The people may be Christian, but Faka
Tokelau - the Tokelauan way of life - is Polynesian culture at its
most untouched, thanks to the atolls' isolation and NZ's hand's-off
approach to administration. The strength of village community and its
system of sharing are the defining characteristics, along with the
enormous respect afforded elders. Daily life is ordered in each village by
a council of elders and family representatives (taupulega), with
most men joining the fishing, harvesting and construction workforce, and
women responsible for village cleanliness and health.
Each atoll has one village, squeezed onto its
highest island (motu). The three villages are divided territorially
into two faitu, which compete against each other in fishing, action
songs, dancing, sports and kilikiti (village cricket with up to 50
players per side). Despite increasing incursions made by the outside
world, all resources are shared between families according to need. The
most obvious features of the three villages are their churches and village
hall (fale fono).
The atolls are cramped
beyond belief, so individualism and a need for privacy aren't a real
virtue in Tokelau. Visitors should dress conservatively, keeping those
bikinis and skimpy outfits for another time and place. Resources are
scarce, so don't help yourself to fallen coconuts. If you're invited into
the home of a local, remember to remove your shoes on entering and to sit
cross-legged, rather than with your legs stretched out.
Tokelau is staunchly Christian, and Sunday is
devoted almost entirely to church-going. As many activities (including
work) are forbidden on Sunday, it's a good idea for visitors to delay
their arrival until Monday. The religious distribution amongst the atolls
reflects the staggered arrival of Samoan missionaries in the 19th century:
Atafu is almost completely Protestant; Nukunonu is largely Catholic; and
Fakaofo is split between the two faiths, due to the simultaneous arrival
of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Interdenominational conflict is
rare as it runs contrary to the overriding concept of village unity (maopoopo).
Prior to the arrival of Christianity, Tokelauans worshipped a god called
Tui Tokelau, along with the usual pantheon of Polynesian gods. The coral
slab personifying Tui Tokelau still stands in the village of Fakaofo.
Tokelauans are Polynesian, closely related to
Tuvaluans, Samoans and Cook Islanders. The sprinkling of European surnames
is the legacy of the whalers and beachcombers who visited in the late 19th
century; their subsequent intermarriage has led to today's Tokelauans
being described as 'an improbably bizarre genetic mixture'. Today's local
population of around 1500 is far outstripped by the number of Tokelauans
living away from home; New Zealand's Tokelaun population is 5000 or so.
Tokelauan is a Polynesian language, closely
related to Tuvaluan and Samoan. Most people speak some English, thanks to
their frequent contact with NZ, and it's taught as a second language in
Traditional foods such as fish, kumala
(sweet potato), breadfuit, taro, pork and poultry are cooked on both
kerosene stoves and the ubiquitous earth oven (umu). This
traditional diet is increasingly being supplemented with imported
processed foods, and the islanders' general health is suffering as a
consequence; obesity is on the rise. Fresh water is scarce and
tank-collected rainwater tastes brackish, so no wonder 'cold stuff' (ie
beer) is popular (but strictly rationed on more-traditional Atafu). Kaleva,
made from fermented coconut sap, is drunk in lieu of imported spirits. Its
alternative name, sour toddy, gives you an idea of the taste.
more general information
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