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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Genealogical Records

Genealogical Records

Because traditional history in Rakahanga attributes the settlement of the atolls to one biological family, the head of that family a defeated warrior accompanied by no priests, the genealogical records of the two atolls thus peopled are poor in extent and detail. As in Tongareva (29, p. 16), the genealogical records cover three periods, settlement, exploratory or migratory, and mythical. The settlement period commenced with the historical settlement of the land and extends to the present time. The exploratory phase covered the period from the departure from an ancient homeland to the beginning of the present occupation. The mythical period dealt with the creation of the gods and the origin of human life. Even in the mythical period the order of creation and natural phenomena were personified and arranged in genealogical order. In the preservation of genealogies, an outstanding element of all Polynesian culture, native scholars have provided a chronological skeleton for traditional history. Whereas the Western historian refers to a calendar date of solar years, the Polynesian refers, then, to the number of generations of human beings (uki tangata) in dating past events. Because the genealogies covering the three periods are elaborate, their preservation and teaching were delegated to persons trained to feats of memory. These people, in Polynesia, formed the educated priesthood. It can there- page 21 fore be understood that unless priests accompanied the first settlers to an island the historical records of that island are likely to be abridged and unsatisfactory. The noted explorers of high rank, accompanied by chiefs of status and skilled priests and astronomers, did not seek out small atolls. They preferred the high islands with ample area for distribution and fertility for the production of food supplies. The character of the explorers is reflected in the traditional history, genealogies, and social structure subsequently revealed by the field research of foreign students.

In Rakahanga the only voyages of the long migratory period recorded are those of Huku and Wheatu from Rarotonga. Beyond the statement that Huku and Tapairu were either the children or the grandchildren of Hiro, no pedigrees are recorded to extend over the migratory period from the mythical past. The widespread myth of Maui was evidently one of the few things remembered, and it was interpolated to link with the recent period of Huku. No definite mythical period is recorded, nor are primary parents, represented in some areas by Atea and Papa, remembered. Whakahotu appears in the name of the spot in the ocean whence Rakahanga emerged, but though there is an indication that Whakahotu was personified, she does not appear as a primary nature mother as she does in Tongarevan myth. The god Tangaroa appears as the father of Maui as he does in Rarotongan myth. No reference is made, however, to his brothers, Tane, Rongo, and others who occupy such a prominent position in the Polynesian pantheon. The gods worshiped were local gods not elsewhere known. Rakahanga has preserved even less of Polynesian myth than Tongareva (29, p. 85). The first settler, Toa, must be held responsible for what knowledge of outside history and institutions was brought into the country. Rakahangan chiefs and heads of families subsequently learned the family pedigrees covering the settlement period, for inheritance and succession were based on these, but much has been forgotten since the advent of Christianity.

The family pedigrees covering the settlement period were recorded for this study from evidence given by witnesses before the Native Land Court held in Rakahanga in June, 1929. All the witnesses were acquainted with the main facts concerning Toa's marriages, but only a few could trace a connected line from Toa to themselves. Most could trace pedigrees to ancestors through 6 to 12 generations but could not connect them with the main lines. The families of Toa's daughters were confused, and some ancestors were given different names and different parents.

Out of this confusion a lineage given by the pastor, Kairenga, is selected, as it gives his lineal descent from Toa (Table 1). Another connected line was given by Haumata-tua, but it includes a list of persons who held one of the ariki titles. In pedigrees which include lists of ariki, younger brothers page 22 who may have held the title are apt to be recited in a direct lineal descent, and the number of generations is thereby incorrectly increased. Unless the collaterals can be checked, it is safer to use a junior line to judge length of occupation.

Table 1. Descent from Toa

Table 1. Descent from Toa

If the allowance of the Polynesian Society of 25 years to a generation is accepted, the 22 generations from Toa to Kairenga's adult nephew, Mata, would make a settlement period of 550 years. Toa would have landed in Rakahanga in about the middle of the fourteenth century. This date agrees with the date of the last migration to New Zealand and with the approximate date of settlement by Mahuta in Tongareva. Rarotonga was settled by Tangiia about a century earlier.

The first part of Table 1 ends with Kanohi in the 10th generation. Kanohi married Tautape, the last ariki to rule singly over the atolls. The period of the dual ariki commences with the 11th generation and consists of page 23 12 generations. The column on the right of the table gives the descent in the 11th generation from Te-patiti, a younger brother of Tuteru-matua. This line is three generations shorter than the line given in the left column. Two other lines which connected with the Kanohi-Tautape generation (10) are also about nine generations long, so the second period may be only a little more than 200 years, instead of 300 years as the Kairenga line would indicate. A discrepancy as to the length of the first period from Toa to Tautape on another line is discussed on page 46.

A pedigree skeleton has now been provided to which collaterals may be linked as the story develops.