Tradition has it that the first occupants of Nanumaga was Lapi who came originally from Tonga by canoe. It is said that he brought two wives with him, one Samoan and one Tongan. Some time later a sea-goddess named Mohi visited the island and was dismayed to find footprints in the sand. She went in search on the intruder and soon came upon Lapi. After learning where he came from, Mohi decided to let him stay. They eventually became fond of each other and finally decided to live together To do this Mohi promised Lapi that she would never go back and live under the sea and would become a human like him by renouncing her spirit status. They had four children. The three eldest were boys, named Tuimalae, Pulakainavaka and Talatafolau. The youngest, Hauimalae, was their only daughter. These are the legendary ancestors of the people of Nanumaga.
Before they died Lapi and Mohi left a "will" allocating specific functions to each of their children. This did not work so the children decided to set up four clans - one for each of them - within the one society. As the eldest son and head of the family, Tuimalae was recognized as King of the island. His title was changed to aliki or chief after Samoan pastors arrived in the group in the 1860's. The people belonging to Tuimalae became the clan of Mouhala. The people belonging to the second eldest son, Pulakainavaka became the clan of Magatai. The youngest son Talatafolau was made the warrior of the island and was required to defend it against invaders. His clan was called Magomahi. The fourth clan, that of Hauimalae was called Kalava.
Besides the clans, two large social groups called Tonga (south) and Tokelau (north) have also been formed on the island. Membership of each group is determined by residence on one side or other of the village square. People are more loyal to their clans than to either of these groups.
Captain Davis visited Nanumaga on 27th July 1892. He recorded the name of the King or Chief as Neko. There were no traders on the island and the native population was given as 373.