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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


Niue is a raised coral island with an average height of 220 feet above sea level. It is situated in latitude 19°10' S. and longitude 169° 17' W., the nearest island being Vavau, 250 miles away. Though the land consists entirely of coral, it grows large trees and cultivable plants such as bananas, yams, and the paper mulberry. It is surrounded by a close fringing reef and there is no anchorage outside it.

The traditions, dialect, and culture would indicate that the island was settled from Tonga. Traditional material is poor for there are no hereditary lines of chiefs and no lengthy genealogies. The people did not tattoo, or drink kava, though the kava plant grew readily. The people are industrious and make reliable seamen.

The island was discovered by Cook on his second voyage, and owing to a hostile demonstration on his landing, he named it Savage Island. Various navigators passed the island, but there was no anchorage, hence no inducement to land. Erskine made a visit as late as 1849. The London Missionary Society established a station in 1862, and the island became a British protectorate in 1900. Basil Thomson, the government official who hoisted the flag, wrote an interesting book on the island. The administration was entrusted to New Zealand, and S. Percy Smith, who was sent as the first government agent in 1901, contributed a number of interesting articles to the Polynesian Journal. Percy Smith collaborated with Edward Tregear in producing a grammar and vocabulary of the language.

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Edwin B. Loeb, of the University of California, made a field study in 1923-1924, and his work on the history and traditions of the island was published by the Museum.