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Religion in Kiribati

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Religion in Kiribati (2015)[1]

  Roman Catholic (57.3%)
  Adventist (1.9%)
  Bahá'í (2.1%)
  Other[a] (2.1%)

According to 2010 government statistics, Christian groups form about 96% of the Kiribati population by census counts, most of whom are either Catholic or members of the Kiribati Uniting Church.[2] Persons with no religious affiliation account for about 0.05% of the population.[2] Members of the Catholic Church are concentrated in the northern islands, while Protestants are the majority in the southern islands.[3]

Missionaries introduced Christianity into the area in the mid-19th century.[3] The Rev. Samuel James Whitmee, of the London Missionary Society, visited the islands in 1870.[4] Missionaries continue to be present and operate freely.[3] The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right.[3] Societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice occur, but are relatively infrequent.[3]

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This video is sponsored by Skillshare. The first 500 people to use the link in the description get a two-month free trial. About thirty-seven hundred kilometers southwest of Hawaii, and thirty-seven hundred kilometers northeast of Australia, lie The Marshall Islands. Getting here is not particularly easy. The only flights from the United States are through Honolulu, only with United, and only a few days of the week. Which helps explain why only about 6,000 people visit each year. 16, a day, on average. But once you arrive, getting around is quite easy. While the country is spread out across a thousand islands and 29 atolls, altogether, the size of Washington DC, about 40% of its 75,000 people live on the capital, Majuro. There are, generously, four hotels, a couple ATMs, and one main road. No traffic lights. No street names. A taxi downtown costs about 50 cents, or, across the island, at most, two US Dollars. Some may see its isolation from the rest of the world as inconvenient. But for the people of the Marshall Islands, that’s its charm. Life here is relaxed, care-free, and, rather slow. Cars rarely move much faster than 25 miles an hour, appointments are loosely scheduled, and Hawaiian shirts, the national dress code. In the last few years, however, the world has been intruding. As sea levels rise, its beaches are slowly being swallowed by the ocean. And, unfortunately, the Marshall Islands are almost entirely beaches. Most land is barely 6-feet above sea level, and in many areas, only 4, 500 feet wide - so narrow you can almost always see water from two opposite sides. Some years, like 2013, floods damage hundreds of homes, schools, and stop planes from being able to land. The same thing is happening around the world, but here on small, faraway islands, the clock is ticking, and the question of what to do, yet unanswered. For the first time in history, countries may totally disappear. Not politically but literally and physically. Where once lay a thriving, tropical paradise community may one day be only a floating sign explaining what once was. Unless, something can be done to save them. Like many islands in strategically useful places, the Republic of The Marshall Islands has a long history of foreign imperialism. First, by the Spanish, then the Germans, some brief contact with the British, invaded by the Japanese in World War I, And, finally, during the next war, captured from Japan by the United States. It, and its neighbors now known as Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia, were put under the administration of the U.S. Navy as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Later, in the ’80s and ‘90s, the Islands slowly gained their independence. The U.S. government officially recognized its constitution, allowed it to hold elections, and signed a Compact of Free Association. Today, the Marshall Islands are less than a United States overseas territory, like Guam or Puerto Rico, but much more than simply a friendly foreign ally. Legally, an associated state. The islands have access to its federal agencies, including the National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and Postal Service. The U.S. also agrees to protect and defend the country, although it cannot declare war on its behalf. This part of the United States but not really relationship can create some… awkward situations. In 2015, the Iranian Navy seized and detained a Maersk container ship traveling 12,000 kilometers away, in the Strait of Hormuz. Maersk is a Danish company, and the ship, owned by a Singapore-based operator. However, for tax-avoidance and legal reasons, it was registered, like many ships, in the Marshall Islands. Which, because of its defense responsibilities, technically obligated the U.S. Navy to respond with a destroyer, although it later clarified it won’t do so in the future. Besides a small coconut, breadfruit, and fishing industry, the Marshall Islands just doesn’t have that many ways to make money. Without many natural resources, it’s had to resort to creative ways of bringing in revenue, like, becoming the second most popular ship registry in the world, after Panama. And, although sometimes lucrative, these niche markets can make the entire economy of a small nation vulnerable to the whims of foreign actors. Its neighbor, Kiribati, for example, is geographically blessed as the closest non-American soil to the Hawaiian islands. So, despite having almost no infrastructure or tourist attractions, its Tabuaeran island became a regular stop for Hawaiian cruises, who, as foreign-registered ships, are legally required to stop, at least once, outside the country. Recently, though, Norwegian Cruises introduced American-flagged ships, rendering the detour unnecessary. And Tabuaeran, back where it started, with virtually no source of income. In a similar vein, Palau is lucky to be home to a unique species of golden jellyfish which draw tourists from around the world. Unfortunately, they too are slowly dying, which researchers suspect is due, in part, to rising sea temperatures. So, inevitably, with no other options, these states turn to diplomacy. Of the 17 other UN members who recognize Taiwan as a country, for example, nine are small, island nations. It shares embassies with the Marshall Islands. And Taiwan’s president, at the time, was the first head of state to officially visit the country. The Islands also receive $78 million dollars in U.S. foreign assistance each year, of the 1.5 billion they’ve been promised from 2004 to 24. