Te Katekateka as the Key to Embracing and Empowering Women in Kiribati, with particular implications for the Kiribati United Church.

by Rev Meeri Iaabeti

Date added: 28/06/2017

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Te Katekateka as the key to empowering, nurturing and embracing women in Kiribati

By Rev Meeri E. Iaabeti, Kiribati United Church

Gender equality is not a tranquil matter to deal with. Even today where men and women are living in one nation, equality in all dimensions of life is rarely practiced. This is recognized from the start of this paper as a reality which is unethical. However, the purpose of this presentation has two parts; the first is to highlight that not all cultures in Kiribati were unethical from the beginning, and second, to discuss how the mission of the Church is relevant in the light of te Katekateka (menarche).                   

Kiribati as a nation is considered a patriarchal realm, where men have been treated as breadwinners and heads of families, leaders of tribes or communities and most importantly decision makers. While this view is held of men in general, women have been taken for granted as bearers of the families, caretakers of the communities, and also placed as subordinate beings (Tenten 2003, 36). Despite the fact that Kiribati is envisioned to be male dominated, women and daughters are already acknowledged very powerfully through one of our traditional ceremonies. The ceremony is known as te Katekateka. (It is a ceremony of initiating a daughter becoming a women by sitting during day time within the entire first three days of menstruation) which has been practiced throughout Kiribati for many years and until today.

There are other cultural ceremonies that involve both son and daughter as in te Bakanibuto   (another cultural feast to celebrate the fall of the umbilical cord of a child) but te Katekateka alone is considered a ritual for women. Likewise another unique ceremony named te Korobero (a term used to describe a male’s ritual for undergoing the process of circumcision) is a celebration for men but as far as the Kiribati norms are maintained and honoured, te Korobero is rarely practised compared to te Katekateka. Therefore, te Katekateka, as a female’s ceremony, will be the focus of this paper’s attempt to indicate the place of women within the Kiribati traditional culture and its importance and implications for women. The aspects of te Katekateka will be elucidated in the following ways.

1. As the Initiation Ceremony for empowering women through learning.

The notion and terminology of te Katekateka is coined to describe the process when a daughter has reached her first menstruation period (menarche). When a daughter reaches her first day of menstruation, it is a must that she has to tell her mother or grandmother. The fact of telling this is commonly known as the duty of a daughter in means of showing respect and honour to herself or else she disgraces herself. Since te Katekateka is symbolically a female ritual, it is expected to be carried out straight after the menstruation is heard (Tiaeke 2017).

As te Katekateka is carried out, the girl herself must be setting apart from others for three consecutive days either in a buia[i] or any unoccupied room of her family’s house (Bakarere 2014, 5). The purpose behind this, is to avoid any disturbances that might be interfering while she is undergoing the process of te Katekateka. Within those days, she will be accompanied by her supervisor; either her grandmother or any female relatives who are supposed to teach her something new aside from her childhood. She can either be taught to weave a mat or make a string. If she is given a chance to weave, this has to be learnt by heart which is also implied in the skills of making a string. These two were both regarded as the most important elements to the life of I-Kiribati regardless of their difficulties. Even though both were acquiring time, effort and concentration, and often seen as challenges to a daughter, at the end of the process she would prove herself to be capable and able to overcome. If she becomes a mat weaver; her family will be lucky, for a mat is what makes a family proud and fond of their daughter. Likewise, when she chooses to make strings, her family will also be able to depend on her skills for a string is useful for wrapping a coconut sap for toddy, for buildings and for fishing (Bareta 2017).

Another possibility for ongoing education is to enable a daughter to master her own skill and to teach future daughters when they undergo this same process. Furthermore, she will be determined in her new skills in terms of not relying on others or asking for assistance. This was also seen as a way of nurturing a competent and resourceful woman who could provide for her family and society. As a reliable person, she would spend more time on important things rather than roaming around playing with her friends or doing nothing (Mautaake 2017).

