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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Tribal History

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Tribal History

First Divisions

Rakahanga affords the unique example of the development of an insular population from one biological family. Its isolation and sea-girt bounds presumably prevented the intrusion of foreign elements. The blood tie was apparently realized to such a degree that no internecine wars broke out. The people developed for about nine or ten generations in one village on one island in peace and harmony.

The absence of descriptive words in the relationship terminology must not be regarded as an indication that degrees of remoteness in kinship were not recognized. When crowding of population took place, some households moved away to obtain more space. The households that were close of kin accompanied them to the new center instead of remaining in proximity with people remote in blood. Thus the very feeling of close consanguinity that led family groups to establish themselves close together, by removal from the vicinity of other families gave expression also to the recognition of remote degrees of blood relationship. Upon this principle family groups have been segregated, have developed into tribes, and have later automatically divided into subtribes.

The budding off of the families (puna) took place on the one small island, Te Kainga. Kainga means “home,” or the place where people dwell. In the course of time the original household developed into a village, but the village was automatically divided into separate groupings that claimed common blood kinship from more recent ancestors. The island of Te Kainga became established as the island of occupation, whereas all the other islands were reserved for the production of food. The regular passages back and forth to Manihiki were later established, though food considerations and the establishment of two villages in Manihiki were the result of the still later development of tribes and a dual arikiship.

Tradition shows that the families in the first few generations arranged themselves into two groupings according to their descent from the two brothers, Matangaro and Hukutahu. This dual grouping was rendered the more conscious because the ariki title descended in the Hukutahu family. The Matangaro families built their habitations on the sea side of the island, and the Hukutahu families took the inland lagoon side. In each generation families of close consanguinity naturally built their dwellings in proximity to each other. Occupation of particular localities led to the establishment of the rights of ownership to the particular portion of land on which the dwellings were built, and the theoretical division into two groups according to pedigree was thus carried into practice in the grouping of habitations. The page 58 factors which led to the crossing of the group boundaries were marriage and adoption. Wives went to live in their husbands' habitations in their group localities, and conversely, younger brothers sometimes went to live with their wives' relatives. A brother or a father might adopt a sister's or a daughter's child, who otherwise would have remained with the group of the child's blood father.

The automatic grouping took place in each of the two divisions. In each generation, while new families were created with their respective degrees of closeness, the existing degrees of remoteness were rendered another step more remote. Thus, if the Hukutahu families had been examined in the 5th generation, it would have been found that the families at one end of the territory allotted to them were of closer kin to each other than they were to the families at the other end. Somewhere between them there was a potential line of cleavage which became intensified with each succeeding generation. In the 5th generation the ariki Hukutahu-rourou-a-whara married two wives. The tendency to split is exemplified by the division of power between the eldest sons of the two wives. Kaitapu, the son of the first wife, retained the ariki title. All the families connected by close kinship to his mother formed a closer group around Kaitapu. Huku-potiki, the son of the second wife, became the land distributor, and all the families closely related to his mother formed another group around Huku-potiki. This secondary grouping within the Hukutahu group was simple, because evidently both mothers were from within the Hukutahu group. The automatic grouping or arrangement within a recognized larger group is unconscious until growth of population or the ambition of families makes the secondary grouping so conscious that it leads to a definite cleavage of the main group. Thus the establishment of two titles or offices led to the commencement of conscious grouping within the Hukutahu group. By the time the 10th generation was reached, the cleavage had become so definite that the original Hukutahu group had split into two groups which received the specific names, Nu-matua and Tia-ngaro-tonga. The formation of two definite groups with distinctive names led to the abandonment of the Hukutahu classification, but it was known that these two organized groups had descended from Hukutahu. The two groups continued to dwell on the lagoon side of the village that had grown up, and, owing to the method of budding off, each group occupied its own definite area.

