Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



Since the latter half of the nineteenth century the atolls of Atafu, Nukunono, and Fakaofu have been in contact with the outside world through the vessels of missionaries and traders; and the history of the people is fairly well known.

In 1846 a hurricane devastated Fakaofu. To escape starvation, many of the natives set out in their canoes to go, presumably, to Nukunono which had escaped the storm (p. 28). But winds dispersed the canoes and only two survived. These landed eventually at Uvea (Wallis Island) and found there the Catholic missionaries who had been converting the Wallis islanders since 1837. The discovery of Fakaofu had been known to the missionaries for only five years, and this was their first contact with the natives. In 1852 another hurricane swept over Fakaofu, and news of the subsequent havoc and starvation finally reached Samoa. Mgr. Bataillon, head of the Samoan Catholic mission, sent a ship from Samoa to Wallis, where the natives loaded 16,000 coconuts on board for the starving Tokelau people; and the ship sailed to their rescue under the leadership of Father Padel (1). South Americans had raided the island for laborers not many years before, and the Fakaofu people, in spite of their plight, refused to go on board the ship, as they feared some ruse to carry them away. Only by long hours of argument, by defying the natives' god, and by burning his temple and the mats which were bound about his stone did Father Padel finally convince the people to leave their island. However, several of the old people would not leave, and the priest was forced to send back some of the younger people to care for their elders.

In 1861 Mgr. Bataillon and Father Poupinel took back to Tokelau a party of 16 men and women who had gone to Wallis in 1852. During their sojourn at Wallis they had been converted to Christianity. The people who had remained at Fakaofu would not accept the missionaries or allow the converts to preach in the island, although they would allow the latter to return to their former homes. But the missionaries would not permit this and set sail again with all their natives on board. The chief's son was among those who were to be carried away from the island for the second time. His old father, too grieved to lose his son again, at the last moment rushed out to the ship and granted permission for the missionaries to land and preach Christianity.

In 1863 Father Elloy of Samoa visited Fakaofu but found that paganism still reigned. His visit was ill received by the natives. He continued to the page 33 island of Nukunono, where Christianity had been brought by a native, Justin, who had been for some years with the mission in Samoa. Upon Father Elloy's arrival no natives appeared on the beach. All had fled, fearing that his ship signified another raid of the South Americans, who had carried away a great portion of the population during the interval of 1861–1863. Finally Justin came out when he saw the soutane of a Catholic priest on deck. Justin had virtually become chief of the island and had attempted to instruct his people in the Christian religion. His simple knowledge and enthusiasm had so fired the natives that in 1863 many of them sailed for Samoa to find a priest to baptize them. They arrived at Savai'i and were piloted to Apia on Upolu, where they were instructed. Later they returned to Nukunono in a European ship. In 1868 two Samoan catechists were left on the islands of Fakaofu and Nukunono. At this time only 80 people were left on Nukunono by the slave raiders.

In the same years that the Catholics were introducing their faith among the Tokelau people, the London Missionary Society was sending trained native teachers from Samoa to convert the Tokelau people to Protestantism. In 1858 the mission ship John Williams had visited Fakaofu with the Rev. Murray, but the natives were not receptive to the idea of having two mission-trained Rarotongans among them, saying that there was no place for them to live and nothing to eat. Two Tokelau men aboard the ship, who had found their way to Samoa some years before, were left with the hope that they would introduce Christianity. The Reverend Murray (18) reports tersely: “We did not accomplish all that we desired.”

The ship sailed to Atafu where they left the two native teachers intended for Fakaofu. The new teaching was immediately successful and the next year two canoes set out with one of the Samoan missionaries to carry Christianity to the other islands. At Nukunono they found the people already converted to Catholicism, and after spending five days there they went to Fakaofu, where the chief and his counselor opposed Christianity. The chief ruled that all those who wished to become Christians must go to Atafu to live under the leadership of Mafala, the Samoan teacher. Mafala's party got as far as Nukunono safely, but on the way to Atafu they were driven by head winds to Samoa, nearly 300 miles away. The same year they were returned to Atafu by a mission ship. The mission ships returned again in 1865 and 1868.

Atafu has always been entirely Protestant, and Nukunono, Catholic, but Fakaofu has members of both churches. At Fakaofu the Catholics were molested for many years, and twice there have been fights between the two religious groups. In the fight which occurred about 1880 the high chief was killed.

page 34

The full account of the raids of South Americans upon these isolated and unprotected atolls can never be made. According to the reports of missionaries, the capturing of natives from the Tokelau Islands began before 1852 and lasted as late as 1867 or 1870. Both Nukunono and Fakaofu suffered much. According to the Reverend Newell (19) 247 people were taken from Fakaofu in 1863. Probably it was at this same time that Nukunono was raided, leaving only 80 inhabitants. Just before the arrival of the missionary ship in 1868 the Peruvians had taken 116 men from Fakaofu and 30 men from Atafu.