Ethnology of Tokelau Islands
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.page 55
Atafu Village Divisions
The first settlement was made at the site of the present village at the southern end of Atafu Islet, where there was a canoe passage from the lagoon to the open sea (fig. 5). The houses were erected along the lagoon shore 8 or 9 feet above water level to receive the cooling trade winds which blow across the atoll. They were protected from devastation by high tides and storm waves by breakwaters built in front of parts of the village and backed by a fill of coral rubble.
Figure 5.—Map of part of Atafu Islet showing the village of Fale established by Tonuia, site of the ancient settlement, and Atakei, Alato, and Pokulu, the men's houses: a, breakwaters (pa); b, paved hole for soaking coconut husks; c, piers; d, canoe houses; e, god house, with two erect slabs before it and sacred repository (sai) for discarded paraphernalia; g, cook houses; houses of first settlers belonging to: h, Laua; i, Laufali; j, Kaufala; l, Te Pasu; m, Pio; n, Tongia; o, Levao; p, Fekei; q, Tonuia; r, Fuati; s, Ngaluava; t, Malokie; u, Vaovela; v, Lou; w, Kiao; x, Kapa.
The first houses were those of the five sons of Tonuia: Vaovela, Pio, Malokie, Laua, and Laufali; his two daughters, Lovao and Fekei; and Ngaluava and Tuati, the sons of Folasanga who accompanied Tonuia. Their homes were built surrounding the house of Tonuia which served for a time as the god house of the community. Later Laua built two more houses; his son, Tongia, built a house for himself and his wife; Pio built a second house for his second wife; and five men, who had brought their families to Atafu after Tonuia, built houses at each end of the village. Of these five men, Kafa, Kiso, and Lou built close to the shore at the north end; Kaufala and Tepasu built their houses beside that of Laufali. There were three men's houses—Pokulu, Afekai, and Alato—built along the eastern shore and a god house at the northern end of the malae away from the houses. Several canoe sheds were built along the lagoon beach north of the southern breakwater and pier. The cook houses were all across the lagoon passage away from the trade wind. There was no systematic arrangement of the village; houses page 56 were built close together and connected by narrow paths through uncleared scrub and trees; and pigs were allowed to wander about the village.
The first breakwater was constructed by three men who came to Atafu shortly after Tonuia and built their houses at the northern end of the village. Later another section was built near the southern end of the islet. Between these two sea walls three stone piers were built into the lagoon from the village shore. They were 10 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 2 or 3 feet above sea level. At the end of each was a small house for a toilet that rested partly on the end of the pier and partly on piles in the water (pl. 16, A).
Figure 6.—Map of present village of Atafu showing lagoon, canoe passage, reef and village sections: Asanga and new land deposited by sea in 1914; Afekei and extension of original village along lagoon shore; Lomaloma, hospital grounds; malae on which have been built village garden, church, and cricket ground; b, schoolhouse and boys' dormitory; c, cook house; d, dwelling; e, steps in breakwater to lagoon; f, council house (fale loa); g, pig pens; h, hospital; k, women's work house; l, basketball ground; m, missionary's house; o, ancient graves marked by coral slabs; p, breakwater; r, reservoir; s, storage house; t, combined toilet and storage shed; v, canoe beach; y, copra shed; z, cricket crease. Broken lines show boundaries of village land divisions. Parallel lines show paths with low slab curbing.
The modern village was laid out when the island was under the administration of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (fig. 6). The paths, the arrangement of the modern, cooler types of houses, the segregation of the pigs from the village, and the clearance of all undergrowth were planned and accomplished under governmental supervision. However, the ownership of plots of land within the village and the two early divisions of the village, Afekei and Asanga, were not disturbed. Their division is marked by the page 57 crosspath running from the council house and is indicated on the map (fig. 6) by a broken line. The land that was built up in the hurricane of 1914 is now part of Asanga division. The two sections which were given to the men of the village and the church are divided by the end of the main walk which runs through the village. The present missionary has had built on the church or communal land a round-ended Samoan house for himself and family and two large Tokelau houses for his school. The older boys of the school sleep in one, which has supplanted to a degree the old men's house. Beyond the schoolhouse is a basketball ground. The upper portion of the new land is used mainly for cook houses.
