Photos of Tokelau

Introduction

Background

Originally settled by Polynesian emigrants from surrounding island groups, the Tokelau Islands were made a British protectorate in 1889. They were transferred to New Zealand administration in 1925. Referenda held in 2006 and 2007 to change the status of the islands from that of a New Zealand territory to one of free association with New Zealand did not meet the needed threshold for approval.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Oceania, group of three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Geographic coordinates

9 00 S, 172 00 W

Area

total: 12 sq km

land: 12 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 241

Area - comparative

about 17 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

101 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

Climate

tropical; moderated by trade winds (April to November)

Terrain

low-lying coral atolls enclosing large lagoons

Elevation

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

highest point: unnamed location 5 m

Land use

agricultural land: 60% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 60% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 40% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

the country's small population is fairly evenly distributed amongst the three atolls

Natural hazards

lies in Pacific cyclone belt

Geography - note

consists of three atolls (Atafu, Fakaofo, Nukunonu), each with a lagoon surrounded by a number of reef-bound islets of varying length and rising to over 3 m above sea level

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Tokelauan(s)

adjective: Tokelauan

Ethnic groups

Tokelauan 64.5%, part Tokelauan/Samoan 9.7%, part Tokelauan/Tuvaluan 2.8%, Tuvaluan 7.5%, Samoan 5.8%, other Pacific Islander 3.4%, other 5.6%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 est.)

Languages

Tokelauan 88.1% (a Polynesian language), English 48.6%, Samoan 26.7%, Tuvaluan 11.2%, Kiribati 1.5%, other 2.8%, none 2.8%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 ests.)

note: shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census

Religions

Congregational Christian Church 50.4%, Roman Catholic 38.7%, Presbyterian 5.9%, other Christian 4.2%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 est.)

Net migration rate

-3.84 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 191

Population distribution

the country's small population is fairly evenly distributed amongst the three atolls

Urbanization

urban population: 0% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 0% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: NA

male: NA

female: NA (2021 est.)

Life expectancy at birth

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA (2021 est.)

Total fertility rate

NA (2021 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: rural: 100% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: rural: 0% of population

total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

2.72 physicians/1,000 population (2010)

Sanitation facility access

improved: rural: 100% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: rural: 0% of population

total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: high (2020)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea

vectorborne diseases: malaria

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Tokelau

former: Union Islands, Tokelau Islands

etymology: "tokelau" is a Polynesian word meaning "north wind"

Dependency status

self-administering territory of New Zealand; note - Tokelau and New Zealand have agreed to a draft constitution as Tokelau moves toward free association with New Zealand; a UN-sponsored referendum on self governance in October 2007 did not meet the two-thirds majority vote necessary for changing the political status

Government type

parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy

Capital

time difference: UTC+13 (18 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

note: there is no designated, official capital for Tokelau; the location of the capital rotates among the three atolls along with the head of government or Ulu o Tokelau

Administrative divisions

none (territory of New Zealand)

Independence

none (territory of New Zealand)

National holiday

Waitangi Day (Treaty of Waitangi established British sovereignty over New Zealand), 6 February (1840)

Constitution

history: many previous; latest effective 1 January 1949 (Tokelau Islands Act 1948)

amendments: proposed as a resolution by the General Fono; passage requires support by each village and approval by the General Fono; amended many times, last in 2007

Legal system

common law system of New Zealand

Citizenship

see New Zealand

Suffrage

21 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General of New Zealand Governor General Dame Patricia Lee REDDY (since 28 September 2016); New Zealand is represented by Administrator Ross ARDERN (since May 2018)

head of government: (Ulu o Tokelau) Fofo Filipo TUISANO (since 9 March 2020); note - position rotates annually among the three Faipule (village leaders) of the atolls

cabinet: Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau (or Tokelau Council) functions as a cabinet; consists of 3 Faipule (village leaders) and 3 Pulenuku (village mayors)

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; administrator appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in New Zealand; head of government chosen from the Council of Faipule to serve a 1-year term

note: the meeting place of the Tokelau Council rotates annually among the three atolls; this tradition has given rise to the somewhat misleading description that the capital rotates yearly between the three atolls; in actuality, it is the seat of the government councilors that rotates since Tokelau has no capital

Legislative branch

description: unicameral General Fono (20 seats apportioned by island - Atafu 7, Fakaofo 7, Nukunonu 6; members directly elected by simple majority vote to serve 3-year terms); note - the Tokelau Amendment Act of 1996 confers limited legislative power to the General Fono

elections: last held on 23 January 2020 depending on island (next to be held in January 2023)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - independent 20; composition - men 17, women 3, percent of women 15%

