Seafarers in Kiribati - Consequences of International labour circulation
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Research on seafarers has not been a common theme in migration discourse. Yet, seafarers are a unique occupational group, and an increasing number are recruited from developing countries, such as Kiribati. The majority being men, they are recruited by international agencies for contract work on board ships of different kinds, registered under so called "foreign flags", and travel globally. Seafarers from Kiribati circulate between home islands and spaces that are denationalised and often occupied by different nationalities. Research on seafarers can therefore be placed at the peripheries of discussions on transnational research. The argument in my thesis is that socio-cultural, economic and environmental factors in Kiribati are closely linked to each other. The strong sense of being I-Kiribati (descending from Kiribati) and the cultural meanings of te aomata (being a real person), as being linked to a genealogy, being land to strangers, hard working, resilient and being able to face hardship, influence the likelihood of employment with German and Japanese agencies. The cultural background, together with the physical strength of I-Kiribati men, makes them globally competitive when an excellent standard of education is provided. The Marine and Fishery Training Centres are internationally recognised and are the largest maritime Training Centres in the Pacific. However, seafarers cannot build a transnational network, as they are temporarily migrating out of their cultural framework and their extended family system, moving transversally across maritime areas in the world. This thesis explores how the special form of mobility and the evolving, yet incomplete, articulation of transnationalism affects the social, economic and personal life of seafarers and families remaining in Kiribati. It also investigates the changes of identities that develop through a repetitive change of cultural backgrounds. Research, including six months of fieldwork on different islands in Kiribati, was aimed at understanding the consequences of the temporary absence and presence of seafarers for extended families and their communities; how the employment effects the health and wellbeing of seafarers and their family members; and the impact of remittances on families, communities and the environment in Kiribati. It was also aimed at illuminating whether and where the employment has influenced some of the cultural elements in which I-Kiribati seafarers are embedded.