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NIULAKITA

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Niulakita, the southern most island of the Tuvalu Group was named by Alvaro de Mendana in 1595 as La Solitaria; George Bennett, a Nantucket whaler in 1821 named it Independence; while others have called it Sophia and Rocky.  Niulakita has no lagoon and only a swamp at its centre.  Since it has never had a permanent population Niulakita was not taken into account in the naming of the Tuvalu Group. 

There is a story that a man named Kaunatu of Nui was taking a group of travellers between Nui and Vaitupu.  Kaunatu ordered that the sails be lowered and that they learn new dancing songs for their arrival.   While they were practising these songs they drifted off course, to the south, until one day they saw an unnamed island.  Kaunatu commented that the island was useless, nevertheless, the passengers shouted that they wished to go ashore as they were starving.  They said it would be better to die on land than at sea.

Landing, they rushed to the pukavai trees and dug holes in them to get water.  Even so, one man, named Kaeula died soon afterwards.  They buried him and planted their last coconut at the head of his grave; where it quickly grew into a tree.  Then, before they left, Kaunatu named the island Niulakita, after a place of that name on Nui.  Today the island is rich in coconuts.

In 1946 a Lands Commissioner, A.O. Lake toured the group and discovered that Niutao had the highest population density.  To relieve the pressure on the land, he suggested to the old men of the island that some of their people could go to Tonga or, if they preferred, they could exploit Niulakita. They chose to go to Niulakita. 

The first group of Niutao workers, with their wives and children, was sent to Niulakita in 1949 to cut copra.  When they arrived they found some Vaitupu people there; these Vaitupu people subsequently returned home. 

Consequently, a different approach relevant to the unique genealogy of Niulakita will be adopted.  This is because the genealogy of Niulakita does not go back to the extent that it does for the other islands in the Tuvalu Group. 

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Captain Davis visited Niulakita on 4th August 1892 and made the following observation: "Stopped off Island August 4th 1892. Too much sea on to effect a landing in ship's boats.  No canoe put off.   Several natives appeared on the beach, and hoisted up an American ensign.   After waiting some time off Island, I proceeded on our course".         

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 29th June 2008)