Kiribati Language Week: “It connects me to my family, my ancestors, and my country”

Wellington nurse and Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) member Sailosa Kabiriera who proudly hails from Kiribati, helped establish a Kiribati women’s group – the Ribanaia Womens Group – to ensure their unique language and culture is retained and celebrated in Aotearoa.

The Ribanaia Women’s Group is Wellington-based with a current membership of 40 women and started at the beginning of this year. “Ribanaia”, means to cultivate in Kiribati. The group meet once a week and recognise the importance of their role as grandmothers and mothers who are instrumental in keeping the Kiribati language alive and heritage links strong for their families and Kiribati community.

“We want to maintain the language and culture, especially for our children. By coming together as a group of women, we are encouraging and reminding each other about the way we do things back in Kiribati. We want to incorporate the language and culture into our everyday lives here in New Zealand so we can feel uplifted and proud of where we come from.”

Together, the group learn traditional Kiribati artforms like sewing, cooking, decorating and minor mechanical and carpentry work so the women “don’t need to rely on their men.”

“When we do all these things, we make sure that we speak to each other in our Kiribati language. We also want to encourage our young mothers in the group to be proud of their culture so when they face difficulties in life, they can nurture their children and survive.”

This week is Kiribati Language Week and Sailosa has been juggling her full-time job as a psychiatric nurse with spearheading many community events alongside members of Ribanaia to promote and celebrate the language in the wider Wellington community.

“Throughout the week, we’ve been involved in lots of activities, like weaving, making the dance costumes, and helping our city celebrate the wonders of our language and culture.”

Sailosa came to New Zealand in 2004 to study and eventually moved here with her husband and their six children.

“We decided that New Zealand is a good place for our family, in terms of education, good health systems, and clean environment.”

But like many Pacific families who move to New Zealand, she had to sacrifice being away from her homeland and its culture. She says that is why it is important to celebrate the language.

“I’m so proud of my Kiribati language because it’s unique and its rich in meaning. It connects me to my family, my ancestors, and my country.”


Date: 14 July 2021