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Music & Dance

The style of Tokelauan music and dance we know today is thought to have originated from Tuvalu, but has been adapted into the 'acculturated fatele' practiced throughout the world.

The music of Tokelau is dominated by communal choral activity in harmony, with percussive accompaniment including log drums (pate), pokihi (wooden box) and apa (biscuit tin).

Certainly the crew of an 1843 US vessel noted the use of the pate or slit drum on their visit to Tokelau.  Pokihi (mat covered boxes) are also widely used.

Ethnologist Gordon MacGregor wrote in 1937 that very few ancient dances are remembered in Tokelau. Their performance was forbidden by the early missionaries, and they were soon forgotten. 

This section of the Matauala website covers some common terms, instruments and shows examples of Tokelauan music and dance through videos from a variety of sources. 

The Atafu Tokelau Community Group does not claim copyright to many of the videos featured here.  Videos from YouTube have been embedded on the basis that there are no copyright issues given the embedding function is available or no specific mention of copyright/permissions required in the video description.

Source: Wikipedia.

Songs & Drums of Tokelau - Part 1

Old record "Tuaoi o Samoa - Songs and Drums of the Tokelau Atolls", produced by Samoa Records in the 1960's - digitized, this is Side 1.

Maua Ituau Matagi  3:47

Taja Koru 7:27

Through the Narrow Reef Opening 10:31

A Farewell Song  21:11

Courtesy of  George Hastings

Songs, Dance and Instruments

The venue, which is popular for holding music and dance performances, is known as fiafia or festival held at the meeting house where villagers congregate and the music groups arrange themselves according to their village affiliation known as faitu (sides or halves). The performances are held in an atmosphere of fun and humor and are conducted till the elders in the group order it be stopped.


Pehe are songs of Tokelau, while pehe anamua are ancient songs; hiva are dances. Together, they are popular forms of music in Tokelau. The best-known form of traditional music is fatele, a dance performed at many community gatherings and events. Each song begins with a stanza that is repeated up to a half-dozen times, followed by increased pitch and tempo near the end of the piece. This tradition is shared with the music of Tuvalu. Fetele is a song form which is an abridged and fascinating song rendering of compositions which are situation specific and sung to the text format. The community is usually aware of the singer's capability in composing and rendering such songs. The experienced composer and singer of these songs is known as "pulotu". One such pulotu who is popular among the public is Ihaia, who is not only a singer but also carpenter and fisherman, with oratory skills blended with humour.


Siva is another form of song and dance which is played to soft music which is akin to the Hawaiian hula. In this form hand and arm expressions are synchronized with expressive eye movements. The men perform war dances which is called the men's siva. Older women also perform siva and challenge the palagis (local name for westerners) and the Pago Samoans to dance with them. Other forms of song and dance include hake, a line dance with sticks; hiva hahaka, an action song which is sung with a seated chorus; mauluulu, a seated group dance with men and women performers; tafoe, which is danced with spinning foes (canoe paddles); and upaupa or opaopa, which is performed by women and includes an element of comedy.

Fakanau are fishing songs. Hoa are sung with lead and answering voices; tuala, wedding processions songs, are a form of hoa. Mako (love songs) are sung by an individual and include sexual or emotional phrasing. Pehe lagilagi is sung in four-part harmony while seated. Tagi are songs within tales. Funeral songs include the vale (memorial) and haumate (laments).


Drums called pasu or pabu were present in 1841 at the time of the United States Exploring Expedition, but are no longer used or even remembered. Considered unusual for Western Polynesia, the instrument was cylindrical in frame, upright in its playing position, crafted of shark's skin, and beaten with two sticks. Slit-gongs, known as lala or lali, were also described in 1841. They were created from a hollow log and struck with a heavy beater. A smaller version of slit gongs was known as kaulalo. Another smaller slit drum, the pate was used with handclapping or pati (slapping) during taualuga dancing. Weaving boards (papa or papafailalaga) are struck with thin sticks and produce a brittle sound. Beaten with sticks, moega (rolled mats) are used as accompaniment during mauluulu dancing. Plywood is used for crafting the pokihi, a mat-covered box; it accompanies the fatele dance. Other instruments used in Tokelau are the utete (Jew's harp), fagufagu (flute), pu (shell trumpet), ligoligo (leaf whizzer), pu (leaf oboe), and fagufagu (slit tubes).

Source: Wikipedia, Music of Tokelau

Songs & Drums of Tokelau - Part 2

Old record "Tuaoi o Samoa - Songs and Drums of the Tokelau Atolls", produced by Samoa Records in the 1960's - digitized, this is Side 2.

Courtesy of George Hastings

Tokelau Easter Tournament 1988
Tokelau dance
Tokelau Tournament held in Taupo
Tokelau Tournament 1982 Lower Hutt