Vikings of the Sunrise
12. The Northeastern Radial
12. The Northeastern Radial
Over the sea the Take spread,
Spread to a world of light;
Spread did the Take, spread, yes, spread,
The Take spread.
A branch of the Polynesians, who termed themselves the Tăkĕ, spread from the central nucleus in a northeasterly direction. Their ships passed through the darkness of the unknown to emerge where the sun shone on a group of volcanic islands which they hailed as a world of light. The islands discovered were grouped together under the name of Hiva, but centuries later they were renamed by another people, the Marquesas.
The westernmost island of the group is about a thousand miles from Ra‘iatea. The archipelago is divided into a southern and a northern group. The inhabited islands of the southern group are Fatuhiva, Tahuata, and Hivaoa; those of the northern group are ‘Uapou, Nukuhiva, and Uahuka. A number of smaller islands were inhabited until western man arrived with the host of deadly microbes that seem to accompany him wherever he goes. The ancient population of the islands went into tens of thousands. Captain Porter in 1813 calculated that there were 19,200 warriors in Nukuhiva, page 152 and he estimated the total population of the group at 80,000. This was perhaps an overestimate, but, in 1904, the population had diminished to 4000; and the census of 1911 gave it as 2890. Venereal diseases, tuberculosis, and epidemics were introduced by ships into what had been a world of light so far as disease was concerned. No branch of the Polynesians has suffered more for its kindness and hospitality to Europeans than have the Marquesans.
The Marquesas are rugged islands with an abundance of basaltic stone which provided tools for the early settlers. From a backbone of mountainous ridges reaching an elevation of 4000 feet on ‘Uapou, the streams have cut deep valleys with almost no level land beside their beds. The ridges between the valleys form precipitous walls which isolate the valleys from each other and slope steeply to the sea, leaving little level land along the coast. The ends of the valleys form bays, but there are no protecting coral reefs. A little coral, found in some of the bays, is of no significance in the plan of the Great Architect of the Universe.
Legends refer to the first comers as the Tăkĕ, for tâkê means the cause, the root. They were the cause of life that spread from the centre of Polynesia to take root in the deep isolated valleys of the rugged isles of Hiva. They took root so long ago that the legends which have filtered down through the generations have left the names of the first discoverers and their voyaging ships behind with a bygone age. The sacred chants, which correspond to abridged forms of the log books of deep-sea mariners, record the names of various lands through which they passed in the seas to the southwest. Among these are Havai‘i, Upo‘u, Vevau, and Fiti-nui which we may recognize as the ancient forms of Ra‘iatea, Taha‘a, Porapora, and Great-Tahiti. These ancient names were given page 153 to localities in the new home and, just as the name New England in the eastern part of the United States bears witness to origin in England, so do the names in the Marquesan chants and those of local districts point definitely to the Society Islands as the last place whence the people came.
At the centre of settlement in each island group there should be a monument to the leader of the first settlers or a simple shrine to the unknown discoverer. There are many of Polynesian blood today who would thrill to lay a fragrant wreath at the foot of some plain stone pillar in honour of their own unknown. Perhaps some faint vibration from the dim past might stir our dry bones or gently touch our heart strings to a better appreciation of our bygone ancestors e'en though their names be forgotten.
One of the regrets of my life is that Fate and Bishop Museum did not give me the opportunity of absorbing some of the atmosphere of the Marquesas. I joined the staff of Bishop Museum after the field work had been done in the Marquesas by the Bayard Dominick Expedition. Let me tell you about Bayard Dominick, for, though he may not realize it, he materially helped toward the initiation of an intensive survey of the culture of the Polynesian people. Bayard Dominick is a graduate of Yale University, and he gave a liberal sum of money to his Alma Mater for research work in the Pacific area. Yale, through its affiliation, passed the donation on to Bishop Museum to spend on field work in Polynesia. As a result of this financial assistance, university graduates in anthropology were sent out to various island groups to make regional surveys. An expedition was sent to the Marquesas in 1920–21, consisting of Dr. E. S. Craig-hill Handy, his wife Willowdean Handy, and Dr. Ralph Linton to study the culture of the people, and Dr. and Mrs. page 154 Forest Brown to study botany. Failing personal knowledge, I have compiled much in this chapter from the reports of the expedition published by Bishop Museum.
