Atafu, formerly known as the Duke of York Group, is a group of 52 coral islets within Tokelau in the south Pacific Ocean, 500 kilometres (310 miles) north of Samoa.[1] Covering 2.5 square kilometres (1.0 square mile), it is the smallest of the three islands that constitute Tokelau, and is composed of an atoll surrounding a central lagoon, which itself covers some 15 km2 (5.8 sq mi). The atoll lies some 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of the equator at 8° 35' South, 172° 30' West.

Atafu street dawn 20070715
Dawn in the main street
Atafu is located in Pacific Ocean
Location of Atafu in the Pacific Ocean


According to the 2016 census 541 people officially live on Atafu (however just 413 were present at census night).[2] Of those present, 78% belong to the Congregational Church.[3] The main settlement on the atoll is located on Atafu Island at the northwestern corner of the atoll. The Presbyterian church was established on the island in 1858, but today almost all of the residents belong to the Congregational Christian Church.[3] The first village on Atafu was established at the southern end of the islet, and residents built houses along the lagoon shore to receive the cooling trade winds.

The men on Atafu are highly skilled at fishing, and they use many traditional methods that are passed on from fathers to sons. They make very effective lures, fish traps, nets, and seines, and noose fishing is still common.[4] They also make well-crafted canoes, which are important vehicles for their fishing expeditions.


Satellite image of Atafu

Atafu lies in the Pacific hurricane belt. In January 1914, a massive storm demolished the church and most of the houses on the islands, and wiped out many of the coconut palms.[5]

The atoll is roughly triangular in shape and encloses a lagoon some five kilometres (3.1 miles) north to south by four kilometres (2.5 miles) east to west at its widest point. It is low-lying, reaching a maximum altitude of only some five metres (16 feet), and is heavily vegetated with coconut palms and other trees, with undergrowth similar to that found on many small central Pacific islands. Lizards, rats, and seabirds are common on Atafu island.[5] The atoll attracts a wide variety of fish in large numbers.

The eastern side of the lagoon is a nearly continuous thin strip of land with one small break halfway along its length. In contrast, the western side is composed of reef and several distinct islands, notably the inverted V shape of Atafu Island in the north, Alofi, which extends into the lagoon from the western reef, and the L-shaped Fenualoa in the southwest. The smaller Tamaseko Island lies in the lagoon close to Alofi.

The reef which connects the islands of the atoll is shallow enough that it is possible to walk between the islands at low tide. This also means that there is no boat passage to the lagoon, although the ocean becomes deep very close to the reef. This allows for good anchorage, but also makes for rough seas close to the reef. The flatness of the atoll and its location within the tropical cyclone belt has led to damage to island properties on occasion.


  1. Fogalaki i Lalo
  2. Fogalaki-Matangi (Fogalaki i Matagi)
  3. Te Oki
  4. Te Hepu
  5. Laualalava
  6. Te Kapi
  7. Na Utua
  8. Motu Atea
  9. Motu Fakalalo
  10. Tama Hakea
  11. Hakea Lahi ki Matagi
  12. Hakea O Himi
  13. Malatea
  14. Kenakena
  15. Malo o Futa
  16. Motu o Te Lakia
  17. Komulo
  18. Hakea o Apelamo
  19. Na Hapiti
  20. Niuefa
  21. Fenualoa
  22. Te Puka
  23. Tamaheko
  24. Te Alofi
  25. Tulua a Kovi
  26. Tagi a Kuli
  27. Hakea o Himi
  28. Tulua a Kava
  29. Motu o te Niu
  30. Malatea
  31. Hakea o Hoi
  32. Hakea o Fata
  33. Kenakena
  34. Matu o Tenumi
  35. Matu o te Lakia
  36. Motu Fakaka kai
  37. Malo o Futa
  38. Malo o Futa
  39. Motu o te Fala
  40. Tafega
  41. Komulo
  42. Hakela Lahi i Lalo
  43. Hotoma
  44. Hakea o Apelamo
  45. Na Hapiti
  46. Niuefa
  47. Fenualoa
  48. Te Puka
  49. Tamaheko
  50. Te Alofi
  51. Ulugagie
  52. Atafu Village


Tokelau Atafu vaka canoe. 20070715
A traditional canoe or vaka

It is likely that Polynesians visited the island in ancient times, but they may not have settled there. The European discovery of the atoll came on 21 June 1765, by John Byron, of HMS Dolphin. Byron found no-one living on the island at that time,[4] and he named the island "Duke of York's island".[6] Atafu was established by Tonuia and his wife Lagimaina, along with their seven children.[7]

Between 1856 and 1979, the United States claimed that it held sovereignty over the island and the other Tokelauan atolls. In 1979, the U.S. conceded that Tokelau was under New Zealand sovereignty, and a maritime boundary between Tokelau and American Samoa was established by the Treaty of Tokehega.

