Tokelau’s Administrator recognised as ‘tautai’ in kaukumete ceremony

Atafu, 9 August 2014
The Administrator of Tokelau, Mr Jonathan Kings, was recognised as a tautai or master fisherman, in a kaukumete ceremony at Atafu today. Traditionally, this ceremony is held to recognise a man’s technical skills and knowledge to handle a fishing canoe and its crew in any circumstances. The title also implies honour, trust and the virtues of chivalry.

Tautai can navigate by the stars, know how to deal with the winds and the weather, know that after heavy thunderstorm it is better to wait for three days, and know how to pull in the big fish. In the old days, the kaukumete involved the assembly of village elders bestowing gifts of pearl shell and lures, and their recognition that a tautai could lead a fishing expedition from the honoured position at the stern of a canoe.

Last Saturday, after a series of speeches from members of the Taupulega, the Village Council of Elders, Mr Kings was given the tools of his trade. These comprise a set of traditional fishing lures, a carved tool to be used for holding a fishing rod, a miniature vaka (canoe), and a tuluma, a traditional carved wooden tackle box. (The tuluma is also the symbol representing the Tokelau government.)

Mr Kings gratefully accepted the honour bestowed upon him. In doing so he said he would take the advice, and from now on wait three days after any return from overseas of his Minister, Mr McCully before hassling him. He also promised he would try extra hard to pull in the big fish for Tokelau and get funding proposals through.

He then joined the fishermen, members of the Taupulega and other villagers in a collective performance of a fatele, the traditional dance. Their graceful movements to the beat of a drum expressed the throwing out the fishing lines from the boat, and hauling in the catch.
New master fisherman Jonathan Kings being congratulated on his tautai title by Mika Perez, Director of Environment, Natural Resources and Environment. In the foreground the gifted mini-vaka and tools of the trade, including fish lures and the tuluma, the fishing tackle box.
The Administrator received the honour while visiting the three atolls Fakaofo, Atafu and Nukunonu on three successive days, 8-10 August 2014. He addressed the three Taupulega, and received detailed feedback from them during round-the-table discussions. He pressed upon the Taupulega the need for the atolls to work together as one nation rather than as three different islands.

He reiterated the expressed concerns from the Hon. Murray McCully, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Most of the funding for Tokelau comes from New Zealand via MFAT. Mr McCully had raised concerns for the quality of life for the villagers in Tokelau, who have New Zealand citizenship. Life was not improving to the extent and at the rate that was expected from the villages on the atolls. Key concerns were education, health care and priority setting for expenditure.

Mr King had also suggested the country put together a 10-year asset management plan now that a full inventory of the country’s assets, to the tune of NZ$74million, had been completed

Right: Mr Kings (foreground) participating in the fishermen’s dance. Next to him in the front row Aliki Faipule Kuresa Nasau, the Ulu (titular head) of Tokelau, and members of the Taupulega (village council).

For a detailed historic account from Tokelauan tautai, see http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/docs/Volume119/JPS_119_3_03.pdf Hooper, Antony; Two Tokelau Fishing Texts

See also: article in Samoa Observer, 22 August 2014 (pdf, 1.3MB)