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Vikings of the Sunrise

10. The Northwest Atolls

page 122

10. The Northwest Atolls

The sea seethes,
The sea recedes,
It appears, the land appears
And Maui stands upon it.

Along the route probably followed by the earliest voyagers in the Pacific on their long sail from the Gilbert Islands to the Society Islands are the Phœnix Islands, where ruined temples of coral limestone are the sole witness of previous occupation. Farther to the southeast are the inhabited atolls, Manahiki, Rakahanga, and Tongareva (Penrhyn). As these small islands are low-lying and unattractive for permanent settlement, they were probably occupied only temporarily by the earliest people who cherished hopes and dreams of better lands ahead. However, when increased population at the centre of Polynesia led to renewed exploration, the three atolls were repeopled from Rarotonga and Tahiti, Tongareva alone retains a legend of an early settlement that preceded the voyages from Tahiti.

In 1929, I visited Manahiki and Rakahanga with Judge Ayson, Resident Commissioner of the Cook Islands, and members of his staff. We sailed from Rarotonga by the page 123 schooner Tiare Taporo, under the efficient command of Captain Viggo Rasmussen. At Rakahanga, Judge Ayson conducted a Court to inquire into the genealogies of the various families and the history of their ancestors, as a basis to land claims which might subsequently arise. By courtesy of the Court, I was allowed to sit in and obtain a complete set of the local lineages.

Both Manahiki and Rakahanga are small atolls whose islets are set on a coral reef encircling an inner lagoon. Neither atoll has openings through the reef which will admit canoes. In order to land and to discharge cargo, the schooner lays off as close to the reef as is safe, and passengers and cargo are transhipped into outrigger canoes. The old type of canoe has completely disappeared and a modern form is made from imported sawn timber. Though shaped like a flat-bottomed boat with sharp bow and stern, the outrigger is retained. The natives paddle in close to the reef and wait patiently until the right wave comes surging along. They paddle vigorously, the wave lifts the canoe over the outer lip of the reef, and, if deep enough, floats it across the reef into the outer lagoon that stretches between the reef and the shore. If the wave is too shallow, the canoe grounds on the reef; the crew leap out and hold the canoe to prevent it from being drawn back by the suction of the receding wave. As the wave subsides, one may gaze fearfully down the vertical outer side of the reef and into the yawning, gurgling chasm below. The newcomer is not reassured by tales of people who have been sucked down into coral caverns from which they never reappeared.

The islands rise only ten to twenty feet above sea level and do not support the food plants, animals, and raw materials used on the volcanic islands of central Polynesia. Our respect must be great for these early settlers, coming from the page 124 verdant lands of Tahiti and Rarotonga, who accepted these unfriendly isles as home and so quickly adapted themselves to an unfertile environment. There are no breadfruit trees, no bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, yams, arrowroot, or cordyline, and no domestic animals on these atolls. Coconut palms grow luxuriantly and supply the staple vegetable food. A kind of taro termed puraka is grown in deep trenches or in wide, excavated areas which reach the brackish subsoil water. The fruit of the pandanus, seldom eaten on volcanic islands, is an important food on atolls. The fruit of the noni (Morinda citrifolia) is also used, but it is an ill-smelling food that can be rendered palatable only by extreme hunger. The wild hibiscus and plants of the nettle family that furnish cordage elsewhere do not grow here. Lines and nets are made of coconut-husk fibre, and ordinary lashings from the skin of the midrib butts of coconut leaves.

One of my early lessons on adjustments to local conditions was obtained on watching a young man climb a coconut tree to get some drinking nuts. He cut the leaf off a young coconut tree, tore strips off the midrib, beat them against the trunk of a tree, and even chewed them to soften them. He tied the ends together with a reef knot and, looping this over his feet, speedily climbed the tree.

Large timber was scarce and, before the introduction of sawn timber, the two kinds of trees suitable for canoes were split into planks so as not to waste any material by dubbing out trunks as hulls. The tools, as already mentioned, had to be made from tridacna shells, owing to the lack of basaltic stones. Clothing had to be made from coconut leaves or plaited pandanus leaves, for the paper mulberry which provided elsewhere the raw material for bark cloth does not grow on atolls. Even firewood was scarce; coconut shells, page 125 dry coconut husks, and the dry sheaths and racemes of coconut flowers were collected for the cooking fires.

