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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Karika's tribe: Te Au o Tonga or Avarua

Karika's tribe: Te Au o Tonga or Avarua

The tribe which traces its descent from Karika was known as ‘Te Au o Tonga’ and this name was likewise applied to the district they occupied. In recent years the name has fallen into disuse to be superseded by the name Avarua, and this latter name will be used throughout. The evidence is not clear as to when this tribe became established, or just when Avarua became recognized as a separate district. It was Tangiia who organized the division of the whole island into tapere and was responsible for the allocation of the lands, and he, too, organized the building of the marae at intervals around the island and the appointment of chiefs to take charge of each of them. High priests were chosen for each of the two parties:2 five for Tangiia's party, and one for Karika's, though at a much later stage one of Tangiia's high priests (Potikitaua) transferred his allegiance to the Karika party.

Karika himself and some of his followers left the island after some years of residence and set sail for Iva, never to return. However, not all his party left, and those who did not maintained marriage connections with the people of Tangiia.3 The direct line from Karika was preserved on the island by a man with the title name of Makea who is variously described as a son of Karika or as a grandson of Karika born of the union of Tangiia with Karika's daughter.

2 The criteria of selection of the priests is not given in any account. Quite possibly they were from priestly families in their islands of origin.

3 Traditions record that some men of Tangiia's party also voluntarily joined the Karika faction.

page 21

By the time of arrival of the first Europeans the Tangiia and Karika parties were politically separate entities, and Makea was the ariki title of the Avarua district, but this division was of relatively recent origin. In the eighteenth century the Makea title was divided into three branches.1 This division occurred as a result of the then title-holder elevating the eldest son of each of his three wives to the rank of ariki. Though all were of equal rank, the Makea Nui Ariki has since the period immediately preceding the arrival of the gospel exerted greater political influence than either of the other two.2

The title of mataiapo was not used in this district, nor, consequently, was that of komono.3 The next rank below the ariki was that of rangatira, who, though generally appointed from the junior ranks of the ariki family, were occasionally chosen from right outside the family group.4 The rangatira do not trace back to a member of Karika's canoe, but rather

1 Known as the Makea Nui (or Makea Pini), Makea Karika, and Makea Vakatini respectively.

2 ‘The custom has always obtained in Te au o Tonga that whilst both kings enjoyed regal honours, only one wielded authority, wielding it, however, in the name of both Makeas.’ - Gill, AAAS 628. Gill's reference to only two holders of the title at this time was due to the fact that the Vakatini title was then in eclipse and did not emerge again as a recognized ariki title until later in the century. Pitman, the first European to reside on the island, refers in his Journal to Makea Nui as the only ariki in Avarua. As he had considerable dealings with the people and records many meetings which Makea attended, it is apparent that the Makea Nui (whose personal name was Pori) was paramount at this time. There is ample evidence to indicate that the Makea Nui title has in fact been paramount since pre-contact times.

3 There are seven mataiapo in this district today, but these broke away from the Takitumu district after the arrival of the mission.

4 For example, two of the leaders of the Uritaua party which landed in Rarotonga about 1600 A.D. were later made rangatira by Makea. - MB 5:119 NLC. Savage says that although normally selected from the younger branches of the ariki and mataiapo families, ‘the ariki or mataiapo has the right to appoint any person who is not a member of the family as a rangatira for some particular service’. - ‘Dictionary….’

page 22 to Karika himself through some holder of the Makea Ariki title. The territorial subdivisions of this district were also called tapere and, in contrast to the general pattern, some of the lesser of them were headed by rangatira. The information available as to the circumstances of the origin of these tapere is inadequate, though it appears that they, too, had once been headed by ariki or mataiapo, but subsequently allocated to the rangatira of later conquerors.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that, by 1823 at least, the holder of the Makea title exerted much greater political influence over his tribe than did either Pa or Kainuku over theirs. Likewise, it appears that Makea had much greater influence over land matters within his tribe than did any other ariki on the island, but, as this question has been a matter of some controversy, it is necessary to enumerate the reasons for this opinion. While the power of the ariki of Takitumu was diffused by the existence of mataiapo and komono, that of the Avarua ariki was not. Each mataiapo had his own marae as well as his own lands and as there were about thirty mataiapo in the Takitumu district, they constituted a very powerful political group. There was no equivalent restraint on the Makeas.

While a wide range of terminology is used to describe the situation, the following sources give an indication of the relative status of the mataiapo of Takitumu and the rangatira of Avarua (who were, of course, next in line to the ariki in this district). Moss considers the mataiapo to have been the most powerful class on the island, who in a large measure controlled the actions of the ariki. Rangatira, on the other hand, he regarded as tenants at will under the ariki or mataiapo, whom Moss considered to have been the landowners.1 Williams describes mataiapo as

1 Moss, Fortnightly Review 54:778. He, nevertheless, says that they were ‘irremovable, by time-honoured custom, so long as the due services [were] performed’.

page 23 ‘governors’ and rangatira as ‘landholders’.1 William Gill describes the Avarua tribe as being ‘governed by the Makea family’, but the Takitumu tribe as ‘a confederate body of independent landholders’.2 He classes the mataiapo as ‘independent landholders’ and the rangatira as ‘dependent tenantry, having certain privileges which distinguished them from the mass of common people’.3 In 1869, when the London Missionary Society obtained written deeds confirming the grants of land earlier given to their missions, it was the mataiapo who ceded the land in Titikaveka, Matavera and Ngatangiia.4 In Avarua, on the other hand, it was done by the ariki.5 As the Avarua district was only about one quarter of the area of Takitumu, and as the population was less than half,6 it would be more feasible for the ariki in the former district to wield direct authority.

