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Niue is a South Pacific island country located south of American Samoa, southeast of Wallis and Futuna, east of Fiji, northeast of Tonga, and west of the Cook Islands. Its land area is just over 100 square miles, and its population fewer than 2,000.

Governmentally, Niue is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, which handles most diplomatic relations on its behalf. Island residents are New Zealand citizens, and up to 95% of its people currently reside in New Zealand. Niue is not a member of the United Nations but it is recognized by the UN, and the country does participate in certain UN agencies, such as UNESCO and the World Health Organization.

Niue Island is one of the largest coral islands and one of the world's smallest self-governing states. Formed by volcanic upheavals, the island's coastline rises 100 feet straight out of the ocean, giving it a nickname, "The Rock." The island has 14 villages, all situated on a narrow terrace encircling the island. The southeast portion of the island has been set aside as a conservation area hosting a primary forest.

The island has no surface water suitable for drinking, so rainwater is collected in tanks as run-off from roofs. Agriculture is difficult due to its terrain, which consists of a think layer of fertile soil surrounding jagged limestone pinnacles. Hurricanes hit the island every seven years on average, causing significant damage. Niue has no protective reefs or lagoons. Its capital, Alofi, is the only place where a wharf could be built. Until recently, cargo ships had to anchor in deep water off-shore, transferring goods to the island by barge.

The population of Niue has never been large, probably peaking at about 5,000. Its current problem is one of depopulation rather than overpopulation. Due to difficult living situations on the island, outmigration has been significant, and the country's resident population has declined every year since 1970. The proportion of its population who are children has declined at a higher rate than the population at large. English and Niuean are the official languages of Niue, but nearly half the population speaks only Niuean. Very few outsiders reside on the island, but those who do are well tolerated, although competition for jobs can lead to resentment.

Having no strategic trade significance, Niue was not annexed by any of the European powers until 1900, long after most of the Pacific islands. Nevertheless, there were contacts. On attempting to land in 1774, Captain James Cook was forcefully repelled by parties of men shouting and displaying spears. After attempts to land in three different locations, Cook left the island, referring to it as "Savage Island." After that, there were no recorded contacts with Europeans for about fifty years and, on that occasion, Niueans killed the crew of a whaling ship seeking to trade for food and water. Having no strategic trade significance, Niue was not annexed by any of the European powers until 1900, long after most of the Pacific islands.

In 1830, John Williams attempted to evangelize the island. Unable to persuade missionaries to stay, he kidnapped two Niue youths in order to educate and evangelize them. When they were returned several months later, they were not well received. One of them was killed, along with his father. Soon it was found that they had not only brought the gospel to the island, but also syphilis and a form of influenza that killed several islanders. The surviving youth left for Samoa, where he became a servant of a missionary. Along with another Niuean, who accompanied him, he became a missionary. After several attempts, the Niueans, who were educated in Samoa, were accepted on the island, and many were converted to Christianity. Today, Christianity is the primary religion on the island, with various Protestant denominations predominant.

Over the next few decades, Christian missionaries largely controlled the island, even establishing a police force. From time to time, islanders were captured and taken to lands as far away as Peru to work as slaves. Others grew tired of the rules imposed by the missionaries and took passage on visiting ships to Fiji, Queensland, Samoa, Tahiti, and other places. Some settled, while others returned. Others, who remained on the island, became increasingly hostile toward the Church, while many of those who had been converted became lukewarm, particularly after discovering how wealthy the Church was.

Fearing reprisals, the missionaries petitioned to the British government for protection. In 1899, Niue and other islands were put under the control of Great Britain, while Samoa was left to the Germans. In 1900, Sir Basil Thomson was sent to raise the British flag on Niue, and the Governor of New Zealand declared British sovereignty over Niue. After a period of rule by New Zealand, Niue became self-governing in 1974.



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