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Title: Fakanau  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Music of Tuvalu, Fakaseasea, Fatele, Gerd Koch, Women in Tuvalu
Collection: Dances of Polynesia, Tuvaluan Culture, Tuvaluan Music
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A fakanau (meaning "spells")[1] is a traditional Tuvaluan male dance, accompanied by singing and rhythmic clapping.

Fakanau singing and dancing are typical of Niutao and Nukufetau islands of Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, a group of nine low-lying coral islands in the central Pacific that are inhabited by Polynesian people. Fakanau is described as having "a tune that is between speech and singing [which] was performed while dancers are standing on their feet."[2] Examples include Te onge ne tupu ia Kiollli, Neutuakina te vao i napanapa,[3] and Ko na fakanau nei e kamata ifo mai gauta oi fakaholo atu ai ki gatai kafai te vaka e hoho ifo ki gatai.[4] Other dances within the genre include the mako, the fakaseasea, the fatele, the lue, the sea, and the oga.


  • Form 1
  • Genre 2
  • History 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6


Male dancers performed around a circle, in a sitting position with arms, hands and upper body gestures, and all of them singing. An old dance master, at the center of the circle, kept the rhythm. In Niutao, however, the dances were performed in standing or kneeling positions.[5] Fakanau, and fakaseasea another form of singing and dancing performed by Tuvaluans, were specifically composed as remembrance of the rule of an "aliki or toa" and in praise of canoe building, house construction and fishing, apart from their bravery and wealth. Events were performed for a celebrity of the community and after gaining their permission, the Fakanau or fakaseasea songs were specially composed and the dances choreographed by dancers. The singing and dancing in praise of the celebrity was performed in the presence of their family and relatives; food and other items collected for the occasion were in turn presented by the celebrity, who honored the composer and dance performers.[2] A common practice during a Fakanau is to call out spells, invocations,[6] or beckonings.[7] Faster than the fakaseasea and modern fatele, the dance was performed for entertainment and for ceremonies conducted in the faleaitu.[8] However, the Fakanau would be performed in fragments during the night rather than just one dance. The content of the dances has been described as "incantations in fishing, a kind of dramatic monologue — calling to the fish, pleading, charming, even abusing — as moods are acted out."[9]


The fakanau and other dances within the genre, such as the mako and the fakaseasea, are rarely performed today, and when they are, it is for their "antiquarian" qualities.[10] The fakanau dance type of Ellice is similar to the lue and sea of Ontong Java.[11] The fakanau can be compared to the oga, a typical women's dance, which also included songs and was performed in a sitting position or kneeling position.[5] In 1992, Hoëm classified fakanau as being an "instrumental" genre, while kakai ("folk tales") was classified as recreational entertainment; the two are considered to be polar opposites.[12]


At one time, this form of dancing was performed in places of worship, known as faleaitu (meaning: "house for gods") as an expression of gratitude to the gods and also during community activities. Over time, many of the Fakanau dancers earned a high degree of respect in their communities through their dancing skills.[5] The fakanau dance was regarded as a social evil on Tuvalu after the arrival of Christian ministers as the wide swaying by the men was considered erotic to the women. Regarded as evil dancing, fakanau eventually disappeared.[2]


  • Christensen, Dieter, Old Musical Styles in the Ellice Islands, Western Polynesia, Ethnomusicology, 8:1 (1964), 34–40
  • Christensen, Dieter and Gerd Koch, Die Musik der Ellice-Inseln, Berlin: Museum fur Volkerkunde (1964)
  • Koch, Gerd, Songs of Tuvalu (translated by Guy Slatter), Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific (2000)
  • Linkels, Ad, The Real Music of Paradise. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.) Rough Guides (2000)

Further reading

  1. ^ Senft, Gunter; Basso, Ellen B. (15 December 2009). Ritual Communication. Berg. p. 208.  
  2. ^ a b c Faaniu, Simati; Laracy, Hugh (1983). Tuvalu: A History. pp. 40–41. Retrieved 7 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Ethnomusicology. Society for Ethnomusicology. 1963. pp. 36–37. Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  4. ^ An unnamed group of Tokelauan writers (1990). Matagi Tokelau. pp. 178–.  
  5. ^ a b c d e Koch, Gerd (2000). Songs of Tuvalu. pp. 16, 21, 27–28, and 116.  
  6. ^ Hoëm, Ingjerd (2004). Theatre and Political Process: Staging Identities in Tokelau and New Zealand. Berghahn Books. pp. 98–.  
  7. ^ Hoëm, Ingjerd; Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning (1995). A way with words: language and culture in Tokelau society. Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture. p. 98.  
  8. ^ McLean, Mervyn (28 January 2003). Weavers of Song: Polynesian Music and Dance. Auckland University Press. p. 180.  
  9. ^ Thomas, Allan (1990). Songs and stories of Tokelau: an introduction to the cultural heritage. Victoria University Press. p. 32.  
  10. ^ Clements, William M. (30 December 2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Folklore And Folklife. Greenwood Press. p. 407.  
  11. ^ Rossen, Jane Mink (1987). Songs of Bellona Island. Forlaget Kragen. p. 323.  
  12. ^ Hoëm, Ingjerd; Hovdhaugen, Even; Vonen, Arnfinn Muruvik (1992). Kupu mai te tūtolu: Tokelau oral literature. Scandinavian University Press. p. 35.  


See also

This song was revived, at Koch’s initiative, by the old men of Niutuao. They considered this song as an ancient legacy of their ancestors. Tinilau Matolu, an 83 year old man (born around 1877), said that he had learned it in 1902 from Kaisami, Tepae, Temaalo and Poulasi, who were older than he is. The song was rehearsed for 11 days by Tinilau and his old friends whose age averaged 67. They set it to a fast rhythm in three verses with fast clapping in support of the song. The final version was sung on 13 September by 18 men (their average age was 56) with Katea (52 years of age and who had visited Samoa and Fiji Islands as crew member of a ship) in the lead. They recorded the song with great verve and enthusiasm. The song became a rage, like pop music, among both old and young people of Niutao, including children, for several months. It was made into a 16 mm film in October 1960. In July 1963, the song was rerecorded with six old men singing. Several more Kakanau dance songs related to love and god were also recorded and also broadcast over Radio Tuvalu.[5]

Oh, my paddle! Oh, my paddle!”

E, taku foe! E, taku foe!

Take the paddle, seize the paddle!

Pili te foe, mau te foe!

The paddle, the paddle of the men!

Te foe, te fo kia tagata!

The paddle, the paddle of the gods!

“Te foe, te fo kia atua!


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