Nature, however, was kind in providing a rich and varied fish supply, both in the lagoon and in the ocean beyond. Flying fish and bonito were plentiful. In the lagoon was an inexhaustible supply of shellfish in the tridacna and also the pearl oyster, if occasion demanded. Crayfish were numerous, and land crabs and coconut crabs enriched the larder.

At Rakahanga we were given some coconut crabs, and when our hosts learned that I enjoyed the oily part of the body that most strangers find too rich, they raised the taboo on catching crabs on a particular island. We hunted them there at night with torches made of dried coconut leaves bound together. After dark the crabs come out of their holes and wander around, even climbing up the trunks of trees. They are loathsome bloated creatures of a purplish-blue colour with huge claws that will nip off a finger quite readily if it comes their way. Our hosts seized them expertly and, with a strip of coconut-leaf midrib, tied them in such a way that the claws were imprisoned and could not gape open for attack.

We also fished by torchlight in the outer lagoon. Fish that were attracted by the light were speared or struck with a piece of hoop iron. Crayfish on the shallow bottom were stepped upon, then grasped with the hand, and turned belly upward to prevent their kicking with their powerful tails. Each man carried a basket tied around his waist in which to carry the catch.

The same night, we went torch fishing by canoe in the inner lagoon. The expert fisherman stood in the bow with a long-handled scoop-net, while the torch bearer stood behind him. No matter where the fish appeared, on the surface, page 126 deep down, on the right or on the left, the net was plunged into the water and the capture was sure and unerring. It was all so easy and self-assured. One realized that a high degree of expert skill had necessarily been developed to make the most of the opportunities that nature had provided so sparingly in these less-favoured isles.

It has already been related how Maui fished up the land, and, by stamping upon it during his fight with Huku, separated Manihiki from Rakahanga. The first human settler on Rakahanga was Toa, a defeated warrior who cams from Rarotonga in about the middle of the fourteenth century. He had no interest in priestly ritual and did not erect the usual temple upon his arrival to thank the gods for guiding him safely to land. Apparently he was accompanied only by his own family, for he committed incest with his daughters in order that males might be produced to ensure the continuance of the human species on the island.

About one hundred and fifty years later, Tangihoro and Ngaro-puruhi voyaged from Rakahanga to foreign lands and Ngaro-puruhi brought back two stolen gods named Pua-renga and Te Uru-renga. He built a temple on Manihiki for the worship of Te Pua-renga and another on Rakahanga for Te Uru-renga. These temples were thought to be the first constructed on the atolls. Ngaro-puruhi probably obtained these gods from some lesser priest in Tahiti, for had he been admitted to Opoa he would have returned with a richer ritual and a more detailed mythology.

The major gods and heroes of the Cook Islands were unknown. Tangaroa, however, appears as the guardian of fire in the Underworld. Maui, as the grandson of Tangaroa defeated him in a body-tossing contest and learned the secret of fire. A local embellishment to the tale tells how the two page 127 pet sea birds of Tangaroa stood on the under piece of wood to steady it while Maui worked the upper stick back and forth along the groove to make fire by friction. When Maui had finished, true to his impish nature, he ungratefully struck the two birds on the head with the charred end of the friction stick, and the family of those birds have borne black marks on their heads ever since.

After several generations the descendants of Toa developed into two groups, each with its own ariki chief, termed Whainga-aitu and Whaka-heo, terms which occur nowhere else. In the course of time, Manihiki was visited and planted with coconut trees, and an annual migration between the two atolls became established. Thus the coconut trees went unused, the ground lay fallow, and the crabs and fish were undisturbed during alternate years on each island. The Whaka-heo leader had power over the elements, and in a fast double canoe he commanded the fleet during the voyages between the islands. In spite of his alleged divine power, accidents sometimes occurred due to unexpected storms encountered on the twenty-five-mile voyage. After native missionaries became established in 1849, a number of lives were lost during a storm. The missionaries persuaded the people to split into two divisions and permanently occupy the two atolls by giving up the annual migrations.

