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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Election of Priests

Election of Priests

At the death of a priest his successor was selected by spinning a wooden ball (niufilo) in the center of a circle of the candidates. This ball was about 15 inches in diameter and had a notch or mouth cut on one side. The man toward whom this notch pointed when the ball ceased spinning was the candidate selected by the god. The name niufilo (coconut that spins) suggests that a coconut may have been used, as at Vaitupu (13). The niufilo was kept in the god house of Tui Tokelau.

Further confirmation of the selection of the priest was made by a pair of crossed sticks (filifili) hung low over the heads of the candidates. If the sticks moved when the name of the candidate indicated by the niufilo was spoken, it was believed that the god had verified the choice.

The high chief, with his principal officers, conducted the divination, and spun the divining ball. It is said that he often turned it to select his personal choice, but it was believed that such an action would bring great distress to the king and his family. Once a chief, Kakaia, was spinning the ball, which stopped with its mouth opposite Pakao, but Kakaia turned it to point to Savaiki. The father of Pakao jumped up and cursed the people of Faka- page 65 ofu with exile and torture at the hands of strangers for permitting this trick. The hurricane which subsequently drove many people to sea and the raids of blackbirders are believed to be the fulfillment of his curse.