Oct 192016


In a document dated 19 October 1901, the “King” and Chiefs of Niue consented to “Queen Victoria taking possession of this island.” A dispatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies from the Governor of New Zealand referred to the views expressed by the Chiefs in favor of “annexation” and to this document as “the deed of cession.” A British Protectorate was declared, but it was short-lived because Niue had already been brought within the boundaries of New Zealand on 11 June 1901 by the same Order and Proclamation that annexed the Cook Islands. The Order limited the islands to which it related by reference to an area in the Pacific described by co-ordinates, and Niue (19.02 S., 169.55 W) is within that area. So here we have a colonial paradox well worth exploring more fully. Niue is a rare case of a sovereign state willing to be annexed as a colony of an imperial nation, even though that willingness was largely irrelevant to what had already taken place.


Niue was settled by Polynesians from Samoa around 900 CE. Further settlers arrived from Tonga in the 16th century. Until the beginning of the 18th century, there was no national government or national leader on the island. Chiefs and heads of families exercised authority over segments of the population. Around 1700, the concept and practice of kingship appear to have been introduced through contact with the Tongan settlers. A succession of patu-iki (kings) ruled thereafter, the first of whom was Puni-mata. Tui-toga, who reigned from 1875 to 1887, was the first Christian king.

The first European to sight Niue was Captain James Cook in 1774. He made three attempts to land but was refused permission to do so by the inhabitants. He named the island “Savage Island” because, as legend has it, the natives who “greeted” him were painted in what appeared to be blood. The coloring on their teeth was hulahula, a native red banana. For the next couple of centuries, Niue was known as Savage Island until its original name, Niuē, which translates as “behold the coconut,” regained use.

The next notable European visitors were from the London Missionary Society, who arrived in 1846 on the “Messenger of Peace.” After many years of trying to settle a European mission, a Niuean named Nukai Peniamina was taken to Samoa and trained as a Pastor at the Malua Theological College. Peniamina returned as a missionary with the help of Toimata Fakafitifonua. He was finally allowed to settle in Uluvehi Mutalau after a number of attempts in other villages had failed. The chiefs of Mutalau village allowed him to stay and assigned over 60 warriors to protect him day and night at the fort in Fupiu.


Christianity was first taught to the Mutalau people before it was spread to all the villages, many of which had originally opposed the introduction of Christianity and had sought to kill Peniamina. The people from the village of Hakupu, although the last village to receive Christianity, came and asked for a “word of god,” hence, their village was renamed “Ha Kupu Atua” meaning “any word of god”, or “Hakupu” for short.

In 1889, the chiefs and rulers of Niue, in a letter to Queen Victoria, asked her “to stretch out towards us your mighty hand, that Niue may hide herself in it and be safe.” After expressing anxiety lest some other nation should take possession of the island, the letter continued: “We leave it with you to do as seems best to you. If you send the flag of Britain that is well; or if you send a Commissioner to reside among us, that will be well.” The offer was not initially taken up by the British. In 1900 a petition by the Cook Islanders asking for annexation included Niue “if possible.” Therefore the separate petition by Niue was unnecessary and the annexation of the Cook Islands included Niue. Of course, Niue and the Cook Islands did not want to be colonies but saw the writing on the wall. All of the South Pacific was being swallowed up by colonial powers which the various islands were unable to resists. So, Niue and the Cook Islands decided to take control of the situation and choose their colonial master rather than having one chosen for them.


Self-government was granted to Nuie by the New Zealand parliament in 1974 constitution, following a referendum in 1974 whereby Niueans were given three options: independence, self-government, or continuation as a New Zealand territory. The majority selected self-government and Niue’s written constitution was promulgated as law. Robert Rex, ethnically part European, part native, was appointed the first premier, a position he held until his death 18 years later. Rex was the first Niuean to receive a knighthood, in 1984.


Niue is one of the world’s largest coral islands. The terrain consists of steep limestone cliffs along the coast with a central plateau rising to about 60 metres above sea level. A coral reef surrounds the island, with the only major break in the reef being in the central western coast, close to the capital, Alofi. A notable feature is the number of limestone caves found close to the coast.


The island is roughly oval in shape (with a diameter of about 18 kilometers), with two large bays indenting the western coast, Alofi Bay in the centre and Avatele Bay in the south. Between these is the promontory of Halagigie Point. A small peninsula, TePā Point (Blowhole Point), is close to the settlement of Avatele in the southwest. Most of the population resides close to the west coast, around the capital, and in the northwest.


