Customs & Etiquette
in Norfolk Island
Our Norfolk Island heritage and traditions are infused with layers upon layers of subtle ‘codes of conduct’ – often these are wordless, identified by an action expressed or a way to behave which is respected by all of us who call this our home.
What is cultural etiquette?
Cultural étiquette can be described as codes of behaviour within different cultures and traditional ways of life. It can be simplified as; what’s acceptable and what isn’t – It is basically good manners and the way in which you behave and respect the culture and traditions of a place.
The Norfolk Island community has a distinctive culture and rich traditions which are reflected in our way of life, our heritage and the history of the island.
Customs and etiquette can be tricky to understand when travelling to a new place. It can be easy to misread a cue or behave in a way that causes misunderstanding without intending to…
One of the main reasons we have created this online collection of resources, information and guides is to support your understanding about the island and our people.
There are many differences in the way we do things on the island, as connected to;
Location & Population
In 2006, the Norfolk Island Government census identified a population of 1,863 with 47.6% of Pitcairn descent. For the past 160 years, many have joined our island community, either connected to island families or just purely because their hearts resonated in a similar way to our island rhythm. They have blended with gentleness and respect for our small isolated community and traditional way of life, and often contribute to the rich tapestry of the unseen island fabric – softly woven but strong in heart-thread.
Sometimes the best discoveries are where you are least expecting them to be…
Nestled between New Zealand, Australia & New Caledonia, Norfolk Island is located upon the Norfolk ridge which stretches northwards from the tip of Aotearoa.
It is pristine and beautiful… our petite 5km x 8km island, surrounded by the South Pacific Ocean.
The census data from 2011 states the island has a population size of 2,302 (78% ordinarily resident, 22% visitors). Almost 75% of the ordinarily resident population reported to speak the Norf’k language. It recorded that 80% of the population of Norfolk Island have Australian citizenship and 13% hold New Zealand citizenship whilst the remaining population are citizens from various places including, not limited to, the Pacific Islands, Pitcairn Island, Melanesia, Asia, United Kingdom, Europe, South Africa, Canada and the United States of America.
‘The World of Norfolk’ Branding Report in 2009 shared;
The people of Norfolk Island are an inextricable extension of its history.
They are a proud race with a strong patriotic fervour, talented, resourceful and hardworking; display a warm, hospitable attitude and a great sense of humour. They are possessive about their land, lineage and lifestyle but are spontaneously generous when it comes to sharing with visitors whatever they own. Many are ready and willing to invite tourists to their homes for a meal after only a casual encounter.
They multitask in the true sense of the word, performing two or three jobs in a day; some do it out of economic necessity others because they enjoy the variety or just like to volunteer.
Marriage, migration and mobility have altered the mix of the population with the original Pitcairn descendants accounting for 40% of the populace while people of Australian and New Zealander origin are equally represented among the rest.
During our travels around the island, there were countless occasions when total strangers went out of their way to be helpful or people who you had only just met invited you into their hearts and their homes. Our inspiration for the new Positioning platform and the Brand strategy came from such emotional ‘moments of truth’.
Language & Greetings
Our traditional greeting in the Norf’k language is ‘whutta-waye’? Translated literally, it means: ‘how are you?’
It’s not just saying ‘hello’… we are instantly concerned with your wellbeing… how are you?
As children, we were brought up to be respectful of the times when we were speaking our Norf’k language.
Traditionally it was seen to be rude and disrespectful if you spoke Norf’k within the company of people who didn’t understand what you were saying.
The spelling of ‘whutta-waye’ is from: Beryl Nobbs Palmer, Norfolk Island Dictionary
The Norf’k language historically evolved as an oral language. Therefore a uniform written grammar dictionary does not exist from its development infancy.
In more recent years however, many avenues have been explored to preserve and protect our language.
• Our local school hosts language classes with native speakers and activities as a vital component of the Norfolk studies lessons
• Dictionaries and academic book publications have been published documenting linguistic theories and applications
• Use of the language in tourism marketing initiatives is supported
• Encouraging our youth to speak the language more frequently in every day use.
Family & Kinship
Similar to traditional Pacific Islander cultures, an emphasis in our Norfolk Island traditions is the value placed on the nuclear and extended family.
The well-being of the whole community is a responsibility of all individuals.
“Family” can be defined as relatives by blood, marriage, and adoption—both living and deceased.
A Norfolk family is often guided by genealogical seniority and kinship.