A similar process had taken place in the Matangaro group, but the Matangaro people had no special titles or offices which might serve to accentuate a conscious cleavage in the earlier stages of growth. In the 11th generation, however, the tendency to segregate was brought to a head through the two families of the ariki Tautape. The native historians state that the page 59 old group of Nu-matua and Tia-ngaro-tonga ranged to the support of one of the sons of Tautape named Tianewa-matua. This was a carrying on of the support that they had always rendered to the ariki line, which came from within themselves. The Matangaro group, however, became attached to Temu-matua, the son of Tautape's other wife. Spurred to action by the fear of losing Temu-matua through the proposed voyage with his maternal uncle, Rikiriki, they kept him by making him head over their group. As the historians say, the Matangaro people formed the new groups (mata-keinanga) of Heahiro and Mokopuwai to support Temu-matua. This created a dual arikiship with two groups supporting each ariki. From the statement regarding new tribes, it would appear that the two Hukutahu groups had been named some time before but that the circumstances surrounding the creation of the second ariki led to the definite naming of the two groups into which the Matangaro people divided.

The scattered habitations had by this time fused into a large village on Te Kainga, in which the population lived close together (piri te tangata). The division between the four groups was maintained in the arrangement within the village. A boundary stone (tuakoi; Rarotongan, kena) had been erected in the middle of the village to mark the boundary between the two original groups. It still remains in its original position and consists of a wide coral slab standing about 4 feet above ground. The two groups on either side of the boundary had automatically erected their dwellings in group clusters. The native phrase “ka tere te tangata e tona nani” (the individual went with his household) indicates the process already described. In the more complicated arrangement of a closely settled village, the leaders of the groups set up boundaries between the four groups and later between the subgroups which subsequently developed.

In the 11th generation, therefore, the population had organized into four named groups (matakeinanga) which for the purposes of this study may be regarded as tribes.

The Tribe

The term “tribe” is usually applied to a fairly large number of people who occupy a territory defined by boundaries, speak a common language or dialect, are governed by one head, and share a common culture. This definition would cover all the inhabitants of Rakahanga and Manihiki. The four matakeinanga speak a common dialect of the Polynesian language. They originally had one common ariki, but the creation of a dual arikiship broke this unity. The general culture is identical, but there are differences with regard to leadership and the worship of gods. Furthermore, the land in the two atolls was definitely divided among the four matakeinanga.

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The term matakeinanga, in Mangaia, means a group of kinsmen, but evidently it was not in use as a tribal term. In Rakahanga the basic meaning of the term was similar to that in Mangaia, but when the four groups of kinsmen were distinguished by individual names these named groups were definitely referred to as four matakeinanga (e ha matakeinanga).

Each matakeinanga elected its head independently of the others. The special term whakamaru was coined to distinguish him. His powers have been defined. For practical purposes, the matakeinanga was a small tribe, independent of the others as regards local government, but uniting with another matakeinanga under the two priestly ariki for religious purposes. All four matakeinanga federated for voyages back and forth between Mani-hiki and Rakahanga. The matakeinanga might have been regarded as sub-tribes were it not that each of them split into named subdivisions to which the term subtribe is better applied.

The naming of the tribes creates a problem. In Tongareva, owing to the spread of secondary centers of habitation, the groups which grew up were designated by the territorial name of the island they occupied. In Rakahanga, as the whole population lived on one island and not in territories, the territorial designation of groups was not applicable. Under such circumstances, a group designation conveying descent from a common ancestor might be expected. In New Zealand and other areas, tribes are commonly designated by the application of a plural prefix to the name of an eponymous ancestor. Latent in the four Rakahangan tribal names, Numatua, Tia-ngarotonga, Heahiro, and Mokopuwai, is a possibility of derivation from ancestral names, but the people themselves were unable to settle the difficulty by locating the eponymous ancestors, if such they were, on their family pedigrees. Nu-matua looks like a personal name but does not appear in the pedigrees. Ngarotonga appears in the 5th generation (p. 26) as a grandson of Matangaro, but the Tia-ngarotonga is a Hukutahu tribe. Haumata-tua stated that Heitutae and Poupou-whenua were the stock through which the Mokopu-ngarotonga descended, and that Poupou-whenua, the father of Heitutae, was of Matangaro stock. This will bring in the name Ngarotonga as an eponymous ancestor, but when I pointed out that the Tia-ngarotonga tribe was not of Matangaro descent, the reply was given that Mokopu-ngarotonga did not refer to the Tia-ngarotonga but to the Mokopuwai, which is of Matangaro stock. No explanation was offered as to the Heahiro tribe. It is probable that the tribal names are derived from ancestors who lived between the 5th and 9th generations, but the imperfect transmission of the pedigrees prevents illustration of this.

