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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



Very few ancient dances are remembered in Tokelau. Their performance was forbidden by the early missionaries, and they were soon forgotten. Modern dances consist mainly of gestures interpreting the words of the accompanying song and retain little of the ancient form. They are usually held in the evening in the meeting house and are accompanied by a drummer beating page 74 on a box or roll of mats and by a group of singers behind the dancing line. A group of 8 or 12 dancers, either men or women, sit on the floor in rows of 4. Shortly after the song is started they rise and go through their motions in unison, joining in the song. The dances are alternated between two groups at the ends of the house. According to Burrows (5), this style of dancing is similar to that of the Ellice Islands and to one type of dancing in Samoa. The modern Samoan siva is often performed in Tokelau.

During the field trip on Atafu an exhibition of ancient dances was given, accompanied by the singing of the performers. The dancers stood abreast in a single line throughout the dancing. They moved 1 or 2, or sometimes 3 steps; but the principal movements were made with their arms or canoe paddles (foe), used in some dances in place of the ancient dance paddles (paki). The exhibition was led by a woman who had learned the songs and movements from her father.

A second form of dancing was performed by a group of women in celebration of a victorious cricket match. The dancers formed in single file, standing close together, and paraded around the cricket ground with short, light steps, pausing regularly to sway in unison or to make an arm movement or gesture with the leaves held in their hands. They kept time by striking their open hands with these leaves. All movements were led by the first woman in the file. Several times she made spiral figures in which she worked herself into the center of the circulating dancers and then unwound the figure by turning and dancing out between the converging lines. Burrows (5) and Lister (14) witnessed similar performances of this ancient dance at Fakaofu. Lister saw men dance, accompanied by women who beat time and chanted. Burrows saw women dance, maintaining time by beating a piece of wood with the open hand, but not singing. Wilkes (34) describes a similar tripping dance performed at Nonuti in the Gilbert Islands.