By Uriam Amoon, translated and written by Robert Karoro* | October 2020
*A local language version of Uriam’s story in Gilbertese can be found below
Content warning: This blog post talks about suicide
Mauri! My name is Uriam Amoone and this is my story to you all. I am currently 21 years old and live in South Tarawa the most populated atoll in Kiribati. I was born and raised in South Tarawa and I have spent my whole life in Tarawa. My father worked as a constable in Tarawa while my mother was too occupied raising all six of us. I have four brothers and a sister with me being the eldest. Although we did not have much while growing up I always knew deep inside both my mom and dad did their very best trying to provide for all our needs.
Since my early childhood I developed an interest in art and was really keen and passionate about it. I have always found comfort and joy every time I am sketching anything. Although I did not have any guidance or mentor for developing my skills, this did not discourage me from turning away from my passion in art. The early stages of my passion in art was met with many hardships. I have always remembered back in early days in schools when my mom used to punish me for not writing notes from school but only found drawing in my books. I have always not been very attentive in the classroom but quietly I am sketching at the back of the room. My mom will always get angry with me every time she picks my report from my teachers and is told that my performance in school is not good. My weakness has always been English which is why I have always been silent for most of my life. This was one of the main reasons my education was delayed since English was a compulsory subject so if you fail English you cannot be promoted next year, I felt ashamed to see my classmates and friends being promoted to the next level while I remain in the same class. This was why my mom discouraged me from pursuing my passion in drawing and concentrate on my English so that I can have a proper job to support my family.
This is a photo of a drawing done by Uriam. There is another version of the image and an artist’s statement at the end of this article. There are two variations of the image due to different methods of photographing/scanning the original.
My life was met with another dreadful experience when my father commit suicide in January 2014, I was only 14 years old that time while my youngest brother was 1. My dad has always been a good role model to us being a policeman and well disciplined. I was shocked, sad and at the same time scared of what is to happen to us since our father was the sole breadwinner of the family. I still do not understand why my father had committed such an act and it consumed me from the inside. As the eldest among my siblings I had takeover some of father’s responsibility just to help my mother as she was also going through a hard time. I had to sacrifice for my siblings and so I did not go to school for one term because we could not afford the school fees, materials and uniform for all of us. At this moment I again turned to drawing as my comfort zone, despite discouragement from my mother, I was more determined to pursue my passion in drawing.
The year 2014 was a turning point in my life as I lost my dear father and at the same year I participated in an art competition done for local talents from different schools in Tarawa and I managed to take 3rd prize and received $50 AUD for my art. This motivated me to pursue my passion in art and so I participated in the same competition the following year and won 1st prize this time and received $100 AUD, this was an emotional moment for me as I felt my passion for art is being acknowledge and bearing fruit. For so long my passion in art had been undermined by those close and dear to me but now I was able to prove to them that I can be the best in what I do when I simply believe in myself. The same year (2015) I was able to change my mother’s heart when I gave her the award I received from the competition and for the first time she truly appreciated my passion for art and never discourage me again from doing something I believe in.
Now I am completing my Year 13 and although I am behind as compared to those my age this no longer discourages me from completing my education as I always turn to art for comfort. Recently, I have change my approach in expressing my art. I have used my art to express my experience as youth from Kiribati and how we as a nation are being affected by the impacts of climate change and how vulnerable our islands are. This started when I started participating in competition where artists were encouraged to express themselves using their art. It was here that I found my voice, and was able to tell anyone regardless of what language they speak, how climate change is affecting me and people. I do not have to be good in English for people to understand me or experience what I am going through they only need to look at my drawing and are able to hear me and understand what I am going through, and they can always relate to my art as well to their personal experience. I strongly feel that what I have experienced throughout my life has only made me a better person and a more responsible one as well.
My only wish and desire now is that such talents are recognized by the government and education system rather than forcing talented I-Kiribati to give up their passion in art just for a foreign language. Hopefully in a future a center or institution is made for young talented locals to develop their art and take it further. My ultimate goal in life is to be able to support my mom and sibling with my mother. Thank you all and I bestow upon you Kiribati’s blessings which are “Good Health, Peace & Prosperity to you all”.
One of Uriam’s pieces of artwork is displayed below, with an explanation of it’s meaning.
