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I was intrigued by the Banaban language ever since reading about it for the first time (in Te Rii ni Banaba).

A book about pre-Christian Hawaii that I received today, inspired me
(being reminded about the changes done to the language when missionaries arrived to Hawaii) to do some very small research in today's spare time.

This is really just a brainstorming:

- karawa - eastern side
Could it come from Tarawa place name? As Tarawa is to the east of Banaba.

- kauriri - let us go !
One of the meanings of kauli in Hawaiian dictionary is:
To creep along, move with a hissing sound, as fire.

- kiroro - Far away
kilo on Hawaiian dictionary translates to Stargazer, reader of omens, seer, astrologer, necromancer; kind of looking glass (rare); to watch closely, spy, examine, look around, observe, forecast.

What I wrote is probably off-base, and it's a topic to be left to experienced educated linguist albeit so intriguing to a laymen like me.

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As you can see from basic research a lot of the English language relating to various Pacific cultures is a 'white man's (te I-Matang) conversion of Islander words into what we would refer to as a bastardised English or pidgeon English .

Some good examples of these introduced or new English words are:

Sewing machine (matin ni tutu), in other words is the name of the sound (tutu) the machine makes

Push bike
(tebatiki te tou tou), meaning a kicking (tou tou) machine

Motocycle (tebatiki te iti), meaning (electical- also lightening) machine

Tin Corn Beef (burumakau) also referred by the Europeans who lived on the Islands as 'bullamacow' meaning the word bull for the males, the 'ma' for the sound they made, and the cow for the females.

(te buti), meaning boots

(kamea), which is a great example as they heard the te-Matang calling 'Come Here!' and this is the name for dogs that evolved. So if you are walking around a Banaban village don't think someone is demanding you to 'Come Here!' they are calling the dog that's running next to you.

House ( te auti) which pronounces as te house. The more traditional word for a house is really te mwenga but te auti has become more commonly used.

Boat (te boti) which likehouse is pronounced te boat. Again in tradition a outrigger canoe was and is still called a te wa.

Spoon (te bibun). Of course spoons only came about after the te I-Matang arrived and 'b's' here will represent the 'p' sound in the local language.

Another one I found very interesting and we mentioned in our book - Te rii ni Banaba, was 'Gilolo' was the term all the old Banaban elders used to say 'as far as the eye could see!' It clearly shows the historial links to the Auriaria Clan who came originally from Gilolo (now known as Halmaerain a northern island in Indonensia). It certainly was a long way away.

Another good examples after the arrival of the Missionaries is the introduction of the words:

meaning Christian and Bekan meaning Pagans, who were the old Banabans who would not convert to the new found religion.

I'm sure Ken will have some more examples and comments for you.

Regards Stacey
I mingled with some IKiribati friends here and they make so much fun of some of the terms you put up like shoe te buti when they call it te kau.Batikateiti....they asked so you hook the cords to the outlet? Now we are debating this word....te tari ao te them if I said to them "kan anganai te tari! they assume there is salt fish in the shelves so they keep asking me not to hide any salt fish from families in Tarawa.But I mean to pass the salt.Another funny term to my I-Kiribati friends is the word..pumpkin....When I said, "wow thats a big bangketi as soon as they heard me, they all cracked out laughing then later correct me saying " no its not that is call a paukin."so I am one of the kind who is very interested in learning the Banaban language and Oh I wish we can bring it back and have our own language.
Roba mauri,

You poor thing. Since this discussion is our 'baby' Stacey have asked me to put in my '2bob'. I hope it's ok with you. First of all don't worry about people around you because they are no better than you in speaking their mother language for they too have been in the U.S. away from Kiribati or even longer than you from Rabi. Now I'm going to express my view in points;

1. The word 'KAU' is a Banaban word meaning 'Go". eg. an Englishman would say," let us go", an IKiribati would say,"Tia nako", a Banaban would say "TIa Kau. The word 'kau' had been part of Banaban language since the beginning of time whereas the first pair of shoe arrived in Kiribati maybe in the early 1700s.

