The Niue Culture, Customs and Traditions
“Taoga Niue” or the culture of Niue means everything to a Niuean. The inhabitants of the small remote island in the South Pacific take pride in their traditions. From cultural traditions passed down by their forefathers to religious beliefs, there are many interesting aspects of the Niuean culture not only to be aware of as a visitor to respect the local protocol but to enjoy and experience for yourself. There are no tourist “culture villages” in Niue, where what you see and experience is the true and authentic way of life in the South Pacific.
Ways to Experience the Niuean Culture in Niue
Immersing in the local culture while visiting Niue is extremely effortless. Here are just some of the ways travellers experience the Niuean culture while in Niue:
- Go on a Niuean plantation tour with A5 Plantation Tours
- Learn about uga hunting with Taue Uga Tours
- Take part in one of the other cultural tours, such as Misa’s Nature Tour or the Ebony Rainforest Tour
- Mingle with the locals at the Niue Market
- Watch the ladies at work at the Wednesday weaving group in Makini Hall
- Try Niuean cuisine at an umu buffet night at the Hio Cafe or the Scenic Matavai Resort
- Experience the wonderful singing at a Sunday church service
- Go to a village show day
- Visit the Taoga Niue National Museum
- Learn to paddle a vaka on the Taue Vaka Tours.
Find out more about each experience in the 10 Best Ways to Experience the Niue Culture.
Niuean Traditional Events and Celebrations
Niueans have a deep respect for traditions passed on from generation to generation. One of the ways Niueans showcase their traditional values is through community events and celebrations, as well as events in individuals’ lives. Some cultural traditions observed today include:
A haircutting ceremony is when a teenage boy gets his long tail of hair removed that he has grown since childhood. The ceremony is a big event with a large number of guests and family members. Highlights of the event include a large feast and gifting money to the boy, which will go to him after the ceremony costs have been paid.
Ear Piercing Ceremony
The girls’ equivalent to the haircutting ceremony, young girls get their ears pierced for the first time since birth. Typically, an ear is pierced by a representative from each side of the girl’s parent family. The girl is given gifts and well wishes for the future.
Village Show Days
Each village in Niue has an annual Village Show Day, showcasing the crops, fish and uga harvested by locals. It also includes playing contemporary and traditional games, displaying handicrafts, local food for sale and just all-around fun. Check out What are the Village Show Days in Niue? for more information.
A day usually around the New Year where everyone on the island decorates their vehicles or other transport and drives around the island making noise and throwing out sweets and lollies to each village. Learn more about the celebration in our guide, Niue New Year: What is Takai in Niue?
One of Niue’s most unpredictable events, the Kaloama Season is when Niueans fish for juvenile goatfish. The event can last anything from two weeks to a month, typically occurring between February and March. Note that some sea tracks are closed during the Kaloama Season. You’ll find all the information you need in our guide, What You Need to Know About the Kaloama/Goatfish Season in Niue.
For more events to check out, see the 10 Biggest Events in Niue.
Niuean Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts have been part of the Niuean lifestyle for centuries, traditionally to make practical items, but nowadays, visitors to the island find the handicrafts as beautiful souvenirs to take home.
Girls in Niue learn to weave from an early age, but it becomes more of a craft and mastery for older women on the island who meet for weaving groups and use weaving as a social experience. Many women in Niue are accomplished weavers, typically making practical items, such as placemats, coasters, bowls, baskets, hats, fans and more. Visitors can see a women’s weaving group in Alofi’s Makini Hall every Wednesday, while the Scenic Matavai Resort hosts a weaving session with local women on a Monday for guests to try out weaving for themselves. Woven items are also on sale in some of the gift shops and the Niue Market.
Another common handicraft in Niue is kahoa hihi, a necklace made out of yellow snail (hihi) shells found in the island’s forests. Women go out into the forests to collect these tiny yellow shells to make attractive necklaces and garlands out of them.
Vaka are traditional outrigger canoes, still used to this day by local fishermen. Making them requires incredible carving skills. While carving by men has been passed on from generation to generation, young boys are now introduced to carving through the local school curriculum. You will see vaka down many of the sea tracks in Niue. Vaka tours are also available with Taue Vaka Tours, which you can learn more about in the 5 Best SUP, Vaka & Kayak Tours in Niue.
