Tarawa (təräˈwə, tărˈəwä) [key], atoll (1990 pop. 28,802), capital of Kiribati, central Pacific, previously capital of the former British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The administrative center of the atoll is Bairiki island. Betio island, the chief commercial center of country, is a port of entry through which copra and pearl shell exported. Tarawa is the site of a teacher's training college and a marine training school, as well as an international airport. The population is mainly Micronesian.
During World War II the colony headquarters were moved there from Banaba (formerly Ocean Island). Tarawa was occupied by the Japanese (1941–43) and fell to U.S. marines after a bloody battle. In the early 1990s the southern part of the capital, particularly Betio, had one of the highest population densities in the world, leading the government to resettle residents on less crowded islands.