Kiribati - Settlements

Precolonial villages were social and political units centered on a meetinghouse ( te mwaneaba). The settlement pattern was one of dispersed hamlets on descent-group lands, which usually ran across islets from west to east. Around 1900 the Resident Commissioner and government agents ordered Villages consolidated along a road running parallel to the Western (leeward) shore of each inhabited islet, even if that meant forcing people to move off their hereditary lands. They also compelled the islanders to build houses according to a uniform pattern. A house consists essentially of a roof covered with coconut- or pandanus-leaf thatch and supported by four or six wooden posts. Unlike most precolonial houses, the new-style ones have raised floors of split coconut-leaf midribs and can comfortably accommodate only one nuclear family. Following a colonial regulation, each family still builds separate houses for sleeping and eating. In the 1980s some relatively affluent people, such as the families of merchant seamen, and members of clubs organized for that purpose were erecting cement-block houses with galvanized-iron roofs and facilities for catching rainwater. Large meetinghouses are still constructed in more or less the traditional style, not only as sites for village councils and festivities but also by church congregations and neighborhoods.

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