Land Tenure in the Cook Islands
Ritual specialization appears generally to have occurred at the level of the lineage head, and one authority claims that each major lineage head was a specialist of one type or another.3 The generic name for a specialist was ta'unga, which refers to the capacity to invoke the assistance of supernatural agencies, and all specialists were believed to be possessed of such powers, though in varying degrees.4 The most important class of specialists was that of the high priests, of whom there were six - two belonging to the Avarua tribe, and four to Takitumu.5 In addition to these page 48 there were many lesser priests, though just how many we do not know,1 for early mission efforts were directed towards the extermination of the priestly class - preferably, though not necessarily, by conversion. Their efforts were so successful that little knowledge of the role of priests remains.2 Other specialists included orators, fishing experts, carpenters, tattoo experts, and net makers.3
3 Numa, MS 7.
4 Savage defines ta'unga as: ‘A name applied to any person who was appointed to, or held the office of a priest, or any person who was skilled in any special art.’ - ‘Dictionary…’. Gill notes that ‘artisans were priests’ and goes on to say ‘That the Rev. John Williams should be able to fell a tree and build a vessel as well as preach and teach was in perfect harmony with their traditional ideas of a priest-chief’. - Jottings from the Pacific 224.
1 Of their existence there is ample evidence in random references in the indigenous literature - e.g. Terei, Tuatua Taito 51. Even the early mission literature refers to them from time to time - e.g. Buzacott, Mission Life in the Islands of the Pacific 41.
2 As Judge Morgan has said ‘The Gospel and the principal chiefs survived so it is not difficult to imagine what might have happened to an antagonistic priestly class’. - Taputapuatea rehearing, NLC.
3 Buck, Arts and Crafts… 129, 206, 211, 245 and 499.