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After the 11th generation, when the four tribes were established in name, a further subdivision took place within each of the tribes. These smaller groups were termed tukuwhare, which is again a local term coined to meet the local development. In the term tukuwhare, whare means a house, and the idea is conveyed of the kinsmen of the one inatakeinanga being grouped together in separate houses. The two Whainga-aitu tribes were divided into seven and four subtribes respectively (Table 10).

Table 10. The Whainga-aitu Tribes and Subtribes
Matakeinanga Tukuwhare
Heahiro 1. Te-whare-ariki
2. Kai-wai-pa-honu
3. Po-te-noa
4. Mau-kino
5. Whare-nui
6. Whati-akau
7. Te-ure-roto
Mokopuwai 1. Hihahuke
2. Nga-whare-ririki
3. Taupo
4. Tutonga

The origin of five of the seven subtribes of the Heahiro were demonstrated by Haumatatua (Table 11).

Table 11. Origin of Subtribes

Table 11. Origin of Subtribes

Temu-matua and Tianewa are the first two dual ariki. The Heahiro and Mokopuwai tribes clustered around the family of Heitutae. By her, Tautape had five sons. The eldest son, Temu-matua, was raised by the two tribes to the position of ariki, and he became the first Whainga-aitu. Haumata-tua stated that the other sons were made heads of tukuwhare. Thus it is evident that minor subdivisions had already been following a natural process, but the five sons were made heads of five subdivisions in the Heahiro tribe. Succession to leading rank in those subtribes would subsequently be traced through the brothers. The group associated with page 62 Temu-matua was named Te-whare-ariki (the house of the ariki) because the ariki title would descend in it from Temu-matua. The group associated with the second son, Pa-honu, was named after him and became Kai-wai-pa-honu, in which kai-wai, for some reason not explained, was prefixed to the ancestral name. Similarly, the Po-te-noa took its name from the third son by the prefix Po before the personal name of Te-noa. The Mau-kino subtribe took the name of the fourth son without any prefix. The fifth subtribe took the fifth son, Te-patiti, as their head but adopted the term of Te-whare-nui (the big house) for a reason not explained. Unfortunately, no clear pedigrees were furnished from these original heads of subtribes except the one from Te-patiti, shown in Table 12.

Table 12. Te-whare-nui Subtribe

Table 12. Te-whare-nui Subtribe

The line is short. Pukerua in the 17th generation is still alive. As Te Patiti in the 11th generation was a fifth brother, the line may be expected to be shorter than those from senior sources. The line shows three females in it, and I do not know the status of the last issue in the subtribe.

The sixth subtribe of Whatiakau, according to Tupou-rahi, comes from an important ancestor named Whatiakau, from whom Tupou-rahi gave his descent (Table 13).

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Table 13. Whatiakau Subtribe

