Kiribati communities in Aotearoa

A starting point for building your understanding of Kiribati culture. It includes some common concepts, terms and phrases that families in Aotearoa might use and value. Read it alongside the related page Pacific peoples and cultures in Aotearoa.

Land and people

The Republic of Kiribati is made up of 33 islands of which 21 are inhabited. The islands are mostly low-lying coral atolls surrounded by extensive reefs. The people are known as I-Kiribati. 

Rising sea levels has led to the migration of a significant number of I-Kiribati to countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly in the early 21st century. The I-Kiribati population in Aotearoa is smaller than the Cook Islands Māori, Tokelau, Niuean, Samoan and Tongan populations.


Traditional Kiribati society and structure consists of:

  • – extended family

  • – village

  • – island 

  • – the whole of society.

Kiribati family structures
Kiribati family structures

Males have precedence over females, and hold significant power in decision-making. The (male elders) make decisions and resolve conflicts.  

The fundamental aspects of (wellbeing) for I-Kiribati are:

  • – a healthy environment and ecology

  • – skills of self-reliance related to subsistence and spiritual communion with nature

  • – customary practices distinct to I-Kiribati

  • – the demonstration of respect towards others.

Family terms

Kiribati English
child, children
a sister’s child
a brother’s child
unimane elders
family, household, relatives, society, congregation
ara bakatibu our ancestors

Common greetings and phrases

Kiribati English
Hello (to 1 person)
Hello (to more than 1 person)
Hello (to a large group or crowd)
How are you?
(or) Arau ngai … My name is…
Please, excuse me
(or) You are kind, Thank you
Have a nice day
(or) Goodbye
I’m sorry

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū

Most of the information in this article comes from Va'aifetū, the Oranga Tamariki cultural practice tool for working with Pacific children and their families. Read it to find out more about Pacific cultures and building relationships with Pacific peoples.

Working with Pacific peoples: Va'aifetū | Practice Centre(external link)