Map of South Tarawa (red) and North Tarawa (yellow) within Tarawa Atoll
|Highest elevation||3 m (10 ft)|
Tarawa is an atoll in the Republic of Kiribati, in the central Pacific Ocean. It comprises North Tarawa, which has much in common with other, more remote islands of the Gilberts group; and South Tarawa, which is the capital of Kiribati and home to over 50,000 people - half of the country's total population. The atoll is best known by outsiders as the site of the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.
Tarawa has a large lagoon, of over 500 km2, and a wide reef. Although naturally abundant in fish and shellfish of all kinds, marine resources are being overharvested by the large and growing population. Drought is frequent, but in normal years rainfall is sufficient to maintain breadfruit, papaya and banana trees as well as coconut and pandanus.
Tarawa atoll has three administrative subdivisions:
- Betio Town Council (or BTC), on Betio Islet;
- Teinainano Urban Council (or TUC), from Bairiki to Bonriki (The meaning of Teinainano is "down of the mast", alluding to the sail-shape of the atoll.)
- Eutan Tarawa Council (or ETC), for North Tarawa or Tarawa Ieta (all the islets on the east side north of Bonriki, including Buota which is linked by road to South Tarawa).
South Tarawa is the capital of the Republic of Kiribati. The House of Assembly is in Ambo, and the State House is in Bairiki. The offices of the various Ministries of the Kiribati Government are located from Betio in the South nawerewere at the Eastern end of North Tarawa.
In Kiribati mythology, Tarawa was the earth when the land, ocean and sky had not been cleaved yet by Nareau the spider. Thus after calling the sky ‘karawa’ and the ocean ‘marawa’, he called the piece of rock that ‘Riiki’ (another god that Nareau found) had stood upon when he lifted up the sky as, ‘Tarawa’. Nareau then created the rest of the islands in Kiribati and also Samoa.
People arrived on these islands thousands of years ago, and there have been migrations to and from Kiribati since antiquity.
Evidence from a range of sources including carbon dating and DNA analysis confirms that the exploration of the Pacific included settlement of the Gilbert Islands by around 200 BC. The people of Kiribati are still excellent seafarers, capable of making ocean crossings in locally-made vessels using traditional navigation techniques.
Thomas Gilbert, captain of the East India Company vessel Charlotte, was the first European to describe Tarawa, arriving on June 20 1788. He named it Matthew Island, after the owner of his ship, the Charlotte. He named the lagoon, Charlotte Bay.  Gilbert's 1788 sketches survive.
Tarawa Post Office opened on 1 January 1911.
During World War II, Tarawa was occupied by the Japanese, and beginning on November 20, 1943 it was the scene of the bloody Battle of Tarawa. On that day United States Marines landed on Tarawa and suffered heavy losses from Japanese soldiers occupying entrenched positions on the atoll. The Marines secured the island after 76 hours of intense fighting with around 6,000 dead in total from both sides.
- A Pattern of Islands by Sir Arthur Grimble, John Murray & Co, London, 1952; republished 2011 by Eland, London, ISBN 978-1-906011-45-1
- Return to the Islands by Sir Arthur Grimble, John Murray & Co, London, 1957
In popular culture
- The book The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost is a rather humorous account of the author's two years living on Tarawa.
- Tarawa is the site of the 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Frank Filan, depicting a destroyed bunker.
- The book Return to Mars by Ben Bova uses Tarawa as the mission control for an expedition to Mars.
- The Far Reaches, a book of historical fiction by Homer Hickam, describes the Battle of Tarawa (ISBN 0-312-334753).
- A British drama film Pacific Destiny based on the book A Pattern Of Islands was made in 1956.
- Leon Cooper, a US Navy Landing Craft Operator who took part in the WWII battle, returned to the island in 2008 to investigate reports the beach he landed on was littered with garbage. His journey was chronicled in the documentary "Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story," narrated by Ed Harris.
- "North Tarawa Island Report 2012". Government of Kiribati.
- "South Tarawa Island Report 2012". Government of Kiribati.
- North Tarawa Socioeconomic Report 2008. Secretariat of the Pacific Community and Government of Kiribati
- Howe, K. R. (2006). Vaka Moana - voyages of the ancestors. David Bateman. ISBN 1869536258.
- Samuel Eliot Morison (1944-05-22). "The Gilberts & Marshalls: A distinguished historian recalls the past of two recently captured pacific groups". Life magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-14. "Being now abreast of this island, the extremity ending in a beautiful clump of trees, I hauled up to look at the bay. It appeared to be safe and commodious, sheltered by a long reef running parallel with the island, with two large inlets into the bay. The reef is about 3/4 of a mile from the beach, and has several small islands which appear like flower pots."
- Premier Postal History. "Post Office List". Premier Postal Auctions. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
- Grimble, Sir Arthur (1952). "A Pattern of Islands". Early New Zealand Books (NZETC). Retrieved 16 Oct. 2011.
- Grimble, Sir Arthur. A Pattern of Islands. John Murray & Co, London, 1952; republished 2011 by Eland, London. ISBN 978-1-906011-45-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tarawa.|
- Tarawa on The Web - A History of the Bloodiest Battle
- The Marine Assault of Tarawa
- Tarawa the Aftermath
- "Tarawa" the USCG cat
- Exhibit: The Alfred Agate Collection: The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 from the Navy Art Gallery
- Return to Tawara