Kiribati Tungaru Association working with the British Museum

By Krista Dixon

What is the Kiribati Tungaru Association?

The Kiribati Tungaru Association (KTA) is a group of people based in Britain and elsewhere in Europe who have family, social, cultural or employment links to the islands of Kiribati, an island nation spans the Central Pacific Ocean. The Association was set up in 1994 by several families of mixed marriage between former colonial staff and aid workers from Britain, and I-Kiribati (people from Kiribati). The Associations aim was to bring together other similar families who had lived and worked in or have links to Kiribati, to support I-Kiribati visitors while they are in Europe, and to teach the young generation more about our culture and traditions through dialogue and dance.

Image 1: Dottie Skrzypek (aged 6) performing a traditional Kiribati dance at the KTA annual gathering in July 2017 with live singers in the background.

Image 2: KTA dancers getting ready to perform at the annual gathering in Mytchett, Surrey, July 2017

The Association is a made of just over 150 families; it is a non-profit organisation and its main activities are social and cultural. The KTA strengthens the bonds and communication between Kiribati families and friends in Europe through organised social gatherings. An event of particular significance is staged annually in July. This annual gathering usually extends over a long weekend and brings together all KTA members and friends. The event coincides with Kiribati National Day, when the islands celebrate the start of sovereignty as a Republic on 12th July 1979, and the end of 87 years of colonial rule by the British Crown.

For more information about the KTA please find more information on our website or our Facebook page – Kiribati Tungaru Association UK.

Image 3: KTA members: Krista Dixon (blog writer), Victoria Burns, Emily Baddeley and Lucy Harris. The writer sees these women as her cousins, they have grown up together and are all a mix of Kiribati and English decent.

Image 4: I-Kiribati women Tekaobo Wainwright, Aorita Andrewartha, Rotee Walsh and Philomena Lawrence singing the Kiribati national anthem at a KTA event

My experience of the Kiribati Tungaru Association

I was born in Kiribati on the island Nikunau. My mother is I- Kiribati and my father is English. Due to my father’s work in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, England and Kiribati, we relocated several times growing up. After 10 years in New Zealand, my family lived on Tarawa, Kiribati for two years, and then to Milton Keynes, England. I found the transition between Tarawa and Milton Keynes challenging. I switched from the island culture, a very simple way of life, leaving my island cousins and family behind, and started a high school set in a modern English town not knowing anyone.

However, upon arriving in England, we soon connected with the KTA community. Being a part of this group really kept the island spirit and culture alive whilst being so far away from the islands. Meeting other families with children around the same age who were also from Kiribati was such a blessing. Growing up we would meet every 1-2 months for dance practices or at big celebrations, such as weddings, first birthdays, christenings etc. These regular gatherings would allow us to engage with our culture through dancing, reminiscing about island life (for those that had also been based there / or been back there), and we would naturally have a common connection being half I-Kiribati and half English, which really bonded us children. Growing up together we were then and continue to still be a tight knit community, we see each other as family, though we are not actually blood related. However, the bond that we all have and due to so few of us being in Britain has created a strong and loving Kiribati spirit.

Image 5: Lisa White, Chloe Karea, Krista Dixon, Victoria Burns and Falefatu Stone Tamotu celebrating island culture at a Pacific Island Festival in North Yorkshire, 2016.

Eighteen years later and I am still very much a part of the Kiribati community and an active member of the KTA which is run by volunteers. Indeed, the I-Kiribati mothers have now taken a step back from running the committee so it is up to the next generation like me to uphold and continue the aims and objectives of the association.  I have been on the committee for the past three years and now volunteer as secretary.

Image 6: KTA dancers getting ready for a performance at the KTA annual event in July 2010 in Asburton, Devon

Kiribati Objects Journeys at the British Museum

The Kiribati Objects Journeys project is about objects, artefacts of Kiribati past and present. It arose from Kayte McSweeney from the British Museum approaching the KTA. The Museum was looking to engage with I-Kiribati people in Britain to explore the Kiribati collection and put together a public exhibition and, naturally, the KTA got involved. As well as myself, Victoria Burns, Chloe Karea, Suzanne Healey, Tabera Ewurum and her daughter Angela all jumped at the chance to be a part of this project.  We have worked with the museum for the past year on the exhibition.  It has been such a different and rewarding experience to work with the Museum staff and curators, with particular mention to Kayte McSweeney, Polly Bence, Jane Batty and Julie Adams. Kayte has steered the canoe and coordinated this project. As we are so far from the islands of Kiribati we don’t typically get to handle and discuss the use of traditional objects, and so it has been an opportunity to really investigate and explore deeper into our heritage.

Image 7: Kiribati Object Journeys display at in Room 24, the British Museum © Trustees of the British Museum

The Kiribati Object Journeys display opened on August 2nd to the public with a celebration event to launch the year-long display on Friday 25th August. When the British Museum invited the KTA to dance and perform in the Great Court at this launch, I know that all of the dances from the KTA group were honoured and proud to be representing the Kiribati islands. The launch proved a fantastic chance to raise awareness and share our culture with members of the public, either just passing through the Museum or who came especially, having some association with Kiribati at some time or other. It is always surprising and fascinating to hear from people who have been to Kiribati, as it is seems rare to come across people who even know the country exists, let alone visited it. I am always intrigued to hear their stories or experiences from the islands.

Image 8: KTA dancers (from left to right) Kimberley Barnes, Olivia Lawrence and Ella Lawrence performing a traditional dance at the Kiribati opening event at the British Museum

Image 9: KTA dancers (William Orme and Henry Orme) performing a traditional dance at the Kiribati opening event at the British Museum

Image 10: KTA dancers Chloe Karea and Anne Orme performing a Kiribati traditional dance at the Kiribati Object Journeys opening event, 25th August 2017 © Trustees of the British Museum

We are so grateful to all those who attended the launch and who’ve visited the exhibition since. Like everyone else in the KTA, I’m very excited about the next event at the British Museum, which is taking place on Sunday 5th November. More details to follow so please, do drop by!