Atafu or Duke of
York Island is the north-western atoll of the Tokelau or Union group. It lies 513 nautical
miles south of the equator, 260 miles S.S.E. of Gardner Island, and 310 miles north of Savaii, western island of Samoa. The Ellice Islands (now called Tuvalu) are 500 miles to
the west. Between Atafu and Gardner, and about 60 miles S.E. of the latter, is a
horseshoe-shaped shoal, about 1500 yards across, known as Carondelet Reef, after the
vessel which reported it.
Survival Miracle for Three Tokelau Teenagers
Worldwide attention has been directed towards an incredible
survival story of three Tokelau teenagers who survived 50
days adrift in a tiny boat in the South Pacific by drinking
rainwater and eating raw fish and a seagull before being
rescued by a passing trawler.
trio - Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward
Nasau, 14 - had been given up for dead on their coral atoll
of Atafu in the Tokelau islands, where a memorial service
was held for them after extensive searches failed to find
boys set off on 5th October 2010 in their
aluminium dinghy from their home island of Atafu
to one nearby and it is understood that the
outboard motor on their boat may have broken
down at sea.
days later they were spotted by the trawler the
San Nikuna with three people aboard waving
frantically. The teens and their boat were hauled
aboard the fishing trawler, which was on its way to
Fiji where it would deliver the trio into medical
Certainly the rescue came not a moment too soon as
the boys had only days to survive.
come from the atoll of Atafu, one of three that
comprises the tiny Tokelau island group where 1500
Nukunonu and Fakaofo, picture-perfect South Pacific
islets, lie 500 kilometres north of Samoa,
surrounded by 128 mostly uninhabited coconut
Atafu is a low
coral atoll, triangular in outline, about three miles north and south by two and a half
wide. The land reaches a height of 12 to 15 feet, but it is covered with trees and coconut
palms, and has an area of about 550 acres. The eastern side is nearly continuous land,
about an eighth mile wide. It does not appear to have a name, but is divided by the native
inhabitants into thirty sections, each of which has its own name.
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A partial break nearly
divides this into two islets. The village is on the north-western islet, Atafu. An L-shaped
islet, Fenualoa ("long-island") marks the southeast corner. Two islets run out
into the lagoon from the west reef. The south reef is dotted with 35 very small islets;
and others are scattered along the west reef.
The reef is
continuous around the atoll, from a quarter to half a mile wide, awash at low tide, so
that it is possible to walk from one islet to another, and there is no boat passage into
the lagoon. The natives use a small canoe passage just south of Atafu islet, or else drag
their canoes across the reef. The lagoon contains numerous shoals and coral heads.
The sea drops
away to great depth just off the reef, against much of which waves break with violence.
With the prevailing southeast trades good anchorage may be had in sixty feet of water, 400
yards west of the northwest point of Atafu islet. Landing, opposite the south end of this
islet, is best near high water.
Most of the
islets are thickly covered with groves of coconut palms, among which are Tournefortia,
Pisonia,Pandanus, Morinda, Ficus, and other trees, and the usual
undergrowth found on moderately moist central Pacific islands. Rats, lizards, and the
usual sea birds have been reported as common.
Atafu is in the
hurricane belt. In January, 1914, an unusually severe storm demolished the church and most
of the houses, and levelled many of the coconut palms.
The island is
inhabited by 380 persons (1932), all natives of the Tokelau islands. Concerning them and
their culture Gordon Macgregor, a Yale-Bishop Museum fellow, who spent two months on the
island, has written an interesting and informative bulletin. He believes that the island
was inhabited by a fine race of Polynesian people, all of whom were killed or driven from
the island by an invasion from Fakaofo in legendary times (about 1600). Some settled in
Samoa, and others on islands to the west. Later Atafu was used periodically as a fishing
base for expeditions from Fakaofo; and finally drought, hurricane, and over-population on
the latter island brought about a new permanent settlement.
came with the discovery of the island by Commodore John Byron, in the British ship Dolphin,
June 24, 1765. He named it Duke of York Island, and reported no sign of inhabitants. When
Captain Edwards reached it in H.M.S. Pandora June 6, 1791, in search for
mutineers of the Bounty, he stated that, while there did not seem to be permanent
inhabitants, there were signs of visits by fishing parties. Lieutenant Paulding, in
command of the American ship Dolphin, arriving October 30, 1825, found the island
The island was
mapped and much information about it recorded by the U.S. Exploring Expedition, which
visited it in the U.S.S. Peacock and Flying Fish, January 25, 1841.
Horatio Hale, ethnologist with the expedition, describes the inhabitants and their
culture, and gives a vocabulary and grammar. He found that Atafu was under the King of
Fakaofo. The natives did little or no cultivation, but lived on fish and coconuts. Water
was scarce and bad, rainwater being collected at the base of coconut palms. The
natives were eager to trade them, even as we found them to be when we passed by the island
on the Taney in July, 1938.
All of the
natives on Atafu are Protestants, although all on the next island, Nukunonu, are
Catholics. This was due to the arrival of native teachers from Samoa on the London
Missionary Society's ship John Williams, in 1858.
Islands suffered greatly between 1850 and 1870 from raids by South Americans in search of
labourers. Many were kidnapped from Atafu, although not as many as from the other islands
of the group. (See Depopulating the Tokelaus
Web site for further information).
In 1880 there
was one European resident, employed by a New Zealand firm to collect copra. Copra and
native products, such as mats, fans, and carved wooden boxes (tuluma) have been
their only industry.
In 1877 the
Tokelau Islands were nominally included under the protectorate of Great Britain, by an
Order in Council which claimed jurisdiction over all islands in the Pacific not previously
ceded or claimed by other powers. The British flag was hoisted June 22, 1889, by Commander
Oldham, R. N. landing from H.M.S. Egeria. A survey of the island was made by the
British vessel Goldfinch in 1896.
In 1916 the
Tokelau Islands, called officially the Union Islands were made a part of the Gilbert and
Ellice Islands Colony (now Republic of Kiribati and Tuvalu). In 1925 jurisdiction was transferred to
the Administrative of Western Samoa, a New Zealand mandate. This was more acceptable to
the natives as they felt a bond of kinship with Samoa. All government is administered on Atafu by native officials, the details of which will be discussed under the next island of