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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga



The drama is represented by historical pageants (nuku). The stage, for most plays, is the village street. An orchestra of wooden gongs and the inevitable goatskin drum is provided, and a chorus may sing songs which describe the main events of the drama. A certain amount of make-up is used by the actors. The stage properties are necessarily of the crudest description. The actual words used by historical ancestors are recited at the appropriate time by the actors, but most of the play is represented in dumb show much after the principle of Chinese plays. The village humorist usually has a part, and by his exaggerated actions arouses much laughter among the audience. The person who thinks out the representation of the historical incident is credited as the author of the play, and it is customary to get his assistance or consent before reënacting the pageant on subsequent occasions.

A nuku seen at Rakahanga represented the mythical origin of the atoll (see p. 14) and is described in detail to give some idea of the method of presenting a nuku. The play took place in the afternoon. The street was cleared. The guests of honor were seated on the veranda of the chief's house, while the orchestra and chorus took up their position in the open court house opposite. The expectant audience lined the street on both sides in our immediate neighborhood. A small coconut leaf basket was placed bottom upwards in the middle of the street stage. The audience, which had seen the play before, glanced in the direction of an old, roofless lime house that stood about 20 yards down the street on our right and evidently formed page 199 a screen for the leading actor. We followed the general gaze and were rewarded by the sight of Huku, the Discoverer, paddling his canoe around the corner into the main street, which represented the South Pacific Ocean. The canoe was formed of a 6-foot length of coconut leaf split down the midrib and plaited in the same manner as two roof sheets. With the midrib strips uppermost to form the canoe gunwales, a sheet was placed on either side of Huku's waist and tied in front and back so that the ends projected fore and aft to represent the bow and stern of his canoe. To prevent the canoe from slipping down, a loop of bast tied to the gunwales before and behind was passed over one shoulder. Huku was naked except for a loin cloth, while his entire body and face had been plastered with a greyish mud which served as grease paint. Around his head he wore a turban made from a piece of old fishing net. He wore whiskers, beard, and mustache made of coconut husk fiber. The make-up formed an effective disguise. (See pl. 11, C.) Huku's appearance, with the husk mustaches projecting at abnormal angles and the eyelashes caked with dry mud, was appreciatively welcomed with bursts of laughter. Stuck through the leaves of the canoe was a short fishing rod, with a curved strip of coconut husk dangling from the end of the line to represent both hook and bait. Huku's mud-painted legs projected down through the bottom of the canoe and supplied the real motor power as he wielded a canoe paddle to propel his canoe toward the middle of the stage. Now and again he ceased paddling to make casts with his ludicrous fishing rod, for his expedition was for the purpose of fishing. The progress of the canoe was varied by encounters with imaginary Pacific rollers, during which the bow of the canoe rose to dizzy heights and fell into deep troughs. As the canoe approached, the orchestra struck up a rhythm, and the chorus of men and women sitting grouped together burst into song.

Te kapua anga ia Rakahanga i te puka mari kongakore o tahito.
E tangata o Huku no Rarotonga mai e tere tautai na te moana.

The taking form of Rakahanga according to the tradition of ancient times.
There was a man named Huku from Rarotonga, who came on a fishing expedition out on the ocean.

The rhythm of the music affected the legs that stuck through the bottom of the canoe and they performed a grotesque dance on the bottom of the Pacific ocean, to the intense delight of the audience. By this time Huku had arrived near the basket in the middle of the stage. He bent over the side of his canoe and, peering down into the depths of the ocean, scrutinized the object. “Ah,” said he, “this is an upgrowth of land.” Again the chorus burst into song.

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Titiro iho Huku e tapua ua te whenua.
Kua hoki o Huku ki Rarotonga.

Huku gazed down, the land was but forming.
Huku returned to Rarotonga.

Huku turned his canoe about and paddled off toward the dilapidated house which represented Rarotonga. On his way he evidently encountered a hurricane, for the bow of the canoe rose to alarming heights, and Huku even fell to the ground, where he kicked spasmodically, thus representing a canoe wallowing in the trough of high seas. At times we thought he was gone, for he had hardly enough strength to rise and surmount the next wave, but eventually, after a realistic exhibition, he passed through the gale and landed at Rarotonga.