Niuean Food and Drink
Feasts and traditional food is important to the locals, especially for special events such as a haircutting ceremony or a village show day! As a Polynesian culture, one of the food staples is food prepared in an underground oven, called an umu. Locals are also fans of spitroasts, with the best coming complete with a suckling pig. Umu nights can be experienced on Thursdays at the Scenic Matavai Resort and the Hio Cafe & Bar. Bookings are essential.
Traditional Meals and Food Items
Meals in Niue typically include traditional ingredients, such as taro, cassava, breadfruit, shellfish, fish and the local delicacy uga (coconut crab). Although there are hundreds of chickens roaming the island, they are not your typical chickens for cooking and require a slow-cooking process in an umu to make “Moa Niue”.
Niuean buffet nights, umu nights, village show days and occasionally the Niue Market allow visitors to try some of the traditional meals of Niue. One thing to try if you have the chance is nane, a Niuean porridge made from coconut and arrowroot. Other meals to try include Takihi, Povi Masima, Faikai Ika, Pitako and more.
For more meals to look out for on the menu, check out the 8 Unique Foods in Niue You Have to Try.
Niuean Food Products and Souvenirs
Niue is famous for producing a few popular food products on the island. One is Niue’s legendary honey, said to be made by the world’s cleanest bees. It is the only honey from overseas that you can take back with you to New Zealand, as long as you get a quarantine certificate at the airport. Niue is also known for its organic vanilla and coconut products, as well as the moreish yet healthy Lupe Banana Chips.
Get even more advice about Niue’s foodie experiences and traditions in The Guide to Food in Niue.
The Niuean Language
Niue has two official languages, Niuean and English. The Niuean language, Vagahau Niue, is closely related to Tongan and distantly to Maori, Samoan and Hawaiian. Niuean is classified by UNESCO as an endangered language, so locals have a deep determination to preserve the language. Learn more about the language in What is the Niue Language?
Some Niuean Words
While we can’t teach you the whole Niuean language here, here are some simple words to learn for your visit to Niue:
Hello: Fakalofa Atu
Thank you (very much): Fakaue (Lahi)
Eat or Food: Kai
For more words, check out our 10 Words You Need to Know When Visiting Niue.
The Religion in Niue
Religion plays a major part in the lives of Niueans. The vast majority of the Niuean population are devout Christians where going to church on a Sunday, as well as using the sacred day for rest, is part of their weekly routine.
Religion influences the Sunday customs in Niue, including no fishing or boating is to be done on a Sunday. Most locals choose not to work on Sundays, preferring to spend time with family, resting and going to church.
Finally, when visiting Niue, be aware of the local customs in order to respect the locals. The most essential Niuean customs include what you can wear in public and what you can do on a Sunday. See our complete guide on the Niue Etiquette: What are the Local Customs in Niue?
Clothing Etiquette in Niue
Although not as strict on clothing as other South Pacific Islands, Niue does have a few social rules when it comes to what to wear.
When outside of your accommodation, it’s a good idea to dress modestly and respectfully. For example, don’t walk around or ride your bike shirtless. Of course, avoid nudity in public.
A general rule for wearing swimwear in Niue is that swimwear should only be worn for swimming. It is prohibited to wear swimwear in the town and villages, which includes both men and women. It is acceptable to cover up swimwear with a long T-shirt or paleu (sarong), for instance.
When going to a church service, both men and women must wear clothes that cover below the knee. Suitable attire is a collared shirt and pants for the men and a knee-length skirt for the women. Avoid wearing all-white and hats in church, as these have religious meaning for the locals.
Sunday Etiquette in Niue
Sunday is a sacred day in Niue, used as a day of worship and rest. For this reason, there are a few protocols to be aware of.
First, do not go down sea tracks near churches while church is in session. Church is typically in session once in the morning at either 9am or 10am and once in the afternoon at either 3pm or 4pm.
Second, honour Niue’s no-swimming tradition on a Sunday by avoiding swimming near village greens and churches.
Third, note that activities like fishing, diving and boating are forbidden on a Sunday.
There are still some activities that are perfectly acceptable to do on a Sunday. See the 10 Things to Do in Niue on a Sunday for examples.
More About the Niuean Culture
That’s it for our guide to the Niuean culture but by no means the end of our guide to all things Niue! Learn more about the Niuean people in the following articles: