Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)


page xiii


At the Pan-Pacific Science Congress, held in Australia in 1923, a "gentleman's agreement" was arrived at in the Section of Anthropology and Ethnology. It was that Polynesian research work should be left to the United States and New Zealand. New Zealand has been discharging its liability as far as New Zealand itself is concerned. The fine series of Dominion Museum Bulletins, embodying the work of Mr. Elsdon Best, amply proves this. The present work is an attempt by the Board of Maori Ethnological Research to extend its work to the Islands of Polynesia which are governed from New Zealand.

Acknowledgment is therefore due to the Board for financing the expedition to the Cook Islands, which took place in the latter half of 1926. The author's thanks are due to the New Zealand Government for extending his ordinary accumulated leave of six weeks into three months and six days, the time occupied by the expedition. Judge Ayson, Resident Commissioner at Rarotonga, did everything possible to make the expedition a success. He arranged transport between the islands, and of his unfailing hospitality and generous gifts of valuable material I cannot speak too highly.

This book is based on the data collected in Aitutaki in five weeks, and checked in certain technical details during a further five weeks' stay in Rarotonga. Whilst it may seem presumptuous to rush into print after so brief a stay, various factors contributed to facilitate the acquiring of information. In Aitutaki there was the whole-hearted assistance rendered by the people, both European and Polynesian. Captain Villenoweth, the Resident Agent provided accommodation, transport, and an assistant. The assistant, in the person of Joseph Vati, was attached to me throughout my stay, and performed his duties in an extremely capable and efficient manner. Messrs. Drury Lowe and Maaka Beritania were indefatigable in their efforts to assist in the recording of the material of their Island. They haled wise men before me, arranged trips, procured material, and organised the reproduction of ancient dances and games.

page xiv

With regard to the people, matters were facilitated by taking them into my confidence right from the beginning. The polynesians are an intelligent race. They like to know why they are asked innumerable questions, and why a person should wander into their cook-houses prying into every corner and overhauling their domestic utensils. A meeting of the elders of the seven villages was officially called at the court House. The work being done in New Zealand by the Board of Maori Ethnological Research was explained, and the need for similar work in the Cook Islands was stressed. Their racial pride was appealed to, and their active co-operation sought in producing a mutual work that would be worthy of Aitutaki. The idea was received with enthusiasm. A time-table for the various villages was submitted and approved. The only objection raised was by the last two villages on the list. They were afraid that by the time they were reached there would be nothing left for them to tell. Needless to say, their fears proved groundless.

On the days arranged the people gathered in the particular villages with material and demonstrated the technique of their native crafts. There was really a competition between the various villages to provide the most information. An example of how thoroughly they understood what was required is furnished by the following incident. The preliminary meeting had been informed that owing to the limited stay on the Island, only two subjects could be gone into, the taking of bodily measurements and information regarding the material things that were made by their hands. At one village an old man commenced the proceedings by saying, "I wish to give the genealogy of the trees." I sat back resignedly to await a convenient opportunity to switch him on to material culture. He began with the genealogy of the iron-wood, toa. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when, after the birth of the toa, he said, "Let us now consider what objects useful to man are made from this tree, the toa." Thereupon followed a list, commencing with weapons, ko. Each kind of weapon was described ere passing on to eleven other types of article, each of which was described in turn. Then another tree was genealogically introduced, merely to lead up to the material objects that were made from it. In each of the villages visited I was the guest of the village, and treated with page xvcharacteristic Polynesian hospitality. Throughout, I was treated as an honoured kinsman, descended from common ancestors. As one speaker put it, "You are flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and blood of our blood." Of the courtesy, kindness, and hospitality of the people of Aitutaki I can make no greater acknowledgment than that they breed true to the blood of their race.

A previous knowledge of the Rarotongan dialect proved invaluable in making full use of the limited time. A practical knowledge of the technique of Maori plaiting and netting also saved considerable time. My thanks are due to my wife for relieving me of all outside worries and enabling me to devote my time entirely to the gathering and recording of information.

The map of the Island of Aitutaki was specially prepared for this work by Mr. Henry Williams, Government Surveyor to the Cook Islands Administration. Mr. Williams is himself of Polynesian extraction, his mother belonging to Manihiki. The sites of the old historical places and passages through the reef were filled in from information supplied by Timi Koro.

Acknowledgment is due to the people of Rarotonga for hospitality, information and material. It would be invidious to mention a few where so many were kind. I have to thank Mr. Wix for lending me his valuable collection of stone adzes, and Mr. S. Savage for much help.

In connection with this work, I have to thank Mr. Watt, of Te Kao, for drawing figures 42, 52, 56, 57, 84, 86, and 87. I have also to thank Mr. T. W. Downes, of Wanganui, for taking photographs for me whilst in Rarotonga, and for supplying others from his own collection. Thanks for assistance and advice are due to the Ven. Archdeacon H. W. Williams and Mr. G. Archey. I am under obligation to Mr. W. Revell-Reynolds for the time and care devoted to taking close-up photographs to illustrate technique. I am indebted for more than business attention to Mr. Malcolm, of the Auckland Photo Engravers, Ltd., and his staff, the staff of the Auckland Museum, and Thomas Avery and Sons, Ltd., of New Plymouth.

Te Rangi Hiroa (P. H. Buck).

July, 1927.
page break