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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Men's Houses

Men's Houses

Within each village were several large houses (fale pa) where the men gathered in leisure hours and the unmarried men and older boys slept. Membership in these houses was probably originally based on kinship. In Fakaofu the seven fale pa were named: Tolunga fale (the council house), Safiti, Saletama, Sakimoa, Sakoaa, Polokaa, and Satuiatafu; the three at Atafu were: Tepokulu (the council house), Afekei, and Alato; the five at Nukunono were: Fale fono (the council house), Satau, Tenofoaliki, Salei, and Teakafitau. Seven of these names begin with the prefix sa. In Samoa sa means “family of” (all the descendants of a first ancestor); in Tonga the corresponding haa means “lineage” or “tribe”. My informant in Tokelau stated that the membership of the fale pa was based on neighborhood and that sa (ha) meant “all the people of one district of the village”. But if sa originally meant a family, it would come to mean the people of a village district who lived together as a group through kinship and inheritance of a piece of land from the original family. With the increase in numbers of each kindred and the subdividing of kindred lands, the original kindred as a kau-kainga was redivided through the generations, but a wider common kinship was preserved in the fale pa. The sa was probably the largest kinship grouping within the village, whose existence is inferred through the fale pa.

At Atafu the fale pa, whose organization was brought from Fakaofu but not based on the sa, existed only during the first three generations. Afekei was the fale pa of the people of the north end of the village which is still called by the same name. Alato was the fale pa of Asanga, the southern part of the village.

In Fakaofu the men of the fale pa of Safiti and Saletama were the guardians and police of the village under the direction of the village council. The name fale pa (wall house) suggests that these houses may have originally been on the sea walls and had a secondary purpose as garrisons for defense. page 49 Such garrisons (tausoa) with hereditary membership are reported by Kennedy (13) in Vaitupu in the Ellice Islands:

In the village of Fale, there were seven tausoa, named Avatele, Asau, Suloi, Tuamaeu, Satalia, Naunaua, and Patiku. It is thought that their principal function was originally to divide the population into sections for purposes of defense … of a certain part of the island coastline and approaches to the village… . The high chief and his principal officials belonged to Avatele tausoa; minor officials were included in the membership of the other tausoa.

The ranking men's house in Tokelau was the government seat, to which the eldest men of the other fale pa were elected to act as the village council under the head chief of the village. At Nukunono this council house was called Falefono, the general name of the Samoan meeting house, possibly a modern name. At Fakaofu it was formerly called Tolunga Fale, now Falefono. At Atafu, the council house Pokulu is now supplanted by the Faleloa, which serves as a general rendezvous for the men of the village as well as the meeting place for the komiti or village government.