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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

The Northern Cook Group

The Northern Cook Group

The northern Cook group consists of a number of widely scattered atolls which were included in the Cook Islands for administrative purposes. The inhabited atolls consist of Manihiki, Rakahanga, Tongareva (Penrhyn), and Pukapuka. The uninhabited atolls comprise Nassau, Suvorov, and Palmerston, but Palmerston is now occupied by members of the Marsters family. Marsters, an Englishman, rented the island from the Cook Islands Administration and raised a large family from a succession of three wives.

Manihiki and Rakahanga are 20 miles apart, and originally the people lived on one atoll for a year and then migrated to the other for a year. The annual migration ceased in 1852, when the missionaries persuaded the people to divide for permanent location on each atoll. Tradition states that their ancestor, Hiku, came from Rarotonga. Bellingshausen discovered Rakahanga in 1820 and named it Grand Duke Alexander Island. Captain Patrickson of the Good Hope discovered Manihiki in 1822 and named it Humphrey Island. He also gave the name of Reirson Island to Rakahanga. The outer reef in each atoll has no large passages.

Tongareva was discovered by Lieutenant Watt or Captain Sever in the Lady Penrhyn in 1788, hence the alternate name. It is on latitude 9° S., and passing sailing ships checked their latitude by it. It has a large central lagoon with three deep passages which will admit vessels of fair size. Native myth-page 95ology gives descent from Atea and Hakahotu, and tradition also gives descent from early voyagers named Mahuta and Taruia who visited at different periods. The dialect has the s sound, in addition to h, and the sibilant tch in place of t in some words. A number of maraes on the various islets were in a fair state of preservation in 1929.

Pukapuka, or Danger Island, is the most westerly of the group, lying in longitude 165° 45' W. and 10° 53' S. The origin of the inhabitants is clothed with myth connected with the growth of the island and the emergence from a rock of the first inhabitant, Mataliki. A god instructed him where to obtain a wife, and so their world began. Pukapukan culture has more affinity with that of Samoa than with that of the Cook Islands. The island was definitely sighted in 1765 by Commodore John Byron, who named it Danger Island because the high surf on the reef prevented boats from landing.

Little information is to be obtained from the early explorers, as the atolls were rarely visited. Tongareva was visited by Kotzebue in 1816, and his artist, Choris, made some additional observations. The Porpoise, one of the ships of Wilke's Expedition, called in in 1841. Neither expedition landed, but observations were made on the people who came out in canoes. A trader named Lamont was wrecked on Tongareva in 1853, and his book contains the best description of atoll life. The Reverend W. W. Gill contributed some information in his works.

The first Zaca expedition called at Pukapuka, and Gordon Macgregor contributed some notes on the ethnology of the atoll. Ernest Beaglehole, on a Bishop Museum Fellowship, made a field survey during seven and a half months in 1934-1935, assisted by his wife, Pearl Beaglehole. They wrote a comprehensive study on ethnology which the Museum published. Manuscripts on myths, stories, and chants and on string figures await publication. Physical measurements were also made.

On the Bishop Museum staff expedition to the Cook Islands, I visited Rakahanga, Manihiki, and Tongareva, and my reports were published. Physical characters were included in the work on the Cook Islands prepared by H. L. Shapiro.