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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

The Kindred

The Kindred

Kinship Terms

Kinship is extended to persons connected by lineal descent and collateral relationship in both the mother's and the father's family, but genealogies are reckoned by patrilineal descent. In counting generations or tracing relationship, personal names are used. Kinship terminology is applied to contemporary relations with whom the individual is normally associated. This terminology classifies the two preceding and two succeeding generations in lineal descent and collateral relationship. Table 4 is arranged with the generation of the individual in the middle of the horizontal divisions, the first and second preceding generations above, and the first and second succeeding generations below.

Matua sa or matua tauaitu was given as the general term for the father's sister. Actually this term is applied only to the father's eldest sister, who has a particular relationship to her brothers' children and a magical power to curse her brothers and their children, which is reflected in the term tauaitu. The younger sisters of the father are potential matua sa, for if the eldest sister dies, the sister next in age assumes the position of matua sa and inherits the power to curse. The term ilamutu is given for all children of the father's sisters, but the children of the eldest daughter fulfill most of the ilamutu's obligations.

All ancestors of three generations or more before the individual are termed tupunga, not tupuna, the term for grandparent. All descendants of two generations or more after the individual are termed makupuna.

Uso, which in Samoa means sibling of the same sex as the speaker, is used in the Tokelau dialect with the same meaning, but is also used as a term embracing all one's closer collateral relatives, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Tausonga, which in Samoa means sibling of the opposite sex to the speaker, refers only to the distant relatives of one's kinship group, irrespective of generation. The meaning of “close” and “distant” in the terms uso and tausonga was neither substantiated nor denied by several informants and is perhaps a recent and secondary usage.

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Specific affinitive terms are lacking except the single term for one's mate, avanga. The sex of the person spoken of is obvious from the use of the word by the speaker. Other relationships by marriage are designated descriptively as: tamana taku avanga (the father of my husband or wife), avanga taku tama fafine (the husband of my daughter), matua taku avanga (the mother of my husband or wife).

A child is tama, and to designate sex, tane (boy) or fafine (girl) is added. Tamafine was heard in conversations and is probably a synonym for girl. Ataliki (son) and afafine (daughter) are common terms and were said by one informant to be used by both father and mother. This is contrary to Samoan usage, where only the father designates his children thus.

Foster children or brothers and sisters are designated by the same terms as blood relations with the addition of fai (made). Tamana fai is used to distinguish an adopted son from tama moni (true son) or taku tama (my son). Tamana moni distinguishes a true father from tamana, who may be a father or a father's brother.

Parallel cousins are distinguished as either brothers or sisters of the speaker. Parallel cousins of the opposite sex on the father's side of the family are classed as taina fetau taina and on the mother's side as tuafafine fetau taina.

Kindred Relationships

The functional social group based on blood relationship is the kindred or persons reckoning descent and inheriting property from a common ancestor. Theoretically kinship is reckoned with all those who can trace descent from the earliest common ancestor, but for the requirements of exogamic marriage, the social obligations of blood relatives, and the practical division of land the kindreds trace their origin from a later ancestor.

