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Niue Travel Guide

The People of Niue

Niueans are related to the Tongans and Samoans rather than to the Tahitians. The population is about 1,600 (down from 4,000 at self-government in 1974). Another 20,000 Niueans reside in New Zealand (all Niueans are N.Z. citizens), and every year more people leave "the Rock" (Niue) to seek employment and opportunity abroad. Many of the landowners have left—you'll never see as many empty houses and near-ghost towns as you'll see here. The villages on the east coast give an idea of how Europe must have looked after a plague in the Middle Ages, as direct flights to Auckland have drained the population. Remittances from Niueans in New Zealand are an important source of income.

The remaining inhabitants live in small villages scattered along the coast, with a slight concentration near the administrative center, Alofi. After disastrous hurricanes in 1959 and 1960, the New Zealand government replaced the traditional lime-plastered, thatched-roofed houses of the people with tin-roofed "hurricane-resistant" concrete-block dwellings.

Niue has the lowest population density of any Pacific country, and at 15 per thousand, Niue's birth rate is the lowest in the Pacific. Only about a quarter of the Niueans living in New Zealand can still speak their ancestral language proficiently.

Vaiea village is unusual in the almost the entire population is from Tuvalu, a group of central Pacific atolls threatened by rising sea levels. Niue has sought Tuvalu migrants, but most stay only long enough to get New Zealand residency and move on. However, Vaiea would be dead if they weren't there.

All land is held by families. Three-quarters belong to the Ekalesia Nieue, founded by the London Missionary Society. Other churches such as the Catholics and Mormons have only a few hundred members.

There are no longer any chiefs, and lineage means little. Since the 1950s, education has been free and compulsory until the age of 14, and literacy is almost 100 percent. Two Polynesian dialects are spoken: Motu in the north and Tafiti in the south. Everyone on the island knows everyone else.

A major event for a teenage boy is his haircutting ceremony, when the long tail of hair he has kept since childhood is removed. Guests invited to the concurrent feast contribute hundreds of dollars to a fund that goes to the boy after the celebration expenses have been paid. For girls there's a similar ear-piercing ceremony. These gatherings are usually held on a Saturday in private homes; you may be invited to attend if you know someone.