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Maintaining the Kiribati connection

Maintaining the Kiribati connection

  • 12 Jul 2021
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Prior to moving to New Zealand in 2003, Kiribati-based Nei Teneti Kuraem Ratieta (Denise, pictured) says she saw herself as somewhat of an air post-master. 

Born and raised on Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati, Denise left Banaba when she was ten, to live on her mother’s island of Abemama. 

To gain better education opportunities, Denise’s parents decided to transfer their daughter to transfer to Betio, Tarawa where she attended primary school, and secondary schools at Tabwiroa, Abaiang and Taborio, North Tarawa.   

Like many Pacific people, Denise had a disciplined upbringing, which transmuted into strong self-discipline, enabling her to make and manage decisions. 

“These decisions have hugely contributed to who I am today,” she adds. 

Living in Kiribati, her interests and hobbies evolved around helping people in one way or another. 

“I was involved with leading community group fundraisings; assisting community church groups with drafting their by-laws; translating court documents; drafting references; and many other tasks.”  

These other tasks included delivering and sending goods to relatives on the outer islands. 

“I saw myself as an air post-master, as people continued to flow to my house asking me to take parcels or buckets of food to their relatives on the outer islands.  

“One day I returned home from work to see a number of buckets of food weighing about 10kgs each, all stacked up nicely in front of my house.  

“At first I was thrilled, thinking people had donated something to me for Christmas Day, however, the buckets were left there for me to take to relatives on different islands -  Marakei, Abemama, Maiana, and Nikunau.” 

Denise says everyone knew she often flew to the islands in Kiribati, and it made her an easy target, but Denise could not look away. 

“This is my culture, and this is how I interact and mingle with my community in Kiribati.” 

“I was enthusiastic about giving a helping hand to my community who had little to offer, yet they would kind-heartedly make contributions to friends and families living in remote islands.” 

Since moving to New Zealand in 2003, Denise has maintained a strong connection with her Kiribati heritage.

She has spent time as President of the Wellington Kiribati Community, which has contributed to local community organisations, and assisted with promoting events and festivals in the area, as well as leading a successful formal reception of the Kiribati delegation’s visit to Aotearoa, accompanied by the New Zealand delegation.  

Currently, Denise chairs the Kiribati Ribanaia Women’s Club.

“I enjoy working with the women to develop the many Kiribati skills I would have learnt in Kiribati and blending those with new techniques and knowledge.”

Denise is also the Assistant Secretary for the Wellington Kiribati Sports Club, and member of the Motiboi Kiribati Grammar Working Group, which has renewed her passion for the Kiribati language.

The Motiboi group is updating the Kiribati grammar book, and tailoring it to the Kiribati communities, especially Kiribati youth living in New Zealand.

This year, Denise is the Coordinator of the Kiribati Language Week Steering Committee and she has been busy organising activities for the third of nine Pacific Language Weeks, supported by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples.

“My task has been to ensure the decisions of the Committee, MPP and Stakeholders are addressed and delivered in a timely fashion.”

Kiribati Language Week - Wikin te Taetae ni Kiribati 2021 got underway yesterday (July 11), and it will conclude on July 17.

It focuses on the theme, Maubonian te teei i nanon te mwenga boni karekean te maiuraoi, te ongotaeka, ao te tangira, which in English means, the home is where we nurture our children towards a healthy, responsible, loving, and prosperous future. 

“It is vital to host Kiribati Language Week because, even today, Kiribati is not known to many – we need to promote it more,” Denise adds.

“More importantly, as it is for ­my Pacific brothers and sisters, our language is our identity, and without our identity, we do not exist.

“We share the concerns of seeing our language fading away for those who migrated to New Zealand at a young age.

It is crucial Kiribati people in New Zealand are proactive, and converse more in the Kiribati language to be able to hold on to it, and Denise says Kiribati Language Week gives people the opportunity to realise – and celebrate – the fact they are part of a unique culture.

“Without this culture, we risk losing what is more precious than anything else, and that is us.”

Learn more about the Pacific Language Weeks