“Arietana of Buota, Kiribati,” Friend, Nov. 1998, 40
Life can be very simple when you live on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Arietana (10) lives in a house made from coconut trees on the island of Buota in the nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas). Arietana loves his island home; he can walk to church or school, and he knows everyone in his small village.
He and his friends have fun making their own toys. Arietana and his brother, Ienratu (9), make cars and boats from tin cans and pieces of wood. They also make coconut tree leaves into toys that snap and whistle. Sometimes Arietana makes pinwheels for his sister Tiareni (4) to play with.
Arietana’s father, Beniera, wants his children to learn about the gospel so that they can be strong Church members. Their family has a short devotional every morning and evening in their home. They also enjoy going to church together on Sundays. They are often the first members of the Rawannawi Branch to arrive at church. Arietana’s mother, Katangiman, is the branch Relief Society president. Arietana helps look after his sisters, Tiareni and Nei Mwa, while his mother takes care of her responsibilities.
“Our maneaba (meetinghouse) was built from coconut trees,” Arietana explained. “It is open on the sides and has a thatched roof. Everyone sits on woven mats on the floor.” After sacrament meeting, the Primary children meet in a small hut beside the maneaba.
“I like Primary,” Arietana added. “We sing and learn stories from the scriptures.” His favorite Book of Mormon person is Nephi. He likes the story of Nephi breaking his bow and having to make a new one to get food for the family.
Kiribati is a country made up of many small islands and lots of ocean. Buota is part of the Tarawa Atoll. An atoll is a circular chain of small islands and reefs close together in the ocean. The water inside the circle is called a lagoon. Most islands in this atoll are long and narrow, and you can see the ocean and the lagoon from the same place. Since the islands are close to each other, bridges or causeways link some of them together. The island of Buota has a bridge on one end joining it to the island to the south. However, to go to the next island to the north, people must wade along the reef or ride in a canoe.
Arietana’s home is near the equator, so the weather is hot every day of the year and the ocean is very warm. The children spend much of their time swimming, fishing, or just playing in the water. Arietana likes fishing and digging in the sand for clams. “One day I caught enough fish for my family’s dinner,” he said. “My father was very surprised that I caught so many. When I want to go fishing, I find a small hermit crab for bait; then I drop my line from the bridge and wait for the fish to bite.”
Arietana belongs to a dancing group that is learning traditional Kiribati dancing. The boys and girls of his country are very young when they start learning the beautiful sitting and standing dances that are part of their way of life. In many dances, they move their arms gracefully in ways that represent birds flying. When Arietana’s group performs, some children dance while the others sing or beat the rhythm on a large wooden box.
The woven mat worn by boys for a dancing costume is a Te Burebure. Arietana’s mother made his Te Burebure and his arm decorations. He enjoys dancing, especially when his group performs for their parents or represents their village at special occasions like birthday parties or holidays.
Arietana’s mother says he is a good worker and willingly does his chores. “Every morning he sweeps up the leaves in the yard,” she said. “In the evening he is responsible for getting the mosquito nets down and arranging the sleeping mats.”
“I like to help prepare the meals. Sometimes my mother lets me boil our drinking water or cook the rice for dinner,” he said. “My favorite foods are fish, breadfruit, and rice.”
Every morning before school, Arietana and Ienratu exercise by running. Arietana likes to run, and he wants to learn to wrestle like his father, who won the Kiribati National Wrestling Championship twice. Sometimes, for a special outing, Arietana’s family goes to the airport where his father is a security guard.
Like many families in Kiribati, Arietana’s extended family lives close to one another. His aunts, uncles, and grandmother all live near his home. This closeness gives Arietana and the other children plenty of cousins to play with. Living close by also makes it easy for family members to help one another. The people of Kiribati believe it is very important to help all family members.
One of the most exciting experiences that Arietana has had was when Elder L. Tom Perry visited Kiribati to dedicate the country for missionary work. He also organized the country’s first stake. Arietana’s whole family made the trip to Eita to be part of the event. They were very excited to have an opportunity to see and hear an Apostle of the Lord. Even the president of Kiribati came to hear Elder Perry speak!
Arietana speaks a language called I-Kiribati or Gilbertese, and like all the other people on his island, he has only one name. When he needs a second one for official records, he puts his father’s name after his. Arietana’s father’s name is Beniera, so his full name would be Arietana Beniera. But his grandfather’s name is Koneteti, so Arietana’s father’s name is Beniera Koneteti.
His father baptized Arietana in the ocean. Arietana says that being a member of the Church makes him very happy. When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, Arietana replied, “I want to serve a mission like my father and to be a fisherman.”
As his testimony continues to grow, he will surely find his nets full.