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Title: Tikopia  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Cyclone Zoe, Solomon Islands, Russell Islands, Rennell Island, January 2003
Collection: Islands of the Solomon Islands, Polynesian Outliers
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


NASA picture of Tikopia.

Tikopia is a small high island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Covering an area of 5 square kilometers (2 sq. mi.), the island is the remnant of an extinct volcano. Its highest point, Mt. Reani, reaches an elevation of 380 meters (1,247 ft) above sea level. Lake Te Roto covers an old volcanic crater which is 80 metres (260 ft) deep.[1]

The first Europeans arrived on the 22nd of April of 1606 as a part of the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós.[2]

Tikopia's location is relatively remote. It is sometimes grouped with the Santa Cruz Islands. Administratively, Tikopia belongs to Temotu Province as the southernmost of the Solomon Islands. Some discussions of Tikopian society include its nearest neighbour, the even tinier island of Anuta.


  • A Polynesian outlier 1
  • Population 2
  • Field work on Tikopia by Raymond Firth 3
  • Christianity 4
  • Shipwreck 5
  • Cyclone Zoe 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9
  • Further reading 10

A Polynesian outlier

While it is located in the Melanesia region of the Pacific the people of Tikopia are culturally Polynesian. Tikopia is therefore a Polynesian outlier. The linguistic analysis indicates that Tikopia was colonized by seafaring Polynesians, mostly from the Ellice Islands. In Tikopian mythology Atua Fafine and Atua I Raropuka are creator gods and Atua I Kafika is the supreme sky god.

The time frame of the migration is not precisely identified but is understood to be some time between the 10th century to the mid-13th century.[3] Although the arrival of the voyagers in Anuta could have occurred later. The pattern of settlement that is believed to have occurred is that the Polynesians spread out from Tonga and other islands in the central and south eastern pacific islands. During pre-European-contact times there was frequent canoe voyaging between the islands as Polynesian navigation skills are recognised to have allowed deliberate journeys on double-hull sailing canoes or outrigger canoes.[4] The voyagers moved into the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.[5][6][7]


Tikopia and inset showing position
An old map of Tikopia from the 40's

The population of Tikopia is about 1,200, distributed among more than 20 villages mostly along the coast. The largest village is Matautu on the west coast,[1] not to be confused with Mata-Utu, the capital of Wallis and Futuna. Historically, the tiny island has supported a high-density population of a thousand or so. Strict social controls over reproduction prevented further increase.[8][9] Unlike most of the Solomon Islands, the inhabitants are Polynesians, their language, Tikopian, is a member of the Samoic branch of the Polynesian languages and is generally referred to as a Polynesian outlier.

Tikopians practice an intensive system of agriculture (which has been compared to permaculture), similar in principle to forest gardening and the gardens of the New Guinea highlands. Their agricultural practices are strongly and consciously tied to the population density.[1] For example, around A.D. 1600, the people agreed to slaughter all pigs on the island, and substitute fishing, because the pigs were taking too much food that could be eaten by people.[1] Tikopians have develop rituals and figurative constructions related to their fishing practices.[10]

Unlike the rapidly Westernizing society of much of the rest of Temotu Province, Tikopia society is little changed from ancient times. Its people take great pride in their customs, and see themselves as holding fast to their Polynesian traditions while they regard the Melanesians around them to have lost most of theirs.[11] The island is controlled by four chiefs (ariki) Kifika, Tafau, Taumako and Fangarere, with the ariki Kifika recognised as the first among equals.[12]

Tikopians have a highly developed culture with a strong Polynesian influence, including a complex social structure.[1]

Field work on Tikopia by Raymond Firth

  • Baldwin, James, Across Islands and Oceans, specially chapter 8. Tikopia Unspoilt (Amazon Kindle Book)
  • Firth, Raymond, The Work of the Gods in Tikopia, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press (1940, 1967)
  • Firth, Raymond, SOCIAL CHANGE IN TIKOPIA. Re-Study of a Polynesian Community after a Generation, London: Allen and Unwin. 1959, 360 pages
  • Firth, Raymond (2006). Tikopia Songs: Poetic and Musical Art of a Polynesian People of the Solomon Islands. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton; Yen, D.E (1982), Tikopia; The Prehistory and Ecology of a Polynesian Outlier, Honolulu, Hawaii: Bishop Museum Press,  
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton (1983), Mangaasi-style ceramics from Tikopia and Vanikoro and their implications for east Melanesian prehistory, Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin 3:67-76 
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton (1986), Tikopia: tracing the prehistory of a Polynesian culture, Archaeology 39(2):53-59 
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton (1986), Exchange systems and inter-island contact in the transformation of an island society: The Tikopia case, P. V. Kirch, ed., Island Societies: Archaeological Approaches to Evolution and Transformation, pp. 33-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton; D. Steadman and D. S. Pahlavan (1990), Extinction, biogeography, and human exploitation of birds on Anuta and Tikopia, Solomon Islands, Honolulu, Hawaii: Occasional Papers of the Bishop Museum 30:118-153 
  • Kirch, Patrick Vinton (1996), Tikopia social space revisited, J. Davidson, G. Irwin, F. Leach, A. Pawley, and D. Brown, eds., Oceanic Culture History: Essays in Honour of Roger Green, pp. 257-274. Dunedin: New Zealand Journal of Archaeology Special Publication 
  • Macdonald, Judith (1991). Women of Tikopia. Thesis (PhD - Anthropology) University of Auckland. 
  • Macdonald, Judith (2000). "Chapter 6, Tikopia and “what Raymond Said”". Ethnographic Artifacts: Challenges to a Reflexive Anthropology (PDF). University of Hawaii Press: edited by S. R. Jaarsma, Marta Rohatynskyj. 
  • Macdonald, Judith (2003). "Tikopia". Volume 2, Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures. Springer: edited by Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember. pp. 885–892. 

