Last updated
Tikopia ISS002.PNG
NASA picture of Tikopia
Solomon Islands adm location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 12°17′47.3″S168°49′55.0″E / 12.296472°S 168.831944°E / -12.296472; 168.831944
Archipelago Solomon Islands
Area5 km2 (1.9 sq mi)
Highest elevation380 m (1250 ft)
Highest pointReani
ProvinceTemotu province flag.svg  Temotu
Ethnic groups Polynesian

Tikopia is a volcanic island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It forms a part of the Melanesian nation state of Solomon Islands but is culturally Polynesian. The first Europeans arrived on 22 April 1606 as part of the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernandes de Queirós. [1]


Location and geography

Covering an area of 5 square kilometres (1.9 square miles), the island is the remnant of an extinct volcano. Its highest point, Mt. Reani, reaches an elevation of 380 metres (1,250 feet) above sea level. Lake Te Roto covers an old volcanic crater which is 80 metres (260 feet) deep. [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.

History as a Polynesian outlier

While it is located in Melanesia, the people of Tikopia are culturally Polynesian. Their language, Tikopian, is a member of the Samoic branch of the Polynesian languages. The linguistic analysis indicates that Tikopia was colonized by seafaring Polynesians, mostly from the Ellice Islands (Tuvalu).

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] 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. 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 as a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia. [5] [6] [7]

In Tikopian mythology Atua Fafine and Atua I Raropuka are creator gods and Atua I Kafika is the supreme sky god.


Tikopia and inset showing position TikopiaMap.png
Tikopia and inset showing position
An old map of Tikopia from the 1940s Tikopia historical.jpg
An old map of Tikopia from the 1940s

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 [2] (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]

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. [2] For example, around 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. [2] Tikopians have developed 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) Kafika, Tafua, Taumako and Fangarere, with Kafika recognised as the first among equals. [12]

Tikopians have a highly developed culture with a strong Polynesian influence, including a complex social structure. [2]

Field work on Tikopia by Raymond Firth

New Zealand anthropologist Raymond Firth, who lived on Tikopia in 1928 and 1929, detailed its social life. He showed how the society was divided geographically into two zones and was organized into four clans, headed by clan chiefs. [2] At the core of social life was te paito – the house inherited from male (patrilineal) ancestors, who were buried inside it. Relationships with the family grouping of one's mother (matrilateral 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 manhood ceremonies. Intricate economic and ritual links between paito houses and deference to the chiefs within the clan organization were key dimensions of island life.

Raymond Firth, who did his post-graduate anthropological study under Bronislaw Malinowski in 1924, speculates about the ways population control may have been achieved, including celibacy, warfare (including expulsion), infanticide and sea-voyaging (which claimed many youths). Firth's book, Tikopia Ritual and Belief (1967, London, George Allen & Unwin) remains an important source for the study of Tikopia culture.


The Anglican Melanesian Mission first made contact with Tikopia in 1858. A mission teacher was not allowed to settle on the island until 1907. [2] [11] Conversion to Christianity of the total population did not occur until the 1950s. [11] Administratively, Tikopia is part of the Anglican Church of Melanesia's Diocese of Temotu.

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]


On Tikopia in 1964, explorers found artifacts from the shipwreck of the expedition of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse.

Cyclone Zoe

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]

Cultural significance

Jared Diamond's book Collapse describes Tikopia as a success case in matching the challenges of sustainability, contrasting it with Easter Island.

Tikopia in media

In 2009 a double canoe closely following the original design of the traditional Tikopia canoes was donated to the island, as well as to Tikopia's sister island Anuta, in order to give the islands their own independent sea transport. This canoe called 'Lapita Tikopia' and its sistership 'Lapita Anuta' were built in the Philippines in 2008 and sailed to Tikopia and Anuta in a 5 months voyage following the ancient migration route of the Lapita people into the Pacific. This voyage was called the 'Lapita Voyage', with more information about the voyage here. Its original concept (by Hanneke Boon of James Wharram Designs) to donate such a canoe was first published in 2005 in a project called 'A Voyaging Canoe for Tikopia' in order to raise money for the building of the canoes. The project was filmed and is available as DVD.

In 2013 a Norwegian mother and father brought their two children and a nephew to Tikopia and lived there for 6 months. A film crew went along and a 13 episode children's series was made of the family experiences and stay, primarily focusing on the experiences of the young daughter of the Norwegian family, Ivi, with the local children, local school the local chief Tafua and his family, etc. The series was shown on NRK television channel NRK Super. [15]

In October 2018, the king of the island, Ti Namo, made his first visit to the western world to share his worries about climate change on his island. He went to Grenoble in France, where he presented his documentary Nous Tikopia before a national release on November 7, and declared to the press, "Before, we suffered a cyclone every ten years. Today it's every two years." [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

Polynesians form an ethnolinguistic group of closely related people who are native to Polynesia, an expansive region of Oceania in the Pacific Ocean. They trace their early prehistoric origins to Island Southeast Asia and form part of the larger Austronesian ethnolinguistic group with an Urheimat in Taiwan. They speak the Polynesian languages, a branch of the Oceanic subfamily of the Austronesian language family. The Indigenous Māori people constitute the largest Polynesian population, followed by Samoans, Native Hawaiians, Tahitians, Tongans and Cook Islands Māori

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lapita culture</span> Neolithic archaeological culture in the Pacific

The Lapita culture is the name given to a Neolithic Austronesian people and their material culture, who settled Island Melanesia via a seaborne migration at around 1600 to 500 BCE. They are believed to have originated from the northern Philippines, either directly, via the Mariana Islands, or both. They were notable for their distinctive geometric designs on dentate-stamped pottery, which closely resemble the pottery recovered from the Nagsabaran archaeological site in northern Luzon. The Lapita intermarried with the Papuan populations to various degrees, and are the direct ancestors of the Austronesian peoples of Polynesia, eastern Micronesia, and Island Melanesia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Near Oceania</span> Part of Oceania settled 35,000 years ago

Near Oceania is the part of Oceania settled 35,000 years ago, comprising Australia, New Guinea, and north-western Island Melanesia: the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polynesian outlier</span> Polynesian societies outside the main region

Polynesian outliers are a number of culturally Polynesian societies that geographically lie outside the main region of Polynesian influence, known as the Polynesian Triangle; instead, Polynesian outliers are scattered in the two other Pacific subregions: Melanesia and Micronesia. Based on archaeological and linguistic analysis, these islands are considered to have been colonized by seafaring Polynesians, mostly from the area of Tonga, Samoa and Tuvalu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fatutaka</span>

Fatutaka, Fatu Taka or Patu Taka is a small volcanic island in the Solomon Islands province of Temotu in the south-west Pacific Ocean. The easternmost of the Solomon Islands, Fatutaka is located c. 32 km (20 mi) southeast of Anuta and can be seen from there in clear weather. Fatutaka and Anuta were discovered by Admiral Edward Edwards in 1791.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taumako</span> Island in Temotu Province, Solomon Islands

Taumako is the largest of the Duff Islands, in the Solomon Islands. This 5.7-kilometre-long (3.5-mile) island has steep sides and rises to a height of 400 metres above sea level. It is composed of basaltic lavas and pyroclastics like the other islands in the Duffs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anuta</span>

Anuta is a small volcanic island in the southeastern part of the Solomon Islands province of Temotu, one of the smallest permanently inhabited Polynesian islands. It is one of the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oceanic languages</span> Subgroup of the Austronesian language family

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Further reading