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Niue Travel Guide

History of Niue

Niue was colonized by the Samoans in the 9th or 10th century A.D., then Tongans invaded in the 16th century. The present Niuean language is related to both.

Captain Cook made three landings in 1774, but he got a hostile reception from warriors with red-painted teeth! Cook called it Savage Island (as opposed to the Friendly Islands, Tonga), a name still heard from time to time.

In 1830, the redoubtable missionary John Williams was also thrown back by force. A Samoa-trained Niuean named Peniamina managed to convert some of the islanders to Christianity in 1846, but it was a series of Samoan pastors, beginning in 1849, who really implanted the faith on the island. This paved the way for the first resident English missionary, George Lawes, who arrived in 1861.

Much of the early hostility to foreigners was motivated by a very real fear of European diseases.

The islanders' reputation for ferocity had always kept the whalers away, but then in the 1860s came the Peruvians and Bully Hayes, who was able to entice Niuean men to leave their island voluntarily to mine phosphate for years at a time on distant Malden Island.

Mataio Tuitonga was made king in 1876 and his successor, Fataaiki, appealed to Britain for protection. Finally, in 1900, Niue was taken over by the U.K. and a year later transferred to New Zealand.

Government of Niue

In 1959, the appointed Island Council was replaced by an elected Legislative Assembly (Fono Ekepule). Niue became internally self-governing in free association with New Zealand on October 19, 1974.

The Assembly has 20 elected members who meet in the impressive Fale Fono in Alofi. The premier is elected by the Assembly from its own ranks by a show of hands. The premier in turn chooses three cabinet ministers from among the Assembly members. Local government is provided by the 14 village councils elected every three years.

The Last King of Niue: Togia
Togia, the last king of Niue, addressing a gathering in 1903.
© Auckland Institute and Museum

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