Dancing in Kiribati has similarities with the dancing in the Pacific Islands. What makes their dancing unique is the attempt to move their heads and arms like the frigate bird, one of the symbols in their flag. This bird movements are characterized by quick movements of the head and arms. According to one website there are 8 traditional dances in Kiribati: Te Buki, Te Ruoia, Te Kabuti, Te Tirere (stick dance), Te Kaimatoa, Te Bino (Sitting Dance) and The Mwaie. (Yes, they only listed 7). (1)
Here are some photos to begin…
This is the most common dance of Kiribati. It means the dance of strength. They move their arms in quick outbursts of energy using their palms to slap their legs to create the music beat. Thy also tend to squat often and stretch their arms. There are also singers seated nearby that sing and clap to create the music they dance to. Here is a video of men dancing the Kaimatoa:
HERE you can see another video which is the best one I found that also shows women.
This dance is probably what we are more familiar with, the dance of the hips. The dance is only performed by women and requires the dancer to wear a very thick and heavy coconut frond skirt made of boiled and softened newly sprouted pinneals of the coconut leaf (te kakoko). The skirt can weigh up to 22 pounds! (ten kilograms) and are generally shin length. The dancers try to make quick movements from side to side using only their hips to resemble the movement of the water. (2)
What did you think of the impromptu male dancer and the woman who is slapping them with salt?
One of the oldest forms is called the Ruoia. Of what I understood it is a sort of Festival where people would gather to share in dance, song and poems. It would start with the most noble guest and it was not done for health or good luck but honor and acclaim.
According to Wikipedia, there are three subtle forms; te kemai (usually performed by men), te kabuti (performed only by women) and the third is unique to Abemama atoll where it is greatly stylised. This is called te wa ni banga. The musical origin of this form of dance is not clear.
I found this excerpt online from a book called “Tungaru Traditions: Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands” (3)
Not sure if this is the Ruoia dance, but it was one of the hits in YouTube when doing a search:
This is the only dance using a type of percussion instrument. The tirere is usually performed by a group of ten to twenty paired dancers. Each dancer has a foot long stick which are struck in time with the accompanying song to create a rhythm. The tirere is rarely performed in contemporary Kiribati. (4)
Sadly, I could not find a video. But…I found this video that was very endearing, a woman singing in Kiribati… it transported me there somehow.
I can’t help feeling sad as I write these posts about Kiribati. I found an article and it described how the Kiribati dancers were dancing right close to my home in Connecticut to raise awareness of how their homeland sinks day to day. You can see a bit of it below and find it whole HERE.
(3) Book: “Tungaru Traditions: Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands”