brothers each had a house, but only Naingunimaen had no house, because he had been lost at sea fishing for flying-fish, and he had been cast ashore at Kuria. So it is said that he established Karongoa on that island. And Aoniba the woman had no house, because she was a woman. These are the houses and their position on Karongoa: the first house, the house of Ten Akau, stood on the west side; the second house, the house of Katata, stood on the east side; the third house, the house of Katiua, stood at the south. And the house of the skull Tannakon Riki, stood at the north. 62 And in front of that house was the stone where Beia and Tekai were worshipped.” 63

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(c) The Kainga in 1855

A good impression of the Beru kainga in their heyday is given by the Rev. George Pierson, who landed at Taboiaki in 1855, where he visited those clustered around the small maneaba Tabuki n Tamoa, which is reputed to have been built with spare timber left over from Tabontebike in order to provide a meeting place for the increasing population of the southern district. From there he seems to have walked through the buakonikai to Tabontebike, passing through the small subsidiary hamlet Ten Rike, “a cluster of 4 or 5 houses”, en route. 64

Pierson describes the boti system of government with reasonable accuracy, considering his brief stay: “They have no king on this island but are governed by chiefs, who hold a council at which all attend and take part that desire to and after a full discussion each one expresses his decision and the majority rule”; and in these debates “the people come in and sit down on mats, then someone stands up at one end of the room and makes a speech while the rest sit and listen.” 65

Both the Tabontebike and Tabuki n Tamoa maneaba were examined, as well as the bata, or houses, in the neighbouring kainga, which Pierson describes as merely roofs supported on posts and thatched with pandanus or coconut, only a few possessing “the addition of sides, which are made with mats fastened to the posts” but all having “poles running across over head and mats spread on them so as to make a sort of chamber in which they keep their effects”.

Pierson's guide, evidently the head of a Tabontebike clan, took him to his kainga where he showed him his own house, with beside it another for his four wives, and his canoe shed with several canoes in it, including one of the large inter-island baurua “forty or fifty feet long, three feet across and six feet deep”.

(d) The Gilbertese O

A point which particularly struck Pierson was the number of kainga which possessed walls round them (the remains of which can still be seen in places):

“In this town [probably the now abandoned group of kainga at Tabon te Kibui to the south-west of Tabukini Beru] I noticed a high stone wall which enclosed several houses. I saw only women and children in the yard or houses. I asked if I might go inside the enclosure, my guide said, no, from which I suppose the ground to belong to some high chief whose wives and children were in there and no man dared on the penalty of his life to enter. This wall was about six feet high and made of the recent formation of coral stone, so it was bleached out very white and looked beautiful as the bright sun shone upon it.” 66

In the small hamlet half-way to Tabontebike Pierson found more houses enclosed with stone walls, though at Tabuki n Tamoa itself only a few had “yards enclosed around them”.

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Twelve years before, the Wilkes Expedition had noticed the same feature in the kainga around the maneaba at Utiroa on Tabiteuea: “. . . the village was found to be divided into lots, containing ten or twelve houses, and enclosed by fences. Each of these enclosures, it was supposed, belonged to a separate family”. 67

These fenced kainga were known as O. The wall itself could be built for defence, as in the case of kainga separated from the main group, to demarcate the boundaries of the kainga or to ensure privacy. In the case of the well-known boti and kainga invariably known as Te O it was probably the desire for privacy, as they were traditional Tani Kaiwa (Sorcerers) whose activities, whether on behalf of themselves or others, were conducted with the minimum of publicity. They had a boti in the Tabuki n Tamoa maneaba, as well as in Tabontebike, and it may well have been their kainga that was seen by Pierson on his walk back to Taboiaki. 68

Apart from having walls the O did not differ from other kainga. 69

(e) Kainga Inheritance

Since the kainga were essentially the living quarters of boti members it is not surprising that one's position in each passed from father to son in precisely the same manner. The person known as atun te kainga (head of the kainga), or te ikawai (the old one), was the same individual who in the boti would be called atun te boti, for with the one title went the other.

Married women normally lived in the kainga of their husbands, though a few exceptional cases of uxorilocal residence have been noted on pp. 27-28; in any case she would endeavour to bear her children there.

The head of the kainga, of course, always lived on it and if he had only daughters the eldest would also live there, with her husband visiting her, until a male child was able to succeed.

Members of the various cadet branches of the clan would endeavour to continue to live in their father's kainga but, as will be seen, this became increasingly difficult as many of the kainga areas became filled. In such cases the eldest son would inherit his father's mwenga and the younger sons be sent to set up their households in the kainga of their - 34 grandparents, the order of preference, according to the Old Men of Tabontebike, being as follows:

  • (1) Father's father's kainga.
  • (2) Father's mother's kainga.
  • (3) Mother's father's kainga.
  • (4) Mother's mother's kainga.

If, as was often the case during modern times, there was no room in any of these kainga, a younger member of a family had the choice of living in one of the kawa associated with his boti, establishing a kawa on his own, or living in isolation on one of his buakonikai lands. In any case, together with all other members he would go to the kainga of his own boti to take part in the various clan ceremonies. This would usually be his father's boti, but if he were living in his mother's kainga it might well be his mother's. 70


“All lands,” says the Karongoa n Uea historian, “are arranged and shared according to the decisions and customs of those of olden time; and they are arranged in this way: all utu own and share their own property, and they divide it out amongst themselves, and everyone has freedom over his own property.” 71

In other words it is the utu, or kindred (see App. 4), that is concerned in the ownership of buakonikai land (i.e. all land except kainga sites); and not the boti. Lands are held individually by both men and women, being inherited from their parents, the mwini mane lands from the father and the mwin aine lands from the mother, and passing to their children both male and female.

Fortunately, the Gilbertese traditional system of land tenure is exceptionally well documented, having been codified for most islands as a result of the labours of Native Lands Commissioners hearing and adjudicating on tens of thousands of disputes, many of them involving the niceties of Gilbertese custom and all being decided in conformity with the custom of the island at the time the dispute arose.

This work necessitates knowing accurately and in detail not only the land customs of an island as they exist today, but as they existed long before the establishment of the British Protectorate. The government document Land Customs—Beru Island, for example, which is the product of over 30 years of accumulated experience in settling several thousand land disputes on that island, details the customary procedure governing such transfers as Te Bain Ira (recompense for theft), Te Bora (in the case of famine) and Te Nenebo (recompense for murder), which have fallen into disuetude for several generations but which were still well remembered from actual cases decided by the Old Men of the three traditional maneaba: Tabontebike, Taribo and Tabuki n Tamoa. 72

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Gilbertese land tenure and inheritance is a fascinating subject in its own right but all that need concern us here is that in all the wealth of expertise on this subject that has grown up in response to the Gilbertese demand for land settlement one will find no word of boti or kainga (with or without an o) as a group concerned with the ownership of buakonikai lands; but only of the utu.

For the general rule governing the inheritance of land on Beru one cannot do better than quote from the basic document mentioned above:

“1. On the death of an owner with issue his land is divided amongst his (or her) children in approximately equal shares, subject to the following exceptions:

  • (a) the eldest son receives more than his brothers or sisters,
  • (b) the sons receive more than the daughters,
  • (c) if all are daughters the eldest receives more than the younger,
  • (d) if there are both sons and daughters the eldest being a daughter the eldest son receives the largest share, then the other sons taking equal shares, then the eldest daughter and lastly the other daughters taking equal shares.
  • 2. Nei [fish ponds] go in the same way but should there be only one it would be held in common by the children. Women may or may not be given a share in Nei according to the wish of the owner.
  • 3. On the death of a person without issue, should he have no brothers or sisters, the land would be separated into ‘mwini mane’ and ‘mwin aine’ lands. The lands would then be returned to the Utu of the father and mother of the deceased respectively. The nearest relation to the deceased in each Utu would take the land, or should there be several equally near, the land would be divided amongst them.
  • 4. On the death of a person without issue, should he have brothers and sisters or their issue, his land will be divided amongst them. These brothers and sisters will all get as far as possible equal shares, not as in Rule 1.” 73

How this complete variance between the inheritance of boti and kainga rights and buakonikai rights arose we may never know, for the Gilbertese have long taken it for granted as too natural to require explanation. Any reasons, therefore, which may be produced in response to direct questioning are likely to be in the nature of rationalizations.

There is, however, one historical clue which may be worth mentioning. Tradition seems clear that on the one hand the original inhabitants of the Gilberts possessed neither boti nor kainga but that these systems, with all their emphasis on the principle of patrilineal descent, were brought by Tematawarebwe and the others who came from Samoa; and - 36 on the other hand that among the autochthones whom they found in possession on their arrival land was held on an individual basis by both men and women. Thus we learn that the land Taebaba, in the north of Beru, later seized by Ten Tanentoa, was formerly owned by Nei Temokomoko, “a native of Taebaba”. 74

Whether or not the invaders from Samoa took over the customs of land tenure and inheritance from the original landowners with whom they intermarried or not, at all events it is clear that from Temata-warebwe's time to the present day land has been held by both men and women, in individual shares. When Ten Tanentoa was on Onotoa, for example, a man named Naunta arrived from Beru on his way “to look after some property belonging to his wife Nei Rereua on Tamana and Arorae”; and earlier still when Akau coveted some land at Buariki on South Tabiteuea he was restrained by his father-in-law Teritua, because “this land belonged to his mother Nei Kobine”. 75

If the point was in dispute one could attempt to review the history of Karongoa and other clans generation by generation, showing the lands passing from parents to children within each utu in accordance with customs substantially the same as today. All that perhaps needs to be emphasized, however, is that even if, as in the days of the boti founders, the kainga land and buakonikai lands were once owned by the same individual, it would only need a few generations before they were completely out of kilter, a process which must have been accelerated by the rule of clan exogamy to be detailed later.

The following suppositious genealogy may make this clearer:

Family Tree. Karongoa man=Keaki woman, Bakarawa woman=Karongoa man, Karongoa woman=Katanaki man, Karongoa man, Karongoa woman=Ababou man, Katanaki woman=Te Abike man, Ababou man, Te Abike man

In the above example within two generations possibly three-quarters of the grandfather's Karongoa lands would have passed to members of other clans while, on the other hand, his Karongoa grandson would have probably inherited most of his lands from his Bakarawa mother and Keaki grandmother.


If there was no clan ownership in land (apart from kainga sites) there certainly was in the case of other forms of property (tangible and intangible) and related rights. The following list gives the main - 37 rights found on Beru at the time of my investigations in the early 1930s:

  • (1) Fishponds. A few of the largest nei (fishponds) were owned communally by one or more boti. These were the naturally formed ponds, or small inner lagoons, made according to legend by Riki the Eel on being thrown from Nikunau, the principal one being Nein Tabuariki in the far south. An example of the intricate working arrangements for stocking and fishing Nein Riki on Nikunau is given in Appendix 1, where there is also a brief note on Nein Tabuariki.
  • (2) Fishing Rights. These were of great importance, and comprised both lagoon and reef rights. Virtually the whole of Beru lagoon was divided up into an involved pattern of clan fishing rights, which followed the contours of the lagoon floor and the various channels where turtles, eels, octopuses and the lagoon fish were apt to congregate; while the reef rights between high and low water were primarily the province of the women, who scoured them for mussels, crustaceans, edible worms and the like. 77 Fishing in organized groups with nets was always forbidden outside one's clan fishing grounds, but individual fishing from canoes only when rabu (tabu signs) were exhibited at the boundaries of the area. It was the function of Uman Taburimai to put up the rabu for Karongoa and Nei Abinoa for Te Bakoa. No deep sea clan fishing rights were recorded on Beru, but they were important on reef islands such as Nikunau, where reef rights were prolonged far out to sea to prevent canoe fishing except by clan members.
  • (3) Flotsam and Jetsam. Rights to objects stranded on the beach may perhaps be regarded as a part of reef rights but these were so important as to deserve special mention. Traditionally they are referred to as the right to appropriate te kua, te ika, te on ma te kai ae koro (porpoise, fish, turtle and driftwood) on sections of the beach. On coral islands devoid of good timber for canoe building the right to the surprising number of logs which drifted from the north-west coast of America was highly prized. Porpoise and other large fish were sometimes found stranded, while turtles came at night to lay their eggs.
  • (4) Other clan rights. There were many other clan rights, most of them no longer exercised, among the principal being the rights of Te Bakoa, as titular owner of the island, to the first-fruits of the pandanus harvest and the patent rights held by many clans in
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  • designs and compositions such as canoe patterns, canoe crests, house types, kite patterns, mat patterns, songs and dance routines. Indeed, it would seem that attempts might be made to protect almost any invention made by clan members. Whether the clan could, in fact, succeed in preventing any copying was another matter; but at least they could make a fuss.