2. As the Initiation Ceremony for nurturing a woman through commitment and self-giving.

Another aspect of te Katekateka is to highlight a sacred stage which implies to a daughter that she is no longer a child but a woman, even if she is still in her teens. This refers to the manner of being restricted to have a little portion of te tuae[ii] or takataka[iii] and water (Manaima 1988, 13-14) though there may be a change when in urban areas where time is not enough for such homemade traditional foods (Tiorina 2017). Besides, both son and daughter have been reared differently and it matters who they are, according to their identity. A boy is represented by the Nao[iv] referring to how he should behave and act like a wavy or rough sea while on the other hand, Nei[v] points to a pond as a resemblance of calm in terms of reflecting a girl’s life who would be act obediently and quiet (Tekeaki 2017).

Furthermore, it is to convey the quality of life shown through Nei as a daughter by denoting a proper and suitable place for her and also how her dignity has to be known. She will be considered as someone who is committed to her responsibilities in a manner of willingness and submission. These in fact will be emphasized: that a daughter is not inferior in any aspect of life, but instead has a particular ability to put first the needs and wants of her family without quarrel or complaint. Te Katekateka is indeed providing a life journey for women through their attitude as peacemakers in manners of adapting their identity of Nei to all aspects of life. Therefore the ‘Nei’ is genuinely authorized through ‘te Katekateka’ as the ultimate call and appropriate way of addressing females generally as capablebeings – not at all incapable, because they skillfully provide and care for the welfare of their family and the society as well.

3. As the Initiation Ceremony for embracing women through love and respect.

Most importantly, after the completion of te Katekateka, it will be followed by a communal feast. Both maternal and paternal sides will come together to provide for the feast in such a way as expresses their love and support to their daughter. During the feast, a daughter will be honored to sit among elders in front of the post either in the maneaba[vi] or house. She then will be the first to take her share from the table while followed by elders and the rest of the guests and family members (Morate 2017). Another aspect of this, she is supposed to wear a new red dress that symbolizes success after te Katekateka, though in those days, she would wear only te riri[vii] (Iaabeti 2017).

Indeed, culture has played a vital role to sustain harmony and peace, thus also serving not to ignore the presence and existence of a female but to embrace her as part of a family or land. This degree of acknowledging women has been part of our ancestral ceremonies and culture will never ignore that. However, te Katekateka does not serve to make a particular distinction towards the male gender but to reveal that a daughter also deserves respect and honor. It is providing opportunities to a family, a community and Kiribati society in general to accept and recognize their duty towards females, which culture has been acknowledging from generation to generation. Its sole purpose is to acknowledge them generally as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers to their families, communities and to Kiribati as a whole.

Leading on from these observations, let us now see how te Katekateka is relevant to the mission of the Kiribati Uniting Church (KUC) and what are its implications for the lives of women within the Church. The KUC Statement of mission theology is John 10:10 “Fullness of life in Jesus Christ”. What KUC emphasizes is the ‘call to revisit one’s commitment to Jesus Christ at a personal, family, and Community level in order to live out Christ like life’. Included in its vision statement is that she should “be dynamic and effective in aspiring to the fullness of life in Jesus Christ” (Executive Council 2013, 8). Therefore, the core mission is to revive people in faith and growth in maturity so that all spheres of life will be empowered, nurtured and embraced physically, mentality and spiritually.

            The KUC as God’s mission agent for empowering the people at all levels of life.

Mission is not something that begins with humanity, rather it is the Grace of God who initiates, acts and involves. Furthermore, as theology is at the heart of mission, it therefore begins with God; revealed through Jesus and continued by the Holy Spirit. It explicitly relates to how God has done so much for the world, and likewise to the expectations of the Church as the body of believers. The Church as the body of believers and faithful people will have the ability to continue God’s mission in terms of reaching to the poor and the marginalized (Moreau 2005, 17-19). Despite the fact that the KUC should be obligated to follow how the Church has defined its own mission defined, it will take more time than expected to fulfill and accomplished her duties. There are problems related with patriarchal influence which are embedded in the Church through Culture. The KUC has become a men’s enterprise as Manaina points out

However in the Church, as in society, women become secondary to men. Firstly they are debarred from taking part in the church’s mission; they are not allowed to become ministers or pastors or leaders of the Church, and so they are obliged to become mere participants who are never looked upon or accepted as leaders for the mission of Christ (1988, 27).



