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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

New patterns of settlement

page 124

New patterns of settlement

The institutional framework within which the system of land tenure described in the first part of this study was evolved, appears to have retained the same basic features for at least a thousand years. Despite modifications to suit particular cultural and environmental circumstances, a comparison with the cultures of the New Zealand Maoris, the Tahitians and the Hawaiians shows a persistence throughout of fundamental forms and themes. It is probable, in fact, that the first radical change in the culture of the people of the Cook Islands since their initial settlement was that wrought by the advent of Europeans in the nineteenth century.

In most parts of Polynesia the first agents of culture change were traders, but as the Cook Islands were off the beaten trade routes, lacked harbour facilities, and produced nothing that was not more readily available in Tahiti or Tonga, it was the missionaries who there afforded the most important early link with European culture.1 The

1 The missionaries were preceded by explorers such as Cook, Byron and Bellinghausen; by traders like Goodenough, Hort and Lamont; and by spasmodic calls for supplies by whalers and other vessels. These random visits to particular islands were decades apart, and as Beaglehole has said, ‘… the social change initiated by these brief visits was very slight…it was left to the missionaries therefore to be the agents of social change…’. – Social Change in the South Pacific 14.

page 125 earliest bearers of the foreign culture were not themselves Europeans, but Tahitians who had been trained as missionaries by the London Missionary Society in Tahiti. Between 1821 and 1824 they were posted to all the inhabited islands of the Southern Group with the exception of Manuae. When mission expansion to the atolls of the Northern Group was begun in 1849 the pioneering work was undertaken by Rarotongan evangelists. No European missionaries were based in the group until 1827, and though they thenceforth controlled and co-ordinated the work of the native pastors, they resided permanently on only three of the islands.1

Confronted with the difficulties of teaching diverse and scattered groups, the evangelists persuaded their followers to reside near the mission headquarters on each island. This involved a change in both the place and the pattern of residence. Previously all people had lived in nucleated hamlets in their own tapere, or in the case of the atolls, on their own motu,2 but with the acceptance of Christianity the inhabitants of each island were attracted into a single settlement.3

The sites for the mission stations, and consequently for the new settlements, were chosen in consultation with the leading pro-Christian chiefs, and were accordingly located within the tapere of the most powerful of them.

1 Rarotonga from 1827, Aitutaki from 1839 and Mangaia from 1845.

2 An islet in an atoll.

3 Rakahanga may be regarded as an exception, as all four lineages there had always lived in a single village. This was no doubt due to their small numbers and the fact that they all sprang from the same two ancestors. On Pukapuka, the people had since long before European contact lived in three distinct villages on one motu, but there were only two other motu on the atoll and neither was suitable for permanent habitation. Having regard to the small size of the populations of these two islands, and the circumstances of their origins, it may be claimed that they were not exceptional, for the settlements were not unlike the hamlets of the other islands.

page 126 These unitary settlements lasted for varying periods, some for several decades, but after a time they almost invariably split along lines of pre-contact allegiance. Following each division, however, the village pattern was retained (at least as the dominant pattern) and the people comprising the splinter group merely returned to the tapere of the highest chief recognized by them, and set up a new village there.

The collection of all the people of one district (who had previously lived scattered over the various tapere) into a single village seldom occasioned serious difficulty, presumably because all the inhabitants recognized a common origin and a common high chief. On the other hand, attempts to bring together the people of more than one district were unsuccessful in the long term, and in no case did a village survive intact where people were brought to live on the lands of a high chief whose authority they had not recognized prior to European contact.1

The case of Atiu, which at first sight appears to be an exception, in fact serves to illustrate the rule. There the single settlement is not, and never was, a single village, but rather seven contiguous villages each on its own

1 In Mauke the people of the two tribes were brought to live in two contiguous villages. By a judgement of the Land Court in 1904, however, the lands of both villages were awarded to the high chief of one of them. This judgement, which united the lands, divided the people, and the aggrieved party removed to the coast where they set up a new village which they named Kimiangatau (‘the seeking of justice’). On Mitiaro there has never been more than one village since 1823, but only four years prior to the mission landing in that year the island was devastated by an attack from the neighbouring island of Atiu, the leaders of the four districts were killed, and less than one hundred souls remained. When the Tahitian mission teacher arrived he brought the remnant of the people together into a single village at the landing-place, but those of each district occupied a distinct section, and their separate identity is still recognized today.

page 127 lands and each subject to its own chief.1 The traditional division of this roughly circular island was into seven triangular tapere radiating out from the high central plateau. Whereas the people had previously resided in hamlets near the taro swamps, they now moved inland to the centre of the island, each to the apex of its particular tapere. There, the people of the component hamlets of each tapere formed a single village, under that chief whose authority they had always recognized.

