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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Villages, Population, &c

Villages, Population, &c.

It has already been stated that six of the villages are situated on the lower terrace of the island. There are eleven villages in all, as will be seen from the following table. The numbers of the population are as supplied by the Rev. F. E. Lawes, from data obtained in 1899:

Alofi, on the west side of the island 719
Alofi (students) 49
Tamakautoga 275
Avatele 401
Fatiau, on the south-west side of the island 104
Hakupu, on the south-east 456
Liku, on the west 383
Lakepa (or Tamalagau), on the west side of the island 234
Mutalau, on the north-west 524
Hikutavake. (and Tamahatokula) on the north-west side of the island 248
Tuapa (or Uhomotu), on the west side of the island 426
Makefu 196
Absent at the guano and other islands 561
Total 4576

To these may be added—at the time of my visit—nineteeen Europeans.

Of these villages, Alofi is the capital, in the seuse that the Government Resident has his office here, and it is also the residence of the Missionary and site of the higher school in which the students are trained for the mission service in New Guinea and other islands. From its position, on the leeward side of the island, and being about mid-distant between the N.W. and S.W. points, Alofi is also the surest anchorage. Avatele is the next best anchorage and landing. Vessels sometimes anchor off Tuapa, which is the residence of the Patu-iki or so-called King. Whenever it may be necessary to ship cargo from the other villages, vessels lie off and on.

The Niuē villages (māga), like all those in the islands of Eastern Polynesia which are under the spiritual care of the London Mission Society, are substantially built and very picturesque. The houses (fale) are formed of lath and plaster, for which purpose the coral makes excellent lime (puga), with roofs thatched with pandanus leaf (lau fa) or sugar cane (lau to). They are oblong in shape, and present a very pretty appearance amongst the deep green vegetation, and are over- page 8 shadowed by tall coco-nut trees.* These houses are, of course, modern in design; the old native house of coco-nut (niu) leaves, oblong in shape, with projections at each end under the gable, are still to be seen occasionally, and especially away from the villages where the houses of the people now are. A Niuē village occupies a considerable space, for the houses are usually separated one from the other by intervals. Many have neat enclosures (kaina) with a few favourite sweet-scented or flowering plants growing about, amongst which the gardenia (tiale) and the Frangipani are frequent, whilst the scarlet hibiscus (kaute, the single or male flower; kaute-fifine, the double or female flower) is often seen, but perhaps more often near the graves. The village of Alofi is about one-and-a-half miles long, the houses scattered along the main road. In each village there is a substantial lath and plaster or solid stone chapel, a school-house, and the teachers residence—always the most important house in the place. Near the chapel is usually to be found the malē, an open grassy space where the people assemble and young Niuē plays cricket. The native grass (motietie; matietie in other islands) a species of twitch, forms a smooth sward—it is common to all the islands of Polynesia proper I have visited. It will be noticed here that the malē, or plaza, is similar to the Maori marae and Samoan and Tongan malae, but quite different to the Tahitian marae, which was a pyramidical structure of stone used for religious purposes.

The cultivations (māla) of the people are generally situated away from the villages, often considerable distances. They are usually in newly-cleared land, and it is through this process of clearing that a good deal of the island is now in scrub, or a second growth of wood. The people pass most of their time away in the rao, or wilds, getting food, so that during the day few people are seen about the villages. They may be met each evening returning to their homes with all kinds of food carried on a pole over the shoulder (hahamo), just like the Chinese method—this is the Eastern Polynesian custom also, but not that of the Maori.

It is apparent from a document written for me by Mohelagi, a chief of Alofi, and which will be found in Part III. hereof, that each village has a “saying” with reference to it—such as we apply to some of our towns, for example, “the Imperial City,” “the Eternal City,” and “the Empire City,” &c., &c. This is a Samoan custom and is, if I remember, called Fale-upōlu, at any rate so far as the island of Upōlu s concerned.

* Plate 3 gives a good idea of what all the villages are like.