Niue culture and art
You won't find a commercial culture centre or cultural village on Niue; you simply learn about cultural traditions and way of life the real way - first hand. Several small tour operators make it easy to visit villages, plantations and historic spots with a guide. While you're meeting the locals, you'll gain local knowledge on the best places to swim, snorkel, hike, eat and more.
If you're staying on a Wednesday, stop by the local women's weaving group at Makini Hall in Alofi, then pick up a memento from the shop next door.
Art and sculpture
Traditional Niuean art includes unique hiapo (tapa cloth) works that feature detailed plant designs. While the creation of hiapo all but ceased generations ago, current artists - such as renowned writer and print maker John Pule - are leading renewed interest in the art form by using hiapo designs in modern works.
Another important artist associated with Niue is New Zealand born artist Mark Cross, who moved to the island in 1978 and divides his time between studios in both countries. Mark is recognised as one of the South Pacific's leading contemporary realist painters. To enjoy some of his works, and other beautiful examples of contemporary art and jewellery produced in Niue, visit the Tahiono Art Gallery in Alofi. It's a great opportunity to buy a gorgeous souvenir that you'll treasure for years to come.
In 1996, Mark Cross, John Pule and several other artists created Niue's Hikulagi Sculpture Park, 2km south of Liku village. From the circle of totem poles to the gazebo of shells, pieces are largely constructed from found materials like fishing nets, footwear, saucepans, electrical components and scrabble letters. A highlight for many visitors is the constantly evolving piece called Protean Habitat, a meditation on how we use and consume.
Traditional Niuean weaving
Girls in Niue learn to weave from an early age and grow up to become accomplished weavers who produce beautiful practical items, such as place mats, bowls, baskets and hats. Some, like leading Pacific weaver Ahi Cross from the village of Liku, have evolved traditional weaving techniques to create stunning works of art.
If you're in Niue midweek, stop by the local women's weaving group, which meets every Wednesday morning at Makini Hall in Alofi. The weavers start their session with a prayer, then catch up on local news while keeping their fingers busy with weaving and sewing. Art forms that have been passed down through generations are kept alive this way and the resulting handcrafted creations can be purchased in the adjacent shop. There are baskets, brooms, placemats and tropical dresses on sale.
As you wander down Niue's sea tracks to the ocean you'll often pass small outrigger canoes or vaka, which the local men use for fishing. They're deftly launched from coral reefs into the ocean swells and the ancient design, including the vaka's optimal length, has been perfected for local conditions.
Decades ago, the arrival of dinghies with outboards almost saw the end of traditional vaka building, but a handful of master carvers still create new ones to order. Today there's renewed interest in their use and visitors can even book a traditional vaka fishing trip.
Young boys in Niue learn to carve while at school and creating a model vaka is a popular project for all. Some go on to further refine their talents, creating wonderfully intricate vaka models and vaka-themed carvings for sale around the island.
Religion is an important part of Niuean society. Most residents are Christian and about three-quarters of the population are affiliated with the Protestant Church of Niue. Church leaders provide both spiritual and civic leadership on the island. One of the interesting facts about Niuean culture is that several pre-Christian religious beliefs are still held, including a spiritual world of dead ancestors and ghosts.
Sunday is a day of worship and rest for all, and visitors should respect the restful nature of Sundays on Niue. While some activities, such as fishing and boating, are prohibited, it's OK to enjoy sightseeing, swimming and snorkelling. Visiting a church service is highly recommended, if only to experience the beautiful singing. If you're unsure about which church to visit or whether an activity you have in mind is appropriate on Sundays, just check with your accommodation provider or the information centre in Alofi. Shops and cafes are closed, except the Washaway Café at Avatele Beach, which only opens on Sundays.
Niue history and culture
Niue would have to be one of the friendliest countries in the world. With a resident population of only 1,600, there's a real village feel to the island, even though it's four times the size of Rarotonga. Niuean people are genuine, respectful and helpful. Everyone waves as they pass each other on the road.
The island has been inhabited for more than 1000 years. The first settlers are believed to have come from Samoa and Tonga, as well as a small group from the Cook Islands. When Captain Cook arrived in 1774, he made three attempts to land but was repelled by Niuean warriors on each occasion. Cook eventually moved on, naming the country Savage Island.
Older people are respected by all and Niuean cultural values are generally more conservative than in New Zealand and Australia. If you're near a village or in town, swimwear should be covered with a paleu (sarong), to avoid offending the locals.
A range of easy-going cultural tours provides a great way to get a local perspective on Niuean people and culture early in your holiday. You'll learn about life in Niuean villages, the cultural traditions, use of plants, education, governance, land ownership, weddings, cultural dance performances and more. For the rest of your stay, and long after returning home, you'll feel a closer connection to this one-of-a-kind Pacific paradise.