A list of canoe crests and kite patterns is included among the boti attributes set out in App. 5. Among other rights recorded as pertaining to Karongoa on Beru were:

  • (1) Fishing Rights. The lagoon areas known as Tebaba, Namon Nei Tewenei, Rawan Tewe, te Mai, te Rawa Uareke, te Atini Ba, Tabore and Waeni Kun.
  • (2) Flotsam and Jetsam. Along the western shore line from Neito to Buaikau.
  • (3) Canoe Patterns. Te Iti-ma-Rube, te Ataata-i-moa, te Ataata, and te Rirongo.
  • (4) House Types. Naatun Urua, Tauan te Buangui, Atuni Kiebu and Nakun Uea.

It seems desirable to mention the Gilbertese customary relationships of tinaba and eiriki briefly, since it is normally a man's tinaba (sometimes assisted by his eiriki and others) who anoints him with coconut oil and places wreaths of flowers round his neck during maneaba ceremonies. Grimble has suggested, furthermore, that in strict custom sex relations with eiriki who were the wives of classificatory brothers was only possible when their husbands were members of the man's boti. 78

More to our purpose in the present study is to see how such relationships could result in modifying the strict application of customary rules.

The Gilbertese are fond of telling stories of how young and attractive tinaba were used for the purpose of wheedling buakonikai land under the customary title of Aban Tinaba. The classic example of tinaba manipulation, however, concerns the division of Karongoa n Uea at Manriki in the time of Akau III. It is worth quoting in full in the words of the clan historian: 79

“There was only one Karongoa at Manriki when it was first established by Teinai II, and it was divided into two only in the time of Toamannang, son of Akau III. Toamannang married Nei Mamaua. He left his wife and sailed away to Beru and Onotoa. And he left his wife with the Old Men who were his uncles, the brothers of his father Akau. And this woman became pregnant by these Old Men. - 39 That was the idea of this couple, in order that they might acquire more property from these Old Men, according to the ancient custom. When Toamannang returned from his voyage, he was told that his wife was pregnant, and he was very pleased, for he knew that he would soon acquire more property, for most of the family property belonged to his elder brother Namai, according to the custom. So when these Old Men heard what Toamannang was saying, they called him and spoke to him about the child that Mamaua was bearing, saying that if and when it was born it was a boy, he should be given the name Tanentoa. And when the child was born, it was a boy; and he was named with the name chosen by those Old Men. And they gave him land called Tebabu, which was as it were a nikira ni bai (remainder left over after partition). And they cleared it of rubbish and of mao bush, so that this land should become the property of Ten Tanentoa. And these Old Men thought again what else should the child have; and they decided that he should have the right to sit on the Stone, as an indication of his being honoured by these Old Men. 80 But Namai was the first-born, and he also possessed this right, and most of the lands, according to the decisions of Akau their father. Akau, their brother, could not dispute this decision but agreed to it. 81 So that is why Toamannang sits on this Chief's Stone. But Namai also can sit there if there should be neither Toamannang nor any descendant of his. And Akau dwelt at Manriki together with his brothers. Afterwards Toamannang dwelt at Tebabu as the Karongoa there; and Namai was also his Karongoa companion at Tebabu because most of his lands were in the south, according to the arrangements made by their fathers. And their families carry on the customs of Karongoa without alteration. That is the reason why Karongoa is divided. They have also the power of Karongoa at Manriki.
“These are the names of the children of Akau III: (1) Ten Namai, (2) Ten Toamannang, (3) Ten Nunaia, (4) Nei Baiatarawa, (5) Nei Tautong, (6) Nei Tekaeeti. Namai arranged for all these children; and the old custom of Karongoa was not broken, which is that there should be the head of the utu who is Namai, and that Toamannang should be also a toka (chief) because of the decision of the Old Men, his uncles, concerning him. They each have their own Speaker, and they each have their own Divider of the Food. 82 But when the time comes for a meeting of all the members of Karongoa, then they go back and do according to the ancient custom from the time of Teinai III, or of those before him.” 83

The decision of the Old Men of Karongoa in this case is of importance as illustrating not only that strict clan custom could be flexible - 40 under the stress of circumstances but also that there were limits beyond which even the most partial could not proceed. Here we see that while Akau's brothers, in recognition of the tinaba services of Nei Mamaua, were apparently able to give limited rights to a younger brother to share in the headship of the clan, as well as a separate boti in the maneaba, they could not deprive the karimoa (eldest child) Namai of his customary right to the headship nor could they upset the katautau (partition of property) made by Akau III between his children.


The Gilbertese boti, or more usually groups of boti, were associated with a wide variety of atua (totemic objects), for the most part fish and birds. These have been listed and discussed elsewhere and I shall confine myself, therefore, to mentioning a few of the main totems associated with the boti at Tabontebike. 84

The only totemic observance actually seen by me on Beru was the custom of throwing offerings of food and tobacco at any baiku (Sting Ray) encountered when travelling by canoe. This was only done by members of Keaki and its allied boti claiming descent from Nei Tituabine. Baiku were never eaten by them and on one being discovered stranded on the reef it was anointed with coconut oil and garlanded with flowers, after which a feast was held in its honour in the kainga.

Keaki's main linked totem was the Take (the Red-tailed Tropic-bird), the rabata (body) of Nei Tituabine herself. 85 In their kainga to the south-east of Tabontebike there stood a big uri tree (Guettarda speciosa), underneath which the clan built a ceremonial maneaba known as Rurubao for the worship of Nei Tituabine. From time to time a Tropic-bird would perch on this tree and when its call was heard the clan gathered in Rurubao and held a feast. Prayers were offered to the Take, which is said to have come down from the tree to sit on the roof of her house, whereupon offerings of food were given to her by the head of the boti. 86

The kanawa tree (Cordia subcordata) was the main totem of Karongoa, the clan of the Uea (Chief) of the maneaba, and therefore in a sense of all persons possessing boti in the building. In Gilbertese mythology the great tree of Samoa, Kain Tiku-aba (the tree of the resting-place of lands), was a kanawa, growing from the backbone of - 41 Na Areau, 87 and with its breaking the clans fled from the country; some, as we have seen, sailing north to the Gilbert Group. 88

Various branches of the kanawa Kain Tiku-aba were brought from Samoa and planted in the Gilberts; for example Buatara landed at Buariki on Tarawa and planted the branch which grew into the tree Te Uekera, and Nei Beia planted another in the kainga Tekanawa at Taribo in Arorae. But the main tree was said to have been brought by Tematawarebwe to Beru in two pieces and planted by him in his kainga Teakiauma. The trees that grew were said to have been male and female, the father and mother of Tematawarebwe, from whom the whole of the Karongoa boti on Beru were descended.

As long as these trees stood at Teakiauma no one, whether a member of Karongoa or not, would climb them, cut a branch or pick a leaf, or strike the trunk; children were warned against playing in the vicinity. Keaki's uri and both the kanawa trees were eventually cut down, at the insistence of a missionary, by Eritai, the first Magistrate of Beru after the establishment of the British Protectorate in 1892.

Among the totems of the other principal clans on Beru were the shark and the thunder, the atua of the Bakoa group of boti, the autochthones of the Gilberts who claimed descent ultimately from Tabuariki (the thunder) and not from any participant in the migration from Samoa. 89 The rabata of Tabuariki was an upright stone kept in each of the kainga, to which offerings of food were made on ceremonial occasions. Nei Abinoa, one of the associated clans, had in their kainga at Tabontebike a piece of iron, and one often heard the story told (with a considerable amount of merriment) how when it rained the stone got rusty and the boti members, under the impression that their atua was menstruating, hastened to celebrate with a feast. 90 The shark, of course, was not eaten by the people of Te Bakoa.

Te Nguingui had as their main totem the bu (conch shell), which it alone had the right to blow when the people were being called to the maneaba. Legend has it that Te I Mone, 91 one of the anti of the clan, used the conch to summon the fishes in the sea.

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During the past half century or more the main criterion regulating marriage has been the degree of relationship within the utu: the principle expressed in the phrase “e ewe te karoro” (the fourth generation goes free), which permitted third and more distant cousins to marry (see Appendix 4).

In 1937, therefore, when I was directed to report on Gilbertese custom relating to marriage and divorce with a view to providing a basis for Colony legislation, I found it necessary merely to codify this principle in a clause prohibiting “carnal knowledge of any collateral either by blood or adoption up to and including the second degree of cousinship”. 92

Had Grimble not already briefed me on the custom of clan exogamy I should not have known that it had existed. In fact so rapidly had it disappeared as a regulator of marriage in the southern islands that I would hazard the guess that it must have been the earliest trait to decay; and there was certainly no popular demand for its re-introduction by legislation. The following account is therefore taken verbatim from Grimble's notes:

“Underlying and restricting the application of this doctrine [that third cousins may marry] was an absolute prohibition of any marriage between members of the same boti. This did not preclude the possibility of a man's marriage with every relation on the paternal side, for provided that they were sufficiently distant in degree, he could still contract alliances with connections of his father descended through a male ancestor's sister and so into another boti . . . Similarly, it could easily happen that while he could take as a wife a moderately close paternal relation from another boti he would be debarred from union with a collateral in his own group so distantly removed from him that the common ancestry was a matter of mere tradition. It was membership of the same group that constituted the bar, above any other consideration . . . There was no impediment under ordinary conditions to the marriage of a man with a woman of his mother's group outside the forbidden degree of relationship. But if a boy took the boti of his mother, he was at once debarred from union with any member of it; at the same time, he still remained under the prohibition of contracting alliances with women of his father's clan.” 93

That clan exogamy was honoured in the breach even in Grimble's day is suggested by an actual example quoted by him from the ultra conservative island of Marakei: 94

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Family Tree. Teiaokiri, Kaono, Barekiau, Teiaokiri, Boata, Tokintebuaka, Tabanea, Nei Maria=Boborau

Here Boborau and Nei Maria were married despite the fact that they were members of the same clan, though the Old Men stated that “they would never have been allowed to marry before the Flag”. Not even the most pedantic stickler for traditional usage would have cavilled at the union on Beru in 1930. An examination of the genealogies, on the other hand, reveals no case of marriage within the boti in pre-contact times.


“Everything that took place in the maneaba was subject to the strictest ceremonial rules, under the most definite religious sanctions; and everything that carried with it an informal atmosphere, such as the sports of wrestling, of hide-and-seek, or other games of their nature, was banned from those precincts. It may be said that only such acts as lent themselves to a solemn ritual, and possessed a definite social significance were permissible in the maneaba.” 95

Nevertheless, in an important maneaba such as Tabontebike there were many occasions for holding ceremonial gatherings during the course of the year. These varied in size from the occasional Nikiran te toa aba (Feast for the entire island), attended by the members of the two other traditional maneaba Taribo and Tabuki n Tamoa, and at which the latter danced the traditional Kanoan te Uea (the King's performance), down to small meetings of individual, or related boti to celebrate a birth, coming of age, marriage or death.

Most ceremonial meetings, however, were for all the boti in the maneaba, the principal ones being held:

  • (1) on the laying of the ridge-capping;
  • (2) when the first thatch was being cut;
  • (3) when the first inai, or any fresh inai, was being laid;
  • (4) when the maneaba was being re-thatched;
  • (5) at the end of the pandanus harvest;
  • (6) at the raising of the Abein (casket) in which the skull of Teinai I, the Uea of the maneaba, was kept; or
  • (7) to celebrate some noteworthy event, such as a victory in war, or in these days the visit of a High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. 96

Smaller and more informal meetings, attended by at least the more important members of the leading boti, were held to decide on the date, - 44 and preparations to be made, for one of the full-scale functions listed above; to prove a stranger claiming kaeninima rights (see pp. 51-53); to decide on procedure for a dancing excursion to some other maneaba or for a present to be made to a similar dancing party visiting Tabontebike; or for settling one of the numberless other concerns of the community.