Now you might ask how the word 'kau' and other Banaban words end up in the Kiribati grammar? Simple answer; In 1908 Bingham (Beingam) compiled a Gilbertise (IKiribati) dictionary and defined the Banaban word 'Kau' as 'leather or shoe'. Don't forget that Bingham collected words to write a Kiribati dictionary and the collected words came from the 16 atolls of Kiribati and Banaba too, eight years 8years after Britain forced Banaba to be part of the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony then by annexiation on 28th Nov.1900. You will find Banaban words in his dictionary that they had been given an English meaning thus ending up in the Kiribati grammar. In other words Bingham algamated our language togather with IKiribati to become one. No wonder we all speaking IKiribati and yet we are still recognised as Banabans ( not IKiribati) under the Kiribati Costitution capter 9. How absurd is that.

My second and last point is that all other words like pumpkin, salt, batika or whatever Stacey put up is nothing to worry about because they are (as Stacey indicated) it's the usual way any Pacific Islander will bastardised words from English meaning anybody can call them whatever they like because they are not original from our homeland but were introduced to us from another place or country. A dictionary can be called a Kiribati dictionary yet the definition of the word is in English concept. If a Japanese be given a chance to write the Kiribati dictionary in Japanese, what do you think the word 'Kau" would mean to him? wooden shoe (quite different from leather) or maybe chopsticks? You see our alphabet is based on the English one, so our formed language now is spoken to fall inline with it's English meaning as defined in the dictionary.

Anyway Roba I hope my "2bob" can help you somehow regarding your request.

Lomama vei nomu Vuvale.
I strongly believe that a Banaban language is distinctive from the I-Kiribati language...however I don't think that one can revive it....its gone!!!....we are left with remnants of the vocabs (e.g. kau) These remaining words can not be put together to make up what we always say....Banaban Language....too bad...whom should we put the blame on???......the Missionaries?...the I-Kiribati?.....NO!!!! the very reason of our lost is not from the 'outside' was our ancestors who were not doing what they should've done.....pass the language down the generation.........and that is the most common mistake that can be seen with our Banaban friends today.....I wonder why our ancestors were able to pass down 'te karanga' rather than a simple banaban language....

Please allow me to give my piece of mind on in this......I think the Banaban language is just like a dilect in Kiribati...just like The Nadroga province here in Fiji...speaking their own dilect which is so much different from the commonly used Bau dilect......
Kona mauri Teari,

After reading your comments I thought that it is very important especially for our Banaban young generation that are scattered all over the place to maintain their Banaban identity no matter wherever they are or will be. Apart from our Banaban culture (identity) as in engagement ( kabutiman), wedding (mare), katebo and many more but just to name a few, language is just one part of the whole Banaban culture or identity.

I can fully understand the frustration that our young people who are coping in trying to uphold our Banaban identity and yet speak a different language. Why? and whom should we blame? How can this happen? Everything happen for a reason either be good or bad and we all have got different opinions also to answer these questions, but what I would like to tell you is what Harry Maude ( Resident Commissioner on Banaba) said about "Linguistic Evidence of the Banabans and their Identity" when he defended our case against Britain in the British High Court in England.

This is what he said,
" It is sometimes asserted that the Banabans must be Gilbertese because they speak Gilbertese. Apart from the fact that linguistic affinity is a shaky foundation on which to base racial relationship, that this was not always the case is not only affirmed by the Banabans themselves but was obvious to me when I was living among them in 1931-32. During the course of the Lands Commission proceedings, which were conducted throughout in the vernacular, I soon became aware that part of the vocabulary, were not, in fact, Gilbertese at all. As a matter of interest therefore, the Land Commission Clerk was instructed to enter in a notebook words and expressions recognised to be distinctively Banaban. Though they amounted to a significant quantity, even then, due to the use of Gilbertese Bible, of Gilbertese as the language of instruction in mission schools, the influence of many hundreds of Gilbertese phosphate workers brought to the island under indenture, and other factors, the original Banaban speech had long been swamped by introduced Gilbertese, just as Cornish and Manx have been swamped by English, and it is doubtful if any of it still survives today. Nevertheless it's former existence is an indication of seperate identity while it's extinction is attributable to pressure emanating from Euroupean contact".

This piece of statemant is in file with us but you can contact Stacey for a copy if you want to, you can also see Te Rii ni Banaba (book) pages 200- 201 for further reading.

As for the Nadroga dilect, of course they might speak a diferent dilect from the Bau yet they will always be Fijians and that is why they don't have issues like us. For us it's different, in a sense that our anscestors were not Gilbertese and yet we are all speaking Gilbertese now. I think Harry Maude who is neither Banaban nor Gilbertese had given a fair statement here and sum it up well,

Teke raoi ao tia boo moa.

