Week 4 – Oceana: The Music of Kiribati (Kiribas)

Located 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii in Micronesia, there is a collection of islands known as Kiribati (Pronounced “Kiribas”).  The islands are made up of thirty-three coral island which are circular islands with a central lagoon. There are three groups of Islands: The Line Islands, The Phoenix Islands and the Gilbert Islands.

“Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, is the largest coral atoll in the world and was among the many islands of the Pacific explored by Captain James Cook in 1777.”(Miller, Shahriari pg. 81)

“The British eventually claimed most of the islands of Kiribati as British protectorates; thus, English is widely spoken along with the native tongue, Gilbertese, an Austronesian language.”(Miller, Shahriari pg. 81)



Kiribati folk music is typically represented by different variations of vocalizing and/or chanting. Traditional songs performed by the Kiribati are typically love themed however, song themes are also competitive, religious, patriotic, war and wedding.


These Pacific Islanders are known for their choral traditions which are typically performed while in a seated position, sometimes the tradition calls for a guitar accompanying the group. The audio that I’ve attached is from the Kiribati Pacific Islands which highlights these choral traditions. The music starts with a spoken vocal in rhythm and progresses into a large choral group with a bright timbre and childlike essence. The piece has a joyful tone with fascinating form and melodic hills.

“In the Kiribati islands, vocal performances influenced by the church sometimes start with a freely rhythmic section that is closer to indigenous traditions. These are most typical of sitting dances (te bino), where the majority of performers are seated on the ground. More recent music/dance genres (e.g., te buki, te kaimatoa, te kateitei) do not have an initial freely rhythmic section. These begin with the metered section often marked by the steady pulse of handclaps. During the metered section, the voices follow a call-and-response pattern, though the call is primarily just a shout that establishes pitch and signals the choir’s entrance. The text setting is mostly syllabic. A whistle is sometimes used to signal the choir to close the performance with a brief series of handclaps.” (Miller, Shahriari pg. 83)

Another example of a seated choral group accompanied by guitar from the Pacific Islands of Kiribati.

“Choral traditions in Oceania predate the arrival of European colonialism. In Kiribati, music and dance were important symbols of social identity. All members of a performance ensemble were of the same descent group. Participation in performance was essential to community cohesion, and musical skills were regarded as valuable clan property. Song was considered a vital link to ancestral spirits and supernatural powers associated with natural elements, such as the wind or the ocean. Communities sang in communal meetinghouses called maneaba the night before a battle, in order to help protect warriors or weaken enemies.” (Miller, Shahriari pg. 84)


Miller, Terry E., and Andrew C. . Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Music of Kiribati