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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Division of Atoll Lands

Division of Atoll Lands

Land is the chief wealth and the dominant interest of the Tokelau native, and the main source of his subsistence and building materials. Rights to land are based on relationship to kindreds which forces everyone to know his genealogy accurately. Without land one can not exist in the community. This vital necessity for land is shown in the refusal of the Fakaofu natives to accept a Rarotongan teacher brought by the missionaries (p. 33). The natives inquired “Where is he to live? There is no food for him and he will die of starvation.” All the land of Fakaofu had been divided among the people, and there was none to be given to a stranger.

An individual's holding or subdivision consists of one large piece or several small pieces planted with coconuts, pieces of wooded land, and land in the village for houses or cook sheds. The boundaries of plantation land page 54 extend into the water to the edge of the reef and along the lagoon shore for a short distance. Fishing rights in the water covering this land belong to the land holders, but the privilege of fishing is not withheld from others at the present time.

The land of every atoll has been completely divided. At Fakaofu the land was divided by the first historical high chief, Kava Vasefanua, among the heads of families then living on the island, except for two islets kept for the use of the high chief and his family, and parts of other islets retained as communal lands to grow a reserve food supply. The land that was given to the heads of families became the common property of the kindreds descended from them. Each member of the kindred received the right to use a section of the land. These sections have been redivided by succeeding generations until at present, with the increased population, there are several families who have no land within the village on which to build their homes.

Part of Nukunono was once owned by Fakaofu. When the islands were included in the British Colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, this land was returned to Nukunono and paid for by copra. All the land is now divided among the kindreds of the island. Land is still plentiful, for the area is large and the population has remained small since the depletion suffered from slave raiders.

At Atafu two pieces of land were set aside by Tonuia as communal land. The coconuts and pandanus fruit on this land are harvested by the village only in times of necessity, and timber, coconut, and fala pandanus leaves are reserved for communal enterprises.

The islet on which the village of Atafu is located was used jointly by the kindred during Tonuia's lifetime. After his death his children divided the land north of the village, which extends from the village to the well in the northwestern corner of the islet. The remaining northeastern end of the islet was divided later among his grandchildren and the men then living on Atafu. A piece of land near the northeastern tip was given to two missionaries, a Rarotongan and a Samoan. When they left, the land was divided again.

During a hurricane in 1914, the sea currents deposited sand and loose coral at the end of the village, filling in the canoe passage and adding a few acres of new land. The present new canoe passage was made by the water flowing from the lagoon. The new land was divided by the village council between the church and all the adult men of the village. Fourteen strips were marked out, each strip being 30 feet wide and extending from the old shore line to the new one. Each strip was given to two men who held the land as their personal property exclusive of their kindred holdings. The second section was made communal land for the pastor's house and school.

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