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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

The People of Niuē

page 45

The People of Niuē

IT is very difficult at this period to say exactly what the ancient religion of the Niuē people was, but no doubt it did not differ very much from that of the rest of the race, seeing that at one period very early in their history, and when the main ideas embodied in their faith were being evolved, the whole Polynesian people must have dwelt together, having one ritual and one belief. But this period is so far back in the centuries that innovations have gradually been introduced, especially where the environment of any particular section has differed materially from that of the rest.

Tagaloa was the principal god (atua, meaning also a spirit, ghost) of Niuē, and according to tradition he was a “leader of armies,” or in other words, the god of war.* Fata-a-iki says, in his paper, that Tagaloa brought blessings on the island. Again, “Ko e patu-tupua a Niuē-fekai ko Tagaloa. Liogi oti ni ki a Tagaloa, ka tau e motu nai: ‘Takina mai Tagaloa; takina mai Tagaloa!’ Ole oti ni e motu ki a Tagaloa. Ko e liogi he motu nai i tnai, kua liogi ni ke malaia e tagata, fekaiālu aki ni.” “The patu-tupua (or chief endowed with super-natural powers—chief god) of Niuē-fekai was Tagaloa. All prayed to Tagaloa, when the island went to war, ‘Lead forth Tagaloa! Lead forth Tagaloa!’ The prayers of the people in former times were that men (enemies) might have misfortune brought on them; they mutually cursed one another.”

Whilst Tagaloa held the supreme position amongst the gods, as he did in Samoa, Rarotonga, Tahiti, and Hawaii (in later times), but not in New Zealand, there were other gods, amongst them Tu, who was,

* He appears also to have been a god of war with the Morioris, but I think with no other branch of the race.

page 46 as the people say, a mahele, or albino. Tu was known to most branches of the race, and with the Maoris he was their war-god, and most powerful of all in later ages, though there are strong reasons for believing that Tāne was the principal Maori as well as the principal Hawaiian god in early days. I think neither he nor Rongo are known to the Niuē Pantheou. These four make up the quartette of primary gods of the Polynesian race. The tupuas mentioned several times in the legends I have, are clearly almost identical with the tupuas of New Zealand, and I think that the Niuē people would not, any more than the Maoris, place them in the same rank as the greater gods properly so called. They were beings possessed of supernatural powers, acting sometimes as guardians or familiar spirits, and sometimes as malicious beings—generally the latter. Originally, in my opinion, they represented the embodiment of the powers of nature. However, this is not the place to go into that question, about which a great deal might be said. Tupua is a term often applied to human beings, especially if they possessed, or were accredited with, powers transcending ordinary human experience. Such was the company of tupuas who came to Niuē in the early days and colonised it, about which we shall learn later on.

According to Fata-a-iki there were four principal tupuas in Niuē; he says: “Ko e tupua he Ulu-lauta i Mutalau ko Huanaki; ko e tupua ke he Mui-fonua ko Lua-tupua; i Liku, ko Makapoe-lagi; ko e tupua ke he fahi lalo nai ko Lage-iki.” “The tupua of Ulu-lauta (or north end of the island) at Mutalau was Huanaki; that at Mui-fonua (the land's end, south end) was Lua-tupua; that at Liku was Makapoe-lagi; and that on the west coast was Lage-iki.” In this, Fata-a-iki allows a tupua to each quarter of the island. Whether these tupua or any other gods were ever represented by idols in any form, I know not, but tupua is the word used for idol in the Niuē version of the Scriptures—though this was probably only a derivative meaning. It will be clear from what follows in Part IV., that one of these tupuas (Lage-iki) was a human being originally, but that he had become in the process of time a sort of guardian spirit for the west coast of the island, for I was shown a place on the reef where he was supposed to dwell, and there manifest himself to the later generations in the form of a fountain of salt-water shot up from a blow-hole—this would be called a tupua in New Zealand. Maori scholars will recognise in Luatupua (the tupua of the south end of the island), a very familiar name (Rua-tupua) found in Maori karakias. For reasons which are too lengthy to state here, I assume that this Niuē tupua was named after a far more ancient one. Again, we shall see that Huanaki, the tupua of the north end of the island, and all his children were men, he being one of the original migrants to the island.