In order to understand the apparent differences between Marquesan words and those of central Polynesia, it is necessary to say a little about the consonant changes that have taken place. The southern islands of the Marquesas have evidently been affected by the later changes in Tahitian speech. The k has been dropped, as in Tahiti, Samoa, and Hawai‘i, and the Tahitian f is used where h is used in the northern islands. In both the north and south, the ng is represented by n, though some regions substitute k for ng as in the South Island of New Zealand. The most curious change, however, is the dropping of the r in both groups, though it is retained in a few words. Dropped consonants are represented in speech by a catch in the voice and in writing by an inverted comma. Thus we may recognize the Marquesan ‘a as the ra (sun) of the basic language, ‘una as runga (above), and ‘a‘o as raro (below).
Marquesan myths had evidently been partially forgotten when they were first recorded in writing long after European contact. The creation myths lack many details that the old priests must have known. However, some of the general themes have been transmitted in a confused form that may yet be translated by those who can interpret the displaced sequence of events.
Creation begins with Papa-‘una (Upper-stratum) and Papa-‘a‘o (Lower-stratum) as primary parents. Their offspring were numerous, and among them were Atea, Tane, Tu, ‘Ono-tapu (Rongo-tapu), Tonofiti, Tiki, and Aumia, whom we have met in other islands. The Upper-stratum and the Lower-stratum were very close together, and their page 155 children were born in darkness. The children rebelled and decided to force their parents apart and so let light into their world. Ru, who propped up the Sky-father in Tahiti and the Cook Islands, is absent in Marquesan myth, but his place is taken by Tonofiti who pushed the Upper-stratum on high. Thus the gods, born of the two primary parents, assumed their functions in a world of light.
The Marquesan myth departs from the pattern previously observed in that one Papa married another Papa and produced Atea. In other islands, Atea married Papa, but since Papa was already given in marriage, the Marquesan school created the new personage, Atanua, as wife for Atea. Te Tumu and Fa‘ahotu, who played an important role at this period in other myths, are conspicuously absent. It seems to me that the Tăkĕ (Source), as applied to the early people who spread to Hiva, has been substituted for Te Tumu (Source). Fa‘ahotu had either not been invented in the central area before the Tăkĕ left or had been forgotten, else the Marquesan school had surely mated Atea with Fa‘ahotu and so saved themselves the trouble of inventing Atanua.
Atea retained importance by being made the direct ancestor of man. Atea also married various personified females and produced mountains, rocks, earth; various food plants such as coconuts, breadfruit, chestnuts, other non-edible plants; and the pig. He was also the father of the months of the lunar cycle. Thus Atea was given the procreating function attributed to Tiki in the myths of Tuamotu, Mangareva, New Zealand, and Easter Island.
Of the other progeny of the Upper-stratum and the Lower-stratum, Tu functioned in his normal capacity as god of war, and those who took particular part in his ritual were alluded to as the Ati-tu (the Tribe-of-Tu). ‘Ono or ‘Onotapu, page 156 who appears as Rongo, god of peace and agriculture, in other islands, is merely a legendary character without divine attributes. It may be that the Marquesans were so warlike that they had no use for a god of peace and that their cultivable lands were so limited that they had little for which to thank a god of agriculture. That Rongo had power at one time is indicated by the legendary account of his defeat of the god Tohetika who, as Toutika, finds a place in the Cook Islands' pantheon.
Tane is another of the important gods of Opoa who lost his divinity in the Marquesas. His association with craftsmen, however, is dimly remembered in local legends associating him with a sacred adze. He is also associated with people of light skin and hair and thus, in historical times, was held to be the ancestor of the white race.
The local gods, Manatu meaning thought and Pupuke meaning the source or welling-up of knowledge, were the patrons of the sacred chants; and Pupuke was the god of one of the houses of the inspirational priests. In New Zealand, Rua-i-te-pupuke occurs as a mythical character who is a source of wisdom. I mention Pupuke in order to show that certain abstract concepts were widespread throughout Polynesia, expressed either as part of educated speech or as divine personifications.
