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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



This study of the ethnology of the Tokelau Islands is based on information collected during a two months' visit to Atafu Island from October 4 to December 10, 1932. On the voyage to Atafu the three other atolls of the group were visited for two or three days each, which allowed time only to inspect the villages, photograph, and gather lists of place names and genealogies of the high chiefs. Most of the information on the history and ancient culture of the islands was obtained from Mika, an elderly native in Atafu, whose knowledge of the past was considered greater than that of any person in the islands. Mika was a young boy when the first missionaries came to the island in 1859, and lived during the years when the last double canoes sailed back and forth to Samoa, and the old gods lived in the Tokelau world. The information that he imparted is drawn from a first-hand knowledge of the ancient Tokelau culture before it was changed by Europeans. Whatever value this book has as a record of the ancient Tokelau life and folklore is due to Mika's interest in my work and his willingness to relate all that he knew.

I wish especially to thank the following for their invaluable assistance: Nikotemo, the native government head who offered much additional information not given by Mika and clarified many points by discussing them with the elders of the village in council; Longolongo, the native medical practitioner who served each day as interpreter outside his hours at the hospital; the Samoan pastor, Timoteo, and his wife, Viola, in whose home I stayed during my entire visit; the young people of their home who took care of my personal needs; and the entire community who were always interested and ready to help in the work, and particularly those who presented the many native articles, no longer in use, for exhibition in Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

The material gathered has been supplemented from the few accounts which have been written by earlier visitors to the islands. I am particularly indebted to Dr. Andrew Thomson of Toronto, Canada, who generously put his unpublished notes made at Atafu at my disposal, and to Mr. Edwin H. Bryan, Jr., Curator of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, for the use of his field notes of Fakaofu Island, taken on the Whitney South Sea Expedition, and to the members of the staff of the Museum for their helpful suggestions page 4 and comments. To Dr. Alfred Tozzer of the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and Dr. E. Craighill Handy of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, I wish to acknowledge my especial gratitude for the thoughtful guidance and invaluable suggestions they gave during the preparation of this study for a thesis in ethnology at Harvard University.

Much of the Tokelau culture is identical with that of Samoa and in gathering field data, I found “Samoan material culture” by Te Rangi Hiroa (28)1 an invaluable aid in checking and comparing data as well as a short cut to recording identical techniques. Dr. Hiroa's work has become a standard of exact description and terminology for the material culture of western Polynesia, and I acknowledge with deep appreciation the labor and time devoted to this work and the time it has saved me in this field. I have borrowed freely from parts of his work where I checked identical articles and methods in the Tokelau culture instead of making full notes, and have referred to his writing when detailed restatement of his descriptions seemed superfluous.

Figure 1.—Map of Tokelau Islands and neighboring archipelagoes.

Figure 1.—Map of Tokelau Islands and neighboring archipelagoes.

1 Numbers in parentheses refer to Literature Cited, p. 179.