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Ethnology of Tongareva

Flesh Foods

Flesh Foods

It seems certain that cannibalism did not prevail in Tongareva as it did in some parts of the Cook Islands. Lamont gives no hint of it, and the natives have no record except for a tradition that Tonu killed his wife Sokoau for infidelity, cut up her body, and divided it among his people. The horror surrounding this one act is said to have been memorialized in the marae of refuge known as the Papa-o-Sokoau.

The lagoon and the sea outside the reef, both teeming with fish, provided the main flesh food supply. Fish were caught by a variety of methods. Fish ponds in which mullet were kept and fattened were used. Of the fish the ruhi was the most esteemed, and Lamont (15) speaks many times in appreciation of its fat, juice, and flavor. The fish cooked whole in the native oven were placed in kete baskets. The remains and smaller broken pieces were kept in the smaller taunga baskets and dried for future use.

The most important shell fish was the Tridacna (pasua). Large quantities are obtained in the lagoon, especially near the numerous isolated coral heads in the lagoon. Women usually collected them by swimming out to the coral heads with baskets and pieces of wood to act as floats for the baskets and diving for them to the sandy bottom. The shell was opened with a pointed stick of ngangie wood (no), and the extracted flesh was placed in the basket. Large quantities of Tridacna still in the shell were brought back to the dwelling houses, as the huge heaps of shells to be seen on all the islands testify. Besides being eaten fresh, cooked and uncooked, the cooked pasua were also threaded on strips of material and hung up to dry to form a reserve ration. They became very hard but were softened by recooking.

The pearl oyster grows in the lagoon, but does not seem to have been utilized as food to the same extent as the Tridacna.

The turtle (honu) was obtained and cooked in its shell, from which it was cut up and served. It figured in ceremonial feasts, when it was cooked in special ovens on particular sites associated with some of the maraes. Turtles are still caught, but the ceremonial feasts have been long abandoned.

Porpoises (paraoa) are also taken as food, but the old method of driving schools ashore is no longer used.

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Various sea birds breed on the small islands of the atoll, and the young were utilized as food. The eggs also were gathered.

In July, 1929, the tern were laying on the small island of Te Kasi and the southern end of Hakasusa.