On 26 August 2007, the attempt by Ralph Tuijn to row from South America to Australia crashlanded on Atafu.[8] On 26 November 2010, three teenage boys from Atafu were rescued after drifting 1,300 km (800 mi) for 50 days in the Pacific.[9][10]

See also


  1. ^ Tokelau Government
  2. ^ "2016 Tokelau Census atoll profiles" (PDF).
  3. ^ a b "2016 Final data tables" Retrieved 13-07-2017
  4. ^ a b "Atafu". Council for the Ongoing Government for Tokelau. Archived from the original on 15 August 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2008.
  5. ^ a b Atafu Island on
  6. ^ *Quanchi, Max (2005). Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Pacific Islands. The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810853957.
  7. ^ Ethnology of the Tokelau Islands, Gordon MacGregor, 1937
  8. ^ "Zeeman Ocean Challenge". Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  9. ^ Field, Michael (27 November 2010). "Boozy teens' midnight trip goes 1300km astray". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  10. ^ "Joy in Tokelau over rescue of missing teenagers". Radio New Zealand International. 27 November 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2010.

External links

Coordinates: 8°33′06″S 172°30′03″W / 8.55167°S 172.50083°W

2007 Tokelauan self-determination referendum

A referendum on self-determination was held in Tokelau on 20 October and on 22–24 October 2007, with the result being that self-governance was rejected. Had it been successful, the referendum would have changed Tokelau's status from an unincorporated New Zealand territory to a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, akin to the Cook Islands and Niue. However, the referendum required a two-thirds positive vote to pass, and the "yes" side fell short of the required total by 16 votes.The referendum was open to Tokelauans aged 18 or older, with 789 people eligible to vote. A majority of two-thirds of voters was necessary for the referendum to be accepted.After the narrow failure of the first such referendum in 2006, it was decided that another referendum would be held late the following year. Tokelau's leaders believe that concerns among Tokelauan expatriates were a factor in the failure of the 2006 referendum, even though they were not eligible to vote, and assured them that they would not lose their rights to return to Tokelau if the 2007 referendum had passed. There were 23% more people eligible to vote in the 2007 referendum than in the previous year's.The schedule was:

20 October: Apia, Samoa (overseas voting). 63 votes cast.

22 October: Fakaofo

23 October: Nukunonu

24 October: AtafuHad the proposal succeeded, a date would have been set, most likely in mid-2008, for the "day of self government". However, the proposal failed again by an even smaller margin — 16 more "yes" votes would have been needed to approve it. It is possible that the issue will be voted on again in the future; the leader of the largest group of overseas Tokelauans (the Tokelauan community in the Hutt Valley in New Zealand) Henry Joseph called for another vote within two years, with the required approval being changed to a simple majority.

2017 Tokelauan general election

General elections were held in Tokelau between 23 and 31 January 2017.

Constitutional history of Tokelau

The constitutional history of Tokelau comprises several acts and amendments. Tokelau comprises the three Pacific atolls of Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo. The constitutional history of the atoll group dates to its earliest human settlement of at least 1,000 years, much of this time involved an unwritten and oral tradition. It has been governed by many written acts and rules of governance since 1887. The history of Tokelau's laws has been recorded in Tokelau Subdelegated Legislation 1877–1948 and is also published by the Tokelau Law Project.

Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau

The Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau is an executive council in Tokelau. It serves as the governing organization for Tokelau when the General Fono is not in session. The council has six members, consisting of the faipule (leader) and pulenuku (village mayor) of each of the three atolls, Fakaofo, Nukunonu, and Atafu. It was established in November 2003, replacing the Council of Faipule, which had been established in 1993 and had three members – the three faipule.

Cyclone Percy

Cyclone Percy was the seventh named storm of the 2004–05 South Pacific cyclone season and the fourth and final severe tropical cyclone to form during the 2004–05 South Pacific cyclone season. Cyclone Percy originated as a tropical disturbance on February 23. Over the course of the next few days, the system organized while moving east-southeastward, before intensifying into a Category 1 tropical cyclone on the Australian region scale on February 26. The system quickly intensified, reaching Category 4 status later that day. On the next day, Percy was steered southward by a blocking ridge of high pressure, while stretched out the structure of the storm into an elliptical shape, weakening it back to Category 3 status. Afterward, the storm rapidly reintensified, reaching its peak intensity as a Category 5 tropical cyclone on March 2. Afterward, Percy encountered increasing wind shear and weakened once again, turning southeastward on the next day. On March 5, Percy transitioned into an extratropical storm, before dissipating soon afterward.

