Ethnology of Tongareva
Growing households spread out from the original centers until a district was occupied by a number of biological families. The immovable coconut trees rendered the establishment of family households on or near the food lands necessary to lessen the distance that the coconut food had to be carried, and to enable a watch to be kept on the trees to prevent depredation of the crop by thieves or raiders from other islands. The protection of the main food supply was of vital importance. A watch was maintained by the old women and younger children to free the active men for other duties. Lamont found in his journeys around the atoll that even when no one was visible, immediately a tree was climbed for drinking nuts some old woman or child appeared as if by magic and raised the alarm, “Taku ate, e kaia” (My heart, a thief). The cry quickly brought armed men of the local group to the spot to protect the property of a member of their community. Under such conditions the congregation of people into villages was unsuitable. The family households were, therefore, scattered over the islands, though there was a tendency for closely connected families to have their dwellings close to a common meeting place. A single biological family had a dwelling house and a separate cooking house. Two related families would have their own dwelling house, but they might share a cooking house. A chief usually collected more relations and adherents around his own immediate household, so that the group of huts was increased in number.
Lamont's first experience of a complex household and a small family group are worth quoting (15, pp. 115, 116):
At sunset, various little groups began to form and move off in different directions, the men invariably armed with one or more long, slight spears, made of the coconut wood, the women also carrying a club of the same material.
These were the small family groups of the district returning to their homes. Lamont had been adopted by one of the chiefs and was ordered to follow him. The group consisted of the chief, three children, and a party of seven or eight men and women. Later on they were joined by some more children.
After a walk of a mile or two we abruptly turned inland, and in a few minutes halted at a little hamlet, I might call it, in an open space, strewed with white gravel from the sea beach, and planted round with young cocoa-nut trees whose bright leaves completely shaded the three little huts that half occupied the space: while another, partially hidden by some pandanus trees was evidently the cook house. The white gravelled plot was scrupulously clean, and looked prettily bright in the surrounding darkness of the forest. A mat taken from the house, was spread on the ground for my use, and I sat or rather reclined on it. The natives also used mats, sitting à la Turque.page 61
In this description Lamont gives an excellent picture of the small family group consisting of about 15 people and occupying three residential huts. The huts adjoined a clear space strewed with coral gravel, and at the back was the single communal cooking house. The graveled space was a necessary adjunct to the dwelling houses, for here the family rested on mats in the cool of the evening, gossiped, and had their meals. The huts were slept in at night and provided shelter from the noonday sun, and the cooking was done in a separate house in the rear. The foundations of the small dwelling houses are still to be seen, distributed over all of the habitable islands and bearing witness to the individual occupation of land.
House foundations in fairly close proximity indicate the existence of groupings larger than the one above described. These houses, together with the larger house (hare nui) of a chief may be regarded as the social center of a territorial group, where the social gatherings of the community took place and where the chiefs of subdistricts gathered to discuss matters that concerned the community. It was also the place where visitors were received and entertained. Though the houses were not numerous enough to be considered a village, they formed the nucleus of a village and the administrative as well as the social center.
Houses were so easily and quickly made that groupings were readily formed for protection against a strong enemy. At such times the fear of the loss of food crops was overshadowed by the fear of death. The food lands were allowed to go unguarded, and the people, by crowding their dwellings together, formed a village. The close approximation of dwellings expedited quick mobilization against sudden attack and marked the condition that existed among a people weakened by previous conquests. This was observed by Lamont (15, pp. 169, 170):
At Mutagohiche [Motukohiti] the natives were all congregated near one spot, forming a considerable village, for mutual protection against their powerful neighbors of Omuka; whilst the people of the latter place, having no dread of an attack from their despised enemy, are scattered over their little country, each to his own possession.
