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Mangaian Society




Every individual had a spirit (vaerua) which was liberated by death when the life principle (mauri) was destroyed. The spirits remained in the vicinity of the body for a while and then wandered off disconsolately to the seashore, where they waited among the rocks and tangled vines until the time came for them to leave for the spirit world. They also haunted the place where the placenta to which they had been attached was buried. The spirits were said to be shadowy likenesses of their material forms. The spirits of warriors, showed the wounds from which they had died. Gill (6, p. 156) states:

They were arrayed in ghostly network, and a fantastic mourning of weeds picked upon the way, relieved, however, by the fragrant heliotrope which grows freely on the barren rocks. A red creeper, resembling dyed twine, wound round and round the head like a turban, completed their ghostly toilet.

The spirits in their wanderings were affected by the sharpness of rocks and the undergrowth of vines. Somewhat inconsistent with the report of the ghostly apparel above is the existence, on the west coast, of a smooth piece of coral rock said to be the place where the spirits spread out newly made bark cloth, and called Te-renanga-a-te-atua. It was held that the spirits, during the period of waiting for their departure, danced and revisited the vicinity of their former homes at night. From among the neighboring trees they sometimes attempted to peek inside the houses. They remembered their relatives with affection but became hostile if a loved child was ill-treated. They relieved the tedium by following the course of the sun from east to west along the coast.

A favorite gathering place was at Ana-kura (red-cave) on the west coast where the spirits of the southern half of the island met. Above the cave of Ana-kura is an open grassy space known as One-makenukenu (Smooth-sand) where they also gathered as a change. The spirits of the northern half met at Karanga-iti in the north. Some dominant spirit became leader of the waiting spirits and, when it considered that the company was large enough, it sent out spirit messages with instructions for all the spirits to gather on a set date for departure to the spirit world.

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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).

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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].

Lower Spirit Realm

The wide distribution in Polynesia of an underworld as an abode for the spirits of the dead shows that the concept was in existence before the island of Mangaia was peopled. This realm of the spirits is widely referred to as po (night) in contrast to ao (day), and the name carries not only the antithesis between night and day, but between darkness and light, a nether world and an upper world, and death and life.

Associated with the po is the realm of a spiritual Avaiki. The place name Avaiki under various dialectical forms indicates one or more lands or islands at which the ancestors of the Polynesians sojourned in their voyages from west to east. They carried the name along with them and reapplied it to various islands, and it became in time a sentimental term applied to a previous homeland with which the living had lost contact. The restrictions that apply to the living do not bind the spirits of the dead, however. In some areas, including New Zealand, the spirits of the dead return to the ancient homeland of Avaiki. Smith (19, p. 47) has propounded the feasible theory that in Polynesia the departing places of spirits were on the west coast because they formed the nearest point of departure for the ancient homeland which lay to the west. The west is termed raro, which also means "below." The two meanings have become associated in the path taken by the spirit, so that when it goes west it also goes below. By going below the surface, the spirit enters the po or underworld. Hence the spiritual Avaiki and the po have become associated and interchangeable as terms for the region occupied by the spirits of the dead.

Mangaia has departed from the standard Polynesian pattern by making the spiritual Avaiki in the underworld ('Avaiki-i-te-po) the Avaiki from which their human ancestors came. As Avaiki lies beneath the island of Mangaia, it is of considerable extent, for it must extend beyond the western and eastern horizons where are situated the openings through which the sun enters and emerges on its nightly passage through Avaiki. The passage of the sun through Avaiki conflicts with the concept of po, but where local rationalizations have taken place the maintenance of strict logic cannot be expected.

The Mangaian underworld must be regarded as unorthodox in its extent and content. Somewhere near the upper part is Paparairai, the land of Vatea. Evidently connected with it in some way is Auau, the land occupied by Rongo. page 201Rongo is the one god who functions in the lower world. Of his brothers, Tangaroa left the underworld, but the others remain there. Except for swallowing the spirits of warriors occasionally, Rongo did not interfere with the spirits of the dead. Besides the mythical children of Vari and their named lands, other mythical and historical characters were conveniently localized in the underworld. Among them was a group of people with single eyes, and others were cannibals known as "the army of Marama." The underworld or po was that part of Avaiki immediately below Mangaia which was reached originally through the chasm known as Tiki's hole and on its closure by means of the vanishing houses and pua tree which sank straight down. The part immediately below was the spiritual Auau, the home of Rongo.

