Arietana of Kiribati


Arietana of Kiribati

Life can be very simple when you live on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Ten-year-old Arietana lives on the island of Buota in the nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) in a house made from coconut trees. Arietana loves his island home; he can walk to church or school, and he knows everyone in his small village.

One of the ways he and his friends have fun is making their own toys. Arietana and his brother, nine-year-old Ienratu, make cars and boats from tin cans and pieces of wood. They also make coconut tree leaves into toys that snap and whistle. Sometimes Arietana makes windmills for his four-year-old sister, Tiareni, to run and play with.

Arietana’s father, Beniera, is concerned that his children learn about the gospel so they can be strong Church members. They have a short family devotional every morning and evening in their home. They also enjoy going to church on Sunday. They are members of the Rawannawi Branch and are often the first ones to arrive at church. Arietana’s mother, Katangiman, is the Relief Society president, so Arietana helps look after his sisters, Tiareni and Nei Mwa, while she takes care of her responsibilities.

Arietana likes to talk about the branch’s special meetinghouse. “Our chapel is a maneaba—it’s made from coconut trees. It is open on the sides and has a thatched roof. Everyone sits on woven mats on the floor,” he explains. After sacrament meeting the Primary children meet in a small hut beside the maneaba.

“I like Primary,” says Arietana. “We sing and learn stories from the scriptures.” His favorite Book of Mormon character is Nephi. He likes the story of Nephi breaking his bow and having to make a new one to get food for the family. He and the other children in his Primary are learning to sing “I Am a Child of God” in English.

Kiribati is a country of many small islands and lots of ocean. Buota is part of the Tarawa Atoll. The Pacific Ocean is on one side of the island, and there is a lagoon on the other. An atoll is a chain of small islands close together that forms a circle or semicircle. Inside the circle is a lagoon; outside the circle is the ocean. Most of the islands in the atoll are long and narrow, so you can see both the ocean and the lagoon from the same spot on the island. Since the islands are so close to their neighbors, some of them are joined by bridges or causeways. The island of Buota has a bridge on one end joining it to the island to the south, but to go to the next island to the north, people must wade in the water or ride in a canoe.

Arietana’s home is near the equator, so the weather is hot every day of the year, and the ocean is very warm. The children spend much of their time in the water swimming, fishing, or just playing. Arietana likes fishing and digging in the sand for clams. “One day I caught enough fish for my family’s dinner,” he says. “My father was very surprised that I caught so many. When I want to go fishing, I find a small hermit crab for bait; then I drop my line from the bridge and wait for the fish to bite.”

Arietana belongs to a dancing group who are learning traditional Kiribati dancing. The boys and girls of his country are very young when they start learning the beautiful sitting and standing dances that are part of their way of life. In many of the dances, they move their arms gracefully in ways that represent birds flying. When Arietana’s dancing group performs, some of the children dance while the others sing or beat the rhythm on a large wooden box.

The mat Arietana and the other boys wear for a dancing costume is called Te Burebure. Arietana’s mother made his dancing mat and his arm decorations. He enjoys dancing, especially when his group performs for their parents or represents their village at special occasions like birthday parties or holidays.

Arietana’s mother says he is a good worker and willingly does his assigned chores around the house. She explains, “Every morning he sweeps up the leaves in the yard, and in the evening he is responsible for getting the mosquito nets down and for arranging the sleeping mats.” Arietana adds that he also enjoys cooking. “I like to help prepare the meals; sometimes my mother lets me boil our drinking water or cook the rice for dinner.” He adds, “My favorite foods are fish, breadfruit, and rice.”

Every morning before school, Arietana and Ienratu exercise by running. Arietana likes to run, and he wants to learn to wrestle like his father, who won the Kiribati National Wrestling Championship twice. Sometimes, for a special outing, Arietana’s family goes to the airport where his father is a security guard.

Like many families in Kiribati, Arietana’s extended family lives close to one another; his aunts, uncles, and grandmother all live near his home. This closeness gives Arietana and the other children plenty of cousins to play with. Living close by also makes it easy for family members to help one another. The people of Kiribati believe it is very important to help all family members.

One of the most exciting experiences Arietana has had was Elder L. Tom Perry’s visit to dedicate Kiribati for missionary work and to form the first stake there. Arietana’s whole family made the trip to Eita to be part of the event. They were very excited to have an opportunity to see and hear an Apostle of the Lord. Even the president of Kiribati came to hear Elder Perry speak!

Arietana speaks a language called I-Kiribati, and like all the other people on his island, he has only one name. When he needs a second one for official records,he puts his father’s name after his. Arietana’s father’s name is Beniera, so his full name would be Arietana Beniera. But his grandfather’s name is Koneteti, so his father’s name is Beniera Koneteti.

Arietana was baptized in the ocean by his father. He says that being a member of the Church makes him very happy. When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, Arietana replies, “I want to serve a mission like my father and be a fisherman.”

As his testimony continues to grow, he will surely find his nets full.

[photos] Photography by Joyce Findlay

[photos] Below: Arietana and his family in front of their house, made of native coconut trees. Center: Arietana enjoys fishing. Right: Arietana by his family’s canoe, which is used for transportation and fishing.

[photos] You have to run to keep up with Tiareni, Ienratu, and Arietana. Their enthusiasm for life almost keeps pace with their love of the gospel.