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The Southern Pacific Ocean country of Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand. The country is made up of three coral atolls: Nukunonu, Fakaofo, and Atafu, which together have a land area of about four square miles. Its capital rotates annually between the three atolls. Tokelau is north of Samoa, its nearest neighbor, northeast of the Fiji Islands, and east of Tuvalu. New Zealand is 2,580 miles to the south. Swain's Island is geographically part of the Tokelau chain, but it is under US control and administered as part of American Samoa.

Tokelau is situated near the center of the three atolls. Nukunonu is east-southeast and Atafu is northwest of Nukunonu.

Nukunonu is the largest atoll in Tokelau. It consists of thirty islets with a lagoon in the center. The main population center of the atoll is on Nukunonu Island, at the southwestern edge of the lagoon. A concrete bridge joins the two main areas of settlement. Residents of the island grow coconuts and pandanus, and depend on marine life to balance their diet. Freshwater is scarce, and shipping is difficult due to inadequate anchorage. There are one resort and a hotel on the island, but tourism is not strongly promoted. More than 95% of its residents are Catholic.

Once known as Bowditch Island, Fakaofo is composed of sixty-one islets that encircle an enclosed lagoon. The main settlement on the atoll is on Fale Isle, which is near the western portion. Its inhabitants grow bananas, breadfruit, coconuts, pandanus, and taro. Approximately 70% of the people on Fakaofo belong to the Congregational Church, while just over 20% are Catholic.

Atafu is the smallest of the three atolls in Tokelau, with a land area of about one square mile. It has an enclosed lagoon surrounded by nineteen islets. Freshwater is scarce, so islanders use a system of catching and storing rainwater. Coconuts grow on the island, and islanders depend heavily on marine life for their diet. Although it is likely that the island was visited by Polynesians residing in the neighboring islands, they do not seem to have settled there. No one was living on the island when it was discovered by the crew of the HMS Dolphin in 1765. John Byron, the British Navy officer in command of the ship, named it Duke of York's Island. The United States claimed sovereignty over the atoll from 1856 to 1979. Today, nearly all Atafu islanders belong to the Congregational Church.

Most of the original vegetation in Tokelau has been supplanted by coconut plantations, some of which have been abandoned.

It is believed that Tokelau was settled about a thousand years ago, and functioned independently while maintaining social ties and trading with one another, although there were conflicts between the atolls.

Peruvian slave traders came in 1863 and took away nearly all of the able-bodied men on the islands, and very few returned. During this time, European and American immigrants settled on the islands, some taking local islanders as wives, and repopulating the islands. In 1877, Britain took authority over the islands in an Order that claimed jurisdiction over all unclaimed islands in the Pacific. The Union Flag was raised at all three of the atolls in 1889, making the group a British protectorate, and they were annexed as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1916 and put New Zealand administration. In 1949, they became part of New Zealand.

Today, Tokelau is within the realm of New Zealand, which has responsibility for the country's defense, but Tokelau is mostly self-governing. The head of state is the Queen, who is represented by an administrator who presides over an elected Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, which serves as a cabinet. Villages are entitled to enact their own laws to regulate their everyday lives. Crime is rare, and there are no prisons. Instead, offenders are usually publicly rebuked, fined, or made to work.

The economy of Tokelau is the smallest of any other country, and its government is almost wholly dependent on aid from New Zealand. The country imports three times as much as it exports, with New Zealand paying for the cost of education and healthcare. Most of the country's electrical needs are produced through photovoltaics, with a small portion generated from coconut oil.

Tokelau has a radio telephone service between the islands and to Samoa. Each atoll has a radio broadcast station that airs weather and shipping reports, and every household has access to a radio. The government publishes a newsletter that is circulated between the atolls. There is no airport in Tokelau, although seaplanes can land in its lagoons. Access to the country is accomplished mostly by boat, and its reef system makes landing difficult. The country owns a ship that makes regular trips to Samoa, but the trip from Apia takes a little over a day.

 

 

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