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Mangaian Society


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The staple food of the Mangaians is taro, locally termed mamio. The term taro has been diverted to the irrigated patch bounded by four raised edges. In the ordinary diet, the taro was cooked whole (mamio tao); for special occasions and feasts three preparations were made, poke, roroi, and poi. The tender leaves of the taro were cooked as greens. The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), termed kuara (cf Hawaiian, 'uala; Rarotongan, kumara), was the chief food of the conquered in peace times, for it grew in the dry soil of the makatea and the uplands. No special dishes were made of sweet potatoes, and the tubers were brought uncooked to the feasts. Three kinds of yam were cultivated, and a wild species ('oi) was utilized in times of scarcity. The plantain (netu) and banana (koka, not meika) and coconut were grown.

Fugitives lived on such fruits and berries as they could find in the vicinity of their shelters. The drupes of the hala ('ara; Pandanus) contain small kernels which are extracted by beating (pao) the hard outer ends between stones. The fruit of the nono (Morinda citrifolia), the berries of the poroiti (Solanwm), and the kernels of the tuitui (candlenut, Aleurites) were also eaten. Two songs published by Gill refer to the misfortunes of the vanquished (12, pp. 183, 121):

Te pao nei i te 'ara, Beating the hala fruit,
Te kai nei i te nono i te ra'ei. Eating the nono among the rocks.
E kai eki ua, te mikorau ra, Eating seeds [?] merely, the green shoots of plants,
Kua pipi vaitorea, ta te 'ao manga ia. A drink of stream water, these were the foods of the conquered.

Other foods commonly associated with the conquered are as follows: the ti (Cordyline terminalis), i'i (native chestnut), pia-ntaori (native arrowroot), and teve, a species of arrowroot with side tubers termed karo'e (Rarotongan, 'unga). In times of dearth (tuatau onge) the conquerors, too, resorted to these foods.


Cooking in the earth oven (umu) with heated stones and leaf covering was the standard method. The oven had a roof over it which formed the detached cooking house ('are umu). The equipment of the kitchen consisted of cooking stones, a wooden pole as a poker, wooden tongs, and a supply of wooden bowls (uete). Small bowls were used for family meals. Special preparations were mixed in quantity for feasts in large canoe-shaped bowls. The presence of the large bowl in the kitchen usually denoted a family of page 137social importance. Coconut graters, stone pounders, and low wooden tables on legs (papa'ia) were used in making special food preparations. Recep-tacles for cooked and uncooked food were plaited from coconut leaves.

The cooking of the underground stem of the ti (Cordyline terminalis), a reserve food used in the dry season (July to December) when taro was apt to become scarce, was a community effort by a whole district. A large earth oven was prepared on the appointed day, and the various families consigned their bundles of ti to the communal oven. Each family used some mark to distinguish its bundle; when the oven was opened, each family received its own package. The cooked stems, rich in saccharine material, would keep for some time. In the absence of taro the people also fell back on the mature coconut, which is very rich. The ti counteracted the oily taste of the coconut.

Fish were cooked in leaf packages. As they formed the only flesh food at feasts, a method of preserving a week's catch was devised in order to enable a sufficient supply to be accumulated. Each day's catch was cooked in leaf packages, dried on scaffolds, and recooked every day until the feast was held.


Meals usually consisted of two. Work in the cultivation and elsewhere was done in the early cool hours of the morning. The day's supply was brought in, and sufficient food cooked for both meals in the late morning. A hot forenoon meal was partaken of and the remainder left cold for the evening. The evening meal was hurried through before sunset to enable the people to seek their refuges while it was light enough to see. This custom is said to date from the period when the Aitu tribe (Ngati-Tane) surprised whole-families at their meals and took their heads to fill in the marae of Maputu. Hence the proverb (12, p. 51), "Hasten our meal, or the Aitu will be upon us, bringing terror, chilliness, and death."

The requisites for a comfortable meal are taro, cooked taro leaves (paka), fish and sauce (tai 'akari). A piece of fish and some paka are held together, dipped in the sauce, and conveyed to the mouth. Such a mouthful is known as a po'ona paka. The usual beverage in the Keia district was noted for its excellence and is often alluded to as "te vai o Marua."

The simplest meal consists of a taro baked on the embers (papa paka) and a draught of water. Among the exploits of the legendary hero Ngaru was his descent to the realm of Miru. Miru, the devourer of souls, prepared an oven. Ngaru asked, "E umu a'a teia e Miru?" (What is this oven for, O Miru?) Miru replied, "E tao i a'au e kai naku." (To cook you as food for me.) Ngaru then spoke as follows:

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Kare a Moko i no'o ake e Miru Not where Moko dwells, O Miru,
E umu tangata tana. Has he an oven for human beings.
No'o ake Moko e Miru, Where Moko dwells, O Miru,
Papa paka a inu i te vai o Marua, A baked taro, a draught of the water of Marua,
Tukua kia 'aere. And freedom to depart.

