If democracy is truly a system of government of, by and for the people then the governance of the 170 odd villages in Kiribati is not far out from that definition, given the rather long and untraceable origin of the maneaba system, a system based on the authority, power and wisdom of the elders when seated in their proper places or “boti” in the traditional maneaba and making decisions or passing judgements always in the best interest of the community.
These elders perform their leadership roles with no expectation of receiving any reward of favours from any one. What they collectively believe to be in the best interest of the village or community is passed unanimously. They do not believe in an adversarial approach nor in the casting of votes to determine the majority view but they practice the consensual approach to all issue that come before them. They do not contest any election nor lobby or campaign to get elected to the elderly status, they automatically acquire it when they look old and wise and qualified to take a place in the sacred “Circle of Elders.” The positions of power or influence such as “the mouth” of the maneaba to take leadership over the debates , or “the feet” of the maneaba to convene the meeting and inform on the outcome of the meeting or “the hands of the maneaba” to receive all gifts and raise them up in thanksgiving and to apportion out any large amount of food or other disposable gifts, are vested in certain families or households and they will always remain in those households or clans passed down partially from father to son from son to grandson, thus excluding altogether the greed for power, wealth and status, the key driving force behind absolute power that corrupts absolutely.
The rights of everyone to a safe, healthy, happy and productive life are all guaranteed and protected by the maneaba democracy.
When deciding on the contributions that each household must give to the maneaba the elders would always choose the minimum affordable amount as defined by the weakest member of the village or maneaba.
This system with all its features as outlined above is called the “maneaba democracy” because of the great traditional meeting house or the “maneaba” in which the elders gather to make decisions and pass judgments. The maneaba democracy has been practised in Kiribati at the village level since time immemorial and it is still being practised today although they have been impacted upon quite heavily by modern systems of governance based on power politics and majority rule.
The author Tiburoro Tito
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