Further reading

  • [2] (The Island of Tikopia. HTV International/Channel 4 UK 1984) Early documentary film for UK television by Krov and Ann Menuhin. Part of the series of South Seas Voyage.
  • Flaskepost fra stillehavet (Message in a Bottle from the Pacific Ocean) A children's television program produced by NRK about a Norwegian family that spends a year living on the Island.
  • An essay on Tikopia, prepared for the BBC
  • BBC photo essay, from the aftermath of Cyclone Zoe Despite the overwhelming devastation and the greatest fears, no one on Tikopia was killed in the disaster.
  • Tools and practical help after the cyclone
  • Restoring the freshwater lagoon of Tikopia
  • Solomon Islands - John Seach a Tour Site but with information on each of the islands
  • older detail map

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Tikopia". Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia 1893-1978. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Kelly, Celsus, O.F.M. La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo. The Journal of Fray Martín de Munilla O.F.M. and other documents relating to the Voyage of Pedro Fernández de Quirós to the South Sea (1605-1606) and the Franciscan Missionary Plan (1617-1627) Cambridge, 1966, p.39, 62.
  3. ^ Kennedy, Donald G. (1929). "Field Notes on the Culture of Vaitupu, Ellice Islands". Journal of the Polynesian Society 38: 2–5. 
  4. ^ Bellwood, Peter (1987). The Polynesians – Prehistory of an Island People. Thames and Hudson. pp. 39–44. 
  5. ^ Bellwood, Peter (1987). The Polynesians – Prehistory of an Island People. Thames and Hudson. pp. 29, 54.  
  6. ^ Bayard, D.T. (1976). The Cultural Relationships of the Polynesian Outiers. Otago University, Studies in Prehistoric Anthropology, Vol. 9. 
  7. ^ Kirch, P.V. (1984). "The Polynesian Outiers". Journal of Pacific History 95 (4): 224–238.  
  8. ^ a b c Macdonald, Judith (1991). Women of Tikopia. Thesis (PhD - Anthropology) University of Auckland. 
  9. ^ Resture, Jane. "Tikopia". Solomon Islands. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Firth, Raymond (1981). "Figuration and symbolism in Tikopia fishing and fish use". 37 (72 & 73) Journal de la Société des Océanistes, pp219-226. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c Macdonald, Judith (2000). "Chapter 6, Tikopia and “What Raymond Said”". Ethnographic Artifacts: Challenges to a Reflexive Anthropology (PDF). University of Hawaii Press: edited by S. R. Jaarsma, Marta Rohatynskyj. pp. 112–13. 
  12. ^ Macdonald, Judith (2003). "Tikopia". Volume 2, Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures. edited by Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, Springer. pp. 885–892. 
  13. ^ "Tikopia project". help save a civilization. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c Baldwin, James. "Excerpt from the book ‘Across Islands and Oceans’". Tikopia Island: A little-known outpost of traditional culture in the South Pacific. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 


See also

Cyclone Zoe in December 2002 devastated the vegetation and human settlements in Tikopia.[13][14] Despite the extensive damage, no deaths were reported, as the islanders followed their traditions and sheltered in the caves in the higher ground. The narrow bank that separated the freshwater lagoon from the sea was breached by the storm, resulting in the continuing contamination of the lagoon and the threatened death of the sago palms on which the islanders depend for survival.[14] A remarkable international effort by "friends of" the island, including many yacht crews who had had contact with Tikopia over the decades, culminated in the construction in 2006 of a gabion dam to seal the breach.[14]

Cyclone Zoe

Near Tikopia in 1964, modern explorers found the shipwreck of the expedition of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse.


The introduction of Christianity resulted to the banning of traditional birth control,[8] which had the consequence of a 50% increase of the population: 1,200 in 1920 to 1,800 in 1950. The increase in population resulted in migration to other places in the Solomon Islands including in the settlement of Nukukaisi in Makira.[8]

The Melanesian Mission (Anglican) first made contact with Tikopia in 1858. A mission teacher was not allowed to settle on Tikopia until 1907.[1][11] Conversion to Christianity of the total population did not occur until the 1950s.[11]


Raymond Firth speculates about the ways population control may have been achieved, including celibacy, warfare (including expulsion), infanticide and sea-voyaging (which claimed many youths).

houses and deference to the chiefs within the clan organization were key dimensions of island life. paito. Intricate economic and ritual links between manhood ceremonies relations) were also very important. The relations between a mother's brother and his nephew had a sacred dimension: the uncle oversaw the passage of his nephew through life, in particular, officiating at his matrilateral) ancestors, who were buried inside it. Relationships with the family grouping of one's mother (patrilineal - the house inherited from male (te paito At the core of social life was the [1]

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