page 47

Māui is included by most writers on Polynesian subjects as one of the gods of the race. I doubt if any old Polynesian, if he had been asked, say, just about the time of the first intercourse with white people, would have called him a god. He is rather a hero of remote antiquity, around whom in the process of time has gathered a halo of miraculous deeds, many of them performed by others. He is known to the Niuē people, but from the slight notices I have of him, he is merely a hero who has attained to much glory (lilifu) through his actions. It was he who forced up the heavens from their original position resting on the earth, and it was he who completed the work of Fāo and Huanaki in raising Niuē to its present elevation above the level of the sea.* Their story of Māui is very similar to that of the Maoris, but with local colouring. It is quite inconsistent when considered in connection with the history of Fāo and Huanaki, and it seems to me can best be explained by the supposition that we here have the effect of admixture of two series of traditions overlaying one another, and derived from each of the two elements of which the population is composed. Māui cannot be included amongst the gods of Niuē, properly so called. In Part IV. hereof, paragraph numbered 15, will be found a list of the tupuas.

In common with the rest of the race, the Niuē people believed in the existence of the soul (agaaga, the soul, spirit) after death; but what was not common to all branches, they held that the good (according to their standard) went to a separate place from the bad. Aho-hololoa, or Aho-noa, was their heaven, and Po their Hades, the latter word being the same with every branch, meaning the darkness of night, the direction of the sunset, towards the original home of the race in the west, to which the spirits of the dead passed to their final resting-place. Another name for heaven was the Motu-a-Hina, this was the second heaven above, but, I fancy, was a separate place from Aho-hololoa. Mankind in former times had many dealings with the inhabitants of the Motu-a-Hina, but it is not clear if they had with those of Aho-hololoa, when once the spirit had left this earth (lalolagi). Aho-hololoa is possibly the same place as Auroroa of the Maoris, the dwelling-place of the greater gods.

There were priests in former days called taula-atua, whose principal function, however, seems to have been to bewitch (? makutu) people. It is still believed that this power is possessed by certain persons. The term used in the Scriptures for priest is eke-poa, the offering-maker; but it is a question if this is not a modern term used to distinguish them and their office from the evil practices (lagatau) of the taula-atua

* So I was told, but it appears to me there is a confusion of ideas here, due to dimly remembered traditions. To suppose that Māui flourished after the times of Huauaki and Fāo is absurd.

page 48 of old. Poa is the word now used for offerings to the Church, but it was an old word and meant offerings to the gods. This is the Maori word for bait, an “offering” to fish. The different meanings in the two dialects are significant.

It is clear that there were places in former times which must, to a certain extent have been sacred, where their rites were performed These are called tutu, and are hillocks, more or less flat on top, and which present every appearance of being partly artificial, they would average about 50 to 70 feet long by 20 to 40 feet wide, and are at this date grass covered with houses build on them. In former times they were the sites of faituga, a word which is used in the Niuē Scriptures for temple, but probably the Niuē temples were of the nature of the Maori tuāhu, i e., the sites where the rites connected with their religion were performed, but were not otherwise occupied by buildings—at any rate of a permanent nature.* These places have names, several of which were told to me, but they have no interest outside the Island.

Whilst the priests, taula-atua, acted in a sacerdotal capacity, it is also clear that the Patu-iki or King had certain duties of a similar nature, which, in the absence of one, it is natural to suppose must have been performed by the higher chiefs. I witnessed an ancient custom in which the present King Togia took part and acted in what may be called the chief priest's office; this was on the occasion of my first meeting the people in assembly at Tuapa, where some 700 or 800 were present, a brief description of which may be of interest in the above connection. As we drove up to the settlement we were met by some elderly women gaily decked out in wreaths and garlands of ferns and flowers, who advanced before us to the King's house, dancing with a slow circular movement with much waving of the arms—much like a Maori pohiri, but with infinitely less noise. After being seated, the old King gathered around him in a small circle some 8 or 10 old men, the chiefs of the place. The King generally stood within the circle, but sometimes with the others, and he recited in a monotonous tone the long song, or incantation following, the chiefs joining in at certain parts. Every now and then all heads bowed down towards the centre of the circle.