All such meetings are traditionally initiated by the Head of Karongoa n Uea, as Uea of the maneaba, walking from his kainga to Tabontebike and sitting quietly in his boti. Te Nguingui, the Herald, thereupon appears to await his instructions, his kainga being for that reason placed immediately beside the edifice. Karongoa then tells Te Nguingui to sound his bu (conch-shell trumpet), on hearing which Rautetia, the Messenger, arrives to enquire what the summons is for. On being told by Te Nguingui he goes round the kainga and calls the people.

When all are assembled Karongoa n Uea, who is too exalted in status to speak direct to the people, explains in a low voice to Uman Taburimai, the Speaker, what the matter at issue may be. Uman Taburimai then tells it to Te Nguingui who “lifts it up” to the assembled people. After general discussion the various views expressed are discussed by Uman Taburimai and Te Nguingui in consultation and the consensus of opinion is conveyed to the Uea. 97

The ceremonial distributions of food, however, which usually accompanied the major maneaba ceremonies were decided on not by Karongoa n Uea but by Te Bakoa, as the descendants of the original owners of the island and therefore in a figurative sense of the food about to be consumed. Again Te Bakoa is too exalted to deal direct with the people but only through his own Speaker, Nei Abinoa, who fixes the details of the proposed function with Te Nguingui. A description of an actual ceremony, at which I was present, is given in Appendix 2.

Anyone witnessing a maneaba ceremonial must surely realize, as he watches the Uea seated on his atin toka (stone of chiefs) and wearing his bunna ni kamaraia (sacred amulet), that in fact he is witnessing a solemn pageant which recapitulates, in the parts played by the various boti, the main events in the history of the maneaba itself and the admission of the main clans. It is natural, therefore, that the principal actors should be Karongoa, Te Bakoa and Te Nguingui, for they were the founder boti; and that Te Nguingui should be the Herald, for their ancestors were the commoners on the island. 98

Again, at a later stage, who but a girl from Te Katanrake should place a wreath of flowers on the Uea, for Nei Baraure (see Gen. 2) was the tinaba (daughter-in-law) of Ten Tanentoa, whose duty it would have been to anoint, garland and generally administer to his wants. When Nei Ati unties this wreath and substitutes her own it is because the - 45 boti is descended from Nei Nene, the tinaba of Teinai I; and when she finally takes away part of the nikira of Karongoa n Uea (the food brought by the boti for distribution at the feast) it is because her husband was a bastard and had no other share. Or at the end of the distribution, when the mange (the remnant of food after distribution) is kept by Ababou and Bakarawa it is because these boti “came late to the feast” (i.e. were given their boti after the main partition by Ten Tanentoa) and therefore had no share in the ordinary nikira. 99

A final point which should be mentioned is that although many maneaba functions were followed by a dance, these were invariably of a formal and traditional character. For example, at the lifting of the Abein, the dancing which followed consisted of the following standing ruoia: 100

  • (i) Te Moan Anti, danced by Uman Taburimai in front of the Uea and in his honour;
  • (ii) Te Moani Be, danced by Karongoa n Uea, Te Bakoa n Uea and Te Kaotirama in the northern half of the maneaba;
  • (iii) Te Kaitara, danced by Te Nguingui, Keaki and Nei Ati maiaki in the southern half, facing Karongoa; and
  • (iv) Te Ruoia are ababaki, danced by all.

Among the traditional games said to be suitable for playing in the maneaba were the Tirere, Karuo and Ie.


Although both of them were called Uea (Chiefs), there is a clear distinction in Gilbertese history between the war leaders who succeeded in seizing temporal power from time to time, particularly in the Northern Gilberts, and the sacred heads of the various maneaba.

Nevertheless, as the Gilbertese themselves often remarked: “only a dynasty descended from Karongoa can stand firm for very long on any island”. Of the four relatively stable dynasties in the Group, the Kaieas of Butaritari and Abaiang and the Kiratas of Tarawa were all Karongoa. The dynasty of Abemama was the solitary exception, since Binoka and his predecessors made a deliberate attempt to supplant Karongoa by their own boti of Kaburara: but here power was only maintained by a rigid dictatorship, reinforced in more recent times by a monopoly in firearms. 101

South of Abemama, however, there were no dynasties of secular chiefs, though individual war leaders, such as Ten Tanentoa on Beru, Akau I on Tabiteuea and Teinai II on Nikunau, might assume a temporary overlordship by virtue of conquest.

Here each maneaba district formed an independent political group, a gerontocracy which managed its own affairs and only joined with - 46 neighbouring groups for special purposes, the principal being war and dancing. Nonouti had eight such districts, Tabiteuea nine, Beru three, Nikunau six and Onotoa three, of which the majority were centred on Tabontebike type maneaba with Karongoa Uea.

“When subjects of a political, civil or criminal nature are to be discussed,” wrote Damon in 1860, “the people hurry, en masse, to the council house”; and on Beru this meant to the Tabiang type Taribo in the north, or the Karongoa maneaba Tabontebike and Tabuki n Tamoa in the centre and south. 102

In Tabontebike during all such discussions the leading Old Men of each clan would be seated in their respective boti, with the Uea on his atin toka in the boti Karongoa n Uea. If the gathering was an important one he would wear on his forehead the bunna ni kamaraia (sacred amulet), made of a single coconut leaflet which had grown “facing the sunrise on the eastern shore of the island”. This amulet, together with its associated tabunea (incantation), had been brought by Beia and Tekai from Tarawa to Nonouti and passed by them to their son Ten Tanentoa; it gave an inviolability to his judgements which few cared to dispute for fear of becoming maraia (accursed). This ability to cause misfortune, and even death, applied with especial force to the Uea when performing his ceremonial functions within the maneaba. 103

“Having taken his seat in his boti a little in advance of the rest of his clan members, as was the practice of all seniors of clans in ceremonial gatherings, the elder of Karongoa-n-Uea first assumed his sun amulet and then, in a low voice, muttered the magico-religious formula called taemataao, of which the object was to ‘make clean the path of his words’ . . . recited with the head lowered while the hands were slowly rubbed together, palm on palm. After three consecutive repetitions, the hands were thrown out with palms upward and elbows against the body, and lifting his head the performer said, ‘Ana-ia, ba N na ongo’ (Take it up, for I will hear). The debate or the ceremony might then begin.” 104

Te Moan taeka ma te motin taeka” (the first word and the decision) was the prerogative of Karonoga n Uea, who spoke only in a low voice, his words being “lifted up” by Uman Taburimai. 105 The right of reply belonged to Te Nguingui, who was followed in the debate by Te Bakoa and the other principal clans in their traditional order, after which the debate became open. No vote was taken, the final judgement being in the hands of the Uea who, however, would under all normal circumstances be guided by the sense of the meeting as conveyed to him by Uman Taburimai and Te Nguingui.

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Disputes within the boti were, whenever possible, adjudicated on inside its kainga, the head of the clan officiating, while those between two maneaba districts had perforce to be settled by diplomacy or force: all others were decided in the maneaba conclave. The main offences dealt with were murder, adultery, theft and assault, and the usual punishments death, banishment, confiscation of one or more lands or a fine payable in property. The utu, and to a lesser extent the boti, seem to have recognized some measure of group responsibility for offences committed by members.

While all maneaba were to a limited extent bange (sanctuaries), to which the transgressor or vanquished could flee, this was presumably because no violence should be committed within their precincts. As on many other islands, however, the main bange on Beru was not a maneaba, but the kawa of Te Mauri at Taboiaki, known as te nne ni kamauri (the place of preservation). Deprived of his possessions, the offender would there be dependent on his boti and utu for maintenance, and in process of time the latter might even be able to re-purchase some of his land for him to settle on. 106

The majority of what may be called civil disputes concerned the ownership of land, which was not only the main criterion of wealth but also the normal compensation ordered by the Old Men in cases when an individual had been wronged or a service rendered. As precedents multiplied a customary scale of payments came to be recognized, of which we have space to quote only those relating to Murder and Theft:

Te Nenebo. 34. On an individual killing another he must be killed in return by some member of the murdered man's Utu. If he fled and could not be found the following payments were customary—

  • (1) Nuna=Te Buangui—a whale's tooth necklace ‘His Shadow’. This was buried with the murdered man.
  • (2) Baona=A Canoe (if the murderer had one).
  • (3) Te Kieni Kaiti=All the murderer's personal belongings, together with various additional presents from his Utu.
  • (4) Te Nenebo=two pieces of land—one from the murderer's mwini mane land and one from his mwin aine.

The same rules apply should a woman be the murderer or murdered.

35. Should the murderer be strong enough to resist payment of his Nenebo the fight will go on until the Old Men stop it. The Old Men will enforce the payment.

36. No Nenebo passes if the murderer is killed in expiation of his offence.”

Te Bain Ira. 29. Land conveyed by a thief to the owner of the property stolen. The custom was to convey—

For the first theft—one piece;
For each succeeding offence—one piece;

until all his land is finished when he might be enslaved by the owner of the property. He then became the absolute property of his master - 48 and any offence committed against the slave is regarded as an offence against his master (for example, should he be killed ‘Nenebo’ must be paid to his master).

30. His wife and children were free and could either return to their father's kainga or continue to live with him. The land of the wife could not be used by him in payment of his own theft.

31. Should a thief or his Utu be strong they could often escape payment of ‘te bain ira’.

32. If a woman commits a theft the same rules apply. Should she be enslaved she will be a true ‘Nikiranroro’ and may be hired out to white people and visiting ships or to other natives. She worked for her master and could be married by him to anyone he liked.” 107

It must be admitted that maneaba justice, with Karongoa n Uea as judge and the other boti as assessors, was frequently unfair to our eyes, in that the penalties tended to depend on the status and consequence of the offender, while anyone who considered himself to have sufficiently powerful backing often refused to accept any penalty at all. On Tabiteuea in 1851, for instance:

“Should the guilty party be discovered, and he be an owner the matter is brought before the elders of the people, who meet together in a Maniapa, and decide upon the amount in nuts or land to be paid by the offender as a compensation for the theft. In the event of the thief being an extensive landowner, and having plenty of friends to undertake his cause, he will refuse compensation. Arms are then resorted to, and the affair is decided by battle. It more frequently happens, however, that the thieves are unfortunate slaves, who have nothing to lose but their lives; and, on detection, they are sacrificed without mercy, and put to death in the most cruel manner.” 108

Nevertheless, anyone who has had to review the decisions of maneaba tribunals cannot but be impressed at their effectiveness, despite the absence of any secular chief and organized executive authority to enforce compliance with decisions and generally maintain the peace. It is suggested that this effectiveness was due partly to the sanctity of the maneaba and the decisions reached in it, a powerful deterrent in pre-Christian times, and partly to the well-known fact that persistent trouble-makers were apt to be deserted by their kindred, whereupon they could be dealt with without difficulty, a popular procedure being to tie the offender to a log and let him float away. Any conduct, in fact, which tended to disrupt the community, and thus weaken it vis-à-vis its neighbours, was regarded with particular abhorrence. 109


So far, with the aid of Gilbertese tradition, the boti has been described as a functioning organization, as indeed it was in the memories of a few Old Men still alive in the 1920s and 30s. Patently - 49 it is not functioning today, despite occasional revivals of usages such as the ones described in Appendices I and 2, and the survival of the custom of karokaro, for which there is still some utility. It remains, therefore, to account for the disappearance of the boti as a major complex in Gilbertese culture.

It has all happened within a century; for from the accounts of early visitors it seems clear that this aspect of the Gilbertese culture remained substantially unchanged by outside influences until the year 1870, when Samoan missionaries were landed on all the southern islands from Arorae to Beru. Before then there had been the visits of whalers, traders and beachcombers, and since 1857 the work of Bingham and his Hawaiian missionaries in the northern islands, but these agents of westernization had resulted in but little modification of traditional customs, at least by that date.

The Samoans, however, were determined to bring about a Christian order of society; and they were in a good position to effect any changes desired, welcomed as they were as being kinsmen from the ancestral home and, more particularly, as deliverers from the depredations of the blackbirders.

