Ryan Turner and Steven Thomsen, Department of Communications
For thousands of years the peoples of the Pacific have been a people of exploration and travel. However, with the small country of Kiribati its people are now traveling to escape climate change and overpopulation¹. With such a small population at risk of relocating to another country its culture is at a severe risk of disappearing. With good sized populations of Kiribati immigrants already living in Fiji and New Zealand for several decades we can see how well that culture has survived in foreign countries. This research was looking for mixed results: on how Kiribati sees climate change and how well their culture is doing in foreign countries.
This study hoped to determine how Kiribati culture is surviving in more western parts of the world. The study emphasized on cultural traditions such as masculinity, femininity and language. Interviews were set up to gather opinions on 1) climate change and the possible future of Kiribati and 2) how well Kiribati culture is where they’re living now (in either NZ or Fiji). Hypotheses for this study are a variety of different answers. For the climate change question we predict that most native Kiribati will not know about it or won’t believe in it, but the most westernized Kiribati immigrants will have an increase in knowledge and belief. We hypothesize that Kiribati culture will stay true to its origin if it is in tight-knit communities in foreign countries, but we’ll see a big difference in first and second generation immigrants.
This study took place in both New Zealand and Fiji. The researcher visited several Kiribati communities in each country and conducted a series of interviews to get results on culture and climate change. Interviews were with variety of people, male, female, old and young, in an attempt to get a mixed population. Interviews were conducted at people’s homes, university campuses and a variety of other public places. A standard set of 20 questions were used to explore a variety of issues including masculinity, femininity and language. Average interview time ranged from 20 minutes to a full hour depending on how much the interviewee wanted to talk. A number of interviews were also conducted via phone and skype to residents living in Kiribati. The interviewer did not have the funds to visit Kiribati itself, but had a number of contacts there in country who were happy to discuss Kiribati culture.
After conducting 10-20 interviews per country the answers were compiled and compared region to region. As information was read, detailed and understood a few follow up interviews were conducted via phone and skype to Kiribati people in NZ, Fiji and Kiribati to get a better understanding of the material. After many conversations with many different people I came to a conclusion on how Kiribati see how their culture is surviving in other countries.
The results from NZ, Fiji and Kiribati varied quite a bit which proved to make the research quite interesting. Each Kiribati community had a different historical background that made a big difference in how their culture acted today. Although the results varied from country to country the results never left confusing questions or answers. In essence, the results showed that Kiribati communities in different countries still retained enough true Kiribati culture that their adapting culture was still similar to their home country.
First, our hypothesis on climate change was fairly accurate. A majority of my interviewees who lived in Kiribati denied the fact that climate change would have a major impact on their country. All my native Kiribati interviewees had heard of it, proving that part of my hypothesis incorrect, but with a majority denying its impact it proved the other half of my hypothesis correct.
My climate change questions to Kiribati populations in NZ and Fiji also proved my hypothesis correct. A majority of interviewees showed that their advanced western education had exposed them to more knowledge about climate change and they had more views on climate change’s impact on Kiribati. These answers confirmed my hypothesis.
Second, my hypothesis on Kiribati culture in foreign countries varied greatly. Parts of my hypothesis was very correct. Most Kiribati immigrants lived in small, tight-knit communities that helped preserve their language and culture; however, I was incorrect in the fact that despite these communities there were still major changes in culture especially in masculinity and femininity.
This study helped show that even though parts of culture were surviving and being passed on the change in physical geography played a huge role in what culture survived and what didn’t. Masculine Kiribati cultural traits couldn’t survive in NZ and Fiji without the unique Kiribati environment it grew up in. Same with feminine traits. Overall, parts of Kiribati culture that disappeared in foreign countries did so because they just couldn’t exist in the new land.
Kiribati still faces an uncertain future. With scientists still hotly debating whether climate change will make Kiribati uninhabitable or not the Kiribati natives need to have some sort of plan for the future². As more and more Kiribati immigrate, due to climate change or other reasons, they will need to face a future where their culture will have to adapt to survive especially in regards to masculinity and femininity. This study helps show how the Kiribati see their culture and how it will survive and uncertain future. Continued study over the next few decades will be necessary to see how Kiribati culture adapts and changes with time.
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