Ko E “Ulu lologo o Maletoa
1. Tulai ō, puipui ō,
Tagaloa ho motu ka tofatofa—
Tofatofa i a Tui-Niuē
(He) pu mo e fonu ko e ika tapu,
Na he moana fakalanu
He mata kai touā,

* The Samoan temples–malumalu—were also erected on high platforms of large stones.–see J. P. S., vol. VIII., p. 234.

page 49 2. (Tagaloa ho lagi mamao ē ē ē)
He uhila kua lapa mai pogipogi,
To uhu ke liogina,
Takina a Toga ki hona motu,
Neke puhia ho Motu-te-fua
3. (Tagaloa ho lagi mamao ē ē ē pūui ō)
Pule a Tafai he moana, puipui ō:
Ko e pule a Tafai he moana,
Ka uia ai (kia) hala ke he lagi,
(Ka takina hifo ki ho fale-takitaki he fonua,
Ko na e liua ō ō ō.)
4. Ko Paluki e (ke) vagahau tupua
To tiu lotoga ai e fonua
Ato (Ko e) ao fonua ke he tafua
Ka e tua-fonua ki Fale-una
Ka (ko) e tapakau mai Hala-kula,
Fakanofo ki luga o (e) malokūla.
5. (He) atua he ko Lava-ki-umata, puipui-ō.
Atua he ko Lava-ki-umata
(To hifo ho aga tau matau,)
Hifo ponotia (punutia) e tutavaha,
Tokona a Toga neke hake mai
Ke luia (puhia) a (ho) Motu-te-fua nai,
6. To galulu ki lagi e uha loa
Melekina ki ho atu faituga
Maama ke malolo hifo ai
He mana ne tagi he lagi havilivili.
Tagaloa ho motu ka ākihia
Kua fakatino aki e mahina
Ke alito aki a Liua-lagi
Tagaloa ho lagi mamao ē ē ē, pūi ō
7. Leo ni Fiti Kaga he (i) tupua
Kua hake he tumuaki fonua
(Fano i ata) Ka hui ata ko e iki tapu,
Neke (na) lakafia he tupua hau-(kau-)valovalokia.
8. (Kua) hala ki tu (kua) hala ki fonua
Kai taī, puipui-ō,
Haliki tu hala ki fonua kai taī,
To (ka) nuia ha pia,
Mai e tau lanu maka
E (a) mana tapu iki-i,
Ka fina atu e kāi havilivili.
9. Hau ha kalī, hau ha liaki,
Hau hau ha kalī, hau ha liaki,
To takoto anoano i he lagi afa tō,
Toki mimio i Matatu
Mafuike tagi ia Līua, pui-pui ō.
(9. Hau ha kalī, hau ha liaki ha afa to,
Toki mimio i Mataitu,
I hulugia mafuike tagi ia Līua ui-ou).

page 50

The above incantation has already been published in this journal, vol. IX., p. 234,* but the old men of Niuē say that that version is incorrect. The one above is derived from a copy written out for Mr. Lawes, and also from one written by Fata-a-iki the late King who was a competent authority in such matters. When the latter version differs from the first the words are shown in brackets, and the order of the verses are according to Fata-a-ikis version. The ulu is interesting as a specimen of the old Niuē dialect, for we find words in it not now in use, and many verbs with passive terminations that are also not now so used.

The “Ulu lologo o Maletoa,” is an invocation addressed to Tagaloa alone. In the following from Fata-a-iki's paper (loc. cit.) several of the tupuas of the island are invoked. The occasion on which it is used is obscure. Fata-a-iki merely says: “Ko e tala ke he huki niu mo e huki kau (? hiku-kau).” “It relates to piercing a cocoanut and piercing a company.” It is as follows:—

Monū Tagaloa!
Timata e lele
Kolomata e tama tiua loluga.
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Huanaki-tau, Huanaki-tupua
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Fāo-tu-nuku. E Fao-matavalu,
E Fāo-tikitiki,
E Fiti-ki-tupua, e Fiti-ki-la,
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Tali-mai-nuku, E Leo-matagi
He fakaeteete he malētoa.
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Tu-taua tulaga momole,
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Lage-iki e fai he moana
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Tupua-kiu, E Tupua-lagi,
Monū ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Tama-hei-tau, mo Taufa-o-atua
Monū-ho inu ē ē ē ēī.
E Lua-tupua, E Lua-fakakana-niu,
Tui-toga ho motu ka fofo hake
Tuanaki ho motu mafiti vave,
Mo molemole
Fakaoti falō ki tua na motu ē.

