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Remembrance stone in Koinawa, Abaiang, for the arrival of Christianity by Hiram Bingham (II)

Abaiang is an island in the Polynesian country of Kiribati.

Right next door to the capital, Tarawa, is famous for having pristine beaches and a sparkling blue lagoon. It's also home to the two most famous resorts in Kiribati, Ouba Islet Resort and Teirio Beach Resort.


  • Understand 1
    • Geography 1.1
    • History 1.2
    • Culture 1.3
      • Traditional welcome for first time visitors 1.3.1
  • Get in 2
  • Get around 3
  • See 4
  • Do 5
  • Buy 6
  • Eat 7
  • Drink 8
  • Sleep 9
  • Stay safe 10
  • Respect 11
  • Connect 12
  • Go next 13


A good glimpse of one of it very beautiful and white sandy beaches can also be seen when looking at the island’s direction from the north end tip of South Tarawa. It is in Abaiang that you can see historical landmarks made by the white colonizers of the island, a Negro cannibal who landed on Abaiang in the early days and founders of Protestant Church in Kiribati. Abaiang is also known to all as a house of the first church in Kiribati and also has a distinction of being one of the cradles of Christianity and schools both of Protestants and Catholics in the Kiribati group. Other visible attractions include shrines, well of high chief of Abaiang in the early days and sites of pioneers of the island. With a wide range of historical and cultural cultural attractions seen, the only home for two famous resorts in Kiribati and its closeness to the capital, Abaiang is considered one the marvellous and convenient laid-back hideaways in Kiribati.


Abaiang Island has a total land area of 16 square kilometres and an estimated distance of about 23 miles from North to South. The main government centre is located at Taburao village. The island also serves as a home for two secondary schools, each of them owned either by Roman Catholic Church or Kiribati Protestant Church. The island has a population of 5,502 (2005 census).


The history of Abaiang Island started with the belief that ancestors living on it were known to be spirits, some of them created in Samoa and some in Abaiang. Years passed by and then real people came along followed then by the arrival of Reverend Dr. Bingham and his team, international traders, beachcombers, whalers and even labour traders. Colonizers then came along too and hoisted Union Jack on the island.

The first church in Kiribati also established on Abaiang Island in 1859 by Reverend Dr Hiram Bingham and his team. Reverend Dr. Bingham, his wife and his team were sent from America in 1856 to set up a mission in Kiribati. Their arrival in Abaiang was coincided with a war between Ten Temaua and Ten Teiwaki. Reverend Bingham and his team stayed with Ten Temaua. Ten Teiwaki took immediate fancy for Mrs. Bingham and announced that he will take her as his wife only if he won the war but unfortunately, he lost it. Their arrival on Abaiang also marked the important era in the establishment of the first Protestant Church in Kiribati.

In a traditional context of Abaiang Island, it was a paramount chief who ruled and provided overall leadership of the island in the past. Following independence of Kiribati, the overall leadership of Abaiang changed whereby the Mayor (formerly Chief Councilor) and the elderly men are now playing the role of providing political leadership for the island. Abaiang island still values the importance of family and respect of the elderly, guest hospitality, cultural practices and coming together under the maneaba (traditional meeting house) to socialise and feast.


Dress code is also restricted on the island. Casual wear is preferable and women are not allowed to walk around with bikinis, mini skirts or shorts. A skirt/short covered down to your knees or wrap around sulus and T-Shirts are preferable.

Traditional welcome for first time visitors

a) The traditional welcoming custom of Abaiang is known as “Te Karaaun”.

b) Garlanded with Ten Tanini.

c) Escorted to Ribono village and taken around the village in an anticlockwise manner (the only village to do the anti-clockwise escort).

d) Te Karaaun starts from Tekabwarinuea maneaba, then to shrines such as Beiamatekaai, Rianaba islet, Kaiea’s well, Maatere the cannibal, Naikamawa, Moua’s Kautae (fishing scoop net), Moua’s tangana (traditional pudding made from babai or taro), the King’s hook, Naikamawa site and Naibunaki site and then back again to Tekabwarinuea Maneaba.

e) Escorted to Tekarano village. Visitors should aware that garlanding will be done here if not done at Ribono village.

f) Escorted to the rest of the villages to visit shrines and other cultural and historical sites.