Note: The last two lines are often quoted as symbolical of hospitality, food, water, and freedom. Moko was the grandfather of Ngaru.

Kava was drunk by the older members of the upper classes, usually at family gatherings or feasts.

At feasts the kava was drunk before the eating commenced. At lesser meetings the food eaten after drinking the kava was termed 'ono. The word is also used as a verb in the phrase ei 'ono i te kava (to form a relish with the kava). The food was usually fish, which included eels. The priest, Tangiia, asked for human flesh as the 'ono for his kava. After the priest demanded his son, the chief Marere brewed a poisonous draught of kava, 'ora maunga (Tephrosia piscatoria), 'utu (Barringtonia), and po'utukava (?), and therewith killed Tangiia.

Kava was drunk by the priests to get into touch with their gods. The green kava root was used and not the dried root, as in Samoa. The root was either grated or chewed, but the chewed kava gave a greater stimulating effect. Kava was not surrounded by the social ceremonial that is characteristic of western Polynesia.

A special meal (a'i kavere) was deemed appropriate when learned men ('are korero) met to discuss history and traditional lore. The meal takes its name from the kavere (fresh-water eel), but other fresh-water fish such as the tiovi are appropriate. The host at whose house the meeting is to take place provides the kavere and the a'i (cooking fire). When my two aged informants had their first meal in my house after a historical session, I informed them that the meal was a modern a'i kavere. They took the remark as the compliment which was intended.


Feasts (takurua) were given by powerful families or by a whole tribe to celebrate special occasions. The whole family or tribe contributed vegetable foods from their own cultivations. In addition to prepared cooked foods, quantities of taro with leaves and side suckers untouched were contributed. Coconuts were gathered in the bunches adhering to the main flower stem, and various stages of the nuts were placed in separate heaps. The men went fishing beforehand to provide a sufficient number of packages of cooked fish to form the flesh complement of the meal.

For large feasts the food was stacked up in rectangular enclosures (tui tui-tu) made of stakes of candlenut (tuitui) poles set upright (tu). The number of enclosures depended upon the divisions of the guests. A large enclosure was made for each puna (district) represented, and others for the high priests of Rongo. In less important feasts, the food was piled on the ground in heaps (putunga) with much the same arrangement as in the enclos-page 139ures, uncooked food below with cooked preparations and fish above Packages of poke took the place of roroi.

Public feasts were held on the following occasions:


Public meetings to discuss politics during peace(e tara i te'au). A favorite place for such meetings was the marae of Tukituki-mata in the Keia district. The following fragment of a song refers to such meetings:

A pua'ia te tara, e tara i te 'au ra e, Talk in a circle, talk of the reign,
E ringi toto, e tata ko'e Of the spilling of blood, of playing the flute.
E taki 'akapira e-.

To celebrate the completion of a nariki net. It took an expert some time to complete the fine-meshed nariki, which was very valuable. The whole family, with their nearer collateral relations, gave contributions of food, and the expert net maker was paid with food. Ordinary nets were not so honored.


Opening a chief's new house.


Making a new, or repairing an old, marae.


Religious ritual (karakia or kai pure).


Birth feasts. On the occasions when people gathered together to sing the tauariki or mire songs.


Marriage feasts.


Death feasts.


Installing an ariki ('ikianga ariki). The ariki so installed were the two priests of Rongo and the Rulers of Food. My informants stated that there was no feast at the installation of the Temporal Lord.

Invitations sent out by the hosts were the tip ends of coconut leaves ('uku kikau), affixed by a messenger to the walls of the houses of the invited guests.

The sharing of the food is termed tu'anga, from tu'a (to share). When enclosures (tuitui-tu) were not used, the food was laid on sections of banana leaf, each leaf divided into three sections. The whole layout of food was termed 'uku rauaika ('uku, "midrib"; rauaika, "banana leaf"). The size of the feast was indicated by the number of banana leaves used. The banana leaf sections were grouped together to form separate allotments which varied with the status of the people for whom they were intended and also with the number who had to share it.

The total quantity of food collected was divided into allotments by the hosts. The family head might delegate the distribution to a member of his family. In a district, one of the subdistrict chiefs was usually appointed by his brother chiefs to superintend such matters. The chief, versed in etiquette, knew the number of allotments to be made, and he indicated to his assistants where the banana leaf sections should be placed and how much of each kind of food should be placed in each allotment. Special allotments were made to the priests of the tribal gods, the ariki priests, the Temporal Lord with the district and subdistrict chiefs, and the people:


The tribal priests (pi'a atua). If the priests of Motoro, Tane, and Turanga were present, three allotments were made and each share was indicated when the allotments were called. The priests of Motoro took precedence.

