Material influences and introductions from other island groups - Canoes of a
uniquely Tokelauan design -
a unique system of sharing.
Aspects of material
culture shared with other atolls
The following is an extract from: Tokelau - People, Atolls, and
History by Peter McQuarrie.
material culture has similarities with that of other atoll dwellers in the
central Pacific Ocean. Like the Micronesians and Polynesians who live in a
similar environment, Tokelauans weave baskets from coconut and pandanus leaf,
use coconut shell containers for holding water and coconut oil and construct
their houses by lashing together light-weight poles cut from the rather small
trees that grow on atolls.
There are too,
some interesting examples of items made in Tokelau that reveal a close affinity
to those of their nearest neighbours in the Pacific. A cleverly designed
waterproof container known as a tuluma, for example, is made only in
Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu (and to a much lesser extent in Uvea and Manihiki
due to Tokelauan influence), having travelled in concept from Kiribati to Tuvalu
wooden box is carved from a single piece of wood. A groove cut into the lid
allows it to overlap with a coaming at the top rim of the box, creating a
watertight seal. Cleats carved on each side of the lid and on the box meet
together and have holes through them so that a sennit cord can firmly secure the
lid to the box (see figure 4). Tuluma range in diameter from 10 to 12
centimetres to 50 or more centimetres.
were used in dwelling houses to hold various household objects but their primary
purpose was originally to hold fish hooks and lures. If a canoe capsized at sea,
the fishermen's tuluma would float and so their precious equipment would
not be lost. Since the introduction of tobacco to the islands, tuluma
have also been commonly used to keep a fisherman's cigarettes and matches dry.
Early European visitors collected tuluma as souvenirs that they regarded
as special to Tokelau, and commonly called them 'Tokelau buckets'. When Fanny
Stevenson and her husband, author Robert Louis Stevenson, were travelling to
Atafu in 1890, she noted in her diary that she hoped to get some Tokelau buckets
'which are useful in place of portmanteaus (travelling cases)'.
of an artefact found only on the central Pacific atolls is the type of wooden
fish hook used in deep-water fishing for palu (Ruvettus or castor
oil fish). These are large hooks, 25 centimetres long, made by lashing together
two sections of the very hard and strong gagie (Pemphis acidula)
wood (see figure 5).
Large wooden fish hook used in deep-water
for palu (Ruvettus). Hooks are
identical in Tokelau
and Tuvalu, and similar in Manihiki in the
northern Cook Islands.
After a bait of flying fish is tied to it, the hook is
lowered to a depth of 100 to 200 metres on an ocean reef, using a stone sinker.
Hooks of this type are identical in Tokelau and Tuvalu, while those of Manihiki
are similar. Bonito fishing lures made from pearl shell are also identical in
Tokelau and Tuvalu and slightly different from other Polynesian lures (see figure
dance known as fatele is recognised by Tokelauans as having come to them
from Tuvalu but they cannot say when this happened. It certainly seems to have
happened before European contact was made with Tokelau. The Tuvaluan fatele
(also their national dance) is virtually identical to that of the Tokelauan.
was obviously a vital ingredient in the original human discovery and settlement
of Tokelau and other remote Pacific islands. It was also necessary in
maintaining any contacts with the outside world and for travel between the three
atolls of Tokelau. Even within the confines of each atoll, smaller canoes were
necessary for fishing and gathering coconuts and other food plants from islets
across the lagoons. A canoe was the most important material possession that
could be owned on the atoll. Many aspects of the Tokelau canoe design are unique
vessels, known in Tokelau as fualua (catamarans), were seen at Atafu in
1841 by members of the United States Exploring Expedition. As the American ship
approached Atafu, three catamarans each carrying ten men came out to meet it. It
is not known how large these vessels were and whether they would have been able
to carry many more than ten people but they were probably capable of inter-atoll
voyaging within the Tokelau group. Again, in January 1863 double canoes from
Tokelau were seen in Samoa when six large double canoes arrived there. These
canoes, from Fakaofo, had been travelling to Atafu when they were driven off
course by a storm and forced to head for Samoa. In total the six canoes carried
eighteen men, fifteen women and twenty-three children, an average of nine or ten
people on each canoe.
