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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

The Gods

The Gods

The Rarotongan missionary, Aporo, is responsible for the following statement (13, p. 150):

There are no gods of their own in these two islands; their gods were stolen from Utone by Ngaro-purui and Ngaro-vaaroto; Patu-kare was the guardian of the gods, whose names were Te Puarenga and Te Uru-renga, whilst another god named Ikaera drifted ashore onto the island. Te Puarenga is at Tau-unu at the marae named Te Pouhiteru; Ikaara (sic) is at Tukao at the marae named Marae-okoroa; Te Uru-renga is at Rakahanga and Variu is the name of his marae.

Aporo landed in Manihiki in 1849 and thus had the opportunity of getting information before the culture underwent material change. The statement that the people had no gods of their own evidently means that there were no gods brought by the first settlers. Tupou-rahi made a statement that Huku, the brother-in-law of Toa, had a god named Mokoroa-i-taupo located at Maungatea in Rarotonga. It is natural that the god remained with him in Rarotonga and was not given to his sister, Tapairu. Toa was a warrior and brought no priest with him. The statement that the people had no gods thus fits in with traditional history. Toa's lack of scholarship receives further corroboration from the lack of any myths concerning Tane, Rongo, Tangaroa, and the brotherhood of major gods so widely spread through neighboring regions. Tangaroa is actually mentioned as the grandfather of the Maui brethren and the possessor of fire.

Aporo states that the first two gods were stolen by Ngaro-purui and Ngaro-vaaroto. In the first of these names we may recognize Ngaro-puruhi. He is evidently the youngest brother of Whati-akau, as given by the genealogy of Tupou-rahi (Table 13). As his elder brother, Tangihoro, is credited with making voyages to foreign parts, the younger brother is likely to have gone with him. The genealogy places Ngaro-puruhi in the 7th generation chronologically. Thus, owing to lack of teachers and priests, the people had no gods from the time of the settlement of Rakahanga until the 7th generation, a period of over 150 years. It is not evident from Aporo's statement whether the Utone mentioned was a man or a place, but clearly the two gods, Te Puarenga and Te Uru-renga, were introduced from another island in the 7th generation of occupation. Tupou-rahi stated that the care of the family gods (whare urunga) was entrusted to Ura, an elder brother of Ngaro-puruhi. This statement would have no force but for the additional information recorded by Aporo that gods were actually introduced by his brother, Ngaro-puruhi. The Patu-kare mentioned by Aporo as the guardian of the gods was probably Ura under another name.

Te Puarenga, one of the stolen gods, was established at the marae in the page 206 village of Tauhunu on Manihiki; the site is near the present church. The Aporo narrative gives the marae the name, Te Pouhiteru, but this is probably a misprint, as I was told that its name was Poututeru. Te Puarenga was the god of the Whainga-aitu ariki and was thus the principal god of the Heahiro and Mokupuwai tribes. This again fits in with genealogical evidence, because Ngaro-puruhi, the procurer of the god, was the youngest brother of Whati-akau, whose name was adopted by a subtribe of the Heahiro tribe.

The question of the establishment of the Poututeru marae is also raised. When Ngaro-puruhi stole the gods, he must also have brought away with him some of the observances associated with the gods. One observance was probably the building of the marae on which the necessary ritual could be conducted. It is likely, therefore, that the Poututeru marae was built in the 7th generation, when the knowledge of maraes was revived or introduced through the voyage to other lands. This again throws light on history, for it indicates that settlement on Manihiki had occurred by the 7th generation.

The guardianship of the god must have descended in the family of Ura or Patu-kare, but later, after the establishment of the dual arikiship, it passed to the Whainga-aitu of the tribe with which the god was associated. Another difficulty is created by our lack of knowledge of the details concerning the manner and time at which the change in guardianship took place, for the first Whainga-aitu, Temu-matua, was placed by his uncle Rikiriki under the protection of the god Hikahara, who belonged to the Whakaheo ariki. We can only assume that though retrospective history shows a clear-cut division between the ariki, gods, and tribes, this exactness was not actually defined in the 11th generation, but was inaugurated then and assumed clarity later.