In spite of the abridged mythology and limitations due to an atoll background, the culture of Manihiki and Rakahanga is essentially related to that of central Polynesia. The dialect contains the wh sound instead of the Tahitian f and more nearly resembles the dialect of New Zealand than that of the Cook or Society Islands. The lunar calendar, in which each night of the moon has a specific name, is based on the pattern used in central Polynesia. Most of the night names are identical with those of Rarotonga and Tahiti.

page 128

Just before we left Rakahanga to go to Manihiki, the people gave us a farewell dinner in which every native food that an atoll can produce was placed before us. We were loaded down with presents of baskets, fans, bonito hooks and everything that local technique and raw material could provide. From the inner leaflets of young coconut leaves, the women make the best hats in Polynesia, which are as fine as any panama hat. They also make beautiful mats from pan-danus leaves. The gift-making was climaxed when women from each division of the village came carrying large mats and crying, ‘E Te Rangi Hiroa e! Teia to moenga’ (O Te Rangi Hiroa! Here is a mat for you to sleep upon). No more kindly, more hospitable, and more lovable people can exist in this round world than the people of Rakahanga and Manihiki.

We sailed for Manihiki to spend the night at the principal village of Tauhunu, but as we passed along the reef opposite the nearer village of Tukao, a boat came off with a message that my services as doctor were required ashore. Judge Ayson, his two staff members and I got into the boat, the messenger stating that we would be transported later by a sailing boat across the inner lagoon to Tauhunu.

The patient was a girl who was not ill enough to warrant the interruption of our voyage. After some refreshment, her father said, ‘We had better go. The people are waiting for us.’

We were conducted to the village hall, where the entire population of Tukao had gathered. Amid smiles, greetings, and handshakes we were led to seats on the platform. An elder welcomed us to Tukao and regretted that our time was all too short for the village to entertain us in a fitting manner. I replied in our kindred dialect.

The master of ceremonies stood forward and cried, ‘Where are the baskets?’ Four women came forward, each with a page 129 bundle of plaited pandanus baskets made in the best style, laid them at our feet, shook hands, and stepped back with the smile of duty pleasantly accomplished.

The master of ceremonies called, ‘The fans!’

Four women stepped forward, each with a bundle of fans of the typical Manihikian shape, plaited in twill from bleached young coconut leaves and fringed with the dyed bark of the tou tree. A handshake, a smile, and the four piles at our feet had grown.

‘The fishhooks!’

Four men stepped out with bundles of the pearl-shell lures used in catching bonito. I received an extra in the form of a large wooden hook used for catching the deep-sea Ruvettus or so-called castor-oil fish.

And so, in response to the commands of the master of ceremonies, squads of four, with military precision, deposited specimens of their arts and crafts at our feet. Sennit cordage samples of old-time plaited garments, hats, and large sleeping mats were added to the heaps. The people derived the greatest satisfaction from seeing the heaps grow, for they were vindicating the honour of their village by officially welcoming us and loading us with presents in a manner that could not be surpassed by the other villages. The whole reception had been planned beforehand, and the exaggerated case of sickness was the means of getting us ashore.

At Tauhunu, we were the guests of the Government agent, Mr. Henry Williams, who had Manihikian blood in his veins. He had set such a high standard of sanitation that the villages of the two atolls were the cleanest in the Cook Islands.

After a hearty evening meal, we went to the village hall in response to an invitation to an evening dance. Imagine our page 130 embarrassment when we found a table groaning under the weight of a banquet given in our honour. We groaned with the table as we took our places. The President of the Young People's Club made a speech of welcome and, indicating the food on the table and the piles of husked drinking nuts underneath it, he invited us to partake of their hospitality.

At last the dancing commenced. Captain Viggo, a past master on the accordion, proved a star performer in helping with the dance music. The young men of the club were dressed in white duck suits with black edgings to their coats and wore white shoes that were speckless with pipeclay. The girls in neat white dresses with frills and furbelows were dazzling. The programme included old-fashioned European dances, such as the polka, mazurka, schottische, barn dance, and square dances, and these alternated with native dances put on for the guests. In no other island group have I seen a cleaner, more healthy-looking, and handsomer set of young people. They were courteous to a degree in the old-fashioned quadrilles and lancers, and they danced their own native dances with that perfect rhythm and grace of movement that is typically Polynesian. Here was a native people on a small atoll with limited resources, miles from the beaten highways of the world, thoroughly enjoying every moment of life. Has civilization with its heights and depths, its poverty and starvation, its aerial bombs, high explosives, submarine torpedoes, and lethal gas any greater happiness to offer than that now enjoyed by these simple people?