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than here, at the giant, concrete, American-built, radioactive dome on Enewetak Atoll. When the U.S. assumed control of the islands in the ‘40s, it used them as a nuclear test site for some of the largest and most destructive bombs in history. Including, the famous Castle Bravo. At 6:45 on March 1st, 1954, its mushroom cloud could be seen 250 miles, or 400 kilometers, away, eventually reaching 47 thousand feet, or 14 kilometers, expanding at 220 miles an hour, and leaving a 250-foot deep hole in the ocean. The explosion was two and a half times stronger than expected - 15 megatons of TNT, instead of the predicted six. It instantly destroyed many of their measuring instruments, contaminated a nearby Japanese fishing crew, and, although inhabitants had been evacuated beforehand, because of the unexpected size of the explosion, covered surrounding islands in a white, snow-like, radioactive powder. Children played with it, not knowing of its cancerous effects. Decades later, in 1977, four thousand US soldiers were sent to clean up the fallout. Over three years, they collected 73,000 cubic meters of soil and 400 chunks of plutonium-239, an isotope with a radioactive half-life of 24,000 years. It was then thrown into the crater created by the explosion, and covered in a 328 foot, or 100 meter, 18-inch thick, UFO-shaped dome. This was said to be only a temporary solution, as it was not covered with a lining, meaning there’s a good chance, according to the US Energy Department, that the toxic, radioactive material has already begun leaking out into the ocean, where Marshall Islanders fish and play. Today, in exchange for its payments, the US continues to operate the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. The US Army is one of the biggest employers on the islands, which have a higher per-capita enlistment rate than any state. And because of its proximity to the equator, SpaceX has launched several of its rockets here in the past. So, while the Marshall Islands have little leverage with the U.S., there is some hope it will be forced to deal with rising sea levels as it begins to affect military operations. Aerial images show six islets disappeared between 2007 and 14 alone. Although, not all islands are equally at risk. Some, like the Maldives, are almost completely flat, offering no place to retreat. Others, like Palau, have upland areas residents can move too. Each is differently susceptible to erosion, and some have more or less powerful waves. A few islands, like Tuvalu, may actually grow as storms carry sediment, which varies with seasonal trade winds. But almost everywhere on earth will be, somehow, affected. Venice, the Everglades, Waikiki, and Alaska, are all at risk. One small Alaskan town, The Last Frontier of The Last Frontier, Shishmaref, has been losing ten of its thirteen hundred feet every year, as winter waves slam into the island and the permafrost underneath it thaws, weakening its foundation. All these islands have, essentially, three options: Mitigate, Innovate, or Relocate. If land is disappearing, the obvious solution is the China or Dubai approach: add more. Barriers and jetties could also dampen the blow of incoming waves. Unfortunately, these would likely harm marine life, be extremely costly, and, as long as the sea continues to rise, require continual maintenance. Better, of course, would be slowing climate change altogether. But raising awareness is quite difficult. It’s geographically far-away, happening relatively slowly, and the dynamics of wave exposure aren’t the most exciting… the trifecta of Not Getting News Coverage. Another option is to innovate - try something, anything, no matter how bizarre sounding, to generate revenue or attention. In 2018, the Marshall Islands signed the Sovereign Currency Act, which created its own national cryptocurrency. If it works, the plan would give the Islands more control over their economy, and new funds to experiment with. Another idea, proposed by the mayor of the Rongelap Atoll is to build “The Next Hong Kong” - a Special Administrative Region in the middle of the Pacific. The idea is to use the Marshall Island’s special relationship with the U.S. to create a tax-haven and pathway to the mainland much like Hong Kong’s special status with China. Most islands are trying a mix of these ideas, while, also, planning for the perhaps more likely worst-case scenario: relocation. In 2014, Kiribati purchased a 20 square kilometer patch of land from the Church of England in Fiji. Its president announced, “We would hope not to put everyone on (this) one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it”. The Marshall Islands, meanwhile, has an easier escape: As part of its agreement with the United States, its citizens are allowed to live, work, and study on the mainland without a visa. About a third of Marshall Islanders have migrated, many to Springdale, Arkansas, or Salem, Oregon. Although, there’s a catch. Marshallese living on the mainland are not legally considered ‘citizens’, but also not ‘immigrants’ or ‘refugees’, they’re “permanent non-immigrants”, which makes them ineligible for some federal services, including Medicaid. And, if the Compact of Free Association is not renewed when it ends in 2024, this door will close entirely. Years ago, the US government swept its radioactive misdeeds, quite literally, under the rug. And, as sea levels rise, it seems to be doing much the same. Ignore the problem as it grows, until, one day, it’s too late. Today, The Marshall Islands, Tomorrow, Waikiki, Eventually, New York. Those who’ve survived drowning report the same pattern: At first, an overwhelming feeling of panic. Arms flailing, legs kicking - anything, no matter how ridiculous, to try to get the attention of the people around you. Eventually, though, dread turns to tranquility - a calmness, a dangerous complicity - a feeling that it’s too late, that nothing can be done. The reality is it’s not too late - yet. The world is well into the panic stage, but, also, at serious risk of turning into acceptance. It always feels like you can just hold your breath a few more seconds, until you can’t. When the U.S. military arrived on the Marshall Islands in 1946, asking locals to give up their homes for what they claimed was the good of humankind, their leader responded with the words now imprinted on the flag of Bikini Atoll: “Everything is in the hands of God”. Now the future is in ours. Not everyone has an up-close view of rising sea levels, but, I, for one, can really relate to the feeling of having your head underwater - being totally overwhelmed with so much to do and so little time to do it. Recently, after watching this class on Skillshare, I started planning pretty much every minute of my day. I used to put everything on a to-do list. But, let’s be honest, I usually ended the week with more to do than when I started - it’s a lot easier to add to the list than remember to check it. I highly recommend checking out Thomas Franks’ class on Productivity, or one of the others on design, programming, investing, cooking, and lots of other topics. You can try Skillshare today with a 2 month free trial with the link in the description, for the first 500 people. Thanks to Skillshare, and to you for watching!