The denizen of the underworld interested in the spirits of the dead was Miru, in Mangaian myth an ugly old woman and a confirmed cannibal. Her husband is not recorded, but she had five children, as follows:

Tautiti, the son of Miru, was the patron of dancing, and, in human form, he visited the upper world when festivities and dancing were being carried on at night. The four daughters were women of high rank (tapairu). Owing to their great beauty and fairy origin, the term tapairu in Mangaia has come to mean fairies of peerless beauty. The four fairy daughters of Miru also attended night dances in the upper world. According to Gill (6, pp. 256-257), if the dances were in the northern part of the island they appeared at sunset and, after bathing in the stream of Auparu, dried and arranged their hair on a neighboring hill before viewing the dances. If in the southern part of the island, they appeared at the streams of Vaipau and Vaikaute for their ablutions. They would even join in the dance if one end of the dancing ground was covered with freshly cut banana leaves to be reserved to them. At the appearance of the morning star, they returned to the underworld. The names of the son and daughters of Miru appear in many of the songs composed for festivals.

Akaanga, a male, provided with a large net with strong meshes, together with assistants, lived in the underworld and assisted Miru in her dealings with the spirits of the dead.

The giant pua tree that rose to receive the spirits grew up from the territory occupied by Miru. Near its base was a fresh-water lake named Vairoto-ariki (Chiefly-fresh-water-lake).

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Miru grew the kava named Te-voo and was equipped with an oven referred to in song as follows:

Na Miru 'oki te umu ka roa. To Miru belongs the ever-burning oven.
I raro e! Down below!

Miru was alluded to as Miru-kura (kura, "red, ruddy") owing to the ruddiness of her face from her ever-burning oven.

The fate of all spirits of the dead which entered the underworld was to be eaten by Miru. When the spirits took their places on the pua tree, the tree sank down to Avaiki. The spirits looking down saw a vast net spread around the foot of the tree held by Akaanga and his assistants. From the net there was no escape, hence the saying concerning the dying, "Ka 'ei i roto i te kupenga tini mata varu." (To be caught in a net with a myriad meshes.) The net with its catch was submerged in the lake of Vai-roto-ariki until the spirits were almost drowned. They were then hauled up and ushered into the presence of Miru. Miru followed the human etiquette of giving food to her unwilling guests, but the food of the dead consisted of earthworms, black beetles, crabs, and blackbirds, as enumerated in Koroa's lament (6, pp. 204, 205):

Putunga kai e, na Tiki 'oki ē, A share of a feast, derived from Tiki,
Na Tiki 'oki na Ura. From Tiki to Ura.
Te porea mai i te toketoke kura,— Red earthworms are handed to him,
I te toketoke kura i, i te vi'ivi'i ta'ae. Red earthworms and frightful things.
Kua o koe i te takanga o te ueue, Thou hast made thy farewell meal on prepared black beetles,
Na manga a te tangata mate. The food of the dead.
Kua roia i te kara'i ma te tnomo'o. It is supplemented with landcrabs and blackbirds.

A bowl of kava was prepared from the root of Te-voo by Miru's daughters. The draught was so potent that it stupefied the guests, who were borne off unresisting to be cooked in Miru's oven. Miru and her family fed on the cooked spirits, and the remains were tossed aside for Akaanga and his assistants.

In the tale of the culture hero Ngaru, Kumutonga and Karaia came up from Avaiki to request Ngaru to accompany them home to their husband:

Ngaru was bundled up in wrappings of bark cloth and carried on a pole symbolic of death as the means of entering the spirit land. In a song are the following lines:

Takina o Ngaru-tai, Ngaru-tai was conducted,
Na Kumutonga i 'apai, Kumutonga carried him,
E 'apai ki 'Avaiki, Carried him to Avaiki,
Ei kai na Miru-kura, To be eaten by Miru-the-ruddy.
Ei tane Ngaru-tai, Ngaru-tai was to be a husband.
'Aki'akia tute, 'aki'akia kava, Pluck off the branches, break off the kava,
Te manava ia Te-vo'o. The main root of Te-voo.
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Ngaru was given kava to chew but it had no effect upon him. He advanced to Mini's blazing oven and, in answer to his query, Miru frankly told him that the oven had been prepared for him. Ngaru admonished her, saying that in the upper world his grandfather Moko-roa did not have an oven for human flesh but that he fed his visitors and allowed them to depart in peace. As he touched the oven with his foot, a deluge came down and a flood not only extinguished the fire but carried away Miru and her two youngest daughters. Ngaru-tai clung to a nono tree, and the two eldest daughters of Miru, who were to marry him, saved their lives by clinging to his legs. After other adventures, Ngaru-tai returned to the upper world by means of ropes lowered by two karakerake birds which had been sent by his grandfather Moko. Though the fire was extinguished and Miru presumably drowned, the victory was a wish consummation to add fame to the culture hero in the myth recital. Miru lived on and her fire continued burning.

