Tāoga Niue Collection – Rev. Caleb Beharell


The history of Niue is a record of events that happened to the country and the people of Niue in the past. It is one of the seven important components comprising the Tāoga Niue. It is important in terms of the identity of the people and of the nation of Niue internationally. Tāoga Niue therefore aims to raise the status of Niue’s history through the production of books for the use of students, scholars, researchers and the general public.

Niue’s history falls into four defined periods: pre-Christianity, the Colonial era and self-government. The task of documenting the history of Niue is difficult because no record of events was made, except by oral tradition, until the arrival of the Europeans. Since then books have been written and compiled by overseas and local people about the history of Niue. They have been kept and stored in various institutions outside Niue.

The risk of losing the stories and other aspects of history from oral traditions is acknowledged. The tasks ahead that have been identified in this paper are numerous and require the cooperation of all stakeholders to ensure that the history of Niue is documented for the future generations of this country.

The importance of history

History is important because it helps with understanding the present. The more we know about the past, the better we can understand how communities have evolved to their present state, why people face certain problems and how successfully those problems have been addressed. History tells us where we come from, where we are now and where we are going.

In the foreground, a photo of the Niue Radio Station, 1950, background on the left is the Vailahi Seminary and on the right the LMS Missionary Resident. (Photo credit Peter Church Tāoga Niue Collection).
One of the ‘Aho Me’ activities coordinated by LMS Church for villagers to participate after the morning service in Alofi, 1950s (Photo credit Peter Church Taoga Niue Collection)

The origin of the people of Niue

Many theories have been presented about the origin of the people of Niue. Early Niue people talked about the people from an unknown land, while others have suggested that the people of Niue originated from as far east as South America and as far away as Asia. However, the more commonly accepted theory is that people from Tonga, Samoa and Pukapuka populated Niue first. Those from Tonga settled on the southern side of the island, while those from Samoa settled on the northern side. The people from Pukapuka settled on the eastern side. This theory is supported by place names such as Matakaukakala at Avatele, Tutuila at Tuapa and Vavau at Liku.

About Us

Many people have contributed to the recording of the history of Niue. Firstly, the practise of passing on stories about the past by word of mouth has continued since its beginning. Then whalers and traders recorded their views and observations of what they saw. Later, the missionaries, most notably George and Frank Lawes, did a lot of work about Niue.

It was during the period of New Zealand rule that a great deal of literature was written about Niue. The most notable works were produced by Edwin Loeb and Percy Smith. The rest were reports compiled by the Office of the Resident Commissioner for the New Zealand Government. One other known work, the Niue Dictionary, was compiled by one of the Resident Commissioner for the New Zealand Government. One other known work, the Niue Dictionary, was compiled by one of the Resident Commissioners, Mr Jock McEwen.


Since self-government in 1974, many books, research findings and reports have been written by Niue people and non-Niue people. Some of the books were the work of students, others were put together for tertiary studies, and others still were reports for the government and donors. This is good practice, but there are still many more stories that are waiting to be told. It is timely that this work be continued, as many resourceful people have moved overseas and the remaining ones have passed away. It is important that these stories are captured and recorded before they are lost.


(Source – Tāoga Niue, Timeline of the Kings of Niue, 2017)

 Kings of old

400—700 AD:   First migration of the five ancestral gods led by Huanaki and Fāo, including Lageiki, Lagiatea and Talimainuku (Fakahoko) made an expedition from Fonua galo (lost or unknown land) to Niue and landed at Motu in Lakepa. Another version stated that these ancestral gods came from Savaii, Samoa. It was also believed that Fāo returned to Fonuagalo and brought back his children, Avatele and Kavatele who had two children, Tehamau and Malotele. Malotele then married her own brother Tehamau and had Maheleone, Mahelepa, Mahelemoka, Mataginifale, Tihamau, Malouna, Mahinaualua, Malohekula and Titia. Maheleone lived in Avatele. Mahelepa brought forth a line of braves (toa). Mahelemoka married Tihamau, her own brother and they were responsible for the chiefly line.


700 – 1100 AD: Tehamau is said to be the first chief of the island of Niue. The time gap suggest that this king could either be a grandson of Fāo, or a descendant of that line.


