Culture Name



Identification. "Tokelau" means "north-northeast." Its people also identify themselves by their atoll villages: Atafu, Fakaofo, and Nukunonu.

Location and Geography. Three unbroken rings of coral with a combined land area of somewhat over four square miles (ten square kilometers) lie along a 93 mile (150 kilometers) northwest– southeast axis, separated from each other by 37 to 56 miles (60 to 90 kilometers) of open sea.

Demography. The population is about 1,700. An additional estimated five thousand reside overseas, mainly in New Zealand.

Linguistic Affiliation. Tokelauan is a Polynesian language. Older people are bilingual in Samoan, which was introduced with Christianity in the 1860s; younger people are more apt to be bilingual in English through their schooling.

Symbolism. Homeland atolls are the preeminent symbols, denoting both place and ancestry.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation and National Identity. As a culturally distinctive dependency of New Zealand, Tokelau is a nation. After sixty years as a British protectorate and then a colony ruled with "benign neglect," in 1948 Tokelau became "a part of New Zealand" and its people became New Zealand citizens. Most people want to retain that status, which combines considerable local political autonomy with substantial external support.

Ethnic Relations. Virtually all residents are of Tokelauan ancestry. In New Zealand, Tokelauans are a minority population among other Pacific Islanders, Maori, and persons of Asian and European ancestry. Many conscientiously maintain aspects of their culture.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The villages are densely peopled and like small rural towns in character. Public buildings under the aegis of the village are the meeting house and the church. Public amenities under the control of the administration/public service are the dispensary/hospital, school, and administration compound that houses the communications center (formerly the two-way radio), the village cooperative store, and offices for administrative and elected officers. Dwelling houses are rectangular single-room structures on raised coral-filled foundations and aligned with the straight heavily traveled footpaths. Until the 1970s, the houses were open constructions of local timber and pandanus-leave thatch, with plaited coconut frond blinds that could be lowered against wind and rain. Now the houses are more closed, built of imported lumber, concrete, and corrugated iron, sometimes with louvered glass windows. They are still, however, carpeted with mats plaited from pandanus and/or coconut leaves, upon which the occupants sit and lounge. Other furnishings are rolled-up sleeping mats, locked wooden boxes containing clothing and other personal belongings, and miscellaneous chairs, tables, and bedsteads. Separate cookhouses, still constructed of local materials, may be adjacent to, or more likely, distant from dwelling houses.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Fish and coconuts are abundant; other local foods are seasonal or scarce. Stores stock imported food, mainly rice, flour, and sugar.

Basic Economy. Traditional economic activities center on the land, reef, lagoon, and sea. Fishing is

strictly a subsistence activity, pursued with ingenuity backed by extensive knowledge. Coconuts rarely are harvested for uses other than subsistence since public service employment became the main source of cash. Handicrafts are more often produced as gifts than for cash.

Land Tenure and Property. Aside from a small portion of land used for communal purposes, all land is held by cognatic kin groups and managed by persons with recognized positions within those groups. Village houses are occupied and managed by kin group women; men manage and harvest plantation lands. Virtually everyone has rights to land and to a share of the produce from the land. Most people are members of more than one kin group and many receive produce from four or more.

Commercial Activities. All entrepreneurial activities are closely scrutinized by the Councils in each village.

Division of Labor. A major division exists between salaried public service employees who have job qualifications and wage-earning public service employees who do not. The distinction between paid and unpaid work has been partially eroded by village management of aid projects, for which all village workers are paid. Age determines who does what, who directs, and who labors.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. An egalitarian ethic overrides differentials in wealth among a growing elite whose education and experience qualify them for better-paid employment or positions. They contribute generously to village and family enterprises and avoid ostentatious displays of affluence.

Political Life

Government. The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs administers Tokelau, delegating certain powers to the three village-elected Faipule, who rotate as "head" of Tokelau during their three-year terms.

Leadership and Political Officials. Councils of elderly men and/or representatives of kin groups control the villages and direct village activities through the elected Pulenuku ("mayor").

Social Problems and Control. Persons are reprimanded in communal venues by their elders and peers for minor misdemeanors and are brought before local courts for more serious ones.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Development programs proliferate, supported by New Zealand and by international, regional, and other aid.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Organizations of able-bodied men, adult women, and competing "sides" are long-standing village institutions, as are several church associations. Clubs and youth groups are less permanent.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The adage that men "go"—fishing and harvesting—and women "stay"—managing the family—has been compromised by widespread public service employment. Both men and women work in skilled jobs; most unskilled workers are men.

Relative Status of Women and Men. Complementary equity predicated on sister-brother relationships has been compromised by Christian ideology and money.

