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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

First Divisions

First Divisions

Rakahanga affords the unique example of the development of an insular population from one biological family. Its isolation and sea-girt bounds presumably prevented the intrusion of foreign elements. The blood tie was apparently realized to such a degree that no internecine wars broke out. The people developed for about nine or ten generations in one village on one island in peace and harmony.

The absence of descriptive words in the relationship terminology must not be regarded as an indication that degrees of remoteness in kinship were not recognized. When crowding of population took place, some households moved away to obtain more space. The households that were close of kin accompanied them to the new center instead of remaining in proximity with people remote in blood. Thus the very feeling of close consanguinity that led family groups to establish themselves close together, by removal from the vicinity of other families gave expression also to the recognition of remote degrees of blood relationship. Upon this principle family groups have been segregated, have developed into tribes, and have later automatically divided into subtribes.

The budding off of the families (puna) took place on the one small island, Te Kainga. Kainga means “home,” or the place where people dwell. In the course of time the original household developed into a village, but the village was automatically divided into separate groupings that claimed common blood kinship from more recent ancestors. The island of Te Kainga became established as the island of occupation, whereas all the other islands were reserved for the production of food. The regular passages back and forth to Manihiki were later established, though food considerations and the establishment of two villages in Manihiki were the result of the still later development of tribes and a dual arikiship.

Tradition shows that the families in the first few generations arranged themselves into two groupings according to their descent from the two brothers, Matangaro and Hukutahu. This dual grouping was rendered the more conscious because the ariki title descended in the Hukutahu family. The Matangaro families built their habitations on the sea side of the island, and the Hukutahu families took the inland lagoon side. In each generation families of close consanguinity naturally built their dwellings in proximity to each other. Occupation of particular localities led to the establishment of the rights of ownership to the particular portion of land on which the dwellings were built, and the theoretical division into two groups according to pedigree was thus carried into practice in the grouping of habitations. The page 58 factors which led to the crossing of the group boundaries were marriage and adoption. Wives went to live in their husbands' habitations in their group localities, and conversely, younger brothers sometimes went to live with their wives' relatives. A brother or a father might adopt a sister's or a daughter's child, who otherwise would have remained with the group of the child's blood father.

The automatic grouping took place in each of the two divisions. In each generation, while new families were created with their respective degrees of closeness, the existing degrees of remoteness were rendered another step more remote. Thus, if the Hukutahu families had been examined in the 5th generation, it would have been found that the families at one end of the territory allotted to them were of closer kin to each other than they were to the families at the other end. Somewhere between them there was a potential line of cleavage which became intensified with each succeeding generation. In the 5th generation the ariki Hukutahu-rourou-a-whara married two wives. The tendency to split is exemplified by the division of power between the eldest sons of the two wives. Kaitapu, the son of the first wife, retained the ariki title. All the families connected by close kinship to his mother formed a closer group around Kaitapu. Huku-potiki, the son of the second wife, became the land distributor, and all the families closely related to his mother formed another group around Huku-potiki. This secondary grouping within the Hukutahu group was simple, because evidently both mothers were from within the Hukutahu group. The automatic grouping or arrangement within a recognized larger group is unconscious until growth of population or the ambition of families makes the secondary grouping so conscious that it leads to a definite cleavage of the main group. Thus the establishment of two titles or offices led to the commencement of conscious grouping within the Hukutahu group. By the time the 10th generation was reached, the cleavage had become so definite that the original Hukutahu group had split into two groups which received the specific names, Nu-matua and Tia-ngaro-tonga. The formation of two definite groups with distinctive names led to the abandonment of the Hukutahu classification, but it was known that these two organized groups had descended from Hukutahu. The two groups continued to dwell on the lagoon side of the village that had grown up, and, owing to the method of budding off, each group occupied its own definite area.

A similar process had taken place in the Matangaro group, but the Matangaro people had no special titles or offices which might serve to accentuate a conscious cleavage in the earlier stages of growth. In the 11th generation, however, the tendency to segregate was brought to a head through the two families of the ariki Tautape. The native historians state that the page 59 old group of Nu-matua and Tia-ngaro-tonga ranged to the support of one of the sons of Tautape named Tianewa-matua. This was a carrying on of the support that they had always rendered to the ariki line, which came from within themselves. The Matangaro group, however, became attached to Temu-matua, the son of Tautape's other wife. Spurred to action by the fear of losing Temu-matua through the proposed voyage with his maternal uncle, Rikiriki, they kept him by making him head over their group. As the historians say, the Matangaro people formed the new groups (mata-keinanga) of Heahiro and Mokopuwai to support Temu-matua. This created a dual arikiship with two groups supporting each ariki. From the statement regarding new tribes, it would appear that the two Hukutahu groups had been named some time before but that the circumstances surrounding the creation of the second ariki led to the definite naming of the two groups into which the Matangaro people divided.

The scattered habitations had by this time fused into a large village on Te Kainga, in which the population lived close together (piri te tangata). The division between the four groups was maintained in the arrangement within the village. A boundary stone (tuakoi; Rarotongan, kena) had been erected in the middle of the village to mark the boundary between the two original groups. It still remains in its original position and consists of a wide coral slab standing about 4 feet above ground. The two groups on either side of the boundary had automatically erected their dwellings in group clusters. The native phrase “ka tere te tangata e tona nani” (the individual went with his household) indicates the process already described. In the more complicated arrangement of a closely settled village, the leaders of the groups set up boundaries between the four groups and later between the subgroups which subsequently developed.

In the 11th generation, therefore, the population had organized into four named groups (matakeinanga) which for the purposes of this study may be regarded as tribes.