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Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands



The existence of an archaic, pre-Polynesian civilization has been based on imagination and upon an exaggerated interpretation of the origin of certain material objects which, upon scientific investigation, prove to be Polynesian. There is no authentic proof that such a civilization existed in Polynesia before the advent of the ancestors of the people we now term Polynesians.

A theory that Melanesians occupied Easter Island before the Polynesians has been shown to be incorrect by Métraux (53, pp. 413, 414). Another theory, that the first settlers in New Zealand were of Melanesian stock, was based on a vague Maori tradition regarding their physical characteristics. As other Maori traditions concerning events of a later period have been found to be inaccurate, the theory cannot be accepted without support from other sources. Artifacts in the Marquesas, New Zealand, and other Polynesian areas which have been regarded as having affinity with Melanesia or New Guinea will probably be found on more careful comparative analysis to have been due to spontaneous local development. In Samoa and Tonga, the Melanesian affinities page 520have been due to diffusion from neighboring Fiji. Thus there is no authentic proof that people of Melanesian stock ever occupied any part of Polynesia before the advent of the Polynesians.

The date of entry of the Polynesians into the western fringe of Polynesia cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy, but it has been suggested arbitrarily as about the fifth century. It is extremely improbable that they came as a migration in mass, but rather as an infiltration of individual ships which continued for some time.

The general route to Polynesia from the west was through Micronesia and not Melanesia. The Polynesian outliers in Melanesia do not mark the original route of the Polynesians, but were peopled later from western Polynesia and probably to some extent from Micronesia. From the eastern end of Micronesia, the Polynesian explorers fanned out, some reaching the Society Islands by stages through intervening atolls and others reaching Samoa and Fiji.

The Polynesians during their occupation of the atolls of eastern Micronesia, lost the food plants, domestic animals, stone tools, and much of the material culture that had been previously developed on the volcanic islands of their ancient home. Thus, they entered Polynesia with a simple atoll culture which was improved by the acquisition of basaltic stone and a richer flora in the volcanic islands. The adjustment to a volcanic island habitat resulted in the early stage of Polynesian culture already referred to as being without cultivable food plants, the paper mulberry, gourd and domestic animals.

During this early period, there were two main groups from which distribution took place, Samoa in the west and the Society Islands in the center. It is probable that the early settlers went to Tonga from Samoa. From the center in the Society Islands, colonizing expeditions fanned out to the north, east, and south (fig. 275). The early Polynesian culture reached Hawaii in the north and New Zealand in the south and these early settlements are supported by traditional evidence. To the east, it reached Mangareva through the Tuamotu atolls. Probably the Marquesas, Cook, and Austral Islands were visited during this period, but definite local traditions are lacking. There is a possibility, however, that the earliest settlers reached New Zealand from the west from Samoa or Tonga and similarly that the Menehune reached Hawaii by turning north-east from the eastern end of Micronesia.

The restoration of food plants, paper mulberry, gourd, and domestic animals occurred first in Samoa from Fiji and spread from Samoa to Tonga. Later, they spread from Samoa to the Society Islands and early myths and traditions indicate that this may have been due to an early connection between Manua and Raiatea. According to the myths and traditions of both Samoa and Tonga, early prestige with regard to religion and chieftainship is associated with Manua in the Samoan group. Though geographically speaking, Manua is the name applied to a group of three islands comprising Ofu, Olosenga, and Tau, the term Manua in tradition is applied to Tau, the most easterly island in page 521the Samoan group. The god Tangaloa built the first chiefly house in Manua. Legends concerning the demigod Maui associate him primarily with Manua, and the king of Manua (Tui Manu'a) was senior in rank to the other chiefs of Samoa.

Raiatea is one of the leeward or westerly group of the Society Islands. The leeward group was naturally the first to be encountered by the original wave of people which spread into central Polynesia. The high chiefs, or Arii, and their priests took up their headquarters in Raiatea. While groups of people spread out to occupy Tahiti and the other windward islands, the intelligentsia remained in Raiatea and a higher development in culture, particularly in social and religious matters, was to be expected on that island. I do not believe that the Arii came from Samoa, for, had they encountered the rich volcanic islands of that group there would have been no incentive to move on. The higher culture which they developed would have taken place in Samoa, had they arrived there first. The association of social prestige and the worship of Tangaloa with Manua may be accounted for by an Arii chief sailing west from Raiatea and encountering the most easterly island of Tau, where he settled. Thus Manua received an importance out of all proportion to its size and a prestige it would never have acquired had social and religious development been due to the original settlers of the larger islands in the group. During this period some contact was maintained with Raiatea and the acquisition of plants and animals from Manua gave additional stimulus to cultural development.

It is certain that the Raiatean culture, in addition to its developments, retained useful elements from the early Polynesian culture, the fire plough, earth oven, rectangular house, outrigger canoe with dugout hull, for instance. Apart from developments directly connected with the enriched food supplies, the material developments in Raiatea were mainly connected with the social position of the Arii, such as better houses, clothing, headdresses, ornaments, and boats. The priests inspired developments in temple elaboration, religious regalia, and the material symbols of the gods. Handy's "old Tahitian" culture was the general culture of the common people whether in Tahiti or Raiatea, and his Arii culture was a class development with a limited application.