Even in Omoka small areas within the main division were regarded as village districts and given names. The names of the villages of Omoka enumerated to me by Tupou Isaia are Omoka, Tarakore, Tanoa, Te Pa, Te Vera, and Te Rama. Such places may be regarded as the village nuclei and not as villages in the usual accepted form. However, had the fortunes of war changed and Omoka been reduced to a condition similar to that of Motukohiti, the village nuclei would have served as rallying places, and true villages would have been created. Thus, scattered households with a common social center may be regarded as normal during times of peace and prosperity, whereas villages indicate previous defeat and fear of further attack.page 62
The advent of Christianity in 1854 altered the whole complexion of life. War and the raiding of coconut plantations ceased. It is to be presumed that the new system of conduct taught that the stealing of another person's coconuts stood in the way of future reward. The necessity for the individual protection of food lands thus, theoretically, disappeared, and the erection of dwelling houses on the food lands was no longer a necessity. The missionaries coming from established villages grouped around churches instituted a similar organization in Tongareva. Churches were erected at the social centers of Omoka, Motu-unga, Tautua, and Te Puka. The people of the local districts built their houses in the neighborhood of the churches, and the small social centers grew in size. People of neighboring districts also built houses at the nearest of the four religious centers to which they had kinship affinity. In the course of time the entire population was congregated in four villages built around the churches which became religious, social, and administrative centers. The order of life was reversed. Formerly the people lived on their food lands and congregated at the marae for their religious services; now they live congregated at the new form of marae and go out individually to their food lands. The Peruvian slavers depleted the population of Motu-unga and Te Puka more than that of the other two villages, and the remnant of the population congregated in the two villages of Omoka and Tautua. Historically, the village of Te Puka was more important than that of Tautua, but the loss of its leaders led to the survival of Tautua. The change effected in social structure by two elements of Western culture, namely, Christianity and slavery, cannot be more marked than in Tongareva.
The Spread of Population
The primary cause of many Polynesian expeditions was the search for land upon which to settle and obtain food. Some expeditions, however, were exploratory; others arrived by accident at islands. Most expeditions brought no food plants which could be cultivated. All the islands of Tongareva (fig. 2) except the small rocky islets supply the staple articles of diet, but at the time of European contact vegetable foods were restricted to the coconut and the fruit of the hala (Pandanus). It is accepted that the coconut is an introduced plant in Polynesia, and most island narratives contain references to its mythical origin or its introduction. Tongarevan tradition states that both the coconut and Pandanus were introduced by Mahuta-nui–a true statement as regards at least the coconut. This story by itself might merely indicate that coconuts formed part of his sea stores. When, however, the tradition further states that sailing directions and a pilot had been given to Mahuta-nui in Tahiti by Taruia, who had previously visited the atoll, the page 63 inference is that Mahuta came definitely to settle. If he brought other food plants they did not thrive and were thus not enumerated in tradition. Taruia had previously landed at Tokerau, where he left some members of his crew. Taruia's expedition was evidently purely exploratory. He had no food plants with him, and, presumably, seeing that the atoll was without vegetable food, he resumed his voyage. He had no incentive to settle down. He may have told Mahuta in Tahiti that the land was without coconuts, which perhaps led Mahuta to take an ample provision when he sailed. The third legend regarding the original population of Tongareva is that the ancient line descended from Atea and Hakahotu. The Taruia narrative gives no account of people in occupation. However, as Taruia landed at Tokerau and sailed past Omoka, he may not have explored the southern part of the atoll where the first inhabitants may have been located. On the other hand, many of the traditions regarding the smaller islands are short and lacking in detail. The first wave of people is personified in Purua, son of Takatu, who, after he arrived, married Mahuta's daughter. As Mahuta built his marae at Te Puka in the south and seems to have moved between there and Mangarongaro in the west, it seems likely that Purua was located in the south. This may explain why the Taruia narrative is silent about inhabitants. The lack of information regarding which of Purua's ancestors first arrived on Tongareva, with no mention of the name of an ancestral voyaging canoe, leads to the conclusion that the settlement by the first inhabitants was accidental, and one probably without any men of great standing or scholarship. All they could remember were the primary parents Atea and Hakahotu, with some of their well-known sons, such as Tane, Tangaroa, Rongonui, and Maru. To these authentic sons a few others were added, including the much later historical character, Tahaki; and these, through a short, single line of a few generations, were linked up with Purua. Here again is useful information, for with the hardships that some scattered groups of castaways must have suffered, it is not to be expected that they retained the full detailed narratives that characterize the accounts of the carefully organized expeditions under high chiefs accompanied by priests and scholars. The brief narratives of Tongareva are, nevertheless, human documents of the greatest interest and value. They indicate clearly what must have been the natural sequence in the settlement of small, obscure land areas of Polynesia. The great expeditions under men of note sought out the larger islands for occupation. The men of these expeditions transmitted family pedigrees over a long exploratory period in which ancestral heroes figure and over an elaborate mythical period in which gods and abstractions were philosophically arranged in sequence in the genealogies. Even the organized expeditions to Hawaii and New Zealand found a people already in occupation, page 64 with a history that has come down in an unsatisfactory and mutilated form. The later explorers have always belittled their predecessors and purposely robbed them of much credit by obscuring the earlier narratives and even incorporating some elements from these into their own.