Within a bare three years Davies was able to report that while on Beru the maneaba councils of the Old Men still functioned they were now enforcing Christian codes of conduct in place of traditional, and that night dancing, Sabbath-breaking, drunkenness, polygamy, and the custom of eiriki were all forbidden under heavy penalties. 110 Shortly afterwards the boti governments were replaced by Kaubure (Samoan Faipule), Councillors who were elected (or at least selected) by each maneaba district, assisted by Police. A Federal Council for the island deliberated matters of common concern to all districts.

Often enough the new Kaubure were the old boti leaders, but the basis of their authority, as well as the laws they administered, was completely changed; the maneaba was no longer regarded as sacred and supernatural sanctions could no longer be invoked to reinforce the decisions made in it. By 1882 the European visiting missionary could report: “The rulers and police came to welcome us—the former dressed in white with a red cross on white breast, the latter in blue serge with a red stripe on elbow.” 111

The kainga, too, were in difficulties. With the increase in population these were able to provide living room for a steadily decreasing percentage of the population and, even before the arrival of the mission, it seems certain, from an examination of house sites, that the majority of the people on Beru were living in the kawa which were growing up round them and in such new centres as Autukia, Aoniman and Taboiaki, leaving the kainga to the heads of the boti lineages who performed the all-important ceremonies to the ancestral deities of the clan.

These ceremonies were now prohibited; and the main raison d'être of the kainga ceased to exist. In the first fervour of proselytiza- - 50 tion open observance of heathen practices was punishable by law and such kainga ceremonies as were still performed were in nearly every instance held in secrecy in the depths of the bush.

In Tabontebike, for example, portions of several kainga were taken for use as Protestant and Catholic mission stations and church sites. With peace the kainga fences (or o) came down; there was, indeed, no longer any necessity to live in a village area (whether consisting of a cluster of kainga, kawa, or both) at all, and numbers settled on their buakonikai lands, their places being sometimes taken by converts who desired to live in closer proximity to the mission.

Like those held in the kainga, all the maneaba ceremonies in which boti participated were classed by the missionaries as bain te ro (things of darkness) and Christians were not permitted to attend. It could hardly have been otherwise, for all were permeated with prayers and invocations to the Gods and ancestral spirits, and accompanied by dances and games which were now regarded as conducive to wantonness if not patently lewd.

Having succeeded in divesting the maneaba of the aura of sanctity which surrounded it, the missions commenced a protracted battle against the secular forces which found their focus there, typified by the more conservative Old Men who, bereft of all their former authority, now found their last retreat under its cool and shady roof. Mission maneaba were built in the principal centres, where Christians were encouraged to meet for church functions which for most began to supersede those held in the traditional maneaba.

By 1892, when the British Protectorate was declared, there was not a great deal left to destroy. The building of a central Government Station on each island, however, meant that judicial and administrative functions which had been centred in the traditional maneaba for centuries were now held in the new Court House and Magistrate's Office.

More important, perhaps, was the government policy of locating the entire population of each island in villages in which each house had to be identical in pattern and size, and equidistant from its neighbours on either side and from the main road. This was for convenience in policing and administration but it had the incidental effect of finally breaking up the kainga. When I examined the Tabontebike sites in 1931 hardly anyone was found to be still living in his old kainga area, most occupants having had to move out when the Government permitted only a single row of houses on each side of the main road. For the younger people the kainga sites were just names and few had any clear understanding of their former function.

By 1909 the Old Men had been finally elbowed out of the ranks of the Kaubure by literate, mission educated and Christian young men who had little time for traditional practices:

“In former years the Kaubure were usually chosen from among the older men and were a somewhat argumentative body, although they were loyal enough once they were convinced; and they certainly - 51 had a considerable amount of authority with the natives, who have the respect of a primitive people for the opinion of the ‘Old Men’.
“The Kaubure are now recruited from among the younger men, who may be supposed to be more progressive, less dilatory, and less wedded to ancient customs and methods, but who are certainly less interesting and have less authority among the people.” 112

On most islands all maneaba ceremonies, and on many all dancing and virtually all organized games and amusements, had been prohibited by the time of my arrival in the Gilberts, either in the name of morality or “to prevent trouble among the people”. Strict village curfew reigned from 6 p.m., and house curfew from 9 p.m., both lasting until 5.30 a.m.

In recent years, however, stimulated by the interest of individual government officers, there have been temporary revivals of particular ceremonies, but these are pale, and probably attenuated, shadows; they are not spontaneous but induced, and they are seldom repeated. The fact is that the Gilbertese boti, either severally or united in the maneaba, had once dominated the whole of the social, economic and political life of the people, if we except the ownership of buakonikai lands. As a result, however, of cultural modifications introduced from outside the community, mainly by Europeans and Samoans, they have been shorn of their religious, ceremonial, political, judicial, administrative and economic functions, and they are no longer a regulator of marriage or of residence. It is partly due to the fact that a single trait in all this complex still has a function in Gilbertese society today, and one that is of considerable importance, that we know more about the boti and its one time place in society than we do of many other traits in pre-contact society, such as the ko (bleaching of girls) or the uma ni mane (men's house); for in the life of the Gilbertese today the boti is, with this one exception, largely discarded and forgotten, and in its place the utu reigns supreme as the sole recognized kinship system.


This vigorous relic is the custom of kaeninima (to seek refreshment), called in the Northern Gilberts karokaro (to care for one's relation), which ensures that the visitor to any island, once proved to be a fellow clansman, will be looked after for the duration of his stay.

The Gilbertese is an inveterate traveller and the traditions are full of accounts which show that from the earliest times he has been accustomed to visit at least the neighbouring islands, and occasionally the entire group. There was a drawback to indiscriminate travel, however, in that a stranger landing without a local boti affiliation, and therefore kin protection, would almost certainly be stripped of all he possessed and might well be enslaved or even killed.

The penalties today are not of that drastic character, but the stranger without kin on an island might have to live in the maneaba and find it difficult and expensive to procure food; in any case he could be friendless and miserable.

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Small wonder, then, that the custom of kaeninima is valued to this day, for it enables the stranger to go to any maneaba where his (or an associated) boti is represented and sit quietly in it until someone comes to question him. On Beru, at least, the other members of the boti would feel ashamed to query his right to be sitting with them, so the proving was done by a member of some other boti.

In a particular instance observed by me Korebu, a visitor from Tarawa, was proved in the following form:

  • Questioner—Korebu, why are you sitting in that boti?
  • Korebu—I stay here because it is my boti.
  • Questioner—What is the name of the boti you are sitting in?
  • Korebu—It is Bue.
  • Questioner—Who is the head of that boti?
  • Korebu—The heads are truly Bue and Rirongo.
  • Questioner—Where did they come from?
  • Korebu—They came from Tarawa.
  • Questioner—Now we know. They came from Tarawa and so did you. (Turning to the maneaba)—How about this, you people of the maneaba? Do you know this man or not?
  • The maneaba—Yes, we know him.
  • Questioner—Kariko, ba ti na ongo (Recite your descent, so that we may hear).
  • Korebu—Bue and Rirongo had as children . . . (etc., working the genealogy down from Bue and Rirongo to himself).
  • Questioner (after consultation)—Eti (It is correct). 113

The members of the clan Ababou thereupon welcomed him to the boti and presented him with a mat to sit on. Later they fed him, gave him tobacco and invited him to sleep in each of their mwenga (homes) in turn. In cases where the boti is represented in the other villages he would be invited to all. As his visit drew to a close members of the boti cut copra to provide for his fare home and a present to take with him.

These presents can be quite generous: a man returning to Tarawa from Tabiteuea told me, for example, that he had been given £30 in cash. This he proceeded to share with the members of his boti and utu; in the southern islands the recipient would be more likely to keep it for himself. I was also told that in the northern islands it was not considered etiquette for a visitor to enter the maneaba until invited; instead, he would sit in a canoe shed or other outhouse until noticed and asked to take his proper place, after which he would be questioned and proved in the usual manner. 114 Mention has already been made on p. 28 of the way in which a stranger may attempt to use his mother's boti as a “second string” should his own not be represented on an island.

There is, of course, no fixed formula for proving a boti claimant. Grimble has recorded a slightly different one in which the visitor - 53 worked back through his genealogy until he reached a recognized common ancestor. He adds that:

“So keenly were the obligations of boti-relationship felt in past days, that islanders would strip their plantations and empty their babai pits for visiting clansmen from other atolls rather than risk the reproach of having failed in the duty of karokaro. This spirit is still very strong in the race.” 115

Although land is inherited through the utu and not the boti, in the entertainment of a fellow-clansman it should be treated as boti property to which he has an equal right with the owners. In the words of the Karongoa historian:

“If people of Karongoa from Beru or from Nikunau voyage to Tabiteuea or to some other island, they visit their true utu who are fellow-descendants with them, for they are comrades in the ownership of their property. And if a company of Karongoa people journey to a maneaba or kainga, then the story of Karongoa will be spoken or sung: and then they will all share in the use of land or in the appointed place in the maneaba or the kainga just for that time; and when they return to their own home, then the authority over the land or the property reverts to those whose own property it really is . . . A person of the Karongoa clan who sits in the Karongoa boti in the maneaba has the right to visit the kainga and the buakonikai also if he is truly one of them, a companion of Karongoa.” 116


We have now come to the end of our analysis of the Gilbertese boti and have found it to be a culture complex of which, if we except a few sporadic revivals, only one trait still survives: the custom of kaeninima or karokaro. 117 Furthermore, most elements in the complex ceased to function effectively between fifty and ninety years ago; few, - 54 if any, persons alive today are, therefore, likely to be in a position to speak from first-hand observation of the manner in which they functioned.

Fortunately, however, the surviving custom necessitates an accurate knowledge of one's genealogical tree within the boti back to the founder, and with this is normally acquired some knowledge of the main incidents in one's boti history.

In addition, there were in every boti, and in particular that of Karongoa n Uea and its associated groups, persons who specialized in acquiring and committing to memory the oral traditions not only relating to their own boti but to Gilbertese mythology and history as a whole. Numbers of these oral accounts were written down from the lips of old men (and occasionally old women) who had memorized them at a time when complete accuracy in remembering and repeating was a highly valued accomplishment which conferred considerable social prestige.

Two collections of traditional historical material in particular, one of wholly and the other of partly Karongoa origin, have been found to contain valuable information from which the origins, development and functioning of the Gilbertese boti can be traced. These basic narratives have been compared with, and where necessary amended by and supplemented from, some thirty other accounts of particular episodes, including boti genealogies and their supporting data which are perhaps still of use to, and therefore remembered by, the present generation.

The resulting composite has been again checked and supplemented by recourse to two collections of notes on Gilbertese culture made between 20 and 40 years ago by the first Native Lands Commissioners in the Gilbert Islands (of whom the author was one) partly in the course of official duties and partly from a natural curiosity. At that time most of our informants, and notably Takeuta and Tem Mautake (who were about 70 and 50 respectively in 1930) were able to speak of much of the boti organization from direct observation.

This paper then represents an historian's attempt to test a methodological point: that a process of ethnohistorical reconstruction may help us to gain a truer picture of a culture, or some part of it, than we can expect to obtain by direct field observation and interrogation alone.

The value of this hypothesis is again for others to decide; but in concluding it may be convenient to have a summarized description of the boti as it has emerged in the course of our analysis:

The Gilbertese boti is the sitting place of a clan in the local maneaba (community meeting house), and by extension the name given to the clan itself. The original boti were founded by settlers from Samoa and new ones were added during general repartitions of the maneaba, through conquest, or by fission, invitation or permission. The boti are exogamous, totemic and patrilineal, being composed of persons descended in the male line from a known common ancestor. Ideally, all members of a boti lived in their mwenga (family homes) located in kainga (clan hamlets), which when fenced were known as O. The boti had functions related to many aspects of Gilbertese life, social, economic, political and judicial, but not in connexion with land, which was owned individually and inherited through the utu (kindred).

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“In the centre of the Island is a large pond of great depth, from which, periodically, the whole population are supplied with fish by means of seines. At any other time, but the period assigned by custom, should a native be detected poaching on this pond, he is instantly strangled.” 118

1. During a three months' stay on Nikunau in 1931 I had to arbitrate in a dispute between various boti on the custom governing the ownership and use of this pond, known as Nein Riki, after which the whole island gathered to fish it for the first time in several years, in accordance with traditional usage. The following is from notes made at the time and may serve to illustrate how boti, even from different maneaba, were able to combine for economic ends. It was essential that they should, for an asset such as Nein Riki was clearly too valuable for any one utu, or even a boti, to own and too large for it to operate.