The kindred is directed by the eldest living male. When he dies the position passes to his younger brothers, and when they die, to the eldest son of the first head. In this succession system the Tokelau custom of giving the leadership of a group to the eldest man is combined with the usual Polynesian custom of inheriting chieftainship directly from father to eldest son. Formerly the kindred head (matai) received an hereditary title, but due to the modern tendency of society towards a greater independence of the family and household and private ownership of land, this, and the use of the term matai, have been dropped. The kindred head superintends the care and use of kindred lands and directs the affairs and councils of the kindred. However, his residence is in his wife's house, and the land he works is the property of his wife's kindred. Because of his absence from the daily life of his own kindred and his residence away from the land, his eldest sister assumes a position of great importance. She resides on her kindred's property, page break
Table 4. Kinship Terms*
Collateral—Male SideLinealCollateral—Female Side
father's brotherfather's sisterfathermothermother's brothermother's sister
tamanamatua sa, matua tauaitu or matuatamanamatuatuatinamatua
father's brother'sfather's sister'sbrotherselfsistermother's brother'smother's sister's
sondaughterson and daughtertaina m. s.tuafafine m. s.son and daughtersondaughter
taina m. s.tuafafine m. s.ilamutu or fakatau tuatinatuangane w. s.taina w. s.tuatinataina m. s.tuafafine m. s.
oldestoldesttuangane w. s.taina w. s.
kimua or fakamuakimua
father's brother's children'sfather's sister's children'sbrother's sondaughter's sonsondaughtersister's sondaughter's sonmother's brother'smother's sister's
sondaughterson and daughtertama m. s.tama fafine m. s.tama or atalikitama fafine or afafineilamutu m. s. or fakatauilamutu m. s. or fakatauchildren'schildren's
tamatama fafineilamututamasa w. s.tama sa w. s.son and daughtersondaughter
fakatau tuatinatuatinatamatama fafine
tama w. s.tama fafine w. s.
page 47 and the men of her household and her sisters' husbands use the kindred plantations which she controls. Because of her residence in the chief household of the kindred, she is termed the fatupaepae (rock of the house foundation). She is the head of the female side of the kindred and directs particularly the work of the women. Due to matrilocal marriage, she also adopts the eldest son of the male head of the kindred, to rear him within the chief household of his own kindred, of which he is representative of the male line and heir to the headship.

The kindred is not a stable institution but increases with each generation. When it becomes too large to function as a unit, it gradually regroups itself into new kindreds. The common ownership of land is, however, the determining factor in the formation of the kindred, for when the land of a kindred is divided, new groups form in the succeeding generations, each based on the ownership and inheritance of one of the new land divisions.

Organization of Atafu kindred

The development of kindred groups from the division of lands at Atafu during its short history of five generations illustrates the formation and organization of the Tokelau kindred. The Atafu community, established by Tonuia and his family with a few followers from Fakaofu, was originally composed of his five married sons, Pio, Malokie, Laufati, Vaovela, and Taua; his two daughters, Fekei and Levao; Fekei's husband, Faunga, and Levao's husband, Nofoloa; and five others, Folosanga and his two sons, Fuati and Folosanga; and Pepe and Fakavanga, brothers of Laufali's wife. Tonuia was chief and priest of the community by appointment of the high chief at Fakaofu, but he was also head authority by right, as the eldest man of the kinship group, which, except for three members, comprised the entire community.

Before Tonuia's death he divided the land among his sons and daughters. Each of them had an individual household whose membership was increased by the marriage of children with people brought from Nukunono and Fakaofu. With increasing size and separate land rights, each household became more self-sufficient and occupied with its own existence, although still belonging in the kindred.

Tonuia's children redivided among their children the shares of land they had received in the original division. Some of Tonuia's grandchildren lived in the original households, and others established new homes. Except in one line, where the land division was inherited in the second generation by one person who redivided it again, the complete subdivision of the land among individual owners ended with the generation of Tonuia's grandchildren. Since then the descendants of each grandchild have inherited and owned these divisions in common, the individual receiving the right to use his kindred's land.

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The mode of inheritance by these later generations has been very irregular. In some families a right to the use of a share of the land was given to each child of the next generation. In other families the whole was passed on to the eldest son or a daughter, who allotted subdivisions to the brothers and sisters. In all families, the eldest son has directed the use of the land. When two people, both descended from Atafu families, marry, they and their descendants have a claim to the use of the land of both kindreds. However, they usually use the land of only one kindred and succeeding generations drop the secondary kinship. From Tonuia's original kindred there developed secondary kindreds of his children, split into still other kindreds by his grandchildren. The subdividing ended with the cessation of distributing the land among individuals.

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.

* Unless otherwise designated, all terms are for either man or woman speaking.