One of the most striking features of Marquesan myth is the absence of Tana‘oa (Tangaroa) among the progeny of Papa‘una and Papa‘a‘o. He functions, however, as the god of the winds, the sea, and fishing. As Tangaroa occurs as the god of the sea and of fishing in New Zealand, it would appear that these were his true departments when the ancestors of the Marquesans and the New Zealanders left central Polynesia and that his elevation as creator belongs to a later stage of development in central Polynesia.page 157
Some myths elevate Tiki as the primary ancestor of man. He is stated to have lived in Havaiki without a wife. He made a mound of sand into the form of a child. Returning three days later, he found that the mound had developed into a living woman. He named her Hina-tu-na-one (Maid-standing-on-the-sands) and took her to wife. From this couple were born the Upper-stratum and the Lower-stratum who, in turn, gave birth to Atea and Atanua. Tiki created the island of Nukuhiva by invocation and placed Atea and Atanua upon it. The Nukuhiva people made images in stone of Tiki and used them in their worship. I believe that this version has been compounded by the later Marquesans out of dislocated fragments to satisfy the inquiries of modern seekers after ancient lore. I do not believe that any old-time priest or historian would have departed so greatly from the pattern that exists in other islands. Another Tiki myth states that the woman he made out of sand or earth was named Hina-mata-one (Earth-maid). By this wife he had a daughter for whom he built a separate house in order that he might visit her secretly to commit incest with her. This is the version that is held in the Tuamotus and Mangareva, and it conforms to a more general pattern. It is evident that the Marquesan school had the original myth in which Tiki is credited with being the direct ancestor of man, but modern historians blundered in substituting Atea for Tiki.
In a genealogy recorded by Handy, there are one hundred and fifty-nine generations commencing with ‘Ani-motua (Rangi-matua), the Sky-father. Vatea (Atea) and his wife Atanua occur on the fiftieth generation from the Sky-father. Tiki occurs on the seventy-first generation, so that the order in sequence of Vatea and Tiki is orthodox. If assessed at twenty-five years a generation, this genealogy goes back to page 158 2000 b.c. which, of course, is impossible. It includes natural phenomena, concepts of creation, the growth from roots, material objects in the sea and on land, the winds, and various lands, which in the form of males are mated to females. It is a confused list of evolutionary processes—confused because there is no living person who can interpret the teachings of the ancient Marquesan school of learning. We can but admire the effort of memory that handed on such a lengthy list after its significance and meaning had been irrevocably lost.
The genealogies were learned and taught by experts termed o‘ono (orongo). They used a device of twined coconut fibre termed a ta‘o mata to which were attached long cords with knots to represent the various generations of the genealogy. A resemblance has been seen to the quipus by which the Peruvians, with knotted cords, kept or calculated their business accounts. The Marquesans are held to have used their device as an aid to memorizing their genealogies, but, even though fresh knots may have been added as children were born to a lineage, the knots in themselves could not give the cue to the individual names. The knotted cords, like the carved knobs of the wooden genealogical sticks of New Zealand, were used for spectacular effect. The number of knots on a cord or the knobs on a stick might indicate the number of generations in a lineage, and it was a fitting climax when the reciter ended the last generation on the final knot or knob.
Among the legendary characters we have already met are the Maui brethren, of whom there are seven in the Marquesas. The eldest was Maui-mua and the youngest Maui-tikitiki. Between were Maui-mu‘i, Maui-pae, and Maui-taha. If we substitute Maui-roto for Maui-mu‘i, we have exactly the same names as in the New Zealand family of five. The two extras are Maui-vaveka and Maui-hakatata-mai; there were page 159 probably alternative names for two of an original family of five but, in the course of time, they came to be regarded as distinct individuals, so raising the number of the family to seven.
In the Marquesas, as in other islands, Maui-tikitiki, the youngest, fished up various islands, obtained fire from his grandfather Mahuike in the power regions, and snared the sun with a noose of human hair to delay his passage across the sky in order that Maui's laundry might have time to dry. He converted himself into a pigeon (‘upe) to recover his wife. In New Zealand, he changed himself into a pigeon (rupe) in order to discover his sister.
Coming down to the period of legendary human ancestors, we find a number of names recorded as early settlers of the six inhabited islands. These ancestors are held to have arrived in Hiva between the tenth and the twelfth centuries, but there is no record of the names of their ships. Of these, Mahuta occurs in the genealogies, and it is interesting to note that an ancestor Mahuta occurs in the legends of Rakahanga and Tongareva.
