Tongareva, an atoll situated in latitude 9° S. and longitude 157° 10″ W., is the largest and farthest north of the lagoon islands under the Cook Islands administration of New Zealand, but it is not, geographically, one of the Cook Islands. It is composed of a ring of islands spaced along a reef about 40 miles in circuit with a contained lagoon of about 108 square miles.
The name, Tongareva, means “Floating Tonga” and was given to the atoll by the Polynesian discoverers. Gill (6, p. 11)1 gives Fararanga as an older name, which he interprets as “land.” As the Tongarevan dialect contains no f sound, Gill probably confused it with Raroranga, which is mentioned in one of the genealogies collected, “The growth of the human stock of Raroranga, Tongareva.”
Figure 1. Map of part of the central Pacific showing the position of Tongareva (Penrhyn) Island.
No complete survey of the atoll has been made; figure 2
is a rough approximation. The sizes of the islands are only indicated, but their relative positions and correct native names were checked with the assistance of Tupou Isaia, who acted as the guide during various expeditions to locate the maraes. Smith (23, p. 90), from data given by Lamont (15), gives a list of 14 islands, with one small island. Here confusion has arisen because Lamont did not make it clear that some of the names he gave were of divi-
sions or districts. Thus, the first four names on Smith's list are all on the one large island to the southwest; of these, Mangarongaro and Hakasusa are the two main divisions of the island. Sararak, which figures prominently in Lamont's account, cannot be located, but it was probably the district in which Opaka, the leading chief, lived. Tahiti was also a district in which Opaka lived, and it is definitely located. Similarly, Omoka and Motukohiti are not separate islands but two divisions of the large island which lies on the west. Te Puka in the southeast and Motu-unga (“Motunga”?) to the
Figure 2. Map of Tongareva showing islets, passages, land divisions, villages, and maraes. Based on a British survey of 1881. (Additions by K. P. Emory and Te Rangi Hiroa.)
north of Omoka and Motukohiti are separate islands. Tokerau in the north is undoubtedly correct as the name of an island which is divided into a number of districts, but Ruahara, also in the north, is part of an island of which the other division is Torea. Tautua and Motu-nono (“Motumuno”) are the two divisions of one island in the east, and Te Mata (“Tamata”) is one of the three divisions of another island on the east, the other divisions being Naue and Patanga. Hangarei (“Hangary”) is one of four small islands separated from Mangarongaro by shallow channels. The other
islands are Matapurarua, Tuahua, and Manono. Etukaha, which Smith considered the correct form of Lamont's “Etuchacha,” is the small island of Atutahi in the south. Thus Smith's list of 15 islands diminishes to 8 islands and parts of two others. On the other hand, the following small islands that once were inhabited have been omitted: in the south, Vaiari and Atiati; in the east, Tepetepe, Kavea, Vaselu, and Takuha; and in the north, Niu-te-kainga. Of these seven islands, all except two have maraes. In addition, there are two large islands in the north, one containing the district of Rukutia and the other that of Nahe. The names of 33 small islets not fit for permanent occupation were given and marked on the map in their approximate positions, but there are probably others. One small island is situated well within the lagoon, and it is curious that its name of Motu-taiko should be the same as the name of the one island situated in Lake Taupo in New Zealand. The larger islands had no single name but were distinguished by the divisional names.
The islands are composed of coral and sand and nowhere rise more than 50 feet above sea level. In official records the total area is given as 40,000 acres.
Three passages through the reef admit small vessels into the lagoon. The northeast passage named Takuha is situated between the islands of Te Rae and Takuha. The northwest passage named Sekelangi lies between Te Kasi and Tokelau. The west passage between Motu-unga and Omoka is the largest and is about 40 yards wide and 21 feet deep. It admits vessels of fair size, such as H. M. S. Veronica, which can anchor within the lagoon. Trading schooners can tie up against the wharf at Omoka and those trading in the Cook Islands usually go to Omoka to lie up for the hurricane season. The lagoon is very deep but contains upgrowths of coral which have to be avoided in navigation. The natives have names for the various shallows and coral upgrowths. The reef on the lagoon side of the islands extends a varying distance from the shore and the deeper channels influence the location of landing places on the islands. The large pearl shell —responsible for the eventual growth of trade—and the small pipi shell are both abundant. The small Tridacna (pasua) abounds and forms an important food supply.