A more typical pattern is shown in the case of Rarotonga, with its three pre-contact tribal divisions. At first the missionaries tried to establish a single settlement at Avarua, the district of Makea Ariki, and initially they were quite successful, for Tinomana and Pa2 and a number of their followers came to reside there. Makea arranged the allocation of land for the various groups to build on, though the terms on which the lands were made available are not known.3 Each ariki assumed administrative responsibility for the people from his own district. Makea, as host to the people of the other districts, at times attempted to assert authority over the whole populace, but this was keenly resented and remained a constant threat to the stability of the new settlement.

A church and mission station were built, and though all parties co-operated in these projects, each district undertook specific aspects of the work. In the early stages the people of Avarua fed the visitors, in accordance with custom. However, the numbers were so great that food

1 Today these are usually referred to as five villages, as the three southern villages, which were the smallest, in many respects function as a single village known as Areora.

2 Ariki of the other two districts.

3 Maretu, MS 65. The village only lasted for three years.

page 128 supplies soon ran short and the visitors began returning to their own lands every day or so to collect food.1 As the novelty of the new situation wore off, people spent more of their time back in their own tapere, and some even returned there permanently.2 The Tahitian missionaries were allotted taro patches and the ariki organized labour to clear and plant them.3

Rifts soon appeared in the organization of the mission settlement. It had been intended that the ariki would confer on matters of common interest, but, owing to the status struggle between them, no long-term unity was effected. Only the strong personalities of the teachers and the promise of great rewards from Jehovah held the community together. Lacking cohesive leadership at the top, the three tribal power structures were inadequately knit, and when the balance of power shifted in favour of the Takitumu chiefs the whole settlement moved to Ngatangiia, though it was not long before many people returned to Avarua.4 In 1827, when the first European missionaries came to settle, a further attempt was made to establish the joint settlement at Ngatangiia, but this, too, was shortlived.5

1 The Avarua district had only been reoccupied the previous year following the devastation of its food crops by Takitumu. See page 87 footnote 2.

2 The same problem arose when the settlement later shifted to Ngatangiia. Pitman considered this to be one of the most cogent reasons for having a separate settlement in each district and says: ‘The natives had to fetch their food from Avarua to this place [Ngatangiia] every day, consequently they could not attend to instructions unless they neglected their lands.’ - Pitman to LMS 6.11.1827 SSL.

3 For a detailed description see Maretu, MS 88–91.

4 Ibid. 99–103.

5 Ibid. 109.

page 129

In that year two separate villages were formed, one at Ngatangiia and the other at Avarua. In 1828, the Arorangi people, who had been living at Avarua, got involved in a land dispute with their hosts and left to establish a village for themselves in their home district.1 Both Avarua and Arorangi villages were smaller in population and served districts which were smaller in area. They also had stronger authority structures and thenceforth remained the sole population centres for their respective districts. Ngatangiia, on the other hand, divided within the next three decades along ‘fault lines’ which had existed prior to the introduction of the gospel. Kainuku's people never joined the main village, but remained in their traditional home in the Avana valley where they established a village. The Matavera people broke away from Ngatangiia and set up their own village in 1849, and the recalcitrants who lived at the western end of the district and resisted Christianity longer than any others, formed themselves into the villages of Titikaveka in 1854.2

The next phase was the spread of the villages from closely packed clusters of houses, usually on one tapere, to lines of houses spread out along either side of a newly-formed road which cut at right angles through the various tapere. This may be illustrated by the following sketch map of Ngatangiia village.3

1 Pitman, Journal, November 1828.

2 In the case of Matavera and Titikaveka distance from the planting lands must also have been conducive to the setting up of separate villages. The Takitumu district is about twelve miles long, and is the largest in the Cook group. It is the only district in the group in which the populace live in more than one village.

3 Just when the spread took place is not known, though informants say that this village was in the compact form until it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1846. The Matavera people did not want to rebuild there and after much dissension finally built their own village in 1849 on the spread-out pattern with each lineage on its own lands. After this the same tendency developed in Ngatangiia, though many people had two houses - one in the village proper and one on their own lands. My oldest informant (a man of 84) said that the old compact village had been completely abandoned before he was born. Crumbled stone house-walls and the metalled road are the only discernible remnants left today.

page 130
The Changing Pattern of Settlement Turangi Ma Nga Mataiapo (Ngatangiia)

The Changing Pattern of Settlement
Turangi Ma Nga Mataiapo (Ngatangiia)

It will be seen that whereas the initial village was all on one tapere, the new pattern was for each family to build beside the new road on its own tapere. This called for adjustments within tapere but not between them, and the friction which had resulted from living on the land of other lineages was to that extent overcome. However, while this trend was manifest in many islands of the group, it did not usually apply to all inhabitants, as some people page 131 retained house-sites in the original village in tapere to which they had no connection by descent.1

