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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga



When a chief died the whakamaru (tribal head) placed the corpse on the platform (pahata) of the house in which the tukuwhare gods were kept. Some corpses were not buried (kare e tanu). Relatives mourned in the house on the floor below and bore the odor of putrefaction out of affection (aroha) for the deceased. They even allowed the fluids of decomposition (wai o te tupapaku) to fall down upon them. The body was allowed to remain in the loft of the house until it had dried up. Many human bones are to be seen on the atoll, and are evidence that all bodies were not interred in the ground.

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

After any man had died, from the second until the fifth night they took food for the deceased and hoped then to upraise him to life. This is one of the “upraisings”:

E ara! e tu ki runga.
Tera mai to mango
E te ika, kia kai koe.

Arise! stand upright.
Here is thy shark
And fish, that thou mayest eat.

They all cried and cut themselves, and knocked their heads, when they found the deceased did not arise; and thus they did for many days.

Burial places were termed turuma. The dead were interred in pits and the sites marked with small coral slabs set on edge, after the style of the smaller graves on Tongareva. The coral slabs were set to form a rectangular inclosure, above the grave, about 7 feet long by 2.5 feet wide. The projection above the surface was from 10 to 12 inches. None of the large worked historic slabs forming headstones, so common on Tongareva, were seen. Though a number of graves were seen on the island of Te Kainga, it was stated that it had been customary to bury the dead on the other islands where the families had their property rights.