Handy's informants believed that the first settlement in the land of light was on Hivaoa in the ancient district of Vevau, now comprising the valleys of Atuona, Te Hutu, Ta‘aoa, and Tahauka. Here in the most fertile section of the most attractive island, the Tăkĕ settled themselves; here they established a cultural centre, where they gathered together and consolidated their mythology and traditional lore into a definite pattern.
In the narrow valleys of Vevau the people increased and formed themselves into tribes. Some of them migrated to near-by islands and founded new tribes. In the north, Taipi-vai on the island of Nukuhiva became a second culture centre. Yet Vevau retained its pre-eminence as the first settlement. page 160 The departing place of spirits, a western promontory named Kiukiu, was near Vevau. The souls of the dead from outer islands had to return first to Kiukiu before setting out on their long journey to the westward. The people of Vevau called themselves Na-iki, a contracted form of Na-‘iki which, translated into the basic language, is Nga-ariki (the High-chiefs). Thus, like the descendants of the first settlers of Mangaia who called themselves Ngariki, the Marquesan Na-iki, by their very name, claimed priority and superiority over all other tribes. They might be defeated in war by other less ancient tribes, but they could not be robbed of their illustrious name and the achievement for which it stood.
In the isles of Hiva the Marquesans developed their own civilization, built upon the basic culture brought from central Polynesia. Hivaoa became the centre for carving in wood and stone and Nukuhiva became the centre for stone masonry. However, the crafts spread in an even pattern throughout the group. Expeditions penetrated to the Tuamotus and Cook Islands and farther to the east where they influenced the culture of Mangareva and Easter Island. It is probable that some of the voyages north to Hawai‘i passed through the Marquesas. Thus the Marquesas became a centre for the development and dissemination of culture in the east, corresponding to Havai‘i in the centre of Polynesia.
From Havai‘i the Marquesans brought the pig and the fowl, but the dog was either left behind or died out. They also brought the paper mulberry and various food plants, among which the breadfruit was given preference. The surplus of each crop was stored in pits lined with banana leaves, where the fruit fermented and kept indefinitely. Besides being a reserve food, the breadfruit trees were so prolific that fermented breadfruit became the staple article of food. page 161 The preserved breadfruit (ma) was kneaded with the hands, wrapped in leaves, cooked in the earth oven, and then pounded with stone pounders and thinned with water to form a paste (popoi). This treatment led to the use of a stone pounder with a flared circular base running up into a rounded neck for grasping with the hand and surmounted by a knob to prevent the hand from slipping upward. These pounders were so sought after by curio hunters that they became scarce in the islands. The Germans with their keen commercial instinct imported rock from the Marquesas to Germany and manufactured a large number of pounders to sell back to the Marquesans. The Marquesans of modern times quickly adopted the commercial methods of western civilization and sold the imported articles to tourists and traders as old, original specimens. We have several in Bishop Museum that serve to illustrate western progress in Polynesia.
Next to the New Zealanders, the Marquesans were the best carvers in Polynesia. They carved their wooden utensils and weapons with a richness of intricate designs that commands our respect. But they were not content with wood and bone as media for artistic expression, and they transferred some of their best designs to the human body in the form of tattooing. The body was completely tattooed from the upper limits of the hair to the toenails. It seems as if the early artists could not bear to waste any portion of the human canvas. In carving and tattooing, original motifs, including the curve and the single spiral, were developed.
In their houses as well as in their art the Marquesans developed an original form. The roof descended in a continuous oblique line to the ground at the back, whereas the front raised wall was normal. The horizontal poles to brace the rafters were placed on the inside of the rafters instead page 162 of on the outside as in Tahiti. The houses were built on level stone platforms extending out from the slopes of the deeply cut valleys. The house was built on a raised site at the back of the platform with an open court on a slightly lower level before it. On the court, some large flat stones were erected on an inclined plane to form backrests. Thus the father of the family and any distinguished guests could sit at ease on the stone pavement and recline against the stone backrest while they gossiped or watched the evening life of the valley pass before them.
