Land Tenure in the Cook Islands
Chapter 2 — Historical Background - c. 875 to 1823 A.D
Historical Background - c. 875 to 1823 A.D.
This period of nearly a thousand years covers the whole span of Rarotongan history from the inception of human settlement about 875 A.D. until the arrival of European missionaries in the year 1823. The only cultural influences throughout came from contact with members of the Polynesian race and such cultural changes as took place were therefore either the result of purely local developments or else of influences emanating from other parts of Polynesia; this being in marked contrast to the period which followed, in which the main changes resulted from contact with an entirely different culture.
In the present chapter an attempt will be made to reconstruct, from the various accounts of Rarotonga's precontact history, as consistent a picture of the march of events as the evidence will permit. Clearly the sources speak only from tradition, except for the decades immediately preceding 1823, for there could be no contemporary documentation until the art of writing had been introduced. Nevertheless, despite a considerable diversity of detail, there still remains a marked degree of agreement on the salient historical landmarks.1
1 The following works were consulted in connection with the pre-European history of the island: Best, JPS 36:122–34; Buck, Vikings of the Sunrise 112–16, Arts & Crafts of the Cook Islands 11–13; Cowan (Tau Puru Ariki), Tumu Korero 1:9–11, 2:4–7, 6:2–4 + 13–14, 9:4–9, 10:5–9; Fraser, JPS 6:72–3; Gill, Wm., Gems from the Coral Islands 2:3–4; Gill, Wyatt, JRAI 6:2–8, AAAS 627–36; Gudgeon, JPS 12:51–61 + 120–30; Itio MS; Kiva, JPS 6:1–6; Manuiri, JPS 5:142–4; Matatia, JPS 4:99–131; Maretu, MS; More, JPS 19:142–68; Native Land Court files; Nicholas (translator), JPS 1:20–29; Numa, MS; Pitman, Journal, passim; Polynesian Society, Collection of vernacular MS – largely anonymous; Putua, JPS 6:6–10; Savage, ‘Iro Nui Ma Oata’, Smith, Hawaiki passim, JPS 12:218–20 and 16:175–88; Tama, JPS 15:209–19; Taraare, JPS 8:61–88 + 171–8, 28:183–208, 29:1–19 + 45–69 + 107–27, 30:129–41, also MS; Ta'unga, MS; Toarua, JPS 20:139–43; Teaia, JPS 2:271–9; Terei, Tuatua Taito, JPS 26:1–18 + 45–65; Vakapora, JPS 20:215–18; Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands passim; Williamson, The Social and Political Systems of Central Polynesia 1:263–82.
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.
Takitumu: the tribe of Tangiia
Takitumu was the name of Tangiia's canoe and this name was applied both to the tribe which traces its descent from men who travelled to Rarotonga in that canoe, and to the district which they occupy. Though he was from a chiefly family, Tangiia was not himself a man of high rank. No tradition records his relationship to other members of his party, though some refer to them vaguely as his kopu tangata (cognatic kinsmen). The only exceptions to this generalization are Pa and Tinomana. Pa was adopted by Tangiia, but was a son of the renowned Tahitian chief Iro. Being of such high rank, Pa was later made titular head of the Tangiia tribe and it is through him that the Pa Ariki line of high chiefs trace their descent. Tinomana, of whom more details will be given later, was the son of Tangiia.
The other line of high chiefs of the Takitumu tribe today is that of Kainuku Ariki. The Kainuku people trace their descent from those early settlers who were living on the island at the time of Tangiia's arrival and who formed an alliance with Tangiia's people. Whether or not this union was preceded by conflict or threat of conflict is not known though the resident party were given only a minority role in the affairs of the group.1
1 Te Aia says that Tangiia was on friendly terms with the people already established on the island, ‘and made them his own people, and he assumed to himself and his children the position of ariki over all the mataiapo of Tongaiti… so that he had everyone under him, including his own mataiapo’. (Tongaiti is the name frequently given to the party in occupation of the land at the time of Tangiia's arrival.) - Te Aia, JPS 2:275. It will be noted, however, that the leaders of the Tongaiti party were given the status of mataiapo (i.e. semi-independent chiefs), though of the total number of these titles created the Tongaiti received only a small proportion.