Some of the soils are geochemically very unusual. They are extremely highly weathered tropical soils, with high levels of iron and aluminium oxides (oxisol) and mercury, and they contain high levels of natural radioactivity. There is almost no uranium, but the radionucleides Th-230 and Pa-231 head the decay chains. This is the same distribution of elements as found naturally on very deep seabeds, but the geochemical evidence suggests that the origin of these elements is extreme weathering of coral and brief sea submergence 120,000 years ago. Endothermal upwelling, by which mild volcanic heat draws deep seawater up through the porous coral, may also contribute.


Agriculture is very important to the Niuean economy, and around 204 square kilometers of the land area are available for agriculture. Subsistence agriculture is very much part of Niue’s culture, where nearly all the households have plantations of taro. Taro is a staple food, and the pink taro now dominant in the taro markets in New Zealand and Australia is established as an intellectual property of Niue. This is one of the naturally occurring taro varieties on Niue, and has a strong resistance to pests. The Niue taro is known in Samoa as “talo Niue” and in international markets as pink taro. Niue exports taro to New Zealand. Tapioca or cassava, yams and kumara also grow very well,[45] as do different varieties of bananas. Coconut, meat, passionfruit, and limes dominated exports in the 1970s, but by 2008 vanilla, noni and taro were the main export crops.

Most families grow their own food crops for subsistence and sell their surplus at the Niue Makete in Alofi, or export to their families in New Zealand. Coconut crab, or uga, is also part of the food chain; it lives in the forest and coastal areas. In 2003, the government made a commitment to develop and expand vanilla production with the support of NZAID. Vanilla has grown wild on Niue for a long time. Despite the setback caused by the devastating Cyclone Heta in early 2004, work on vanilla production continues. The expansion plan started with the employment of the unemployed or underemployed labor force to help clear land, plant supporting trees and plant vanilla vines. The approach to accessing land includes planning to have each household plant a small plot of around half to 1-acre (0.40 ha) to be cleared and planted with vanilla vines. There are a lot of planting materials for supporting trees to meet demand for the expansion of vanilla plantations, but a severe shortage of vanilla vines for planting stock. There are of course the existing vanilla vines, but cutting them for planting stock will reduce or stop the vanilla from producing beans. At the moment, the focus is in the areas of harvesting and marketing.

Current plantations are mostly filled with manioc, taro and breadfruit, but banana trees can be found. The wide range of exotic plants in Niue includes taros, papayas, coconuts, bananas, yams, cassavas and breadfruits, and all are intensively used in the local cuisine. The most significant ingredient in Niue’s recipes are fish and vegetables. Fish is eaten roasted, grilled, raw, and in soups or stews. Main fish species include tuna (ahi), dolphinfish (mahi mahi), parrot fish (pakati), barracuda (ono), coconut crabs and crayfish.


Nane Pia is one of the few food specialties of the island. It is a translucent porridge made from arrowroot and coconut, and has a thick slimy texture. This is exactly the kind of dish I really don’t like partly because of the bland taste and partly because of the texture. Niue arrowroot is Maranta arundinacea which grows abundantly, and the rhizome is used to make a starchy flour. Arrowroot flour is reasonably easily obtained in Western health food markets. I use it as a thickening agent, but it can be made into puddings. I don’t have a recipe for Nane Pia, but this one that I have concocted will work even though it is not authentic. It makes two or three servings, and is meant to just give you the proportions and the idea. On Niue Nane Pia is a staple eaten with fish and other vegetables. Westerners would probably like it better as a pudding which would mean adding a little sugar.

Nane Pia


2 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tbsp grated coconut


Put the 2 tablespoons of arrowroot and 100 ml of cold water in a bowl. Whisk thoroughly to form a batter and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of water over medium heat in a pan and add the coconut. Simmer and stir for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.

Boil 100ml of water in a separate pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the arrowroot batter and the coconut. Simmer the mixture very slowly, stirring constantly until it has thickened.

If it were me, the next step would be to throw it out and eat something else. If you have got this far and are still interested, serve the porridge warm in a bowl to accompany fish or vegetables. Alternatively you can sweeten with some cane sugar and serve it cold as a dessert.

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