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Discoverers of the Cook Islands and the Names They Gave

4. Manihiki

page 19

4. Manihiki

A black and white sketch of the island Manihiki.

A coral atoll with a triangular lagoon, 10.5 × 8.6 km, Land-area: 5.3 km2. Radius: 4.23 km.

Thickness of coral cap: 50 to 500 m.

Depth of ocean floor: 4,000 m.

Position: 10°25′20″W.

Population: 1966: 584, 1971: 452 1975: 408.

Manihiki to Equator: 1148 km, to Rarotonga: 1203 km, to Rakahanga: 44 km, to Penrhyn: 363 km, to Aitutaki: 946 km.


Manihiki, “one of the most beautiful specimens of an atoll with one of the most charming people” (1), and “the siren isle of the South Seas”(2), has no myths and legends of its own. As a piece broken off from Rakahanga, it was used by the Rakahangans as a foodsupply island, where the entire population moved to from time to time.


About one hundred and fifty years after Toa, at about 1500, two Rakahangan men voyaged to foreign lands (Tahiti?). They were Tangihoro (or Ngaru-vaaroto) and Ngaro-puruhi. The latter returned with two gods stolen from Utuone. He built a marae for the god Te Pua-renga at Tauhunu on Manihiki, and named it Te Pouhiteru, or Te Poututeru. A marae, named Variu, was built on Rakahanga for the worship of Te Uru-renga. These marae were thought to be the first constructed or the atolls (3). Another god, Ikaera, drifted ashore on Manihiki. His marae, Marae-okoroa, was at Tukao (4).


Some suggested that Manihiki was the island sighted by Quiros in 1606, and called Gente Hermosa (5).

The atoll was discovered by Captain Patrickson of the American ship “Good Hope” on Oct. 13, 1822. He called it Humphrey Island (6). Captain Joshua Coffin in the whale ship “Ganges” of Nantucket sighted the island in 1828, and named it Great Ganges Island. Other whalers and ships sighted or visited the island, and it is believed to be the island called: Liderous, Gland, Sarah Scott (7), and Pescado (7a).

Sometime before 1849 a canoe, sailing from Manihiki to Rakahanga, was blown out of its course. The five men and four women were picked up by a whaler and put ashore on Manuae. There the missionary ship “John Williams”, found them. They were brought to Aitutaki. After a fortnight they were returned to Manihiki together with two native teachers, Aporo and Tairi. They landed at Manihiki an Aug. 6, 1849. Aporo described the people who came aboard as “a very wild looking people, with their bodies covered with blood flowing from numerous cuts, which they had inflicted on themselves on account of a death”. The two ariki at that time were: Toeao and Te Vaingaitu. The European ship brought with her an epidemy. The people believed that their affliction was due to the anger of their gods, and called Jahovah “e atua kai-tangata”, a man-eating god (8). The population at that time was about 1,200 (9).


The voyages between Rakahanga and Manihiki caused the loss of many lives. The missionaries, therefore, urged the people to give these voyages up and page 20 to divide themselves over the two atolls. This was done in 1852, and Manihiki became permanently settled (10).

From About 1860 the island became famous for its beautiful women. Tahitians, Peruvians, and strolling mariners bought, enticed, or kidnapped them. The young ladies had but one desire: to become the mistresses of Europeans (11). In 1869 the infamous “Bully Hayes” persuaded a number of Manihikians to go with him to Rakahanga. He brought them instead to Fiji to labour on the plantations (12).

In 1889 a faction opposed to the native missionary asked the French in Tahiti to annex their island, and a warship was sent for that purpose. The missionary, however, hoisted the British Flag, and the warship returned without annexing the island (13).

On Aug. 9, 1889 Commander A.C. Clarke of H.M.S “Espiégle” proclaimed a British protectorate (14). On the request of the Rarotongan Ariki Manihiki was included in New Zealand's boundaries in 1901 (15). The population in 1902 was 484 (16).


An informant said that the original name was Manuhiki. A canoe, named Rua Manu (Two Birds) was carried (hiki) ashore. Hence the name.

Sharp, who does not accept the Rarotongan origin of the Rakahanga-Manihikians, suggested that the original discoverers came from “Manihi” in the Tuamotu, as Manihiki could mean “Little Manihi” (17).

The name was sometimes spelt as Maniiki (18), Manahiki (19), and Monahiki (20). The Pukapukans spell it as Manuyiki (21).






259:206; 20:126; 266b:150




113:10; 133:3: 107b:15


259:5, 8










259:4; 267:325 note 4


64:187; 127:122-124


66:286; 30:306; 65:212


259:10; 66:287












291: 224; 30:306; 265





Wooden Seat (nooanga)

Wooden Seat (nooanga)

Wooden Seat of Pa-Ariki of Takitumu, Rarotonga, termed: Atamira.

Wooden Seat of Pa-Ariki of Takitumu, Rarotonga, termed: Atamira.