Te Puarenga was offered up as a burnt sacrifice by the missionary Aporo after Christianity was accepted by the people. Te Raina, son of Aporo, related that his father examined the heathen idol before destroying it. He said that it was made of breadfruit wood (kuru), which again corroborates the foreign origin of the god, for the breadfruit has only been introduced into both atolls within the last few years. The wood was ornamented with sennit braid lashed in a pattern (whakatiki ki te kaha), inlaid with white shell (tiha), wrapped up in a mat (moenga), and further bound with sennit. It was kept in a special house on the marae. Its destruction constitutes an irreparable loss, for had it been preserved as a missionary trophy of the chase, its island of origin might have been revealed.

Te Uru-renga, the other stolen god, was kept at the Variu marae on Rakahanga, according to Aporo. Neither the god nor the marae was mentioned to me. However, as the god also was acquired by Ngaro-puruhi, it was probably also a Whainga-aitu god.

page 207

Hika-hara, referred to by Aporo as Ikaera and Ikaara, was a locally manufactured god. Aporo stated that another god named Ikaera drifted ashore onto the island. What drifted ashore was a log from foreign lands (no hahake). It was cast up on the island of Motu-whakamaru in the southern part of Manihiki. The log was of reddish appearance in the water (muramura i roto i te wai). All drift material is of interest to a people isolated from foreign contact. The Whakaheo ariki went to Motu-whakamaru, viewed the log, and had it brought to Tukou, where he and his tribes lived. The log was laid outside the house of the ariki, and in the ordinary course of events various objects were laid upon it and against it. In the morning the objects were found scattered. The power of repelling objects was attributed to the log and revealed that it had power (mana). In the night the log was observed to show a phosphorescent light (purapura). It was deified by the Whakaheo as his god (kua whakariro hei atua nona). No information was obtainable as to whether the log was shaped and ornamented with sennit to follow the pattern of the stolen ready-made gods. If Aporo subsequently added it as fuel to the fire of his missionary zeal, he gave no detail of its construction.

Two prohibitions were enacted in connection with Hika-hare. First, no fire was to be lighted at night, and the people ate the evening meal in darkness. Second, if the hand was burned while cooking fish, on no account was it to be put in the mouth. Infringements of the two prohibitions were considered sins against the god, who punished the offender in one of two ways. The person who lit a fire felt a pain in his foot as if it had been stamped upon. Thus it was said that the god stamped upon the offender's foot (ka takahi te waewae), the foot swelled up, and death followed. If the hand was put into the mouth, the tongue swelled up and the person died. Thus the two punishments were swelling of the foot or swelling of the tongue, both followed by death.

As the Whakaheo was under the protection of the god, any sin against the Whakaheo was automatically punished by the god. The sin against the Whakaheo was to steal his food. For such an offence, Hika-hara metaphorically stamped upon the offender, who had nothing left to do but to die of a swollen foot.

If the Whakaheo became angry he called up his god (kua whai i tana atua), who sent wind, rain, thunder, and lightning, evidently to demonstrate that the Whakaheo had the tira or power over things celestial, and thus to warn his people not to proceed too far in a direction which angered him.

The statement that the Whakaheo himself went to view the log stranded on Motu-whakamaru indicates that Hika-hara could not have been created until the dual arikiship was in existence. Which one of the line of Whaka- page 208 heo went to Motu-whakamaru was not mentioned, but as Temu-matua, the first Whainga-aitu, was cured of his weak constitution by Hika-hara, the period is located as the 11th generation. The creation of the god was contemporaneous with the creation of his high priest, the priestly Whakaheo.

Hika-hara was located at a marae on Tukou, the Manihiki home of the Whakaheo tribes. Aporo says the name of the marae was Marae-okoroa, but my informants stated that it was called Te Koutu.

The above gods seem to have been the major gods, whose officiating priests were the Whainga-aitu and Whakaheo. They were in authority over the larger groups of two tribes. In addition, there were a number of minor gods that were the property of such smaller groups as subtribes.