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Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names They Gave

3. Mangaia

page 16

3. Mangaia

A black and white sketch of the island Mangaia.

A roughly circular or pear-shaped raised island. Area: 51.08 km2. Diameter: 9.6 km E-W, 7.2 km N-S. Radius: 4.05 km

Central volcanic plateau: diameter: 4.8 km, radius: 2.9 km; common level: 16 m; max. altitude: 169 m (Rangimotia); one lake.

Makatea: 1200 to 1600 m wide; 60 m above sea level; at the seaside a terrace of 182 m wide, 15 m above sea level; at the inland side a vertical cliff: 45 to 70 m in height. Depth of ocean floor: 4,750 m.

Position: 21°54′30″S, 157°58′ W. Population: 1966: 2,002, 1971: 2,074. 1975: 2,016.

Mangaia to Rarotonga: 203 km, to Atiu: 214 km.


The “Garden of the Cook Islands” (1) has a rather unique myth of origin. It was not discovered by some ancient voyager, but emerged from the under world of Avaiki with the first human settlers upon it.


The nether-world, Avaiki, was like the hollow of a vast coconut shell in upright position with its narrow end pointing downwards. Out of this end came a root, which consisted of three spirits (vaerua), who constituted the foundation, and insured the permanence and well-being of all the rest of the universe.

In the lowest depth of the interior of the coconut shell lived a fourth spirit, named Vari-ma-te-takere, that is The Mud and the Bottom. This female-being plucked off a piece of her right side, and it became another living being, half man and half fish, the father of gods and men. Its name was Avatea or Vatea, and it came to live in the uppermost part of the coconut, immediately under the opening into the upperworld.

Vatea embraced in his sleep a woman, named Papa (Rock), the daughter of Tima-te-kore (Nothing-more). Out of this union were born the first beings with a perfect human form: Tangaroa and Rongo (2).


Rongo, the principal god of the island, fathered three sons by his own daughter, Tavake. The eldest was Rangi. His younger brothers were Mokoiro and Akatauira. They were living on Auau, a land in the netherworld, until Rongo's sons brought this land up from Avaiki to the light of day. They became the first inhabitants, and the ancestors of the Ngariki (Nga Ariki) tribe, who claimed to be autochthonous (3).

Already during the period of Rangi many voyagers came to the island; some from the underworld, others from Rarotonga and Tahiti (4). Later canoes arrived from Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu (5), Tonga (6), and even from New Zealand (7).


Buck gives the following explanation of Mangaia's myth of origin: When Tangiia came to Rarotonga from Tahiti (c. 1250), he brought with him a group of the rankless “Manaune” (8). As they had no chance of rising in social status. page 17 some of them under the leadership of Rangi migrated to Mangaia to start life anew (c. 1450/75) (9). Their antagonism toward Rarotonga made them conceal the land of origin, and invent an origin from a spiritual Auau in the netherworld of Avaiki (10). Gill gives Samoa as the original homeland (11).


The classical name of the island is A'Ua'u, meaning “akatautika”, that is “levelled off” (12). Gill explains it in this way: “As an individual consists of two parts, viz. body and spirit, so this land has a sort of essence, or spirit, the secret name of which is Akatautika, i.e. the “well-poised”. The body was called Auau; it is the earthly form, dragged up to light, while there remained behind in the obscurity of the netherworld the etherial form, or spirit, the “well-poised” (13). He translated Auau as “terraced” (14).


The present-day name Mangaia was given by Tamaeu, an Aitutakian, who came to the island some two years before Cook. He called the island Mangaianui-Neneva, that is: Mangaia-Monstrously-Great (15).

“Mangaia” means “temporal power”, or “peace” (16). The tribes descended from the various groups of settlers, retained their individuality, but they fought frequently for the “supremacy”, or “temporal power” over the whole island. As soon as one party gained the “mangaia”, peace was restored (17). Both Gill and Buck give lists of the 42 Temporal Lords and the battles through which they came into power (18).


Some other ancient names may or may not refer to Mangaia. One of these is Manitea (19). Another is Purutea, mentioned in the story of the “Bounty” mutineers (20). The Pukapukans have a legend about Te Akuaku, a god from Akalava, which MacGregor identifies as Mangaia but with a questionmark (21).


An old tradition mentions the arrival of a “white” castaway during the second half of the 16th century (22).

