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  • Writer's pictureBy Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Coral stones for used clothes: Barter economy remains alive in Kiribati

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

In the old days of a cashless economy, Pacific islanders traded fish for taro or bread fruit, and special skill in fishing in exchange for special skill in cultivation. The barter system remains a mainstream practice in the outer rural islands of Kiribati, where residents exchange coconuts in return for items in the retail shop.

In the Covid-19 era, the barter economy is seeing a reemergence in Kiribati, where the tourism industry is suffering a drought as a result of the border shutdown. Kiribati is among the few countries in the world that remain coronavirus-free, but in the absence of foreign visitors, tourism stakeholders rely on the local market.

The Australian-owned Nemat Resort in North Tarawa is in the process of improving its facility, adopting a barter program that keeps the residents of Buariki village busy.

Nemat Resort's barter program involves the bartering of Australian imported second-hand clothing in exchange for local materials such as coral flat stones, gravel, thatch and other local resources that the resort needs to develop its facilities.

“The kids and people of Buariki village community have been enthusiastically involved in this barter program as they regularly and happily put in the effort to help Nemat Resort in supply local resources in return for new second hand clothing for themselves and their families,” said Sarah Botaake Teetu, marketing the communications officer at the Tourism Authority of Kiribati.

Nemat Resort uses coral flat stones to create cobblestone-like paths and walkways throughout the premises.

The resort opened in December 2020. Situated on a stretch of brilliant white sandy beach overlooking the turquoise lagoon, the property features both contemporary and locally designed houses/huts and buias with two maneaba.

“Nemat Resort, owned by Mr. and Mrs Atinibeia, both nurses based in Australia, have been actively involved in facilitating their resort with items they ship by container from Australia to help establish their resort in Buariki,” Teetu said.

“With the help of their parents, brother and extended family on Buariki in North Tarawa they managed to establish Nemat Resort.”

Teetu said the newly established resort is targeting both international tourists and local tourists. With the current closure of the Kiribati border due to the Covid19 pandemic, the resort has yet to receive international tourists. However, it has become a popular weekend getaway for the local residents seeking leisure.

“From TAK’s observation, the barter program has been very successful and engaging for both the community and Nemat Resort; Both being satisfied and happy with the results and benefits,” Teetu said.

“The children of the Buariki community have been the most enthusiastic in this program, exchanging six coral flat stones for three pieces of clothing depending on their preference. For the local adults seven flat stones for one clothing,” she added.

Teetu said the continuation of the barter program depends on Nemat Resort’s need for local resources and the availability of supply of second-hand shipped in from Australia to Buariki.

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