The origin of the different political structures (and consequently the landholding systems) may alternatively be sought in the respective Tahitian and Samoan origins of the two groups. However, the evidence indicates that the Samoan immigrants contributed but little to the culture of Rarotonga as it was at the time of first European contact. As some authors stress the Samoan connections of the Karika party beyond the point which the available evidence can support, the issue requires some elaboration.

Firstly, the language of Rarotonga is derived from and closely related to that of Tahiti, whereas it shows

1 Williams, A Narrative… 216.

2 Gill, Gems… 4.

3 Ibid. 12.

4 All places within Takitumu district.

5 L.H. Trenn - personal notes.

6 Details of population are given on page 45.

page 24 comparatively little connection with that of Samoa.1 Secondly, according to Burrow's list of culture traits which differentiate Western Polynesia (which includes Samoa) from Central-Marginal Polynesia (which includes both Rarotonga and Tahiti), Rarotonga shows a high correlation with the latter and a very low correlation with the former.2 Thirdly, traditions almost invariably speak of Tangiia's party as being more numerous than Karika's, and the activities undertaken by Tangiia's party support this.3 Fourthly, the previous inhabitants of the island, who also trace their origin to Eastern Polynesia, joined themselves to Tangiia's group. Fifthly, some of Tangiia's men joined Karika's party, and there is some doubt as to whether the original Makea was the son of Karika or his grandson by Tangiia from Karika's daughter. Finally, after some years of residence, Karika himself and some of his followers left the island and never returned.
The different authority structure and the different degree of power wielded by the Makea ariki as opposed to other ariki on the island can best be understood by viewing

1 Elbert, South-Western Journal of Anthropology 9:147–73.

2 These are tabulated and discussed by Vayda in American Anthropologist 61:817–28. See also Burrows, Etnologiska Studier 7:1–192. Buck, in a table showing diffusion of culture traits within Polynesia, shows that the six listed traits which apply to Rarotonga all apply identically to the Austral Islands, and with one exception to Tahiti. Not one applies to Samoa. - Buck, Arts and Crafts… 487. On page 525 of the same work Buck presents a chart of cultural derivation of various islands, which shows Cook Islands society as a direct derivative of the Society Islands, and bearing no close relationship to Samoa.

3 Many references are made to there being eight or nine named subgroups within Tangiia's party, to the many warriors who accompanied him and later became mataiapo, and to the numerous marae they constructed. None of the traditions mention the names of any of Karika's party with the exception of a daughter and a son. This does not necessarily indicate that their numbers were few, as Karika and some of his party left the island and never returned, and thus the Karika traditions may have been less well recorded. However, this would only tend to substantiate the point that their long-term influence on the culture was inconsequential.

page 25 the Avarua district as an overgrown tapere. In the initial land division each ariki and mataiapo was given a tapere of land, usually comprising a valley in the mountains and the flat land which fronted the valley. By the time of first European contact the Makea Ariki was dominant over the Takuvaine and Avatiu valleys, though it is apparent that this had not always been the case and that this status had been achieved after many generations of settlement by two other ariki whose tribes had subsequently been conquered and driven out.

Most of the larger and more fertile tapere were also the seats of particular ariki, and were on the whole much more populous than the tapere of the mataiapo,1 and within each of them an authority structure based on the creation of rangatira titles was built up under the ariki. In the case of Pa and Kainuku these authority structures were contained within the original valley, but in the case of the Makea people authority was acquired over the contiguous tapere as well and these were incorporated within the existing authority structure.2

The support of the three most powerful groups within the Avarua area was maintained by the high chief taking a high-ranking wife from each of them, and creating the eldest son from each wife as an ariki. This triple arikiship was,

1 Apart from their much greater area and agricultural potential, the remains of large (but now abandoned) terraced taro patches in these valleys suggest that they did carry larger populations.

2 The Avatiu valley was left in the hands of the Uritaua, an immigrant group whose leaders were made rangatira under Makea. Control was acquired over the Ngatipa tapere when its chief, unable to control internal dissension in his lineage, handed over his authority to the Makeas. How they acquired control of the area between Avatiu and the boundary of Arorangi is not known, though this is the poorest land on the island and it is doubtful if it ever supported much population. The district of Tupapa did not join the Makea party until just after the arrival of the first Tahitian missionaries.

page 26 theoretically at least, an unstable compromise which could hardly have been expected to last, and within a generation one of the titles was in eclipse. By the next generation thereafter, however, the mission arrived and the existing situation was crystallized and has remained with little change since.