Afekei, the northern district, includes the newer part of the village. Lomaloma is the hospital group at the extreme northern end of the village. The name has been adopted from the name of a town, Lomaloma, in the Fiji group by the present native medical practitioner, Longolongo.
The old malae in the center of the village is unoccupied and has only a few shade trees. The church and reservoir have been built in the middle of it. The lower end is used for cricket matches and drying copra; the northern end has been turned into a communal garden, planted with an introduced taro (taamu), bananas, and papayas.
The entire village, from Lomaloma to the end of the eastern shore, is now protected by a breakwater, except for the intervals left for canoe beaches. At several points in the wall steps have been made to allow the people to descend to the water to bathe. The height of the breakwater above the water varies in different sections constructed at different times; the newer parts have an average height of 5 feet; the older walls are slightly lower. The last parts of the breakwater to be completed were the end sections. The Lomaloma end at the edge of the hospital grounds district was built under the direction of the present native medical practitioner; the southern end, which turns and runs inland 10 or 15 feet to a higher level, was built under the direction of the present missionary.
The outlet of the lagoon, which serves as a canoe passage, has changed its position three times during human habitation on the island. In the period of the early or pre-Fakaofu settlement the passage ran from the present mouth across the modern village parallel to the crosswalk ending at the council house. When the first settlement was made from Fakaofu, the outlet had moved to the boundary of the new land; in 1914 it changed to its present position.
The holder of a subdivision of kindred land may pass on his tenancy to his children in any manner he chooses. Normally the control and direction goes to the eldest son, who divides the holding among his brothers and sisters. Brothers who have sufficient land for their use in their wives' prop- page 58 erty often do not receive an actual division of land but only a share in the food that is gathered from it. In present times they also receive a share of the money made by selling copra produced on the kindred plantations. Many landholders have left the complete control of the land to the eldest daughter of the family, and the sons have only a share in the products. In some families the children all inherit alike; in others the eldest son and daughter receive larger shares than the younger children. The wife or husband does not inherit any share of the land of the other. Only by the consent of every claimant to the land can any part of it be given or sold to any person who has no right to it by heritage.
When a person dies without children, the land reverts to his kindred. The reallotment is completely discussed by a council of the kindred and by the council of village elders, who hear all claims that any of the villagers may make. When the right to inheritance is disputed, the village councillors decide who among the members of the kindred shall receive the land. The use of the land is usually given to younger married relatives of the deceased.
The Report of the Administrator of Samoa (24) states:
When a young man marries they [the village council members] sit in council and allocate a piece of land to him… . The old men of the village are looked upon as Matais or chiefs, who each have their own area of land and assume the power to divide up the land as they think fit.
The village council is composed mostly of kindred heads who own the lands, but not by virtue of their membership in the council; they have no power to divide arbitrarily or give away lands which are kindred property. They control absolutely the use of the communal lands. They can forbid by tapu the trespassing and taking of coconuts from areas of the kindred plantations. Plantation lands are still set aside in rotation for the production of copra under the old system of tapuing land (lafu). Formerly the council of Fakaofu and the high priest placed a tapu on visiting all plantations of the atoll. Every few days the tapu was removed and all the people visited their plantations at the same time to gather food. This custom prevented the theft of coconuts and pandanus and kept a check on the food supply. If anyone broke the tapu, he died of a wasting sickness brought on by the curse of the high chief.
The landholder has the right to take coconuts, pandanus fruit, leaves and wood, except kanava, from his plantation. The division of these among members of the kindred outside the household is made by the kindred head or his eldest sister. A strict law forbids the cutting of any kanava trees without the consent of the kindred head. Thus the law controls the supply of kanava wood, used in making many articles, and ensures to each household material for a canoe. In pre-Christian times kanava trees were tapued by consecrating them to a god. (See p. 61.)