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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Relations between the tribes

Relations between the tribes

After the defeat of the invaders from Tahiti by Tangiia and Karika, there followed ten generations of relative peace.2 In the tenth generation the notorious chief Rongooe (who founded the Arorangi district) arose and ‘commenced the killing of men … and likewise the eating of them; then began evils and troubles in the land’.3 Spasmodic warfare continued thereafter until the arrival of the mission some thirteen generations later. The ten generations of relative peace no doubt resulted in considerable population expansion, and it may well have been that the consequent pressure on the

2 The traditions claim that Tangiia ‘outlawed’ war - e.g. Toarua, JPS 20:140. It may be claimed that the description of this period as one of peace merely reflects ignorance of what actually did go on, but as wars are recorded both before and after, it seems reasonable to assume that no major conflict took place during the period.

3 Te Aia, JPS 2:275.

page 28 island's resources was a factor in initiating and perpetuating the later conflicts.

The more important wars are recorded in the traditional histories, and though accounts of the less spectacular battles have never been assembled together, the fact of their occurrence is confirmed by many individual family histories, and by evidence given in the Land Court. Mission and mission-influenced reports, however, tend to over-emphasize the extent of warfare and the related evils of ‘heathen darkness’.

Missionaries and other early European writers often convey the impression (in their published works at least) of an island permanently divided into hostile tribes whose only contact was in war.1 This view has become widely accepted by later Europeans, including some Land Court judges, and it is accordingly necessary to determine as far as possible the nature and occasions of inter-tribal contact.

Indications of some degree of movement are suggested firstly by the existence of a well maintained inland road which ran right round the island about half a mile from the coast. Secondly, many accounts refer to members of various tribes, and even the whole island, assembling for the offering of first fruits and certain other ceremonial activities.2 Thirdly, it was customary for ariki to participate in the installations of ariki of other districts.3

1 E.g. ‘… so general and constant were the enmity and jealousy of one tribe toward another, that the majority of the people were confined to the range of district where they were born, only hearing vague reports, but knowing little definitely, respecting the tribes beyond them.’ - Gill, Gems… 12.

2 E.g. Taraare, JPS 30:140; Maretu, MS 21.

3 Details of the installation of Makea Pori Ariki by Kainuku Ariki and Pa Ariki are given by Maretu. - MS 29. Terei describes the installation of Tinomana in the district of the Makeas. He notes in another connection that once installed to office an ariki was sometimes carried right round the island. - Terei, Tuatua Taito, 46 and 31.

page 29

Fourthly, there was intermarriage between districts, with concomitant obligations and subsequent blood ties linking the families concerned.1 Whether as a result of interdistrict marriages or not, there were pre-contact examples of persons living in one district and having land rights in another.2 Fifthly, there is an indigenous term ‘ui ariki’, which, while commonly used today as a simple plural of ariki, strictly means ‘the assembled ariki’ - i.e. as a functional group rather than as an agglomeration.3 Finally, one finds in the writings of indigenous authors such comments as the following: ‘The island then lived in peace… and the people moved freely between all the districts.’4 Admittedly this passage is sandwiched between others which describe sanguinary battles, but the picture drawn is one of considerable intervals of peace during which relatively free movement was possible and usual.

Warfare, which was not uncommon, would be the major factor inhibiting freedom of movement. Another danger

1 E.g. the visit of an Avarua rangatira to his brother-in-law in Arorangi is described in detail in PSI 76; Maretu describes Makea as withdrawing from a successful attack on Arorangi when he saw a close relative among the Arorangi party. - Maretu, MS. For the birth of a high-ranking child ‘all the principal people in the whole land bring cloth, not this district only, but the whole land…’. - Pitman, Journal 9.11.1829. Instances of banished persons seeking asylum with relatives in other districts are legion.

2 Maretu refers to the land of the Makeas on the south side of the island - MS 162; Buzacott refers to claims by several Avarua people to land in the Takitumu district - Buzacott to LMS ‘early 1830’ SSL. The mataiapo of Rangiatea (part of Takitumu) claimed a piece of land at Nikao (in the Avarua district) on the basis of pre-contact incidents - MB 22:343 NLC. These are admittedly atypical cases, and the number of them was relatively few.

3 The significance of this term as an index of interaction between tribes was first pointed out to me by Judge Morgan. Its relevance is supported by the fact that at Arai-te-Tonga, the chiefly court of the Makeas, elders can still identify the named seating stones, each of which was specifically set aside for one or other of the ariki of the other tribes on the island.

4 Terei, Tuatua Taito 37.

page 30 against which precaution was probably necessary was that of being attacked in retaliation for a grievance against a relative. A system of tattoo marks acted as a reminder of vengeance to be exacted, not necessarily on the offender himself, but equally satisfactorily on one of his issue or other relatives. This no doubt added an element of risk to travelling alone and probably accounts for the fact that most inter-tribal visits recorded involve groups of people in the company of a chief.