2. The myth. Clan duties and privileges are usually based on some myth or tradition: in this case on the myth of Riki the eel who, entering into the vagina of his daughter Nei Baikarawa, bit everyone who had intercourse with her, resulting in the death of most of the male population of Muribenua and Tabutoa. Taburimai, with the help of Taburitongoun, succeeded in snaring Riki and eventually threw him off the island. In his struggles he made the ponds Nein Riki, Kabangaki, Bekubeku and Tabakea on Nikunau and, bouncing off Beru, where he formed the ponds Nein Tabuariki and Neiniman, he fell on Aranuka (or Abemama?) at Kauake.

3. Taburitongoun now put his kamainaina (mark of ownership) beside each of these ponds and finally met Taburimai at Tabakea, the southern boundary of his land. Leaving Taburimai to guard Nein Riki he sailed to Samoa, from whence he brought back the first tawa (fry) of the baneawa (Chanos chanos, or milk fish). These he poured into a reef pool at Boteatine to multiply.

4. The Stocking. In stocking Nein Riki three lots of tawa were taken by Taburitongoun from the reef where he had put them. The first were taken past the Tabomatang maneaba through the bush and poured into the small ponds situated beside Nein Riki, where they acted as controls in estimating the size of the fish in the deeper main pond. The second were brought by the same route but poured into Nein Riki itself; while the third lot was taken by Taburitongoun to the boti Te Katanrake and Tengarua, who were assigned the duties of stocking the pond with them, counting them and deciding the width of the net with which they should eventually be caught.

5. Preliminaries to the Fishing. It is the duty of Tengarua to examine the fish in the control ponds periodically and when the boti thinks that they are large enough a series of three day feasts is commenced.

  • (i) Tengarua, with the boti Matariringa and Tematabonobono, eating the first fruits of the pandanus harvest;
  • (ii) Tarawa i eta and Tarawa i nano, eating kaka (a preparation of dried pandanus);
  • (iii) Katamai, eating kamaemae (coconut syrup), kabubu and tuae (pandanus preparations); and
  • (iv) Tengarua and Te Katanrake, eating baneawa, though not from Nein Riki.

At the final feast all details connected with the forthcoming fishing are settled.

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6. Announcing the Fishing. The four southern maneaba are then informed. 119 Te Katanrake (a Rungata boti) tells Ribua, Tarawa i nano and Katamai (also Rungata boti) who arrange for a meeting of all boti in the Rungata maneaba where the programme is discussed, after which “they go to get Taburimai's nets” (i.e. to prepare their own nets, and then let the boti Uman Taburimai know that everything is ready).

7. The news is now conveyed by Tengarua and Te Katanrake to Taburitongoun's grand-child Nei Karubea (i.e. the boti Teika-Tabunawati and Kabaeka at Manriki—See Fig. 3), and his daughter Nei Akoia (i.e. the boti Uman Tewenei at Nikumanu). Nei Akoia informs her father Taburi-tongoun in his boti Aonuka in the southernmost maneaba at Tabomatang.

8. The Fishing. Nei Akoia and Taburitongoun (i.e. the boti Uman Tewenei and Aonuka) collect their nets and come north. When the assembled people see them coming the conch is sounded and all go into the pond to fish. If there are any baneawa left after a day's fishing Nei Akoia has the sole right to say when they may be caught. This she does not in consultation with Tengarua but with Tarawa i nano and Uman Taburimai.

9. Caretaking. After Nein Riki is emptied of fish it is left in charge of Taburitongoun (i.e. the boti Aonuka), who will in due course commence stocking it again. At least in recent years this stocking has been largely a symbolic act, as after a single container full of tawa has been sent in each of the three prescribed ways, the rest of the stocking is done without ceremony by the people of the Rungata maneaba.

10. There is plenty of evidence from other islands that co-operative activities involving boti from more than one maneaba were usually accompanied by incessant friction and disputes on duties and privileges and it would appear probable that these increased with the decay of the boti system. Nein Riki was evidently no exception, for disputes had prevented the pond from being fished for years before my stay on Nikunau, and evidently my adjudication did not last, for 20 years later (in 1951) an observer recorded that:

“At the time of our stay in this area, these lakes had no interest as fish-ponds, yet they must have flourished in the past and may do so again. It is quite interesting from a general point of view, to observe that local quarrels are enough to provoke complete neglect of the lakes, even in the middle of the period of drought and very low coconut production. This does not mean that the chanos are unimportant. The truth is that the natives prefer to fish individually in the ocean rather than try to solve by themselves the problems created by their quarrels. These lakes had therefore not been re-stocked for over a year. The last extensive baneawa fishing operations had been carried out a year previously, and we were not able to see a single specimen in several hours of swimming with diving goggles. The natives stated that there were practically none left.” 120

11. A Note on Nein Tabuariki. This is the largest pond on Beru, situated at the extreme southern point, and once owned by Tabuariki. When Tematawarebwe landed on the southern reef of Beru (see p. 10) he camped by the pond. He then proceeded north and met Tabuariki at Teriaki, who gave him the southern half of the pond, retaining the north; Te Bakoa - 57 and Karongoa are thus regarded as the owner boti. In Ten Tanentoa's time Rautetia was made announcer of the fishing and placed in charge of the religious rites which accompanied it. Te Bakoa decides when the fishing is to take place, informing Nei Abinoa who tells Te Nguingui to sound his conch. Rautetia then arrives on the scene and is instructed to let the people know, the first to be told being Nei Ati. 121


1. The Decision. The right to decide whether a ceremonial distribution of food should be held is the prerogative of Te Bakoa n Uea, as being descended from the original owners of the island. This clan is next in ceremonial importance to the Uea (Chief) of the maneaba, Karongoa n Uea, and like him makes his decision known only to his Tia Taetae (Speaker), who is Nei Abinoa. 122

2. Nei Abinoa holds consultation with Te Nguingui, the principal boti among the only other group to be descended from the autochthones of Beru. 123 Three important matters are decided between them:

  • (i) the date of the ceremony;
  • (ii) the number of inai (coconut leaf floor mats); and
  • (iii) the amount of the nikira (food for distribution) to be brought by each clan.

3. The Announcement. Te Nguingui, who is the traditional Herald (or Summoner) of the maneaba then blows his conch shell to announce the news to the people. Rautetia arrives first and enquires why the conch has been blown. Te Nguingui informs him that it is for the nikira and that each clan is to bring so much of each kind of food.

4. Rautetia is descended from Teweia who built the maneaba and, as the figurative owner, has the right to sit in any boti at will. In his capacity of traditional messenger to the maneaba he now departs to tell each clan what to bring; after which he goes to Uman Taburimai and informs him the date and time when the Uea is requested to come to the ceremony. Uman Taburimai passes this information to the Uea, his agreement being similarly notified through Uman Taburimai, Rautetia and Nei Abinoa to Te Bakoa n Uea.

5. The Assembling. Before the ceremony the people lay the inai mats and then watch out for the arrival of the principal clans, Karongoa n Uea, Te Bakoa n Uea and Te Nguingui. These clans enter the maneaba first, from the north end, and proceed to their respective boti. The rest of the people follow to their own boti, silence being preserved.

6. The Head of Nei Abinoa arrives last, when all are seated, and standing in his boti calls out:

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  • Nei Abinoa—“Are all the people present?”
  • Te Nguingui—“They are all here.”
  • Nei Abinoa—“Is the nikira ready?”
  • Te Nguingui—“Yes, it is ready.”
  • Nei Abinoa—“The children are all hungry.”

Each clan thereupon places its nikira in front of its boti.

7. The Entry of the Uea. The Uea himself (i.e. the Head of Karongoa n Uea) then approaches the maneaba and Te Nguingui calls to him to enter. He proceeds slowly to the atin toka and seats himself on it.

8. Nikiran te toa aba. In this ceremony members of the Taribo and Tabuki n Tamoa boti are invited and all the Tabontebike boti bring their nikira. Ababou and Bakarawa collect the food from each clan and place it in the middle of the maneaba. Although each clan will have prepared the stated quantity of food, e.g. babai (Cyrtosperma chamissonis), fish, pandanus and coconut puddings of various kinds, only the finest is selected for comparison, the remainder being merely counted.

9. Te no-kangkang. In passing judgement on the size and taste of the various nikira Ababou stands in the centre of the maneaba, disparaging and ridiculing each item as he holds it up for public inspection, and making absurdly inaccurate references to the traditions of the clan concerned, to everybody's intense amusement. Bakarawa stands in his boti and joins in the licensed buffoonery. On a particularly small item, or perhaps an unsweetened pudding, being held up the people clap their hands three times and cry “o—o—o” to shame the donors, though nothing is meant to be taken very seriously.

10. The Division. Ababou, with Bakarawa assisting, now divides the food into two portions, one for the north of the maneaba (Karongoa) and the other for the south (Te Nguingui). The largest share of the mange or kaini bai (remnant after division) is taken in payment for his work by Ababou, as divider for Karongoa, and the smaller by Bakarawa, as divider for Te Nguingui. Niku Tengetenge then moves the Karongoa share a few paces to the north, whereupon Te Kaotirama places it three-quarters of the way up the maneaba. A second division is made of the northern share by Te Kaotirama between the eastern clans from Teuribaba to Niku Tengetenge and the western clans from Te Kaotirama to Uman ni Kamauri. Finally the two shares are again divided between the individual clans, also by Te Kaotirama, each clan fetching his portion, with the exception of Karongoa n Uea whose portion is brought to him by his Food Bearer, the boti of Uman Taburimai.

11. Similar moves of the Te Nguingui share are made by Bakarawa and Tengeangea, the latter clan performing the first division between the eastern clans from Karumaetoa to Te Kokona and the western clans from Te Nguingui to Nei Ati meang. Tengeangea and Bakarawa make the final sharing into individual clan portions. Ababou has no share but takes the main mange, with smaller mange falling to Te Kaotirama, Tengeangea and Bakarawa when they make their subsidiary divisions.

12. Te Ari. By direction of Karongoa, a share of his portion of the nikira, known as Te Ari, is placed by Ababou and Te Inaki ni Bakoa in front of Te Bakoa n Uea as his present. This is accepted by Nei Abinoa on his behalf in a long traditional chant, after which a portion of it is claimed by Niku Tengetenge as being descended from Te Bakoa's sister, Nei Kanueana.

13. The smaller nikira ceremony. In the smaller ceremony, which is held when the maneaba is being re-thatched, new inai mats are being laid - 59 and at the end of the pandanus harvest, only members of the Tabontebike boti are present and only the Te Bakoa group of boti bring nikira. Nei Abinoa decides on the amount of each nikira, which is quite modest: a typical share being 10 drinking coconuts and a ball of karababa (a pudding). All clans do not receive a portion of this nikira; in the view of the Old Men this was because they had been given other privileges, e.g. land and fishing rights, by Ten Tanentoa.

14. Te Karea i aon Inai (the offering on the mats). The name given to a food offering placed by Karongoa on the inai laid in front of his boti before the ceremony; Te Nguingui having prepared a similar nikira. After the main distribution Ababou takes this offering and shows it to the people, saying “This is Karongoa's karea i aon inai”; Bakarawa does the same with Te Nguingui's offering. Ababou and Bakarawa thereupon meet and examine this nikira (the nature of which has been decided beforehand), the numbers of each item being counted and the quality compared, while the people clap and cry “o—o—o” at the losers as before. Such portion of the food as has been selected for comparison is then exchanged between Karongoa and Te Nguingui, the rest of their offering being retained for their own consumption. The remainder of the clans follow in any order, their food offerings being compared clan against clan. 124

15. Kanan te Uea (the food of the Chief). This is a small quantity of food from each clan which is collected by Ababou and Bakarawa and distributed in the same manner as the main nikira.

16. The Anointing. Before the nikira is consumed a girl from Te Katanrake comes forward and places a necklace of flowers round the neck of the Uea and anoints him with oil; after which another girl from Nei Ati maiaki unties and takes it, together with a portion of the Uea's share of the nikira. 125


(a) Tinaba

On Beru the women usually designated as a man's tinaba were:

  • (i) his sons' wives;
  • (ii) his brothers' sons' wives;
  • (iii) his wife's mother; and
  • (iv) his wife's mother's sisters.