The Tongarevan narratives give a clear account of the order of settlement. The earlier drift voyage of a people without food plants, who had to live on what they could procure in the sea and lagoon and were isolated from the outside world, comes first. Then comes the exploratory voyage by a chief in touch with other lands and led by the spirit of adventure to make a discovery which he reported in Tahiti, thus recording himself among the heroes of discovery. Tahiti was the hub of the Polynesian world, where adventurous spirits gathered and told the tales of their adventures and discoveries. Raiatea, under its ancient name of Avaiki, was the earlier Polynesian center. It was to Raiatea under the Maori name of Hawaiki, that Kupe returned in the tenth century to report his discovery of New Zealand, but it was not until four centuries later that a definite colonizing expedition with food plants for cultivation set out under the sailing directions handed down from the first discoverer. It was from Tahiti (Kahiki) that the explorers later sailed forth, and found the Hawaiian Islands, which were already occupied. Subsequent voyages were made back and forth to obtain cultivable food plants and to introduce new chiefly blood to ally with the older existing stock. Taruia, the explorer, thus sailed on to the Avaiki center, which for him must have been Tahiti, for Mahuta, to whom the tale was told, was then married to a daughter of Tu-Koropanga, a chief of Tahiti. Mahuta had been forced to leave Rakahanga and had no land of his own. The tale of a new land in which he could establish himself came as a solution to his problem. He therefore fitted up an expedition, took a pilot and food plants, and with his family sailed for Tongareva, where he took up his permanent residence. Thus we have repeated the natural sequence of accidental discovery with settlement without introduced food plants, purposive discovery with return and report at the Polynesian center, and, last of all, settlement and the introduction of food plants.
That the Purua line was in occupation before either Mahuta or Taruia arrived must be stressed. Purua did not come in Mahuta's canoe nor in Taruia's, and my informant, Tupou Isaia, stressed the statement that his line had been in occupation since Atea and Hakahotu. They were thus on the atoll before the introduction of the coconut, or as tradition would have it, before the coconut and the Pandanus. There is a plant growing on Te Kasi with a bulbous root, the name of which was unfortunately not recorded. Tupou states that this was eaten. Apart from this, there could have been no vegetable food, for even the none (Morinda citrifolia) is absent. page 65 It seems improbable, therefore, that the first stock could have increased very much. Presumably living in the south, they had not spread to Tokerau and Omoka. It is unfortunate that the short stay on Tongareva prevented my utilizing the knowledge of the older people to analyze the pedigrees collected and so locate the parts in which the earlier ancestors lived.
The pedigrees in themselves indicate the manner of growth of population and social structure, though it must be admitted that they record only the main lines of the living inhabitants. It is the duty of each family to preserve its own pedigree, and the pedigrees of families which die out or leave the country are liable in the course of time to be forgotten. From all the pedigrees collected, Table 7, showing the first six generations, has been compiled.
The first generation is arbitrarily commenced with the period of Mahuta and Taruia, with whom is grouped the older settler, Takatu, the father of Purua; the wife of Takatu is not recorded. Takatu had his household, his wife and son, Purua, and there must have been a group of settlers associated with him whose names are not recorded in separate pedigrees. He probably lived in the south or east. Taruia did not establish a household, but passed on, leaving some people who, according to the pedigrees, were his children. Mahuta-nui built his first marae at Te Puka in the south, and probably established his household there. His family consisted of his second wife, Hotio, her four children, and his daughter, Pokiroa, by his first wife. Mahuta, again, must have had some of his crew and their wives with him, but they are not specifically mentioned. There are thus in the first generation the elements for three separate establishments or family groups, which would form three primary centers of settlement.
In the second generation Takatu is represented by his son, Purua, Mahuta by five children, and Taruia by three, making a total of nine to be accounted for. Of these nine, the pedigrees drop three and only provide marriages for the remaining six. In the marriages which took place one problem was solved by the union between Mahuta's daughter, Pokiroa, and Purua, who belonged to the older settlers. This was a diplomatic move in keeping with the Polynesian custom of uniting the more recent voyaging stock with the main line of the earlier settlers. The first contact must, therefore, have been peaceful. From then on, the Mahuta stock by his first wife merged with that of Takatu and peace was cemented between the two families or groups.
