Skip to main content

Kiribati Club performed a traditional dance with bird-like movements and a modern dance to reflect BYUH’s international campus

Two woman in the front wearing black shirts and black grass-looking skirts shake their hips with a man behind them wearing mats around their waist and no shirt and other woman behind them.
Kiribati Club's performance during Culture Night 2021.

Kimberly Tetabwa Tokanang, a junior political science major who hails from Beru Island, Kiribati, is the Kiribati Club choreographer. She said the more modern second half of their Culture Night performance involved movements that came from fishing, their national bird, the frigate bird, and other dance styles. However, she explained in Kiribati culture, they keep these different kinds of dances separate.

Tokanang said she had help from her Kiribati friends in creating the choreography to avoid mixing story lines from other dances. She also had help from Angelina Kumkee, Kiribati Club’s president, in instructing the women’s part.

After last year’s Culture Night cancellation due to COVID-19, the Kiribati Club was poised and prepared to help make this year’s event better than ever, said Matetewe Teannaua, a senior history major from Tarawa.

She said despite other stressful responsibilities, club members practiced hard and danced with great energy during each 9 p.m. rehearsal.

Teannaua participated in previous culture nights, she said, but last year’s cancellation was difficult because the Kiribati Club had spent so much time preparing.

“This year was kind of rushed,” she explained, describing the short amount of time they had to rehearse. COVID-19 guidelines, which ensured the safety of practices, forced the Kiribati Club members to make a lot of adjustments to their routine. Teannaua said they had to cut parts of their routine to comply with social distancing guidelines.

Nonetheless, Teannaua said she is grateful the Kiribati Club danced this year, even with the changes that had to be made.

Tamuera Samuel Tune, a sophomore computer science major, from Tarawa, Kiribati is one of the club officers. His first Culture Night was supposed to be last year, but after it was canceled due to the pandemic, he said he’d been waiting for another chance.

He explained, “The Kiribati Club performed in two sections. The first section was the original, traditional dance. The second section was a mixed dance of traditional and modern. The costumes … were made by the club president and the other Kiribati students.” He expressed excitement to be able to share his culture with the community.

A man jumps up waving the Kiribati flag with a black and red Polynesian-styled lava lava and a black T-shirt with a leaf wrap around his chest and other dancers wearing the same behind him.
The Kiribati Club's second dance with a man holding the Kiribati flag.

Moantaeka Bokai, a sophomore majoring in social work from Maiana Island, Kiribati, also planned to participate in Culture Night last year. Of this year’s performance, he said, “The whole Kiribati dance is kind of interesting to me because it’s more complicated than it seems. … A lot of students here who are from Kiribati don’t really dance that much back home. Now they have the opportunity to dance, which is pretty cool. We get to perform and try and build up our own confidence.”

According to Bokai, the choreographer Tokanang is really good because she “has been dancing her whole life.”

Bokai said, “People who really dance back home really know the … motions, and they know how to do them right. [Tokanang] could teach men and women how to do their moves.”

Tokanang explained in Kiribati, a dance teacher from either gender can teach both males and females. Women and men normally learn different parts, but some parts are danced by both. As the choreographer, she said she taught the men’s part and danced with them at practice. She added this made practices somewhat unusual and fun.

She said she aimed to convey feelings of happiness and love in the choreography. “The first [dance] was traditional … as close to our tradition as we can. The song we performed to is sort of a romantic song. It involves … happy feelings, … a guy courting a girl.”

The traditional Kiribati dance involved movements that mimic birds. Tokanang referred to the bird on Kiribati’s flag, the frigate bird, as representative of their dancing traditions. “We tell a story of happiness and getting the target.”

The second part of their performance integrated Kiribati-style dancing with other styles from around the Pacific, as well as Indian and Western styles of dance. She explained the inspiration for this was the diverse and international atmosphere of BYUH.

See more photos on Ke Alaka'i'is Facebook page.