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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



The Tokelau year is divided into 12 lunar periods, thus omitting one moon for which no system of intercalation is provided. My informant at Atafu stated that the first month of the year (tausanga) was December. Burrows' (5) informant said that January was the first month, an attempt to adjust the native calendar to the European. But if the year begins in December or January the succession of months does not coincide with the sequence of winds, stars, and fish habits described for each month. However, if the year begins in June as in the calendar given to Lister (14) at Fakaofu in 1889 the natural phenomena described coincide with their actual occurrence in the equatorial year. In Samoa the ancient calendar began in June. At Vaitupu in the Ellice Islands the calendar year was divided into two seasons, page 91 one of the westerly winds beginning in November-December and the other of the trade winds beginning in June. The Tokelau calendar may have been similarly divided.

Table 6. Lunar Calendar given at Atafu

  • Palolo mua, June-July.
    • Beginning of the trade wind season, blowing strongly from the southeast. Little fish, kalo, talatala, malili, and lupo, appear in the lagoon. Large fish, bonito and turtles, are plentiful. Many birds from the west and northwest. The stars Melemele and Langafu rise.
  • Palolo muli, July-August.
    • Continuation of the weather of palolo mua. Land grubs and fish are plentiful. Stars Melemele and Langafu show.
  • Mulifa, August-September.
    • Strong winds and big waves. Mulifa = “four sides” or “the winds shift and blow from the four directions.” Star Matiti shows.
  • Takaonga, September-October.
    • Sea turtles appear off the island for mating season. Takaonga is derived from taka ika onga (to go around to mate). Star Nataki shows.
  • Silinga, October-November.
    • The trade winds cease, intermittent winds from northeast. Ngatala and fapuku fish go out to sea to lay their eggs. The Pleiades (Mataliki, the little eyes) appear in the east.
  • Toe silinga, November-December.
    • A continuation of the weather of silinga. Toe means again.
  • Utua mua, December-January.
    • The hottest months of the year and most feared for tempestuous storms. The fapuku fish, large at this time, go to the shoals. Utua means shoals.
  • Toe Utua, January-February.
    • A continuation of the weather of utua mua. Stars tolu (Orion's belt), Lefulefu, and Tulalupe show.
  • Vainoa, February-March.
    • The name means “troubled waters”. Great shoals of pone and ufu fish appear in the lagoon and inside the reef. Star Lua tangata (two men) shows.
  • Fakaafu, March-April.
    • The hot month when everything fades. Meamanga manga (4 stars in form of Y), sumu (name of fish), Manu (southern cross), and Na tangata (two stars) rise. Manu and Na Tangata show every night.
  • Kaunonu, April-May.
    • The name is given as kaununu or kaunuunu in other islands. Changing and shifting winds, mostly from the east. Manu appears every night.
  • Oloamanu, May-June.
    • The name means “the flying about of birds”. Beginning of the trade wind season. Birds fly low and near the land because the winds are becoming strong.