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Ethnology of Tongareva

Rank and Title

Rank and Title

The office of chief was recognized before the settlement of Tongareva. Both Mahuta-nui and Taruia were chiefs, and it is evident that Purua was page 44 the chief of the earlier settlers. To understand the system of chieftaincy involves an understanding of tuakana and taina, terms that denote seniority in order of birth in the same family or in the same genealogical stratum from a common ancestor. (See p. 28.) The eldest son in a family is tuakana to all his brothers and they are all taina to him. The second son is taina to the first son but tuakana to all his younger brothers. Thus, any member of the family is taina to those older than himself and tuakana to those who are younger. The youngest son is taina to all his brothers. It follows that all the members of a family by the first wife are tuakana to families by succeeding wives. Seniority extends collaterally. The sons of an elder brother are tuakana to the sons of a younger brother or younger sister. The sons of an elder sister are senior to the sons of a younger brother, but as the females went to live with their husbands, seniority on the female line did not affect the order in a patrilocal family. Collateral relationship more than once removed from the common ancestor also observes the order of seniority indicated.

It is natural in any family for the elder children to assume a physicial superiority over those who follow after. They are also naturally entrusted with tasks of responsibility according to their years, and authority develops chronologically. The authority developed within the family in childhood and youth was maintained throughout adult life. Children were taught to pay respect to their elders and seniors. If children too early assumed the attitude and actions of those older than themselves, they were looked upon as precocious and were admonished. Precocity, defined as “a young person making himself big,” was embodied in no less than three words, hakasina, hakakasipaka, and hakakaumatua. The child guilty of precocious conduct was reprimanded in such a phrase as “Haere atu te tamaiti hakakasipaka” (Go away, the precocious child). The three words used to denote precocity have all the causative prefix, haka, which signifies action. In hakasina, sina means grey or white and applies to hair. The whole word thus refers to action that would make the person appear like a man with grey hair. In the Maori dialet kaumatua means an old man or an adult. In Tongareva the Maori meaning is preserved in the form of hakakaumatua, which means to act in a manner beyond one's years. In the Tongarevan family the wrongful assumption of seniority was regarded as subversive to family discipline. The social structure was intimately linked with the recognition of lineal seniority. A pese, or song, arising out of a quarrel between two brothers illustrates the mental attitude toward younger people. The quarrel arose through an argument as to the nights when certain fish ran through the channels. The younger brother, though right, was struck by his senior. The aggrieved one went to his mother and recited the following:

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Hakakaumatua—he ure kura.
Sawasawa te maro—he tamariki.
Toku mata ka tukia,
Toku rehu ka to,
He reka.

To act like an adult—an immature penis.
To dirty the maro with faeces—a child.
My face has been beaten,
My strength has declined,
It is finished.

The signs of immaturity are here enumerated as the reasons for being beaten. The rights of seniority as recognized by public opinion lead to the quoting of the verse.

An elder brother is referred to as toro ahuru, which carries the idea of the main vine, whereas a younger brother is termed hono tangata, which means the link with the people. The terms convey the idea that the elder brother is the direct lineal link or main vine in the family pedigree, whereas the younger brother is the collateral link with the people. Thus the elder brother inherits the chieftaincy of the line, but the families of the younger brothers provide the human group to support the chiefs.

The principle of seniority was so strongly developed in childhood and maintained through adult life that the leader of the family in succession to the father was the eldest son, seniority was maintained through the collaterals, and the successive eldest sons of eldest sons were elevated naturally to the positions of group leadership. Every district occupied by a number of families had its senior family which automatically supplied the district chief through primogeniture. When all the districts in an island or division of a large island combined for mutual protection or aggression one chief, by reason of the common descent from one ancestral family, was senior to all the others. His pedigree showed that his descent was from the senior family in each generation, and he was thus senior to all the other chiefs whose families had branched off from the main stem (toro ahuru). The other chiefs, who were descended from younger brothers who had moved off to other districts, were thus in the relative position of younger brothers. The junior chiefs were hono tangata, or the links which bound the smaller group of families to the main stem and enabled the whole island or divisional group of people to act together under the senior chief of the largest group so formed.

