World Travel Guides

Niue - History

Niue History

The key to Niue's early history lies in its language, which is based on Samoan and Tongan, and contains traces of the Cook Islands' Pukapukan dialect. These Polynesian settlers arrived just over 1000 years ago, but with little inter-island trade they faced a severely isolated and somewhat difficult existence on a limestone island lacking rivers and useful soils.

Niue entered the 'modern' era in 1774, with the arrival of that most intrepid of Yorkshiremen, Captain Cook. Finding the islanders less welcoming than others he'd met on his travels, Cook dubbed the landfall Savage Island, in marked contrast with the Tongans' Friendly Islands. Cook's attempts to land were repulsed on three occasions, a fact which the friendly locals have been trying to atone for ever since. Christianity came to the island in 1846 thanks to the efforts of one of Niue's most famous sons, Peniamina, who converted to the religion whilst in Samoa.

By the end of the 19th century the islanders' conversion to Christianity was a done deal. This allowed the next stage of the colonial process to gear neatly into gear: the British decided to incorporate Niue into Queen Victoria's backyard, which back then was referred to as an empire. It's not clear exactly what the Niueans thought about this turn of events, because - as it happens - they were never asked. Asking people for their opinion is always a dangerous idea, as it may transpire that they may not like the way that you are going about things. Niue found itself a British Protectorate, and was handed over to New Zealand administration - it could have been worse, though, it could have been the Belgians. Although the Brits did them a favour in not handing them over to the Belgians, the Niueans were not particularly appreciative. For some unfathomable reason, they didn't particularly relish the idea of being lumped in with the Cook Islands group. Independence came in 1974, but Niue continues to operate in 'free association' with NZ. Free association is usually something you do with your psychiatrist, so who knows what goes on in the corridors of power. The islanders hold NZ citizenship. Niue celebrated the centenary of this free association in October 2001.

With its democratically elected legislative assembly of 20 members, Niue is the world's smallest self-governing state. The most urgent problems facing the island's legislators are establishing reliable air connections with Tonga and New Zealand, and reversing the chronic depopulation which has plagued the island since the mid-19th century, and which is rapidly becoming worse than ever. Niue's more grandiose aim is to become the IT hub of the Pacific (vying with Fiji and Tuvalu), and to promote its charms as an ecotourism destination nonpareil.

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