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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



The holder of a subdivision of kindred land may pass on his tenancy to his children in any manner he chooses. Normally the control and direction goes to the eldest son, who divides the holding among his brothers and sisters. Brothers who have sufficient land for their use in their wives' prop- page 58 erty often do not receive an actual division of land but only a share in the food that is gathered from it. In present times they also receive a share of the money made by selling copra produced on the kindred plantations. Many landholders have left the complete control of the land to the eldest daughter of the family, and the sons have only a share in the products. In some families the children all inherit alike; in others the eldest son and daughter receive larger shares than the younger children. The wife or husband does not inherit any share of the land of the other. Only by the consent of every claimant to the land can any part of it be given or sold to any person who has no right to it by heritage.

When a person dies without children, the land reverts to his kindred. The reallotment is completely discussed by a council of the kindred and by the council of village elders, who hear all claims that any of the villagers may make. When the right to inheritance is disputed, the village councillors decide who among the members of the kindred shall receive the land. The use of the land is usually given to younger married relatives of the deceased.

The Report of the Administrator of Samoa (24) states:

When a young man marries they [the village council members] sit in council and allocate a piece of land to him… . The old men of the village are looked upon as Matais or chiefs, who each have their own area of land and assume the power to divide up the land as they think fit.

The village council is composed mostly of kindred heads who own the lands, but not by virtue of their membership in the council; they have no power to divide arbitrarily or give away lands which are kindred property. They control absolutely the use of the communal lands. They can forbid by tapu the trespassing and taking of coconuts from areas of the kindred plantations. Plantation lands are still set aside in rotation for the production of copra under the old system of tapuing land (lafu). Formerly the council of Fakaofu and the high priest placed a tapu on visiting all plantations of the atoll. Every few days the tapu was removed and all the people visited their plantations at the same time to gather food. This custom prevented the theft of coconuts and pandanus and kept a check on the food supply. If anyone broke the tapu, he died of a wasting sickness brought on by the curse of the high chief.

The landholder has the right to take coconuts, pandanus fruit, leaves and wood, except kanava, from his plantation. The division of these among members of the kindred outside the household is made by the kindred head or his eldest sister. A strict law forbids the cutting of any kanava trees without the consent of the kindred head. Thus the law controls the supply of kanava wood, used in making many articles, and ensures to each household material for a canoe. In pre-Christian times kanava trees were tapued by consecrating them to a god. (See p. 61.)