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Mangaian Society

Priests of the; Tribal Gods

Priests of the; Tribal Gods

The power of the priests of the tribal gods was confined solely within the tribe which served the particular god. Conquering tribes seem to have taken a particular interest in killing the priest of the defeated tribe as an offering to Rongo.

Of 9 priests of Tane, no less than 5 were killed and offered in sacrifice to Rongo; a sixth, Te-vaki, was saved from a similar fate only through the power of Mautara. The Ngariki never forgave the Ngati-Tane priesthood for having filled their marae of Maputu with human heads largely obtained from the Ngariki tribe. The priests of Turanga, the god of the Tongaiti tribe, escaped more lightly, for out of twelve priests only two were killed and two banished.

The Ngariki had to spare the priests of Motoro, the tribal god to whom their children were dedicated at the cutting of the navel cord, in order to remain in touch with the god. Early in history, the Ngariki evidently had cause to be inimical to the family of Vara, the second priest of Motoro. Yet they could not kill Vara. They vented their spite by killing all Vara's sons except the eldest, Te-rau. The life of Te-rau was spared in order that the succession of priests might continue. Mautara, the sixth priest, made war against his employers, the Ngariki. He went into battle, however, with a fan only, as no Ngariki would kill him. In the subsequent wars of the Ngati-Vara, no Ngariki laid hands on the acting priest of Motoro. The Tongaiti tribe slew two priests of Motoro, as Motoro was not their god.

The priesthoods passed from father to son but not necessarily to the eldest son. When there was no direct male issue, succession followed on the female side.

The functions of the priests were to conduct the ceremonial on the tribal marae and to consult the tribal god concerning matters of tribal importance. The priest was the pi'a (receptacle) which the god entered when required. The god made his wishes known through the voice of the priest. Unswerving obedience to the god's commands gave the priests great power and made them the last court of appeal in deciding knotty problems with regard to war and tribal politics. The priests, who were the scholars and men of learning, were wise enough to follow the feelings and desires of their group when making known the wishes of the gods.

Some priests used the voice of the god to further their own personal ends. Through using the voice of Motoro, both Mautara and Te-vaki obtained revenge. The high priest of Rongo could vent a personal spite by indicating the person he hated as a human sacrifice to Rongo.

The voice of the god was used for humane purposes as well. Mautara and Paeke used Motoro's voice to save defeated Tongaiti from extinction by exiling them. Some priests protected people from death by secreting them in the curtained chamber of the house set apart for the second image of their page 120god. Curiously enough, the men recorded as so saved were priests of other gods.

Namu, the Ruler of Food, was concealed for a month by his father-in-law in the chamber where his god Teipe was kept. The Teipe tribe had determined on the death of Namu. Their hatred was so great that the warriors invaded the sacred chamber; but Namu, through a timely warning, had fled.

Mautara similarly concealed Te-vaki, and though the enemy knew of Te-vaki's place of concealment they dared not invade the chamber. They set up a guard around the house. Had Te-vaki quitted his place of refuge for an instant he would have been slain. Mautara's curtained chamber (pa tikoru) was so sacred that Te-vaki remained there for a whole year, when the defeat of his enemies in battle allowed him to emerge in safety.

The priests also had power in influencing the succession of chieftainship. When the direct blood heir was unsuitable, the tribal god might declare that he resided in a junior member of the family.

The succession lists of the priests of only three tribal gods, Motoro, Tane, and Turanga, have been recorded, but all the other gods had their priests.

From the genealogical table of the Ngati-Vara is taken the following list of the priests of Motoro:

page 121

The succession of priests of Motoro remained patrilineal throughout. It went to only sons of the first six generations with the exception of Te-rau, who was the eldest of five sons and was spared because of his primogeniture. Ngara, the seventh priest, was the youngest of eight sons. Though Ngara had sons, the office passed to his nephew, Te-ka. From Te-ka, it passed to a second cousin, Makitaka. Gill's statement (12, p. 312) that succession was from father to son is thus inaccurate. Tereavai was priest of Te-aio, who had become accepted by the Ngati-Vara as their god in place of Tane. When Makitaka died, Christianity had made headway, and Tereavai was never installed as priest of Motoro, though he would have succeeded to the position under normal conditions. After putting up a last fight to regain the temporal supremacy for the Ngai-Vara, Tereavai forsook Te-aio for Christianity and became a deacon in the church.

The temporal lordship was held by three priests of Motoro, namely, Mau-tara, Ngara, and Makitaka.

The priests of Motoro occupied the unique position of being the medium between a god they did not worship arid a tribe with which they were at enmity. They claimed precedence over the priests of other tribal gods.

Gill (12, pp. 312, 313) lists the priests of Tane as follows:

1.Turuia: from Tahiti, slain by Tamatapu's warriors; laid on marae of Rongo.
3.Matariki: sacrificed to Rongo at Ariki.
4.Tiora: sacrificed to Rongo at Ariki.
5.Te-punga: sacrificed to Rongo by Tuanui; cooked head sent to Mautara.
6.Te-vaki: sole survivor of Ngati-Tane; saved by Mautara.
7.Taeimua (Kakari)
9.Pange-ivi ('Erema'a): died in 1830, a Christian.

The first five priests of Tane were worshipers of Tane-ngaki-au, after whom allegiance was transferred to Tane-i-te-ata, also called Tane-kio. The succession is termed "te ara pi'a o Tane."

The priests of Turanga, worshiped by the Tongaiti, are given by Gill (12, p. 313) as follows:

1.Te-ao: navigator of the original Tongaiti canoe which arrived in the time of Rangi.
2.Tama-keu: time of Te-akatauira.
3.Ivi: time of Vaeruarangi.
4.Tirango: killed at Angamoa.
5.Tamangaro: exiled from island.
7.Ngangaru: killed by Ngangati at Tamarua.
8.Parae (Para'i ?): helped to turn battle of Aua in Mautara's favor; a wise man.
9.Tea (also Poa)
11.Maueue: died in 1828 without changing faith.

The succession of priests of Turanga was termed "te ara pi'a o Tongaiti." Pati, not given in the above list, was also a priest of the Tongaiti tribe, page 122but he probably belonged to the subtribe of Teaaki, which was exiled. Keu, who saved Namu, was a priest of Teipe.