The next day, the Manihiki people put on some historic plays to rival those of their cousins in Rakahanga. Just before we left, the people gathered on the beach to bid us farewell. They sang hymns, and the native pastor conducted a short service in which he prayed that we might have a page 131 safe voyage to Tongareva. I glanced at the reverent congregation in their loom-woven finery, the pastor in the sombre black trousers of his calling, and then at the Tiare Taporo outside the reef with its modern rig and auxiliary oil engine. The scene was modern, and yet the atmosphere throbbed with the spirit of the past. I closed my eyes and saw a gathering of people with clear brown skins shining through wreaths and garlands, a high priest making ritual offerings on a coral-gravelled temple to the gods of the sea, and a great double canoe waiting to hoist its triangular matting sail to bear adventurers to some far-off isle. The picture was blurred, for it happened so long ago.

Tongareva, situated in latitude 9° S. and longitude 157° 10′ W., is the largest and northernmost of the atoll islands under the Cook Islands Administration. It is composed of a ring of islands spread along a reef 40 miles in circuit with a contained lagoon of 108 square miles. Unlike Rakahanga and Manihiki, Tongareva has three passages through the reef that admit small vessels into the lagoon. The west passage is the largest, being 40 yards wide and 21 feet deep. Because of the entrance into an inner, sheltered lagoon, Tongareva has been selected as the place where the Cook Islands' trading schooners lie up for the hurricane season, extending from about November to April.

Whatever gods there be harkened to the prayers offered on our behalf by the Manihikians. The Tiare Taporo made an excellent trip and sailed through the western passage of the reef at Tongareva to dock at the wharf at the main village of Omoka. The native population, which had heard of our coming, was massed in front of the wharf shed, and Pa, the oldest inhabitant, stood in front of them. As we stepped ashore, Pa held up his hand in a gesture that bade page 132 us halt. He recited an incantation to placate the unseen forces of the land and to remove the taboo of strangers. He then advanced toward me, saying, ‘According to the ancient custom of Tongareva, I could not come near you nor could you come near me until that was done.’

We shook hands and exchanged greetings in our respective dialects and, though we may not have understood every word the other was saying, we knew that he was expressing the correct sentiments. The people came forward and shook hands all round. We had been admitted over the threshold of Tongarevan society.

Judge Ayson held a meeting of the Court the day after our arrival to inquire into the local genealogies and again I was allowed to sit in. It is customary, before commencing the recital of a lineage, to chant an introduction. Tupou Isaia, one of the leading chiefs of Omoka, was the first to give evidence, and the following is an extract from his introductory chant:

The lineage goes back,
Back to the period of the parent sky.
The descent traces back,
Back indeed to the line of Atea.
Bind the knowledge securely,
Let the tying be firm,
Let the knotting be fast,
That it hold.
The lineage descends
from a far-off age,
From the family of Iki,
From the children of Atea and Hakahotu.

Though the mythology of Tongareva has lost its details, the chant established the important fact that the primary page 133 creation parents were Atea and Hakahotu. Hakahotu is the local form of the Tahitian Fa‘ahotu, who shares with Papa the functions of the primary female element. Hakahotu, which conveys the idea of development from a coral upgrowth, has naturally been preferred to Papa, which conveys the meaning of a large earth foundation or stratum. Hakahotu belongs to coral atolls, and Papa to volcanic islands.

The union of Atea and Hakahotu resulted in eleven offspring, among whom were Tane, Tangaroa, and Rongonui, major gods of the Society and Cook Islands. The pattern thus definitely belongs to the theology that was dispersed from central Polynesia. The other children have a local significance, chief among them being Te Porourangi, from whom the human line is traced.

An important ancestor was the voyager, Mahuta. He is stated to have lived in Rakahanga but, owing to domestic troubles, went to Tahiti, where he married the daughter of a local chief named Tu-te-koropanga. Another voyaging ancestor, named Taruia, came to Tongareva, and he was held to be the same person as the Aitutaki chief who was tricked by Ruatapu. Taruia landed on the islet of Tokerau, where he built a marae and left a son, Titia, with some attendants to occupy the land. Taruia sailed to Tahiti, where he met Mahuta and gave him the sailing directions to Tongareva. Mahuta sailed for Tongareva in his voyaging canoe Waimea, which was so large that on sailing through the western passage, which is forty yards wide, the outrigger float struck against a large rock that stood on the side of the passage. Very likely the wind or current caused the mishap. Mahuta was descended from Iki mentioned in the chant, and he is credited with introducing coconuts and pandanus.

