Kiribati is an island republic in Micronesia, in the Central Pacific, located at the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line. It was a British colony at the time of World War I, known as the Gilbert Islands, and the governor then was Arthur Grimble, a sensitive, educated man who was very interested in Gilbertese culture and language.
One day Grimble heard that there had been a death in a distant village, and he wanted to go to the funeral, so that he could learn about the local customs connected to such things. But no one would take him there, as they felt it was a very private thing, and not for outsiders. Grimble decided to go by himself, and set off along a little-used path which the natives called "the pathway to heaven".
Along the way he encountered a man he knew slightly, coming from the direction of the village, but although Grimble greeted him by name, the man remained silent, and walked by him without a glance. When he arrived at the village, Grimble mentioned this unusual occurrence, but the only explanation he received was wide-eyed silence. The reason for this strange behavior was made shockingly clear to him shortly. The silent man he had met on the path had died the day before. It had been the deceased, the man whose funeral he had come to attend, taking his final journey.