The official discoverer of the island, however, is Captain Cook. After leaving New Zealand for Tahiti on his third voyage, the lookout of the “Discovery” sighted land on the morning of March 29, 1777. The following day the two ships sailed to the west side of the island. Some of the natives went to the edge of the reef, shouting and shaking their spears and clubs. Some wore a piece of bark cloth around the waist, others had a piece of cloth of different colours which hung from their shoulders. Two men came in their canoe to the “Resolution” and spoke to Omai. The name of one of them was Mourua. Both men had long slits in the lobes of their ears, and one put the knife which Cook gave him in the slit. Cook lowered two boats. On their way to the shore the two natives paddled their canoe towards Cook's boat and stepped into it. Finding no place to land the boats returned and Mourua came aboard the “Resolution”. One of the boats returned Mourua to the reef, and on the afternoon of Sunday, March 30, Cook left Mangaia and continued his course to the north (23). The name given to Cook by the natives was Tute (24).


On Sept. 22, 1789 the mutineers of the “Bounty” left Tahiti and sailed to the west until they reached the Tongan archipelago. On their way they passed at least one island of the Cook Group, and from local tradition we know that they found Rarotonga. There is, however, some evidence, though inconclusive, that they also called at Mangaia. The Tahitian wife of John Adams, Teehuteatuaonoa, better known as Jenny, told that they discovered a small island, page 18 called Purutea. A native came aboard and Captain Christian gave him his jacket. One of the mutineers shot him dead. Edwin Gold reported in 1946 that he had acquired an old medical book, inscribed on the inside cover “March ye 10th 1786”, which the natives told him had come from a “Papaa-ship like a garden” in premission days. Gill was told that only tree [sic] ships called at Mangaia before John Williams. The first was Cook's Resolution, and the third was Thomas Reibey's schooner “Mercury”, May, 1808 (26). At the visit of the second one, a man, named Tairoa, was killed. So it is possible that this second ship was the “Bounty” (26). However, John Turnbull visited the island on February 11,1803(27).


During his first unsuccessful search for Rarotonga in June 1823, John Williams found Mangaia. The ferocity of the islanders prevented him of leaving some native teachers ashore (28). On June 15, 1824 two teachers from Tahaa, David and Tiere, were landed by Messrs Tyerman and Bennet on their voyage to Sydney (29). The population at that time was estimated as between two to three thousand (30). Mangaia remained under the supervision of the Tahitian mission until 1839, when it was placed under the mission headquarters of Rarotonga (31).

Mangaia was proclaimed a British protectorate on Oct. 28, 1888, when Captain Bourke of H.M.S. “Hyacinth” hoisted the Flag (32). The island became a part of the Cook Islands Federation, and in 1901 of New Zealand. In 1902 the population was 1,541 (33).


The spelling of Mangaia-nui-neneva in the Journals of Cook's third voyage is: Mangia-Nooe-Nai-Naiwa (34). Mangaia is spelt as Mangaeea or Mangia (35). Other spellings were Mangya (36), Mangeea (37), Mangea (38), Mangeer (39), Maniaa (40), Maonia (41), Mangee, Manaia (42).

Cook's spelling of the Atiuan pronunciation of Auau is: Owha-Va-Rouah (43) The spelling of this name in the Tahitian lists is: Oahooahoo, O-Ahoua-Hou, Oaauaha (44), Ahoua-Hou, Oahoo-Hoo (45), and Ahu-Ahu (46).

On Cook's third voyage Mangaia was first sighted by the lookout of the “Discovery”. Its master, Thomas Edgar, named it Discoverys Island (47).




192:1–22: 246:9–15; 20:115–116; 193:87–110; 2:376–380; 96:I11–14: 95:I251–263


as in note 2


246:20–22, 36–37


246:39, 41








246:28; 20:24


246:30–33; 115:13




246:18; 115:13




192:16; 195:177


195:177; 198:241


246:34; 192:16,301–302


246:34; 115:13


198:308–311; 195:224–226; 196:105–107; 246:35; 95:I261






305:10, 22


122:8; 149c


9b:78–81; 9b:825–830; 9d:1003–1004; 195:174–185; 193:87–88; 198:243–258; 113:24–32


254; 1:353–361




193:88–89, 90; 198:324, 326, 331,




218:77–81; 204:257; 193:90


218:82; 193:92; 198:328




204:360; 190:133






9b:80, 88; 9c:827; 9d:1004






19:30; 188:24, 31, 32, 33


188:24, 31, 32, 33










9b:87; 32b:133note 1




25:17, 18




9b:78 note 1; 110b