The following illustration is taken from the genealogy of Rameka, a prominent member of the Tabontebike maneaba:

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Family Tree. Brother, Rameka=Nei Tenikua, Sister, Tinaba, Tinaba, Tinaba, Tinaba, Nei Tenukita=Akau, Nei Ereing=Konimara

The relationship may be merely classificatory, i.e. the members of Rameka's utu ae kan (near kindred) of the same generation and sex would call his tinaba their tinaba.

Grimble has maintained that the preferred tinaba relationship was between a man and the wife of his sister's son rather than his brother's son. This may have been the case in the northern Gilberts, where his investigations appear to have been made; I doubt it, however, for when I questioned Mautake, Tarawa's foremost expert on the niceties of custom, he wrote across the genealogy I tendered: “E aki katauaki i aon Tarawa ma e kariaiaki n tai tabetai ma e ngareakina te aba” (It was not permitted on Tarawa, though agreed to occasionally when it was the cause of ribaldry).

In any case, on Beru and the other southern islands the only tinaba with whom a man would ordinarily have sexual relations would be the wives of his brothers' sons (or conversely a woman with the brothers of her husband's father). Even in this instance it was permissive and did not necessarily take place.

That it often did, however, is shown by the severity with which the custom was castigated by the British Government, presumably at the instigation of the missions:

“‘TINABA’ (Adultery with a daughter-in-law.)

Law No. 8. The punishment for ‘Tinaba’ is imprisonment with hard labour for not less than twelve months and not exceeding two years.” 126

I never heard of a prosecution, but Christianization has undoubtedly tended to weaken the emphasis on such sex relations; nevertheless a man's tinaba was still (in the 1930s) the proper person to garland and anoint a man during maneaba ceremonies 127 and at the more formal dances, and was at all times ready to attend to his wants and look after him generally. For these services she would expect to receive one of his lands under the customary title of te aban tinaba. 128

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(b) Eiriki

The other potential sexual partners of a Gilbertese are his eiriki, i.e.:

  • (i) the wives of his uterine or classificatory brothers; and
  • (ii) the uterine sisters of his wife (his Tauani Kai); 129 as shown in the following genealogy:
Family Tree. Kawa=Nei Berente, Tokintekai=Nei Tekatau, Nei Tewaentake, eiriki, eiriki, eiriki

According to Grimble there is evidence to suggest that, apart from a man's Tauani Kai, in former times sex relations were only approved with the wives of brothers belonging to the same boti (i.e. those on the father's side), and that wives of the atu of a man's particular branch of the boti or utu were in any case immune from solicitation. 130 As in the case of tinaba, however, the relationship term eiriki was used between men and women whether or not sexual intercourse had taken place, or was even permissible.


The Gilbertese utu, or kindred, is a bilateral cognatic category, which excludes affines.

Within this indefinitely extensible category of relatives smaller groups are recognized for particular purposes, the smallest being the nuclear family, often referred to nowadays as te utu ni koaua (the true family).

The next group, concerned with the regulation of marriage but possessing no distinctive name, comprises all second cousins and closer cognates, i.e. all descended from a common tibu toru (great grandparent); inter-marriage between the members being regarded as karikira (incest).

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Te utu ae kan (the near kindred) is a larger group, including all third cousins and closer cognates, i.e. all descended from a common tibu mamano (great great grandparent).

Beyond this, and fading into the infinite distance, lies the rather amorphous te utu ae raroa (the distant kindred), which theoretically comprises fourth cousins and more remote collaterals; indeed all with whom one can trace any degree of consanguinity. Grimble records witnessing two Gilbertese from different islands establishing that they were of the same utu “on the strength of a common ancestry so old that it was no longer possible to say whether the so-called ‘brothers’ were in the same generation removed from the ancestor quoted”. 131

Within the utu the term for father is tama; for mother tina; children are nati; men refer to brothers and women to sisters as tari; men refer to sisters and women to brothers as mane; grandparents refer to grand-children and vice versa as tibu. When necessary a distinction is made between real and classificatory relations by use of the prefixes oi (real) and ai (similar to): thus oin tamau=my true father, and ai maneu=my mother's brother's son (women speaking) or similar cognate.

Members of an utu expect to assist, and be assisted by, each other in social functions, such as family feasts, and economic pursuits, such as house or canoe building, fishing excursions or land improvement; in fact in most enterprises which cannot be carried out by the nuclear family alone.

Nevertheless the utu is rightly described as a category rather than a group for as relationships become progressively more distant they tend to be dormant, but may at any time be activated, if provable, under the force of special circumstances: should, for example, the family move to a new location, or require help from someone with a special skill, or return wealthy from working abroad. 132

It seems probable, furthermore, that in the say 22 generations since the coming from Samoa all the Gilbertese on any island and indeed, with the degree of inter-island intermarriage revealed in traditional histories, most Gilbertese anywhere could by now trace some relationship to a common truncal ancestor if they possessed the necessary genealogical knowledge. In practice, however, one finds comparatively near cousins who have forgotten their common ancestry and consequently do not recognize each other as members of the same utu, while the relationship with more distant kinsmen may, for some reason or by chance, be remembered.

Where no such relationship is recognized I have at times been surprised at the lack of any feeling of mutual obligation which can be shown by the Gilbertese. On one occasion, for example, a man mentioned in my presence that on crossing the lagoon an hour before he had passed a woman endeavouring to swim for the shore with her baby (evidently her canoe had sunk) and he expressed the opinion that she would never make it. When asked why he had not stopped to pick her up his reply was, to all except me, perfectly reasonable: tiaki kain au utu (she was not a member of my utu).

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Family Tree. Bakatibu (Ancestors), Tibu taratara, Tibu tabonibubua, Limits of, te utu ae kan, Tibu mamano (Great great Grandparents), Limits of, karikira (incest), Tibu toru, or teru (Great Grandparents), Tibu (Grandparents), (Father) Tama=Tina (Mother), EGO
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Boti Kainga 135 Ancestral Deity 136 Ancestor 137 Crest 138 Kite
Karongoa n Uea Teakiauma & Uman Taene Tabuariki Tematawarebwe Te bou teuana  
Karongoa Raereke Karongoa Raereke Tabuariki Baibuke Te bou uoua  
Uman Taburimai Uman Taburimai Tabuariki Tokia Te bou uoua Nei Bokeang
Te Katanrake Te Katanrake Tabuariki Matanuea Te bouni Karongoa 139  
Teuribaba Uman Taburimai ae meang Tabuariki Akau II & Teuribaba Te bou teuana  
Te Kaotirama Te Kaotirama Tabuariki Buatara Te mata aua  
Te Bakoa n Uea Te Bakoa abaki Tabuariki Bairiki Te maro Tabuariki  
Inaki ni Bakoa Te Bakoa Tabuariki Temaiana Te maro Tabuariki  
Nei Abinoa Nei Abinoa Tabuariki Takoro Te maro Tabuariki  
Nei Ati maiaki Nei Ati maiaki ? Kieunari   Nim Roro
Niku Tengetenge Niku Tengetenge Tabuariki Ntiua    
Te Kokona Te Kokona Nei Temaiti Kotua Te man aon ramama  
Taurakawa Taurakawa ? Tekiatau    
Rautetia Rautetia Tabuariki Teweia    
Bakarawa Nei Koekoe Nei Moa Aine (?) Nei Moa Aine Te kikannang  
Keaki Keaki are Koura Nei Tituabine Koura Te kaitara Te Take
Keaki Rangirang Keaki Rangirang Nei Moa Aine Tabua    
Te O Te O Naotanai Uakeia   Taubareroa
Karumaetoa Karumaetoa Tabuariki Bakoa Te ruberube  
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Boti Kainga Ancestral Deity Ancestor Crest Kite
Te Nguingui Te Nguingui Tabuariki Nainginouati & Teimone    
Te Abike Te Kaitibong Te Korongutungutu Towatuni Matang    
Te Inakin Akawa Te Angauma Tabuariki Temamang    
Kaburara Kaburara Nei Tituabine Emuta Te mani Kaburara  
Tengeangea Tengeangea Tabuae te Baobao Bakarawa   Nei Nongai
Nei Ati meang Nei Ati meang Te Kai Tabuekia Te manin Nei Ati Taubarerewa
Ababou Bareaka Bue and Rirongo Bue Te kaini Kamata Atatani Karawa
Umani Kamauri Umani Kamauri Auriaria Auriaria Te ratabito  
Benuakura Benuakura Tabakeantari Taberannang Te nimta wawa Tareti
Katanaki Katanaki Nei Temaiti Nei Temaiti Te manin taiki  
Birimo Birimo Te Baiku Meiwa te Iku Te bou uoua  
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  • (1) The orthography conforms to Gilbertese usage, as standardized in the “Rules for Gilbertese Spelling”, Western Pacific High Commission Gazette, 29/3/40.
  • (2) The frequent use of Gilbertese terms, and in particular boti, maneaba and kainga, is regretted but it seemed preferable to employing an English word or phrase which might not entirely convey the same meaning; a translation (not necessarily literal) is, however, given on the first occasion each term is used. Accurate definitions of most Gilbertese words will be found in Father E. Sabatier's Dictionnaire Gilbertin-Français, a monumental production by the foremost Gilbertese scholar, which has superseded Hiram Bingham's Gilbertese-English Dictionary except for a few obsolete words.
  • (3) In references GP or MP denote unpublished essays, notes and other material written or collected by A. F. (later Sir Arthur) Grimble and the author respectively.
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  • A.—Books and Periodicals
  • BINGHAM, Hiram, 1908. A Gilbertese-English Dictionary. Boston, Mass., American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
  • CATALA, Rene L. A., 1957. “Report on the Gilbert Islands: Some aspects of human ecology.” Atoll Research Bulletin, 59 (Oct. 31, 1957) :1-187.
  • DAMON, Samuel C., 1861. “Morning Star Papers. Glimpses and Glances at the Sights, Scenes and People of Micronesia.” Supplement to The Friend. Honolulu, Hawaiian Missionary Society.
  • FREEMAN, J. D., 1961. “On the Concept of the Kindred.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 91 (1961):192-220.
  • Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony: Native Governments Ordinance 1941.
  • Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony: Native Laws Ordinance 1917.
  • GRIMBLE, A. F., 1921a. “From Birth to Death in the Gilbert Islands.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 51 (1921):25-54.
  • — — 1921b. “Canoe Crests of the Gilbert Islands.” Man, 21 (June, 1921):81-85.
  • — — 1922. “Myths from the Gilbert Islands.” Folk-Lore, 33 (March, 1922):91-112.
  • — — 1933-34. The Migrations of a Pandanus People, as traced from a preliminary study of food, food-traditions, and food-rituals in the Gilbert Islands. Wellington, Polynesian Society (Memoir No. 12).
  • GOODENOUGH, Ward H., 1955. “A Problem in Malayo-Polynesian Social Organization.” American Anthropologist, 57 (Feb., 1955):71-83.
  • HALE, H., 1846. Ethnography and Philology of the United States Exploring Expedition. Philadelphia, Lea and Blanchard.
  • LAXTON, P. B., and TE KAUTU KAMORIKI, 1953. “Ruoia. A Gilbertese Dance.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 62 (March, 1953):57-71.
  • MAHAFFY, Arthur, 1910. Report by Mr. Arthur Mahaffy on a Visit to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, 1909. Cd. 4992. London, H.M.S.O.
  • MAUDE, H. C. and H. E., 1930. “Adoption in the Gilbert Islands.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 40 (Dec., 1930) :225-235.
  • — — 1932. “The Social Organization of Banaba or Ocean Island, Central Pacific.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 41 (Dec., 1932) :262-301.
  • MAUDE, H. E., 1959. “Spanish Discoveries in the Central Pacific: A Study in Identification.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 68 (Dec., 1959):284-326.
  • PIDDINGTON, Ralph, 1956. “A Note on the Validity and Significance of Polynesian Traditions.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 65 (Sept., 1956):200-203.
  • ROBERTON, J. B. W., 1958. “The Significance of New Zealand Tribal Traditions.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 67 (March, 1958):39-57.
  • SABATIER, E., 1952. Dictionnaire Gilbertin-Français. Tabuiroa, Gilbert Islands, Catholic Mission Press.
  • TIBWERE, BATAERU et al., 1942. Aia Karaki nikawai I-Tungaru. (Old Stories of the Gilbertese), ed. by May Pateman. Beru, Gilbert Islands, London Mission Press.
  • VANSINA, J., 1960. “Recording the Oral History of the Bakuba—I. Methods.” Journal of African History, I (1960):45-53.
  • WEBSTER, John, [1854?]. The Last Cruise of “The Wanderer”. Sydney, F. Cunninghame.
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  • Western Pacific High Commission Gazette, March 29, 1940. “Rules for Gilbertese Spelling.”
  • WILKES, Charles, 1845. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, during the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. 5 vols. London, Philadelphia, Wiley and Putnam.
  • WILLIAMSON, Robert W., 1939. Essays in Polynesian Ethnology, ed. by Ralph Piddington, with an analysis of recent studies in Polynesian history by the editor. Cambridge, University Press.
  • DAVIES, S. H., 1873a. Letter to Mullins, Dec. 11, 1873. London Missionary Society, South Sea Letters, Box 34. London, L.M.S. archives.
  • — — 1873b. Journal. London Missionary Society, Journals. London, L.M.S. archives.
  • MAUDE, H. E., 1960. The Evolution of Local Government in the Gilbert Islands. An historical reconstruction. TS.
  • PIERSON, George, 1852. Journal of a Voyage from Sandwich Islands through the Kingsmill and Mulgrave Islands to Strong's Island in the Caroline Group. Prepared for D. C. and W. C. Pierson, Augusta, U.S.A.—by their son George Pierson. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, MS. 19.4, vol. 2. A.B.C.F.M. archives.
  • POWELL, T., 1879. Journal of a Visit to the Gilbert Islands in 1879. London Missionary Society, Journals. London, L.M.S. archives.
  • [TOWNSEND, M. M.], n.d. Land Customs—Beru Islands. TS.