There are assigned persons to do Te Karaaun to visitors and this will be done on your first day of arrival to ensure that guests are safe during their stay on Abaiang. If not on the first day of arrival, then this will be done early on the second day of arrival. Visitors should prepare to leave gifts such as sticks of tobacco especially at each of the shrines.

Get in

Get around



  • Te Karaaun
  • Island trips – either by Motor bikes or trucks
  • Island walking
  • Beach games
  • Snorkelling
  • Visits to cultural and historical sites
  • Picnics at recommended spots (needs to be arranged)
  • Boats trips to nearby islets (to be arranged)





Stay safe

Facilities and services are limited and the island is remote in nature. You will need flexibility in your plans to allow for instances where there may be transport delays. It is highly recommended that you take additional supplies of drinking water. Medical facilities are limited on the islands to a local clinic and village nurse. Pharmaceuticals are not available and you will to ensure you have any medications you may require and basic medical supplies. Please also ensure you have advised family and friends of your travel plans and when you expect to return.


It is important to that, as a sign of respect, you will need to leave offerings at any shrines you visit. Tobacco/cigarettes are the traditional offering. If you are interested in participating in any cultural activity please have it arranged prior your travel or you can ask around the local people and they are usually most obliging.


Communications while on the island may be limited; however some villages will have a public phone.

Go next


Map of Abaiang
Location Pacific Ocean
Archipelago Gilbert Islands
Area 17.48 km2 (6.75 sq mi)
Highest elevation 3 m (10 ft)
Population 5,502 (as of 2010 Census)
Density 315 /km2 (816 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups I-Kiribati 99.3%

Abaiang, also known as Apaiang, Apia, and in the past, Charlotte Island,[1][2] in the Northern Gilbert Islands, is a coral atoll of Kiribati, located in the west-central Pacific Ocean. Abaiang was the home of the first missionary to arrive in Kiribati, Hiram Bingham II. Abaiang has a population of 5,502 (2010 census).


  • Geography 1
  • Effects of climate change 2
  • Villages 3
  • Economy 4
  • Schools 5
  • History 6
  • Main sights 7
  • Visiting Abaiang 8
    • Transport 8.1
    • Distances 8.2
    • Accommodation 8.3
  • Footnotes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Abaiang Atoll is in the northern Gilberts, located not very far to the north of Tarawa. Abaiang is the fourth most northerly in the Gilberts chain of atolls, with a total land area of 4,102.8 acres (16.603 km2). The atoll has a lagoon 16 by 5 miles (25.7 by 8.0 km) that provides sheltered anchorage.[3]

The mainland of Abaiang has a total land area of 3,552.6 acres (14.377 km2)extends from the northern village of Takarano to the southern village of Tabontebike. Two other islets, Riboono 219.3 acres (0.887 km2) and Nuotaea 330.9 acres (1.339 km2) are also inhabited.[4] The remaining islets of Abaiang, with a land area of 215.5 acres (0.872 km2) are uninhabited, with lack of water and remoteness from the mainland being the main issues. They however are used for fishing, copra cutting and campsites. The islets of Ouba and Teirio have had small motels built on them, with staff travelling from the mainland of Abaiang and from Tarawa when guests are expected.[3]

In the southwest of Abaiang there is a channel, the Bingham Channel, which is the basic conjunction between the lagoon and the Pacific. The channel is between the biggest island of Abaiang (in the east) and a very little island in the southwest of Abaiang called Teirio.[3]

Effects of climate change

Global warming has created a problem for Abaiang and Kiribarti, among others.[5][6] Houses in Tebunginako village have been abandoned.[3] As storm surges becoming more frequent and spring tides more forceful, eventually the erosion was so great that the village had to be abandoned. The remains of about 100 thatched homes and a maneabe (community meeting hall) are now up to 30 metres offshore.[5] The villagers relocated themselves further inland, with the new village retaining the same name.