Table 13. Whatiakau Subtribe

Tupou-rahi could not link up the beginning of his pedigree with the main lines of descent from Toa. However, in the 14th generation Pupuke-papake married Te-atua-a-Tupou, who traced back to Tautape, the last of the single ariki. This places Te-papa-i-wairaro in the 7th generation. According to Tupou-rahi, Te-papa-i-wairaro was a very important man. He had four sons to whom he distributed land and authority. To the eldest son he gave the authority over his lands (tuku te whenua kia Whatiakau), to the second son he delegated authority over his group of people (whaka-tere te matakeinanga kia Tangihoro), to the third son he gave the care of the family gods (te whare urunga kia Ura), and to the fourth son he gave the position of herald (te horohoro kia Ngaropuruhi). If this is correct, Te-papa-i-wairaro must have belonged to the Matangaro group, for the Hukutahu group had already divided the authority over the people and the land between Kaitapu and Huku-potiki in the 6th generation. That the Whatiakau subtribe belongs to one of the Whainga-aitu tribes is a further substantiation. It will be noted that at this period there were evidently group gods which are referred to as the “whare-urunga.” Evidently Ura page 64 performed the duties subsequently delegated to the whakamaru who had charge of the tribal gods and kept them in a house. No details were obtained of the functions of the herald (horohoro) beyond that he was the official messenger between the chiefs and the people, calling people together or promulgating decisions arrived at concerning group policy and action. Tangihoro was stated to have made voyages to foreign lands and to have come back among the people. Such voyages may have been made to the neighboring atoll of Manihiki and thus paved the way for the planting of that atoll and the subsequent regular visits to alternate the food supplies. Tupou-rahi in the 17th generation is an old man, and two generations may be added to the line to bring it to about 1900. A line of 19 generations makes it coincide in length with the Wharenui line in Table 12. In Tupou-rahi's descent, his male line from Te-atua-a-Tupou (14th generation) comes from the Whare-ariki subtribe through Temu-matua (11th generation), but he claims Whatiakau descent through the female line of Pupuke-papake (14th generation). He attaches great importance to her, as she was the first-born of her family. The leading line in the subtribe should come down through one of the elder brothers of Te-atua-maheanga in the 12th generation. It will be noted that the name of the mother of Temu-matua (11th generation) is given as Kanohi, whereas in Table 6 it is given as Hei-tutae. This is another instance of the confusion that exists.

The seventh subtribe, Te-ure-roto, completes the Heahiro tribe. I am unable to give the circumstances which led to the adoption of the name.

Of the four Mokopuwai subtribes, Tupou-rahi gave a descent to himself which placed Tutonga in the 11th generation. Tutonga was thus an ancestor who lived at the period when the subtribes were formed, and his name was adopted for one of them. Of the others, Nga-whare-ririki means “the small houses” and was probably so named from the linking of a number of small families to form a subtribe. The remaining two, Hihahuke and Taupo, sound like proper names but do not occur in the pedigrees submitted to the Land Court.

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The two Whakaheo tribes have seven subtribes (Table 14).

Table 14. The Whakaheo Tribes and Subtribes
Matakeinanga Tukuwhare
Nu-matua 1. Te-pu-tauhunu
2. Purenga
3. Kaupapa
4. Hitiki
5. Popo-iti
6. Nga-hoe-e-wha
7. Whati-kaua
Tia-ngaro-tonga 1. Wai-a-Matua
2. Ngaro-Tapaha
3. Nga-whare-ririki
4. Tuteru-matua
5. Tianewa-matua
6. Tihauma
7. Hua-tane

No details of definite pedigrees of these subtribes were obtained. It will be noted that some, such as Tuteru-matua, Tianewa-matua, and Tihauma, are definitely the names of ancestors. The Tia-ngaro-tonga tribe resembles the Mokopuwai tribe in having a subtribe called Nga-whare-ririki (the small houses). The Nu-matua tribe has a subtribe called Te-pu-tauhunu, in which tauhunu is a plant and pu, a bush. Another subtribe name, Nga-hoe-e-wha, means “the four paddles.” It is thus evident that some subtribes were named after ancestors and others from incidents or things that are not clear to the present generation.

Our stay on Rakahanga was too short for us to gather all the fragments of information that might throw more light on the details of subtribal evolution. It was clear to the Native Land Court that the witnesses were hazy about linking up their pedigrees with leading lines that would connect with descent from Toa. Most started with ancestors from 6 to 8 generations back who formed independent units and were left floating in the air. Certain families supplied the leaders for the subtribes, but no connected list of tribal or subtribal leaders could be conjured up out of the mass of family pedigrees adduced before the Court. It is probable that when the Court goes into the question of land ownership on the various islands, subtribes will be associated with definite islands, and the present family pedigrees may then be more clearly arranged to show the structure of subtribes.