Though closely linked with the Tangiia people by marriage, Kainuku's party has retained its separate lands and separate identity. At the time of arrival of the missionaries, and apparently for some time before, Pa and Kainuku were joint chiefs of the tribe. They remain so to this day. In parochial affairs Pa generally takes responsibility for the eastern section, and Kainuku the southern section. Pa's people are the more numerous, however, and in matters concerning the whole tribe Pa often acts as sole spokesman. Despite this tendency for Pa to be deferred to as the more influential, both are high chiefs of the same rank.1
Some or all of Tangiia's men were elevated to the rank of mataiapo (chief) and each was allotted a block of land running from the mountain to the coast. These blocks, known as tapere, are the most important land divisions on the island. Each mataiapo settled with his family on the tapere lands and formed the nucleus of a new settlement.2 The descent group which derived from each of these original chiefs became the focus of land-holding within the tapere. While owing allegiance to one or other of the high chiefs, the mataiapo enjoyed a considerable degree of independence.
1 Kainuku is today (and has been for many generations past) an ariki title, but I can find no reference to its being of this status in Tangiia's time.
2 Nicholas (translator), JPS 1:23.
Each mataiapo had his own marae,1 which was located within the tapere near the place of settlement. By the time of first European contact some mataiapo had two or three marae,2 but it is assumed that this was the result of later developments. Each high priest (ta'unga) likewise had his marae and also a tapere of land for, in his non-priestly functions, his role was the same as that of a mataiapo.
1 A sacred ground enclosed by low stone walls in which ceremonies of a religious nature took place.
2 Maretu, MS 33–59.
3 One account states that komono were appointed at the same time as the mataiapo, but this is the only tradition which mentions komono at that early date. - Nicholas, JPS 1:23.
1 Savage, ‘Dictionary of the Rarotongan Language’. The creation of four rangatira titles in Avarua by promotion of the younger brothers of the ariki is described in MB 1:319 NLC. This instance would have occurred circa 1790.
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.
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
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….’
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.
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’.
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.
1 Williams, A Narrative… 216.
2 Gill, Gems… 4.
3 Ibid. 12.
4 All places within Takitumu district.
5 L.H. Trenn - personal notes.
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.
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
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.
Arorangi: the tribe that broke away
There is only one ariki title in this district, namely that of Tinomana. While of the same rank as other ariki, the Tinomana title seems never to have achieved the eminence of either Pa or Makea. Tinomana is stated by some authorities to be descended from Tangiia, but from a marriage prior to that with Karika's daughter, and by others to be a direct descendant in the male line from Karika.1 The Tinomanas themselves follow the first alternative, tracing through Motoro, a son of Tangiia, who was not born in Rarotonga, but came to the island as a young man. A close link with the Makeas is, however, postulated by the fact that at least some holders of the Tinomana title were officially elevated to office and also buried in Avarua.2
1 In view of the intermarriage between the chiefly lines it is quite possible that he was in fact a direct descendant of both founding ancestors. Alternatively, the truth may lie in the explanation of one authority to the effect that Rongooe (the first holder of the Tinomana title to break away) was a son of Makea te Ratu, but that between the time of his conception and his birth his mother lived with the then holder of the Tinomana title. - Te Aia, JPS 2:276.
2 Terei, Tuatua Taito, part 8.
In 1823 Arorangi had the smallest land area of the three districts, and its population is said to have been reduced from a former higher level, due to a series of defeats in battle after which the survivors had lived for a considerable period in the mountain area to avoid complete extermination.1 These considerations help to explain the relative lack of traditional history of this tribe.
