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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Demographic composition

Demographic composition

Some indication of the demographic composition of the various social groups at the time of first contact can be deduced from details of the numbers of tapere, titles and lineages, as well as from population counts by early missionaries. The total population, which was estimated by the first observers at between six and seven thousand,2 was divided between three tribes. In proportion to their numbers at the first tribal counts in 1840,3 the populations at 1823 would have been approximately 3,400 in Takitumu, 1,600 in Arorangi and 1,500 in Avarua. While ideally there was only one ariki to each tribe, there were in fact two separate titles in Takitumu, and though there had been only one title in Avarua it had been divided into three branches.

There were some twenty-eight tapere in Takitumu and nine in Arorangi giving an average of 135 persons in each

2 E.g. Williams, A Narrative… 19. Working from a basis of food requirements in relation to given resources and technology, a recent student of Polynesian populations considers that the island could not at that time have supported more than 7,400 people. - Lay, ‘A Study of Certain Aspects of Human Ecology in the Polynesian High Islands during the Pre-contact Period’ 167.

3 But making allowance for the transfer of the Tupapa sub-district from Takitumu to Avarua just after contact.

page 46 major lineage.1 While ideally (and in the majority of cases in fact) there was only one mataiapo in each tapere, the occupying lineage had in some cases split, and in the extreme case of Tupapa tapere there were seven mataiapo. The number of mataiapo at the time of first contact is not known exactly, but during the nineteenth century some komono and rangatira became elevated to that rank and by the turn of the twentieth century there were forty-two mataiapo in Takitumu and twenty in Arorangi, or an average of nearly two in each tapere.2 In cases where such a division had occurred, the lands were divided also and the portion assigned to each mataiapo was for all practical purposes a separate tapere even though it was nominally still one.3 The average major lineage in Avarua was somewhat larger, but this is to be expected as there were three ariki lineages and the number of rangatira (indicating the number of minor lineages) was considerably greater than in the other districts. Moreover, probably due to their larger size, many of the minor lineages in Avarua were subdivided into kiato while this was not common in the other districts except in the tapere of ariki.
The only available indication of household size is that when the first European missionaries divided the people of

1 In Mangaia an accurate census was taken in 1846 and showed an average of 89 persons per lineage, though the population had already been reduced by disease from its pre-contact size. In 1854, after a further drop in numbers, an accurate count was made of each lineage. The average number of persons was then 71 per lineage with a range from 14 in the smallest to 214 in the largest - No te au Enua i aere ei te Pai Orometua 1846 65; and ‘Census of the population of Mangaia 1854’.

2 There were several conquered tapere (like Vaimaanga which was divided among the six major lineages responsible for its conquest) which had no separate mataiapo of their own.

3 In some instances (probably those where the division had been an amicable one) the seniority of the original mataiapo continued to be recognized, and that title was referred to as mataiapo tutara (senior or paramount mataiapo). In such cases the subordinate lineages were more like minor lineages than major ones.

page 47 the island into ‘classes’ in 1827 they formed twenty-three classes, each of which comprised from twenty-five to twentyeight households.1 Excluding the anti-Christian party this leaves an average of about nine persons per household, or about fifteen households in each major lineage. While some mataiapo had but one komono or rangatira below them, others had several and some ariki had over a dozen. Assuming the average to have been about three (which appears consistent with such information as is available) then the average minor lineage head would have been responsible for about five households.2

1 Prout, Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. John Williams 248.

2 No attempt was made to compile a full list of rangatira titles in existence at the time of first contact, and accurate estimates of the demographic composition of the smaller groups must await archaeological research.