Country Profile - Niue
With a population of less than 2,000 people, the economic challenges Niue faces are common to other small island states within the region. Geographic isolation, limited natural resources and a small population hamper economic development.
Fishing, agriculture and tourism are economic mainstays and the island attracts whale-watchers, divers and yachting enthusiasts. The international lease of Niue's unique, four-digit telephone numbers are important income earners for the country. Remittances from Niuean’s living abroad also supplement the income of island families.
Niue’s history falls into four defined periods: pre-Christianity, Christianity, the Colonial era and self-government. In the past, the documentation of Niue’s history was primarily oral and passed down through the generations. Only since the period of New Zealand governance has a great deal of literature been compiled on Niue’s history.
Oral tradition and legends speak of the first settlement by two gods, Huanaki and Fao, together with the Fire Gods from Fonuagalo, the ‘Hidden Land’.
Some authorities believe that the island was settled during two principal migrations, one from Samoa in the first century AD, and one from Tonga in the 16th century, with a smaller migration from Pukapuka in the Cook Islands.
Britain’s Captain James Cook sighted the island in 1774, but he was unable to land there due to fierce opposition by the local population.
British missionaries arrived in the 19th century. The pioneering missionary John Williams wafted by safely in 1830, and in 1846 the London Missionary Society (LMS) secured a Christian presence on Niue through Peniamina, a Niuean who converted to Christianity while in Samoa.
In 1900, Niue became a British colony and in 1901 came under New Zealand administration.
On 19 October 1974, Niue became a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand.
In 2004, Cyclone Heta devastated Niue and nearby Tonga and American Samoa.
Niue’s oral history says there were five gods: Fao, Huanaki, Lageiki, Lagiatea, and Talimainuku (Fakahoku). They left their land and discovered a small reef in the ocean – Niue.The gods bailed water off the reef and emptied it into caverns. More and more dry land emerged, until the reef was big enough to live on. One of the gods, Fao, brought humans to Niue. Some Niueans say he had two children, Avatele and Malotele. Others believe he went to Fonuagalo and brought back a couple whose names were Avatele and Kavatele.
Traditional dances and songs are featured at important events such as weddings and official ceremonies. Niuean women are known for their artistry and skill with weaving and the traditional vaka – canoe – is still used to source food from the ocean.
A Niuean’s ‘coming of age’ ceremony is an important part of the culture. For boys, this is marked by their first haircut (hifi ulu), when the long tail of hair that he has kept since childhood is removed. For girls, it is an ear-piercing ceremony (huki teliga). Symbolically marking role transitions, these ceremonies involve the donation of cash or gifts to the celebrants. The gifts are reciprocated by an elaborate and public presentation of feast foods.
Niue’s head of state is Queen Elizabeth II and the premier is Sir Toke Talagi, who has served two terms. Niue’s parliament is the Niue Assembly and consists of 20 members (14 constituency or ‘village’ seats, and six ‘common roll’ seats) elected every three years by universal suffrage. The 20 members elect a premier, who then selects three cabinet ministers. Assembly members currently all serve as independents. The members appoint a speaker from outside their ranks.
The most recent Niue general election was held on 6 May 2017. Candidates supportive of Premier Sir Toke Talagi’s government won 15 of the 20 seats and the Niue Assembly re-elected him as premier. Sir Toke has been in office since 2008.