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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People



Situated as Niuē is, three degrees of latitude within the tropics, the temperature is naturally warm. Whilst I was there from September to December the thermometer varied from 74° to 94° during the day in the shade. But this heat is a moist heat, which is felt more than a dry heat. So long as the S.S.E. trade winds (maragai) last—i.e., from the end of March to end of November–the sky is very frequently overcast sufficiently to temper the direct rays of the sun. But as soon as variable winds set in from north (tokelau) or west (lalo), or north-west (laki), the heat increases a good deal—such at least is my short experience—and is trying to one accustomed to a temperate climate; not that the heat prevents exertion, for white people in Niuē seem just as active as elsewhere, but it naturally induces a profuse perspiration, which is the disagreeable part of it. There seems to be a very fair rainfall, but it has never been measured that I am aware of. At the same time, it is said the talo crops do suffer from drought occasionally.

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Niuē is just on the borders of the hurricane belt, so they are occasionally felt there, but are not frequent. The native name for a hurricane is afā-tokai-maka. Thunder (pakulagi) storms are not infrequent, and sometimes the lightning (uhila) strikes the coco-nut trees. Earthquakes (mafuike) are occasionally felt, but never of any violence. The Niuē name for them is identical with those of Samoa (mafuve) and Tonga (mofuike, and is the name the Maoris give (Mahuika) to the father of Māui, who resided in the nether regions. This is perhaps not very strange, when we consider the stories about Mahuika; but why the Niuē people should call a rainbow Tagaloa, which was the name of their principal god in old days, is incomprehensible. The Tongan name is umata: Samoan and Futunan, nuanua; Tahitian, Mangarevan, Marquesan, and Rarotongan, anuanua; in Hawaii, anuenue and in New Zealand, aniwhaniwha. The Fijian name (ndrondrolagi) is apparently from a different root, which might be expected. The Maori name is easily connected with anuanua, so we have Niuē occupying a solitary position amongst Polynesian peoples in regard to this name. The only thing at all like it that I know of is that the Maoris have a god of the rainbow, or rather the rainbow is the manifestation of their god Uenuku, sometimes called Kahu-kura. These two gods, however, stand on quite a different footing to Tangaroa, who was with many branches of the race their supreme god and creator; whereas Uenuku and Kahu-kura hold, even with the Maoris, quite a secondary rank, even if they are not deified ancestors.

In Niuē there are two seasons, or tau—i.e., tau-tuku, spring time; and tau-mati-afu, autumn.

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