Ethnology of Tokelau Islands
The Tokelau system and terminology is basically similar to that of the neighboring islands, but contains a few terms differing in usage and connotation. The Tokelau term for mother, matua, is an eastern Polynesian and archaic Manuan term for parent, but is used also in the Ellice Islands (13). Pratt (22) gives matua as a Samoan word meaning parent, but the specific word for mother is tina, in Tonga, fae.
The Tokelau father's eldest sister is designated as matua sa which corresponds to the term of ilamutu used in Manua, Samoa. The Manuan ilamutu's son is termed tama sa, but in Tokelau the tama sa is the first-born son of a man. The change of the term tama sa reflects the great importance attached to the first-born son in matrilocal but patrilineal society and the attempt to emphasize the patrilineal line.
The adoption of the tama sa by the father's sisters is related perhaps to a custom formerly practiced at Vaitupu. The sisters and female cross cousins took his eldest son, in succession, to their homes shortly after his birth. The mother had to visit her child to feed him. Kennedy (13) suggests that this strange custom arose from the desire on the part of the father's family to emphasize their preëminence in a society which had at one time changed from a matrilineal to a patrilineal form. Possibly the custom arose, as it probably did in Tokelau, because of matrilocal marriage, which otherwise brought the rearing of the children among the mother's kin. Matrilocal marriage occurred at Manihiki (30) and Rotuma (14), but there it was more often for convenience or wealth and only a temporary arrangement. In the Tokelau Islands, however, matrilocal marriage was, at least in theory, the rule. Together with the adoption of the eldest son, frequent inheritance of family property by the daughter, and celebration of the birth of a child by the mother's kindred, there is the suggestion that Tokelau society was once more strongly matrilineal than when first seen by Europeans. Bird's comments (2) on the importance of women and the position they took in state affairs and official receptions substantiate this. Micronesian societies gave more respect and importance to their women than did those of western Polynesia; in eastern Polynesia, descent and inheritance were sometimes reckoned through the matrilineal line (48). Tokelau society became more patrilineal in later times, due to cultural influences from Samoa or elsewhere in western Polynesia.page 162
The men's house is a special development in the Tokelau sa organization. This large blood group is found in most western Polynesian societies, but outside the Tokelau and Ellice Islands the definite institution of the men's house is not evident. The building of the Tokelau and Vaitupu men's houses along the sea walls is typical of the location of council houses at Mokil in Micronesia (42).