All spirits that entered the Po, even those which went down by the sun's entrance, were sooner or later caught by Akaanga and handed over to Miru to be cooked in her oven after the draught of kava. In a song very badly translated by Gill, a doubt which expresses a hope is present (6, p. 176):

E nunumi atu, [They] disappear,
Ka 'aere paa i te umu tao, oven, [They] pass perhaps into the cooking
I te umu kai na Miru e -. The food oven of Miru.
No'ea Miru? Where does Miru belong?
No 'Avaiki, i te po 'anga noa e. To Avaiki, in the night self-created.

Note: The first two lines are translated by Gill: "She devours All who approach the blazing oven." He translates "i te po 'anga noa" in the last line as "out of horrid darkness." Gill was evidently influenced in his translations by his European concept of Hades, which he gives as the equivalent of po and the spiritual Avaiki.

The use of the words "hades" or "hell" to represent the Polynesian conception of po is to be deprecated. These words convey the concepts of Christian fundamentalists, which consist of a complex in which everlasting torment in hell-fire is meted out as a punishment for sins committed during life on earth. The Polynesion po is a region to which the spirits of the dead pass on as a matter of course. The individual is punished in this world, and the continuance of unceasing punishment in the next world is not a Polynesian concept. In some Polynesian areas the po is a region where the spirit simply exists without any hostile interference. The Mangaian idea of the ever-burning oven of Miru from which there was no escape, probably approaches the Christian concept more nearly than that of most Polynesian areas. The quotations from songs composed before the arrival of missionaries show that Miru's oven was not borrowed from European sources. It must be stressed that being cooked was not a punishment for earthly sins, but simply the fate of those who entered the Mangaian po. The oven was the means by which a spiritual ogress cooked the food she particularly relished. A Polynesian po need not necessarily be an evil place, but the Mangaian po was bad because there was no escape from Miru. Hence the poet Koroa in a page 204lament says (6, p. 217): " 'Ua tau 'ua i e te 'enua kino i raro." ([You have] arrived at the bad land below.)

The term kino, as the Polynesian sees it, is difficult to express in English. The word "evil" may convey to some the idea of bad from a moral point of view, which is not the Polynesian concept. If a normal condition is good, then any departure from normal is kino. Life is good; therefore death is kino. The spirits did not wish to enter the underworld while there was a chance of returning to life. Even up to the last moment of departure the spirit would return to its body if it heard a friendly voice calling it to return. Both the pua tree and the house on poles had actually to tempt the spirits with fragrant flowers and new calabashes before they took the final step. The train of spirits departing for the setting sun is represented in laments as a sorrowful band. They were about to enter a realm which forever parted them from those they loved. The underworld was therefore kino or bad. In addition to the general idea of kino, the growth of the hostile activities of Miru and Akaanga made the Mangaian underworld particularly undesirable. Probably "undesirable" or "bad" expresses kino as applied to the underworld better than "evil."

Though the usual opinion was that the spirits were destroyed by Miru, some learned men held that the spirits simply passed through those who ate them. This theory accords with that concerning the spirits of slain warriors who had been swallowed by Rongo in the upper world. After Rongo's return to the underworld these spirits were liberated by passing through Rongo's digestive tract. Owing to the manner of their death, the liberated spirits were exempted from Miru's oven and made their escape to the warrior's paradise.

In Rarotonga, Miru appears as Muru, a male. Muru, however, lived in the upper world, for he spread a net in a hollow in the rocks at Tuoro on the west coast between the villages of Avarua and Arorangi. The spirit ascended a pua tree and, if the branch on which it rested broke, it was immediately caught in Muru's net. If the spirit escaped it was caught in the net of Akaanga set nearer the reef. The spirits of the Ngatangiia tribe rested on the ironwood tree, but they were caught in the same way. Muru and Akaanga dashed out the brains of their victims against the coral and carried them off to be eaten in the underworld (6, p. 169).

In Aitutaki, Miru was a deformed hag of repulsive countenance dwelling in the underworld. She fed her victims with live centipedes, which caused them to dive into a near-by lake where they were drowned. Miru then cooked and ate them.

