Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Social Organization

Social Organization

The order of the individual's life and his relation to his own kindred and to other members of society conform very closely to the pattern of the life of the individual in Samoa (59) and other western Polynesian societies. However, the Tokelau pattern includes a few traits whose peculiarity points either to a local development or to an influence outside of western Polynesia.


The exhibition of a young mother five days after the birth of her first child, parading with her relatives through the village to the council, is explained by the natives as a display of a woman's beauty; if this is its purpose, it has its counterpart at Manihiki (30) and Leuaniua (61) where young girls, on reaching the marriageable age, were displayed unclothed for the community to admire. The Tokelau procession took place, however, at every island where a mother gave birth to a child. This suggests that the purpose was a ceremonial announcement of motherhood or of an heir in the family. If it was to announce an heir, it is curious that the mother and her relatives should make the announcement in a patrilineal society. Possibly this ceremony developed in a society which changed from a matrilineal to a patrilineal pattern—the matrilineal line satisfying its former claims to the children ceremonially.


The walking of the dead body of the chief about his house has never been reported as part of any other Polynesian funeral ceremony. The details and reasons remain unknown. Flexed burial on the back as described by Lister (14) is unique also in the Tokelau Islands. House burial was commonly practiced in Rotuma (15) and Vaitupu (13) and at Nauru in the Gilbert Islands (47), but was limited to the occasional burial of children in Tonga page 161 and Samoa (59). Disinterring the body and annointing it with oil has slight analogy with the Micronesian custom, also practiced in some of the Ellice Islands, of disinterring the body and cleaning the bones. Behind both is the desire to preserve the remains of ancestors, an idea which prevailed in parts of eastern Polynesia.