Archaeological finds suggest that Kiribati may have been
colonized by Austronesian groups from Southeast Asia as
early as the second millennium BC, possibly even earlier.
During the 1300s AD Polynesian immigration from Tonga and
Samoa occurred in southern Kiribati.
It is possible that Spanish seafarers targeted some of
the Gilbert Islands as early as the 16th century. It is
certain that all the islands in present-day Kiribati were
discovered by European and American sailors during the
latter half of the 18th and early 19th centuries; inter alia
sailed Captain Thomas Gilbert, who named the Gilbert
Islands, the island of Tarawa in 1788 on his way to China.
During the 19th century, the islands were regularly visited
by British and American voters. Around the middle of the
century, European and American companies began a lucrative
export of coconut oil, copra and guano. At the same time,
part of the Micronesian population was forcibly recruited to
plantations around the Pacific. In order to prevent
Germany's colonial ambitions in the area, the British in
1892 made the Gilbert and Ellice Islands a protectorate,Gilbert
and Ellice Islands. Later it was incorporated with the
colony Banaba, Christmas Island (now Kiritimati), the
Phoenix Islands and most of the Line Islands.
During 1942-43, Kiribati was occupied by the Japanese,
and at Tarawa some of the fiercest fighting between the
United States and Japan took place during the Pacific War.
See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Kiribati. In 1957–58, the British used the Christmas Island to test
hydrogen bombs in the atmosphere. During the 1970s, British
decolonization reached the Pacific. In 1976 the Ellice
Islands broke loose and in 1978 became independent under the
The other islands, the Gilbert Islands Colony,
gained internal autonomy in 1977 and became independent in
1979 under the name Kiribati. The two islands of Canton and
Enderbury, which since 1939 were jointly managed by the
United States and Great Britain, resigned in 1983 to
Kiribati by the United States.
During the 2000s, the issue of the effects of climate
change on the future of the nation of Kiribati has
increasingly been at the center of the social and political
debate in the country.