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Upper Spirit Realm

The widespread concept of ten upper superimposed spirit realms was held in Mangaia. Gill (6, p. 2) diagrammatically represents the first realm as bounded by the supposed orbit of the sun between its eastern and western openings into the lower world. A myth states that the sky once rested close to earth on the leaves of the pia (arrowroot) and teve, which were thus flattened out. Ru came up from Avaiki and propped the sky a little higher with strong wooden stakes set on the central plateau of Rangimotia. Maui, who was made son to Ru, quarreled with his father and threw both Ru and the sky to a tremendous height from which neither returned again. The boundaries between realms were skies (rangi), and an allusion to Ru shows that the number of skies was not necessarily restricted to ten, but was many: "Ru-tokotoko-i-te-rangi-tuatini." (Ru-propper-up-of-the-many-skies.) Tangaroa was supposed to live in a vague upper spirit realm after leaving his brother Rongo in the underworld.

The myth regarding Ngaru-tai shows that the upper realms were peopled by mythical creatures of much the same disposition as those inhabiting the lower realms. The principal character was the cannibal Amai-te-rangi, who let down an attractive-looking basket on a rope to entrap Ngaru (6, pp. 234-236). Ngaru ascended and by strategy and the aid of the lizard host of his grandfather Mokoroa overcame the demon. The demon killed his victims with a stone chisel and a mallet and was killed in turn by Ngaru with his own tools. The sky-demon was only an incident in a story and disappears without entering into permanent competition with Miru for the spirits of men. In the upper realm were tapairu (women of high rank), of whom the two principal ones were Ina and Matonga. From them Ngaru learned the game of juggling with balls so that eight were kept going at one time. Having vanquished his teachers in the game, Ngaru returned to earth.

Warriors' Spirit Realm

Besides acquiring privileges in this world, warriors slain in battle continued them in the spirit world. They were exempted from the oven of Miru for, instead of descending to the lower realm, they ascended into an upper world of light ('aere ki te ao). The realm occupied by the spirits after they leaped off the mountain into space (neneva) was known as Tiairi. Tiairi is evidently a local name and was said to have been named after the spot where the first human being, Matoetoea, was slain by Tu-kai-taua. Tiairi evidently had no special boundaries and extended vaguely over the ten or more super-imposed realms. That Tiairi is not borrowed from Christian sources is shown page 206by allusions in native laments composed before the advent of missionaries. In a lament for the sons of Rori, slain in battle, is the following (6, p. 178):

Na tokotoru a Rori The three [sons] of Rori
Ei tupeke pare kura e! Leaping in red feather headdresses!
Tera roa te 'anau te 'aka mai i te nga'ere. There indeed the family is dancing as in war,
I te kapa toa i Tia'iri. In the ranks of the warriors at Tiairi.

The warrior spirits were decked with garlands of flowers and sweet-scented leaves. They were vigorous because they had been slain in active service while enjoying their full vigor and strength, in contrast to the spirits of those who had died of sickness or old age. In Tiairi, they told tales of old battles, sang, and danced ('aka) the war dances of old. They despised the spirits in the underworld upon whom their excreta fell.

It was natural to associate the spirits with the clouds that move through space. In the winter season the skies were dark, and clouds obscured the sun because of the presence of spirits which could not ascend to Tiairi in that season. This presence, as well as the season, caused depression to mortals. As the rainy season ceased early in August, the lighter clouds rose higher; and as they moved through the skies they represented the spirits departing to the upper realm. They were last seen as specks (poepoe) in the distance, which led to the use of Poepoe as an alternative name for Tiairi. The following is a reference to Poepoe in a lament (6, p. 177):

Puputa motu taua e! Our companionship is severed, alas !
Ka 'aere au tei Poepoe! I go to Poepoe.
E 'enua 'akarere Mangaia e taea mai e! Mangaia is a land forsaken which can not be regained.

The warriors' resting place was also alluded to in general terms as puokia.

The social elevation of the warrior in Mangaia has greatly affected the mechanism of the spirit realms. In Rarotonga the warrior spirits occupied a special part of the underworld in the house of Tiki, but in Mangaia the warriors' spirit realm was totally detached from the region occupied by Miru. The concept of the exclusive warriors' spirit realm, embodied in verse and song, flattered the vanity of living warriors and exercised a great influence upon them. Aged warriors induced their relatives to give them positions in the battlefield in order that by being slain in battle they might join their warrior friends in Tiairi. Ikoke, son of Mautara, on hearing of the violent death of his brother Takurua, said, "I nunga i te puokia maua e aravei atu ei." (On the warriors' resting place we shall meet later on.) To accomplish the meeting he took care to die on a field of battle. The reaction of the concepts of the upper and lower spirit realms upon the people was to breed valiant fighters who were not only fearless of death on the battlefield, but rather welcomed it.