Unimwane Day is celebrated on July 15 of every calendar year in Kiribati. ‘Unimwane’ means ‘elder man’, while ‘elder women’ are called ‘unaine’. Unimwane Day honors the male elders of the village since a council of them used to administer the communities and make decisions on social, political, and economic issues in the past. Because they were made after thorough consideration by the community’s oldest, wisest, and most experienced members, their decisions were regarded to be the best. While there is still an Unimwane Association that advises on crucial matters, the system is mostly extinct.
History of Unimwane Day
The area now known as Kiribati, mainly the 16 Gilbert Islands, has been inhabited by Austronesian peoples speaking the same Oceanic language, since sometime between 3000 B.C. and 1300 A.D. Around 1300 A.D., a huge exodus occurred from Samoa, coinciding with the forced abolition of cannibalism, resulting in the addition of Polynesian ancestry to the mix of most Gilbertese people. These Samoans would later bring strong features of Polynesian languages and culture and would create clans based on their Samoan traditions and slowly intertwined with the indigenous clans and powers already dominant in Kiribati. Travelers from Tonga and Fiji introduced some Melanesian cultural aspects as well.
In the 15th century, starkly contrasting systems of governance arose between the Northern Islands, primarily under a high chief structure, known as ‘uea’, and the Central and Southern Islands, mostly under the rule of their council of elders, the ‘unimwane’. Tabiteuea was an exception, as it was the only island known for its traditional egalitarian society. Tabiteuea gets its name from the root term ‘Tabu-te-Uea,’ which means ‘chiefs are prohibited.’
Soon after, civil war sprang out, with land acquisition as the primary means of conquest, and clans and chiefs began fighting over resources, fueled by animosity and reignited blood feuds. This lasted well into the European visitation and colonial era, from the 17th century onwards, and resulted in certain islands decimating their opponents with weapons and cannon-equipped ships that some Europeans were coerced into using by the more cunning and persuasive among the Kiribati leaders. From 1892 to January 12, 1916, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were a British protectorate, and subsequently a colony, until January 1, 1976.
Unimwane Day timeline
They all speak the same Oceanic language.
Following a mass exodus, they bring Polynesian languages, culture, and ancestry, and later people from Tonga and Fiji follow.
The Northern Islands are primarily under a high chief structure, known as ‘uea’, the Central and Southern Islands are mostly under the rule of their council of elders, the ‘unimwane’, and Tabiteuea maintains a traditionally egalitarian society.
This lasts well into the European visitation and colonial era, and some islands decimate their foes with guns and cannon-equipped ships that they coerce some Europeans into using.
This lasts until January 12, 1916, when they become a colony until January 1, 1976.
Unimwane Day FAQs
What is special about Kiribati?
Besides what we’ve previously mentioned in this article, Kiribati is special for being the only country in the world to be in all four cardinal hemispheres.
What is Kiribati best known for?
The country is known for its world-class fly-fishing, spectacular scuba diving, and incredible seabird wildlife.
What is the currency of Kiribati?
Their currency is the Kiribati dollar, which is pegged at a 1:1 ratio to the Australian dollar.
Unimwane Day Activities
Attend an Unimwane Day event
If you live in Kiribati, there’s probably one near you. There’s traditional Kiribati music and dancing, and political speeches. Don’t forget to take your grandpa!
Pay respect to an elderly man in your life
If you don’t live in a place where they host an Unimwane Day event, that’s fine. Think of an elderly man that’s important in your life, whether he’s family or not, and tell him how much he means to you. Consider spending some time with him and doing something he enjoys.
Learn more about Kiribati
If you aren’t from Kiribati, this may be your first time learning about this country. Sadly, this is all too common with non-First World countries, but this is a good day to learn about Kiribati’s history, culture, geography, and more.
5 Facts About Kiribati That You Probably Don’t Know
It doesn’t have an army
There are only 22 countries in the world that don’t have an army, and Kiribati is one of them.
It’s made up of 33 islands
Only 20 of these are inhabited.
Two uninhabited islands sank in 1999
They were Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea.
It’s very vulnerable to climate change
This is because it’s an island nation and has an elevation of just 6.56 feet.
The largest designated Marine Protected Area
Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area is the largest in the world, and it’s the country’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Why We Love Unimwane Day
It’s a day for respecting the elders
Seniors should be treated with respect since they have a wealth of life experience and may teach us about life's many challenges. We should treat them with respect every day of the year, but dedicating at least one complete day to them is much better.
The Unimwane Association still exists
In today’s world, the Unimwane Association is represented in local government as a nominated member who assists, advises, and most times instructs the Council to make the necessary decisions. The cultural respect for unimwane is not lost in Kiribati, and as long as that remains, this day will be very important for them.
It’s a window into Kiribati and its culture
Kiribati does not have many national holidays, although that is not the case today. Learning about foreign cultures through their festivals is something we enjoy doing at National Today, and Kiribati is no exception.
Unimwane Day dates