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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga



Fire was generated (hika) by means of a typical Polynesian fire plough. A groove was rubbed on a lower piece of dry wood (kauneti) by means of a pointed rubbing stick (kaurima) of hard wood. It was customary for an assistant to steady the far end of the kauneti by pressing it firmly on the ground with the foot. This process of pressing down (tomi; Maori, taomi) the under piece was regarded as necessary, as shown by quotations from fire myths. By the friction of the kaurima, particles of wood collected at the far end of the groove, smouldered, and ignited (kua tu te ahi). The ignited particles were blown upon gently to light up the wood dust and were then emptied onto a piece of dry coconut husk (puru), which, by gentle waving to and fro, was also ignited. From the flaming puru the fire was lit.

Firewood was a problem, as native forests were not extensive. Dry branches of trees were used, but the coconut, besides supplying food, also provided much of the firewood used. The dry flower sheath (taume) and the dry flower stalks (roro) were gathered for heating the oven. Empty coconut shells (ipu), thrown in heaps near the kitchen, were utilized for firewood as they are even to the present day.

The earth oven (umu) was used, but suitable stones which exist in abundance in high islands were absent on the coral atolls. Recourse was had, as in Tongareva, to coral and Tridacna shells. The coral, after one heating, became friable, and fresh material had to be collected for each oven. The lack of suitable large leaves in the local flora led to the plaiting of special sheets from coconut leaves to provide covers for the food while it was cooking, in order to retain the heat. Thus the people of the atolls of Rakahanga and Tongareva used plaited oven covers like their kinsmen in New Zealand, whereas those of Cook Islands and Society Islands used covers of breadfruit, banana, and other large leaves which their flora provided in abundance.

Tongs (pingohi) made by doubling pieces of coconut leaf midrib were used to lift heated stones from the oven in some of the culinary operations and in the making of coconut oil.