Catholicism is the single largest religion in Kiribati with over 50% of the population. Catholic missionaries were amongst the first Europeans to settle in Kiribati and in 1897 the first permanent structures were in place when it became part of the Apostolic vicariate of Gilbert Islands. In 1966 it was raised to the status of diocese and became known as the Diocese of Tarawa. In 1978, the year before independence, it changed names and became known as the Diocese of Tarawa, Nauru and Funafuti. Nauru and Funafuti were part of the Apostolic Vicariate. Four years later Funafuti split and became a Mission Sui Iuris. The remaining structure today is the Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru and is led by Bishop Paul Eusebius Mea Kaiuea.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims 17,462 members in 26 congregations in 2016,[5] though the 2015 census had only 5,857 people identifying as Mormon.[1]

Bahá'í Faith

The only substantial non-Christian population is of the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í Faith in Kiribati begins after 1916 with a mention by `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, that Bahá'ís should take the religion to the Gilbert Islands which form part of modern Kiribati.[6] The first Bahá'ís pioneered to the island of Abaiang (aka Charlotte Island, of the Gilbert Islands), on March 4, 1954.[7] They encountered serious opposition from some Catholics on the islands and were eventually deported and the first convert banished to his home island.[8] However, in one year there was a community of more than 200 Bahá'ís[9] and a Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly.[10] Three years later the island where the first convert was sent to was found to now have 10 Bahá'ís. By 1963 there were 14 assemblies.[11]

As the Ellice Islands gained independence as Tuvalu and the Gilbert Islands and others formed Kiribati, the communities of Bahá'ís also reformed into separate institutions of National Spiritual Assemblies in 1981.[12] The Bahá'ís had established a number schools by 1963[11] and there are still such today - indeed the Ootan Marawa Bahá'í Vocational Institute being the only teacher training institution for pre-school teachers in Kiribati.[7] The census figures are consistently between 2 and 3% for the Bahá'ís while the Bahá'ís claim numbers above 17%.[8] All together the Bahá'ís now claim more than 10,000 local people have joined the religion over the last 50 years and there are 38 local spiritual assemblies.[7]