There are two main messages that are shown in the drawing, both have a similar meaning:
The hand pouring water out of the coconut shell symbolizes “wealth.” The coconut shell is used because coconut tree is symbolic to our people because as an atoll nation with very limited resources coconut provides for our daily livelihood. The tree alone provides food, water, materials for building houses, and during drought times ‘te karewe’ toddy juice by our ancestors. Each and every part of the coconut tree plays an important role for our people. A house surrounded by coconut trees is considered a wealthy house. As the hand pours the coconut juice to the second hand, a lot of the coconut juice is not being captured by the second hand and so it is wasted. This symbolizes how as a nation we are still not able to fully meet the full potential of our natural resources sustainably; the country’s marine natural resource is being exploited by foreign vessels fishing in our waters for tuna. The main benefit that we get is license fees fishing vessels pay to exploit our resources.
The second message is about water security and how freshwater is limited in the country due to the impacts of climate change and drought is putting a lot of stress to our water resources. One of the main issues that is also causing problem to the short of water supply is the increasing consumption of kava in Kiribati. Over the years there has been an increase in kava consumption all over Kiribati. This is the image that a youth from Kiribati can see. The background shows the sun and the frigate bird flying by and this shows the national symbol and can be also seen in our national flag. The sun also looks like an eye of a person in this case the eyes of the youth from Kiribati and seeing how water is being wasted by mostly men for drinking kava. The water poured does not only symbolize the wastage of water but also represents tears falling from the eyes of the youth.
Gilbertese language version of Uriam’s Story
Mauri. Arau bon Uriam Amoone ao aio au rongorongo ae I kan tib’aia nako imi. Ai 21 au ririki ni maiu, ao I maeka n te tabo ae rangi maiti te botanaomata i aona ae Tarawa Teinanano. Bon aio te tabo ae I ikawairake iai man mamaeka iai. Te bureitiman au karo, ao e aki makuri tinau ngkai e tabe n tararuai ma m’aneu ao tariu. Iai ngaira onoman irouia ara karo, ao bon ngai te ikawai ma tariu aika aman ao m’anera temanna. E ngae ngke e aki rangi n tau aron aia kareke tianti ara karo, ma I kakoaua ba a bon tia ni kabanea korakoraia ara karo ni kakatauraoi baika ti kainanoi n te tai teuana am teuana.
I moan mataiakina te koro banna ma ngke I uarereke, ao n tabe n anaaki nanou iai. Iai namakinan kanga te rau ma te kukurei n taai ake I tabe ni koro banna iai. E ngae ngke akea ae reireinai raoi te rabakau ni koro banna, ma e aki riki aio ba te totoko nakon nanou n tangira te koro banna, ngkai ai aio teuana iteran maiu ae I a tangiria ni karikirakea. A bon maiti kanganga aika I aitara ma ngaai n tangiran te koro banna i rou. E aki toki ni batiboai tinau ngkana I oki n reirei, ao akea baika a makoro n au boki n reirei ba ti taian banna ke tamnei ake I a tia ni korokorei n tain te reirei. I uringa ba n taai nakon tain te reirei ao I aki bati ni kakaungo raoi nakon te tia reirei, ngkai angina te tai, ao I bon karauai n tekateka mai buki n tabe ni koro banna ke ni koro tamnei. Ngkana e roko au riboti man te reirei ao n oti iai ae e aki tamaroa, ao moan te un tinau iai n te aro are N na bon bae ni batiboaki. I bon aki rangi ni kakarongoa n te reirei, ngkai I rangi ni kab’aka n te Taetae ni I-Matang. Bon aio teuana mai buakon kanoan te waki n reirei ae riai ni b’aati am bwi iai, ao e bon riki ba mamaau ngkana a bane ni kibarake raou n reirei nakon are iaona riki ao ngai I teimatoa n tiku ngkai I aki b’aati au Taetae ni I-Matang. Bon aio bukina ae rangi n ribai iai tinau ba N na kabanea au tai n te koro banna ke te koro tamnei. E tangiria ba N na kabanea moa au tai n reirei aia taetae i anena, ba ngaia I aonga ni kona ni kamaiuia au utu ngkana I a rabakau.
