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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

History and Traditions

page 69

History and Traditions

WE now come to the somewhat difficult question of the whence of the Niuē people–difficult, that is, because of the lack of precise traditions amongst the people themselves. In this they differ very materially from all other branches of the race I know of. It has been already pointed out that there appear to have been two separate migrations to the island—the Motu and the Tafiti people—of which the Motu division was, in all probability, the original one.

The traditions of the people say that they came from Tonga, or from Fonua-galo, or from Tulia. Now Tonga does not necessarily imply the island of that name, because to the Niuē people all foreign lands were called Tonga, as are foreigners tagata toga, and ships toga. And the name, as applied to foreign parts, is, I think, not an invention since the arrival of the people in Niuē, but was applied to some country with which the people in their former homes had frequent dealings. This points strongly to a former residence in Samoa, and to the period during which constant intercourse, generally of a hostile nature, took place with the Tonga group. It is at that time I think the name of Tonga arose for a “foreign country,” and in process of time with the Niuē people the name has become general, in the same manner as page 70 Hawaiki did with the Maoris. The second name, Fonua-galo, as that of a place, does not give any indication of locality, for, so far as I know, there is no such island; and moreover, the meaning of the word is “lost-land,” and implies that it is a name signifying the fact that the real name has been forgotten. The other name, Tulia, is not known as that of an island at the present day, and the only thing like it I know of, is the name of a place on the west end of Savai‘i Island in Samoa, called Tulia also.

The names of the ancestors who originally settled in Niuē do not help us either. They are Huanaki, and Fāo, as the chief persons, together with Fakahoko, Lageiki and Lagiatea, besides several others, all of whom in process of time have become tupuas, or deified personages. These are the Motu ancestors. The only name recognisable from the genealogical tables of other branches of the race is Fāo, but, from various reasons, this man can scarcely be identical with the Maori ancestor named Whao (which is the same as Fāo). Just prior to the last migration of the Maoris in the fleet of six canoes to New Zealand in circa 1350, there flourished in Tahiti one Uenuku, whose great enemy, named Whena, or Hena—a resident of Rarotonga—had a son named Whao, whose son again was called Whao, and it is of course possible that Fāo of Niuē may be identical with one of these. But it is not likely; for Niuē was settled before this period if I am right in my theory of their origin. It should be noticed also, that Fāo is said by Niuē tradition to have left that island in old age and settled in Aitutaki Island—not very far from Rarotonga, where Whao of Maori tradition lived.

I asked my friend, Mr. J. T. Large, of Aitutaki, to institute enquiries amongst the people of that island as to whether they had any record of Fāo, or his supposed migration, and he replies as follows: “The people of this island know nothing about him, but a Niuē toa, or warrior, named Titia was brought to Aitutaki many generations ago under the following circumstances: Aitutaki was at that time overrun with the Aitu people, said to have come from Mangaia Island. Maeva-kura, who flourished about eight generations ago, i.e. circa 1700 according to the Aitutaki genealogies, sent messengers to his daughter Maine-maraerua, at Rarotonga, to obtain help to expel these invaders. She sent her son Maro-una, who, taking a war-party with him, first made war on all the islands near at hand and also at Niuē, obtaining a toa or warrior from each island, Titia being the man he obtained from Niuē. With them he exterminated the Aitu people in Aitutaki. Some of Titia's descendants are still alive here.”

This incident is also alluded to in the “Autara ki Aitutaki,” as follows: “Maro-una…. would not then land as he was going on page 71 to Vare-a-tao, or Niuē Island, to get more warriors, and after a tempestuous voyage Maro-una arrived there. After a great deal of fighting he succeeded in getting the warrior Titia; and then returned to Aitutaki.”—J.P.S., vol. iv, p. 70.

Fāo appears to be a not uncommon name in Samoa.

In order to arrive at an understanding of the probable origin of the Niuē people, it will be necessary to briefly sketch the history of the race during the period extending from the sixth to the thirteenth century. In doing so, reliance is placed on the Rarotongan traditions as being by far the most complete of any that have been preserved relating to that epoch, and, being written by the last high priest of that island have an authenticity quite exceptional. In about the sixth century, the Samoan branch of the race had already occupied their group. This branch, indeed, was probably the earliest migration from Indonesia. The eastern part of the Fiji group was in occupation of the later migrations, whom, to distinguish, we may call the Tonga-Fiti people, for such is the name they are referred to in Somoan tradition. Tonga, at this time, had in all probability been settled, and maintained a constant communication with the same branch of the race in Fiji. Towards the close of the sixth century, communication was frequent between the Tonga-Fiti people and the Samoans, indeed the former had then commenced the occupation of the coasts of Samoa, which did not cease until circa 1250. High chiefs of the Tonga-Fiti people, were at that time making some of their astonishing voyages all over the Pacific, discovering fresh lands to colonize, and becoming the expert navigators their subsequent lengthy voyages proved them to be. The period extending from the sixth to the thirteenth century was one of unrest and trouble. Tribe fought against tribe in the headquarters of the race in Fiji, and many expeditions started from there to discover homes in other parts of the Pacific, finding no peace at home. About the early part of this period Hawaii and Tahiti were first settled, and somewhere about the middle of the ninth century New Zealand received its first settlers, the same people in all probability that furnished the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands—the Morioris—but not at so early a date as the ninth century.

