Dance of Kiribati

The uniqueness of Kiribati dance when compared with other forms of Pacific island dance is its emphasis on the outstretched arms of the dancer and the sudden birdlike movement of the head. The Frigate bird (Fregata minor) on the Kiribati flag refers to this bird-like style of Kiribati dancing. Most dances are in the standing or sitting position with movement limited and staggered.
Kiribati dancing can be categorized into seven main styles. Each incorporating the bird-like movements but differences lie in costume, the gender of the dancer, the number of dancers, accompanying music, and the position and movement of the dancer or dancers.
Ruoia – One of the oldest forms is called the Ruoia. The style requires the dancer or dancers to move in time with a chorus of singers standing behind them. Te Ruoia usually has three verses each sung with increasing tempo. Within the rouia there are three subtle forms; te kemai (usually performed by men), te kabuti (performed only by woman) and the third is unique to Abemama atoll where it is greatly stylised. The musical origin of this form of dance is not clear.
Bino – The Bino or sitting dance is performed by all islands in the Gilbert group. Most islands (and even villages) have a particular song unique to them. The bino is performed by both sexes and all ages.
Kaimatoa – The most widely practiced dance in contemporary Kiribati is the Kaimatoa, literally meaning the dance of strength. The dance tests the dancers physical endurance to outstretch their arms for long periods but it also test the dancers emotional endurance. The music and rhythm is often very emotive and it is not uncommon to see dancers weep throughout the dance. The kaimatoa can be performed by both men, women and children.
Buki – Another form which is relatively modern within the history of Kiribati dance is the Buki. The buki originated in the northern islands of the Gilbert group (Butaritari and Makin). However, it is widely danced in all islands. The dance is only performed by woman 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 ten kilograms (22 pounds) and generally shin length. As in the other forms of Pacific dance such as the Tahitian hura the buki emphasizes the movement of the hips. Generally the dancer is required to show effortlessness as if the torso and hips are disconnected. Hence, the torso and shoulders are to be kept as still as possible and the movement of the hips graceful and resembling the movement of water.
Tirere – The only dance using a type of percussion instrument is the tirere (pronounced seerere). 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.

Leave a Comment