Tokelau - History and Cultural Relations

Tokelau traditions assert autochthonous origins; provisional archaeological evidence shows people residing in the atolls one thousand years ago with Samoan and Tuvalu cultural affinities. Oral narratives tell of hostilities among the three atolls which ended when Fakaofo gained ascendancy by conquering Nukunonu and driving off the people of Atafu; until the nineteenth century, explorers found Atafu uninhabited, Nukunonu lightly peopled, and Fakaofo clearly preeminent as the place of the highest chief and the shrine of Tui Tokelau. Christian conversion and depopulation in the 1860s brought an end to Fakaofo domination, and each atoll became a tiny theocratic polity. Mission dominance was marginally compromised at the end of the century when the atolls were declared British protectorates. For a brief period (1910-1914) protectorate officials were assigned to the atolls, and in 1916 Tokelau was added to the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony, then removed when New Zealand assumed responsibility for the atolls on Britain's behalf in 1926. Despite these arrangements, the administration of Tokelau is best characterized as benign neglect until after World War II. Tokelauans received New Zealand citizenship in 1948, but they did not begin to emigrate there until the 1960s, some on government schemes of various kinds. Aid and development programs escalated in the mid-1970s, accompanied by increasing involvement of Tokelauans in administrative and decision-making roles. This trend continued in the 1980s, yet Tokelau remains a New Zealand dependency at its inhabitants' expressed and reiterated wish.

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