For more than
100 years, though, large double-hulled vessels for ocean voyaging have not been
made in Tokelau. Ocean voyaging was declining or had already ceased there when
the British administration banned all inter-atoll voyaging in the whole Gilbert
and Ellice Islands Colony, including Tokelau, because of the large number of
canoes that had been lost at sea in the Gilbert Islands. There are no examples
of these vessels still in existence. However, lualua, a variation of
fualua, survives as the Tokelauan word for 'ship'.
the smaller Tokelauan canoes still made in Atafu today exhibit some unique
design and construction features that could help us understand who the
Tokelauans are, if we could determine where and how these canoes were developed.
These single-hulled outrigger canoes, capable of carrying four to six people
(see figure 7), have always been an important and distinctive part of Tokelauan
culture. They deserve attention when studying the Tokelauans and certainly drew
the notice of Cusack-Smith, British consul in Samoa in 1892 and the first
official appointed to Tokelau after it became a British protectorate. He thought
they were the craziest looking canoes that he had ever seen, very different to
those of the Samoans: 'Exactly like second-hand coffins without their lids.'
Although aluminium powerboats are now generally more useful, traditional canoes
are still made in Atafu to the centuries-old, uniquely Tokelauan design. Today
modern tools are used in this task. The adzes used to hew out the dugout hulls
and shape the planks have blades made of steel in place of clamshell, previously
the hardest material known in an atoll environment. In addition, the lashings
binding the canoe together are made of monofilament nylon and not coconut sennit, and petrol-powered chainsaws are now used in the heavier cutting work.
However, despite such changes in tools, the design is identical to that recorded
wood (Cordia subcordata) is almost always used for canoe building as it
is very durable, especially the darker and harder heart wood which is known in
Tokelau as taiuli. The one exception is in building the outrigger float, for
which lighter puka wood (Hernandiaovigera) is used as
kanava would be too heavy and would not provide the buoyancy needed.
Atafu is the
island of wood carvers and canoe builders in Tokelau. Today Tokelau canoes are
made only on this atoll where, in contrast to the other two atolls, kanava
trees are numerous. The wood carvers, all mature men, work together at a single
location. They have an open-air workshop down near the lagoon shore, not far
from the church. It is a roof with open sides beneath a large shade tree, and
open to the trade winds' cooling breeze. Here the old craftsmen chip away with
their adzes. Their products include miniature models of canoes, which are
faithful replicas of the real thing, tuluma and food bowls (kumete).
The dominant object in the workshop at any time, however, is a full-size canoe
hull under construction in three sections. The floor of the workshop is a thick
carpet of wood chips which has built up through years of adze work. The place
has a relaxed atmosphere as the old men work quietly with their adzes amidst the
colours and grains of the variegated kanava woods, the smell of freshly
cut timber and the cool breeze. Present too are four or five younger men,
trainees there to learn woodworking skills from the old craftsmen.
The canoe being
built is inevitably a vaka as this is the only type of canoe now made in
Tokelau. This five-man fishing canoe with outrigger is larger than the fishing
canoes found on neighbouring Pacific islands, in keeping with the Tokelauan
communal approach to fishing. It is the typical canoe used; it is rare to see
the small one-man canoes known as paopao, which are common in Samoa and
Tuvalu, and the few that exist in Tokelau have been built by Tuvaluan families
living there. Some of the vaka built in Atafu have been shipped to
Tokelauan communities in New Zealand; one sails on Wellington Harbour.
distinctive features of the Tokelau vaka design are its large dugout hull
(sometimes over 9 metres in length), the method of constructing it by butting
segments of several tree trunks together, and the unique connection of the
kanava trees grow naturally in a tapering and twisting fashion, it is only
the lower sections of their trunks that can be used in the construction of canoe
hulls. It is for this reason that the hull is made up of three or four sections,
which are butted end to end and lashed or 'sewn' together by passing a cord
through a series of small holes near the edges of the wood. These abrupt
vertical joins appear to be a weakness in the hull construction but they are
stronger than they look. The hull, 7 to 9 meters in length, is produced from
these dugout sections, the sides of which have been built up with planks, which
are also fastened by sewing. The resulting hull is a surprisingly strong and
rigid vessel that may have its joints caulked with coconut fibre or marine glue
to make it watertight. The manufacture of large canoes by this method is not
found elsewhere in Polynesia: the people of the larger volcanic islands have no
need to join small sections of wood together as they have larger trees to use
and, interestingly, the method is also unknown in Tuvalu even though its timber
resources are similar to those of Tokelau.
positioned always to the port side of the hull, is connected b horizontal booms,
usually five in number. In Oceanic canoes, the method used to attach the booms
to the outrigger float can be an indication of the origin of the canoe design.
