ETHNONYMS: Niuean, Niuefekai
Niue is a 260-square-kilometer raised coral atoll. Culturally and linguistically it is very similar to Tonga. Niue is located at 19° S and 169°50′ W, 385 kilometers east of Vavau, Tonga. There were 6,000 people on Niue and about 5,500 Niueans in New Zealand in the early 1980s. Niuean is part of the Tongic group of Austronesian languages. At present, only the narrow coastal fringe is inhabited and exploited; formerly, the island was more evenly settled.
Subsistence is based on marine exploitation, taro, arrowroot, coconuts, yams, and bananas; breadfruit is a relatively recent introduction. Fishing is difficult and catches are poor, due to the limited reef around the island. Chickens were raised in the past, but they have been replaced by wild rats and fish as the main sources of protein. There is a tendency toward a reliance on fishing on the coast and taro farming farther inland. Ramages are the landholding groups.
Kin groups include the Motu and Tafiti moieties, general bilateral kin groups, ramages, and extended families. Descent is ambilineal, with a patrilineal bias. Marriages are often arranged. Polygyny was common among chiefs in the past. Both moieties are endogamous. Households were very flexible in their membership, but they usually contained a core group of siblings or parents and children. In addition to the kin groups, Niuean society was stratified into three classes: the warriors, the warriors' retainers, and low people. A Paramount chief ( patuiki ) formerly ruled over the entire island, and he could be ceremonially killed during drought or famine for what was considered neglect of duty. The Niueans were politically subordinate to the Tongans, whose leader evidently had a hand in the selection of their paramount chief.
The concepts of mana and tapu were primary among aboriginal religious beliefs. Nearly all Niueans are now Christian. The Niueans had many gods, organized into a Hierarchical pantheon.
See also Tonga
Crocombe, Ron, ed. (1971). Land Tenure in the Pacific. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Loeb, Edwin M. (1926). History and Traditions of Niue. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 32. Honolulu.