Land Tenure in the Cook Islands
Transmission of titles
Transmission of titles
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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