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Marakei is an island in Kiribati. Marakei Island is unique among the islands in the Gilbert Group for being the island with a deep blue lagoon located in the middle of it.


It is the only island in Kiribati with the traditional welcome known as Te Katabwanin for first time visitors. With less interruption from World War II, it is in Marakei that you can experience the natural environment with a simple traditional lifestyle. If you have a longtime dream to have a real taste and sense of living in a traditional and cultural setting, Marakei is your island. Marakei is also known as a “land of women” as related to its history where spiritual guardians are all women. Shrines of these spiritual guardians can also be found on the island.

On Marakei, facilities and services are limited and the island is remote in nature. You will need flexibility in your plans to allow for instances where there may be transport delays. Accommodation is basic and food will be what is available locally. It is strongly recommended that you take additional supplies of drinking water. Medical facilities are limited on the islands to a local clinic and village nurse. Pharmaceuticals are not available and you will to ensure you have any medications you may require and basic medical supplies. Please also ensure you have advised family and friends of your travel plans and when you expect to return. Communications while on the island may be limited, however most villages will have a public phone. It is also important to note that as a sign of respect you will need to leave offerings at a number of the shines you visit. Tobacco/cigarettes are the traditional offering. If you are interested in participating in any cultural activity please have it arranged prior your travel or you can ask around the local people and they are usually most obliging.


Marakei Island is a ring shaped atoll with an area of 13.5 square kilometres. It has a population of 2,800 (2015). It is north of Abaiang Island and 80 km north of Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. The main administrative centre is located at Rawannawi and serves as headquarter for schools, police services and clinics. The only government Junior Secondary School is also in this village. Two causeways have been constructed to join the island in a one ring shape and to give smooth access of any means of transport on the island. The flight to Marakei Island from takes around 15 minutes.

History, tradition and culture[edit]

The history of Marakei started off with the undated arrival of King Kirata who went there in search of his sister who married away to the island of Marakei. While there, he firstly initiated a term Te Katabwanin when he sent his bodyguards around the island to check whether there might be hindrances to face before searching for his sister. He sent two bodyguards; one went clockwise while the other went anti-clockwise. His bodyguard who went clockwise was found dead. From there, Te Katabwanin in an anticlockwise manner was started and noted until today that it is safe to do it in that manner. Then, followed by the arrival of the crews of Hernando de Grijalva’s vessel San Juan in 1857 that were known as the first discoverers of the island. Later, it was resided by white traders like Harry Holderson, John McCarthy, James Byrne and John Sandbergen. Labor traders also sighted Marakei Island and recruited some islanders to work as laborers in Guatemala. Then occupied by the Japanese in 1941 and liberated by the US forces in 1943.

Marakei Island was traditionally ruled by the elderly men (unimwane) in the past. Following independence of Kiribati from the British colony, ruling system for the islands of Kiribati was restructured and then the Mayor (formerly known as Chief Councilor) was elected through a vote to work together in collaboration with the elderly men. These are the only people who can make and impose decision regarding the community. It is also part of the island’s culture that importance of family, respect of the elderly as well as guest hospitality are to be upheld. Participation in cultural practices as well as coming together under the maneaba to socialize and feast are also valuable elements of the island’s culture. The island’s economy is predominantly subsistence with copra and fisheries, the main source of islander’s earnings.

The islanders are very religious following the arrival of the churches on the islands. Predominantly, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches are the two major denominations on the island. Other religions include Church of Christ of Latter Day Saint (LDS), Church of God and Seventh Day Adventist.

The code of dressing is also another matter of concern on the island. It is culturally preferable that all women and men should use casual wear. Particularly, women are not allowed to walk around with bikins, mini skirts or shorts. A skirt/short covered down to your knees or wrapped around sulus and T-shirts are preferable.

Traditional welcome for first time visitors[edit]

  • Escorted around the island in an anti-clockwise manner known as Te Katabwanin
  • Visit the four shrines of the Spiritual female guardians of the island namely Nei Reei, Nei Rotebenua, Nei Tangangau and Nei Nantekimam.
  • Visit other cultural and historical sites around Marakei
  • Visitors should be prepared to leave gifts, especially sticks of tobacco at each of the shrines.

Traditional custom is to present gifts to spiritual guardians to assure good health and good fortune during your stay. If it is your first time to Marakei Te Katabwanin should be performed on your first day of arrival on the island.

Get in[edit]

Get around[edit]

You can usually get a lift in a local truck to the council/catholic accommodation, it is also an easy work south through the town.

You can hire a motorbike for $20 a day, or a bicycle for $5 a day. If you do get a motorbike, make sure you get fuel before leaving. Go to the local shop and get at least 2L prior to heading out. That will be enough to do a full lap of the island.

Once in town, talk to your accommodation provider to hire



  • Escorting of visitors (Te Katabwanin) around the island in an anti-clockwise manner. This is to introduce you to the four women of the island, and there shrines.
  • Nature walking
  • Traditional canoeing
  • Snorkeling (please provide your own equipment)
  • Local dancing
  • Star gazing
  • Lagoon sports/games
  • Island Tour
  • Picnics at recommended spots (need to be arranged)


Most of the food that you will eat is locally produced - fresh fish, te koikoi (shellfish), crayfish (typically upon request), curries with pandanas fruit, etc. The shops tend to only sell the staples - rice, flour sugar and lollies.


Marakei is a dry island, so if you would like an alcoholic beverage, you will need to BYO. There is also very limited places with a refrigerator, so keep that in mind if you want a beer.

Water is also a problem if you only drink filtered/boiled water. The guest houses will be able to boil water for you. If you want bottled water, it is in very low quantities in the shops.


There are two places which have accommodation on the island, these are the Council accommodation, and the Catholic Church guest house. Make sure that you organise with at least a few days notice so that they can organise food. You may end up with tinned food, if they cannot source fresh food quickly. You can also try and stay with a local family, be prepared to offer some money to stay there, and of course be prepared with mosquito nets and appropriate drinking water/filters.

Council Guest House[edit]

Council - 4 buias along the oceanside waterfront, all equipped with mosquito nets and mattresses. $30pp with food, which is generally very delicious. The host, Matang, provide moimotos and hot water throughout your stay. The accommodation will also arrange motorbike and truck hire if you book in advance.

Catholic Guesthouse[edit]

Different to the council right on the infamous Marakei Surf break. Buias and Rooms available (including the VIP room - ensuite and double bed). Contact . $30pp with food. Definitely give sufficient warning, they need time to get food organised. If you have time the food is kangkang (delicious).


Go next[edit]

This rural area travel guide to Marakei is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.