Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Contacts with Other Islands

Contacts with Other Islands

The Tokelau records are filled with references to visits to other islands of Polynesia; evidence from these islands of the arrival of Tokelau people corroborates these tales. At present, unauthenticated claims are made of fabulous voyages by the early Tokelau sailors. Natives who sailed on European ships to New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii returned and told of the Polynesians on these islands; and in a short time names from these distant islands were incorporated in the old stories. The Cook Islands, Borabora, Hawaii, and even Rapa are mentioned now when one inquires about the lands which the ancient Tokelau navigators visited. Newell (19) says there is independent evidence, besides the tales of voyages, of direct contact with Hawaii, but he does not give the source of his information. The natives knew stars by which they say they sailed to Hawaii.

page 27

Although two survivors of a wreck lived on Fakaofu and Captain Morvan visited the island before Hale came to it in 1841, it is not probable that from either of these sources the natives first learned the names of the outside islands, which they gave to Hale (11, p. 166). Their history independently confirms that they visited or were visited by people from the places which Hale mentioned to them. On Atafu Hale (11) found that they knew no island but their own. “They repeated after me the names Fanua Samoa, Fanua Tongatabu, Fanua Viti [Fiji], and asked in what direction they lay, and if we came from them.” At Fakaofu, however, the natives knew of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, but did not know where these islands were located. They also spoke of Pukapuka (Danger Island, unknown to Hale) but did not mention any of the Ellice Islands.

At Atafu, Newell heard an old song in which are narrated the exploits of Tokelau navigators who voyaged to Fiji and Tonga under the guidance of the god, Tui Tokelau. Burrows (5) states that marauding expeditions to Fiji were quite common, and one story tells of a victory won at a place called Atu Lau, which was preserved afterwards as a safe haven for canoes from the Tokelau Islands.

There were attacks by Tongans on Fakaofu, but no details are remembered. A canoe with eight Tongan women was blown from its course to Nukunono. When it arrived the men of the village were working in their coconut plantations across the lagoon. The women of Nukunono went down to the beach and killed the Tongans because they knew that their men would take them.

At one time a great war canoe from Samoa appeared at Fakaofu and landed at Fenua Loa Islet. It was under the command of a chief named Lekena. He launched an outrigger canoe from his double canoe and sent two men to Fakaofu. At that time there were many men fishing for bonito off shore near the village. They gave chase to the two Samoans, and after some trouble caught them and took them to the village. They were afraid to attack the men in the double canoe, however. The Samoans sailed away, leaving the two men, Folinga and Latu, at Fakaofu. Samoa seems to have been well known to the Tokelau people, and voyages between the islands were not uncommon. Atafu is also frequently mentioned in many Samoan legends of their voyages.

Storms blew many canoes traveling within the group to the islands to the southwest. On a voyage from Fakaofu to Atafu, Te Fou, the brother of Te Laufue, the chief, was carried by a storm to Futuna, where he was killed by the Futunans. In 1826 and 1827 two Tokelau canoes, driven by a hurricane, arrived at Rotuma, where the castaways settled (15). Storms brought Tokelau canoes to Uvea several times, as reported by early Uvean missionaries and by Burrows (4). Among the earliest Tokelau arrivals page 28 were Tua and Fafie, who came four or five generations before the arrival of the mission in 1837. Fafie returned to the Tokelau Islands, but Tua remained at Uvea. In 1832 Kiva and Singano, two more Tokelau men, were driven off their course and landed at Uvea (4).

In about 1846 a hurricane devastated Fakaofu, uprooting all the coconut trees and forcing the natives to leave the island to avoid starvation. Attempting to go to a neighboring island, north winds arose and dispersed the fleet. After six weeks at sea two of the canoes eventually arrived off Uvea. The missionaries there say that the wanderers knew the island and feared to land because of the reputed cruelty of the Uveans. However, due to the influence of the Catholic missionaries, the reception was peaceful and hospitable. It is certain that other voyagers from Fakaofu had landed there not long before, for a Tokelau girl on shore recognized the shipwrecked chief as her uncle.

Hale and Wilkes mention no evidence of early knowledge of the Ellice or Gilbert Islands, and it is likely that few canoes from the Ellice group ever reached Tokelau which lies directly into the wind for most of the year. However, there is a tale of one Ellice islander, Te Foe of Nukulaelae, who, while traveling between two of the Ellice Islands, was blown to Fakaofu. He and his family were looked upon as foreigners and were not allowed full social privileges of the island; they were called alatafatafa, which is said to mean people who had to keep at a distance from the council house while the chief's meetings were in order.

The Wilkes Expedition found that the people of Nukufetai in the Ellice Islands were well acquainted with the Tokelau Islands and named all four islands including Olosenga (Swains Island).

There is direct evidence that the Tokelau people knew of Manihiki, Tongareva, and the other atolls east of Pukapuka. Just at the beginning of European contacts 11 inhabitants of Manihiki departed to visit the other islands “to the west”. After five weeks at sea they arrived at Olosenga, and were later transported to one of the northern Tokelau Islands by a whaling ship. One of the party reached Samoa where Turner (32), who reports the story, found him. Tongareva is known by the Tokelau islanders as Manga-loalo, an islet of the atoll. Rarotonga of the Cook Islands is mentioned in a single reference in Tokelau legends (32, p. 21).