In the 2010 Census the total population of 5,502[7] was spread among 18 villages, with the largest villages being Nuotaea (559 inhabitants) and Tuarabu (560 inhabitants).[4]

Abaiang: Population and Land Area
Census Area Population 2010[4] Land area by islet[8] Density (people per acre)
Nuotaea 559 330.9 acres (134 ha) 1.7
Ribono 341 219.3 acres (89 ha) 1.6
Takarano 348 3,552.6 acres (1,438 ha) 1.2
Ubanteman 126
Tebunginako 424
Borotiam 375
Aonobuaka 328
Koinawa 312
Morikao 233
Ewena 166
Taburao 322
Tebero 157
Tabwiroa 237
Tuarabu 560
Tanimaiaki 274
Tebwanga 310
Aoneaba 51
Tabontebike 379
Uninhabited islets 0 215.5 acres (87 ha) 0
Abaiang total 5,502 4,318.3 acres (1,748 ha) 1.3


Council Office on Abaiang Island

Relative to other islands of Kiribati, Abaiang has some important economic advantages. Its large lagoon supports a striking diversity of coral and fish species, providing plentiful seafood to the local population and attracting tourists to the island from nearby South Tarawa. While the island is prone to drought, in normal years the rainfall is sufficient to support breadfruit, banana and papaya as well as the ubiquitous coconut. The closeness of Abaiang to Tarawa also facilitates a significant, though largely informal, trade in local food of all types.

However like all outer islands of Kiribati, Abaiang is basically a subsistence economy, with a small number of jobs, mainly working for the Government or Island Council. Other sources of income are copra production,[9] and remittances from relatives working in South Tarawa, as crew on international vessels, or overseas.

Climate change has forced a change, as milkfish are not as common and plant life is dying off to the increased salt in the water table.[6]


There are ten primary schools on Abaiang, with a combined roll of 985 students in 2011.[3]

At the secondary school level, in 2011 there were 212 students at the Ministry of Education school, Ueen Abaiang, which is located between the villages of Koinawa and Aonobuaka. A further 135 students are enrolled at St Joseph’s College in Tabwiroa and 23 students at Steven Whitmee High School in Morikao, making 370 secondary school students in total.[3] The two high schools at Morikao and Tabuiroa accommodate students from all over Kiribati who have passed the entrance examinations to get into the schools.[3]


Koinawa cathedral (in 2009)
Monument in Koinawa to remember the arrival of Christianity on 18 November 1857

By tradition, the first inhabitants of Abaiang Island were known to be spirits, some of them created in Samoa and some in Abaiang. Years passed by and then Pacific Islanders came along followed then by the arrival of Thomas Gilbert,[2] then Reverend Dr. Bingham and his team in 1857,[10] international traders, beachcombers, whalers and even blackbirders. Colonizers then came along and hoisted the Union Jack on the island.[11]

The first European to document the island was Thomas Gilbert in 1788. He named the island Matthew's Island, named for the owner of his ship, the Charlotte. Subsequently, errors changed the name to Charlotte Island.[2] Then the first missionary to live in Kiribati arrived at Abaiang on 16 November 1857. He was Hiram Bingham II of the American Board, a Boston-based missionary group. This Hiram Bingham was the son of Hiram Bingham I who was one of the first and most influential missionaries to Hawaii. Hiram Bingham II and his wife were accompanied to Abaiang by Hawaiian pastor Joel Hulu Mahoe and his wife.[12] Bingham landed at the village of Koinawa and a memorial was erected at the spot during the centennial celebrations in 1957.