Women were often considered subordinate to men in many ways and, in that manner, it took many years for the Church to decide whether they were able to attend Tangitebu Theological College[viii] or not. Why did the Church take so long to permit the women to be part of this mission? Could it be associated with the idea of seeing women as domesticated to home chores or impure because of mensus? Anyway, the 1970s, they were permitted, after the General Assembly, and in 1982, they were granted permission to look after their own congregations where they served. In 1984, women ordination became official within the Church (1988, 38-39). With reference to te Katekateka, women’s ordination is an essential stage in affirming that women are as capable as men in the sense of reaching or becoming fullness in life so thus God’s call for women too (Tenten 2003, 39). It is not in terms of attaining power or authority to violate or discriminate against each other but to engage equally on the same mission and for the same purpose of stewardship. God created man and woman in his image according to his likeness (Gen 1:27) and that is the most authentic text that implies no distinction and subordination. Thus gender equality champions the cause that women will not be ill-treated but rather will be given the opportunity to preach, to baptize and to evangelize as God’s stewards to the nation.

Likewise te Katekateka offers and supports a place for a woman within her family and society without considering her a weak or incapable person. The law offers guidelines for human discipline but has restrictions. While on the other hand, (Gal 3: 28) faith has no boundaries to race or gender. Therefore, a woman’s ordination is an opportunity of proving herself as a faithful servant of God, ensuring that this will help to prolong the Church with care and love.

The KUC as God’s mission agent for nurturing the people at all levels of life.

While the conception of the KUC’s mission statement is Christocentric, that emphasis is so that it can act overall in the spirit of justice, love, equality, liberation, care and repentance and so on. Women should not be ignored in respect of who they are and in relation to the light of the Church as the body of Christ. One of the Church’s obligations is to nurture a person’s life based on the word of God (Ps 119:11, 97) and to become mature in faith. In this sense according to the implication of te Katekateka, nurturing a child begins from home and culture, and through this nurture, a daughter under the circumstances becomes a woman, a new person who has the potential to look after the wellbeing of her family.

Faith nurturing of a child involves teaching about believing in Christ as the Saviour who is central to all but whose example and influence are not restricted to men only. God’s mission as proclaimed by the Church intends to continue the idea of nurturing both man and woman, not in the sense of over lording and superiority, but rather with the concern of obedience and adoration to serve God (Ps 100:2). In fact, it is the process of engaging a person to know his/her obligation to love, respect and care for themselves and their enemies but most importantly to love and adore God.

Referring again to cultural perspectives, Kiribati is highlighted as a nation which has the strong intention of preserving virginity before marriage. Undergoing and maintaining this culture can only be done through obedience and submission: if not, culture will be undermined and ruined and there is shame and disgrace on the status of the family. Furthermore, a daughter exists within the full responsibility of parents, especially the mother, to pay attention to her whereabouts and to make sure she is safe unlike how the son be treated. The fact that a daughter has to be brought up in this way is related to preserving virginity from a young age until marriage (Rajinda 2017). In most cases during or after te Katekateka, the proposal from a man’s family in seeking a daughter’s hand in marriage will be done. Since there is no conception that a daughter should be married before menstruation, so the right time is when she was Katekatekaki[ix] or Kateirakeaki[x]. Likewise, the aspect behind katekatekaki is highlighted as part of life, therein one’s own life has been initiated for a particular role and responsibility as a mother (Erati 2017).

For the same reason, marriage as an example is revered as sacred; the union of husband and wife before God. A man since creation is regarded as incomplete on his own (Gen 2:22) and his completeness is in his partner, a woman. The mission of Christian marriage to the KUC also reflects on the completeness of a woman through her womanhood. If she has reached the stage of child-bearing through te Katekateka, it thus provides her the opportunity to marry.

Therefore, the mission of the Church needs to maintain and sustain marriage by acknowledging purity of the body as not for fornication but for the Lord (1Cor 6:13) and an instrument for righteousness (Rom 6:12-13). In the same way, marriage (1Cor 7:1-4) serves the ideals of respect and love between husband and wife. They both hold the authority of each other’s body in means of purifying it to the extent of partnership and unity (1Peter 3: 1-2). With reference to Ephesian 5:25, Christ is the head of the Church who gave his life for the sake of her, to be holy and justified before God. In the same manner, the man must be devoted to his duties as a husband and the woman as a wife also. As women were often seen as submissive and obedient to their husbands, this reflects upon the symbol of te nei as one of the characteristics of a daughter in a way of being a peacemaker or a caretaker. This also highlights that rearing women in Kiribati is the ultimate purpose of te Katekateka and symbolizes them having respect to their elders, husbands and community – especially in terms of not being able to talk back to them.

