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Kiribati is a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean. It covers 280 square miles (726 sq. km), making it roughly four times the size of Washington, DC. The nation is made up of 33 atolls, spread out over more than a million square miles (more than three million square kilometers). Historically Kiribati is also referred to as the Gilbert Islands, with the name Kiribati coming from the local pronunciation of Gilbert.
Kiribati was first settled in the 1st millennium BCE by Micronesian groups. In subsequent centuries the islands would be conquered by the Tongans, the Samoans, and the Fijians, adding elements of both the Melanesian and Polynesian cultures to their heritage.
The islands were first spotted by Europeans sometime in the 16th century, but interest remained minimal for the next two centuries. In the 18th century Europeans began to use the islands as bases for whaling and trading, and were eventually absorbed by the British as a protectorate.
In the early 20th century the British joined Kiribati with a number of other island groups to form the British Western Pacific Territories, which it administered as a colony. During World War II the islands of Kiribati were an important battleground in the Pacific theater between the United States and Japan.
Beginning in the 1960s the British started to move Kiribati, along with other Pacific holdings, towards independence. A level of autonomy was granted to the islands, and the Western Pacific Territories union was dissolved in 1971. In 1975 a group of islands that had been a part of Kiribati split off and declared independence as Tuvalu. In 1977 the islands attained self-governance, and in 1979 Kiribati was declared an independent nation.
Kiribati went on to develop peacefully, and its economy continues to grow. The early years were uniquely marked by having the youngest elected head of a Commonwealth, Ieremia Tabai, who was 29 years old when elected. In recent years the island of Banaba has made bids to secede from Kiribati, and to become a Fijian protectorate. The Kiribati government has responded to this desire by giving Banaba a number of concessions, including returning government land on the island and giving Banaba a representative in the legislature.
Kiribati is one of the most remote island paradises left in the world, and for those who want to get away and soak up the sun on unspoiled beaches without the hassle of throngs of tourists, it is ideal. The infrastructure here reflects the lack of tourist hordes, so visitors may occasionally find themselves roughing it a bit, but it is more than made up for by the beauty of the place. There are no specific attractions on Kiribati, just good beaches, great coral reefs, and atolls that stand out above the others. The people here are friendly, open, and deeply religious, and for those who offer them respect they go out of their way to ensure an unforgettable visit.
Flights come in to Tarawa regularly from both Hawaii and Fiji. There is no regular ship transport to or from Kiribati, but yachts often make port here, and hitching a ride from a nearby island is usually possible with a bit of know how.