Polynesian Tokelau aligns itself with the culture, art and language of both Samoa and Tuvalu, the latter having similar atoll-based geography. The Tokelauan lifestyle – 'Faka-Tokelau' – is focused squarely on community and family. Sharing of resources is a key societal trait. Within villages and towns, formal affairs are managed by councils of elders, local families nominating their representatives.

As in most South Pacific nations, religion plays a critical role in daily life here. Roman Catholicism is the denomination of choice, except on Atafu where most folks attend the Ekalehia Fakalapotopotoga Kelihiano Tokelau (EFKT) church. Respecting one's elders is a must in Tokelau, while violence and aggressive behaviour are absolute no-nos.


Land shortages have long forced emigration from Tokelau, and most of the country’s people live overseas, predominantly in Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. Consisting only of low-lying coral atolls rising to a maximum of 5m, Tokelau faces great risk from global warming. It is predicted that all three atolls will be uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century, though some estimates give only another 30 years. While some Tokelauans regard these predictions as overly dramatic, others foresee the end to their 1000-year-old history.

On a more positive note, Tokelau is now completely self-sufficient in its energy needs through sustainable sources. A pilot program in solar energy on Fakaofo was such a success that the people of Tokelau extended it to the other atolls. Since 2012 the islanders have been generating 150% of their energy needs form the sun, saving the NZ$829,000 the country was spending annually on imported fuels.

Jaws fans rejoice: in 2011 Tokelau declared its surrounding Exclusive Economic Zone (319,031 sq km of ocean) a sanctuary for sharks.