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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Succession of island chiefs

Succession of island chiefs

Much confusion and contradiction exists in the order of succession of Fakaofu chiefs. In table 2, four varying lists of chiefs are given, divided into mythical and historical periods. In Nikotemo's list, a long time elapsed between Kava te Mafanga, the first man created, and Kava Vasefanua, the first chief of the historical period. Mika's list includes four created men, the first three of whom may all be the same character in the natives' accounts of man's creation, for they mean the rain, the maggot, Kava the old one, and page 24 Kava the originator. Smith (26) lists the legendary descendants of Kava and Tikitiki. Lister (19) presents only chiefs of the historical period.

Table 2. Chiefs of Fakaofu
Legendary Period
List Given by Nikotemo List Given by Mika List Given by Smith
Kava te mafanga Leua te ilo Tikitiki and Talanga
Kava te matua Kava
Kava te mafanga Singano
Kava Vasefanua Fiu
Te Ilo
Historical Period
List Given by Lister
Kava Vasefanua Kava Vasefanua (One of the first four created men) Kava
Pio and Te Vaka Tai
Fafie Te Mafanga
Leua Leua
Foua Foua Foua
Te Laufue
Amatanga Amatanga
Avafatu Avafatu Pofou
Leitaiolo Taupe
Poufau Avafatu
Taupe Taupe Savaike
Savaiki Savaiki Letaiolo
Lika Lika Lika
Longotasi Longotasi Langitasi
Vaopuka Vaopuka Vaopuka
Te Taulu Kava Taulu Te Taulu
Te Fuli Te Fuli
Savaiki Savaiki

The dates when three high chiefs of Fakaofu were living can be definitely established: Taupe was chief in 1841 when the United States Exploring Expedition visited the island; Te Taulu, in 1889 when Lister visited the island; and Savaiki, in 1916 when the last chief went out of official position. Between 1841 and 1916, a period of seventy-five years, seven high chiefs held office, each high chief reigning on an average of 10 to 11 years. This short period appears reasonable, for it was the practice at Fakaofu to elect an old man from the chiefly families to succeed the chief who had died.

The Fakaofuan chiefs who were sent to rule Nukunono after its conquest did not make a permanent residence there until four generations after the time of Te Vaka. The first ruler was Pio, but Sunga was the first chief to settle there permanently. From him were descended all the chiefs of Nukunono who ruled until the abolition of the office in 1916.

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Table 3. Genealogy of Nukunono high chiefs*

Table 3. Genealogy of Nukunono high chiefs*

The high chieftainship passed from father to son except for Ulua who succeeded his uncle. One generation has lived on the island since Takua's generation. Allowing 25 years for each generation beginning with Sunga, the line of Nukunono chiefs began between 1783 and 1808.

The chiefly line of Atafu came from Fakaofu and was a branch of the family which established the chiefs of Nukunono. Tonuia, the first chief and also supreme priest, came to Atafu two generations later. The village was so small that no chief was immediately elected to succeed him, but when the population increased, Tonuia's grandson, Foli, was chosen. Foli's brother succeeded him and then the son and grandson of two of his paternal uncles. Since then the village has been ruled by an officer appointed by the British Colonial Administration.

The genealogy of Tonuia commences seven generations before him with Kava of Fakaofu. Since Tonuia five generations have lived on Atafu. But because the first generation—Tonuia's married children—and the last—the present children—have lived only half a generation on the island, the time since Tonuia is estimated at 100 years, 25 years for each generation, according to the accepted period of a Polynesian generation established by the Polynesian Society of New Zealand. Thus Tonuia came to Atafu some years before 1833, reckoning the generations from 1933.

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The longest list of Fakaofu chiefs contains 19 names. Estimated on a basis of 11 years to each ruler, the list as given by Nikotemo would put Kava Vasefanua, the first historical chief, as reigning in 1717. But according to the genealogy of Nukunono and Atafu kings, this line began in 1633. The names of the first five historical chiefs of Fakaofu (Kava Vasefanua, Pio, Fafie, Leua, and Pio) and the first five ancestors of the Nukunono chiefs (Kava, Pio, Kolo, Fafie, and Pio) in the lists given by Nikotemo, are identical except for one name. If we assume that these two lists are in reality one, the chieftainship at Fakaofu must have passed from father to son during the first five generations of the historical period as indicated in the Nukunono genealogy, and have been held by each chief for 25 years. This would put the rule of Kava Vasefanua at about 1647, closely checking with the time of Kava, the head of the line of Nukunono and Atafu chiefs. Nikotemo's statement that Kava, the first ancestor of the Nukunono chiefs, was not Kava Vasefanua, was contradicted by a Nukunono informant. It seems probable that these two chiefs were one person. If this is true, the Atafu and Nukunono chiefs were appointed from the family of the high chief of Fakaofu, a very likely thing to have occurred.

Nikotemo said that Kava married a woman belonging to the early people of Nukunono. Thus Kava may be the first man of Fakaofu, whose name we have accepted as Kava or the unnamed Rarotongan who first settled Fakaofu and took a wife from Nukunono. (See. p. 19.) It is a possibility which leads us to the point that all the stories of Kava and the first chief of Fakaofu may refer to one individual, who first settled on Fakaofu. If he is Kava Vasefanua, he appears to have lived about the middle of the seventeenth century. The history of the Fakaofu people of the Tokelau Islands then becomes a very recent event in the annals of the Polynesian peoples.