Tokelau has a new Ulu (titular head), Faipule Afega Gaualofa.
This year it was Fakaofo’s turn to lead the remote Pacific country that comprises 3 atolls with about 1,400 inhabitants, just south of the equator.
To partake in the annual celebrations, Tokelauans had arrived from the other islands Nukunonu and Atafu, as well as from Apia in Samoa where the national public service is based. For this event, a delegation from Wellington was also present in this non-self-governing territory of New Zealand.
On the previous day, the Ulu o Tokelau for 2015, Faipule Siopili Perez from Nukunonu had been welcomed in a traditional challenge by Fakaofo warriors. Everyone was hiding until the peaceful intentions of the visit had been ascertained.
Morning celebrations started with the national anthem. “Tokelau mo te Atua” (Tokelau with God) being sung by children of the Tialeniu school while members of the police force raised the flag. Locals and visitors then gathered in the meeting hall Fakafotu where the minister of the protestant EFKT church, Reverend Mose Kelesoma, led in opening sermon and prayer.
The Tokotoko, the Tokelau staff of authority, was brought in and handed from the 2015 Ulu Perez, to the 2016 Ulu Gaualofa who proceeded to take the Oath. Congratulatory speeches were then delivered by one senior (“grey hairs”) representative, hauatea, of the taupulega of each nuku (council of each village).
The outgoing Ulu o Tokelau Perez took the stand for his hand-over speech. He firstly acknowledged the support from the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Mr Murray McCully.
Faipule Siopili Perez commented with pride on some of the things that had been achieved during his one-year term, such as granting more scholarships for Tokelauan students than ever before. All schools now have their own satellite dish for distance learning with the University of the South Pacific (USP).
The new ship “Mataliki” had just been received as a gift from the NZ Government. This event was of course the result of many years of planning, negotiation and hard work. Further options of improving transport options would continue to be explored, he said. In all cases, it was “Safety first”.
The World Health Organisation had awarded Tokelau a special prize for being the first country to ban soft drinks. This move had been led by Fakaofo and soon followed by Nukunonu and Atafu. The main aim was to fight Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD), and work has now begun to eliminate smoking from Tokelau in the next 5 years.
He acknowledged that thanks to New Zealand support, free to air TV was now available in Tokelau and options for a mobile network were being investigated and close to reality.
Tokelau must ensure that optimum profit from its Exclusive Economic Zone is achieved, despite this now being a lot more challenging: because the United States had defaulted on its Treaty.
Faipule Perez thanked the Office of the Council for continuing to deliver its services, particularly in guiding Public Servants in its main goal: improving the Quality of Life for people in Tokelau.
He asked forgiveness for where he had failed to represent the people – presumably referring to Tokelau’s withdrawal from the COP21 Climate Change conference in Paris in November 2015.
He then wished his successor all the best in his new position and pledged him his continued support.
The Acting Administrator, Ms Linda te Puni delivered a speech on behalf of the New Zealand Government. She thanked outgoing Ulu o Tokelau Siopili Perez for working together in the past year and looked forward to working with the newly sworn-in Ulu o Tokelau Afega Gaualofa.
Mrs Maria Reijnen Clayton then presented gifts from the New Zealand Government: to the outgoing Ulu o Tokelau a waka huia, a treasure box to safe-keep the wisdom he gained during his term; and to the inaugurated Ulu o Tokelau a taiaha, a ceremonial spear as an encouragement to take up the challenge of the new office.
Groups from Atafu, Nukunonu, kaiga (family) and Fakaofo in their uniform island coulors then presented their many gifts.
The new Ulu o Tokelau Afega Gaualofa and his wife Kilita, plus the mayor of Fakaofo, Pulenuku Mose Pelasio and his wife, Suia, were showered with handicrafts in the form of woven hats fans, and mats; carved wooden paddles, fishing nets, plus garlands of money. They were also wrapped in long lengths of cloths, while each of the gifting groups performed traditional songs and dances.
Finally the inaugurated Ulu o Tokelau 2016, Faipule Afega Gaualofa thanked everyone and concluded these proceedings with his statement. He emphasised there would be no change in direction from the previous year, but wanted to strengthen the development path already taken. Quality of Life was the main issue, with maintaining the unity of family and community the key to that, he said.
“Let’s keep things simple and focus on our priorities; and let’s do so in a doable and sustainable way so we can raise the Quality of Life for the people of Tokelau – and keep together as a people.” He then declared the General Fono open: this is the Parliament session that takes place three times a year and was to start the next day.
Guests were then invited to move to the next item on the agenda: the local launching of the ship Mataliki. A delegation of officials was taken by barge to the ship drifting at some distance from the atoll, as it cannot actually be moored within the fringe reef of the islands. On board ship, the former Ulu o Tokelau 2015 repeated his thanks to the New Zealand government and emphasised this was the result of a long process. The deacon from Nukunonu, Salesio Lui, delivered a prayer inside the passenger area and blessed the Mataliki with holy water.
People then moved to the passenger deck to witness the breaking of a coconut each by one hauatea (grey hairs) from each of the villages – the Tokelau alternative to breaking a bottle of champaign! The Captain and his crew were presented with traditional gifts and everyone then returned ashore for a buffet lunch while being entertained by students of school years 7 to 11 and from USP. This took place in Papa, where the old hospital site had been redeveloped into a modern dining and entertainment area during the last year.
The days’ celebrations concluded with an evening of cultural dances by the three village teams. For almost three hours they enjoyed themselves while entertaining the guests with intricate, ever faster and rowdy traditional dances. It was another long day to remember in Tokelau.