The first settlers arrived in the Gilbert Islands over 3000 years ago, most likely from the Caroline and Marshall Islands. The Phoenix and Line Islands never supported permanent settlements, although archaeological evidence suggests occasional pre-European landings.
The early Gilbertese settled in distinct kainga (villages), and except in northern Butaritari and Makin Atoll, where centralised chiefs governed, each kainga had a maneaba (meeting house). Most communities also had a bangota, a shrine to ancestral gods. The I-Kiribati were fierce warriors, known for their sharp shark-tooth spears, and they fought bloody inter-island battles clad in effective coconut-fibre body armour.