“Family” includes relatives by blood, marriage, and adoption—both living and deceased. We often live with the spirit of a deceased person as a still-active member of the family.
Kinship, as with many other Pacific Island families, is viewed in context of the entire community.
As well as child rearing practices and extended family structures; the cooking styles, recreational activities, art & crafts within our Norfolk Island community continues to reflect our Polynesian lineage.
In addition, tahitian words are strongly represented in the lexicon of the Norf’k language particularly when referring to child rearing or cooking.
Funerals & our tradition
In an event of a death in our small community, we all know how to behave. We know what we need to do to help, and whether the grieving family and friends need a wordless hug (compassion), shared spoken memories (understanding), a homemade meal cooked and delivered (care) or just respectful behaviour (love).
Our funeral process is a special island tradition, as interwoven tightly with our community and individual values of ‘how to be’ and ‘how to live together’.
With the locally made coffin and burial plot provided, male relatives and friends dig the grave and the women gather together to make stunningly beautiful wreaths of freshly picked flowers and ferns.
Great respect has always been shown with retail stores closing their doors as the funeral procession passes. Flags are flown half-mast after the death announcement and again on the day of the funeral.
School children are taught to stand still and remove their hats, if they are walking home when a funeral procession passes. If they are driving motorbikes or cars, they stop and stand beside the vehicle as the hearse and procession drives past.
It is much appreciated when visitors follow this example, if by chance you are also driving by.
If you happen to be visiting the island on the day of a funeral, there are a few ways to show your compassion and respect:
~ Visit the cemetery on another day / avoid the time of the funeral, as broadcast on the local radio.
~ If you are unsure as to what day/time the funeral is being held, please ask at the Visitors Information Centre. The flags are halfmast on the day of death and the day of the funeral.
~ If by mistake, you happen to be driving past the Cemetery as people are gathering for a funeral, please slow down and continue along the road without stopping.
~ Please do not take photographs as this is an extremely personal and sensitive time for the bereaved family and friends as they grieve the loss of their loved one.
~ On a separate day to the funeral, ask a local to explain the process of how we ‘say goodbye’ to our loved ones. We will be happy to share, at appropriate time, this special traditional island custom.
Community values & childhood learning
For many of us, our childhood upbringing is guided by our elders ~ in what to say and when, how to comfort someone in need, how to support each other, how to bring up our children to conduct themselves with respect, confidence and purpose, how ‘to be’ and how ‘to live together.’
We embrace in our Norfolk way of life the universal values of peace, respect, love, cooperation, happiness, honesty, humility, responsibility, tolerance, freedom and unity.
Our children are encouraged to think about, and reflect upon different values and the practical implications of expressing them ~ for themselves, for others, for their community and the world at large. Young people are brought up to show respect to their elders.
Our elders share essential knowledge of our way of life, often without words or lectures….
As a member of this small community you are one piece of a whole puzzle that exists with intrinsic layers upon layers of subtleties, traditional ways and inherent wisdom.
Just like the African proverb: It takes a village to raise a child…
Our Norfolk community involves our children in many of our traditional activities, practices, customs and way of life. We are committed to providing the opportunity for them all to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.
A common trait on the island, is the possession of a cheeky sense of humour which is richly wrapped up within the fabric of our language.
To fully understand hidden meanings, values and expressions; requires a deep understanding of the way in which we express our Norf’k language with one another.
The quirky use of idioms in the Norf’k language, involves much teasing particularly among peers.
It is a common activity on the island to play practical jokes on each other – these cannot be avoided and should never be taken seriously.
Nicknames often stem from this humour or an embarrassing moment never to be forgotten!
The names by which Norfolk Islanders are referred to among themselves are significantly different. Upon hearing ‘Jackie Ralph’ or ‘Girlie Reuben’, it is often mistaken that the second part is the surname.
Many islanders are identified either ‘by their nickname or by some identification tag attached to their Christian name’ (Moresby Buffett 1979).
For example a woman’s Christian name is sometimes combined with her husband’s Christian name or nickname such as ‘Eda Beva’ – Eda as the wife of Beva (nickname).
And too, unmarried women and men can have their father’s Christian name attached to theirs as in: ‘Girlie Reuben’ – Girlie, Reuben’s daughter.
Reciprocity & sharing
Just as in Polynesia, at the heart of our values is ‘the web whose threads represent the mutual obligations that each member of the society bears toward the others.’
Reciprocity represents a core value of working and living cooperatively on the island.
We do not have an organised or formal barter system, but the free exchange or giving away of goods has proven to be a sustaining system which complements the monetary system.
Free giving, (often for nothing in exchange), is a Norfolk tradition of harmonious balance between the receiver, the giver and the whole community.
Often when you are invited to a family home, it is customary to take along a small gift. This can be flowers or homegrown produce or home cooked sweet treats or a handy second-hand item.
These gifts aren’t lavish by a ‘price tag’, but they are lavish by the love and care by which they are given.
Volunteering in our local organisations have a common goal and objective; “to serve the community.”
Men, women and children all join together to help wherever they see a need. It is customary for a Benefit Night to be held to help and sustain someone in the community who has fallen on hard times or has been injured or taken ill with a hospital treatable illness. Often a group of women will get together to plan what has to be cooked, the men are given the job of catching fish and gathering homegrown produce from the garden, music entertainment is volunteered and when everything comes together of an evening, it is often a night to be remembered.
Anthems & special days
‘God Save the Queen’ and the ‘Pitcairn Anthem’ have been traditionally sung on days of our national and community significance. These anthems have shaped and identified our Norfolk community.
The words for ‘Come Ye Blessed’ Pitcairn Anthem were taken from the Book of Matthew in the Bible by George Hunn Nobbs and the music was written by Driver Christian.
‘Come Ye Blessed’ is sung at the end of a funeral service held on the island and at other formal occasions by the Norfolk Island community.
On the island, we celebrate uniquely ‘Norfolk’ historical commemorative days;
• Anniversary Day (or Bounty Day): is celebrated each year on 8th June (or on the consecutive Monday if the 8th is a Saturday or Sunday), to commemorate the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders on 8th June, 1856.
• Thanksgiving Day: is celebrated on the third Wednesday of November each year. A public holiday, this is primarily a religious festival and indicates the strong influence of the American whalers who visited Norfolk and intermarried with our resident population.
• Foundation Day: is celebrated with a public holiday every 6th March to commemorate the arrival of the first British settlement in 1788.
• ANZAC Day: Norfolk Islanders have volunteered to fight for King and country since the Boer War and made the greatest per capita contributions of all the Commonwealth countries, in each of the world wars. ANZAC Day is therefore an important day of Remembrance for Norfolk Islanders.
• A&H Show: This is the annual exhibition of Norfolk Island’s produce, arts, crafts, education, horsemanship, and so much more.
Food & cooking
Food preparation has a Polynesian ‘essence’ with cooking techniques passed down by our Tahitian mothers on Pitcairn Island.
Preparations and planning for small family meals as well as large community functions relies upon seasonal growing and traditional recipes using fruit and vegetables at all stages of ripening.
Ingredients for meals is often reliant upon the different produce in season or that which can be found stocked upon local retail shelves.
You may hear our consistent catch-phrase: Does anyone know when the ship is due?
Shelves can be near empty in anticipation of the next cargo ship to arrive, and therefore the Norfolk cook is a resourceful, enterprising, creative cook!
The catch phrase ‘have some more, have some more’ is standard banter, so if you attend an island banquet make sure you eat your fill… until you ‘se moosa buss’ (you are near bursting).
This is a true sign of sincere Norfolk hospitality!
Our Norfolk Grace is sung for special occasions and often when extended families and friends gather together to share food and laughter:
Be present at our table Lord,
Be here and everywhere adored,
These mercies bless and grant that we,
May feast in Paradise with thee.
Flights & transportation
Travel to the island is by air.
Average flying times:
Auckland to Norfolk Island 1.5 hrs
Brisbane to Norfolk Island 2 hrs
Sydney to Norfolk Island 2.5 hrs
Most of the island’s supplies arrive via cargo ship and offloading the cargo is a traditional heritage practice.
When you are travelling by air to the island with young babies, it’s a good idea to either breastfeed or bottle feed as the long descent into the island begins…
As the island is so small, it takes longer for the aircraft to slowly lower in altitude to landing.
As the cabin re-pressurises, little ones’ ears can play havoc and it helps if they are feeding, or for older children, it’s a treat to have a lollipop to suck, as you come into land.
It’s also necessary to plan ahead when you depart the island. Same, same.
Driving & livestock
We have 170kms of road, twisting and winding, up and down, within our 5km by 8km dimensions – unless you are fit and energetic, a hire car is necessary for island exploring.
Alternatively you may prefer personally guided bus tours, or for the very energetic… pushbikes.
And don’t rule out your own two feet! Walking offers a wonderfully different perspective of the island too!
Please keep in mind the ‘Norfolk wave’ whilst you are on-island…. it is a tradition!
We wave when we pass one another ~
Cows have right of way on the island.
It has been a traditional right, on Norfolk, for cattle to graze freely anywhere that a pasture has not been fenced off by a property owner.
• Cattle grazing on common land contribute to the incomes for a significant number of families across the island;
• The cattle industry provides meat to a significant number of island families, who share it not only amongst themselves but also to those less fortunate than themselves;
• Cattle with rights to graze on Common land (the common herd) make up one quarter of the entire cattle population on the island;
• Twice yearly muster not only ensures the health of the common herd, it also provides cattle owners with the opportunity to share genetics; and undertake further management and sales;
• What started as a government stock health program has become a cultural event in which whole families (from toddlers to our elderly) participate; and
• Cattle grazing on common land provide a valuable and cost effective service in reducing and preventing woody weeds.
Environment & ecosystem
We are committed to protecting our environment and unique ecosystem and have strict biosecurity laws in place.
Biosecurity import conditions are applicable to all goods arriving onto Norfolk Island.
You must declare certain food, plant material (including wooden articles) and animal products on your incoming passenger card.
Water supply to our homes is rainwater collection via water tanks.
We are extremely careful with our water usage, as we plan ahead for the summer season when rainfall is less bountiful.
Hot water may be solar or gas heating, so we are mindful of water heating costs.
Our island is earthy – your shoes will fill with the rich clay soil if you enjoy walking our reserves and trails. Mostly, we will remove our shoes before entering our homes, and even though this isn’t a traditional custom, it is respectful and this applies to your holiday accommodation. Your proprietors will appreciate your care and consideration.
So too, can enjoyment at the beach and swimming activities result in lots of sand on feet – many locals take along a bucket and fill it with saltwater to wash your feet before getting into your car. Your hire car owners will also be appreciative of your consideration and care.
Fishing & surfing
If you are planning to go rock fishing or surfing, ALWAYS check the tides, weather forecast and ask a local for advice.
It is common practice to only take what you need when fishing.
We share our catch with our elders who are unable to participate on the rocky foreshores anymore.
The sighs of wonder and delight when you drop off a freshly caught ophey or kingfish, is well worth the fishing trip in itself.
Popular local surf spots include the Kingston reef, Ball Bay and Bumboras.
A practical tip is to watch out for our ‘wunnas’ (sea urchins) on the reef.
If by chance you happen to step on a wunna as you are climbing out of the waves, and the long spines enter your foot, pee on it.
The medical reasoning is that the uric acid dissolves the tiny spikes that move within your body as there is a risk of infection.
Local fish is supplied to restaurants and available for sale by local fishermen & women. All fish are caught by line. They are not caught in nets. This keeps our fishing industry sustainable. Fishing can only take place when the seas are suitable (about two-thirds of the days in a year).
Our Norfolk Island Fishing Association endorses a voluntary bag limit during the spawning season of our trumpeter (Red Emperor), as the most commonly caught fish. As a result of this current process in place, in which community members respect and abide by, there is no issue with fish numbers.
If you are snorkelling at Kingston, check the safety signage for areas that may be dangerous with tides.
Please don’t remove any shells that have live creatures within them.
And it is appreciated that no fishing activities take place within the reef area of Emily and Slaughter bays.
We treasure our lagoon and ‘all creatures great and small’!
As you are exploring the island, please share smiles and greetings of hello or ‘whutta-waye’ with us.
We are friendly and like to smile!
If at any time as a visitor, you are concerned about an event or a happening, please contact and give your feedback to the Visitors Information Centre.
It is important to us, to have constructive feedback so that we can make changes and improve services as needs be.
Everything is connected… Norfolk Island is permaculture-principled!
Many of us strive to harmonise and balance our way of life with our natural environment in a permanently sustainable way.
We very much appreciate your participation and support of our traditions and customs, as you uncover a deeper understanding about ‘all things Norfolk.’
All advice & guidance shared here, has been written by those of us who love our Norfolk Island home.
Every effort has been made to keep this information up-to-date. We understand that sometimes things can be missed or may need updating. If so, please get in touch with us.