* By Ed. Tregear. It was sung at the visit of the Right Hon. R. J. Seddon to Niuē in May, 1901.

I am awaiting information from Niuē for the translation, for though much of it is clear to me it is well to have the Native ideas as to meanings.

page 51 He motu e iki mo e Tagaloa.
Ne fefutiaki e talia
Mo molemole
Fano fakaoti falō ki tua hana motu e ē.

Many of the tupuas here mentioned will be referred to in Part IV., and some of their functions described.

The people used to assemble at Palūki on certain occasions to offer their prayers, &c., that peace might prevail in the island. And here, says Fata-a-iki (loc. cit.) they made the kava-atua, which was explained to me as an enclosure built for the purpose of excluding those who were not engaged in the ceremonies in hand, in order that they might be properly performed—neke fakahanoa, as Fata-a-iki says, lest they be done anyhow. There can be little doubt that though the term kava-atua is applied to the enclosure by the present generation it meant originally the ceremony, and was anciently connected with the function of drinking kara, or making a libation of kara, which to this day in other islands is accompanied by much ceremony. It is clear from many things that the drinking of kava was originally a sacred ceremony, and it will in time probably be connected with the sacred soma drink of the ancient inhabitants of India.* In New Zealand there were several ceremonies of a sacred nature named kara, and they will all be found connected with the kava as a sacred drink hereafter. The Niuē people do not drink kava; why they differ from other branches of the race, such as Samoans and Tongans, with whom they are most closely related, is difficult to say. It may be through the scarcity of the plant—for though I always paid close attention to the flora of Niuē, I never saw it growing, and had to send to the far side of the island for a specimen.

The gods sometimes communicated with mankind through the proper channels, and they spoke in a whistling voice (mapu and mafu) as did the gods of the Maori. And like the Maori the Niuē folks have an objection to whistling on that account, such at least was the case formerly.

In cases of sickness formerly, an offering was made to the gods in the form of the moko-lauutu, a lizard some eight inches long. The Niuē natives have not the horror and terror of a lizard that the Maori has; it is lucky for them that this is so, for the little brown lizard is exceeding common. An old-time Maori would find his life unbearable in Niuē on this account.

The people had a god of the winds, but unfortunately I omitted to obtain his name. It is said that a certain hero of old enclosed all the

* I would suggest as a profitable field for enquiry by some philologist the connection between the kava drink of the Polynesians, with the Arabic word kawah for coffee. See Crawford's Hist. Ind. Arch. I., p. 486.

page 52 winds in a cave at Tatapiu Point, at the N.W. corner of the island, but they forced their way out, starting at the northern side, and made their way round to the south; hence, say the wise men of Niuē, the winds always go round the compass that way.

It is obvious from the following that to make a mistake in the words of an incantation destroyed its efficacy, as is well known it did with the Maoris. Fata-a-iki says (loc. cit.) in his “Account of the rocks that fell at Avatele”:–

“These rocks were placed there in order to obstruct the landing of Tongan invasions. The one called Mutalau is lowest, and this is the lau or chorus sung in former times when they were placed:–

Tagaloa, tilitili,
Tagaloa teletele
Takina hala Mata-fonua
Takina hala Mui-fonua
Tutu malie Tagaloa ō—ō,
Tagaloa ē—ē.

O Tagaloa! with smoothness, with ease,
O Tagaloa! with speed, and ease,
Bring by the way of the North end
Bring by the way of the South end
Preside with effect, O Tagaloa!
O Tagaloa!

“The rock left behind on the inland side is named Makefu, and was left there because the lau used was wrong (hehē). This is the lau that was wrong and caused the difficulty:–

Tagaloa tilitili
Tagaloa teletele
Takina hala Mui-fonua.

“Thus the rock stuck and could not be raised. It is thus with things done wrongly at the present day!”

There are several of these large rocks in the little bay (Oneonepata), and landing place at Avatele, but it requires the aid of a strong imagination to conceive how they would obstruct the landing of the Tongans. This belongs to that class of legend relating to the movements of mountains and rocks by, or without, human agency that are found everywhere amongst the Polynesian race, but it is, at the same time historically true, that one of the first, if not the first, of the Toga invasions took place at Avatele, as will be referred to later on.