In ornaments the Marquesan craftsmen displayed great initiative. They made ear ornaments of exquisite design and workmanship from the teeth of the sperm whale. Their breast ornaments and headdresses were unique. Armlets, anklets, and even kilts were fashioned from locks of human hair skilfully attached to braided bands of coconut fibre. The black hair of such ornaments was curled in a permanent wave by rolling the hair tightly around a wooden rod, wrapping it in green leaves, and subjecting it to heat in an earth oven.
The hair of the face was also used for ornaments but here a grey colour was preferred. Tahitians used grey hair from the tails of dogs to form tasseled fringes for breast ornaments, and the New Zealanders used similar tassels to ornament cloaks and weapons. The Marquesans had no dogs, so they used old men as a source of raw material. When a grandfather received news of a prospective grandchild, he allowed his beard to grow to provide material for making ornaments for his child. On examining museum specimens with tufts of wavy grey hair neatly seized with single coconut-husk fibres, I could not help thinking of the affection with which the grower must have combed his beard and the joy he experienced when it was of sufficient length to reap the crop.page 163
One of the peculiar head ornaments of the Marquesans is a forehead circlet consisting of alternate plaques of carved turtle shell and curved marine shell. These were fastened to a twined band of coconut fibre with circular pieces of pearl shell fixed to it. Such headdresses came into great demand after European contact. However turtle shell was scarce and difficult to carve, and pearl-shell discs were hard to shape and drill with holes. So Europeans provided the Marquesans with carved vulcanite plaques and shirt buttons with which they made many of the headdresses that today repose unsuspected in the world's museums.
The Marquesans built stone terraces termed me‘ae for their religious ceremonies. Here human sacrifices were offered the gods, and images in wood and stone were displayed, representing those gods who had been created in the image of man. For these sculptures a conventional form was developed locally. The flexed lower limbs and hands clasped on the abdomen are shared by other regions. The large eyes defined by a low, circular flange like spectacles, the nose with wide page 164 nostrils, the wide straight mouth defined by parallel lines evenly curved at the ends, the ear with the lobe enhanced by single spirals, and the hands with the five fingers curved in to meet each other in pairs on either side of the middle finger are all elements of a local technique. Some authors have interpreted the conventionalized images of gods as a crude attempt to represent the human form. However no Polynesian artists, with the possible exceptions of the Manga-revans, tried to carve the human figure in a realistic manner. They created symbolic forms, subjectively interpreted, in which anatomical exactness was not desired.
After studying Linton's plan of the assembly place of Nanauhi, in the Hatiheu Valley of Nukuhiva, I dreamed a dream compounded of what I had read and what I felt. I imagined myself on the visitors' terrace about four feet above the middle of the great dance floor with the sloping hill rising behind me. The level rectangular dance floor was over 300 feet long and 60 feet wide and was bounded on all sides by wide terraces one to two feet high which were crowded with, people. Here and there were higher platforms built behind the terraces and reserved for various social groups. To our left was a long terrace seven feet above the dance floor, with a long house for accommodation of warriors of the tribe. Here they sat, row on row, with their beautifully polished and carved clubs of ironwood within easy reach. No woman dared to approach this house, for it was taboo. Beyond the warriors and on the edge of the dance floor was a stone platform three feet high with the peculiar tall house that marked the residence of the inspirational priest. The left end of the dance floor was bounded by open terraces with house terraces behind them, and in the middle was the gap formed by the ascending steps by which we had entered.page 165
The low terrace stretched away to our right, but next to us was a platform over seven feet high which carried a house and an open space in front of it. This was the ladies' stand, and it was crowded with women and children.
At the right end was an open terrace a foot high and behind it another terrace three feet higher on which was the great long house of the high chief of the tribe. He sat on the open platform, leaning against a slanting stone backrest with his supporting chiefs and relatives beside him.