For example, certain methods of arranging spars or stanchions and lashing them
or inserting them into the float are typical to a particular area of Melanesia,
Polynesia or Micronesia. Some methods are unique to particular islands; others
show an influence from neighbouring islands.
In keeping with
this tendency, the outrigger float connection in Tokelau canoes differs from
other parts of Polynesia (see figure 8). It is unusual in that two different
methods are used in every canoe, rather than one which is the far more common
practice throughout Oceania. First, similar to the method used in Samoan canoes,
the first and last booms, nearest bow and stern respectively, are connected to
the float by four stanchions arranged in a 'V' shape and supported by a lashing
that goes around the float. Second, the remaining inner booms - which are all
considerably shorter than the two at the ends - are each connected to the flat
by a single stanchion which is inserted into a hole in the float but is not
supported by any lashing.
The bow and
stern of the vaka each have a quarterdeck to keep water from spilling
into the hull. The bow deck has a wash-strake or projection to deflect water to
either side of the hull and the stern deck has a grooved block that holds a
fishing pole when trolling for bonito. Along the centre of the decks are a
series of pyramid-shaped knobs that are said to represent the projections found
near the tails of the bonito and tuna fish. Traditionally, white cowry (Ovula
ovum, the 'egg cowry') shells were tied on to these knobs but these shells
are rare in Tokelau and the practice has ceased just as it has in Tuvalu and
Samoa. In Tuvaluan and Samoan canoes, the decks are now bare, even the knobs are
no longer there; in Tokelauan canoes the knobs remain without shells, but they
are now joined together by a horizontal beam, which connects the tops of the
Tokelauan canoes are powered by outboard motors, in the past, they were driven
by paddles or sail. The first sails were woven from strips of pandanus leaf but,
because these were very heavy when wet, they were quickly replaced by canvas
after European contact. In either case, the sail was a large triangular affair
and the sail, mast and rigging were of raised and lowered together. A single
stay rope braced the mast and countered the force of the wind against the sail.
With this arrangement the outrigger was always kept to windward as a balance to
prevent the canoe from capsizing. When changing tack, it was necessary for the
helmsman and mast to exchange positions at opposite ends of the hull. This kind
of sail and rig and the accompanying sailing method were common throughout the
Pacific islands and were a typical form of what is known as the Oceanic lateen
Today the sails
are made from many flour sacks or pieces of black polythene and each canoe has
an additional rectangular wooden frame, lashed above the aftermost outrigger
booms. This frame of imported 'four by two' building timber, New Zealand pine,
is where a 15- or 20-horsepower outboard motor is clamped to the canoe. The long
canoe hulls with their rounded cross-section offer little resistance to movement
through the water and will travel fast under outboard power. This modified
design is a practical hybrid of ancient and modern technologies.
Atafu is the
only atoll in Tokelau where the use of canoes - if under the power of outboard
motor rather than sail - is still regularly used while most of the traditional
canoes have been replaced by about eighty aluminium boats with outboard engines.
The situation on Nukunonu is similar. On both atolls, there remain many more
canoes, some intact and others in various states of disassembly. Although
disused, these ancient canoe artefacts, handed down through the generations,
will never be disposed of. Even if there is no chance that they will ever be put
into service again, they form a bond with the ancestors.
a sharing system particular to Tokelau
aspect of Tokelauan society is its system of sharing, known as inati.
Under this system every member of society has responsibilities and equal rights
in the community. Although all small Pacific islands societies can be said to be
more communally based than those of the Western world, Tokelauan society has
developed communalism to an unusually strong degree. For all Tokelauans, the
first responsibility is not to their family but to their community, their
village on their island. They give to the village and in return the village
looks after them and their family. Inati is an institutionalised way that
Tokelauans express their belief in the equality of all people, women and men,
children and adults.
Each of the
three atoll communities is divided into groups (called inati) who receive
shares in common from community-owned resources. Inati groups are also
used in making joint levies for community undertakings. What each inati
group receives or contributes corresponds to the number of people it contains.
Every person - man, woman and child - received an equal allocation.