During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army occupied the island from December 1941 to November 1943.[1][9] It was captured by the U.S. military and used as an offensive staging base.[1]

Main sights

Abaiang Post Office opened around 1910.[13]

The Catholic community also has strong ties to Abaiang and completed the building of the imposing Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, also at Koinawa village, in October 1907. This work was done under the supervision of a priest from Belgium who was given the local name of Father Ioane. He lived and worked so long on Abaiang and became so well loved that the village of Borotiam was named in honour of his home country Belgium (Borotiam being the local vernacular for Belgium). This church celebrated its centennial in 2007 with a fresh paint job and a celebration whose special guest was the current President.

The foremost institution of Abaiang is St. Josephs College. The Principal during the country's silver jubilee celebrations was Paul Chilton, a British migrant. St. Joseph's College was founded in 1939. In the past 65 years it has gone from strength to strength and is now a leading centre for learning in Kiribati. Its alumni include both current President His Excellency Anote Tong, and previous incumbent Teburoro Tito.

Visiting Abaiang

Abaiang airport building


The atoll is served by Abaiang Atoll Airport, situated between the villages of Tabwiroa and Tuarabu. Air Kiribati operates three flights a week that connect Abaiang with Marakei and the international airport at South Tarawa.

There are also boat charters available from South Tarawa to Abaiang.


  • To Marakei atoll: 40 km (over sea)
  • To Tarawa atoll: 11 km (over sea)
  • To South Tarawa (national capital, on Tarawa): 43 km (over sea)


There are three guesthouses on Abaiang.[14] The Island Council guest house is situated in Taburao village and welcomes tourists as well as providing accommodation for Government workers and other travellers. "Ouba Islet Resort" is an eco-tourism resort on Ouba island in the north-western perimeter of the atoll, which has been operating since July, 2006. "Teiria Islet Beach Escape" is a small resort on the islet of Teiria.


  1. ^ a b c Canby 1984, p. 1
  2. ^ a b c Hoiberg 1998, p. 7
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "4. Abaiang" (PDF). Office of Te Beretitent - Republic of Kiribati Island Report Series. 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Kiribati National Statistics Office 2012, pp. 36–37
  5. ^ a b "Tebunginako Village". Office of Te Beretitent - Republic of Kiribati. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Anon 2012
  7. ^ Kiribati National Statistics Office 2012, p. 31
  8. ^ Kiribati National Statistics Office 2012, p. 223
  9. ^ a b Cohen 1998, p. 2
  10. ^ Fortune 2000, p. 583
  11. ^ Aileen 2010, p. 2
  12. ^ Judd 1920, p. 49
  13. ^ Anon 2005
  14. ^ Anon 2012a


  • Aileen (2010). "About Abaiang Island". Kiribati for Travellers. Government of Kiribati. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  • Anon (2005). "Post Office List: Details for Gilbert & Ellice Islands Post Offices". Premier Postal History. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  • Anon (2012). "Tebunginako Village". Kiribati Climate Change. Government of Kiribati. Archived from the original on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  • Anon (2012a). "Outer Islands Accommodation - Gilbert Group of Islands". Government of  
  • Canby, Courtlandt (1984). "Abaiang Atoll". In Carruth, Gorton. The Encyclopedia of Historic Places. I: A-L. New York, NY: Fact on File Publications.  
  • Cohen, Saul B., ed. (1998). "Abaiang". The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. 1: A to G. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.  
  • Fortune, Kate (2000). "Kiribati". In Lal, Brij V.; Fortune, Kate. The Pacific Islands, an Encyclopedia. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 582–584.  
  • Judd, Henry P. (1920). "The Hawaiian Mission to Marquesas and Micronesia". The Centennial Book: One Hundred Years of Christian Civilization in Hawaii: 1820-1920. Honolulu, HI: Central Committee of the Hawaiian Mission Centennial. 
  • Kiribati National Statistics Office (August 2012). "Report on the Kiribati 2010 Census of Population and Housing". 1: Basic Information and Tables. National Statistics Office, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Government of Kiribati. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 

External links

  • Exhibit: The Alfred Agate Collection: The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 from the Navy Art Gallery

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