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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands


The tales of Tokelau contain many references to mythological characters and events found in tales from other parts of Polynesia. Many myths mention voyages to Fiji and the people found there, a common feature of Samoan tales. Elements characteristic of myths of the Cook Islands and New Zealand are often incorporated in basically Samoan tales. The only local stories are those concerning the nature spirits inhabiting specific spots on the islands (p. 61).

The most frequently mentioned figure is Sina, who is the sister of Maui in the most wide-spread Polynesian story. She is sometimes associated with the moon as its goddess and with Tinirau or Tinilau whom she marries. In western Polynesia, as in the tale of Sinalangi given below (p. 81), she is the daughter of Tangaloa and descends to earth.

The following tales heard in Tokelau are derived from Samoa or Tonga: The courting of Sina, princess of Fiji, by Tinilau, a chief of Vavau (5); the story of the pearl shell (9, p. 243) in which Alo'alo, son of the sun, marries Sina, the Fijian princess (the Tokelau version adds Kui, a blind woman, who appears in myths of Tahiti and the Cook Islands); how counting came to be as it is (9, 32) in which the appearance of the snake (ngata) is obviously from Samoa; and the tale of Tae-a-Tangaloa which contains an element of the creation stories of Samoa and Tonga.

The story of Manini, the fish, put together after it was killed by Tinilau, is found in Tonga (6) and Rotuma (15). How fish got their colors (5) is found in western Polynesia and the Cook Islands. In this myth Sina loses valuable property of her parents and is carried away by a fish, shark, or turtle, which deserts her for the insult of touching food to his head, but which finally returns or is succeeded by another sea creature that carries her to the land of Tinilau. Her restoration to her parents by her brother, Lupe, is part of the fundamental Sina episode in the Maui myths. Except for the tattooing of the fish this myth is more closely parallel to the similar story in other islands than any Tokelau tale.