Arts & Crafts

Arts and Crafts

The concept of arts and crafts can be explained as follows:  

  • Cultural crafts
  • Performing arts, costumes and musical instruments
  • Traditional agricultural, fishing and hunting practices
  • Other Niue arts

What are Arts and Crafts?

Arts & Crafts  are considered treasured possessions of an individual, handed down from the tupuna. They are sacred and not to be given away easily. Only an immediate family member will receive the sacred treasure and the practice can only be changed if there are no living members of the family. For example, with the art of canoe-making: many have tried to make a Niuean canoe, but will never reach the standard of an individual who has had the skills of the craft passed down from the tupuna.

These are the tāoga of the family, nurtured and protected from generation to generation. They are also sacred and not to be given away easily. It is a bad omen if the tāoga is given away, and any consequences will fall on the one who gave it away, example of such a tāoga is traditional medicine and medical practices.Tapu is frequently used to protect the tāoga of the village, such as song composition and singing, including hymns. Some have tried to imitate the original composition of a song, but it will never be the same as that of the village that has the tāoga. The reasons are that the village wants to be prominent in this particular art and to ensure there is continuity from generation to generation.Arts and crafts are a symbolic representation of a country, differentiating it from other islands in the Pacific or the rest of the world. For example, the country name ‘Niue’ is different because there are no other countries in the world name Niue. The Niue national flag is another tāoga in this category, and we should all take part in protecting and looking after it.A person’s specialized skills distinguish him or her from their own kind within the village, the country and the world. These skills are paramount in identifying us as the people of Niue, which we should feel proud of. Most of us know how to plant talo, but very few possess the skills to produce big talo tubers. All of us can deliver a speech, but very few of us are born orators who can keep the audience interested and alert. The skills of arts and crafts are not vested in one place or institution, but in the individual, the family, the village and the country.

Niue Arts and Crafts - Earlier Days to Today

The tupuna settled in caves and fortresses or their own places of refuge hidden from their enemies. They are noted for their skills in making fighting equipment such as spears, cleaving and round headed clubs, stone sharpeners, and others. The women made and wove war girdles. The girdle was tied around the warrior’s waist to carry stone sharpeners and chillies. The warrior ate the chillies to make them strong when he went to war. Women also made and wove girdles out of parakeet feathers. Their purpose was to settle differences between two war parties. If the Chief sent his parakeet feather girdle to the enemy, he was asking for a peace settlement.

Time of the missionaries

Samoan missionaries first arrived in Niue in 1846 and 1849, followed by a missionary from Great Britain in 1861. The Word of God, or Christianity, was brought in by these missionaries and they also changed the way people lived. People moved out of their settlements in caves and fortresses and settled in open spaces. Villages were established, including the construction of church buildings. The tāoga gained from all these are the Niuean Bible.

Missionaries taught people many arts and crafts, especially clothing, cooking and healthy living. They also taught the building of limestone houses, weaving and plaiting for women, carving and building for men. People were also taught to dance, sing hymns. There was much success and growth of Christianity in the lives of the people and also many arts and crafts. Women were able to sell locally made hats to traders.


This period is noted for changes not only in the arts and crafts, but in the livelihood of people as well. They were prosperous, and introduced arts and crafts were seen and practised. Travellers from country to country exchanged gifts, as well as selling crafts to buyers from outside Niue. People acquired electrical appliances and were able to listen to music from radios, at the movies and from television. Niue people love to watch and listen to these modern arts. They were very quick to imitate and adopt the introduced arts and practices, while our own were ignored.


The status of Niue’s arts and crafts is a concern, especially the performing arts. There are many changes, and artists are using the arts of today as an income-generating activity to attract tourists. Because of modern technology, Niue people have imitated and adopted the arts and crafts from abroad, to generate income. The absence of an appropriate legislation (or a revised Copyright Act) means we cannot prevent continuing efforts to retain our very own arts and crafts.


Weaving (close and open), knotting, plaiting, sewing to come up with products like mats, hats, belts, fans, bark costumes, necklaces, baskets and many more. Construction and woodwork, net-making, canoe making and others, to construct such things as canoes, thatch houses, limestone houses, basins, weapons, walking sticks, spears, bats, paddles, wooden instruments and many other things.  Performing arts dances and costumes, music and musical instruments, Chants, traditional dances, hymns, concerts, plays, Nose flutes, ukulele, guitar, accordion, Jewish harp, mouth organs and others, tapes, radio, CD, DVD, TV, microfilms and others.

Traditional agricultural, fishing and hunting practices

  • Cooking, traditional oven, open fire cooking, and other traditional ways of cooking food like takihi, fish in coconut cream, varieties of vegetable dishes, arrowroot and many others.
  • Hunting according to the time of the night, the weather, the wind, the tide, the moon and from one’s own experience.

Other arts and crafts

  • Using traditional herbs and practises for medicinal treatments
  • Oratory and storytelling
  • Painting, drawing, designing, cutting, construction, grafting
  • Burning of limestone

Varieties of resources used for Arts and Crafts

Niue people have learnt to live harmoniously with their environment, wisely utilising the resources around them to the best of their ability to survive, provide for themselves. They produced entertainment in order to live happily on an isolated island, taking into consideration the frequent droughts, the lack of natural water sources, the poor soil and being so far away from the nearest land, all efforts must have been taken by our ancestors to survive and make life pleasant and bearable.

Wood – both hard and soft wood, most common use – moota (Dysoxylum fosteri), toi (Alphitonia zizyphoides), kanumea (Planchonella samoensis), oluolu (Planchonella garberi),    

Leaves – pandanus, coconut, palm, cordiline, dried banana leaves, fern, crotons, Niue myrtle (maile) and others.

Barks – banyan, wild hibiscus, banana, sandalwood and others.

Roots – nonu (Morinda citrifolia), wild vines, aka roots (Pueraria Iobata) and others.

Flowers – frangipani, pua, lagakali, ikihepō (Cestrum nocturnum), motooi (Cananga odorata)  and many others for making garlands (also used to fragrant coconut oils).

Seeds – pomea (Adenanthera pavonina), puka (Hermandia nymhaefolia), kanumea (Planchonella garberi) to make garlands.

Fruits – food and for medicinal use.

Pods –  vanilla for food flavouring.

Shells – from both the land and sea.

Feathers – feathers from specific birds, kulukulu (purple capped dove), hega (blue crowned lorry), white / red tailed tropic bird, chicken.

Human hairs – to decorate specific and sentimental pieces of craft work, for example the kafa (special girdle worn around the waist).

Teeth  –  whale, pigs and others from birds and animals.

Bones –   fish and animals.

Limestone – traditional whitewash and for medicinal use.

Sea water – food preparation and preservation, soaking of natural barks/ fibres and shells.

Musical instruments – ukulele, wooden tom toms, guitar, nose flute, traditional drums and others.

Other/imported resources – all varieties.

 Harry Coleman buying hand made crafts from women weavers, Lakepa 1960s (Photo Credit : Taoga Niue Flavell Collection)