The KUC as God’s mission agent for embracing the people at all levels of life.

Another aspect of mission is the relatedness of the Triune God; God as the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit who is the one to emphasize that the mission of the triune God is primarily to do with love and grace expressed through all persons (Newbigin 1995, 29).

The embracing of women through the feasting of te Katekateka is the expression of communal love and respect for entering another important stage of life. While undergoing te Katekateka, a daughter is entering the mission of dispatching from her childhood and seen as a woman when Kateirakeaki. It is highlighting the fact that a daughter, even if she is still in her teens, has to act like a real woman. This implies that her usual ways of childhood, like playing with her peers, will gradually fall away. Her childish ways will be gone and now be replaced with commitment and trustworthiness as an adult.

This is also relevant to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. It is not just a gathering of a family but more of a union, despite the gender and race, to recognize the importance of observing the Grace of God (1 Cor 11: 23-26). Though some biblical texts set boundaries of sinfulness and impurity because of a woman’s menstruation (Leviticus 15:19-25; 20:18; Eze 18:6) the Lord’s Supper on the other hand embraces women without referring them as impure or unclean beings. The ultimate purpose of Christ’s death is seen and taken seriously in this action much than mere reflection or proclamation. Originally for the Church, the sharing in his body and blood thus brought new life and hope that Jesus was still in their midst (Newbigin 1995, 45-46). Through te Katekateka, a woman is portrayed not as a mere participant but one who acts and accomplishes the process, as with Christ at the Lord’s Supper. Likewise, the Church is obligated to offer full authority to men and women equally as facilitators of the Lord’s Supper and full participants.  

Therefore, the Church should not be institutionalized for discrimination and inequality, but to maintain the Trinitarian life through action, hope and love. Te Katekateka and the Lord’s Supper both symbolize the faithful community that binds us together as relational beings. This Trinitarian life also contributes to uphold and cherish our differences; to allow men and women to stand as equals and unite in the common good of a community.


In words and actions, the Church needs to be a channel of peace rather than being judgmental and discrimination against its members. She should imitate the humility of Jesus where there is no accusation, prejudice and hatred for women. Everyone deserves respect and honour no matter what colour, language, and gender because we are all one as God’s image. Furthermore, the Church should take responsibility to reach out to all in need, like what te Katekateka  through the Kiribati culture prefers, to keep as an ongoing appreciation that women are not to be mistreated and violated but rather appreciated as images of God.

The Mission of the Triune God is to do with love and care for the entire nation in which there is no race and gender discrimination. God is Mission and Mission is God in terms that mission by the Church should not be governed by the minds and deeds of people but be an instrument of God to carry out his mission. Her mission should reflect the great commandment which is love. If all Christian Churches were bound together with love, there would be no injustice, gender inequality and discrimination because love consumed all these to the better way of living.

Furthermore, mission within the Church is supposed to be a way forward for all people where there is unity, love and hope. The Church’s mission is the fulfillment of God’s mission, which is the mission of love and grace that was embodied in and through the Christ. Therefore the KUC must practice and encourage fellowship in every way so that relationship could be experienced in the lives of all. This could be another step forward to embrace everyone; no matter what religion others belong to and to continue to show that everyone is accountable and responsible for the continuation of God’s mission in the same way Jesus has shown through his life and death. Jesus is not only for one particular gender or nation: but rather Jesus is God for all genders, nations and races.


Rev Meeri E. Iaabeti



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[i] A local house.

[ii] A dry juice made from Pandanus fruit, after boiled and squeezed then place on the small mat to dry under the sun.

[iii] A ripe coconut that preserved for the purpose of te Katekateka.

[iv] A Kiribati general term for male.

[v] A Kiribati general term for female.

[vi] A huge building for gathering, decision making and other important matters. It comes from two words, ‘manea’ meaning embraces and ‘te aba,’ the land.

[vii] A local skirt made from peeled coconut leaves.

[viii] The only Theological College of the KUC situated on Tarawa, the Capital.

[ix] A daughter who undergoing the process of te Katekateka.

[x] It means making a daughter to stand after being seated.

Rev Meeri Iaabeti

Rev Meeri Iaabeti



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