Tokelau's atolls have been populated
for around 1000 years, with traditional tales linking the original
Polynesian settlers with Samoa, the Cook Islands and Tuvalu. The three
atolls were fiercely independent until the Tokelau wars of the 18th
century, when Fakaofo conquered Atafu and Nukunonu to create the first
united entity of Tokelau.
The first Europeans to visit the islands were
Commodore John Byron in 1765 (Atafu) and the sailors of the US American
whaler General Jackson in 1835 (Fakaofo). Missionaries soon
followed, with Catholic Samoans converting the people of Nukunonu in the
1840s, Protestant Samoans converting Atafu in 1858 and the two groups
later battling for the souls of Fakaofo. The atolls' already-minuscule
populations were drastically reduced to a mere 200 in the 1850s and 60s
when Peruvian slave traders seized around 250 people, 500 islanders were
removed by missionaries, and diseases such as dysentery took hold.
The islands were annexed
by Britain in 1889, and incorporated into the new crown colony of Gilbert
& Ellice Islands (today's Kiribati and Tuvalu) in 1916, by which time
they were known as the Union Group. Many Tokelauans headed off to work the
phosphate mines of Banaba (Ocean Island). The islands have been
administered by New Zealand since 1925, and were included within its
territorial boundaries in 1948. The name Tokelau Islands was given in
1946, and contracted to Tokelau in 1976; it's a Polynesian word meaning
Tokelau's administrator is appointed by NZ's
minister for foreign affairs, with an official secretary based in Apia,
Samoa. The country remains dependent on foreign aid, largely from NZ, but
calls for independence are increasing, encouraged by both NZ and the UN.
The public service has been relocated to Tokelau from Samoa, and since
1996 the general fono council has held legislative power.
Improvements such as the inter-atoll ferry and satellite
telecommunications system are easing Tokelau's isolation. With acreage at
a premium, chronic overcrowding remains a huge problem, especially as
global warming potentially threatens the tiny islands' very survival.
more general information
on Samoa, go to: