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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga



The traditional story of the discovery of Rakahanga and Manihiki is a blend of historical narrative and myth. The human discoverer, Huku (see p. 19), is stated to have sailed from Rarotonga on a fishing expedition. When he came to a part of the ocean referred to as “te tukuanga i Whaka-hotu” he noticed an upgrowth of rock or land (tapua whenua) projecting from the sea bottom but not rising above the water, an image evidently culled from the experience of an atoll-dwelling people to whom coral upgrowths on an encircling reef were familiar. Huku, on seeing the coral upgrowth, recited these words (pehe), which are always recited by native historians: “Titiro iho Huku, tapua e—” (Huku gazed down, [and saw] an upgrowth.) From this incident Huku named his canoe Tapua. Gill's informant (13, p. 140) gave the canoe name as Tapuaua, which is really Tapua-hua and means “an upgrowth only.” Huku returned to his home with the idea that the upgrowth would eventually reach the surface and become land.

Pure myth is introduced by interpolating the island-fishing exploits of the well-known Polynesian hero, Maui. The myth states that Tangaroa-tuhi-mata, with his wife, Hina-mata-porari, dwelt in Hawaiki-ki-raro, which was under the earth's surface. Their son, Tongoi-whare, dwelt with his wife, Makuwai-whare, in Hawaiki-ki-runga, which was on the earth's surface. Tongoi-whare, had three sons, Maui-mua, Maui-roto, and Maui-muri, and a daughter named Hina-mai-raro-te-takere. The three brothers planned a fishing expedition and caught some flying fish (maroro) for bait. Maui-muri, unknown to his brothers, went to Hina-i-te-papa who dwelt at the bottom of the sea. He told her of the proposed expedition and asked her to put certain fish on the hooks according to the manner in which they were baited. On the first hook let down, baited with flying fish, she was to put a shark (mango), and on the second hook, also baited with flying fish, she was to put an urua. His own hook was to be baited with a small branch of the puka tree (tauru raupuka), dried coconut husk (puakoua), coconut flower stalk (puroro), and a dry, immature young coconut (aoa). When she saw it, she was to hook it into the rock bottom of the sea.

The next day the brothers set out in a canoe named Pipi-ma-hakohako. Tupou-rahi stated that the name of the canoe was Whakahotu and quoted the following chant as proof:

Wharekura-ariki i noho ia Hina-i-te-papa,
Nohona te waka o nga atua;
Whakahotu, nohona te tukunga.
To rire to, e tapu.

Wharekura the ariki married Hina-i-te-papa,
His was the canoe of the gods;
Whakahotu, his was the fishing ground.

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Tupou-rahi has evidently associated the name Whakahotu with the canoe, whereas it is really associated with the fishing ground. The historic spot in the ocean visited by Huku was termed “Te tukunga i Whakahotu.” The construction of the chant shows that the tukunga (fishing ground) was owned by Whakahotu. Although Whakahotu does not appear elsewhere in Rakahangan tradition, in neighboring Tongareva (29) the name appears as Hakahotu. Hakahotu was the wife of Atea, and the two were the primary parents whose progeny were the gods Tangaroa, Tane, Rongo, and others. It may be that Rakahanga had some legend of Whakahotu similar to the Tongarevan story, and that the details have been lost.

Arrived at the fishing ground, Maui-mua (Maui-the-first-born) let down his hook baited with flying fish. When a fish took the hook, he began to chant a question (tautopa):

Maui-roto, Maui-muri, e uia mai
Te ingoa i taku ika, mei aha?

Maui the middle, Maui the last,
ask The name of my fish, what is it?

Maui-roto remained silent but Maui-muri, relying on his compact with Hina-i-te-papa, replied:

E haha mango tau ika tutae, hutia!
A large shark is your filthy fish, haul it up!

A shark was duly hauled up. Tupou-rahi said that the fish was an albacore (kakahi). Maui-roto let down his hook baited with flying fish, and when he hooked a fish he also chanted a question. Maui-muri named an urua, which was duly hauled in. Maui-muri then baited his hook with the leaves and husk according to plan. Hina-i-te-papa, on seeing the hook so baited, stuck it into the papa or rock at the bottom of the sea. From what follows, it is to be inferred that the rock was the upgrowth seen by Huku. When Maui-muri felt the hook take hold, he called (uru) a question to his elder brothers, who named a shark and an urua. Maui-muri thereupon hauled on his line. As the fish rose, the sea began to boil and foam (kua wheta te moana), and land appeared (kua haha te whenua). The rising land lifted the canoe on its steep edge. Maui-mua and Maui-roto were in the bow and Maui-muri in the stern. The canoe broke in the middle. The bow part with the two elder brothers fell into the seething water, and they were swept away. The stern part remained on the land, and Maui-muri stepped ashore. He then recited a chant (amu):

Tataka. tataka e, tataka ki muri,
Tataka, tataka e, tataka ki muri.
Tokomiti, tokomiti,
Tokowheta, tokowheta.
Haha, haha te whenua,
Tutu Maui.

Fall off, fall off, fall off to the stern,
Fall off, fall off, fall off to the stern.
The sea recedes,
The sea seethes.
It appears, the land appears,
And Maui stands upon it.

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In the chant recorded by Gill (13, p. 141) the words “Motu Manihiki, motu Rakahanga” (Manihiki is severed, Rakahanga is severed) are added, but they are not severed from each other until the later reappearance of Huku. Maui-muri, having lost his brothers and his canoe, explored the new land. A curious reference is made to his seeing a house of sand (whare one). Gill (13, p. 148) states that the house contained eighty spirits. Tupou-rahi stated that Maui saw an opening in the sand and dug down. The hole contained ugly fish from the bottom of the sea (ko te au ika kikino anake i raro i te moana). Such details were evidently intended to embellish the tale and perhaps to emphasize the fact that there were no human occupants on the land discovered. Maui-mua remained on the land.

The story goes back to Huku, who, in his sleep (turamoe), had a dream (rikamoe) that the upgrowth he had seen had reached the surface. His dream was expressed in the chant:

Whakarika mai ana, turamoe ana,
Turamoe ia Rakahanga, ia Rakahanga.
Kua haha, kua haha,
Kua roharoha.

It came as a dream while sleeping,
A dream about Rakahanga, about Rakahanga,
Which has emerged and risen,
And lies spread out.

Tupou-rahi states that Huku did not think out the name Rakahanga, but that the name came to him in a dream.

Huku sailed back to the site of the upgrowth and saw that the land had risen above the surface. He landed at Waiawa and commenced to explore. He met Maui-muri and immediately attacked him to expel him from the land which he considered to be his. In the struggle a portion of the land broke off. It floated away (rewa atu) and became Manihiki. Maui fled successively to the places on the atoll named Tumu-whenua, Kaeru, Tumukau, and Paaki. As Huku pursued Maui to Paaki, the rain fell (kuru te ua), the lightning flashed (rapa te uira), the thunder rolled (tuki te whatitiri), and Maui fled away to the heavens (kua rere Maui ki te rangi).

After his victory, Huku, returning along the coast, saw a drift coconut (ponga) cast ashore. After his return to Nukuangaanga he planted the nut at a spot which he named Te-maru-o-araiawa. He named the nut, or the plant which was to grow from it, Te-huru-awatea. In Gill's account (13, p. 148) no mention is made of a drift coconut. Gill states that Huku returned to Rarotonga because the land was desert (ha) and no coconuts had yet been planted. The coconut named Te-huru-awatea he includes with seven others that were subsequently brought. The story of the drift coconut as given by Tupou-rahi fits in better with the subsequent narrative.

According to Tupou-rahi's version, Huku, after planting Te-huru-awatea, returned to Rarotonga. He then made a third voyage in a canoe named page 17 Hotu-rangaranga, taking a supply of planting nuts with him. He also took two paddlers (hoe waka) named Ruia and Papera. Seven nuts named Tiro-hanga, Turuki-wairaro, Papuka, Kai-akuaku, Tumata-whare, and Nuku-angi-angi were planted at Te-maru-o-araiawa. Gill (13, p. 148) gives names which differ slightly, but includes Te-huru-awatea, the name given by Tupou-rahi to the drift nut of a previous voyage. Te-maru-o-araiawa, where the nuts were planted, is situated on the island of Te Kainga in the atoll of Raka-hanga. The two paddlers both died and were buried on Te Kainga. Tupou-rahi quoted this pehe as proof of his tale:

Tanu Ruia tei te turuki,
Tanu Papera tei te paapuka.
Haroi ha.

Ruia was buried at the turuki,
Papera was buried at the paapuka.

Some of the Rakahangans were inclined to think that the inclusion of the paddlers in the tale was an elaboration, as ruia and papera are names given to two species of shark.

Huku returned to Rarotonga. Sitting one evening in front of his house, he began to wonder whether the first nut he had planted on Rakahanga had grown into a stately palm. His thoughts found expression in the following chant (haka):

Tera paa Te-huru-awatea te tahirihiri mai ra
i Te-maru-o-araiawa.
Perchance Te-huru-awatea is waving its fronds
over there at Te-maru-o-araiawa.

The literal translation of the haka conveys merely the thought, but to the descendants of Huku there is music and sentiment in the native words. They take pride in quoting them over and over again. During my stay in Rakahanga the words were called out to me from houses along the village street, for they formed a bond of our mutual interest in the past. When I called them out to my history teachers, their gratification was apparent.

Huku had kept his discovery of a new land secret. A man named Wheatu heard Huku and conjectured that the chant referred to some other land. He embarked in a canoe named Paparinga-tahi, eventually came to Manihihi, and landed at Tarakite. From there he set out and came to Rakahanga, where he saw the palm named Te-huru-awatea waving in the breeze at Te-maru-o-araiawa. He landed at Omoka and dragged his canoe ashore, naming the place Te-amonga-waka (the carrying of the canoe). He went on to a place on the reef called Awanui. There he commenced to cut a channel through the reef to connect the lagoon with the sea and so to provide a passage for canoes. As he worked he sang the following chant, which Gill (13, p. 142) has recorded in full:

page 18

Ana mai, ana mai, kurua!
Ana mai ko Wheatu, kurua!
E ano ki Rakahanga,
Kurua iho, kurua e koe,
Kurua te papa i Awanui,
Kurua, kurua, kurukurua!

E noho i Tarakite, kurua!
Takahia e koe, kurua!
Te matangi ko te tonga,
Kurua, kurua, kurukurua!

Ki waenga moana
Kurua ko te mata o Wheatu,
Kurua te uru o Rakahanga,
Kurua te awa i Omoka,
Kurua, kurua, kurukurua!

Come along, come along, batter away!
Come along, it is Wheatu, batter away!
Go to Rakahanga,
Batter it down, batter O thou,
Batter the rock at Awanui.
Batter, Oh, batter, Oh, batter away!

Stay at Tarakite, batter away!
Stamp on it, thou, and batter away!
The wind is the south wind,
Batter, Oh, batter, Oh, batter away!

In the midst of the ocean,
Batter the face of Wheatu,
Batter the head of Rakahanga,
Break out the channel at Omoka,
Batter, Oh, batter, Oh, batter away!

The words kurua, kurua, kurukurua of the refrain mean literally “to batter,” for Wheatu used a piece of coral boulder to hammer away at the reef and break pieces off in his attempt to cut out a channel. In view of the fact that the Cook Islands Administration has considered the advisability of cutting channels through the reef, the chant is interesting, showing that the problem exercised the minds of the early Polynesian settlers. The early voyager, Te Herui, is credited by tradition with having cut the passage called Te-rua-i-kakau through the reef at Aitutaki, but he had the advantage over Wheatu of having an adz. Another ancestor, Ruatapu, commenced a similar engineering task on the reef at Atiu, but as the food supplies of his employer fell short, he abandoned the work.

Meanwhile, Huku had a premonition that something was happening on the land he regarded as his. According to Tupou-rahi, Huku set sail in a canoe named Te Rawhiti and was accompanied by his sister, Tapairu, and her husband, Toa. According to Gill (13, p. 149), Huku came without them. In Rakahanga, Huku found Wheatu still battering away at the reef at Awanui. To Huku's fierce inquiry as to what he was doing on his land, Wheatu diplomatically replied, “I am battering this rock to make a canoe channel for you.” (E tuki ana au i te papa nei tei ara waka nohou.) According to one version, Wheatu was allowed to remain on condition that he did not go inland, as Huku was afraid he might pull up the coconuts that had been planted. The version adopted by the people in their historical dramas (see p. 198) is that Wheatu was driven off the island. A short, wide indentation on the inner side of the reef at Awanui is pointed out as the scene of Wheatu's labor, and the opinion is held that he would have completed the channel had he not been driven away. The name of Wheatu does not appear in the local genealogies.

page 19

Huku subsequently departed for Rarotonga, leaving the land in charge of his sister and her husband. Gill (13, p. 149) states that Huku sent his sister and her husband to Rakahanga after his return to Rarotonga, and that the canoe in which they came was named Reiapata. Huku here disappears from history, and the peopling of the atoll commences with Toa and his wife.

Huku is generally believed by the people of Rakahanga and Manihiki to have come from Rarotonga. Tupou-rahi stated that he belonged to the land division of Tukuvaine, that Ikurangi was his chiefly mountain (maunga ariki), and that his god, Mokoroa-i-taupo, was located at Maungatea. Tukuvaine, Ikurangi, and Maungatea are all well-known localities close to the main village, Avarua, in Rarotonga. So much communication, however, has existed between the atolls and Rarotonga since the advent of Christianity that the possibility of elaboration between the two peoples cannot be disregarded. Mr. Savage told me that Huku appears as “Iku” in the Rarotongan genealogies, but careful checking up is required before the two can be accepted as identical. The number of voyages Huku is reputed to have made between Rarotonga and Rakahanga is probably exaggerated.

The interpolation of the Maui myth is interesting in view of the dialectical affinity between the atolls and New Zealand. Both areas have the story of Maui fishing up the land with a hook and line. The New Zealand story differs in that it presents five Maui brothers instead of three. In both areas the hero of the adventure is the youngest son, Maui-potiki in one, and Maui-muri in the other. Both potiki and muri refer to the last-born of a family. In the New Zealand story the hook entered a house at the bottom of the sea and caught on the back of the house, which suggests the Rakahangan incident in which Hina-i-te-papa hooked the line into the papa or rock where she dwelt at the bottom of the sea. In outline the two stories show an affinity, but they naturally differ in minor details.

Toa and Tapairu settled as permanent colonists on the island of Te Kainga in the atoll of Rakahanga. Tradition states that Tapairu was the sister of Huku and that it was through this blood kinship that Huku gave her the land. Pedigrees of the ancestry of both Tapairu and Toa are lacking. Some informants stated that Huku and Tapairu were the children of Hiro of Hawaiki, but Gill (13, p. 143) records that Tapairu was the daughter of a son of Hiro who came from Hawaiki, presumably, to Rarotonga. An interesting complication is due to the definite mention of a son of Hiro in Rarotongan history. Hiro, the celebrated explorer, was a contemporary of Tangiia, the great Rarotongan ancestor. Tangiia adopted Tai-te-ariki, a son of Hiro, and made him high chief over a section of his people. The Pa-ariki title of the Takitumu tribes of east and south Raro- page 20 tonga descends from Tai-te-ariki. If Huku and Tapairu belonged to Rarotonga, they should have been associated with the Takitumu people. Tupourahi, however, places them in Tukuvaine in north Rarotonga, which is Makean territory, derived historically from a totally different family. It is evident, however, that the Rakahangan historians knew of Hiro, but that knowledge could have been derived from other areas besides Rarotonga. They may have followed the strong tendency that existed among genealogists to connect their ancestors with celebrated historical characters, thus adding luster to their pedigrees.

According to Gill (10, vol. 2, pp. 281, 282), Toa was a great warrior but was defeated in Rarotonga. Gill gives this defeat as the reason why Toa and his wife came to settle in the land discovered by Iku (Huku). He says further, “The Rarotongan chiefs confirm this testimony by relating the departure of ‘Toa’ from this island many generations ago. He was a great warrior of the Ngati-Tinomana tribe.” The tribe referred to inhabits the western part of Rarotonga. Gill also mentions the habit of saying something after sneezing, as though addressing a spirit. On Manihiki it was usual to say, “Alas! alas! Go to Rarotonga.” The evidence cited would appear to confirm Rarotonga as the original habitat of Toa and Tapairu.