called Nukunonu) or Duke of Clarence Island is the center atoll of the Tokelau or Union
group. According to the charts it lies 546 to 554 nautical miles north of the
equator, 45 miles southeast of Atafu, and 35 miles W.N.W. of Fakaofu (now called Fakaofo).
Gordon Macgregor states that it is 60 miles N.W. of Fakaofu, and that local ship captains
say the map position is from 14 to 16 miles too far east, as they have to make a
correction accordingly when laying a course for the island. However, this may be due to
the swift and variable ocean currents in the vicinity, it being thought that the charts
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.
The island is a
low coral atoll, the reef of which shaped like a conventional shield, measuring 8 miles
north and south by 7 miles greatest width. Along this reef are scattered 24 islets. Nine
of these, including the largest, which is nearly 4 miles long by 1/4 to 1/3 mile wide, are
on the eastern side; another 9 are on the west, and the remaining 6, all small, are on the
south. There are no islets on the north, which is a bare reef, awash at low tide.
The atoll is
said to have a land area of 1,350 acres. Most of the islets are covered with groves of
coconut palms and low trees and shrubs, of kinds listed for Atafu. The sea birds, hermit
crabs, rats, and insects are thought to be about the same as on other similar central
Pacific islands; and there is abundant marine life about the fringing reef, and in the
shallow lagoon, which contains reefs and coral heads.
in the enchanting sounds of the sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to
you in 64kbps FM Stereo!
Macgregor obtained 92 place names on the atoll, 60 of which were on the largest islet,
which does not have an individual name. The names on the above map are from his list.
The village of
Nukunono is on the southwest side, on the south end of the second largest islet of the
atoll. There is only one well, and because of this lack of adequate water supply, the
population has always been relatively small, in 1925 numbering 227. When the well dries up
and there is no rain, the natives must rely on coconuts to drink. All of the inhabitants
are Roman Catholics, and their church is a conspicuous structure just northwest of the
There is no
anchorage, and no passage leads through the reef to the village. The sea here is not so
rough, and the native canoes jump the reef. Formerly there was a passage through to the
lagoon, but this was filled by a hurricane. In 1914 another hurricane made a deep cut
through the southern end of Nukunono islet, forming the little islet of Motusanga.
trade winds blow over the Tokelau Islands for more than half the year, from March to
October, keeping the temperature from becoming too high, despite the direct rays of the
tropical sun. During the balance of the year, which is their summer, the winds are from
the north or variable, with calms, during which it is hot. The rainfall may exceed 100
inches some years, but is usually less. It comes from daily showers, during the trade wind
season, and occasional tropical storms. From the end of November to March the rainfall may
be light, with periods of drought; but this is the hurricane season, and there may be
torrential downpours in these months.
currents change with the seasonal winds. During the trade wind period the set is from east
to west, with a drift which may reach several knots. In midsummer (December or January)
the current changes, coming from the north, running southeastward, about parallel to the
line of the three islands, turning eastward of Fakaofu.
inhabited at an early date by a Polynesian people of fine physique, according to
tradition, which states that they furnished the first settler of Fakaofu with a wife. All
but a few of these early people were destroyed or driven away by conquerors from Fakaofu,
under a chief named Te Vaka, about 1650. The rest became subject to Fakaofu, and were
gradually absorbed by its people.
account of European contact was the discovery, June 12, 1791, by Captain Edward Edwards,
of H.M.S. Pandora, British naval frigate in search of mutineers of the Bounty.
He called the atoll Duke of Clarence Island. Lieutenant Paulding visited it on the
American ship Dolphin, October 29, 1825. The Peacock and Flying
Fish, of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, visited the atoll January 28, 1841; surveyed
the coast, but did not land. All three of the Tokelau islands were claimed by American
guano companies, but there is no record of their having made use of them.
Catholic religion was taken to Nukunono, before 1858, by a native convert, named Justin,
who had been for some years with the Mission in Samoa. His simple teaching so inspired the
natives that many went to Samoa to learn more and to be baptised. When the ship John
Williams, of the London Missionary Society, visited the island in 1858, they found
the people already converted to Catholicism, and went on to Atafu. In 1863, Father Ellory
of Samoa visited Nukunono and found Justin virtually a chief, and the inhabitants
Christians, but in great fear of raids by South American vessels, kidnapping natives as
labourers. So many were taken that by 1868 only 80 of the inhabitants were left, most of
The British flag
was hoisted and protectorate proclaimed June 21, 1889, by Commander Oldham, of H.M.S. Egeria.
The island was mapped by the British vessel Goldfinch in 1896. From 1916 to 1925
it was administered from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (now Kiribati and Tuvalu).
Since 1925 the Administration of Western Samoa, a New Zealand mandate, has had charge.
All of the
government in the Tokelau Islands is handled by native officials. Each island has a
magistrate (faipule), a mayor (pulenu'u), a chief of police and one or two policemen
(leoleo). About once a year a member of the Native Office of Samoa visits the islands to
attend to the most important matters.
Each village has
a native council (fono), of which the magistrate is head. These men determine all matters
of village government and policy. The women have a committee, presided over by the
pastor's wife, which inspects daily the sanitation of the houses and the health of small
children. Each village has a nurse, and there is a native medical practitioner for the
group, with hospital at Atafu.
Much of this
material has been condensed from Gordon Macgregor's "Ethnology of Tokelau
Islands," B.P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 146, 1937.