Judicial branch

highest courts: Court of Appeal (in New Zealand) (consists of the court president and 8 judges sitting in 3- or 5-judge panels, depending on the case)

judge selection and term of office: judges nominated by the Judicial Selection Committee and approved by three-quarters majority of the Parliament; judges serve for life

subordinate courts: High Court (in New Zealand); Council of Elders or Taupulega

International organization participation

PIF (associate member), SPC, UNESCO (associate), UPU

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (territory of New Zealand)

Diplomatic representation from the US

none (territory of New Zealand)

Flag description

a yellow stylized Tokelauan canoe on a dark blue field sails toward the manu - the Southern Cross constellation of four, white, five-pointed stars at the hoist side; the Southern Cross represents the role of Christianity in Tokelauan culture and, in conjunction with the canoe, symbolizes the country navigating into the future; the color yellow indicates happiness and peace, and the blue field represents the ocean on which the community relies

National symbol(s)

tuluma (fishing tackle box); national colors: blue, yellow, white

National anthem

name: "Te Atua" (For the Almighty)

lyrics/music: unknown/Falani KALOLO

note: adopted 2008; in preparation for eventual self governance, Tokelau held a national contest to choose an anthem; as a territory of New Zealand, "God Defend New Zealand" and "God Save the Queen" are official (see New Zealand)

Economy

Economic overview

Tokelau's small size (three villages), isolation, and lack of resources greatly restrain economic development and confine agriculture to the subsistence level. The principal sources of revenue are from sales of copra, postage stamps, souvenir coins, and handicrafts. Money is also remitted to families from relatives in New Zealand.

The people rely heavily on aid from New Zealand - about $15 million annually in FY12/13 and FY13/14 - to maintain public services. New Zealand's support amounts to 80% of Tokelau's recurrent government budget. An international trust fund, currently worth nearly $32 million, was established in 2004 by New Zealand to provide Tokelau an independent source of revenue.

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

4% (2020 est.)

2.5% (2019 est.)

11% (2017 est.)

note: Tokelau notes that its wide inflation swings are due almost entirely due to cigarette prices, a chief import.

country comparison to the world: 168

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$7,711,583 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars.

country comparison to the world: 228

GDP (official exchange rate)

$12.658 million (2017 est.)

note: data uses New Zealand Dollar (NZD) as the currency of exchange.

Real GDP per capita

$6,004 (2017 est.)

$4,855 (2016 est.)

$4,292 (2015 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars.

country comparison to the world: 166

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: NA

industry: NA

services: NA

Agricultural products

coconuts, roots/tubers nes, tropical fruit, pork, bananas, eggs, poultry, pig offals, pig fat, fruit

Industries

small-scale enterprises for copra production, woodworking, plaited craft goods; stamps, coins; fishing

Unemployment rate

2% (2015 est.)

note: Underemployment may be as high as 6.6%

country comparison to the world: 21

Budget

revenues: 24,324,473 (2017 est.)

expenditures: 11,666,542 (2017 est.)

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Exports

$103,000 (2015 est.)

$102,826 (2002 est.)

country comparison to the world: 222

Exports - partners

Singapore 25%, France 19%, South Africa 7%, New Zealand 5%, United States 5%, Ireland 5% (2019)

Exports - commodities

oscilloscopes, house linens, fruits, nuts, recreational boats, iron products (2019)

Imports - partners

Samoa 35%, Ireland 17%, Philippines 14%, Malaysia 13%, South Africa 9% (2019)

Imports - commodities

oscilloscopes, integrated circuits, refined petroleum, packaged medicines, orthopedic appliances (2019)

Exchange rates

New Zealand dollars (NZD) per US dollar -

1.543 (2017 est.)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 300

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 21 (July 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 220

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: modern satellite-based communications system; demand for mobile broadband increasing due to mobile services being the method of access for Internet across the region; 2G widespread with some 4G LTE service; satellite services has improved with the launch of the Kacific-1 satellite launched in 2019 (2020)

domestic: radiotelephone service between islands; fixed-line 21 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 690; landing point for the Southern Cross NEXT submarine cable linking Australia, Tokelau, Samoa, Kiribati, Fiji, New Zealand and Los Angeles, CA (USA); radiotelephone service to Samoa; government-regulated telephone service (TeleTok); satellite earth stations - 3 (2020)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

Sky TV access for around 30% of the population; each atoll operates a radio service that provides shipping news and weather reports (2019)

Internet users

total: 805

percent of population: 60.2% (July 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 226

Transportation

Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of New Zealand

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Tokelau included American Samoa's Swains Island (Olosega) in its 2006 draft independence constitution