The earliest human beings, descended from Atea and page 134 Hakahotu, had lived so long on the eastern islets of the atoll that they were held to have grown up with the islands from the time of Atea. Mahuta met these people on friendly terms and married his daughter Pokiroa to their chief, Purua. From Mahuta and Taruia to the year 1900 a.d. there are eighteen generations, thus placing the period of resettlement from Tahiti in the middle of the fifteenth century. In Cook Islands genealogies, Ruatapu, the contemporary of Taruia, lived a hundred years earlier. Probably the Tongarevan lineages have been shortened through defective memorizing. Short lineages indicate that genealogies are not important until the growth of population forces the recognition of social distinctions and chiefs feel the need of long lineages to stress their position and descent from the gods.

The descendants of Atea and those of the two voyagers, Mahuta and Taruia, occupied different islands in the atoll group and thus formed three distinct centres for development and subsequent distribution. As the population increased, all the habitable islands were occupied. The large island upon which Omoka is situated was settled at either end by two independent groups who spread toward each other until they met in the middle, where a boundary line was established between the two districts of Omoka and Motu-kohiti. Each district had its own chief and often fought the other. In sailing on the lagoon, I noticed a wide gap in the coconut trees and was told that it marked the land boundary between Omoka and Motu-kohiti. It seemed unnecessarily wide and a waste of land, but I was told that this wide strip had been established generations ago and that if either side planted any coconuts to diminish the waste of land they were immediately torn up by the other side. A further attempt was regarded as an act of war, and hostilities ensued. Neither district had page 135 competely conquered the other, and so there is no general name for the island. What was the need for a general name to include two districts that had never combined?

In order to protect their coconut groves from theft, the people lived on their land-holdings situated throughout the various islets. After the introduction of Christianity in 1854, the people concentrated in villages built around the churches that were established on four of the islets. In 1864, the inhuman Peruvian slavers descended upon the atoll. Lured by lying promises of good pay and a safe return, the native pastors influenced the people to go abroad to earn money to erect better churches for the worship of God. At least 1000 people left their homes and died in exile. The population was so diminished that two of the villages were abandoned and the remnants of the people dwelt in the remaining two villages of Omoka and Tautua.

At the time of my visit, the village of Omoka was an architectural disappointment. All the houses were made of sawn timber, erected on piles and roofed with corrugated iron. My information of the building of houses was entirely oral. When I inquired about canoes, I found that they had been entirely supplanted by large sailing boats made from imported timber.

‘Is there no old hull or part of a canoe that I may examine?’ I asked.

‘No,’ replied Pa, ‘the old canoes, after the sailing boats came in, were cut up to form piles for the new houses. The piles of this house were cut from an old canoe.’

A little comfort crept into my soul, and Pa and I spent the rest of the afternoon under that house. Pa lectured on each pile as he diagnosed it as part of a keel, hull plank, or wash-strake, and I, with a measuring tape and a notebook, page 136 was glad of the crumbs that the gods had vouchsafed. Except for a picture drawn by Choris, the artist with the Kotzebue expedition in 1815, these house piles form the only material record of the old-time Tongarevan canoe.

Much of my time on Tongareva was devoted to an archeological survey of the marae temples. Twenty-four maraes were known on the various islands, and their names were remembered. Mr. Wilson, Resident Government Agent, Phillip Woonton, local trader, Tupou Isaia, and two young men with tools, accompanied me in the survey. From Omoka, our base, we sailed to the different islands until we made a complete circuit of the atoll.

The maraes were rectangular spaces, roughly 70 to 110 feet long by 60 to 100 feet wide. Rectangular pillars of coral limestone were erected at intervals along the four sides, and a curb of low coral rocks, about ten inches above ground filled in the spaces between the pillars, defining the rectangular court. Most of the maraes were near the coast on the sea side of the island, with the back, marked by the highest pillars, toward the sea. Within the court and near the back line was a raised platform composed of limestone slabs set on edge in the earth to form a rectangular enclosure about two feet high and filled in with coral rock. The floor of the court was spread with coral gravel.

Besides the maraes, we saw numerous house sites on the different islands. The ground plan of the houses was defined by a low curb of coral limestone blocks set on edge to prevent the fine coral gravel used to carpet the floor from being scattered. The coral limestone used for the house curbs and the marae pillars has the appearance of a composition made artificially and hence has given rise to theories of an extinct civilization that used cement. If the authors of such erroneous page 137 beliefs had looked on the beaches of islands surrounded by coral reefs, they would have seen the natural strata of coral limestone from which the Polynesians cut their slabs.