For the second act, a stage hand roughly erected some coconut leaves on our side of the stage to represent a house. A small girl, covered with frayed mats and lauhala strips to represent an old woman, came in and took possession of the house. She was Hina-i-te-papa who dwelt at the bottom of the sea and evidently had power over fish. All eyes now turned toward an object on our left. Another coconut leaf canoe, paddled by an occupant also plastered with grey mud, emerged from behind a house. This was the mischievous culture hero of Polynesia, known in Rakahanga as Maui-muri. Paddling to the middle of the stage, he unloosened his canoe, stepped out of it, and with outspread arms took a realistic header onto the floor of the ocean. He crawled along on his hands and knees to the house of Hina-i-te-papa, and a modern note was introduced when he knocked with his knuckles against the midrib of one of the coconut leaves. He then proceeded to instruct Hina as to what she had to do when he and his brothers came fishing next day. He crawled back to his canoe, assumed the erect position, tied his canoe to himself, and paddled off. A few seconds later, a very large coconut leaf canoe emerged from behind the corner of the house. Three men were strapped to the canoe, the one in the stern being Maui-muri. Each had a short fishing line with a Ruvettus hook attached to it and stuck in his waist cloth. As the voyagers approached the stage the chorus broke out,

E waka tautai teia no nga Maui e teru.
Rira rirari lalalala. Ko te Pipimahakohako te ingoa o taua waka nei.
E tere tautai to ratou; na te matangi rai i hapai atu, etae atu ra ki te Tukunga i Whakahotu.
Maui-muri atea pou i raro i te moana
Tena o Hina-i-te-papa tei raro i te moana, tei whakatika mai i tahau i pati atu.

This is a fishing canoe belonging to the three Mauis.
Rira rirari lalalala. The Pipimahakohako is the name of that canoe.
A fishing expedition is theirs; the wind will bear them along to reach the fishing ground at Whakahotu.
Maui-muri, beforehand go down into the ocean,
There is Hina-i-te-papa below the sea, to grant that which you ask for.

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It will be noticed that the third verse is put into the present tense in continuous narrative form, though Maui-muri had already sought out Hina-i-te-papa. The fishing incidents described on pages 1415 were then acted. As Maui-mua, in the bow of the canoe, dropped his hook, the chorus sang,

Maui-mua tautea to matau; tukua to matau kia kai mai te ika i raro i Hawaiki.

O Maui-mua, prepare your hook; drop your hook that the fish below in Hawaiki may bite.

Hina-i-te-papa, who was supposed to be invisible from her position at the bottom of the sea, seized the hook, stuck it into a small immature coconut, and pulled on the line. Maui-mua shouted with glee and asked his brothers to guess the name of the fish he had hooked. Maui-muri replied that it was a shark. The chorus epitomized the incident in song:

Kua mou e, mou mai te mango ki runga i te matau. Kia pateretere te merete.
Ka huti huti hutia ki runga; ka pate pate pateretere. Kua kai tero patere.
Mango tena. E taravini teraravini mei te titiraina.

It is caught, the shark is caught on the hook. (Refrain).
Haul, haul, haul it up. (Refrain).
It is a shark. (Refrain).

The second Maui brother let his hook down and the chorus sang,

Maui-roto e tautea to matau, e tukua to matau kia kai mai te ika i raro i Hawaiki.

O Maui-roto, prepare your hook; let down your hook that the fish below in Hawaiki may bite.

Hina-i-te-papa stuck the hook into another immature coconut, which represented an urua fish. As the hook was pulled, Maui-roto shouted with glee and asked the question, which was correctly answered by Maui-muri. The chorus sang a similar song regarding the hooking and hauling up of the fish, and urua was substituted for mango in the song.

The hook of Maui-muri baited with a small green branch of puka, a piece of coconut husk, and an immature, small nut was let down, to the song by the chorus. Hina-i-te-papa, according to agreement, hooked it into the rock, represented by a large coconut. The chorus sang,

Kua mou e, mou mai Hawaiki ki runga i te matau. Kia pateretere te merete.
Ka huti, etc.

It is caught, Hawaiki is caught on the hook. (Refrain).