1 They were still living in the mountains when the first missionaries arrived.
Relations between the tribes
2 The traditions claim that Tangiia ‘outlawed’ war - e.g. Toarua, JPS 20:140. It may be claimed that the description of this period as one of peace merely reflects ignorance of what actually did go on, but as wars are recorded both before and after, it seems reasonable to assume that no major conflict took place during the period.
3 Te Aia, JPS 2:275.
The more important wars are recorded in the traditional histories, and though accounts of the less spectacular battles have never been assembled together, the fact of their occurrence is confirmed by many individual family histories, and by evidence given in the Land Court. Mission and mission-influenced reports, however, tend to over-emphasize the extent of warfare and the related evils of ‘heathen darkness’.
Missionaries and other early European writers often convey the impression (in their published works at least) of an island permanently divided into hostile tribes whose only contact was in war.1 This view has become widely accepted by later Europeans, including some Land Court judges, and it is accordingly necessary to determine as far as possible the nature and occasions of inter-tribal contact.
Indications of some degree of movement are suggested firstly by the existence of a well maintained inland road which ran right round the island about half a mile from the coast. Secondly, many accounts refer to members of various tribes, and even the whole island, assembling for the offering of first fruits and certain other ceremonial activities.2 Thirdly, it was customary for ariki to participate in the installations of ariki of other districts.3
1 E.g. ‘… so general and constant were the enmity and jealousy of one tribe toward another, that the majority of the people were confined to the range of district where they were born, only hearing vague reports, but knowing little definitely, respecting the tribes beyond them.’ - Gill, Gems… 12.
2 E.g. Taraare, JPS 30:140; Maretu, MS 21.
3 Details of the installation of Makea Pori Ariki by Kainuku Ariki and Pa Ariki are given by Maretu. - MS 29. Terei describes the installation of Tinomana in the district of the Makeas. He notes in another connection that once installed to office an ariki was sometimes carried right round the island. - Terei, Tuatua Taito, 46 and 31.
Fourthly, there was intermarriage between districts, with concomitant obligations and subsequent blood ties linking the families concerned.1 Whether as a result of interdistrict marriages or not, there were pre-contact examples of persons living in one district and having land rights in another.2 Fifthly, there is an indigenous term ‘ui ariki’, which, while commonly used today as a simple plural of ariki, strictly means ‘the assembled ariki’ - i.e. as a functional group rather than as an agglomeration.3 Finally, one finds in the writings of indigenous authors such comments as the following: ‘The island then lived in peace… and the people moved freely between all the districts.’4 Admittedly this passage is sandwiched between others which describe sanguinary battles, but the picture drawn is one of considerable intervals of peace during which relatively free movement was possible and usual.
1 E.g. the visit of an Avarua rangatira to his brother-in-law in Arorangi is described in detail in PSI 76; Maretu describes Makea as withdrawing from a successful attack on Arorangi when he saw a close relative among the Arorangi party. - Maretu, MS. For the birth of a high-ranking child ‘all the principal people in the whole land bring cloth, not this district only, but the whole land…’. - Pitman, Journal 9.11.1829. Instances of banished persons seeking asylum with relatives in other districts are legion.
2 Maretu refers to the land of the Makeas on the south side of the island - MS 162; Buzacott refers to claims by several Avarua people to land in the Takitumu district - Buzacott to LMS ‘early 1830’ SSL. The mataiapo of Rangiatea (part of Takitumu) claimed a piece of land at Nikao (in the Avarua district) on the basis of pre-contact incidents - MB 22:343 NLC. These are admittedly atypical cases, and the number of them was relatively few.
3 The significance of this term as an index of interaction between tribes was first pointed out to me by Judge Morgan. Its relevance is supported by the fact that at Arai-te-Tonga, the chiefly court of the Makeas, elders can still identify the named seating stones, each of which was specifically set aside for one or other of the ariki of the other tribes on the island.
4 Terei, Tuatua Taito 37.