Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ethnology of Tongareva

Contact with Western Culture

Contact with Western Culture

Lieutenant Watts of H. M. transport Lady Penrhyn was the first European to discover the Tongarevan atoll, in August, 1788, while he was on his way to China from Tahiti.

Kotzebue, the Russian navigator, visited the atoll in the Rurik on April 30, 1815, during his first voyage to the South Seas (1815–1818). He states page 7 (14, vol. 3, p. 217): “As soon as we had approached the shore, innumerable boats surrounded us, and a peaceable people offered to trade with us.” The people, however, had nothing to trade except coconuts, some utensils which they had taken by chance with them, and their weapons. “They first hesitated to barter their arms, and would not part with them, except for long nails or scarlet worsted girdles.” Kotzebue had no trouble with the islanders, who passed around the vessel “with much affability and confidence” but would not accept invitations to go on board. In addition to Kotzebue's account of his voyage, Choris (3), the artist who accompanied him, published an illustrated description of the voyage which contains an illustration of a Tongarevan canoe and two types of spears.

Endicott (5), sailing from Maui, Hawaii, in the Glide on a trading expedition to Fiji, sighted Penrhyn on November 6, 1830. He described the natives, who “came off in great numbers … perfectly savage and fierce, hallowing and shaking their spears.” According to his account the captain, in trying to persuade one of them to come on board, was slightly wounded in the neck by the spear of another native. The aggressor probably thought that the captain was trying to capture his relative. The captain immediately ordered his men to fire, and seven or eight natives were killed. Endicott (5, p. 30) sums up the position as follows: “We immediately filled our sails and stood on our course leaving the natives to bewail the visit of civilized people to their uncivilized shores.” He evidently saw no incongruity in his statement.

The Porpoise, one of the ships of the American Exploring Expedition under Wilkes, touched at Tongareva on February 15, 1841, while Wilkes was in Hawaii. The atoll was found to be 30 miles west of the position given by Captain Cash (31, vol. 4, pp. 296–298). A large number of canoes came out to the vessel and many of the people were allowed on board. A little unpleasantness occurred because of pilfering, but it blew over without any casualties. A certain amount of trade went on. The natives were found to be absolutely fair and honest in handing up their own goods for exchange after receiving the desired articles from the ship. Unlike the Glide, the Porpoise left without causing the natives to bewail the visit of a civilized people.

The brig Chatham, after trading in the Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, and the Cook Islands was wrecked on Mangarongaro in 1853, while on her voyage back to San Francisco. The whole crew was hospitably received by the inhabitants. The captain, doctor, and a few others sailed away in a boat made on the island, abandoning Lamont, the trader who chartered the Chatham, and some other members of the crew. Lamont, who subsequently got away on a whaling ship and wrote up his experiences, page 8 reached a position of great influence on the atoll. His book (15) is one of the best narratives of first-hand contact with a group of Polynesian people before they were influenced by western culture. As he described many customs that have disappeared entirely, his observations will frequently be referred to in this work.

In the year following the wreck of the Chatham, Christianity was introduced by native pastors from Rarotonga, the headquarters of the London Missionary Society in the Cook Islands. The people were collected together in four villages to facilitate the teaching of the new religion, which they readily accepted.

In 1864 Tongareva was almost depopulated by Peruvian slavers. Sterndale, quoted by Smith (23), states that in 1864 at least 1000 men, women, and children were taken to South America. The present population attributes to the influence of native pastors the chief responsibility for this exodus. The four villages were strongly desirous of building large churches. The slavers held out promise of good pay and a safe return, and pastors and people decided to go abroad to earn enough money to erect buildings worthy of the worship of God. However, the thousand people who left their island homes all died as slaves in exile, the victims of hypocritical and inhuman types of white men.

Through missionary influence the contact of Tongareva was with headquarters at Rarotonga. The London Missionary Society taught largely through native pastors and instituted a system of laws which applied to temporal as well as to spiritual matters. Many of the customs that had served their purpose in the old culture were displaced by the culture associated with the new religion. Also, the power of the chiefs was curtailed and much of it transferred to the missionaries.

As trade developed a loose British Protectorate was maintained over the Cook Islands, in spite of French attempts to link up the islands with the French Administration in the Society Islands. A British Consul was appointed at Rarotonga in 1888 and paid for by New Zealand. The ariki (high chiefs) of the Cook Islands formed a Federal Council at about the same time to administer the group. In 1900 the council of ariki petitioned the Governor of New Zealand to annex the Cook Islands as part of the British Empire and recommended that Penrhyn, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Palmerston, Pukapuka, and, if possible, Niue be included in the federation with New Zealand.

In 1901 the Government of Great Britain issued an Imperial Order in Council extending the boundaries of New Zealand to include the islands mentioned above. On June 10, 1901, a Proclamation was made at Auckland by Lord Ranfurley, then Governor of New Zealand, in the presence page 9 of H. R. H., the Duke of York, who later succeeded to the throne as King George V. Since that date Tongareva has been part of New Zealand.