Culture & society

To some extent the inhabitants retain cultural ties with Samoa but there are also strong links with Tuvalu where the culture is distinctly moulded by the atoll environment. There are linguistic and family ties with both countries. Faka-Tokelau, the Tokelauan way of life, is centred on family and community. There is a complex social and economic order based on the values of community and sharing which remains strong despite the pressure of external influences. Village affairs are conducted by a council of elders consisting of representatives of the families.

The people of Atafu live in one village which occupies part of a motu (reef-bound islet). On Nukunonu the village occupies about half of one motu which is connected by a bridge to a neighbouring motu where some families have settled. The village on Fakaofo is on a small but comparatively high motu. It is overcrowded although emigration to New Zealand alleviates the problem. Fakaofo has a second more recently established village, Fenuafala, on a larger nearby motu where the school, the hospital and other facilities are now located. A government subsidised housing programme operates on all three atolls. The scheme, which encourages the use of imported building materials, is very popular and the number of houses constructed out of traditional materials is diminishing.

Tokelauans are citizens of New Zealand which gives them free right of access to that country. In the 1960s and early 1970s the New Zealand Government operated the Tokelauan Resettlement Scheme to overcome crowding on the atolls. Many families migrated to New Zealand and later sponsored others who wanted to emigrate. The scheme was suspended in 1976 when the population stabilised. Currently some 7000 Tokelauans live in New Zealand; other small communities can be found in Samoa, American Samoa, Australia and Hawai'i.

Sports popular in Western Samoa and New Zealand , cricket and football for example, are also popular in Tokelau. The subsistence lifestyle means that activities regarded as recreation in more developed countries - fishing and gardening - are undertaken more through necessity than choice.

Liquor is available in relatively limited quantities, although the Tokelauans have a fondness for beer, which may be purchased in bulk from Samoa through the cooperative stores on Fakaofo and Nukunonu and Atafu.

Public holidays are New Years Day, Waitangi Day (6 February), Good Friday, Easter Monday, ANZAC Day, Queen's Birthday, Labour Day, Tokehega Day, Christmas Day and two other village holidays nominated annually by the three island councils.


Tokelauan is the main language used, then Samoan, English and Tuvaluan. English is taught as a second language and is widely understood.


On Atafu the majority of people belong to the Ekalehia Fakalapotopotoga Kelihiano Tokelau (EFKT) while on Nukunonu virtually the entire population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. On Fakaofo both churches are represented with the EFKT having the largest following.