During the course of our explorations we came to the little islet of Te Kasi, which is shaped like a cone with a hollow in the centre. This hollow is intersected by tracks of large flat stones, some of which extend over the rim and down to the water's edge. Beside the paths are small rectangular spaces covered with coral gravel in marked contrast to the sharp, branching coral which has been washed over the islet by storms. A trader named Lamont, who was wrecked on Tongareva in 1853, saw the hollow with its radiating paths and wrote later that it must have been used for some peculiar ceremonies of an unknown nature.

Sitting on a smooth area within the hollow, Tupou Isaia said to me, ‘Te Kasi was a great camping place for fishermen. You may see from its position that you may fish in the sea, in the passage, or in the lagoon. The fishermen brought coconut leaves with them to make shelters against the sun, and they covered the floor with coral gravel so that they could lie down to rest without being disturbed by the sharp points of the branching coral. Even the thick-soled Tongarevans could not walk with comfort over the sharp points, so they made paths with flat coral slabs. You see the paths pass over the rim to the sea, to the north-west passage, and to the lagoon so that they could go comfortably to wherever the fishing was good according to the wind and the tide. Paths also extend on the fourth side toward the neighbouring islet in order that the fishermen could make their way to their shelters which were out of the wind within this hollow.’

‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘It is all very simple and real. There is no room left for mystery or peculiar ceremonies.’

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I found here also that some of the people remembered me as a doctor, for they had been at Rarotonga during my first visit there, when I had relieved the regular doctor; so I held a sick parade in the mornings before starting my routine of ethnological inquiries. Husbands usually accompanied their sick wives to explain the patient's symptoms. One day a woman explained that she had a pain in her back.

‘No,’ said her husband, ‘It is in her chest.’ A heated argument followed as to the anatomical situation of the pain.

‘How long have you had it?’ I asked in order to create a diversion.

‘It started yesterday,’ she answered.

‘It started two days ago,’ asserted her husband with warmth.

A violent altercation took place until at last the husband cried with an apologetic look at me, ‘Oh, what a woman! What a woman!’

I remained neutral and produced a stethoscope to create a further diversion. I applied it to her back to the patient's evident satisfaction and then to her chest to the husband's grunted approval of ‘Yes, that's the place.’

Finding nothing wrong, I prescribed some cathartic pills, the most appropriate remedy that the limited medical supplies contained. To reward the husband for sharing so vehemently in his wife's symptoms, I gave him some pills also. At the next morning's parade, he reported that they had both recovered, but he asked for some more medicine in case of a relapse.

The day for departure approached all too quickly. The village of Tautua, across the lagoon, invited me to visit them before I left. The population gathered in front of the chief's house. A tin plate was placed on a table on the page 139 veranda. The chief, holding his hand aloft, cried that all might hear, ‘Here are two pearls of perfect shape and colour. One of them is worth at least five pounds.’ He placed them on the dish and rolled them around with an expression of admiration that was not entirely simulated.

‘Now,’ he cried, ‘show your respect for your kinsman and your gratitude to your doctor by filling this dish with pearls that roll true.’

The people filed forward, unknotting the corners of handkerchiefs or opening match boxes, and deposited their contributions in the tin plate to the accompaniment of the running criticism of the chief. Some apologized for the poorness of their offerings but explained that they had had no luck. I felt mean, but I was bound hand and foot by the conventions of Tongarevan hospitality.

At Omoka, the people came to me individually with their contributions to the pearl fund.

Pa said, ‘These are not so good as I would have liked to have given you, but I am too old to dive now.’

I pressed his hand in thanks as I replied, ‘You have given me pearls from the depths of your wisdom that far exceed any pearls that could come from the depths of the sea.’

In farewell, I rubbed noses with Pa and Ma whose wrinkled, kindly faces were but a transient link with the old order giving place to new. A boatload of green coconuts accompanied us to the ship.

‘To drink on the voyage,’ they said.

As we steamed out through the western passage, I waved in farewell to a large rock sitting on the reef, a rock like a sentinel of the land, the rock that had caught the outrigger float of the voyaging canoe of the ancestor Mahuta.

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Although the Tongarevans are not as skilful in craft work as their southern neighbours, they are as honest and kindly within. The pearl necklace my wife wears I prize as a token of affection from kinsmen on a remote atoll set on the ancient sea road that led into the heart of Polynesia.