On the opposite side, facing us, was a low platform with a terrace, a foot higher behind, and both were crowded with people. On the right, a platform four feet high was occupied entirely by old men. On the left-hand corner was another platform four feet high occupied by the great wooden drums. They were so high that the young men who beat them had to stand on supports to reach the drum heads with their hands
I gazed in admiration at the people around me. Their bodies had been anointed with scented coconut oil. The intricate patterns of tattooing covered their bodies from hair to toes, leaving undecorated enough of their skins to show off the lines of the blue designs. All the men wore a bark cloth band passed between the legs and around the waist, with the ends hanging down in front and behind. Many wore a kilt of human hair over this inner garment. Some had a shoulder cape of human hair like the kilt, and others wore a cape of bark cloth tied in a large knot in front. They wore human-hair ornaments both as wristlets and anklets. On their breasts were hung polished pearl shells attached to a neck cord. Others bore crescents of wood covered with red seeds, and others again wore necklaces of the teeth of the sperm whale. In their ears, the men wore discs of sections of whale teeth, which covered the ear in front but were fixed by collar-stud page 166 projections which passed through holes in their ear lobes. The women wore more delicate ornaments carved in miniature human form from whale ivory.
It was the headdress, however, that commanded most attention. Those of the priests were made of pandanus leaf and so shaped that from the front they resembled a bishop's mitre. The young men wore sennit bands around the forehead with alternating curved plaques of white shell and carved turtle shell. The most magnificent were composed of the long, black tail feathers of roosters, waving vertically above the head and fixed to a sennit band, with the ends tied beneath the chin. Over the forehead of some men was a crescentic wide band covered with the iridescent feathers of the pigeon and tied at the back of the head. Others again wore wide sennit bands, carrying a whole pearl shell in the middle with carved turtle shell forming an arabesque in front of the shell. Forehead ornaments of white hair obtained from old men's beards added variety to the gala attire.
The treatment of the hair added further variety. The older men had shaved the sides of the head with a shark's tooth, and the central tuft of hair was tied in a bunch on top of the head with a strip of white bark cloth. The younger men had two tufts in front wrapped with white bark cloth, which looked like horns.
Each man of any importance carried in his right hand a long staff with a decoration of waved human hair at the top, and in his left hand a well-made fan of plaited pandanus leaf with a beautifully carved wooden handle.
The drums beat without ceasing, for, as soon as one man became tired and stepped down from the platform, another took his place. Below the drums was a group of chanters who kept vocal time to the rhythm of the drums.page 167
On the right corner of the dance platform was a long, open shed with the great cooking ovens, from which the food had just been removed. Great wooden bowls filled with cooked fermented breadfruit were brought forward, placed in a row on the dance floor, and covered over with banana leaves. Pigs, baked whole, were placed upon banana leaves beside them. Uncooked breadfruit was piled in pyramids, and yams, bananas, and all the foods of the country were heaped up in lavish hospitality. Men stepped forward with bamboo knives, and quickly cut up the pigs. Assistants laid out the portions of pork and other foods into appropriate heaps. The official distributor then called a name and pointed to a heap. The person named stepped down from his terrace or platform with his friends and took up his share of food. So it went on until all were served.
In my dream, I fancied I heard the distributor call, ‘To ha‘afiti ia Te ‘Ani Hi‘oa’ (This share for Te Rangi Hiroa). I would it had been real. All having been served, the assembly feasted. The drums, the chants, the hum of conversation, and the gaiety of laughter created a continuous din that made life happy.
Suddenly the drums beat a different rhythm, and the blast of a shell trumpet silenced the murmur of sound. Into the central dance floor wove a procession of girls, graceful and beautiful, and bedecked with fragrant leaves and flowers. Attached to the second finger of each hand by ring bands were the long red feathers of the bosun bird. Their lissom bodies swayed in perfect time to the music of the drums and the chants, their feet kept rhythm, and the quivering feathers on their slender fingers seemed to make the air vibrate.
They were followed by the young men known as the ka‘ioi. Clad in yellow loin cloths with their tattooed bodies page 168 gleaming with coconut oil and saffron-coloured turmeric, they formed a golden galaxy of youth and virile beauty. The beat of the drums and the stamping of feet entered into one's pulse beat. Was there ever such a perfect scene as the great dance floor occupied by swaying forms, and the surrounding terraces filled by a silent, tense audience that gazed down approvingly? The stonework, the buildings, the costumes, the ornaments, the ceremonial, and the dances were all expressions of the culture of one of the most virile branches of the Polynesians.
Can we ever see the throbbing past except in dreams? I do not wish to awake, for when I do, I will see but a line drawing in a book that conjures up a lone terrace overgrown with exotic weeds, and sad stone walls crumbling to decay.