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Ethnology of Tongareva



A trend toward separation and not fusion in interterritorial relations and the necessity for protecting property led to constant fighting and warfare. A war party (nuku) was often divided into a larger advance party (rakau matua) and a smaller supporting party (rakau pataiti). When a raiding war party was discovered, the alarm, “Teia kua kake e–” (Here, they are upon us), was sounded. The men pressed noses with their wives and children and picked up their spears–Ka songi i te wahine e te tamariki, ka mau i te to. The women hid their valued possessions. The old women and children hid as best they could while the warriors and active women gathered to resist the invaders. During the preliminary stages a scene of apparent confusion and tumult prevailed, but once the forces were arranged, calm succeeded.

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The two opposed forces sat down a little distance from each other. Speeches were made between the two parties, the raiders giving their reasons for their coming, and the local force protesting against their action. If the speeches of the visitors were hostile, they were replied to with equally hostile speeches, and the visitors were dared to proceed. The exchange of speeches having indicated that neither were the raiders prepared to retire nor the defenders to allow themselves to be robbed with impunity, hostilities commenced with a shower of stones and spears thrown at a distance of about 100 feet. These were thrown by the men, while the women of either side went out in front and with their light tamutu clubs beat down the flying spears that were projected toward the men. No spears were thrown at the women by either side, nor was any physical violence offered to them by the men, as it was strictly against custom to do so. After the ammunition of stones and spears had been expended, the forces came into closer contact, and the men fought with their clubs or with truncheons when the press of battle became too close to use the longer korare. After the women had lost their protective function of guarding against the spears, they engaged women of the opposite side in hand to hand fighting. Their light clubs seem usually to have been discarded, and they fell back on the primitive instincts of seizing each other by the hair. It was the object to get the best of a personal encounter rather than to kill. If the winner managed to get a handful of hair from her opponent's head, the hair was afterwards boastfully displayed as a trophy of prowess in the field. Deaths among women in war must have been rare and due more to accident than to design.

The main cause of war was the coconut. The proclaiming of a masanga (see page 53) forced the people of closed territory to make raids on their neighbors' plantations. The masanga and active raiding went together. A raiding force, if not particularly strong, made a sudden descent and tried to get away with the loot before effective opposition could be organized. On landing, the young men climbed and stripped the trees, casting the nuts to the ground. The older men tore strips down from the husk and by this means tied the nuts together in pairs. Ten pairs, called tekau, were bundled together and were carried down to the canoe by the old men. The stripping of a plantation was accomplished in record time and left the owners in/an impoverished condition. Through reciprocal raids lasting animosities were created between communities. Some of the battles that resulted were very bitter and led not only to the removing of the crop by the conquering party of raiders, but to the destruction of the trees of the enemy as well. This was done by cutting off the tops of the palms.

The ambition of the leader of an island or a territory might lead him to subjugate neighboring smaller territories. Alliances were also made by page 56 defeated groups to enable them to effect reprisals. Fortune wavered from generation to generation. Thus, not long before 1853 the people of Tautua were the most dreaded in the atoll, since they had subjugated all territories on the east coast. Their enemies had united, however, and in a pitched battle not only defeated the Tautuans but killed so many that Tautua never again regained its prominent position. In Lamont's time (15) Tautua was under the power of Te Puka. (See 15, pp. 333–4.) Similarly, Mangarongaro, under Opaka, had subjugated Hakasusa, and Motukohiti was allied with Opaka. Omoka was allied with Motu-unga, and they held their own against the others. Ruahara and Tokerau evidently tended to side with Motu-unga and Omoka. During Lamont's stay an alliance was made by Te Puka with Mangarongaro and Motukohiti for the purpose of attacking Omoka and Motu-unga. The allied forces proceeded against Omoka, the Te Pukans sailing in their canoes and the Mangarongaro army proceeding by land to join with Motukohiti. On nearing Omoka the Te Pukan fleet sailed to the north to intercept the Motu-ungan canoes hastening to join their allies at Omoka. The Motu-ungan forces eluded the Te Pukan fleet by entering an inner passage of the reef and landed before they could be intercepted. The Te Pukan fleet then sailed to the assistance of its allies, but before the fleet could reach the shore the combined forces of Omoka and Motu-unga attacked the army of Mangarongaro and Motukohiti and put them to flight. Te Puka was thus out-generalled and did not land, but continued along the coast to Motukohiti. The army of Omoka kept pace along the lagoon shore, taunting and daring the fleet to land. In this fight the number of casualties was evidently small, Lamont mentioning that a number of Motukohiti warriors, only one of whom died from a spear thrust through the chest, had been wounded.

Shortly afterward, 60 Te Puka men in three canoes raided the island of Motu-unga in the absence of the warriors at Omoka. The women raised the alarm and lit a fire on the point toward Omoka to warn their men. As the war canoes were being refitted, the warriors of Motu-unga and Omoka could only use a few canoes. After having been directed by a swimmer from Motu-unga as to the direction pursued by the raiders, the pursuers caught up with the three heavily laden canoes of the enemy in the early morning. In the engagement which followed, seven Te Pukans were killed and several wounded, but of the attacking forces only a few were wounded. The casualties, according to Lamont (15, p. 347), signified a serious engagement.

Even in the ceremonial visits that took place between groups which had been hostile much suspicion was held by both sides. This led to the long preliminary speeches before canoes were allowed to land and also to the page 57 allocating of camping grounds some little distance away. Under such conditions the unwilling hosts often remained under arms as a precautionary step against sudden attack. The visitors also made their dispositions in a careful manner. When the Te Pukans visited Omoka they drew up their canoes only a short distance from the sea, raising a breastwork for their protection. They kept one war canoe afloat with a strong body of men in it to protect the shore party while they launched their canoes, should a sudden attack arise. Lamont (15, p. 326) states that owing to a misunderstanding an attack did take place, but that the alert Te Pukans retired behind their breastwork of canoes until an understanding was reached.