Percy was also the most damaging of the South Pacific February cyclones that year, as it battered the Cook Islands, which were still recovering from the impacts of Cyclones Meena, Nancy and Olaf. Percy then devastated the island of Tokelau, leaving many homeless and millions in dollars in property damages (although exact damage figures are unavailable). Because of warnings in anticipation of the storm, there were no deaths and there were only a few injuries.

Education in Tokelau

There are three schools in the whole of Tokelau. Each school is located on each of the three atolls. Tialeniu School is on the atoll of Fakaofo, the most southern of the three islands. Matiti School is on Nukunonu, while Matauala School is on the island of Atafu (the northern most island of the three).

The schools have levels or classes running from Early Childhood Education (ECE) right through to Year11. At Year11, students are required to sit a national examination. This examination is used to determine which students will continue Year12 studies under the Tokelau Scholarship Scheme. The successful students commence Year12 and 13 studies in Samoa.

Schools are under the administration of the Taupulega's (Village council). The Education Department plays a supporting role in providing training and workshops for Principals and teachers, assisting in other developments with the schools, the setting and marking of the Year11 National Examinations and so forth.

Head of Government of Tokelau

The office of head of government of Tokelau (Ulu-o-Tokelau), often simply called the Ulu, rotates yearly between the faipule (leaders) of Tokelau's three atolls: Atafu, Fakaofo, and Nukunonu. The current Ulu is Kelihiano Kalolo, the Faipule of Atafu atoll, who has held the position since March 2019.

There have been 28 Ulus of Tokelau from 1993, when the office was established, to 2019.

Kerisiano Kalolo

Aliki Kelihiano Kalolo, also commonly referred to as Kelihiano Kalolo, is a Tokelauan politician who served as the Head of the Government of Tokelau, or Ulu, from February (or March?) 2012 to February (or March?) 2013 and again since 12 March 2019. He is a member of the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, serving as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Education, Economic Development, Natural Resources and the Environment, prior to and then simultaneously to his leadership of the government. The office of Ulu rotates on an annual basis between the faipule of each of the country's three atolls; Kalolo, as faipule of Atafu, took office as Ulu for the first time in 2012.As Ulu, he oversaw the replacement of Tokelau's old ship, the MV Tokelau, which was considered no longer to be safe and seaworthy, with the newer, custom-built PB Matua, provided by New Zealand. In June 2012, Kalolo sacked his Minister for Transport, Foua Toloa, over the latter's insistence that the MV Tokelau was still seaworthy, and New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully's indication that the New Zealand government could not work with Toloa. Toloa's portfolios (Finance, Telecommunications, Energy and Transport) were taken over by the Ulu.Kalolo also oversaw the small country's transition from diesel-powered energy to solar energy, implemented by a New Zealand company.In September 2012, he was appointed Chancellor of the regional University of the South Pacific. Prior to becoming Ulu, he had served as the University's co-ordinator in Tokelau.His term as Ulu ends or ended in March 2013; his successor is Salesio Lui, the faipule of Nukunonu.

Kuresa Nasau

Kuresa Nasau is a Tokelauan politician who has served as head of government (Ulu o Tokelau) seven times. He is also faipule of Atafu. Many feel his success as leader of Tokelau is attributed to his religious background and lack of candidates running for Head of Government of Tokelau Terms of office as Ulu o Tokelau:

1992–February 1993

February 1995–February 1996

February 1998–February 1999

February 2001–February 2002

February 2007–February 2008

22 March 2010 – 11 March 2011

February 2014 – 23 February 2015

Languages of Tokelau

Tokelau has two official languages: Tokelauan and English. Over 90% of the population speaks Tokelauan, and just under 60% speak English. Also, 45.8% of the population speak Samoan, and small percentages of the population speak Tuvaluan and Kiribati.

List of villages in Tokelau

This is a list of the main villages on the coral islands of Tokelau. There are no bigger settlements in Tokelau.

Music of Tokelau

The music of Tokelau occurs in the atolls of Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo. It is dominated by communal choral activity in harmony, with percussive accompaniment including log drums (pate), pokihi (wooden box) and apa (biscuit tin). Nukunonu is notable for traditional song and dance.

Patuki Isaako

Patuki Isaako is a Tokelauan political figure.