Thank you Ken, now I have some fair understanding on this I said before I do believe that our language is so much different from the I-Kitibati, however I can not find any evidence to support this....but when I did a research for my LL114 assignment on the Banaban Culture and Language....then I came to believe that the Banaban language is just a dilect used in Kiribati....I did not find this piece of work by Harry Maude.
It is very true that eventhough we have lost one important part of our identity we should try to maintain the others that are still with us today....if we can draw up stategies for environment and marine conservation (&preservation) then i don't see a reason why we can not do the same for our Banaban Identity.....I believe there is no strategies needed for this but all we have to do is to learn from our elders......
Mauri riki Teari,
Thank you for your reply. Of course I fully agree with you by saying that, 'we should learn as much as we can from our elders', yet I will add it by saying, 'we are loosing our Elders as the years go by so let us not wait any longer for they will never return'.

Cheers ao teke raoi.

Sorry to you all, I just came about this discussion and find it hard to ignore. Just to add on to what Ken has was during those days that native Banaban court clerks were employed to translate Banaban in court because the Kiribati speaking I-Matang and I-Kiribati could not understand them babling in Banaban in court. One of those court clerks was my great-grandfather from my maternal side...Kureta Tekinene.

Best regarts


Mauri Roba I was just going over some of the comments here relating to this topic and had a bit of a laugh over the different versions for shoe.

While the Banabans use the phonetic word 'te buti' for boots, the Kibibati did one better and excuse the pun, jumped in boots and all and called their shoes 'te kau'. Obviously their translation once again is phonetic and probably relates to the fact that shoes are made of cow hide (leather) and hence the word 'te kau' was used.

Remember at the time of European arrival in Kiribati the shoes and bully beef 'bullamacow' (as the te I-Matangs called it and 'burumakau' as the Kiribati called it both came into existance at the same time. It looks pretty obvious how this new found word came about, while boots over in Banaba in the mining areas were more the norm and probably why the words ended up very different on the two islands.

The introduction of the new words and items that they represented by te I-Matangs is a rather simple way of trying to explain what these new things did in a way that the people would easily comphrend. Look at the way in Melensian islands how 'pidgeon' English has been adopted to suit the local inhabitants understand the new te I-Matang arrivals.

All about the need to communicate in those early days. Just like today with the new emergence of the mobile phone and computer lingo we are seeing. Wonder where this will all end up in the years ahead... LOL (oh dear I hate that expression... my own children use it... I still don't really understand what it means... something to do with Homer Simpson I think?)

Regards Stacey
Great appreciation for taking your time, in sharing your thoughts and views.I totally agree with you. For instance as you mention with naming new tech items like mobile phones these days.Maybe the British called it Mobile phones while the Americans called it Cell phones..but then you look at the object its the same or whats the difference..Do a I-Kiribati or Banabans have a name for a computer?
Bula from Fiji. Anyway I also had the same experience with a few I-Kiribati and rabi words when I stayed in Kiribati with relatives enroute to USP Campus, Marshalls. I asked my niece to bring over the black bag ( te baki ae e batabata), the I-kiribati relatives found it so hilarious, it should be te baki ae e roro. I also encountered the word tari for salt in rabi, I-Kiribati says taoro, te buti for shoes in rabi, I-kiribati is te kau and many more. I just gave up all the preliminary lessons, it was just so embarrasing..ha..ha. Roba Veisari is another settlement that teaches all the wrong I-Kiribati language ( this is the I-Kiribati settlement that Roba used to live in Fiji. Habitants with I-Kiribati heritage are staying here. The present generation seems to have blended the Fijian language with their mother tongue. Very hilarious to hear them speak the I-kiribati language.) A few examples are noted for Roba's reference. Prounciation: Jump - kiba, Veisari is kipa. ko mariri? Veisari is ko maitoro? ko roko mai ia? Veisari - ko roko mai (fijian mai) ia?
A boy in the same community rushed to his father informing him that ea baba te kaibuke, it should be ea ranga te kaibuke.ha..ha.
Are there any words of the Banabans different from the Kiribati words? I need to know more on the change of language or words which are different with the Kiribati language or words but they have the same meaning. Can you help me on that because I need your idea for the contribution to my project on the study of English which is the influence of migration on language- in the case of Banaba.

So I wish you can help me out
Thank you



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