Karen Baren

My grandmother told me this Kiribati Legend.

The Story of Ocean Island

A long time ago when magic was practiced on the island of Tarawa, there was a man who had three wives. His name was Auriaria. One of the wives was from an island called Maiana and the other two were from Tarawa.

One day one of the wives (the one from Maiana) gave birth to a baby boy. When the son came of age he said to the mother, “Mum I want a canoe.” Little did he know the piece of the canoe that floats the canoe (te rama) is carved from a special tree that you can find only on Ocean Island. So the boy travelled from Maiana all the way to Ocean Island to get the tree (te bingbing), but the culture on Ocean Island is that whoever comes to that island is to be fed and this kind of feeding means poisoning. When he got there, the people fed him with a magic that poisons food. When he finished eating, he SUDDENLY fell straight to the ground and fainted.

When he woke up, the people of Ocean Island were very scared of him, because they knew he was going to kill them. They said to themselves while looking at him, “Man, this man’s magic is stronger than ours, how is that possible?” The man was furious and cut down the tree. When he cut the tree down, he threw the tree deep, deep into the ground that only the top of the tree was showing. Then, he said to the people of Ocean island, “I want this tree pulled out by the time I come back in three months or else I will kill you all.” So, he went back to his island.

While he was away. the people of Ocean Island began to find ways of how they could pull the tree out from the ground. Then, they remembered that amongst them all, there was a papa that had a very beautiful young daughter. So, they said to the papa, “Oh, papa there is a favour we would like to ask of you for the bad things we have done. We want your daughter to be the wife of that warrior.” The papa agreed and everybody started to chant. Before the warrior arrived, the people of Ocean Island chanted onto the women so that when the warrior looked upon her, he would fall deeply in love with her straight away. They all chanted with enthusiasm hoping to impress the warrior.

The warrior came and took one look at her and instantly fell in love with her. Then the warrior went to that same tree, pulled it out and cut it in half. Without knowing, he threw half of the tree to his home island (Maiana). Then, it grew into an island that had a lot of rich soil (phosphate) just like the soil on Ocean Island. The other half that was left, he flipped it over, carrying the island with it, making the island turn upside down. As a result, if you ever take a trip to Ocean Island, one of the motus, you will see in Maiana, is an island that has lots of rich soil (phosphate) and of course if you look at Ocean Island, it is shaped like an upside down canoe.


The five petals of the flower represents the five letter word for our family’s surname that has been lifted up high.  The patterns around the flower represents our culture protecting us in survival issues.