Historical first for Queen’s Baton in Kiribati
For the first time in Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) history in Kiribati, the Queen’s Baton has travelled beyond the main island of Tarawa to one of nation’s outer atolls – the most isolated stop for the Baton’s journey so far.
Of Kiribati’s 33 islands, 21 are inhabited. The low-lying atolls scatter across a vast swathe of Pacific Ocean, straddling both the equator and International Date Line. It is one of the most remote and hard to get to nations on earth, so when the Queen’s Baton arrived to Maiana, population 2,000, it was as if the Queen herself had come to town.
On landing, Maiana’s chief elder, Tiiman Enoka, formally received the Baton on the island’s coral runway before the entire council of elders gave the Relay permission to proceed.
The first of the barefooted batonbearers set off at dead low tide through Tebikerai, a village that is separated from the rest of the island at high tide. After running across the tidal flats, the Baton was carried through all nine villages strung along the narrow strip of land that forms Maiana.
Batonbearers weaved through village huts and zigzagged back and forth across the dirt road so that every single person on the island was able to touch, kiss and hold the Baton.
The Relay culminated in a community gathering at a traditional meeting place, a rectangular open-air building, with a thatched roof buttressed by squat limestone pillars. Sitting cross-legged along the inside edge of the building was the council of elders and representatives from Kiribati’s Commonwealth Games Association.
The occasion of the QBR was treated with dignity and respect, which in Maiana means dancing, singing and feasting, followed by feasting, singing and dancing! It was a night of merriment that didn’t end until the council of elders said so, by which time the full moon was high in the night sky and the tide had turned back out to sea.
What else should you know about Kiribati?
- Not to miss out, the Queen’s Baton stopped at 25 schools in Tarawa.
- Weightlifter David Katoatau is Kiribati’s only Commonwealth Games gold medallist, lifting 148kg in the snatch and 200kg in the clean and jerk at Glasgow 2014. The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games will be Katoatau’s last international multi-sporting competition.
- Kiribati is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to climate change, a subject that made international headlines at Rio 2016 when flagbearer Katoatau danced his way into the Opening Ceremony.
- Another more traditional dance that is unique to Kiribati mimics the movements of the frigate bird, one of the few species that flies so far out in the Pacific Ocean.