In the third generation only one issue is given to each of the preceding marriages, and the number of households is thus not increased. A further blending, however, occurs in the marriages. Mahuta-ite-uhi, son of Pange, had two sons of whom the younger Te Ika (fourth generation) married Ravainuroro, daughter of Tauhirangi. This marriage thus united the Mahuta line with the Taruia line. Furthermore, the offspring of the marriage, a daughter named Haingaturua, married Pupuke, son of Titia, and again unites the Mahuta and Taruia lines. Haingaturua is in the fourth generation on the Taruia line and the fifth generation on the Mahuta line; her husband, Pupuke, in the third generation on the Taruia line. To account for the difference of two generations, Pupuke must have been fairly old when he married. As the strict application of the classificatory system of relationship only counts from a common ancestor, the difference of two generations from an arbitrary commencement point without blood kinship between Taruia and Mahuta does not place Haingaturua in the classificatory grade of granddaughter to Pupuke. The difference of one generation, however, on the Taruia lines is a real blood kinship. Thus Pupuke and Ravainuroro, mother of Haingaturua, are first cousins, and Pupuke, by marrying his niece (tamahine), came within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. This raises the question as to whether the prohibition was waived because of the lack of women in the early period of settlement or whether the prohibited degrees were instituted later with the increased population and consequent greater scope of selection. Judging by comparison with the practice of other branches of the Polynesians it seems likely that the prohibition of marriage with second cousins was a later local development.
In the fourth generation only three other households have to be accounted for. These, however, include the direct male issue of the Pokiroa-Purua alliance in Rangisaruru and the senior Pange male line in Siku. The number of households has not increased, but rather diminished through blending.
In the fifth generation the households still number five, but in the sixth generation there is a marked increase, Matakunui having a family of seven sons and three daughters. Almost all had issue and it is for this page 68 reason that Matakunui ranks as such an important ancestor in Tongareva. He is the eldest male in the line from Purua and Pokiroa, who cemented the earliest settlers with Mahuta's family by his first wife. The senior male line from Pange by Mahuta's second family has been carried on to Tupere-kahiti, and the senior Taruia male line is represented by Tanupo. The marriages, which give the names of the second contracting parties, show that they must have been rendered possible by the early settler stock and people who accompanied Mahuta.
After the sixth generation the pedigrees reveal a marked increase in the number of marriages from generation to generation. Family groups held together by blood ties spread out from the original three centers of occupation, which were probably in the north, south, and west. The exploitation of fishing and shellfish grounds led some families to move away from the primary centers and occupy other islands so as to be nearer the sources of sea food supply. It is natural to suppose that two or more families closely allied by blood would move off together for mutual fellowship and assistance. Each small group occupying an island established a secondary center of population and a local blood kinship group. At first the ties with the older centers would be kept up by visits for intercourse and a share of the coconuts they had planted. The migratory families, however, would take nuts and plant them in their new homes. In the course of time each of the main islands became permanently settled and planted with coconut trees. As population increased, each island group developed its own interests locally, and ties with the primary centers and other islands became weaker although they were maintained in sentiment through the preservation of the family pedigrees. Though Polynesian culture is marked by communal cooperation in activities that require more than individual effort, the right to personal property was well recognized and maintained. When a family established its household on a piece of land and was left in undisturbed occupation, it established the rights of ownership to that land. The members of the family were entitled to the fruit of the coconut trees that they had planted on the land, and boundaries between food lands developed by mutual arrangement in the process of growth of population.
It is probable that in the earlier stages of settlement the families moved about freely to exploit the sea food supplies of the atoll. The importance, however, of the coconut as the main vegetable food led to fixity of residence in the vicinity of the lands planted. The planted lands of a family were termed kainga, which carries the meaning of the place where kai (food) is obtained. As the lands near the primary centers of settlement were planted by the earlier families, other families planted farther away. The need for protecting private property influenced the owners to take up their residence page 69 on their food lands, and the term kainga came to include both residence and food lands. The influence of the coconut trees in determining local residence cannot be overemphasized.
Although the need for protecting the coconut crop led to the establishment of scattered households rather than of villages, the process of distribution must be visualized as the gradual spreading out from separate primary and secondary centers of occupation. The method of spread from secondary centers is reflected in the naming of the islands.
