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South Tarawa (map within Tarawa Atoll).png
Map of South Tarawa (red) and North Tarawa (yellow) within Tarawa Atoll
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Archipelago Gilbert Islands
Area 500 km2 (190 sq mi)
Highest elevation 3 m (10 ft)
Population 56,284 (as of 2010)
Map of the Tarawa atoll

Tarawa is an atoll and the capital of the Republic of Kiribati,[1][2][3] in the central Pacific Ocean. It comprises North Tarawa, which has much in common with other, more remote islands of the Gilberts group; and South Tarawa, which is home to 50,182 as of 2010 – half of the country's total population.[4][5] The atoll is best known by outsiders as the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.


Tarawa has a large lagoon, of over 500 km2, and a wide reef. Although naturally abundant in fish and shellfish of all kinds, marine resources are being overharvested by the large and growing population. Drought is frequent, but in normal years rainfall is sufficient to maintain breadfruit, papaya and banana trees as well as coconut and pandanus.

North Tarawa consists of a string of islets, with the most northern islet being Buariki. The islets are separated in places by wide channels that are best crossed at low tide.[6]

On South Tarawa, the construction of causeways has now created a single strip of land from Betio in the West to Buota in the Northeast.[7]


Tarawa atoll has three administrative subdivisions:

  • Betio Town Council (or BTC), on Betio Islet;
  • Teinainano Urban Council (or TUC), from Bairiki to Bonriki (The meaning of Teinainano is "down of the mast", alluding to the sail-shape of the atoll.)
  • Eutan Tarawa Council (or ETC), for North Tarawa or Tarawa Ieta (all the islets on the east side north of Bonriki, including Buota which is linked by road to South Tarawa).[8]

South Tarawa is the capital of the Republic of Kiribati. The House of Assembly is in Ambo, and the State House is in Bairiki. The offices of the various Ministries of the Kiribati Government are located from Betio in the South nawerewere at the Eastern end of North Tarawa.

The settlements on Tawara include:

  • Marenanuka;
  • Taborio, where the Immaculate Heart College, a Catholic school, is situated.


Japanese World War II Defenses on Tarawa

In Kiribati mythology, Tarawa was the earth when the land, ocean and sky had not been cleaved yet by Nareau the spider. Thus after calling the sky ‘karawa’ and the ocean ‘marawa’, he called the piece of rock that ‘Riiki’ (another god that Nareau found) had stood upon when he lifted up the sky as, ‘Tarawa’. Nareau then created the rest of the islands in Kiribati and also Samoa.

People arrived on these islands thousands of years ago, and there have been migrations to and from Kiribati since antiquity.[9]

Evidence from a range of sources including carbon dating and DNA analysis confirms that the exploration of the Pacific included settlement of the Gilbert Islands by around 200 BC. The people of Kiribati are still excellent seafarers, capable of making ocean crossings in locally-made vessels using traditional navigation techniques.[10]

Thomas Gilbert, captain of the East India Company vessel Charlotte, was the first European to describe Tarawa, arriving on June 20, 1788. He named it Matthew Island, after the owner of his ship, the Charlotte. He named the lagoon, Charlotte Bay. [11] Gilbert's 1788 sketches survive.

Tarawa Post Office opened on 1 January 1911.[12]

Sir Arthur Grimble was a cadet administrative officer based at Tarawa (1913–1919);.[13] and became Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony in 1926.[14]

During World War II, Tarawa was occupied by the Japanese, and beginning on November 20, 1943 it was the scene of the bloody Battle of Tarawa. On that day United States Marines landed on Tarawa and suffered heavy losses from Japanese soldiers occupying entrenched positions on the atoll. The Marines secured the island after 76 hours of intense fighting with around 6,000 dead in total from both sides.

The Kiribati Government commenced a road restoration project funded in part by the World Bank in 2014 to surface the main road between Betio in the West to Bonriki in the East,[15] upgrading the main road that transits Tarawa from a dirt road.


In popular culture


  • USS Tarawa is the name of the first LHA-class amphibious assault ship.


  1. http://www.kiribatitourism.gov.ki/index.php/aboutkiribati/aboutkiribatioverview |title = Kiribati government website |publisher = Government of Kiribati | accessdate = 2014-05-29
  2. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kr.html |title = CIA
  3. http://publications.europa.eu/code/en/en-5000500.htm |title = European Union - list of countries in the world
  4. Country files at earth-info.nga.mil
  5. "Kiribati Census Report 2010 Volume 1" (PDF). National Statistics Office, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Government of Kiribati. Retrieved 17 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "North Tarawa Island Report 2012". Government of Kiribati.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "South Tarawa Island Report 2012". Government of Kiribati.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Dr Temakei Tebano & others (March 2008). "Island/atoll climate change profiles - Tarawaieta (North Tawara)". Office of Te Beretitent - Republic of Kiribati Island Report Series (for KAP II (Phase 2). Retrieved 28 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. North Tarawa Socioeconomic Report 2008. Secretariat of the Pacific Community and Government of Kiribati
  10. Howe, K. R. (2006). Vaka Moana - voyages of the ancestors. David Bateman. ISBN 1869536258.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Samuel Eliot Morison (1944-05-22). "The Gilberts & Marshalls: A distinguished historian recalls the past of two recently captured pacific groups". Life magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-14. Being now abreast of this island, the extremity ending in a beautiful clump of trees, I hauled up to look at the bay. It appeared to be safe and commodious, sheltered by a long reef running parallel with the island, with two large inlets into the bay. The reef is about 3/4 of a mile from the beach, and has several small islands which appear like flower pots.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Premier Postal Auctions. Retrieved 5 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Grimble, Sir Arthur (1952). "A Pattern of Islands". Early New Zealand Books (NZETC). Retrieved 16 Oct 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Grimble, Sir Arthur. A Pattern of Islands. John Murray & Co, London, 1952; republished 2011 by Eland, London. ISBN 978-1-906011-45-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P122151/kiribati-road-rehabilitation-project?lang=en

External links

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