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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands


This period of nearly a thousand years covers the whole span of Rarotongan history from the inception of human settlement about 875 A.D. until the arrival of European missionaries in the year 1823. The only cultural influences throughout came from contact with members of the Polynesian race and such cultural changes as took place were therefore either the result of purely local developments or else of influences emanating from other parts of Polynesia; this being in marked contrast to the period which followed, in which the main changes resulted from contact with an entirely different culture.

In the present chapter an attempt will be made to reconstruct, from the various accounts of Rarotonga's precontact history, as consistent a picture of the march of events as the evidence will permit. Clearly the sources speak only from tradition, except for the decades immediately preceding 1823, for there could be no contemporary documentation until the art of writing had been introduced. Nevertheless, despite a considerable diversity of detail, there still remains a marked degree of agreement on the salient historical landmarks.1

1 The following works were consulted in connection with the pre-European history of the island: Best, JPS 36:122–34; Buck, Vikings of the Sunrise 112–16, Arts & Crafts of the Cook Islands 11–13; Cowan (Tau Puru Ariki), Tumu Korero 1:9–11, 2:4–7, 6:2–4 + 13–14, 9:4–9, 10:5–9; Fraser, JPS 6:72–3; Gill, Wm., Gems from the Coral Islands 2:3–4; Gill, Wyatt, JRAI 6:2–8, AAAS 627–36; Gudgeon, JPS 12:51–61 + 120–30; Itio MS; Kiva, JPS 6:1–6; Manuiri, JPS 5:142–4; Matatia, JPS 4:99–131; Maretu, MS; More, JPS 19:142–68; Native Land Court files; Nicholas (translator), JPS 1:20–29; Numa, MS; Pitman, Journal, passim; Polynesian Society, Collection of vernacular MS – largely anonymous; Putua, JPS 6:6–10; Savage, ‘Iro Nui Ma Oata’, Smith, Hawaiki passim, JPS 12:218–20 and 16:175–88; Tama, JPS 15:209–19; Taraare, JPS 8:61–88 + 171–8, 28:183–208, 29:1–19 + 45–69 + 107–27, 30:129–41, also MS; Ta'unga, MS; Toarua, JPS 20:139–43; Teaia, JPS 2:271–9; Terei, Tuatua Taito, JPS 26:1–18 + 45–65; Vakapora, JPS 20:215–18; Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands passim; Williamson, The Social and Political Systems of Central Polynesia 1:263–82.