Fakaofu (also called Fakaofo)
or Bowditch Island is southeasternmost of the three atolls of the Tokelau or Union group.
It lies between 560 and 566 nautical miles south of the equator, 35 (60?) miles E.S.E. of
Nukunono (now called Nukunonu), 100 miles north of Swains Island, and 270 miles north and
a little east of Apia, Samoa.
Survival Miracle for Three Tokelau Teenagers
attention has been directed towards an incredible survival
story of three Tokelau teenagers who survived 50 days adrift
in a tiny boat in the South Pacific by drinking rainwater
and eating raw fish and a seagull before being rescued by a
The trio -
Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14 -
had been given up for dead on their coral atoll in the
Tokelau islands, where a memorial service was held for them
after extensive searches failed to find them.
The boys set off
on 5th October 2010 in their aluminium dinghy
from their home island of Atafu to one nearby
and it is understood that the outboard motor on
their boat may have broken down at sea.
Some 50 days later
they were spotted by the trawler the San Nikuna with
three people aboard waving frantically. The teens
and their boat were hauled aboard the fishing
trawler, which was on its way to Fiji on Friday
where it would deliver the trio into medical care.
Certainly the rescue
came not a moment too soon as the boys had only days
The boys come from
the atoll of Atafu, one of three that comprises the
tiny Tokelau island group where 1500 people live.
Atafu, Nukunonu and
Fakaofo, picture-perfect South Pacific islets, lie
500 kilometres north of Samoa, surrounded by 128
mostly uninhabited coconut palm-covered islets.
It is a coral atoll,
consisting of a continuous flat reef, awash at low tide, along which are scattered about
fifty small islets and five of somewhat larger size; the largest (Matang), shaped like a
hockey stick, is 2 miles long (including the bend) by less than 1/4 mile wide.
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The reef rim has the outline
of a kite or arrowhead, and measures 7.12/4 miles north and south by 5.1/2 miles greatest
width. The islets are thickly strewn along the east side; fewer and more scattered along
the west; and there are none on the northwest side, which is flat bare reef. The lagoon
contains numerous reefs and coral heads. On its east side, the water is very clear, and
one can look down into deep, jade and pale blue caverns, lined with coral formation of
fantastic shape, among which flit schools of brilliantly coloured, tropical fishes.
The islets average about ten
feet high. Most of them are thickly covered with groves of coconut palms and low trees and
shrubs, which give the islets a total height of 70 or 80 feet. Some beaches are gradual
and sandy, others steep, with broken coral and sandstone slabs.
The village of Fakaofu is
located on a small islet on the west side, scarcely large enough to house its population,
which varies between 450 and 500 persons. The reason all of the inhabitants live crowded
together on this one islet goes back to mutual protection against South American
kidnappers; but it is also caused by the presence here of fresh water wells, lee-side
shelter, and fairly good landing. The island has become so crowded that walls of coral
sandstone, built to protect houses from high waves, have been pushed out into the lagoon,
and the space behind them filled in to provide more land.
Visiting Fakaofu, April 2 to
5, 1924, one was impressed by the neatness and orderliness of the village, with gravel
walks, edged with stones, between the substantial thatched houses, enclosing attractive
but closely packed gardens of breadfruit, pandanus, banana, and fragrant-flowered trees
and coconut palms. Their condition was the more remarkable in that houses are periodically
demolished and trees stripped of branches by hurricanes.
Some of the islets are
privately owned, such as Fenua fala, the N.W. islet, which is owned by the Pedro family.
It has luxuriant vegetation, patches of bananas in banked terraces of rich humus, taro
patches, and colourful gardens. The next islet is the Catholic cemetery, appropriately
named Afua (God). Two islets south of Fakaofu is the Protestant cemetery, and the next is
occupied by its caretaker. In 1924 there were 350 Protestants and 80 Catholics.
Fenua loa, at the S.W. corner
is about the most luxuriant of the atoll. Within a marginal fringe of Scaevola and
Tournefortia is a tall stand of such trees as Pisonia, Guettarda, Hermandia,
Cordia, Ficus, Pipturus, and Pandanus, beneath which are thickets of shrubs,
herbs, giant taro, and vines. In the center is a brackish lake, with narrow, winding
channel leading to the sea. Some islets are cultivated, with huts in which the natives
rest. A few persons, such as Willi, the salt-maker, who boils down sea water to salt, and
some aged natives, live on the east side; but nearly everyone lies on the one small islet.
Transportation is by canoes across the lagoon, but one can walk between islets along the
Bird life is not abundant,
perhaps because of the many persons. Land and hermit crabs are plentiful. There are many
small green-tailed lizards, and a few of larger size which change colour from cream to
black, according to their background. Insects are abundant, with such large species as
dragonflies, two kinds of butterflies, reddish-brown sphinx moth, grasshoppers, crickets,
long-horned beetles, ants, craneflies, spiders, and, sad to relate, day mosquitoes.
Although the last of the
group to become inhabited, Fakaofu became the dominant island, due to conquests of Te
Vaka, son of the powerful chief, Kava Vasefanua, in the 17th century. The earlier
inhabitants on the other islands were destroyed, driven away, or absorbed, and the islands
recolonised by the later comers.
White men discovered Fakaofu
in January, 1841, with the arrival of the French ship Adolphe, Captain Morvan.
Immediately after, on January 28, 1841, the Peacock and Flying Fish, of
the U.S. Exploring Expedition, arrived, and named the atoll Bowditch Island. They
considered it a new discovery until they found parts of a wrecked ship, which the natives
said had been cast up two or three years earlier, and from which two men with Polynesian
names had escaped, but had later died.
The British flag was hoisted
and protectorate declared, June 20, 1889, by Captain Oldham of H.M.S. Egeria, whose
officers surveyed the island. In 1916 the Tokelau Islands, under the name Union Group,
were incorporated in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. In 1925 they were transferred
to the Administration of Western Samoa.
The only trade is the export
of a little copra and the making of native objects to sell to tourists, most
characteristic of which are circular wooden boxes with tight covers, called tuluma, and
fans trimmed with feathers.