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Stories From Kiribati


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The Kiribati game of Oreano

Posted by Amota Eromanga on August 17, 2012 at 1:15 AM

Oreano is the name of the Kiribati outdoor game which comes from two words ore (meaning hitting or throwing) and ano (the ball). So the word oreano is literally the game of ‘throwing the ball’. Te ano has no standard size or weight but women use a bigger but lighter ball than the men. However, men usually play using the ano of about 20cm in diameter and around 5kg in weight.

The core of the ano is made up of a rounded stone and it is this stone that makes up most of the weight of the ball. To protect direct injury from the hard heavy stone, a layer of ing (fibre) from the coconut tree is put around the stone. Nowadays, with the availability of jute bags, ing is seldom used. A tight, complicated network of string is woven around the outside to hold the stone and bag in place and to provide a hard skin to the ball.


The number of players on each side ranges from six to twelve. What is most important is that the number of players on each side is the same. The team captain may position his players any way he wants but behind the line and within the set area. Players who are best at catching the ball occupy the front lines, which are then called moa or bwaene.

Players are not allowed to say rude words or remarks to their opponents other than those that are allowed by the rules e.g Tera te baei o bon te bwaene or A bwake rio a bwake rake kanaia ubun te beki. These phrases are meant to encourage players during the game.

Substitutes are allowed if players are knocked unconscious by the ball. It is a dangerous game, of course, if players are not careful. To avoid injury or knock-down, players are given much time to do a lot of practice. They are also not allowed to drink liquor or stay late the night before the game. Only expert men and women are chosen to compete in occasional games between the villages or islands.

Throwing (serving) styles

There are three main styles of throwing the ball. A player may use any one of them. A wise player uses one way only and tries to perfect his technique. Accuracy in timing the ball is essential. A moment too late or too early in throwing the ball from the center line means a disqualifying throw. Expert players can direct the ball very accurately aiming to the weakest part of their opponent’s team.

The kabwara is a throw in which the server rolls the ball along his inner side of his arm, which is then swung from the shoulder. A server using kabwara may walk or run then spins his whole body around before throwing the ball. The strength of his throw depends entirely on the speed of both his arm side swing as well as his body spin.

The taerake is another style where the thrower runs at full speed and just as he is about to reach the centre line lets go of the ball rolling it along his arm as fast as he can. The strength of his throw depends on his running speed and the upward swing of his arm.

As with the butu style, a fast runner is required for a greater force effect. The server runs at full speed with the ball held in his hand. At the right moment, he lets go of the ball and pushes it forward and slightly downward with the lower part of his arm.


A server from the first team then throws the ball towards the opposing team. If members of the other team can't catch (drop) the ball after it has reached their front line, the serving team gains a point.

If the ball falls to the ground or goes over the sidelines before reaching the defenders front line, no point is scored and the servers have another throw. If however the ball is caught by the defending team, defenders gain service but do not score a point since only the team which is serving can score. If the ball is thrown so high that the defenders can't possibly catch it, it has to be re-thrown again by the serving team. The decision on this is the referee’s who must use his discretion.

If the server passes past the centerline, while serving, no point is scored. If the defenders do not catch it, they do not lose a point but the other team scores. If however, they do catch it, then they win service. It is then their time to serve and to try to make points.

The team which reaches the prearranged number of points wins. Nowadays, it is more common to have a time limit and the team which is ahead at time-up wins.


The referee is responsible in deciding who will throw first. It is also his job to confirm whether a server scores a point or not. It is an advantage to have two referees, one on each side. The other assists the main refree throughout the game.

Click this link for more information and images of Te Oreano game.

Categories: Culture & Custom

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