Ngke ai 14 au ririki ni maiu, ao I bon aitara iai ma te kanganga ae rangi n rawawata nakoiu ma tariu ao m’aneu, ngke e bakabureia ara karo. Ai bon inanon Tianuare n te ririki 2014. I rangi ni kubanakon te b’ai ae riki ngkai I tara au karo n taai nako ba te tia kairai ao te tia katei banna aika I riai ni kakairi iai ma tariu ao m’aneu. Ngkai akea ara karo, ao e tiku ngkai aron te mwenga inanon baiu n aron te katei ba are te ikawai ngai. I a tauraoi ni buobuoki nakon tinau are e teimatoa n taonaki n te rawawata n te b’ai ae riki nakon ara karo. I a kataua ba N nang aki moa reirei tabeua te tai, ba a aonga ni kona n reirei tariu ma m’aneu, ngkai e a bon kanganga karekean ara b’ai n reirei ngaira ni kabana, n reitaki ma ara kaboraoi n reirei. Bon aio te tai are I kataua iai ba N na kabanea au tai iaon te koro banna ke tamnei, e ngae ngke e aki kukurei iai tinau.
E ngae ngke e karawawata nako iu te ririki ae 2014 ni buan tamau man te maiu aei, ma bon te ririki naba ae kakawaki nako iu ngkai iai noran rikiraken au tarena iaon te koro banna. I bon ira buakon te kauaba n te koro banna ibukia reirei ni kabane iaon Tarawa, ao ni karekea neu ae te kateniman ma kaniwangau ae $50. E unga riki nanou ngkai nakon teboakinan te koro banna. N te kauaba n te ririki are imwina iaon naba te koro banna, ao I a karekea neu ae te moanna man reke kaniwangau iai ae $100. I ataia ngkai ba I a tabe ni kinaki n au tarena aio, ao e nang tabe ni kariki uaana au tarena aio. Ngke e nora aio tinau ao e a bitaki naba nanona, ao n tauraoi ni boutoka nanou ni kan teboakina ao ni karikirakea te tarena ni koro banna n ai aron are I a kan mataiakinna ngke I uarereke.
I tabe ngkai ni kabanea au reirei n te karinan are te Ririki 13, ao e ngae ngke I ataia ba I tio buki ngkai a roro a kaman bane aia tai, ma akea au kanganga iai ngkai I ataia ba e a riki au tarena ae te koro banna ba te tia kaunga nanou nakon te reirei. I a tabe naba ngkai ni kabongana au tarena aio ni kaotinakoi iango ma rongorongo maiai aika kakawaki nakoia te botanaomata, ai moarara riki iaon taekan bibitakin kanoan bong ao aron kai rotakin abara maiai. E moa aio man te tai are a kaungaki iai taan koro banna ke koro tamnei ba a na kaoti aia namakin man baike a korei inanon aia banna, ao ni kunea ba aio te tabo ae I a kona n taetae iai maiai ao ni kaota iai baika a tabe n riki n aron rotakia te botanaomata man bibitakin kanoan bong. I aki kainanoa te rabakau n taetae ni I-Matang ba aonga ni kona n ota aomata i rou, ngkai n te tai aio ao a bon ota naba naba man taian banna ake I korei, man nori au namakin ma baika I iangoi rinanon te koro banna. I koaua ba te koro banna e a bon tia ni kateiraoai raoi inanon te maiu, ao ni karikai ba temanna ae I atai baika I riai ni karaoi.
Bon au tataro ma au kantaninga ba a na rangi ni boutokai ao ni karikirakeaki aeka n tarena aikai iroun te Tautaeka ao rinanon taian waki n reirei nako iaon Kiribati. A bon aki riai n totoaki ataei man tangiran te koro banna ti ibukina ba a na rabakau moa te taetae ae aia taetae i-anena. Te kantaninga ba rimwi riki, ao e na kona n tei te tabo teuana iaon Kiribati, ae na buokia te roro ni Kiribati ni karikirakea aia tarena iaon te koro banna, ba aonga n noraki ao ni kinaki inanon aonaba. I kaitau ba man te koro banna, ba e a koro nanon au takete ngkai ibukin boutokaia au utu ba a na maiu ao a na marurung. Kam raba ao au b’ai ma ngkami ana bau Kirbati are Te Mauri, Te Raoi ao te Tabomoa.