In 1916 a few of the islands in the Line Island chain (in Kiribati's
far east) joined this union and later most of the rest of the Line Islands joined
as well. All of these islands were eventually incorporated into the British colony
called the British Western Pacific Territories. At this time the rest of the Line
Islands, as well as the Phoenix Islands fell under the Jurisdiction of the
Throughout this period of British rule foreigners
settled the islands, but these islands were never a focus of British colonization
and never became a significant immigration destination for the British or other
foreign nationals. Because of this, little changed in the culture of the people
of Kiribati during these years. The two most significant
and longest lasting changes during this time came in the form of technology, such
as new communication and transportation, and the introduction of Christianity.
Missionaries from the United Kingdom and other countries
arrived to the islands to spread Christianity and they did so very successfully.
This was likely the most important change to the people, their lifestyle, and their
culture instigated by the British and other foreigners on the islands, including
the Americans in the Phoenix Islands and
The primary reason few other cultural changes took place, and the reason few settlers
arrived to the islands was that there was no true economic value in the islands.
In fact the only island that held true colonial power was Banaba due to the Phosphate
deposits. Banaba was the only economic power in the islands, so became home to most
of the settlers and trade in the islands. Sadly, these mines were emptied and the
foreigners left, leaving behind few changes other than the destruction of the island's
It was also during this time, in 1937, that famed American aviator Amelia Earhart
went missing on a flight in the region. It is believed by some that she may have
landed and/or crashed on Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro), which is in the
Phoenix Islands and at the time under the jurisdiction of the
Having little military presence in the islands, when the Japanese arrived in World
War II, they easily took over a few of the islands in today's
Kiribati, but the British and other Allied
forces re-took these lands later in the war as the islands became stepping stones
on the path to Japan. Tarawa Atoll was the recipient of one
of these battles, which the Allies eventually won as they moved northwest from there.
After the war, Kiribati remained under
British control, but by the 1970s independence was becoming more realistic.
The Ellice Islands declared independence in 1975, creating the nation of
Tuvalu and in 1978 the Gilbert Islands held their first general election,
giving this island chain, along with the Line Islands and Phoenix Islands independence
in 1979. The British had little interest in maintaining these islands as they had
little economic value and few British settlers had called the islands home, so the
transition was relatively smooth from the British perspective.
Since independence in 1979 Kiribati has, for the most part,
remained politically stable. The only major issue is that the island of Banaba has
run out of phosphate and their local economy has essentially crashed. Many of the
residents have moved to Fiji and some are actively requesting that the island of
Banaba join Fiji. Despite these calls for succession by Banaba,
no legislature has been passed to make this move official. Today only about 300
people still live on the island of Banaba.