Grimble Papers:

  • GP (1) The Genealogies of the Gilbert Group.
  • GP (2) Procedure and Privileges of the Clans in the Maneaba.
  • GP (3) The Maneaba and its Social Divisions.
  • GP (4) The Clan and the Totem.
  • GP (5) Marriage—Marakei.
  • GP (6) Marriage. The relationship of eiriki.
  • GP (7) Terms of Relationship among the Gilbertese.

Maude Papers:

  • MP (1) Baraka, Tione (comp.). History of the Karongoa Clan.
  • MP (2) Construction of maneaba.
  • MP (3) Foundation of the maneaba Taribo.
  • MP (4) Auatabu and the Tabiang maneaba.
  • MP (5) The two partitions of the maneaba.
  • MP (6) Succession to the Headship of the Clan.
  • MP (7) Clan inheritance through women.
  • MP (8) The clan Karongoa n Uea.
  • MP (9) Benuakura.
  • MP (10) Notes on Tabukin Tamoa.
  • MP (11) Notes on Beru kainga.
  • MP (12) Clan Totems: Beru Island.
  • MP (13) Ceremony of the Distribution of Food at Tabontebike.
  • MP (14) Te Kaeninima (kaea ni mam te ran).
1   Grimble 1922:91. It is also fitting that I should begin with a quotation from Sir Arthur Grimble, the authority on the Gilbertese, whose anthropological notes and manuscript studies are now being prepared for publication by kind permission of Lady Grimble. My debt to him in the preparation of this work will be clear from the many acknowledgements in subsequent footnotes.
2   See Williamson 1939: Preface and Part II; and the controversy between Piddington and J. B. W. Roberton ending with the latter's “The Significance of New Zealand Tribal Tradition” Roberton 1958:39-57.
3   Piddington 1956:201.
4   It must be admitted that Grimble was not one of the modern school. Influenced by Rivers, Elliot Smith, Perry and other diffusionists, his main interest, particularly evidenced in his later writings, lay in reconstructing the early Gilbertese migration routes through the detailed analysis of their legendary material. This preoccupation, however, does not affect the value of his ethnographic notes which, made for the most part in his earlier years in the Gilberts, are models of factual description.
5   Vansina 1960:52.
6   It is not unusual in genealogical tables to find a line drawn across the page with beside it the annotation karikin aomata (the issue of men), indicating that all names following are those of historical persons. See also Tibwere, Bataeru et al. 1942:1. This invaluable collection contains texts collected from experts on tradition living on Abaiang, Tarawa and Beru, with supplementary notes relating to other islands.
7   Genealogies counted by me in 1930 ranged from 18-22 generations, and I have taken the usually accepted Polynesian average of 25 years per generation. This agrees with Grimble who, working independently on Gilbertese material only, obtained an average length of 27 years to a generation for males; but as some genealogies contain an occasional female (who normally married and bore children earlier than men) he regarded 25 years as an acceptable average—GP (1):16-18. Dates obtained from genealogy counts for periods greater than say 150 years are often, however, highly speculative. In his earlier studies Grimble, without quoting actual genealogies, estimated 27-30 generations to the coming from Samoa, but in his last published work he had reduced this to 22-25—GP (1), passim; Grimble 1922:102; 1933-34: Instalment No. 3, Appendix 2:103.
8   MP (1):34.
9   GP (2):2.
10   As the pure Gospel of Karongoa n Uea is not supposed to be divulged to the unprivileged, at least in its entirety, my informant insisted on remaining anonymous. The importance attached to the record was well shown some months later when I had occasion to leave my headquarters island of Beru for three days, having locked the manuscript in my official stationery cupboard. The Island Magistrate (belonging to the boti Karumaetoa), who knew of its existence, and evidently its location, thereupon broke into the cupboard and was discovered after midnight copying the contents by candlelight. On my return I found the island in an uproar and had to face deputations of Karongoa n Uea clansmen from every village demanding the instant dismissal and imprisonment of the Magistrate. When tempers had cooled it was agreed that the burning of his notes would meet the case, since he could have memorized little in the brief time they had been in his profession. From then on the history was kept locked in the district safe, and it has now been translated into English by the Rev. G. H. Eastman, author of the standard English-Gilbertese Dictionary and a recognized authority on the language.
11   Grimble from 1918 to 1930 and the author from 1929 to 1938.
12   The maneaba (community meeting house), with which almost every aspect of Gilbertese life was associated, would have made a better study; but any adequate treatment would require a book, not an essay.
13   Although boti membership was remembered on these last two islands it was derived indirectly from lineage relationships on other islands.
14   Goodenough 57:71-83.
15   Ten, or its euphonic variations Tem or Teng (Te in the Northern Gilberts and Na, Nan, Nam or Nang on Butaritari and Little Makin), is the prefix for males and Nei for females. Nei is used throughout this paper to distinguish females but the male prefix is omitted except in the case of Ten Tanentoa the Great, who is commonly so called by the Gilbertese themselves, probably to distinguish him from his grandfather, Tanentoa ni Beru.
16   Tibwere, et al. 1942:40.
17   An excellent general study of the maneaba is given in Grimble's “The Maneaba and its Social Divisions” GP (3), the finest of his many studies of Gilbertese culture.
18   The literal meaning of boti is “a place in the maneaba reserved for the members of a clan” but by extension it is used to designate the clan itself, quite apart from its maneaba sitting place. The Gilbertese have no general term for clan.
19   GP (3):9.
20   Tibwere, et al. 1942:52-53. It appears that Tematawarebwe's boti was actually called Teakiauma in his day, after his kainga, and that the name was changed to Karongoa by Ten Tanentoa. An inaki is a single tier of thatch, laid in ascending order from the eaves to the ridge cap of a building. It is often used as a synonym for boti when referring to clan sitting places in a maneaba, since the extent and boundaries of one's boti were customarily demarcated by the inaki above it, particularly in a small maneaba.
21   MP (1):34.
22   The techniques of maneaba construction handed down by the hereditary builders—the boti Maerua—are an interesting study, there being three further subdivisions of each class based on length-breadth ratio and nine on the roof pitch. A detailed account by the celebrated builder Mautake of Tarawa, with the appropriate tabunea (magical incantations) for each stage of the building, is given in MP (2).
23   Kaitu would then have been about 30. This is considered the earliest reasonably accurate date in Gilbertese history, since it is based on the mean of a number of genealogical counts made on different islands by Grimble and myself, most of which fall within ± 50 years. Modern history, for the Gilbertese, may be said to begin in 1650, just 44 years after the discovery of Butaritari by Quiros.—Maude 1959:318-320, 326.
24   MP (3):2.
25   MP (4):2.
26   MP (1):25.
27   The kainga is the ancestral seat of a boti, where are situated the various mwenga (homes) of the boti members. These terms will become clearer as the theme develops. Buakonikai, lit. “in the midst of the trees”: bush or agricultural land, as opposed to kainga or ancestral homesite land.
28   MP (1):27. The maneaba at Manriki was formerly divided in two between the descendants of the ancestress Nei Karubea, who had the northern half, and her sister Nei Teremweai, who had the south. The moieties were apparently permitted by Teinai to hold the boti of Teikabunawati and Kabaeka in the repartitioned maneaba in return for making over land and the propitiary act of “cleaning up the place where Teinai had first come to the maneaba” respectively (see Fig. 3). As in the case of the people of the Tabontebike boti of Inaki ni Bakoa (Temaiana) and Nei Abinoa mentioned earlier, it was quite usual to refer to boti members collectively by the name of their ancestor or ancestress, whether deified or human.
29   He had a raised platform hung from the roof on which he sat as the Uea (Chief) of Beru. There is a brief mention of the migration in Grimble, 1933-34: Supplement 2:75-6, and there are several detailed manuscript accounts.
30   Tibwere, et al. 1942:52.
31   Several of the aomata (persons), e.g. Auriaria and Bue ma Rirongo, are in fact the ancestors of the people admitted, as indeed one would expect. The two Keaki's were not related, but Keaki Rangirang took the name on being allocated a share of the boti and kainga occupied by Koura's descendants. Clearly not all the boti were in fact admitted at the same time, e.g. Ababou and Keaki were known to have come after the main entry.
32   i.e. the first house in Taunamo and the buakonikai Tebero, Tengaongao and Nentawa; they later lost all but the portion of Taunamo known as Rautetia, which became their kainga—MP (1):24. Kawa=village or hamlet, i.e. a group of dwelling houses not situated on the kainga of a boti.
33   Kourabi's bones are contained in a pandanus casket hung from the roof of the maneaba at Temanoku on Tabiteuea, as were those of his father Teinai in the Tabontebike maneaba.
34   To be exact, Uman Taburimai ae meang, i.e. the northern half of the old kainga.
35   MP (1):27.
36   MP (5):4.
37   For an unusual example of fission in the time of Akau III, in which a portion of the Karongoa boti allocation was given to Toamannang's son Tanentoa in consequence of his mother's tinaba relationship to Akau's brothers, see pp. 38-39.
38   Appropriately enough Tebanga was given part of the boti Bakarawa and its associated kainga Nei Koekoe, since it was Taboia, a member of Bakarawa, who introduced him into the maneaba and obtained his inaki for him from Ten Tanentoa.
39   Kirata was of the clan Karongoa n Uea, but Auatabu called his new boti Buariki, after his father's kainga.
40   This genealogy comes into prominence again in connection with the question of boti descent through a woman.
41   GP (2):14. On Onotoa in 1931, for example, the Old Men affirmed that: “(a) a man's son sits in the boti of his father; and (b) a man's daughter when she marries can either sit in her husband's boti or her father's”.
42   GP (2). Auatabu, another descendant of the Kirata chiefs, has been mentioned in the previous section as founder of the boti Buariki in the Tabiang type maneaba Taribo on Beru.
43   Karimoa=the eldest child in a family.
44   “Succession to the Headship of the Clan” MP (6).
45   The relationship of the utu, or kindred, to the boti is described later.
46   MP (7).
47   MP (7).
48   GP (2):15.
49   GP (2):15.
50   MP (8).
51   This custom will be discussed in greater detail later.
52   GP (2):16.
53   Maude 1930:232. We did not then realize that the kainga was not the clan but only the ancestral seat of its members. I was later told on Onotoa that there an adopted child would sit in his real father's boti.
54   MP (9).
55   Presumably, being sheltered by the Tabukini Beru promontory, they were considered too hot and airless—MP (1):9.
56   Taunamo was strictly speaking only a kawa as far as Karongoa n Uea was concerned, but around it grew up the kainga of many subsidiary boti.
57   MP (1):35.
58   Here the chronicler has got his compass points mixed: Teinai's kainga was situated to the south of Tokia's (Uman Taburimai)—see Fig. 5.
59   MP (1):22.
60   Te Mwenga is a home or dwelling-place; kain te mwenga would be the people in the home (or household). It is not quite clear how the Gilbertese household can be described as a “kin group”—see Goodenough 1955:73—since its composition is constantly changing as members leave the house temporarily or permanently, e.g. to work or to boarding school, and friends, who are possibly not even distant kin, come to stay. The 1931 census gives an average of 4.24 persons per mwenga on Beru, and for the Gilberts 4.38; there is evidence that in pre-contact times households would have been larger. The number of mwenga in a kainga naturally varied according to the space available in the kainga and the number of clansmen in the boti; Te Kaotirama at Tabontebike had four, others are said to have had five and more, while at Utiroa on Tabiteuea Wilkes found ten to twelve.