All men and
women must work for the village. Although tasks differ for men and women, all
are equally valued. Men take part in community fishing construction projects and
the unloading of cargo when ships arrive from Samoa. The women keep the village
clean and tidy, and cook food for village feasts, in addition to manufacturing
mats for the church and community meeting house. Everyone is required to take
part in social events, traditional dancing and weekly cricket games. In return
for work, the village elders wee that the people receive, each according to his
or her needs. Everyone gets equal shares of important food items such as fish
catches, as well as of village water supplies and revenue generated by any
community activities. Families also build their houses and water cisterns with
community labour. As a territory of New Zealand, and a place where a monetary
economy is developing alongside the traditional subsistence-based on, much of
the wherewithal for the villages to look after their people now comes as aid
money from New Zealand. But much of the money is channelled through the elders
so that it is distributed directly to the people.
For sharing of
fish catches, each atoll ahs an open space where the catches are divided up for
distribution throughout the whole village. Failing to distribute certain fish
catches - for example, involving fifty or more bonito, or the 'sacred fish'
(bill fish and turtles) - is absolutely forbidden. A group of male elders known
as the 'dividers' are appointed as the distributors of inati items on
each island and it is their responsibility to divide up the catches into piles
of fish, one pile for each inati group. Following the general principle
identified above, the number of fish in each pile depends on the number of
people in the particular inati group, on the basis that each person must
receive an equal share.
also offer a way of rationing items that are commonly in short supply in
Tokelauan stores, such as petrol, rice, milk and sugar, even though shoppers buy
them with their own cash so they are not strictly community resources to be
shared equally. Inati is also used to control the consumption of alcohol.
On Atafu in 1999, for example, each man got an inati of two bottles of
beer (women one bottle, children none), three times per week, until the store
ran out of beer and everyone had to wait for the next shipment from Samoa.
membership changes as new people are born and others die, someone leaves the
island or visitors arrive. Inati membership is determined by the people
involved and the dividers must keep their records up to date to ensure correct
The operation of
the inati system can bring unexpected windfalls. When the small Fijian
trading ship, Ai Sokula, stranded on the reef at Fakaofo in 1981, the
cargo of beer she was carrying was shared under the inati system. Some of
the cargo carried by the ship had been destined for Fakaofo but the bulk of the
3,200 dozen cans of beer on board belonged to Tuvalu, which was to have been the
ship's next port of call after Tokelau. The people of Fakaofo claimed the beer
as bounty, and, when shared as inati, it was the equivalent to seventy
cans for every man, woman and child on the island. There was quite a party.
Those who work
for wages, such as school teachers, nurses and government office staff, do not
share their earnings as inati. They do, however, take part in community
activities in order to be a part of the inati system. This creates a
conflict of interest between the roles of paid employee and community member, in
which the community always wins. For example, there are instances where
employees do not come to work for three days because they are required to play
cricket or where all men stop work to take part in a community fish drive. The
result has been an extremely inefficient but happy public service.
Soak in the enchanting sounds of the
sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to you in 64kbps FM Stereo!
you so much for visiting the above five Domains. I
am very pleased to be able to share with you that
further limited advertising on these Domains is
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invited to choose from several thousand Web sites
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It is very pleasing to also share that so many of
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thanks with best wishes to all. For further
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Web site is
intended to provide a brief outline of the recent history as well as the geography of the Tokelau Islands. Swains Island has been included as it is geographically, if not
politically, part of the Tokelau Group.
Survival Miracle for Three Tokelau Teenagers
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
The trio -
Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14 -
had been given up for dead on their coral atoll in the
Tokelau islands, where a memorial service was held for them
after extensive searches failed to find them.
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 on Friday where it would deliver the trio into
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
Outline map of the Tokelau
above was taken on the island of Butaritari (Republic of Kiribati) in about 1890 and is
part of the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. On the left is Maka (with the cane), Mrs.
Mary Maka along with Kanoa and Mrs. Maria Kanoa, Hawaiian missionaries of the American
Board of Missions, Honolulu. Of
particular interest to the people of Tokelau and the many friends of Tokelau is
Maka whose writings have documented for all time the atrocities committed by the
Peruvian blackbirders on the innocent people of Tokelau. Please check the Link -
Depopulating the Tokelaus.
I do hope that
you enjoy your visit to the beautiful and enchanting Tokelau Islands.