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Mangaian Society



The skilled craftsman, though he might be neither chief, priest, or warrior, occupied a good social position. His work was sought after and he was paid in food and cloth for his services. In the event of being on the losing side in battle, he could buy protection with the results of his skill. An expert craftsman was termed a ta'unga, which is distinct from the term pi'a atua used to designate a priest. Experts naturally taught their own children or near relatives, and certain crafts became associated with particular families. The improvements in technical details and art acquired by successive generations were regarded as trade secrets. Their possession was of great economic value to the craftsman and his family. He was not only enabled to exchange his work for food and cloth, but his status was raised by the deference and praise extended to him. He also obtained psychological satisfaction from doing work that he knew to be good. Individual pride extended into family pride in the family craft.

Thus Una, a craftsman skilled in stonework, carving, and sennit work, taught his son Rongo-ariki, who in turn trained his son Rori. At the 24th battle of Maueue, Rongo-ariki, supported by Rori, was on the defeated side. They fled the field to obtain some of the treasures in their home before taking refuge in the makatea. The pursuit was so hot, however, that the father, after handing his son some precious red feathers from Tahiti, stayed behind to delay the enemy and so make good his sons escape. The master craftsman sacrificed his own life not merely through parental affection but that the family knowledge of craftsmanship might, through his son, be transmitted to future generations.

Though skill in the special crafts was theoretically confined to particular families, an outsider could obtain instruction by paying a price. Tangi-toru, a maker of modern ceremonial adzes, stated that a craftsman would even sell the technique of the complicated sennit lashing of ceremonial adzes in order to provide himself with "the means to eat."

All individuals could make houses, canoes, and nets, but it took experts to wind the sennit in the more complicated decorative designs on house rafters and to make the small-meshed nariki nets. Adz making, woodwork, and sennit work usually went together. The experts worked as individuals and page 132never developed the craft guilds that characterized the house and canoe builders and tattooers of Samoa.

The making of adzes required judgment, experience, and skill. The adz maker was thus a taunga (expert), who enjoyed a position of social and economic importance. Persons requiring tools consulted an expert, and on his consent they procured the stone, fed the expert during the period of work, and paid with presents of food and cloth after the work was completed.

Mamae in a sermon gave an excellent account of the troubles that beset the adz maker (7, p. 17). The rock was washed to remove the dirt and carefully examined for flaws. In spite of care an adz was liable to break from some inner flaw, when the expert exclaimed in disgust, "Tiria atu" (Throw it away). This might occur several times in the making of a set of tools. The end process consisted of light bruising, and the craftsman kept blowing off the fine dust which formed on the surface. Pieces of coral were used to give the whole surface a fine black polish as the final touch of the craftsman's art.

A marked artistic sense was displayed in the hafting, which was of a higher degree of excellence than that attained in any of the other Cook islands or in the Society, Austral, Marquesas, and Tuamotu archipelagos.

The sennit braid used was carefully made in a flat form (rapa) and was much narrower than that used in other areas. The braid itself was appreciated as a thing of beauty and worthy of being used as a symbol of the god Tane-kio.

The lashings (taua) not only secured the adz heads to the haft but were made in different patterns to produce an artistic effect. Two patterns that seem confined to Mangaia are more complicated in technique and are superior in appearance to any that were used in the neighboring islands, including the Society Islands. The people of the other Cook islands regard the Mangaians as the best workers in sennit, and the local adz lashings certainly confirm that opinion.

A unique feature in Mangaia is the existence of finely polished adz heads lashed to large carved hafts. Some hafts have pyramidal bases supported by short legs and pierced with holes which are reminiscent of the carved emblems of gods and are doubtless derived from them, as maintained by Reed (18, p. 152). Such adzes, according to my Mangaian informants, were made by the Ngati-Tane as symbols of Tane-mata-ariki, the god of wood craftsmen. No information could be obtained as to the exact part they played in religious ritual. They have been referred to as "peace axes," but in the fairly detailed information regarding the official declaration of peace following the installation of the Lord of Mangaia there is no mention of the use page 133of "peace axes." The drum of peace was sounded and the drums made processions round the island, but no reference occurs as to the use of the adzes symbolic of Tane-mata-ariki. The term "peace axe" must therefore be regarded as a collector's term and should be ruled out of scientific works. The large number of these objects distributed through the museums of the world has given them an exaggerated social importance strangely at variance with the lack of information regarding them in their island of origin. The large number is accounted for by their being attractive to European visitors as "curios" or objects of art. The outside demand stimulated supply and Mangaian carvers made them for foreign trade. As the older experts died out, the craft degenerated, and in recent times adz heads were imported from Rarotonga to be fitted to Mangaian pedestal hafts of inferior make. The last surviving carver on Mangaia has made adz heads of unorthodox shape with a trade grindstone, and even the technique of the correct lashing pattern has been forgotten.

Gill (9, p. 224) states that "the peculiar way in which the natives of Mangaia fasten their axes was originally taught them by the gods." In another place (6, p. 274) he states that the valuable knowledge of the clever Mangaian method of securing ordinary stone axes to wooden handles was introduced by Una from Tahiti. The characteristic Mangaian lashing pattern is not found in Tahiti. It is possible, however, that Una introduced the triple-triangle pattern used on Tahitian adzes and that the later Mangaian craftsmen, in lashing ceremonial adzes, were stimulated by the nature of the object to improve on the secular lashing.