1250 AD: Tihamau was the second chief of Niue Nukututaha; he built his great house at Hapuga and Faofao, a village at Ululauta or Matafonua of the Lelegoatua (at the north end of Niue; there is no such village now). He was the lord of the malē (plaza) of Fanakavatala and Tiatele; and of the stone house built by Huanaki at Vaihoko. 


According to oral history, two brave warriors Leveimatagi and Leveifualolo brought the coconut to Niue somewhere around 1250 AD (reference point for Tihamau’s time as chief). These were the son’s of Matakuhifi, a general to Tihamau who guarded the South coast of  Niue against foreign invaders. Tepunu Muitalau, who is said to be the son of Mataginifale (refer legend of Mataginifale and the whale) returning from Tonga, killed the guard Matakuhifi in order to gain entrance to the island and also challenged the chief Tihamau.

Tongan expansion to other Pacific Islands at this time coincides with the meeting of Tihamau and Tepunu Muitalau. In a contest of words, Tihamau was defeated when Tepunu challenged the chiefly system of Niue (not having a kava ceremony as chiefs of Tonga and Samoa do). Tepunu Muitalau may have promoted himself to be king (not chosen by the people) claiming Mutalau to be his place of residence. He was however, killed by the sons of Matakuhifi,  who were  seeking revenge for the death of their father. Foreign invaders and revenge killing at this period meant war in the island of Niue.  


1300-1400 AD: Punimata was arguably considered the first patuiki or king of Niue. There is no sure date of when Punimata was anointed, but it was believed to be an agreement by all the chiefs of the island at the time in order to have peace. Punimata was said to be a very handsome man who was anointed at Makatea, Hakupu. From that place, the people carried him all the way to Fatuaua, Tuapa where he resided. The people gave him and his wife Fineone the chasm of Matapa as their bathing place. During Punimata’s reign, Niue was at peace and the people enjoyed the abundance of food from the land and the sea. Punimata died of old age and was buried at Hopuo.


Ihuga or Togia Ihuga was a brave warrior who led the Niue war party at Anatoga against foreign invaders said to be a war party from Tonga led by Kau’ulufonua around the year 1525 AD. This information is used as a point of reference for when Patuavalu became king which was right after the death of Ihuga. 

1525: Patuavalu was anointed king some time after the death of Punimata. The first warrior elected for the appointment was Tagelagi who refused the appointment offering instead to be Patuavalu’s bodygurard. Patuavalu was bathed by Tagelagi at Puato, Makefu. There was great peace in the island during the reign of Patuavalu. Some account mentioned how  trees on the island bore fruit, and swarms of birds in the bush, the pigeons came out of the bush and rested on rooftops and banana trees. The coconut crab (uga) was so abundant that they were found inside coconut husks in people’s homes (kaina). There were also plenty of fish in the sea. The island was blessed from the beginning of Patuavalu’s reign until the time of his death at an old age.


1753:  Galiaga was anointed by Mohelagi at Paluki. During the beginning of Galiaga’s reign the island was blessed with peace. But later it so happened that a man by the name of Fakahemanava stole talo from the plantation of Tinomata. Tinomata did not know who had stolen talo from his plantation, but he planned to obtain revenge by killing the king Galiaga. Tinomata killed the king in order to bring misfortune to the island, so there would be a famine on the island and the people would dwindle to skeletons and die from hunger. Then the man who had stolen from his plantation would also die.   

 After the king had been murdered the island was cursed, but the people did not know who had stolen the plantation. When the  people on the island found out that Fakahemanava was the thief, they exterminated every member of his family. They did this because of the murder of the king. After this, everybody was afraid, and nobody wished for the office of patuiki lest he be killed as was Galiaga.


1760:  Fokimata after the death of Galiaga, two candidates, Fakahinaiki and Hetalaga offered themselves for the office of king, but neither was chosen. Fokimata a man from the eastern side of the island was the choice of the people. Fokimata at first refused the office. Finally, Fokimata was persuaded to assume the position and he was bathed by Fakahemanava (probably before he was killed) at Paluki. Fokimata lived at Fatuaua, Tuapa as did king Punimata. 


