A thousand years ago Tokelau's three islands existed as independent societies with their own chiefs, occasionally feuding and often inter-marrying.

From 1765 into the 1800s, several seafaring expeditions visited the islands, including ships from Britain and the USA, but it wasn't until French and British missionaries stated arriving in 1845 that there was any in-house European influence here. Tragically, Peruvian slave traders raided the islands in 1863 and shanghaied most of the male population, many of whom subsequently died of smallpox and dysentery. Tokelau's population took many decades to recover.

Tokelau officially fell under the protective auspices of Britain in 1877, until the territory became part of New Zealand in 1949. In the 2000s, two referendums on a shift to self-governance narrowly failed to get across the line – for now, Tokelau remains part of NZ.