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Mangaian Society

Departing Places

page 198

Departing Places

A number of methods of departure prevailed. Doubtless the different tribes maintained their own ideas on the subject. The places on the coast from which spirits departed for the underworld were termed reinga vaerua (Leaping-off-place of spirits.) Three of those were on the west coast, and one on the north:

1.Oneroa. The spirits of those buried at Kauava came in procession to a bluff rock standing near the present mission house at Oneroa, leaped to a smaller rock on the inner side of the reef, made their way to the outer edge of the reef, and finally departed in the path of the setting sun.
2.Araia. The spirits of those buried in the great cave of Auraka gathered on the outer edge of the makatea cliff at Araia close to the marae of Orongo and north of Oneroa. A great wave came over the reef a hundred yards away and washed up to the foot of the makatea. From the water rose a giant pua tree in full blossom with as many branches as there were tribes in Mangaia. Each tribe had its own branch on the tree, and the spirits took up their places on their tribal branches. When the tree was loaded it sank like a primitive lift through the wave and the opening which yawned below and deposited its passengers in the underworld.
3.Atuakoro. Farther to the northwest, two great stones at Atuakoro formed the reinga vaerua for the spirits of the northern part of the island. As at Oneroa, the spirits leaped from rock to rock and to the outer edge of the reef, from which they departed by the sunset path (6, pp. 157-159).
4.A more distant entrance to the underworld consisted of a whirlpool hole in an indentation of the reef in the north and was used mostly by the Ngariki tribe. Gill (6, p. 165) records that the spirit saw in his sleep a house built on long poles rising above the whirlpool with a ladder conveniently placed. The walls of the house were of closely placed yellow reeds adorned with black sennit. Outside the house new calabashes were hung by exquisitely braided yellow sennit. The tempted spirit ascended the ladder, but the moment he touched the sennit which suspended the calabashes the house was swept down into the depths and the spirit found himself in the underworld. Three whirlpools exist, and a house trap was associated with each.

The spirits which entered the underworld ('aere ki te po) were of those who had not had the good fortune to be slain in battle but who had died on the malodorous pillow (urunga piro). The spirits of warriors slain in battle ascended to an upper world of light ('aere ki te ao). These spirits wandered about near the battlefields where they were killed, and the voice of the cricket (vava) as it sang, "Kere-kerere-tao-tao," was supposed to be that of warrior spirits. The warrior first slain in battle was the leader, and he mobilized the other spirits at a spot near the burial cave of Araia. The parade ground was near the outer edge of the makatea overlooking Orongo and facing the setting sun. A mountain sprang up before them, which they ascended over the spears and clubs that had slain them. On reaching the summit, they leaped up into space (rere ki te neneva) to make their way to the warrior's spirit land.

Sometimes the god Rongo ascended to the upper world and tempted the spirits of slain warriors with a bunch of ripe bananas. If the spirit came page 199near, Rongo seized it and swallowed it whole. Later, however, the spirit was released and ascended to the warrior's paradise.

A Mangaian myth states that the first path of communication between the island and the underworld was through a cleft in the makatea cliff at Aremauku, about half a mile from Oneroa. Through this passage Rangi, the first settler, used to visit Rongo in the underworld of Avaiki. Spirits from the underworld, however, used to ascend to the upper world, where they stole food and committed other mischievous acts. Tiki, the sister of Veetini, made the supreme sacrifice to save mankind from further annoyances. She rolled herself alive down the hole, which immediately sealed itself up. This effectively prevented other visits from the underworld spirits, but it also blocked the entrance for the spirits of the dead when the time came for them to descend to the lower Avaiki or po. The hole was subsequently named Te-rua-ia-Tiki (Tiki's-hole). The myth is a local composition made to fit the localization of Rongo in the underworld.

The situation of reinga vaerua in the west conforms to the general Polynesian plan. A reinga in Mangaia refers to jumping-off or diving places for bathers. In Rarotonga, a similar place at Tuoro on the west coast is termed a rereanga vaerua (rere, "to jump"). In New Zealand the departing places of spirits receive the Rarotongan form, rerenga wairua, and the Mangaian term reinga is given to the spirit land. The Maori term reinga also carries the meaning of "jumping off."

The whirlpool or deep pool in the north corresponds with the Maori concept of the rerenga wairua, but both the house on poles and the pua tree are elaborations. The house on poles is evidently a variation from the pua tree which exists in Rarotonga, together with details regarding Muru (Mini) and the net of Akaanga, which the Mangaians have evidently derived from Rarotonga. In Mangaia the spirits were reluctant to leave, for they had to be tempted by the odorous flowers of the pua, the new calabashes of the vanishing house, and the ripe bananas of Rongo.

The sun-glade path of Mangaia corresponds to the broad pathway of Tane (te ara whanui o Tane) in New Zealand. The Mangaian myth adds the detail of the spirits passing down the western opening of the sun. This addition is a natural consequence of the local sun myth, in which the sun rises through an eastern opening, passes down through a western opening, and spends the night in the lower Avaiki. Associated with it is the story of Veetini, the first person who died. His spirit returned to earth from the east, where it evidently came up through the sun's eastern opening. After instructing his parents and sister in the funeral ceremonies, Veetini returned to the underworld by the sun path and the western opening. This is recorded in Vaipo's chant for Veetini (6, p. 186).

page 200
E aru atu i to miringa Follow behind the [thy] back
O te ra paa opuopu atu na ē. Of the sun as it is setting now, alas!
Taka'i'ia te ra Tread down the sun
Ei 'eke i Te-kuru-tukia. To provide a descent to Te-kuru-tukia [a name for the lower spirit realm].