 Presently the war arose between Mohelagi and Palalagi, and the king feeling himself in danger for he was situated on the motu side of the island begged a Mutalau toa, Vihekula and Palalagi the famous toa of Makefu, to bring troops to his aid. The toa brought their troops, and soon afterwards war developed between Motu and Tafiti. After the Tafiti people were defeated at the battle of Mougakelekele, the troops of the king prepared to depart. 


Then the eastern side grew jealous of the king residing in the west. Fokimata knew he was again in danger so he fled to Hikutavake. Manogi, a warrior from the east came with a black stone to kill the king. He offered the stone to Palalagi’s eldest son Kanavatoa who took it and went searching for the king at Hikutavake. Fokimata had just returned from hunting birds and was cooking his food. Kanavatoa, killed king Fokimata at Hikutavake with a blackstone, striking the king in the back of the head as he was running away. 

1770: Pakieto was set up by Palalagi and his son Kanavatoa, in spite of the opposition of most of the people, and was never properly anointed. Soon after Pakieto took office a severe drought and famine fell upon the island. One source mention that Pakieto hid in the bush eating veka (scavenger bird) and berries. When the people went to look for him, they found his body with his face already been eaten by rats. Even today some still call him “Iki ne kai he kuma he mate pipili (the king that was food for the rats when he was starving).” Pakieto’s reign lasted less than a year and a brief interval of peace followed, but no further attempts were made to set up a patuiki. 

Pakieto was believed to exist around the time when Captain Cook arrived in Niue in 1774.

 The chiefs of the island still continue to meet at Fatuaua where they made laws and tried to make peace throughout the island without much success, because Mohelagi and Palalagi families still warred against each other and this often became a Motu-Tafiti affair.

 Niue did not have another king up until the time Christianity was brought to Niue by Nukai Peniamina in 1846.

King Togia Puletoaki, 4th from the left with Members of the Royal Family, his wife beside him in white, 1900. (Photo credit: Auckland Weekly News, 13 July 1900)

Kings in the age of Christianity

In the 1860s with settlement of the European missionaries on the island, there was a push by the London Missionary  Lawes brothers for a united political system for the Niue peoples. This resulted in meetings of representatives from each village gathering in Alofi once a month to discuss issues in Niue like the visit from Peruvian Slavers. After being addressed by a representative from the Australian Royal Navy Commodore James Goodenough, the meeting council (Fono) thought it wise to have a king as a representative for Niue.  Despite the explanation of Goodenough that a Fono was sufficient, the Niue council decided to have a king. In 1876, after 3 years since Goodenough’s visit to Niue, the Fono agreed on having a king.  

1876: Mataio Tuitoga is elected as the first king of Niue since Christianity arrived on the island. He was anointed on March 2nd in Alofi and the stone near the south end of the School House was laid to commemorate the ceremony. The change was to a great extent minimal, as the chiefs still had a large authority in their several districts. The king Tuitoga is stated by Rev. Frank Lawes to have been “quiet, peaceable and I believe a Christian”. Rev. Lawes was asked to anoint him at the coronation, he declined; but he drew up a paper, which the king signed in lieu of the coronation oath. The king Mataio Tuitoga died July 13th 1887 and was buried in the Church cemetery of Alofi. He reigned 11 years.  

1888: Fataaiki (also known as Palalagi Tavita or Fataaiki Hunuki, married to Loata from Hakupu) was the next king and anointed 21st November, 1888. Rev. Lawes stated that Fataaiki was a very superior man, of great force of character, and with deep knowledge of the Niue language. His word was law to the people. He was one of the first Niuean Missionaries to be sent to other Pacific Islands to spread the word of God. He served in the Island of  Tokelau and later came back to be  a Pastor of the village of Hakupu. His role in the church was what made him a very well respected man and aid in his becoming king.  Fataaiki died December 15th December, 1896 and buried at Alofi.

1898: Togia Puletoaki (married to Mokapule or Vika) is the last king, who was anointed June 30th, 1898. King Togia would be the most known king for his role in achieving protection from England and for his role in sending Niue warriors to the first world war. He died 17th  February  1917 and buried in his village home of Tuapa.

 The word “bathe” or “anoint” refers to the washing of the body with scented oils, and the anointing (fakauku, or fakatakai; fakafoufou to crown, foufou a crown) was done by one of the senior chiefs dipping a lau-mamālu in a cup of coconut oil, and striking the king’s head three times.