Flag Of Kiribati: History And Meaning

The Kiribati flag is the national symbol of this oceanic republic of Micronesia. It consists of a cloth that is red in its upper half, while a succession of three blue and three white wavy stripes is imposed on the lower half. A yellow rising sun with 17 rays is imposed on it. In the upper central part, above the sun, a yellow frigate bird imposes itself.

The national symbol has become the only one that has been in force in the country since its independence in 1979. Previously, the history of the flags in this territory was completely marked by British rule.

Kiribati flag. (Drawn by User: SKopp).

First, the Union Jack flew as part of the British Western Pacific Territories. Later, after the creation of the protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, a colonial flag was established. Its shield, designed by Arthur Grimble, served as the basis for the creation of the national flag.

The blue and white stripes emulate the Pacific Ocean. The sun is identified with the position of Kiribati on the equatorial line, while the frigate bird represents freedom and power over the sea.

Article index

  • one

    History of the flag

    • 1.1

      British Western Pacific Territories

    • 1.2

      Gilbert and Ellice Islands

    • 1.3

      Japanese occupation

    • 1.4

      Kiribati independence

  • two

    Meaning of the flag

  • 3


History of the flag

The islands that today make up the Republic of Kiribati are considered to have been inhabited from sometime between 3000 BC and 1300. The region of Micronesia was invaded by different ethnic groups and tribes from Polynesia and Melanesia, who constantly clashed with the inhabitants of Micronesia for effective control of the territory. Among these, the Samoans and Tongans, for Polynesia, and the Fijians, for Melanesia, stood out.

It can be understood that one of the first European contacts with present-day Kiribati was carried out by the Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606. He managed to see the islands of Buen Viaje, which today would be Makin and Butaritari. Later, another European contact came from the British John Byron in 1764, during a circumnavigation of the globe.

However, one of the most important trips was made in 1788, in which captains Thomas Gilbert and John Marshall crossed several islands of the archipelagos, without docking.

In honor of Thomas Gilbert, in 1820 the name of Gilbert Islands was adopted for the territory. Later, other French and American expeditions followed, which did descend on the islands, doing cartography and ethnography work on its inhabitants.

British Western Pacific Territories

Indiscriminate trade, as well as whaling and merchant ships generated numerous conflicts with local tribes. This situation led the United Kingdom to establish the Gilbert Islands and the neighboring Ellice Islands as a British protectorate from 1892.

These islands were incorporated into the British Western Pacific Territories, a territory created in 1877 and administered from Fiji.

The administration of the protectorate was made from Tarawa, current capital of the country. Later he moved to Banaba, motivated by the commercial routes established by the Pacific Phosphate Company. This island was incorporated into the protectorate in 1900. During this period, a large part of the premises were used in forced labor. In addition, they were linked to commercial exploitation deals.

The British East Pacific Territories did not maintain a colonial flag of their own. However, throughout this period the symbol used was the Union Jack, the British flag.

Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (By Original flag by Acts of Union 1800SVG recreation by User: Zscout370 [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).

Gilbert and Ellice Islands

From 1916, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands became a British Crown colony. Over time, different islands were added to the territory, while others such as Tokelau were reassigned to New Zealand.

The islands were managed through a resident commissioner. In addition, territorial disputes with the United States were noted, especially in the early colonial years on the islands to the east.

Flag of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands

The United Kingdom established a unique model of colonial flags. Throughout the world, the different British colonies managed to have flags with which to differentiate themselves but which, in turn, maintained a common structure protected by the symbols of the colonizing power.

The flag of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony maintained the same structure. It was a dark blue cloth with the Union Jack in the corner and a distinctive shield for the colony. In this case, it was a creation of Sir Arthur Grimble, in 1932. This shield was incorporated into the pavilion in 1937 and it is a design made up of the same elements that the current flag has.

Grimble’s shield design kept a red background with wavy blue and white lines at the bottom. It also incorporated the sun and the frigate bird. The shield was the basis for the flag of independent Kiribati.

Flag of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands. (1937-1976). (Telim tor (original) Orange Tuesday (most recent) [Public domain]).

Japanese occupation

The Second World War definitely changed the geopolitical reality of the Pacific Islands. The then British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands was attacked by Japan. From 1941 to 1943, the Tarawa Atoll, the main populated center of the territory, was occupied by the Japanese Empire.

The Battle of Tarawa in 1943 was the one that put an end to this occupation after an American military movement. This event led to numerous deaths, which made it one of the bloodiest battles to take place in the Pacific during the war. The Battle of Makin also took place, stripping the Japanese of control of that island.

During the occupation of this part of the territory, the Hinomaru, the Japanese national flag, flew in the air of the islands.

Flag of Japan (Hinomaru). (By Various [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

Kiribati independence

Decolonization in Oceania began to be discussed after the end of World War II and lasted for the next three decades. In 1974 a self-determination referendum was held in the Ellice Islands, which first recognized a separate colonial government in 1975 and later led to independence in 1978, under the name Tuvalu.

As a consequence of this separation, the Gilbert Islands acquired autonomy in 1977, with elections being held in 1978. Just one year later, on July 12, 1979, the independence of Kiribati was proclaimed.

This was the name chosen, which consists of an adaptation in Gilbertés of Gilberts and which tried to group all the islands of the country, including those that are not part of the Gilbert Islands archipelago.

Independent Kiribati flag

From the moment of its independence, the Kiribati flag was the official one. A few months before the emancipation took place, a local contest was held to choose the new flag.

The winning design was an adaptation of the colonial shield, which the British College of Arms modified to reduce the dimensions of the white and blue stripes and increased the sun and frigate bird.

Local discontent motivated the approved project to recover its initial dimensions, which divided the flag into two halves: one red and the other with wavy blue and white stripes. In addition, the sun and the frigate bird were positioned moderately in size in the upper half.

Meaning of the flag

The landscape that shows the Kiribati flag is identified with the marine environment that frames these islands in the Pacific Ocean. This may represent Kiribati as the first country where the day begins, having the easternmost point of the international date change line.

First, the wavy horizontal stripes of blue and white manage to represent the ocean and ocean waves. These are also identified with the three groups of islands existing in the country: Gilbert, Fénix and de la Línea.

The frigate bird flying high in the sky represents dominion over the sea, as well as freedom, by relating to the free flight of the bird. His presence is also a sign of power, strength and authority.

For its part, the sun has 17 rays. 16 of them represent the Gilbert Islands, while the seventeenth is the one that identifies the island of Banaba. Additionally, it can be identified with the position of Kiribati on the equator. The sun also rises over the horizon on the flag, like every morning.


  1. Arias, E. (2006). Flags of the world . Editorial Gente Nueva: Havana, Cuba.
  2. Firth, S. and Munro, D. (1986). Towards colonial protectorates: The case of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Australian Journal of Politics & History , 32 (1), 63-71. Recovered from onlinelibrary.wiley.com.
  3. Sen, O. (August 21, 2018). What Do The Colors And Symbols Of The Flag Of Kiribati Mean? World Atlas . Recovered from worldatlas.com.
  4. Smith, W. (2011). Flag of Kiribati. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc . Recovered from britannica.com.
  5. Talu, S. (1984). Kiribati: Aspects of history . [email protected] usp. ac. fj. Recovered from books.google.com.

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