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The ariki priests. Three allotments were made. The Inland High Priest took precedence, the Shore High Priest came next, and the Ruler of Food came last.


The Temporal Lord came next to the ariki priests, with one allotment. The district chiefs(pava) each had an allotment. The subdistrict chiefs (kairanga nuku) of each district were grouped together as the 'ui rangatira, and each group had an allotment. Each allotment was so arranged that subdistricts (tapere) would have an even share of the food provided. After the allotments were called, the subdistrict chiefs of each district divided the allotment into shares corresponding with the number of subdistricts. Each subdistrict chief then divided up his share between himself and the lesser chiefs in his subdistrict.


The people. A long, single spread was laid for those without any title or distinction. After the allotment was called, persons of both sexes sat down on either side and ate as at a long table.

Sometimes a district held a feast in which the subdistrict chiefs were given individual allotments, and their titles were called. The share of food was awarded to the title (tao'anga) and the kairanga nuku had to eat the food himself. It was tapu to him and he could not give any to his wife.

Once a kairanga nuku of Veitatei named Ouro took a portion of food home to his wife from a district feast. The district chief was informed of this lapse in custom. At a later feast of a similar nature, Ouro was not awarded a share. Ouro, not knowing of the punishment that awaited him, attended the feast. The Ruler of Food, on seeing him, called out, "Ei miri koe, e Ouro." (Take your place behind, Ouro.) Ouro was thus publicly relegated to the common lot with the mass of the people. The punishment of being publicly shamed was acutely felt and acted as a safeguard to established custom. The act was promulgated in song:

Te ua o te rangi ei miri au e. The-rain-from-heaven is placed behind.
I karanga Mauria mei kai koe i anga'uru. Maruia called, "You may eat with the many."
E Ouro 'oki te tu'itu'i i kai rava, Ouro should have eaten all even to repletion,
Kua rarerare tapiri koe koi'o. But he took food away and now shrinks against the wall in shame.

Note: The-rain-from-heaven referred to Ouro's title as a subdistrict chief; while Maruia was the Ruler of Food.

The allotments having been satisfactorily set out, the official Ruler of Food took charge and called the feast (nana e tuoro te takurua). The first call (tuoro) was a general one and took the following set form:

Putunga a kai Allotments of food
Na Ruanuku, na Tangaroa, For Ruanuku, for Tangaroa
Na te anau Atea— For the descendants of Vatea—
E tini—e mano. (They are)numerous—(they are)myriad.

Note. Ruanuku is a mythological character who had something to do with food from the sea, and the primogeniture of Tangaroa is recognized by calling his name instead of that of Rongo.

The distributor then placated the tribal gods by giving them a small portion such as a single taro, saying,

To taro e Motoro—a kai, Your taro, O Motoro—eat,
To taro e Tane—a kai, Your taro, O Tane—eat,
To taro e te pupu kai ai, Your taro, O host of gods,
Ara—a kai. There you are—eat.
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The Ruler of Food proceeded to call the allotments in the order given. He held a piece of banana leaf (rauaika) in his hand and touched the allotment with it as he called the title of the person to whom it was allotted.

The personal name followed by the title might be called. On coming to the district chiefs, the order commenced with the districts on the right from east (head) to west (tail) and then, similarly, with the districts on the left. The chief was referred to as head, body, or tail of the fish of Rongo. Thus, commencing with Parima, chief of Tamarua, the call was, "Na Parima teia, no teta'i pauru o Rongo ia Mangaia nei." (This is for Parima, one of the heads [of the fish] of Rongo in Mangaia here.) The call could be varied by saying, "Na Parima teia, no te pauru o Rongo i katau." (This is for Parima, the head [of the fish] of Rongo on the right.) The allotment of the subdistrict chiefs of Tamarua was called thus, "Na te 'ui rangatira teia, no te pauru o Rongo i katau." (This is for the assembly of chiefs from the head [of the fish] of Rongo. on the right.) The other districts were similarly called by designating the part of the fish to which they belonged. The common people, when called, were referred to as the papa mau tane (males) and the papa mau va'ine (females).

When the allotments had all been allocated, the food was collected in baskets by the various recipients and removed to some convenient place where they could eat. Except under the special rules governing the district feasts, the people, after regaling themselves, took the remainder home.