The Mangaian craftsmen applied the motifs used in carving wooden gods to the hafts of the adz symbols of Tane-mata-ariki. The association is obvious and natural. By care and skill in the repetition of simple motifs a high degree of merit must be credited to the craftsmen. I would here stress the fact that ceremonial adzes are peculiar to Mangaia. They were not made on any other of the Cook islands, and the labeling of "Hervey Islands" in so many museums is both vague and erroneous.

Adzes were prized not only as necessary tools but as material property and wealth. With a stock of adzes the conquered could buy life and protection from a powerful chief. The adz maker could create wealth by making sets of adzes and hiding them for future use and trade.

Three famous adzes are mentioned in tradition, Vai-kanee brought from Tahiti by Mataroi, a mottled adz (toki purepure) brought from Tahiti by Una, and Akamae brought from Rarotonga by Te-uru-kura. Concerning Te-uru-kura there are no details, but both Mataroi and Una were famous craftsmen. A song refers to Una's adz as follows:

page 134
Tapa'ia e 'Una e-. Commence cutting, O Una-.
O te toki purepure o ta'i 'enua It is the mottled adz of another land
A tua te vao i a Rata, That hewed in the forest with Rata,
Ua 'inga te rakau o te mokomoko; The tree of the mokomoko fell;
Ka 'ai i a 'iti e-. The ritual was conducted in Tahiti
Tapa'ia ra e 'una nei e-. Commence cutting, O Una,
E 'Una nei. O Una who art here.
Ua kai Tane-mata-ariki Tane-of-regal-face eats
I te 'anga nei i te raurau, Of this food on leaflet platter,
I te taro mata na Rua-te-'atonga. Of uncooked taro offered by Rau-te-atonga.
Te vai 'oki nga tuatua tapau The tales which were told follow
Te 'akairi ra i a 'Una. Which elevate the fame of Una.
Ua 'inga te rakau o te mokomoko, The tree of the mokomoko fell,
Ka 'ai i a 'Iti e-. The ritual was conducted in Tahiti.
Ua kai 'Una i te ro'iro'i. Una has tasted of weariness,
Ua tateni ma to atua. Thou hast rejoiced with thy god.
Tei Ara'ata ta'au nu, ta'au toki. At Araata marae is thy coconut, thy adz.
I te 'ae'aenga ia Tane At the cutting up of wood [Tane]
Ua 'ui nga ta'unga, nga toa e The expert craftsmen and warriors assemble
Mai ki a 'Una e-. And come to Una.

Note: This song refers to the widely known ancestor Rata of canoe-building fame. The word mokomoko may mean a lizard or a fabulous reptile associated with the tree felled to build Rata's canoe, but I do not know the particular version quoted. The association of Tane-mata-ariki with woodwork is brought out. Gill (6, p. 274) states that Rua-te-atonga was the name of Rangi's adz that he brought up from the nether Avaiki, but Aiteina maintained that in the above song the name was that of a man in the Ngati-Tane tribe. The social status of Una as a craftsman is indicated by the last lines of the song referring to the craftsmen and warriors assembling to meet him and also to his association with the important Ngariki marae of Araata.

Another reference to the adz from Tahiti occurs in a dirge quoted by Gill (6, p. 274), for which I give my own translation:

Tera Tane-mata-ariki, There is Tane-of-regal-face,
Ei koti i te ua ma te ra, To cut off in rain and sun,
Ei tua i te pa rakau, To fell the grove of trees,
E mae ai te toki ia 'Iti. By which the adz from Tahiti will become brittle through friction.

Note: Gill translated the last line, "They are felled by the Tahitian axe." The rendering takes no account of the idiomatic use of the word mae, of which the common meaning is "to become soft and dropping like leaves subject to the heat of a strong sun." As idiomatically applied to adzes, it conveys the idea of the adz edge becoming soft or brittle through the heat generated by the friction in working wood. The word appears in the name of the Rarotongan adz, Akamae ('aka, causative prefix). When using the tool, it was usual in Mangaia to stick up a section of banana trunk beside the work. Every now and then the cutting edge of the adz was driven into the soft, damp stump to cool down the heated edge and thus render it less likely to splinter (nga'a).

Mataroi, the owner of the adz named Vai-kanee, was a contemporary of Te Rau, the third priest of Motoro. The following genealogy shows the page 135relative chronological position of the two master craftsmen, Mataroi and Una:

Note: Rori, the grandson of Una, married, Motia, the granddaughter of Mautara, thus making Una and Mautara contemporaries, whereas Mataroi was a contemporary of Mautara's great-grandfather.

Gill (9, p. 223) states that carving was the employment of sacred men and that when Rori carved the set of gods for the national godhouse he was believed to have been specially assisted by the gods. When employed on important work, the craftsmen deposited their adzes in the marae overnight and used incantations to give edge and strength to their tools. But though religious observances were kept on particular occasions, the craftsmen as a class were not sacred, as Gill states. During his period of work on the tribal gods, Rori may have been treated with extra respect, but he was not a priest and was no more sacred than any other person of his social grade. Although some of the priests were master craftsmen, their sacred attributes were derived from their priesthood.