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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

The Language

The Language

The language is a pleasing dialect and has closer affinities with Maori than with the dialects of Tongareva, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands. The dialect differs from Tongarevan in using h instead of s and wh instead of h, from Tahitian in retaining k and ng and using wh instead of f, and from Cook Islands dialects in the presence of wh and a more definitely sounded h. All these differences are shared by the Maori dialect. Also, a number of words that are not shared by the Rarotongan and Tahitian dialects are common to the Maori and the Manihiki-Rakahangan dialects.

The native pastors, educated by the London Missionary Society in Rarotonga, have introduced the alphabet adopted for Rarotonga. This alphabet is without the letter h, and v is used instead of w. Thus both the h and wh sounds which are present in the dialect have no letters to represent them. No organized effort has been made by the church or the state to remedy the deficiencies. As in others of the Cook Islands, the local dialect is being assimilated rapidly by the Rarotongan dialect. The Bible, which is printed in Rarotongan, exercises a great influence in standardizing Rarotongan as the accepted dialect.

The alphabet in use contains the vowels a, e, i, o, and u, and the consonants k, m, n, ng, p, r, t, and v.

The consonants not represented are h and wh, and the v should be w. Stephen Savage, official interpreter to the Cook Islands Administration, holds that w should have been adopted for the Rarotongan dialect instead of v. This applies with even more force to Manihikian. At the same time, there may be some such words as vero (stern piece of a canoe) that are pronounced with a v sound. The older people pronounce the words with a w and write them with a v. With the modern method of teaching by alpha- page 12 betical sounds, the tendency is for the younger people to adopt the v sound as taught to them. Europeans have recorded the h sound in Manihiki on official maps and have omitted the equally obvious h sound in Rakahanga by printing it “Rakaanga.” The people pronounce the name of their atoll “Manihiki” and write it “Maniiki” because the schools do not include the h when teaching the alphabet. An extra emission of the breath gives h the sound hi before the regular vowel, and it has become usage to say “hi,” as in “Hiuku,” for Huku, a word variously written as “Iku,” “Hiku,” and “Huku.” Smith, in editing Gill's account of the origin of Manihiki (13, p. 140), states that the name should be spelled “Hiku”; but though this represents the name as it would appear in other dialects, the local pronunciation is “Hiuku.” The people, not having been provided with the letter h by the teachers of the Rarotongan alphabet, usually spelled it “Uku,” or even “Iuku.” It is, perhaps, more convenient to spell it “Huku,” but the correct pronunciation must be borne in mind (see page 14). This usage resembles that of the Rarawa tribe of the Maoris of northern Auckland, who have a tendency to use he, as in “Heone” for Hone, a pronunciation used by older people but not followed by the younger generation of Maoris.

The wh sound has been recorded for New Zealand and the Chatham Islands by the double letter wh. Of this consonant Williams says (31, p. 568):

Wh represents the voiceless consonant corresponding with w, and is produced by emitting the breath sharply between the lips. It is a mistake to assimilate the sound to that of f in English, though it has become fashionable in recent years with some of the younger Maoris. In some words wh and h are interchangeable, as kohatu, kowhatu; mahiti, mawhiti. In a few words there is confusion between wh and w, but this may be due to the fact that in early works printed in Maori no distinction was made between the two, both being printed as w. Wh is never found in Maori followed by o or u.

It was evident to both natives and Europeans that an extra sound not provided for by the Rarotongan alphabet was present. The mistake of assimilating the sound to that of f in English was committed by Europeans, and the few natives who write have followed suit. Thus we have the word for hala (Pandanus) written as “fara” and it appears in figure 2 as Motu Fara (Pandanus Island). A certain amount of influence may have come from Tahiti, where the sound exists as an actual f, and the word is pronounced “fara.” Knowing this, I was prepared to accept the sound as f until I heard the words pronounced in the atolls. While I was recording pedigrees in the Land Court at Rakahanga it became evident to me that the sound was not the English or Tahitian f but resembled the Maori wh. However, lest my own Maori background might have influenced me, I asked Stephen Savage and Henry Williams, Jr., who is of Manihikian extraction, page 13 to check up on the words containing the sound. They agreed that the sound was wh and not f.

The remarks of Williams (31) about the confusion between the Maori wh and w apply with still more force to the Manihikian wh and v. The v is wrong in the first place, but it was the only letter that could be used to represent both the w and wh sounds, until a few people began to use f.

The interchange in some Maori words between wh and h, noted by Williams, applies also to inter-dialectical variations. Although the distinction between wh and f is marked as regards sound and the position of the lips and teeth, the fashionable interchange in recent years by the younger Maoris has evidently followed a general Polynesian tendency. K. P. Emory of Bernice P. Bishop Museum informs me that the Tahitian f sound prevails over most of the Tuamotuan archipelago, but that at Reao in the east the wh sound is used. This was checked by Mr. Emory and F. J. Stimson, both of whom were accustomed to the Tahitian f. Interchanges have thus occurred between h, wh, and f. A good test word is the widespread Polynesian name for house, which consists of one of the three interchangeable consonants followed by are or ale, according to the dialectical selection between r and l. The main dialects interchange as follows:

Hare Whare Fare
Cook Islands New Zealand Society Islands
Tongareva Chatham Islands Tuamotus
Hawaii (hale) Manihiki Marquesas (fa'e)
Reao (Tuamotus) Samoa (fale)
Tonga (fale)

Although wh occupies the intermediate position between h and f, a direct interchange between h and f is seen in the eastern Polynesian word aroha and the western word alofa. It is tempting to think of h as the simplest, oldest form, retained in the northern remote area, Hawaii, and surviving in Tongareva and Cook Islands; of the wh as an old form retained in the southern remote area of New Zealand and Chatham Islands, the remote eastern area of Reao, and surviving in Manihiki; and of the f as coming in as a later intrusive element from the west, establishing itself in the Society Islands, when it spread through the Tuamotus and Marquesas, displacing the wh but failing to extinguish it in the far east at Reao.

Some inconsistency in the spelling of native words will be observed in this study. In quotations from manuscripts or printed works the original spelling has been kept, but in my own observations the h and wh have been used in words in which they were sounded. As in Tongareva, a study of the dialect and local vocabulary awaits the linguist.