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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Transmission of titles

Transmission of titles

The ideal pattern of transmission of titles was from father to eldest son.4 If the dying chief's eldest son was of such ability and maturity of years that he could adequately discharge the duties of his father's office no problem arose as to succession, but frequently the situation was not so straightforward.5 The chief may have two eldest sons - one from each of his two wives, whose relative status may

4 The study of genealogies shows this to have been the dominant pattern but, owing to the fact that kinship terminology was classificatory and adoption was widespread, what is stated as being father to son may not infrequently have been uncle to nephew. In the more recent generations such distinctions are known, but in earlier generations they were not, indicating a process of assimilation to the ideal as time obliterates the details.

5 One authority claims that if the eldest son were unfitted to hold the title, then it was sometimes claimed that the appropriate god had taken up its abode in the youngest member of the family, and the title passed to him accordingly. - Gill, Life… 46. No actual cases of this have been noted, either in the pre-contact era or later.

page 52 not be clear-cut, for the ‘seniority’ of a wife may have to be manipulated in terms of the political position of her family, as much as in respect to her age or her place in the order of her husband's marriages. In the case of Makea Te Pa Atua Kino who elevated the eldest sons of each of his three wives to the rank of ariki, his motive appears to have been to maintain the support of contending factions, each of which would only be content with the title passing to a child of the wife who originated from that faction.

A chief might have no son at all, in which case a number of aspirants might put forward claims on a variety of bases. An adopted son may make a claim, and in such a case the status of the adoptee's born parents, as well as his blood relationship to the adopting father, would be important considerations. In at least one pre-contact instance the adoptee used the strength of his club to compensate for the weakness of his adoptive right relative to that of other claimants.1

The genealogy of Rongooe as recorded by Wyatt Gill shows that when Rongooe was banished to the other side of the island the title went to his younger brother.2 Particular political and demographic circumstances doubtless led to claimants with even lesser qualifications successfully contending for high titles on some occasions.3 Rivalry over

1 Savage, ‘Iro Nui Ma Oata’ 59. The successful claimant in the example cited was both a child of an ariki family of another district and a close relative of his adopted father.

2 Gill, AAAS 628. It should be noted, however, that Terei gives a different account of this chapter of events - Tuatua Taito, part IV.

3 One genealogy of an ariki line recorded during the last century shows 24 generations prior to the time of European contact. In 22 of the cases the title is shown as passing from father to son, in one case to a younger brother, and in the remaining instance the title was split into two and each of two sons of the previous ariki was given ariki status. - Gill, AAAS 627–33. Later Land Court evidence, however, shows that at least one of the ariki in the above line was an adopted child, and that the title was divided into three and not two. With such known errors in the more recent part of the genealogy, one can reasonably assume the possibility of other deviations from the norm in the earlier and lesser known portion of it. Even in post-contact genealogies instances are known where the socially accepted genealogy differs somewhat from the known biological facts.

page 53 succession to titles between classificatory siblings (tuakanateina) is so recurrent in legend that it probably took a significant place in actual history as well. This rivalry is likewise apparent in recent history and current disputes - not between real siblings, for their relative seniority is clear-cut1 - but between classificatory ones. The classic case is that of Tangiia himself who left Tahiti as a result of a protracted dispute over title and lands with his adopted brother Tutapu. They were sons respectively of a woman and her brother, but both were adopted by their senior uncle (the eldest brother of the above parents) who had no sons of his own. Tangiia's mother was older than Tutapu's father, and she was the eldest sibling to produce a son. Tutapu on the other hand was from a male sibling, albeit a younger one. We are not told which of them was adopted first, or what was the relative status of their other parents, but it is apparent that one was senior according to some criteria and the other according to other criteria.2 Karika, the other founding ancestor, left Samoa in similar circumstances.3
The selection of the ariki in the Takitumu and Arorangi districts was a matter for their respective priests and mataiapo, while in Avarua it was the responsibility of the

1 Except where the elder is alleged to have been adopted out in which case his status relative to that of the next elder brother has sometimes been a matter for dispute.

2 The fullest account is given by Terei, Tuatua Taito part I.

3 Ta'unga, MS 3.

page 54 priests and the more important rangatira.1 The high priest of the district carried out the investiture and in some instances had a considerable influence on the actual selection.2 In the normal course of events, the eldest son of the late chief would inherit the title and the role of the lesser chiefs would be simply to confirm the appointment and perform the appropriate ceremonies. Whether the ariki had a standing right to participate in the election of ariki of other districts is not certain, though there is clear evidence that on some occasions at least they were influential in the selection.3 While they normally participated in the ceremonial attendant on the investiture, this of itself does not indicate that they had had any right to determine the candidate selected.4
In 1895, following a dispute as to the succession to the Pa title (the encumbent having no born children) the Arikis Council spelt out the ‘mode of election and of installation of Arikis according to the established Maori custom’.5 In this they stated that it was the responsibility of the priests and the mataiapo to select the ariki, ‘and such selection is to be made only from the nearest relations

1 Those rangatira who were entitled to participate are listed in MB 12:295–6 NLC. Those with no direct blood connection to the ariki were excluded.