The later conquest of the large, fertile island of Tahiti firmly established the regime of the Arii over the whole group and added their own class culture to the general culture of the common people. The culture that had been developed in Raiatea became the pattern for the entire Society Islands, but some differences probably continued to exist in individual islands. In the fusion that took place, the old Tahitian and the Arii cultures ceased to exist as separate entities. In the developments that may have taken place between the conquest of Tahiti and the departure of emigrants to the outer isles, all had a share. It is this phase that I have termed the later Polynesian culture, though strictly speaking it was a Society Islands culture. It was a development in which Samoa and Tonga did not share. Samoa must have entered the food producing page 522stage before Raiatea, but after the exchange of food plants for the god Tangaloa, communication seems to have ceased and Samoa to have gone her own way in cultural development. There was frequent communication between Samoa and Tonga but in addition to diffusion between them, a certain amount of independent development particularly in material culture took place in each group.

The later Polynesian culture was carried from the Society Islands by the later emigrants to the islands of Polynesia to the north, east, and south, but not to those of the west (fig. 275). The spread was direct to Hawaii and New Zealand, but some vessels may have touched at the Marquesas on the northern route and at the Cook Islands on the southern. The spread to the east was first to the Marquesas, for the plants could not be carried by stages through the Tuamotu, which were forced to retain an atoll culture. From the Marquesas, which became a secondary center for the eastern area, the culture with plants and animals spread to Mangareva and Easter Island. Local developments which took place in the Marquesas were evidently carried on, but some elements were lost. For example, the extensive tattooing of the face, body, and limbs, which appears to have been a later development in the Marquesas, occurs also in Mangareva and Easter Island though motifs differ. On the other hand, of the pig, dog, and fowl present in the Society Islands, the dog disappeared in the Marquesas. From the Marquesas, only the pig reached Mangareva and only the fowl reached Easter Island. Easter Island must have received its culture direct from the Marquesas because Mangareva did not have the fowl which became such an important element in Easter Island culture.

Where islands were already occupied by earlier settlers, the earlier Polynesian culture became fused with the later. The earlier settlers had already discovered what endemic plants could be used as food, the best methods of catching fish and birds, and the most suitable wood, leaves, fiber, and stone to be used in the crafts. The later settlers may have introduced improved techniques, and they certainly established their authority over the earlier settlers and with it their later developments in social organization and religion.

After the later emigrants had settled their differences with the earlier settlers, fusion of people as well as fusion of culture took place. Some island groups, such as the Cook, Austral, and western Tuamotu, had occasional contacts with the Society Islands and some later diffusion took place between them. The other groups, which were separated by long distances, ceased to have communication with central Polynesia, and the nearer homeland of Hawaiki (Raiatea) became a tradition. During the six centuries or more of isolation that followed the spread of the later Polynesian culture, each island group went through a period of independent evolution. It was during this period that marked variations occurred and different developments took place in the various island groups and, to some extent, in the individual islands of each group. The failure to recognize the activity in local development during the last six page 523
Figure 275.—Map showing spread of Polynesian culture: solid line, early Polynesian; broken line, later spread of food plants.

Figure 275.—Map showing spread of Polynesian culture: solid line, early Polynesian; broken line, later spread of food plants.

page 524 centuries has resulted in the overvaluation of diffusion as the cause of cultural variation. There has been a strong tendency to regard cultural complexes as having entered Polynesia ready made and, if the complex was not found in another Polynesian group, attribute their origin to some area beyond Polynesia no matter how distant. Hence the assumption that the carved motifs on the Easter Island tablets were diffused from Mohenjo-daro in India. Another error lies in the fact that elements which were developed in the period of independent evolution have been projected backward in time to form part of an earlier diffusion.

In conclusion, I may sum up the evidence provided by later, more extensive studies by stating that in my opinion the cultural variations and differences attributed to diffusion from without Polynesia and grouped into strata to represent distinct cultures have in reality been developed at different stages in the history of one original culture. A classification of the different culture stages and their spread within Polynesia is shown in Table 7.

Table 7 indicates that the Polynesians started off in the Pacific area with a volcanic culture in the volcanic islands of Indonesia which changed to an atoll culture when they reached the atolls of eastern Micronesia. They entered Polynesia with an atoll culture which developed into an early Polynesian culture with the acquirement of stone as they spread to the west, the center, and the marginal islands to the south, north, and east. The names of the main island groups are given in the table. The early Polynesian culture reached as far east as Mangareva through the Tuamotu, but it is extremely unlikely that it reached Easter Island. Though Tuamotu is listed, it was without stone.

The spread of plants and animals from Fiji to Samoa is indicated by arrows together with the subsequent spread to Raiatea in the center and then to the whole Society Islands. The later Polynesian culture, which developed in the Society Islands, also spread to the volcanic islands to the south, north, and east and the main groups are again enumerated. The spread from the Marquesas to Mangareva and to Easter Island is also shown. No connection is shown between the center and the west because Samoa and Tonga remain separate and their proximity to Fiji indicates the reason that diffusion took place between them. The fusion of the early and later Polynesian cultures with the isolation that followed led to the last stage of independent evolution in each group. (See map, fig. 275.)

Each island group continued to develop its own individuality until the advent of western civilization ended the long era of progressive development within a purely Polynesian culture. In spite of the western invasion, the processes of adjustment and adaptation are still functioning. Happily the two cultures understand one another better now than during the troublesome period following early contact. The processes now operating may be regarded as due page 525
Table 7.—Polynesian Culture Stages

Table 7.—Polynesian Culture Stages

page 526 not to a revolution from without, but to an evolution from within. Changes will continue to take place, and the historian of the future may be able to arrange them into further culture stages. Changes are inevitable but if they are made with the consent and cooperation of the people under the guidance of a beneficent form of democratic government, the changing culture should progress toward an ever higher plane and ensure freedom and happiness to the descendants of the Polynesian navigators who conquered the great Pacific Ocean.