On most of the islands the settlement pattern followed the same three phases: firstly, the compact agglomeration of all people at one spot, secondly, the split into separate villages each based on its own district, and thirdly the spread of the villages to a ribbon pattern such that, while the nucleus of the village remained, many people shifted along the road a little in order to build on their own family lands.2 On some islands a small minority left the villages entirely and resumed the earlier nucleated pattern of settlement.3

The establishment of villages and the necessity for those who aspired to divine grace to live in them4 meant that many people had to leave their own tapere and acquire land in those tapere which had been selected for village sites. Lands made available under these circumstances became known as akonoanga oire lands (‘held in the village manner’),5 and though the settlement pattern was new, it did not necessitate the emergence of new types of relationship in respect to rights in land. In all cases for which information is available the lands given for house-sites in the villages were given to the donee and his descendants for

1 Ngatangiia was one of the few villages in the group where everybody removed to his own lands and none was left in the original compact village. In most places the original village became the core of the ribbon-pattern village.

2 Atiu and Mitiaro did not develop beyond the first phase. Pukapuka and Rakahanga, which had had compact villages before European contact, retained that pattern.

3 These people were usually those least interested in church affairs. Such a drift occurred on Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mangaia and Penrhyn.

4 See Pitman, Journal 1827–30 passim.

5 In Atiu the term ‘taura oire’ was used.

page 132 such time as they wished to occupy, with a right of reversion to the owing lineage in the event of the line dying out or the village being abandoned.1 The giving of land to non-relatives under conditions of this nature was not new, though the frequency of this pattern of acquisition of rights no doubt increased many-fold with the establishment of mission villages.2

No charge or rental was levied for the use of housesites, though native concepts of reciprocity in most cases resulted in the rendering of gifts to the chief of the owning lineage.3 However, whether such tribute was given on account of the house-site or on account of the normal obligation to a person higher in the social hierarchy is not clear.4

In the early decades, retention of the village pattern of settlement depended on the power and status of the missionaries who introduced it. As mission influence waned, people left the villages and drifted back to their lands and as mission influence waxed, people were attracted back to the villages again.5 The maintenance of the village

1 Re Arorangi village see MB 1:59–69 NLC; re Avarua village see MB 4:21A, B and 47A NLC; re Atiu villages see Atiu MB 1:122 NLC.

2 While house-sites only were given in all other cases, in the case of Arorangi village a large area was also set aside as a commonage for the livestock of the inhabitants.

3 The ‘Land Occupants Act’ of 1894 was the first legal enactment to guarantee continued occupation to persons living under the akonoanga oire. Such lands were to be held ‘free of charge’ and were heritable so long as there were living descendants. If there were no heirs the land was to revert to the original donor, or his issue, and in the event of the original donor having no issue the land reverted ‘to the people of Rarotonga’, to be administered by the Council for public purposes. However, no instance of reversion to the Council ever occurred.

4 Evidence in Land Court cases is not conclusive. See AMB 1:1–29 NLC.

5 Pitman, Journal, November 1828 and 22.10.1829; Maretu, MS 123.

page 133 pattern was vital to the mission in order to effect the teaching programme and moral supervision that it set out to accomplish,1 and to minimize contact with the localities associated with former heathen practices. The early missionaries accordingly did everything in their power to stop the drift back to the land.2 However, after the church and later the trading centre became accepted and established institutions, and the early problems of living on the land of others were overcome, the convenience of village life became appreciated and relatively few remained on their planting lands. In the majority of cases, each village accommodated the people of a single district.

The missionaries also persuaded the people not to accommodate more than one nuclear family in each house, in contrast to the pre-contact system whereby several related nuclear families often lived within the one building.3 This change may well have been one of the causes which led to nuclear families planting separately, for the old living pattern was based on a kitchen, and on joint production for that kitchen and joint consumption from it. The setting up of separate kitchens probably facilitated, if it did not cause, an increase in separate plantings.

1 Royle reported with approval the conditions in the Aitutaki village where ‘their conduct [was] open to the closest observation and their principles and motives inviting the strictest scrutiny’. – Royle to LMS 22.7.1846 SSL.

2 This drift was manifest throughout the Southern Group, but did not occur on the atolls with the exception of Penrhyn.

3 Pitman, Journal 10.10.1827. Nevertheless, for some years thereafter one finds references to there being twelve or more in many homes and even twenty in some – e.g. Mrs Buzacott, Journal 4.5.1830; Pitman, Journal 10.5.1830. By 1846, however, Avarua's population of about 920 were accommodated in 220 houses – an average of just over four persons in each. – Boston Daily Whig 1.8.1846.