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Mangaian Society



The national godhouse, Te-kaiara, interpreted by Gill (12, p. 331) as "The prop-of-the-Kingdom," was a poorly made house of reeds, situated in the Keia district between the inland marae of Rongo (Akaoro) and the marae of Motoro (Araata), which were fairly close together. A caretaker looked after the house, fed the gods, aired them from time to time in the sunlight to prevent the mildew from destroying their garments, and, when necessary, changed the old garments for new. The office of caretaker must have been singularly undenominational, for not only did he care for all gods alike, but he remained neutral during war. Even though tribes became extinct, the caretaker went on caring for their gods. Te-kuraaki, Utakea, Kereteki, and Tangiia were fed and clothed down to the advent of Christianity, though their followers had long since passed away. Vaeruarau was the only god expelled from the godhouse. The gods do not seem to have been taken out to their maraes during religious rituals. Except for Rongo, who dwelt in the under-page 173world, the spirits of the deified ancestors found a permanent home in the godhouse, whence they issued after sunset and returned before daybreak.

The marae houses ('are ei 'au, "house for peace") were in miniature, about 6 feet long, well-thatched with hala, with a small doorway screened with white cloth. They were built on each marae after peace was declared. No images were placed in these houses, but the god was supposed to take up his spiritual residence within, making it an alternative home to the national godhouse. After the gods had been freshly housed after war, the people could build houses for themselves. The term ei 'au must not be confused with the Hawaiian name heiau (marae), for with the written h the Mangaian term becomes ei hau. The house on each marae was naturally for the tribal god who was worshiped on that particular marae.

Gill (12, p. 235) speaking of Ron, says, "His last great work was to build a temple to Tane, supported by a single post." It was not clear whether the ridgepole or the whole structure of the godhouse was supported by the single post. In New Zealand miniature godhouses supported on a single post were well known, and in Tahiti similar structures were supported by two posts. The Mangaians did build elevated dwelling houses, so it is possible that the house built by Rori was suspended on one post. When the images of the gods were surrendered by the Christianized Mangaians, they completed their change of faith by burning the national and all the marae godhouses.

Each of the tribal priests had a portion of his dwelling divided off with a curtain of thick white cloth (tikoru) to form a sanctuary (pa tikoru) in which a carved image of the god was kept. This served the priest for ordinary purposes. The marae was reserved for public services. The sanctuary was tapu, but the degree of tapu depended on the status of the priest. The sanctuary of Keu, priest of Teipe, was invaded by a body of armed men when it was discovered that an enemy was concealed in it, but the sanctuary of Mau-tara, priest of Motoro, remained inviolate even though it was known that Te-vaki was within. By respecting the tapu the tribe increased the power and prestige of the god itself.