Politics of Tokelau

The politics of Tokelau takes place within a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic dependency. The head of state of Tokelau is Queen Elizabeth II in right of her Realm of New Zealand, who is represented by an Administrator (as of 2018, Ross Ardern). The monarch is hereditary, the Administrator is appointed by the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The head of government is Kelihiano Kalolo, who presides over the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, which functions as a cabinet. The Council consists of the faipule (leader) and pulenuku (village mayor) of each of the three atolls. The office of head of government rotates between the three faipule for a one-year term.The Tokelau Amendment Act of 1996 confers legislative power on the General Fono, a unicameral body. The number of seats each atoll receives in the Fono is determined by population — Fakaofo and Atafu each have eight and Nukunonu has seven. Faipule and pulenuku (atoll leaders and village mayors) also sit in the Fono.

Religion in Tokelau

The vast majority of people in Tokelau are Christians and Christianity plays a significant role in the Tokelauan way of life.

Smoking in Tokelau

Smoking in Tokelau is prevalent, with ethnic Tokelauans having the highest smoking prevalence of all Pacific ethnicities. In the 2011 Tokelau Census, 47.8% of people aged over 15 were found to be regular cigarette smokers.


Tokelau (; previously known as the Union Islands, and officially as Tokelau Islands until 1976; lit. "north-northeast") is a dependent territory of New Zealand in the southern Pacific Ocean. It consists of three tropical coral atolls (Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo), with a combined land area of 10 km2 (4 sq mi). The capital rotates yearly between the three atolls. Tokelau lies north of the Samoan Islands, east of Tuvalu, south of the Phoenix Islands, southwest of the more distant Line Islands, and northwest of the Cook Islands. Swains Island is geographically part of Tokelau, but is subject to an ongoing territorial dispute and is currently administered by the United States as part of American Samoa.

Tokelau has a population of approximately 1,500 people, the fourth-smallest population of any sovereign state or dependency. As of the 2016 census, around 45% of residents were born overseas, mostly in Samoa and New Zealand. The nation has a life expectancy of 69, comparable with other Oceanian island nations. Approximately 94% of the population speak Tokelauan as a first language. Tokelau has the smallest economy in the world, although it is a leader in renewable energy, being the first 100% solar powered nation in the world.Tokelau is officially referred to as a nation by both the New Zealand government and the Tokelauan government. It is a free and democratic nation with elections every three years. However, in 2007 the United Nations General Assembly included Tokelau on its list of non-self-governing territories. Its inclusion on the list is controversial, as Tokelauans have twice voted against further self-determination and the islands' small population reduces the viability of self-government. The basis of Tokelau's legislative, administrative and judicial systems is the Tokelau Islands Act 1948, which has been amended on a number of occasions. Since 1993, the territory has annually elected its own head of government, the Ulu-o-Tokelau. Previously the administrator of Tokelau was the highest official in the government and the territory was administered directly by a New Zealand government department.

Tokelauan language

Tokelauan is a Polynesian language spoken in Tokelau and on Swains Island (or Olohega) in American Samoa. It is closely related to Tuvaluan and is related to Samoan and other Polynesian languages. Tokelauan has a co-official status with English in Tokelau. There are approximately 4,260 speakers of Tokelauan, of whom 2,100 live in New Zealand, 1,400 in Tokelau, and 17 in Swains Island. "Tokelau" means "north-northeast".Loimata Iupati, Tokelau's resident Director of Education, has stated that he is in the process of translating the Bible from English into Tokelauan.

Tokelauan was a commonly spoken language until about twenty years ago. Of the 4600 people who speak the language, 1600 of them live in the three atolls of Tokelau – Atafu, Nukunono and Fakaofo. Approximately 3000 people in New Zealand speak Tokelauan, and the rest of the known Tokelauan speakers are spread across Australia, Hawaii, and the West Coast of the United States. The Tokelauan language closely resembles the Samoan language.

Treaty of Tokehega

The Treaty of Tokehega (full title: Treaty between the United States of America and New Zealand on the Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Tokelau and the United States of America 1980) is a 1980 treaty between New Zealand and the United States that delineates the maritime boundary between Tokelau and American Samoa.The treaty was signed in Atafu on 2 December 1980. It specifies the ownership of certain islands and creates a boundary of seven straight-line maritime segments defined by eight individual coordinate points. The treaty was signed shortly after the United States resolved its boundary dispute with the Cook Islands by agreeing to the Cook Islands – United States Maritime Boundary Treaty.

The treaty states that the United States has sovereignty over Swains Island. This island, known to many in Tokelau as Olohega, gives its name to the second half, "hega," of the treaty's name. The first half, "Toke," comes from Tokelau.

The treaty came into effect on 3 September 1983 after it was ratified by both states.

Atolls of Tokelau


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