Protection of Food Supplies

Undue depletion of various foods was corrected by declaring a closed season (ra'ui). In ancient times the initiation of this economic safeguard rested with the Ruler of Food (ariki i te tapora kai). Since the definite division of the island into six districts, each district has acted independently. The district distributor of food is one of the subdistrict chiefs who has been agreed upon by the district and subdistrict chiefs. The person selected is thus entrusted with the rauaika (banana leaf) at feasts and is referred to as the kairanga nuku tei a ia te rauaika (subdistrict chief who has the banana leaf). For brevity he is termed the rauaika. It is the duty of the rauaika to inspect the cultivations within the district and take note of all vegetable food supplies. He also inspects the lagoon within the district boundaries to note whether the catches of fish are getting smaller. Should he think it necessary, he calls the district chief and subdistrict chiefs ('ui rangatira) together in council. The matter is discussed, and if a closed season is decided upon the ra'ui is promulgated through the district, each kairanga nuku taking the word to his own subdistrict. The news spreads from mouth to mouth and the closed season commences on the date given out. The closed season affects the land food supplies ('enua) or the sea (tai); the two forms of closure are termed ra'ui 'enua and ra'ui tai respectively.


Inland closed season (ra'ui 'enua). The closed season on the products of the land, as taro, breadfruit, coconuts, and bananas, was promulgated by two special criers. Each crier was distinguished by a plaited coconut leaf suspended over the back and a leafletpage 142tied to each arm. The coconut leaf so worn was termed a tara ra'ui (notice of a closed season)and was instantly recognized by the people. The criers made a round of the subdistricts, crying the following announcement at the top of their voices as they passed the dwellings:

E ra'ui tapu, A strict closed season,
E ra'ui taro, A closed season for taro,
E ra'ui kava A closed season for kava,
E ra'ui nganangana i.— A closed season for everything.—
Aore e 'aerea te po, No going out by night,
Aore e 'aerea te ao, No going out by day,
Kota'i e 'aere Only one may go out,
Ko te takave i te tua o te ra'ui. [He who carries] on his back the sign of the closed season,
Ta'i kikau e topa Only one coconut leaf may fall,
Na te atua. That for the god.

The names of the articles of food prohibited may be enumerated, and if all food is not included the fourth line with nganangana is omitted. The coconut leaf refers to a coconut which may be used in religious ceremonial and which the priest may drink to quench the thirst of the god.


Shore closed season (ra'ui tai). In addition to the oral promulgation by the chiefs, long poles with a coconut leaf attached were set up on the beach. Such poles might also be set up on the reef near large pools that were favorite fishing places.

Men were told off as rangers (tiaki) to make frequent patrols along the water front. It was stated that in the time of Tereavai, the last Ngati-Vara priest, the ra'ui were so rigidly observed that the fish, as if knowing they were safe, were thick in the lagoon pools. Good rangers could tell from the appearance of the pools whether or not fish had been removed. If suspicion was aroused, they went inland to the dwellings to seek the thief. The first test was the examination of the oven sites and smelling the oven stones. If the odor of fish was detected, a search was made in the neighboring middens, rubbish, or wherever soil had been disturbed. The discovery of fresh fish bones convicted the owner of the property on which they were found. He was subjected to considerable abuse, and his hair was cut off. In a community that wore the hair long, the presence of a close crop informed the public that the person had broken the ra'ui. To escape the public contempt, the guilty person often went into retirement until his hair grew again.

A song of ridicule applied to breakers of the ra'ui tai runs as follows:

Ra'ui tapu na Rua e—. Sacred closed season of Rua—.
Ua mau te keia. A thief has been discovered.
Tueru'ia ia mau e, Pursue that he be caught,
Petepete to tutae. May thy bowels work with fright.
Ua 'oro e na raro i te tapa 'utu. He escapes beneath the Barringtonia trees on the shore.
O ta'au reka ia ra That is thy only satisfaction
Ua riro to upenga For thy net is confiscated,
E vai'o to kete. Thy basket of fish is left behind.
Tipaku riri—'aere. O thing causing anger—go.

When the closed season had lasted long enough to allow the rangers to report that fish were plentiful, the chiefs met again. The close of the ra'ui, if agreed on, was publicly promulgated by a crier sounding a shell trumpet or beating a wooden gong as he made the announcement through the inhabited area. The fishing was then open to all and all were assured of a good catch.

The news of the declaration of a closed season in a neighboring district drew attention to a similar need, and district after district followed until page 143the whole island was declared a ra'ui. Even when the need of a district was not so great as that of the district which initiated the movement, it was good policy to follow suit in order to prevent having to exercise hospitality too frequently to people from the closed district. Theft on land and poaching in the sea could also be more readily combated by declaring a closed season.