Land Tenure in the Cook Islands
While excavation and radio-carbon dating may eventually reveal a relatively precise date for the initial colonization of the island, we are dependent for the present on traditional accounts. These record the arrival of various immigrant canoes, with subsequent settlement and wars, and the building of a road round the island, all long before the arrival of the voyager Tangiia about the year 1200 A.D.1 In particular the road, which is about 15 miles long and paved for most of its length, is said to have been constructed under the direction of Toi, who lived about 1050 A.D.; and it suggests the existence of a considerable population even at that relatively early period.2
1 Smith, on the basis of genealogical evidence, gives the year 875 A.D. as the nearest estimate of the date of first settlement. - Hawaiki 208.
2 A full discussion of the known history of Toi is given by Smith, who concludes that the road was built about six generations before the arrival of Tangiia. - JPS 16:175–88. Fletcher, in a more recent survey, puts the time of Toi over a hundred years before Smith's estimate. - JPS 39:315–21.
The traditional evidence available then indicates that at the close of this phase the island was populated by people who traced their origin from Iva - somewhere in Eastern Polynesia. The land was now held by conquest, and throughout the pre-European period rights held by conquest superseded all other rights in land.
1 Iva is variously described as Nukuhiva (e.g. by Gill, AAAS 629), as Hiva'oa (e.g. in JPS 2:271), or as a place name in Raiatea (e.g. in JPS 6:9). However, all these islands are part of what is now French Polynesia. Indigenous writers do not attempt to give the location of the island of Iva.
2 Some of the later immigrants also came from Iva, and others from a place called Atu-apai. The latter place is believed by some to be Haapai in the Tonga Group, but as most of this party was wiped out in battle their point of origin is not important.
3 All sources except two agree that Tangiia came from the Society Islands. The two exceptions (Terei, Tuatua Taito 6–8 and a translation by Stair from a Rarotongan missionary's account in JPS 4:99–131) show Tangiia as having come originally from Upolu and thence having travelled to Tahiti, whence he proceeded to Rarotonga. While they assumed Upolu to have been the island of that name in Samoa, Leverd notes that Upolu was the ancient name of the island of Taha'a in the Society Group. - JPS 19:176.
4 All sources give Manu'a as Karika's island of origin.
While all accounts indicate that the two parties arrived at about the same time, some claim that Tangiia was the first to arrive and others that Karika was. Similarly, while all accounts show them to have been on amicable terms, some claim that Tangiia's was the paramount or most influential party, and others that the supremacy lay with Karika's party. It all depends on whether the author of the account concerned identified himself with the one party or the other.1
The number of persons in each party can only be a matter of conjecture for while some traditions do not comment on number, others give varying numbers up to a maximum of 400 in Tangiia's party, and 140 in Karika's. Likewise, the sexual composition of Tangiia's party is in doubt. Some claim that he brought his womenfolk with him, others that it was a canoe-load of warriors only. All agree, however, that Karika did bring at least one woman, a daughter, whom Tangiia took to wife.
1 An analysis of the various accounts shows that those written by or collected from descendants of Tangiia claim that he was paramount. Reports from Karika's descendants, on the other hand, show him in this role. The various accounts, nevertheless, agree on many significant points. Gilson has aptly noted that ‘this unwritten history was a flexible instrument subject to wide variation in order to rationalise partisan claims and de facto political situations’.-‘Administration of the Cook Islands’ 22.
The subsequent history of the island can be more easily followed if we deal separately with each of the three tribes which were in existence in the year 1823, tracing the development of each from these early forbears.