2 E.g. Numa, MS 13–14.

3 E.g. Maretu, MS 20–31.

4 Moss states categorically that ariki were selected by the other ariki on the island, but that the new appointee had to be chosen from the family of the deceased. Given the rule of primogeniture and the necessity to select from the family of the deceased, they could not normally have had much in the way of choice, though their confirmation may have been required. On the other hand, it is possible that Moss is confusing their right to participate in the ceremonial with a right to select. - Moss, JPS 3:24.

5 Minutes of Meeting of Arikis Council 5.11.1895. - Te Torea 9.11.1895.

page 55 of the Ariki deceased, and they are to declare the same publicly’. However, they then qualify this statement by adding that: ‘Should any new ariki be chosen without the other arikis, priests, and mataiapos of all the districts being present at the meeting, it must be proven satisfactorily to them that the one chosen is a near relative of the deceased ariki. If it not be so proven the arikis, the priests, and the mataiapos from every part of Rarotonga shall meet together in one place, and it shall be for them to decide who will be the new ariki. It must be clearly shown that the new Ariki is the hereditary descendant in a direct line’.1 The requirement that all chiefs of the island should meet seems to be a post-contact modification, and in fact appears to have been specifically designed to meet the wishes of the other districts whose chiefs, in this particular case, disagreed with the wish of the dying titleholder who wanted to transfer the title to an adopted son whose claim in terms of seniority and proximity by blood to the incumbent was not as strong as those of other contenders.

On the question of a dying titleholder designating a successor by will (reo iku), the Arikis Council said ‘An ariki may wish to appoint a successor on his … deathbed. After the ariki's death these words shall be carefully considered, and if it is found that the party named as a successor is a proper heir, such words shall be confirmed, not otherwise’.2 This statement of principle confirms what was apparent in practice - that a ‘will’ might be influential, but was far from necessarily binding.

1 Ibid.

2 Ibid.

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Titles were sometimes transferred to a new holder during the lifetime of the previous incumbent. When missionaries first called at Rarotonga in 1823 Makea Pori and Makea Karika II were the ariki of the Avarua district. The fathers of both of these men were still alive but had ‘voluntarily devolved the regal authority and title upon their sons…. This, however, is no uncommon occurrence amongst chiefs, greater and lesser, of the Polynesian race’.1 Williams makes reference to a custom whereby sons, on reaching manhood, would wrestle with their fathers for mastery of the family lands.2

Genealogical evidence indicates that lesser titleholders were selected by the same principles as the ariki, but informants today claim that their formal acceptance was a matter for the senior members of the subgroups below that title. This is supported by evidence given before the Native Land Court. Illegitimates (i.e. children born other than from socially recognized spouses) were not eligible to hold titles.3

Women were not eligible to hold any titles, though tradition tells of a woman who was once created an ariki. However, such was the wrath of the gods at seeing this

1 Gill, AAAS 630. In the particular instance the elder chiefs could have relinquished their titles as a result of their defeat at the hands of the Ngatangiia chiefs, for the transfer took place between the time of their defeat and of the reinstatement of their power in Avarua.

2 A Narrative… 138. This is the only reference found to this custom which Williams calls ‘kukumianga’. The word ‘kukumianga’ in modern Rarotongan means ‘wrestling’, but informants did not recognize the word in the connection which Williams mentions. Gill does, however, mention having often seen instances of aging parents handing over the family house to the son who was to succeed to headship of the family while they retired to a small hut nearby. Gill, Life… 46.

3 There are a few post-contact examples of such persons succeeding to titles, but invariably the child's right was acquired through the adopting parent and even then trouble resulted.

page 57 transgression of the norm, that she died within 24 hours of assuming office.1 Rather probably, the wrath of the gods was reinforced by some more secular potion administered by their earthly agents at the feasting.

1Terei, Tuatua Taito 31.

As a concrete illustration of the pre-contact transmission of rank titles, the following example has been reconstructed.2 In this instance the title Te Tika (mataiapo) changed hands four times and the title Kautai (also mataiapo) twice, before they became united as a result of the marriage of the holder of the title of Kautai to the eldest daughter of the holder of the title Te Tika. There were four further transmissions after the titles became held concurrently by the one individual (it is possible that the last one or even two of these occurred after European contact). Of the total of ten instances of transmission, five are from father to eldest son, one is from the last incumbent through his eldest daughter (who is married to a man of rank) to his second eldest grandson (the eldest grandson inherited his own father's title), one is by reversion from the last incumbent to his surviving elder brother, two are from the incumbent to his next younger brother (in at least one of the cases this was due to the elder brother dying without issue), and the last is from the incumbent who had no brother (and probably no issue) to his next most senior classificatory brother.

2From evidence contained in MB 1:5–26 NLC. See diagram page 59.

It will be noted that excepting where special circumstances prevailed the title passed from father to eldest son; that the title did not pass to brothers if the previous holder had male issue; and that females and their issue were omitted except in the special case of Paiau, the eldest page 58 offspring, being married to the holder of a title which appears (from the evidence) to have been in a position of dominance or control over the Te Tika lineage at the particular time.

page 59
A Pre-Contact Example Illustrating the Pattern of Transmission of Rank Titles

A Pre-Contact Example Illustrating the Pattern of Transmission of Rank Titles