61   Usually called te uma ni mane (the men's house). They are described as being from four to six fathoms in length.
62   Bata=house. Tannakon Riki was the name of the Karongoa n Uea maneaba or uma ni mane.
63   MP (1):30. Beia and Tekaai were the two brothers from Tarawa who married Nei Teweia, the mother of Ten Tanentoa, on Nonouti: “It was these brothers who brought the boti of Karongoa to Nonouti and also to Tabiteuea.”
64   Pierson 1852.
65   Pierson 1852.
66   Pierson 1852.
67   Wilkes 1845:V:53.
68   MP (10).
69   The essential similarity between o and other kainga is referred to by the Gilbertese language authority Eastman in discussing the translation of the latter word: “In many Polynesian islands it [kainga] could well be ‘enclosure’ but in the Gilberts most kaingas are not enclosed, or are then called ‘O’.”—G. H. Eastman to the author, 9/2/59. O means literally a fence, and its use for any normally enclosed area has survived in such Gilbertese phrases as o ni mitinare (mission station), o n aoraki (hospital: aoraki=sick), o ni beki (pigsty)—Sabatier, [Ernest], op. cit. Usage was evidently similar 120 years ago, before appreciable culture contact, for Hale, the philologist on the Wilkes Expedition, describes an O as a fence or enclosure and Hudson speaks of a house beside the Utiroa maneaba being called “te-o-tabu, or sacred enclosure”.—Hale 1846:463; Wilkes 1845:V:54.
70   MP (11).
71   MP (1):35.
72   [Townsend, M. M.] n.d. This was produced by the Native Lands Department over ten years after my departure from Beru, but it does not differ in principle from a similar guide prepared and used by me when superintending the adjudication of land disputes on Beru in 1936. The land customs, most of them being codified, are substantially the same on every island in the Southern Gilberts, i.e. Tabiteuea, Beru, Nikunau, Onotoa, Tamana and Arorae, on all of which I have been engaged in lands settlement work.
73   [Townsend] n.d.:1.
74   MP (1):20.
75   MP (1):22, 36.
76   The material in this section is compiled from notes made on Beru between 1929 and 1939.
77   For example, while Te Bakoa still owned the greater part of the lagoon Birimo had the area immediately in front of Tabontebike with Niku Tengetenge to the south (and also at Namon Urua by the present lagoon beacon). Nei Abinoa fished in several localities given to her by Te Bakoa, and particularly in the little lagoon Namon Nei Tira to the south of the maneaba which was also shared by Te Nguingui, Nei Ati and the Tabuki n Tamoa boti of Te Mauri; while Keaki had the whole area Namoni Keaki in front of the present Government Station at Tabukini Beru. Namo=small or subsidiary lagoon.
78   See Appendix 3, where a tentative analysis of tinaba and eiriki relationships is given. It is to be hoped that Lambert's current investigations in the Gilberts will settle points that are still obscure.
79   The personalities involved in this drama and their relationships are set out in Genealogy 3.
80   The Atibun Toka, or Atin Toka (the Stone of Chiefs) is a stone set in the centre of the boti Karongoa n Uea, on which none but the head of the clan has the right to sit on penalty of being maraia (accursed). In the Tabontebike maneaba it was originally the throne of Ten Tanentoa the Great, the Conqueror of Beru.
81   In the previous sentence the narrator is speaking of Akau as the father of Namai and Toamannang, and now as the brother of the Old Men.
82   The work of these boti functionaries is described in Appendix 2.
83   MP (1):31. Although perhaps not quite clear from this narrative, in addition to being granted the right of sitting on the Atin Toka Tanentoa was in fact given a separate boti in the north-east corner of the Manriki maneaba by fission of the original Karongoa allocation—see Fig. 3.
84   Grimble 1933-34: Instalment No. 1:20-21; there is a more complete discussion of totemism and exogamy in GP (4). It is first mentioned in European literature by the Wilkes Expedition in 1841: “some worship the souls of their departed ancestors, or certain birds, fish and animals . . . The natives always refuse to eat the animals, fish, &c., worshipped by them, but will readily catch them, that others may partake of their food.”—Wilkes 1845:V:86.
85   For the relationship between Nei Tituabine and the Red-tailed Tropic-bird see Grimble 1933-34: Instalment No. 3, Appendix 3.
86   These and the following remarks are based on notes made on Beru—MP (12).
87   The lifter of the heavens from the earth at the creation of the world.
88   Grimble 1933-34: Instalment No. 1:85, quotes a Northern Gilberts account which alleges that Kain Tiku-aba was a pandanus. This would appear to be a garbled version, for apart from the fact that all texts seen by me state that the tree was a kanawa, it was a kanawa and not a pandanus that was the rabata of Tematawarebwe's ancestors and therefore the totem of the clan.
89   The number of clans whose ancestral deity was Tabuariki (see App. 5) is understandable since he was the principal god of the autochthones (both Te Bakoa and Tenguingui) and was also worshipped by the new comers from Samoa led by Tematawarebwe. Hale, in 1841, estimated that about two-thirds of the population known to his informant Kirby worshipped Tabuariki—Hale 1846:97.
90   Where the iron came from no one knew.
91   After whom Te I Mone, the clan ancestor, who came from Samoa and married the daughter of Nainginouati, was called.
92   Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony: Native Governments Ordinance 1941: section 36, Incest: Law No. 4. Members of the families of High Chiefs were permitted by the same law to marry even if first or second cousins, this being customary.
93   GP (2):22-4.
94   GP (5).
95   GP (2):3.
96   MP (13).
97   MP (13), and subsidiary notes.
98   The ceremony as outlined in Appendix 2 is derived, furthermore, from those originated by the three founder boti before the second partition of Tabontebike by Ten Tanentoa—see Tibwere, et al. 1942:41-2.
99   See also Grimble 1933-34: Instalment No. 3, Appendix 4:111, where Karumaetoa (presumably an error for Te Abike) is also said to have received a special share for the same reason.
100   For a detailed and scholarly study of the ruoia see Laxton and Te Kautu Kamoriki 1953:57-71.
101   GP (2) :7.
102   Damon 1861:8.
103   MP (1):17. But in popular repute not only then, for when Uamamuri and Nanikain insulted Beia and Tekaai, at sea off Nonouti but wearing the Bunna ni Kamaraia, they are said to have dropped down dead—Tibwere, et al. 1942:27.
104   GP (2):2.
105   In some Tabontebike maneaba by Karongoa Raereke.
106   Powell 1879 describes a similar kawa on Onotoa.
107   [Townsend] n.d.:4-5.
108   Webster [1845?]:37.
109   A more detailed exposition of maneaba government is given in Maude 1960.
110   Davies 1873a.
111   Davies 1873b.
112   Mahaffy 1910:5.
113   MP (14).
114   MP (14).
115   GP (3):10. It should perhaps be recorded here that in most, if not all, maneaba there were either particular boti where visitors might sit and watch proceedings, e.g. Nikumauea in the Taribo maneaba (see Fig. 2), or particular sides, e.g. the west in the Tabontebike maneaba. These, however, were primarily intended for the accommodation of sightseers.
116   MP (1):35.
117   As stated earlier, no attempt has been made to treat of the boti organization on the four islands of Little Makin, Butaritari, Banaba and Nui not directly influenced by the Beru system disseminated by Kaitu and Uakeia. What little could be discovered in 1930 concerning the long-decayed boti system on Banaba is, however, given in Maude 1932:270; most of the kawa there mentioned were probably once kainga. According to Grimble in GP (3):13-14, the maneaba of Little Makin and Butaritari were divided into four boti only:
(1) Te Boti n Uea (the boti of the High Chiefs) in the SE, for the Uea (High Chief) and the agnatic members of his utu.
(2) Tabokororo in the NE, for the toka (chiefs) and their utu through males.
(3) Te Anikabai in the NW, for the “people who were conquered”.
(4) Mangkeia in the SW, “the boti of aba-tera” (what-land?), for immigrants and strangers.
For an adequate description we must await the research being conducted on both these islands by Lambert. Nothing is known of the former boti on Nui.
118   Webster [1854?]:30.
119   Apparently Taburimai informed the northern maneaba, though I am not certain on this point.
120   Catala 1957:138-9, which includes a good sketch plan of Nein Riki and the adjacent ponds and a description of the methods employed in stocking and fishing them. The remarks on ownership and caretaking are misleading.
121   This being the second of her bastard husband's privileges (see p. 45).
122   Numerically the Bakoa clans are the largest in the maneaba.
123   Whereas the people of Te Bakoa were said to have been the owners of the land, those of Te Nguingui were supposed to have been the commoners who did the work.
124   The comparing of nikira by boti was forbidden by the Beru Island Government during my stay there as the spirit of competition engendered had in the past resulted in the contesting clans emptying their babai pits and food stores and stripping their coconut trees.
125   In recent years, instead of taking the necklace she crowns the Uea with her own wreath and receives a present for her services.
126   Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony: Native Laws Ordinance 1917, Part II, Law No. 8. It was rescinded by the Native Governments Ordinance 1941.
127   Often assisted by his eiriki, brothers' daughters and others of his father's and mother's utu. In cases seen by me mats, clothes, tobacco and matches were also brought and presented and reciprocal presents of food given to all participants.
128   “Te Aban Tinaba. This is a variety of ‘Te Bora’ in which land passes to a man's tinaba in return for her services to him in placing wreaths round his head, anointing him with oil and paying attention to him generally . . . The consent of the Utu should be obtained as it is usually the children of the man who arrange this transfer. The land does not revert on the death of the recipient without issue.”—[Townsend] n.d.:4.
129   Grimble 1921:28. Intercourse by anyone else with these Tauani Kai was punishable; on Beru, for example, Te Aban Aine or Te Bain Aine passed, this being: “Land claimed by a husband from a man who committed adultery (or fictitious adultery) with his wife's sisters (Eiriki) . . . A man's wife's sisters were regarded as his wives as long as he chose to exert his rights.”—[Townsend] n.d.:4.
130   GP (6). He adds, however, the wife's mother's sister's daughters as a man's eiriki and possible sexual partners. Further research on the whole subject appears to be necessary.
131   GP (7). Terms sometimes heard and said to be synonomous are te baronga for the distant kindred and te bu (the breed) for the near. Te koraki (the circle, or set) includes affines and various courtesy relatives.
132   Freeman 1961:202-203, 207-211.
133   For the literal meanings of the terms used to designate the various degrees of tibu see Sabatier 1952:856.
134   Anti=ancestral deities; bakatibu=ancestors; man=canoe crests; utuao=kites.
135   For the relative positions of these kainga see Fig. 5.
136   For another list of ancestral deities (but with no particular reference to any locality or maneaba) see Grimble, “The Migrations of a Pandanus People”, table facing p. 20. My list is neither complete nor, I think, entirely accurate, as Beru had been Christianized for over half a century when I obtained it.
137   In several instances there is argument as to the precise point in the clan genealogical tree when the anti ma aomata (semi-deified ancestors) gave place to aomata (human beings) and thus produced the clan ancestor. The two ancestresses quoted, Nei Moa Aine (the Hen) and Nei Tamaiti, were almost certainly not human.
138   For further information on canoe crests see Grimble 1921:81-85. Several clans possessed neither canoe crests nor kite patterns.
139   Te Bou ni Karongoa is the generic name for the various canoe crests of the Karongoa clan. It is not known which specific crest was used on Beru by Te Katanrake.