Customs & Traditions

Haircutting ceremony, 2021

Customs & Traditions

The customs and traditions of Niue identify us as Niuean’s and set us apart from other people. They tell us who we are and where we come from. Oral and/or written accounts of the customs and traditions of Niue, as expected, provide an interesting and colourful scenario of differences from one era to the next. Tāoga Niue aims to ensure the preservation, survival and continuation of the customs and traditions of Niue, thus securing Niuean identity and sovereignty. Based on Niue’s cultural and historical path through time, they show the different eras in the development of the customs and traditions of Niue:

  • pre-Good News era: from the days of old to when the Good News arrived in 1846
  • Good News era: the introduction of Christianity between 1846 and 1900 •New Zealand/colonial era: from 1901 to 1973
  • Internal self-governing era: from 1974 to the present Introduced customs and traditions flowed unabated into Niue and became integrated with the original customs and traditions. What we have today is the result of that integration.

Origin

From where, when and how? Niue has customs and traditions originating from the very first settlers to set foot on Niue. Oral historical accounts tell us that it was about 700 AD when the first settlers set foot on Niue. “Three ocean faring canoes,”  we are told, “from Samoa, Tonga and Pukapuka landed on this island and so began the origin of Niue, its customs and traditions and its language.” This fact is supported firstly by the similarities of some of our customs and traditions with those of Samoa and Tonga, and secondly by place names, such as Savaii, Manua, Fetuna, Atiu, and so on.   The arrival of the palagi, particularly the introduction of Christianity and the Good News added another very important and influential dimension to the customs and traditions of Niue. It played a substantial and major role in the shaping and make-up of our customs and traditions as they journeyed and changed through time. Customs and traditions are born of the need for security, peace and harmony, and each customs and tradition established was for unique purposes. The factors that played a governing role in the origin and growth of the customs and traditions of Niue are its geographical location, size, climate and environment, its early settlers and where they originated.

Known Accounts

There are no written records of the customs and traditions of Niue from its first settlement. It is only during the last 150-200 years that attempts have been made to document and record them. The attempts have barely scratched the surface. The main pathways through which customs and traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next are, firstly, by word of mouth, in which the parents told the story and the children listened; and secondly, by observing, learning and practicing what the parents did and how they did it. In other words, children copied what the parents did and how they did it. It is therefore understandable that over time variations occurred in the oral accounts between parents and children or in the way generations did things. These changes explain the different accounts and stories existing today.

Dignitaries from the Government of New Zealand were welcomed to Niue in 1959 and greeted with the traditional war dance, takalo. (photo credit - Peter Church Taoga Niue Collection)

Fundamental basis upon which the Customs and Traditions
of Niue evolved

Land and Earth

  • Cliffs, coastal terrain to the forest
  • Plant and trees: naturally growing or cultivated
  • Animals and things alive: above and below ground
  • Rocks, soil and other objects

Sky and heaven

  • Moon, stars and sun wind, clouds and rain
  • Birds

Sea

  • Ocean deep to breakers
  • Reef to lagoon
  • Cliff edge to high water mark

 

Feasts and feasting ceremonies

  • Circumcision
  • Weddings
  • Arrowroot starch production
  • Thanksgiving
  • Yam planting and harvesting
  • Religion and Christianity:
  •     God Jehovah and other deities 

  •     Family, housing, village and country

  •     Hunting, shooting and fishing

  •     Customary laws, sacred and respected

  •     Clothing

  •     Witch doctors,cures and curses

  •     Death, spirits/ghosts

  •     Performing arts, entertainment, recreation and sports

  •     Crafts and Craftspeople

  •     Language

  •    Family and extended family structures

  •    Authority, protocol and distribution rights

  •    Education

  •    Myths and legends

  •    Political development such as Tafiti and Motu.

 

Niue Traditional Beliefs and Moral Practices

(source: Tanaki, Pita M; Important Sayings in Vagahau Niue Book 2, Chapter 4)

  1. Ko Niue ko e Motu foaki he Atua ma e tau tagata Niue Oti – Niue is a God given land for all Niue peoples: We all believe Niue is given by God for our ancestors, together with Vagahau Niue as our tāoga to use and take good care of  for all generations and those after us.
  2. Ko Niue ko e motu Kerisiano – Niue is a Christian nation: Niue became a Christian nation through the acceptance of Christianity by our ancestors and everyone believe in the one true God in heaven whom Nukai Peniamina introduced to Niue.
  3. Ko e levekiaga ma e tau fonua magafaoa – Caring for family lands: All individual families have rights of ownership for family lands and under the due care of a family representative. It is prohibited by law for family land to be purchased out right except through a Government lease policy.  (Land is primarily for the purpose of human settlement and planting of food).