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Tabiteuea Island

Tabiteuea, formerly Drummond’s Island, is an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati, farther south of the Tarawa Atoll. The atoll consists of two main islands: Eanikai in the north, Nuguti in the south, and several smaller islets in between along the eastern rim of the atoll. The atoll has a total land area of 38 km2 (15 sq mi), while the lagoon measures 365 km2 (141 sq mi). The population numbered 4,899 in 2005.

While most atolls of the Gilbert Islands correspond to local government areas governed by island councils, Tabiteuea, like the main atoll Tarawa, is divided into two:

  • Tabiteuea North has a land area of 26 km2 (10 sq mi) and a population of 3,600 as of 2005, distributed among twelve villages (capital Utiroa).
  • Tabiteuea South has a land area of 12 km2 (4.6 sq mi) and a population of 1,299, distributed among six villages (capital Buariki).

“Tabiteuea” is Gilbertese for “land of no chiefs”; the island is traditionally egalitarian. In the late 1800s, the two islands were the site of a religious war when the populace of Tabiteuea North converted to Christianity and, led by a man called Kapu who had assembled a “hymn-singing army on a crusade”, invaded and conquered Tabiteuea South, which had maintained traditional religious practice.

The Battle of Drummond’s Island occurred during the United States Exploring Expedition in April 1841 at Tabiteuea, then known as Drummond’s Island. After one sailor from sloop USS Peacock, was captured by the islanders, the US party decided on exacting redress for the incident. Twelve islanders were killed in the fighting and others were wounded.

During the US Civil War, the Confederate States Navy steamer CSS Shenandoah visited the island on March 23, 1865 in search of United States whalers, but the whalers had fled the area. Captain James Waddell described the islanders as “of copper colour, short of statue, athletic in form, intelligent and docile” and were “without a stitch of clothing”.

Tabiteuea Post Office opened around 1911 and was renamed Tabiteuea North around 1972. Tabiteuea South Post Office opened on 13 September 1965.

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