The 2010 census listed smaller religions such as Te Koaua, Assembly of God, Church of God, and Islam as other options.[2] According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, there is a non-negligible population of Buddhists comprising less than 0.1% of the population.[13] Unlike many Pacific Island countries, there was no significant Indian migration to Kiribati and in 1981, the Indian population comprised only 15 people, mostly expatriates on assignment from the Government of India. The main religions of the Indian families in Kiribati are Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity.[14] On 30 October 1978, a Diwali festival was celebrated with a feast in the country. As of 2010, the Hindu population in Kiribati is still negligible.[13]

Religious freedom

The constitution of Kiribati provides for the freedom of religion, although it also states that this freedom may be overruled in the interests of public defense, safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights of others. Most government ceremonies open and close with Christian prayer. The government also provides small development grants to religious organizations among other NGOs.[15]

Any religious group representing more than 2 percent of the population (about 2160 people as of the 2015 census) must register with the government, although there are no penalties for failure to register.[15]

There is no standardized religious education program in public schools, but schools generally allow representatives of various faiths to provide religious education courses.[15]

Two islands in Kiribati, Arorae and Tamana, maintain a "one-church-only" tradition, refusing to build any religious structures other than a single church. According to officials, this custom is in deference to the Protestant missionaries that arrived on those islands in the 19th century. Residents of other religions on those islands are able to worship freely in their homes, and the government has received no reports of complaints about this policy.[15]


  1. ^ The 2015 census lists the smaller religions as Jehovah's Witnesses aka Te Kouau (0.3%), Assembly of God (0.3%), Church of God (0.3%), Te Ran (0.1%), Four Square (0.1%) and Muslim (0.1%). Those stating no religion were less than 0.05%.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Kiribati Census 2015 (PDF). Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Report on the Kiribati 2010 Census of Population and Housing - Volume 1: Basic Information and Tables" (PDF). National Statistics Office. August 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e "International Religious Freedom Report for 2014: Kiribati". United States State Department. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  4. ^ Whitmee, Rev. Samuel James (1871). A missionary cruise in the South Pacific: being the report of a voyage amongst the Tokelau, Ellice and Gilbert Islands, in the missionary barque "John Williams" during 1870. Sydney: Joseph Cook & Co.
  5. ^ "Facts and Statistics: Kiribati". News Room. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  6. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1991) [1916-17]. Tablets of the Divine Plan (Paperback ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 40–42. ISBN 0-87743-233-3.
  7. ^ a b c Bahá'í International Community (2004-03-04). "Sailing in for a jubilee". Bahá'í World News Service.
  8. ^ a b Hassall, Graham (1996). "Bahá'í Faith in the Asia Pacific Issues and Prospects". Bahá'í Studies Review. 6. pp. 1–10.
  9. ^ Finau, Makisi; Teeruro Ieuti; Jione Langi (1992). Forman, Charles W. (ed.). Island Churches: Challenge and Change. Pacific Theological College and Institute for Pacific Studies. pp. 101–2, 107. ISBN 978-982-02-0077-7.
  10. ^ Graham, Hassall (1992). "Pacific Baha'i Communities 1950-1964". In Rubinstein, Donald H. (ed.). Pacific History: Papers from the 8th Pacific History Association Conference. University of Guam Press & Micronesian Area Research Center, Guam. pp. 73–95.
  11. ^ a b Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land. "The Bahá'í Faith: 1844-1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953-1963". pp. 26, 28.
  12. ^ Hassall, Graham; Universal House of Justice. "National Spiritual Assemblies statistics 1923-1999". Assorted Resource Tools. Bahá'í Library Online. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  13. ^ a b "The Association of Religion Data Archives | National Profiles". Retrieved 2017-10-16.
  14. ^ Gopalakrishnan, Soroja (1981). "Kiribati: Transient Professionals". Pacific Indians: Profiles in 20 Pacific Countries. University of the South Pacific. pp. 92, 96.
  15. ^ a b c d International Religious Freedom Report 2017 § Kiribati US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
This page was last edited on 3 November 2019, at 14:20
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