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Kiribati is the former Gilbert Islands and these were, together with the Ellice Islands a British protectorate and from 1916 a colony in the Pacific (the “Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony”). On 12 July 1979 the Gilbert Islands were granted independence. The official name today is “Ribaberikin Kiribati” (Republic Kiribati).




The British resident in the archipelago, a British protectorate from 1892, flew a badge consisting of the cypher B. R. crowned with the crown of St Edward in a white disc on the blue ensign. [1]


By warrant of 1 May 1937 of King George VI of England the colony was granted a coat of arms. It was:


Blazon: Gules issuant from water barry wavy in base proper a sun in splendour Or, in chief a frigate bird volant of the last with motto "Fear God Honour the King" in Gilbert and Ellice equivalent.



The Lesser Frigate Bird (Fregata ariel - Fregatidæ) in the arms is common in the Australian waters of the Pacific and is a symbol of power, poise and freedom. To the inhabants of the archipelago it is a symbol of sovereignty and royal birth and highly regarded as such.

The motto in “Gilbert & Ellice equivalent” reads: MAAKA TE ATUA KARINEA TE UEA - MATAKU I TE ATUA FAKAMAMALU KI TE TUPU.  



By Royal Warrant 1st of May 1937


This coat of arms is one of the few of which the procedure of adoption is fully recorded. The bureaucratic process, involving nine government departments or agencies, took nearly six years to agree on the design of arms and a flag badge for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu). A further four years elapsed before the Admiralty Flag Book was amended.


In August 1931 the G&E's Resident Commissioner submitted a sketch by Mr. Compton for a flag badge. In this sketch the arms were crowned and a motto added.

This was sent to the Governor of Fiji, in his capacity as Western Pacific High Commissioner (WPHC), who forwarded it to the Colonial Office in London. A little over two years later, in December 1933, the Royal Mint Advisory Committee (Mint) who were responsible for flag badges, had considered the sketch.

In August 1934, the WPHC returned the drawings and sent the Resident Commissioner's letter to the Colonial Office suggesting that the design should be a Coat of Arms as well as a flag badge, and that the inscription should be retained in the arms, but omitted in the badge. The Colonial Office also contacted the Admiralty and Sir Gerald W. Wollaston, Garter King of Arms, for their comments.

In April 1935, the Garter King wrote to the Colonial Office that the Arms should not be ensigned with a crown, which in any case was incorrectly drawn, and was not appropriate on a colony badge. Arms were assigned to a colony by warrant under the sign manual of the Sovereign addressed to the Earl Marshall, and counter-signed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The warrant was then recorded in the College of Arms. The last warrant had been for the Falkland Islands on 16th October 1925 when the fee was Twenty Pounds and Seventeen Shillings.

In January 1937, five and a half years after the original sketch had been submitted, the Colonial Office sent the design to the Admiralty, who agreed to its adoption. At the end of the month the Colonial Office were notified from Sandringham that the badge had been approved by King George VI.

In March the Colonial Office received a draft of the warrant for the arms from Garter. It was returned to him for the correction of two spelling mistakes, and for the bird to be described as 'a frigate bird' and not 'a sea-gull'. The blason was formulated as follows:


Blazon: Gules issuant from water barry wavy in base proper a sun in splendour Or, in chief a frigate bird volant of the last with motto "Fear God Honour the King" in Gilbert and Ellice equivalent.


The final warrant went back to the Colonial Office who sent it to the King's Private Secretary. It was signed by George VI on 1st May 1937. The warrant then went back to the Colonial Office who sent it to Garter for him to produce two certified copies of the warrant, which he did on 28th June 1937.


ð This is an abridged version of the full account of the procedure by David Prothero  (2004).




The coat of arms is inspired by the flag of the Scottish East India Company. This flag is documented by a flag chart from the middle of the 18th century. The picture shows a red flag with a sun radiant rising from blue and white waves of the sea. The legend reads: Pav:[illon] de la Comp[agni]e des Ind[es] Orient[ales] d’Ecoße. [2] 



The Scottish East India Company however, in his time had nothing to do whatsoever with the Pacific. Internet writes about this company:  


1698 - Darien Venture

For twenty years the London East India Company had enjoyed soaring success, bringing incredible fortunes to its stockholders through its virtual monopoly of Eastern trade.

By 1695 competitors in the market were using every scandalous technique to have Bills in their favour passed in England’s Parliament, and in return were being undermined by the EIC happily operating at the same low levels to retain dominance and political favouritism.

The Scottish Parliament passed in that year a plan to establish a similar organisation to be a ‘Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies’. Known in London as the Scottish East India Company, investors championed the proposal and in the space of two weeks £300,000 was raised.

Although based in Edinburgh, the necessary financial minds were not to be had in Scotland, so with half the board of directors living in London, as were half the investors, the Company was also to be managed from there.

The EIC was about to lose its monopoly when the House of Lords, followed by King William, then the House of Commons, found reasons to charge anyone who wanted a part of the Scottish East India Company to be breaking the law. The English finance vanished.

Fuelled by renewed anglophobia, fund-raising across Scotland for what had become a national cause brought £400,000. This was said to be half of Scotland’s available capital.

The plan was to have three Indiamen ships built on the Continent and take twelve hundred settlers and supplies to establish a colony at a bay on what is now the Panama - Colombia border, from where an overland route to the Pacific would allow westward trading with the East.

The bay area was known as Darien and the endeavour became the Darien Venture. The three 500-ton ships and two others set sail from Leith on the 12 July 1698. The fleet anchored on 3 November at a place the Spanish knew as Acla and the settlers renamed Caledonia. The Indians of the area made treaties with the Scots and offered friendship, but the Spanish in nearby colonies applied pressure on the new arrivals.

Flag of „Scottish East-India” in La connaissance des Pavillions ou Banières, que la Pluspart des Nations Arborent en Mer, by Jacques van den Kieboom, 1737.

The English in Jamaica and the North American coast were under royal proclamation not to trade or offer support to the Darien Venture. In February 1699 fighting with the Spanish ended with the capture of a Scots ship. Dysentery, fever, feuds and desertion brought the Venture to chaos.

The settlers did not know that supplies which may have put things back on track were on the way, and after eight months they abandoned Darien. The return voyage was more life-threatening than anything before. Only one of the ships was not abandoned. Less than seven hundred settlers made it back to Scotland. [3]



After the granting of independence, Kiribati maintained the old colonial arms. Tuvalu, the former Ellice Islands, which had gained its independence on 1 October 1978, had adopted a new coat of arms. The motto however, was changed into: TE MAURI TE RAOI AO TE TABOMOA (Happiness, Peace and Prosperity). [4]


See illustration in the head of this article.



Lesser Frigatebird  (Foto Flickr)




© Hubert de Vries 2006.07.18

Updated 2008.11.27

[1]) Gordon, W.J.: A Manual of Flags. Incorporating Flags of the World. Frederick Warner & Co. Ltd. London/New York, 1933.

[2]) Nieuwe Tafel van alle de Zee-varende VLAGGE des Werelts. op nieuws van alle voorgaande Fouten gesuyvert.

[3] ) Retrieved from: http://www.scotclans.com/history/1698_darien.html

[4]) Hesmer, K.-H.:  Flaggen und Wappen der Welt. Bertelsmann Lexicon-Verlag. Gütersloh, 1992 p. 85.

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