Performers from the Tokelau Islands wear traditional dress as they attend the South Pacific Arts Festival.
Performers from the Tokelau Islands wear traditional dress as they attend the South Pacific Arts Festival.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Virtually all residents enter into sanctified, lifelong monogamous unions. Individual choice is constrained by kin group exogamy.

Domestic Unit. The pattern is an uxorilocal, often expanded nuclear family, in line with the adage that women "stay" and men "go."

Inheritance. All offspring inherit rights from both parents.

Kin Groups. Members of each cognatic kin group reside throughout the village and interact regularly.


Child Rearing and Education. Infant care is indulgent. Children are closely disciplined and precisely instructed in increasingly complex tasks.

Higher Education. All children attend village primary and secondary schools; many continue their schooling abroad.


Deference and obedience to one's elders and restraint between cross-sex siblings is expected. Physical aggression is abhorred.


Religious Beliefs. Protestant and Catholic congregations practice a fundamentalist, puritanical form of Christianity.

Religious Practitioners. Protestant pastors, deacons, and lay preachers and Catholic priests, catechists, and elders direct their respective congregations.

Rituals and Holy Places. Churches are cherished sites with frequent masses and services.

Death and the Afterlife. A short wake, church service, and burial are followed by evenings of mourning and ended by a feast. Unusual events and encounters may be attributed to ghost spirits. The dead are fondly remembered.

Medicine and Health Care

Western curative and preventive medicine has long been available. The hospital is normally the first resort. Local therapists mainly use massage.

Secular Celebrations

Numerous commemorative days and other celebrations feature feasts, competitions, parades, and entertainment.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. Oral narratives may be fictional stories or recountings of the past.

Graphic Arts. Women work in fiber, and men work in wood.

Performance Arts. Poetry, music, and dance are combined in old and new group compositions.


Angelo, A. H. "Tokelau." In M. A. Ntumy, ed., South Pacific Legal Systems , 1993.

Angelo, T. "The Last of the Island Territories? The Evolving Constitutional Relationship with Tokelau." Stout Centre Journal , 1996.

Hooper, Antony. "The MIRAB transition in Fakaofo, Tokelau." Pacific Viewpoint 34 (2): 241–264, 1997.

Huntsman, J., and A. Hooper. "Male and Female in Tokelau Culture." Journal of the Polynesian Society 84: 415–430, 1975.

——. Tokelau: A Historical Ethnography , 1996.

Matagi Tokelau. Tokelau History and Traditions , 1991.

Simona, R. Tokelau Dictionary , 1986.

Wessen, A. F., A. Hooper, J. Huntsman, I. A. M. Prior, and C. E. Salmond, eds. Migration and Health in a Small Society: The Case of Tokelau , 1992.


Also read article about Tokelau from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Heather Lamb
This page is really good, I find it very interesting!
ireenah mautama
this is wonderful but i would like to find out about tokelauans dances
this article is true about tokelau and their culture
tokelau is thebest place evr. Ive never been there but i hope to visit there someday. i love polynesian islands because thry are so full of sights and a lot of ocean too! tokelau is so beauiful. hahaha i can tell from the pictures ive seen. its the best.
yokoue k daniel
i am from cote d'ivoire west africa i think the people of tokelau the african brothers. i love your country.
Ailini Apete-McDonald
great resource for learning, however needs more pictures.
hey im tokelauan to..i miss my culture is very different than the other islanders.
devannalynn passi
hey im tokelau but i never got to go there i really want to my name is Devannalynn Agatui Passi
and like i've heard so much about the island my grandpa is tokelu his name is Mose Tiolu.
Im full Tokelauan, and i don't raelly know much about my culture, as it has been a struggle for my ethicity to stay alive as a culture. Theres so much i have learnt from this sight. Everything ive read seems to be in place, but i agree, more pictures would help give a better picture for others, thanks anyway:)
I am part niuean, cook island maori and part tokelauan but do not know much about my tokelauan background. This sorta helps though :) . I cant wait to visit this place :)