In the settlement of the various islands and island divisions the territorial groups were derived from families which had hived off from the main lines at various periods, and, though all were related through common ancestors, certain territorial groups with pedigree links more recent showed closer relationships than others. In two or more related territories the senior family was known, and the senior chief of one of the linked territories was also, by descent, the senior chief of the combined territories. As the recognition of seniority prevailed, the status of the senior chief was increased not only by the number of collateral families in his own territory, but also by his position of seniority with regard to other territories. Seniority through birth had page 46 thus a wide-reaching influence. Absolute seniority within a group was expressed by the term ariki. In New Zealand any member of a family may refer to the senior member of the family as his ariki, and there seems little doubt that the term was originally used to denote absolute seniority within the family. During the growth of Polynesian society the use of the term widened out to apply to chiefs of larger groups and the related groups which constituted a tribe. The position of ariki was assured by the recognition of blood seniority, and the term came to be used as a title of chieftaincy. Though the title descended by inheritance on the senior male line, breaks occurred through lack of male heirs, when the title went to a junior. Incapable leadership was also a factor in interrupting direct succession. Traditional narrators give evidence that this system of leadership was well developed at the period of the later colonizing expeditions. The chiefs of voyaging canoes may or may not have been ariki in the islands from which they came, but when they settled in a new island they assumed that position and were regarded as such by their crews and by succeeding generations.

When Mahuta-nui arrived at Tongareva in the Waimea canoe he was asked by the local inhabitants who were the ariki in his canoe. He replied: “Pange e Rave.” (Pange and Rave.) These were his two sons by his second wife, Hotio, who was daughter of Tu-koropanga, an ariki of Tahiti.

Tu-koropanga of Tahiti named his sons as ariki, for he was of higher rank than Mahuta, whose sons had ariki blood in their veins through their mother. This is an example of the respect paid to matrilineal descent when it carried high rank. At the time of Mahuta's arrival he had no large group of people to support two ariki, but he saw into the future and imposed the already established ariki system upon the local population. The ariki system must have been known to the people already in occupation, or they would not have questioned Mahuta about the ariki in his canoe. The ariki system must have been known also to the people that had left Taruia, for according to an Aitutaki tradition, Taruia himself was ariki of Aitutaki, and was deposed by trickery and sailed to Tongareva. It is clear that the principle of the ariki system was in use at the time of settlement by Mahuta-nui. Tupou Isaia says there were two ariki on Tongareva about eight or nine generations from Mahuta, namely, Pohatu and Poaru, who were contemporaries. Table 6 shows their descent.

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Table 6. Descent of the ariki, Pohatu and Poaru

Table 6. Descent of the ariki, Pohatu and Poaru

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The ariki, Pohatu, is shown as the eighth generation on the direct male line from the voyager, Taruia. It is thus evident that an ariki title which was independent of the ariki titles established by Mahuta was created by the Taruia stock. The Pange title mentioned by Mahuta descended by a direct male line to Poaru, the son of Saitu. The genealogies collected did not give any line from Rave, the younger brother of Pange. The use of the term ariki as applied to Rave by Mahuta may have been a figure of speech which did not materialize into a hereditary title through lack of issue. If there was an ariki title on the Takatu-Purua line, it was evidently merged in the Poaru title through a female break in the male line. The union of the Takatu line with that of Mahuta's first family by the marriage of Purua and Pokiroa is again shown. From Purua there is a direct line of males to Tupuawananga in the seventh generation. The male line is then broken by Hainga-noa in the eighth generation. Hainga-noa married Saitu in the direct male line from Pange. Their offspring was Poaru, a male, who therefore succeeded to the ariki title from Pange on his father's side and to any rank that may have descended from Purua through his mother. The pedigrees do not reveal any brother of Hainga-noa, so the Purua title, if there was one, was inherited through the female, and, by being vested in Poaru, the two titles became merged into one. Table 6 shows how marriages were arranged between families of chiefs. The ariki, Pohatu, had a son, Rangisani, and a daughter, Pekanoa. The daughter was married to the ariki, Poaru, joining two ariki families, but as a son had been born to Pohatu there was no question of the two titles being merged. An interesting item is the marriage of a son of Rangisani to the granddaughter of his sister, Pekanoa, which brings the union within the theoretical prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

Later, when Lamont was in Tongareva, the increasing population had evidently created other ariki positions, for he describes Mahuta-nui as “iriki” (ariki) of Te Puka, and Opaka as occupying a similar position over Mangarongaro and Hakasusa. He also speaks of an ariki of the small island of Atutahi and remarks that this ariki displayed more power over his people than any other chief he had seen. The increase in the number of individuals composing the various territorial tribes had thus led to a rise in the status of the senior family in the individual tribes.

Mention has been made of the probability that the ariki, Poaru, in the ninth generation, combined two ariki titles through lack of male issue on one of the lines. With the later development of larger independent groups of people constantly at war with one another, the combining of two titles was untenable. The ariki had to live with one of the groups, and his claims over the other group could not be enforced under the system which prevailed. When direct male issue was lacking the families concerned met together and page 49 the claims of aspirants were considered from the closeness of their kinship to the deceased ariki. Pedigrees were recited and threshed out by the district chiefs and relatives. A decision was made, not by voting or counting, but by the consensus of opinion indicated by the speakers, who based their arguments on kinship and suitability. Such an election is described by Lamont (15, p. 277).