Now, I take it to be somewhere in the above period, i.e. from the eighth to the thirteenth century that Niuē received its first inhabitants. It was probably after the commencement of the great voyages which led to a knowledge of most of the islands in Central and Eastern Polynesia—and this was approximately the year A.D. 650. We may say tentatively, that Niuē was first occupied by the Motu people in about A.D. 700. The reason I fix on this date is, that the people have many of the traditions common to the race, the period of which page 72 is prior to A.D. 700, but so far as I gathered, none of a later date that are not merely local. Many of the great heroes of Polynesian history are unknown to the Niuē people, because they flourished after the migration to Niuē.

The causes which led to the migration of Huanaki and Fāo are said to be their dissatisfaction at being omitted from the feasts given by their relatives and friends, which was due to their own fault in neglecting to help in the preparation of food for such feasts. This may not appear to be a very serious affair to European minds, but to the Polynesian it was a grievous insult, and the result was that the two chiefs and their followers migrated to find a land distant from that of their relatives, for they were probably not sufficiently strong to wipe out the insult in blood, which would have been the usual course. As to the place they migrated from, there is strong probability that it was the western end of Savai‘i, and the emigrants themselves were probably either Samoans of the old stock, or a mixture of Samoans and the Tonga-Fiti people. The use the people make of the word uta for the east, shows that their forefathers dwelt for a lengthened period on the west coast of some country; and their use of the word mounga, a mountain (which they do not apply to any hill in Niuē) shows this country to have had mountains in it, as Savai‘i has. The Samoan customs and words, with the Samoan god Sa-le-vao (Ha-le-vao) the Niuē people have, show an intimate connection with Samoa. But this was before the Samoans softened the “h” to “s,” and dropped the “k” out of their dialect. The year 700 was before the incident known as Mata-mata-mē in Samoan history,* and prior to that time Samoa had no king of the whole group. Hence, when the Niuē migration came away, they brought with them the system then in force in Samoa, i.e. of chiefs, but no kings. At that early period, if I am right in my reading of Polynesian history, cannibalism had not yet been introduced as a custom of the race—it was not until the close connection that subsequently existed between Polynesian and Melanesian in Fiji, that the former learnt this custom from the latter. Hence the Niuē people are not cannibals.

As to circumcision, it is doubtful if any argument can be drawn from the fact of the Niuē people not practising this rite, though they were acquainted with it. We do not know if this is an ancient Tonga-Fiti custom, though probably it is, and brought by some branch of the race from their original home in Asia. There are some divisions of the race who did not practise it; the majority of the Maoris did not, nor the Morioris. Some of the East Coast tribes of New Zealand did, but from the account of its introduction, it is

* See Journal Of The Polynesian Society, vol. viii, p. 231.

page 73 comparatively speaking modern. It was first known to these people in the time of Tama-ki-te-ra and Tama-ki-te-hau, who flourished two generations before the arrival of the fleet in New Zealand, or about the year 1300. It was no doubt introduced from Eastern Polynesia by some of the voyagers who at that period visited New Zealand. Hence it was probably unknown to the tangata-whenua, or original inhabitants of New Zealand—who, I have reason for thinking, were of the Tonga-Fiti branch of the race—or the practice had become obsolete, and only resusitated in the case of the Maoris, through renewed intercourse with Central Polynesia.*

The absence of tatooing amongst the Niuē people seems to lend weight to the argument that the Motu people were Samoans. It is known by tradition that tatooing was introduced into Samoa from Fiji, i.e. from the Tonga-fiti people, but the date cannot be fixed. It is, however, certain that there was a period when Samoans did not tatoo, and it was during this time that the Motu people of Niuē split off from the parent stem in all probability.

It is probably due to this Samoan origin that we find the following names in Niuē, which are all Samoan: Hamoa (Samoa), Matafele, Havaiki (Savai‘i), Tutuila, Vaea, Tuapa, Avatele, and Tafiti, which latter is a Samoan name of Fiji, whilst Lakepa is the same as Lakemba of the Fiji group.

As to the second element in the Niuē population, those called Tafiti, there can be no doubt that they are much later emigrants than the Motu people. The only account of them I have is as follows, and even then the story does not relate to their first coming. The original will be found under the same paragraph numbers in the native language later on:—

69. Describes the manner, truly marvellous, by which a woman of Niuē named Gigi-fale was conveyed away to some island called Tonga, for which see translation.

70. “Then came down some of the people of the land, who surprised and caught the woman, whom they took away with them and cared for her. She was a handsome woman, was Gini-fale, and was taken to wife by the chief of the island. When the time approached that her child should be born, the husband was constantly in tears. So Gini-fale asked him, “Why do you cry?” Said her husband, “I am crying on your account, because of your child.” Now the custom of that island was to cut open the mother that the

* The idea that it was an old custom renewed is born out by Hawaiiau tradition, which, whilst assiguing it a very ancient origin, also say that it was introduced or became more universal in the times of Pau matua, one of the leaders of the many parties of immigrants into Hawaii from Southern Polynesia in the twelfth century.

page 74 child might be born, but the mother died, This was the reason why Lei-pua was so sorry. Then Gini-fale said, “O thou ! I will disclose to thee the way by which the child may be born.”

71. When the time came, a male child was born, and they called him Mutalau. After the child had grown up he learnt that his mother came from Motu-te-fua (Niuē), and he felt a strong desire to visit the home of his mother.”