ATAFU AND FAKAOFO represeent :)
Hi my Dad Tokelauan and Mum Polish ,I am so proud of my Tokelau Blood,hope one day i will visit the island.i never been there before,can't wait
Tokelau is so beautiful. i am Tokelauan, but was born and raised in New Zealand. I would love to visit Tokelau some day and join the fateles'.
i like this article, it gives our tupulaga lots of information about Tokelau. This is a very interesting article. Some non-tokelauan's students in my class asked if you guys could put up more information about the Tokelauan Dance (fatele). Thank you and i hope this comment doesnt't offend anyone in anyway lols .
im half cast toke & maori i wish i could go there. my mum was raise and born there shes fluint and im jealous i know a little bit nukunonu for life
im full toke i would love to go there mum's atafu dad's fakaofo.
Niquah Gaegaeolo
I'v experienced the Tokelauan life, its amazing and i would love to go back there. The islands are sooo beautiful and the people there are soo kind and warm hearted. Im proud to be Tokelau. This site rocksz by the way hahaa. :D.
Hi my name is Kelena.Tulafono grand daughter of Etimani.Tulafono and Matagofie.Pakau i am full tokelauan(fakaofo) and proud to be and im very happy about my culture and theres nothing to be ashamed of.P.S all tokelauans that have commented hope to catch later...bye...xoxo...
hi im lana proud tokelauan i was born and raised in tokelau and so proud of it but i gotta admit i got tired of picking otaotas.lols but i stil luv my ISLAND.
i am so proud to be a tokelauan...
life there is just amazing.!!!
SwEeT!! is dis page awsume OR wat?
ohh foa does whu do not noe meh mah name is ta'ase nd i am a true toke!!LoLs
my dad is half tokelau, half nz nd my mum is samoan. our famliy is mostly close to tha toke/nz side. nd foa thoughs whu went to tha tornament dis year, was it HeCdIk or wat? ohh jst except tha otha things ayee?LoLs nd dat foa ppls hhope to talk to yu's all soon!!
yu noe yur a tokelau wen we hav hivas evernight!!LoLs=]

#yu noe it#
I am Leata Senitu my dad is from fakaofo his name is Ato Isaako Senitu his mum is stella Pakau and his dad name was Senitu Iasona. I was born in NZ my mum is Samoan. lol haloa, I have enjoyed na hatele in the community in Taupo with all the relatives alot of fun.
Can anybody tell me What is the most important gift of this Island for example of how Am Samoa has their own like the Tanoa Fue & Tootoo...pls i need it asap..
Aloha, My name is Claudia and I am part Tokelauan. I would love to go to Tokelau one day. My grandma is full tokelauan but she went to Samoa to marry Grandpa. I'm pleased to have found this website. Find me on Facebook. Claudia Faamasino, I would love to learn more about Tokelau, please. May you all have a wonderful life. God Bless.
sabbath foai
I am tokelauan and i am proud of my culture eve though we may not have olehunga to complete our lives just remeber we stand strong amen thank God for our culture
samson maena
This page is very helpful to me as I want to know the people of Tokelau.
I greatly have informations I needed.
julie Iasona
I am Tokelauan and I am proud to be a tokelauan and I am proud of my culture even though we may not have olohega to complete our lives we stand strong
meripa lekai
hi, there i am a tuvaluan and i am doin a research on the tokelauans and i realy need some info for my task i would like to know abt the dressing style esp the traditional wear and wath its called.if i could get a pictures of it,and da way u greet people,like in my language it is talofa.pliz help me.
Hey, there I am currently doing an assessment about a Pacific Island and have chosen Tokelau as I am interested in getting to the the islands ways of life. I am struggling to find info about the dress code, rules, daily life and the importance in learning the traditions and beliefs.

If you can help me it would be very much appreciated.
Janet Filipo
Thank you for sharing this with us. I am study a PG paper for Pacific Health. This information is helpful and although we have our parents to help us learn and understand about our culture... what better experience and challenge it is to see it through our own eye's. Thank you once again! (Fakaofo atoll)
i love being a tokelauan thanks to my grandma tuvale sila
Hi my name is Vitolina and i'am half Tokelau and i'am very proud of being Tokelau because i'am half Toke because my mhy mums dad is Atafu and Nukuonu but grandma is full Fakaofo but my dad is half Tokelau and Samoa.If u are Tokelau be proud and don't let your culture down just because u were born in New Zealand it doesn't mean that u are New Zealand find out who u are really are and be proud of what u are and don't let it go.
I NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE TOKELAUANS CELEBRATE AND THEIR TRADITIONS. I also need to know their art! Please help me before 1/20/15
i love this website because i get to know evry culture around the world.
Hi there,
I'm a Student in New Zealand that's currently in active, of research for information based on the foods that Tokelau eat and consist of. This website is a great resource of information and has lots of detail about the country, but I'm in need of more primary and deeply protocols. Or any ancient form of knowledge would be helpful. Email me if anyone has anything really.
Hey Everyone, I'm currently staying and working as the Tourism Officer in Nukunonu, Tokelau! i find this page really interesting! anyways if ya'll need to know more just contact me through my gmail! bless day ya'll!
Leonard Lolo
My name is Leonard Lolo. Am from Vanuatu in Melanesia. I work for Luganville Municipal Council as the Solid waste management officer. On Google i saw the capital city of Tokelau and I really admire it. The scenery are just beyond imagination. I just wanna go there one day to study from their solid waste management system from their city waste. A beautiful country.

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