The coconut was brought up with much straining. As it appeared on the canoe, Maui-muri stepped off onto what was supposed to be dry land, while his brothers fell off the canoe and crawled away, to show that they had been engulfed in the ocean.

Maui-muri then recited with appropriate hand and foot action a kapa. Hina-i-te-papa, presumably at the bottom of the sea, also recited a kapa:

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Torireto! Paoa mai te rangi,
Mimiti mai te wai,
Hohoro mai te wai, torireto.

The heavens crash,
The waters recede,
The waters surge.

The stage was then cleared for the third act.

In the third act Huku paddled over from Rarotonga, saw the land, and planted a coconut in the road. The chorus epitomized the scene as follows:

Aro mai Huku mei Rarotonga
Tere tautai ika na te moana e.
Pakia ai koe e te kare o te moana.
Tirotiro Huku e kua ha te whenua.
Kua tanu aia i te hakari,
Kua tapa aia i tona ingoa ko te Huruawatea.
Kua hoki aia ki Rarotonga.

Huku came from Rarotonga,
On a fishing expedition at sea.
You will be beaten by the sea-spray.
Huku gazed about and saw the land was bare.
He planted a coconut,
He named it the Huru-awatea.
He has returned to Rarotonga.

The fourth act opened with Huku basking in the sun, leaning against the wall of the ruined house. Another character, Wheatu, appeared and also sat against the wall not far from Huku. Huku, daydreaming, repeated the historic words:

Oa, tera pa te Huru-awatea te tahirihiri mai ra i te Maru-o-araiawa.
Ah—perhaps the Huru-awatea is waving its fronds in the Shade-of-Araiawa.

Wheatu, thereupon, embarked in a plaited coconut leaf and arrived at the area which the planted coconut palm showed to be Rakahanga. Here he enacted the story of battering a canoe channel through the reef by hammering on one flat piece of coral with another. The part of Wheatu was taken by the village humorist. Thus, when Huku again arrived on the scene, a good deal of amusing byplay went on. To Huku's angry question why he was there, Wheatu—in soft, cooing tones, purposely exaggerated—replied that he was making a channel for him, and with much assumption of energy Wheatu battered away on the piece of coral. When Huku ordered him to leave, Wheatu pursed out his lips and kept mumbling in imitation of Huku. When Huku turned away, Wheatu stuck out his tongue at him, to the enjoyment of the audience. Finally Wheatu had to embark on his coconut canoe. When he was safely embarked, he added a modern Western note to his acting by placing his thumb to his nose and spreading out his fingers. By this time, orchestra, chorus, actors, and audience were satisfied. Huku again protruded his lower extremities through his coconut leaf and paddled his stormy way home in the wake of Wheatu, who had been doing fancy steps to the rhythm of the gongs. With a crash of the goatskin drum, the play was over.

In one play concerning the voyage of Tuahu and Waikohu to Hawaiki, the upper end of a coconut tree was carried in by about 20 men and planted page 203 upright in the village street. It had a nut tied to one of the branches. The tree was guarded by an old blind woman. Waikohu landed on Hawaiki and climbed the tree without seeing the old woman. He dropped the nut to the ground and aroused the blind woman, who, stationing herself at the foot of the tree, captured Waikohu as he descended. A fire of dry coconut leaves upon which to cook Waikohu was lit, but by means of an incantation Waikohu caused the smoke to fall upon the sons of his captor and so escaped.

Another Rakahangan play depicted the departure of the people to Manihiki. A woman of high rank remained behind purposely, and she had some trouble with the spirits who haunted her lonely stay. The spirits were represented by about 20 children, who were naked except for loin cloths and, liberally plastered with grey mud, looked their ghostly parts. In one scene they danced very effectively.

In Manihiki, our departure by schooner for Tongareva was delayed until the local people put on a nuku representing the voyage of an ancestor to Aitutaki to see a hala tree that had been planted there by the ancestor's grandfather. The hala tree was duly represented.

Their reproductions of historical events in the form of nuku are greatly enjoyed by the people. Though technique may have altered slightly, the nuku are old and are enacted throughout the Cook Islands, as well as in Society Islands and the Tuamotus. The nuku reflect the deep-seated interest taken in traditional history, and no doubt have assisted in the memorizing of some of the events of the past.