The boundaries between islands and the territorial divisions of the larger islands were held rigidly, and so, probably, were those of many of the districts. The island upon which the village of Omoka is situated is divided into two divisions named Omoka and Motukohiti, but there is no one name for the whole island. The largest island comprises the divisions of Mangarongaro and Hakasusa without a combining name. The same applies to Tautua, Te Mata, and other larger islands. This uncommon system of nomenclature is easily explained when the process of spread of population is considered. When a small family group settled in a particular place they gave that locality a name. As they spread out in the course of time, names were given to districts occupied. In smaller islands peopled from one center the first, or oldest, name was used to include all the districts and, incidentally, the whole island. In the larger islands secondary centers were established at more than one place. Thus, in Omoka and Motukohiti one center of population in the northern part of the island was given the name of Omoka; another center was established in the southern part of the island by a family group a little removed in blood from the settlers at Omoka. Judging by analogy, the local center in the south must have been named Motukohiti. As the population from the two centers spread out they named the successive districts occupied. In the course of time the two spreading groups met at some intermediate part of the island, and as the result of quarrels and mutual arrangement, a boundary was established between the two groups of families whose interests were controlled from different centers. The districts north of the boundary had more closely allied interests through their closer blood kinship, and the northern districts were thus grouped together under one divisional appellation for which they took the older name of Omoka. Similarly, the districts to the south were grouped together under the name of Motukohiti. In the larger land areas of volcanic islands boundaries are usually selected from natural features such as streams, rivers, and ridges, but in the low flat islands or atolls there are no such natural features. The boundary between Omoka and Motukohiti was, however, located at a rocky part of the island, and as the landholders on either side were jealously watched lest their planting of coconuts should approach too page 70 near the boundary, a wide gap of unplanted land extending from sea to lagoon constituted a very distinct boundary. From the shores of the lagoon the wide gap destitute of coconut trees is distinctly visible, and from a distance a stranger would imagine that some natural gap in the land surface separated two well-planted islands. Lamont (15, p. 169), approaching the boundary from the Motukohiti side remarked on it as follows:
After about half an hour's walk in a northerly direction, we arrived at a rugged, rocky ground—a perfectly barren space. The natives now urged me to return, and endeavored to make me understand by signs that if I passed a certain boundary I should be killed. At the same time, the little girl and one or two women began to cry, and as I had no wish to offend their prejudices, I consented to return. I subsequently found that this was the boundary line between Omuka and Mutagohiche, two divisions of an island some four miles in length, which were at war with each other.
I asked Tupou Isaia why the land on either side of the middle line of the fairly wide bare space had not been planted to narrow the boundary line without obliterating it. He stated that when the custom was started any coconuts planted were immediately rooted up by the opposing side. An attempt at planting was regarded as a declaration of war, and fighting ensued. Even after years of missionary influence the fear of encroaching on the boundary area still remains deep-seated.
A divisional boundary created between distinct groups is as effective as any natural physical boundary, and for all practical purposes the two divisions remain in exactly the same position as two distinct islands. Neither division had conquered the other to the extent of uniting the two divisions under one chieftainship and under one name.
In Lamont's time (15) Opaka ruled over both Mangarongaro and Hakasusa, for he had conquered Hiakasusa. The two divisions were on the same island and became allied. After Opaka's death, however, the claims of two rival chiefs to his title were diplomatically settled by awarding the chieftaincy of Mangarongaro to one claimant and the chieftaincy of Hakasusa to the other. The divisional names had become so established that even if the two divisions had continued under one chief, it is extremely doubtful whether or not a common name would have been applied. From the Tongarevan point of view there was no need for such a procedure. Similar unplanted boundary lines exist between the divisions of all the larger islands.
In the smaller islands settled from one center or by closely related families districts were formed and the islands received common names that included all the districts. The uninhabited rocky islands received names as definite localities that are referred to not only in ordinary conversation, but in relation to activities that may concern them.
The people inhabiting the island divisions of Omoka, Motukohiti, Mangarongaro, and Hakasusa, and those inhabiting such smaller islands as Te Puka, page 71 Motu-unga, Tokerau, and Ruahara, regarded themselves as distinct communities which correspond to the tribes of other Polynesian areas. They fought against each other under their territorial designations and made alliances for defence and attack. Thus, in Lamont's time Te Puka was head of a confederation of the southern territorial communities which extended from Tautua in the west to Atutahi in the east.