A few days afterwards a near relation of the late Opaka made his appearance from Ruahara, and created a considerable sensation. The day after his arrival I was summoned by O Pai Tangata to Haka Shusha. As I proceeded to that solitary part of the island, I found all the people hastening in the same direction, but keeping a mysterious silence as to the cause of the meeting. I soon discovered, however, that it was to appoint an Iriki in place of Opaka. He having died without male issue, my father and the Ruahara chief were the principal competitors for the position of the departed Iriki. After much discussion, it was finally arranged that our new friend should rule over the territory of Haka Shusha (depopulated when conquered by Opaka, and now again raised to a separate kingdom), and that my father should be monarch of Sararak.

O Pai Tangata (?), Lamont's adoptive father, was chief of Tahiti, a subdistrict in Mangarongaro. Lamont's use of “Sararak” as a territorial name could not be explained by my informants. They maintained that the large island was divided into two divisions known as Mangaringaro and Hakasusa (Lamont's “Haka Shusha”). The form of the word “Sararak” with a final consonant is incorrect. The only word my informant could think of was Hakasari, which was not a land division. However, the method of selection by discussion is indicated, and also the diplomatic method of reconstituting the old territory of Hakasusa and, by satisfying the two claimants, avoiding war.

No elaborate ceremony such as occurred in the Cook Islands and in the Society Islands seems to have been associated with the investiture of the ariki title. Among the functions of the marae there was no ceremony of raising the ariki. After the selection a feast was held, as described by Lamont (15, p. 277).

Coconuts, in all their stages—from the young vai to the cooked uto—were placed in neat baskets, ornamented in a way I had never seen before, and, after passing through various hands, during which prayer was muttered over them, they, together with orora and fish, were laid at the feet of both the chiefs, who did ample justice to the repast.

The use of all stages of the coconut, together with roro (“orora,” coconut cream) showed that the full resources of food supply had been called upon to mark the occasion. The special ornamentation of the food baskets, with the recital of incantations, are special features of which I could get no detail. Lamont (15, p. 183) states that after ceremonies which consisted of officiating on a marae and being fed with turtle cooked at another marae he became a person of importance and bore the title of “Iriki.” The page 50 marae ceremonies were probably his official reception at Motu-unga and had nothing to do with the investiture of a title which could only have been honorary.

Mr. S. Savage, Registrar of the Court at Rarotonga, writes me that at one period an ariki named Turua asserted himself ariki of the whole atoll. During his term any turtles caught were taken first to Turua. This ariki is evidently the Turua in Table 6, generation 11. He was a direct descendant of the two ariki, Pohatu and Poaru, and probably claimed the power of the two ariki titles in his own person. He was evidently strong enough to maintain his position, as evidenced by his exaction of the turtle tribute. Later, in the period of Maireriki, the turtle tribute was not exacted, and each chief or individual was entitled to keep what he caught. The power also passed more into the hands of the heads of the territorial groups.

The lesser chiefs who ruled over districts and smaller islands were referred to as tangata maro kura (men with red girdles). The use of a red maro was not known, and it is evident that no such girdle could be made from the material available in Tongareva. The term must, therefore, have been derived from the usage in Tahiti of girding certain ariki with maro composed of bark cloth covered with red feathers. The memory of the custom was carried over to Tongareva, and the term was used as an honorary title but widened in its application to chiefs who were not ariki.

In another class within the community were the priests, or taura. The term taura corresponds to the taula atua of western Polynesia. Like the taula atua, the taura, were the mediums of certain lesser gods who were invoked for assistance in cases of sickness, war, and economic and social troubles. The acceptance of Christianity has led to the suppression of details concerning the office of taura. It is uncertain whether the office was hereditary in certain families or whether individuals received a special call. There was evidently a special inauguration, for Tupou Isaia states that one of the functions of the marae was the raising of the priest (hikianga taura).

Although not constituting a class, certain individuals noted for their knowledge and power of seeing into the future (mata kite) were known as karakia. The term karakia in the Maori dialect means an incantation, which in Tongareva is termed hai. It is evident that in Tongareva the meaning of karakia has been diverted to apply, not to the actual incantation, but to the person who possessed a knowledge of them.

The power of the chiefs and ariki was restricted and depended largely on the wealth of their food lands and the support they received from their people. The communities were comparatively small, and the resources of the atoll would not encourage the development of an elaborate ceremonial like that which was built up around similar positions in the larger and richer volcanic islands.