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Collected songs and legends from the southern Cook Islands

Te Puka Na Atoni E Oro

Te Puka Na Atoni E Oro

John J.K. Hutchin fortunately used a sheet of an Auckland newspaper to protect the first school exercise book that he acquired before beginning to record the items included in this presentation. The November 1882 publication date suggests that when he and his wife, Ellen, came to occupy the Mission House at Takamoa, Rarotonga in 1883, he recognised that he would need learning aids and self-discipline if he were to acquire competency in spoken and written Cook Island Maori. It is likely that this project was undertaken when he realised, also, that one effect of the growing influence of European culture promoted by his previous colleagues, would be the probable loss of traditional folk-lore. In spite of his own commitment to the replacement of the values, beliefs and customs of the Polynesian communities that he worked among, he clearly gave considerable time to the recording of all this material.

Ten of the exercise books (mostly of 40 pages 150 x 80mm, lined and numbered later by Hall) have soft board covers with Te Puka na Atoni and, below, Na Itio i toto as labels that Hutchin used to identify his work and his sources ("The book of Hutchin" and "All recounted by informed sources"). Six of the books are coverless, but there are some unattached covers in Alexander Turnbull Library folder 36 of the P.H. Hall Collection (MS-Group-0064).

Two of the books are more distinctive, and the content and standard of Hutchin’s calligraphy suggests that they are the second and third volumes of the series. They are of foolscap length, about 100mm wide, with marbled board covers. One of them, dated 1890, has a series of what appear to be sermons, presumably composed by Hutchin. This volume has not been included in this transcription.

Others from these folders (33-38) that have been omitted are those of October 1886 - Taunga's going to the heathen (written according to Hall by the traveller Taunga); and January 1896 38 pages after Kia Adoni ma teia manga tuatua mamae naku, ia tatou, and a list of 64 names (from ATL Folder 37) that suggest that Hutchin was becoming increasingly committed to gathering oral history and ephemera even as his health, and that of Ellen and their children, became influenced by the tropical environment. As none of these items were legends or songs I elected to leave them out of my transcription.

Another disregarded book (dated 1890) is written in a different hand and seems to be a history of the London Missionary Society within the island group, and possibly presents another viewpoint from that found in the LMS microfilm records of Pacific Ocean LMS stations in the nineteenth century and beyond (ATL Folder 35).

Another assumption is that the "Itio" referred to on the covers of some of the copy books means "story-teller" rather than a reference to a particular individual, as I first thought. Percy H. Hall uses the same word in the one volume that he contributed to this anthology. Given the total number of items that have been recorded (about 206 copied here) my guess is that Hutchin began the task in 1893, and from time to time returned to it through until his death in 1912.

Hall must have found the copy books in the study at Takamoa when he succeeded Hutchin and became the LMS Missionary. This would have been during his third tour of duty in the Cook Islands, following his work as teacher at Tereora Boarding School, Rarotonga (1900-04, 1908-11) (see Dorset Enterprises). Hall appears to have been responsible for the translation to English of the titles, the page numbering and contents list on the cover or front page of most of the individual books, and the annotations in English and Maori found in the volume with his handwriting.

Hall's links with LMS ended abruptly and unpleasantly in 1916 when he was required to resign after being summonsed to London. The Hall family took up residence in New Zealand where Hall returned to his former profession, teaching at Taihape and then Marton. He carried with him the papers and books from the Cook Islands that make up a significant part of the deposit made by his family in 1987 of what is now filed as MS-Group-0064 in the Manuscript Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.

In 2005 I discovered that a microfilm copy had been commissioned by ATL and when I set out to advance this project in September-November of that year, I was able to work off the helpfully enlarged screen version of each page that facilitated my self-imposed task of attempting to proof-read my electronic version of the transcribed texts. All of the Hall Papers have been copied to MsCopy Micro 0773 and the songs and legends are available in reels 3 & 4 but there is some other material written in Cook Island Maori in other reels.