It was the observations of scientists who were able to speak the Gilbertese (I-Kiribati) language which was the first break through at piecing together the fragmentary account the people gave of things as they used to be.Their observations are as follows: There are many and grave blanks in the record, yet so far as it goes the account may be relied upon as a correct statement of facts.Every piece of information given was attested to, on the island of its origin, by old men and women already in the ka-a-roro, which is to say, the fourth generation back.
Where possible, they were chosen as information on account of some skill they had possessed, long ago, in the ordering of the rites they described.
Sir Basil Thomson had written in his book on Fiji that descendants of brother and sister in the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) were forbidden to marry so long as their common origin is remembered, except on Abemama and Makin, where the rule was only violated by high chiefs.
This may have been the theory, though this has never been so expressed; the practice has long been otherwise.
According to such a standard, local marriages would quickly become impossible on these small islands where a population of two thousand is well over the average; and in this connection it must be remembered that local marriages are, and always have been, infinitely preferred by the natives.
Incest was punished on Tamana and Arorae Islands by laying the offenders face down in a shallow pool of water and suffocating them.
In the Northern Gilberts the culprits were lashed to a log of wood and set adrift in the ocean; the lightest punishment awarded seems to have been to put the incestuous couple aboard a small canoe, with a few coconuts, a paddle but no sail, and thus abandon them to the elements.
The belief was that the sun would hide his face from the place in which two such offenders were allowed to live unpunished.
Adoptive relationships and those of the half blood were counted the same as those of full blood.
The native catchword concerning the marriage of kinsfolk was, and is 'E ewe te ka-a-roro', i.e. Thus if three generations separated each of the parties to a marriage from the common ancestor, no ban of consanguinity rested upon them.