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Mangaian Society



The most popular games were kite flying, dart throwing, and disc pitching. Sometimes feasts were given in connection with the games. Surfboards (papa) were also used. Ngaru, the culture hero who defeated the demons of the lower and upper spirit realms, defeated two sea demons named Tiko-kura and Tumu-ite-are-toka in an eight-day contest on a surfboard (6, pp. 225-226).

Kite Flying

The mythical origin of kite flying is attributed to a competition between Rongo and Tane in the underworld. Rongo had the longer line and thus won. The incident is recorded in a kite song by Koroa (6, p. 124):

Taumoamoa e Tane e na Rongo 'oki, A competition of skill by Tane and Rongo also,
Tere manu aitu ki Iva ē. Flying spirit kites in Iva.

The sport was a chiefly one. The object, as in the original match between the gods, was to see whose kite could fly the highest. Incantations to give success were chanted and songs were composed. Men gave names to their kites and wept with joy when they excelled those of others. The competitors had a feast afterwards in which the greatest share of food went to the winner.

A mythical-historical tale is recorded (12, p. 39) of the two kites of Ake of Atiu, named Mata-ruerue, which broke away and dropped at Mangaia. Akatere-ariki, son of Ake, voyaged down to Mangaia in search of the kites and married Matakore, the daughter of the Te-aio who was Lord of Mangaia.

Dart Throwing

Darts were made from reeds (kaka'o) which grew in the valleys. The throwing ground was termed ta'ua, and weeds and grass were cleared off the part against which the darts were cast. The player took a short run and cast the dart in a slanting direction against the ground causing it to ricochet and rise on its flight through the air. The longest throw in each case by all the competitors gained a point (kai). In team playing, all the darts on one side that outdistanced the longest throw of the other side counted as points.

The general term for a dart was tao (spear) and the act of throwing in the particular underhand manner was termed teka, as illustrated by the following prayer of Tarauri to his father, the god Tangaroa:

'Omai taku tao, ei teka naku, Send my spear, for me to cast,
Ei teka ki te ta'ua. To cast on the throwing ground.
page 150

The general term tao became merged in the special term teka, and teka became both noun and verb.

The first dart throwers on record were Pinga and his seven dwarf sons, who were invisible. Gill (6, p. 118) gives the myth of a competition between these experts and the two fair-haired sons of Tangaroa by Ina-ani-vai.

The younger son Turi was defeated but was later avenged by Tarauri with a magic dart dropped from the skies by Tangaroa in answer to the prayer given above. In Gill's version, the sons of Pinga twice prevented Tarauri from throwing by crowding around him but, perceiving a space between the legs of one of his opponents, Tarauri cast his dart in that direction with unerring aim. The dart struck the ground and rose in the air, where it remained for eight days before it landed. Some of Gill's informants placed the competition in Ukapolu, another land conveniently placed in Avaiki; but the myth states that the magic dart landed at Areuna in the Veitatei district. It is to be presumed that Gill's version, owing to the period at which it was collected, is nearer the original story than the versions now told.

Tangitoru gave me a genealogy in which Turi is not the son of the god Tangaroa but of Oriko in the fifth generation from Tavarenga, who is said to have come in the first canoe named Maukoro-i-te-rangi. The Ngati-Tarauri were a tribe skilled in dart throwing, but they won by cheating.

Turi saw that the cheating by stamping (taka'i) and clapping hands (pokipoki) was possible because of the flat casting ground which enabled the disturbers to crowd round their opponents. Turi, therefore, built a narrow raised platform of coconut trunks eight deep in his territory and arranged a competition. The Ngati-Tarauri were short people and were well below the platform when Turi cast his dart. The casting ground (ta'ua) used by Turi was pointed out to me in the Tamarua district. Turi cast his dart named Vai-te-rangi, and it disappeared over the horizon in a southwesterly direction. Later Turi sailed in search of his dart in the canoe Rangi-matoru and so arrived at New Zealand.

That Turi is made the hero of this story, and Tarauri confused with the family of Pinga, I attribute to the attendance of Tangitoru and a party of Mangaians at the Christchurch exhibition in New Zealand in 1908, where they were in camp with a Maori tribe who were descended from an ancestor named Turi. They were later entertained in their own territory by another tribe descended from Turi. The Mangaian Turi and the New Zealand Turi were topics of conversation and formed a link between the two peoples. Both parties were courteously friendly toward each other and ready to believe that an ancestral link existed between them. The story of the New Zealand Turi was brought back to Mangaia and the local story adapted to fit the identification of two distinct characters who lived in different are as at different times.

In spite of the rationalization, parts of the older story were remembered—for example, the incantation used by the dwarf family of Pinga ('anau poto-poto a Pinga) when they obstructed their opponents:

Taka'ia te ta'ua Stamp on the casting ground
la ru te papa i Atea. To shake the foundations of Atea.
E ma'iti kura i te rangi tapai.
Ua re ta'i waka—ae, ae. One tribe has won—yes, yes.page 151
Ua tumatatenga—aitoa, aitoa. [Our opponents] are weak—serve them right, serve them right.
Maikiniti, maikiniti, Aitua raua. Misfortune assail those two [Turi and Tarauri].

Dart throwing was practised by both men and women, but each sex had its own matches which the other could attend but in which they could not take part.

Dart-throwing matches were held to commemorate the death of a favorite child or near relative and were thus a form of ceremonial mourning. After the dart throwing a play was acted, and a feast followed. Both the death drama described on page 196 and the dart throwing were enacted entirely by women. Though in the other Cook Islands girls may have thrown darts for amusement, Mangaia appears to be the only one in which women indulged in organized matches.

Disc Pitching

Wooden discs (tupe) were pitched onto a plaited coconut leaflet mat in competitions between two men or two pairs of men.

Sand was placed under the mat (ta'ua) to tilt up the far edge, and the mat was pegged down after having been passed through the flame of a fire to render it less slippery. The discs were flat on the under surface and slightly raised to a central point on the upper. A disc that turned upside down (ka'era) counted just the same. Two mats were set up about 15 to 20 feet apart, and each player had five discs. The game was to pitch the discs so that they dropped (paku) on the mat and slid forward to stop as near the far serrated edge of the mat as possible. When a disc was in scoring position, the opponent pitched to dislodge it by striking it (tareki) on the near side and so taking its place. A player with a disc in a scoring position might throw away (tia) a remaining disc rather than risk disturbing his previous pitch. Two players pitched alternately and in two pairs. Each pair squatted behind one of the mats and pitched to the other mat. The game was played with a good deal of badinage, and remarks were made to distract and disturb the opponent when pitching. Such distractions were part of the game and not regarded as unsportsmanlike. The game was played a great deal, both by besieging warriors and by refugees in caves.

In the Cook Islands, the game was peculiar to Mangaia. It is present in Samoa, where the discs are made of coconut shell; the number is five and the name tupe as in Mangaia. The methods of pitching and scoring are the same, but the mat, made of pandanus leaf, is long and narrow and laid flat on the floor of the house.