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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Mutalau and Matuku-hifi

Mutalau and Matuku-hifi

72. “Tihamau was the chief of Nuku-tu-taha (Niuē); he built his great house at Hapuga and Faofao, a village at the Ulu-lauta, at Mata-fonua of the Lelego-atua (at the north end of Niuē; there is no such village now). He was the lord of the malē (plaza) of Fana-kava-tala and Tia-tele; and of the stone house built by Huanaki at Vaihoko —he was the first king of the island of Niuē-fekai.

73. Matuku-hifi was the hagai or lieutenant of Tihamau, whose duty was to guard the entrance against the Tongans, lest they seized the island. He dwelt at the upper rock at Makatau-kakala, at Oneone-pata, Avatele. He prepared some white operculii, and bound them (over his eyes) with hiapo when darkness set in, and thus leaned back on his seat. The rock against which he supported himself was opposite the sea. When he had the operculii in his eyes they shone white, as a man who was wide awake, and then he slept soundly until daylight.

74. This was at the period that Mutalau arranged to come to the island, but Matuku-hifi kept strict guard so that it was difficult for Mutalau to land. Mutalau used frequently to come by night, without success, so he waited till daylight at which time Matuku-hifi went away to work, and leaving his canoe at Tioafa, crept up to the resting place of Matuku-hifi to see what kind of a man he was.

75. When the hour of Matuku-hifi's return came, he made his fire, and bound on his artificial eyes and rested in his stone-seat. Then Mutalau saw that it was all deceit; so he waited until Matuku-hifi was sound asleep, then seizing his weapon he went up by the path, and struck Matuku-hifi on the head and cut it off, together with the stone-seat. Thus died Matuku-hifi.

76. After this Mutalau went to Vaono, near Māla-fati, a village between Lakepa and Liku, where he met Tihamau, the king. Here they disputed together, because Mutalau had come to the island.

77. Lepo-ka-fatu and Lepo-ka-nifo were the sons of Matuku-hifi, and they were both small children at the time of their fathers's death; but when they grew up they enquired who their father was. The family told them, “Matuku-hifi was your father, but he was killed by Mutalau who lives at the Ulu-lauta (north end of the island). The page 75 sons and their relatives now desired to make war, and prepared accordingly, and when the preparations were complete, they went to the north, and killed Mutalan. This was the beginning of war in Niuē, which lasted until the coming of Peniamina, Toimata and Paulo to bring the word of Jesus to prevent further fighting.”

There are some interesting points in this tradition, quite outside its connection with Niuē. It contains fragments—generally perverted— of traditions known to other branches of the race. For instance, the Cesarian operation referred to in par. 70 is part of the story of Tura, an ancient Maori ancestor.*

It is also probable that the first part of the story of Gini-fale, is based on one of the Tinirau legends—is in fact a perverted account of Hina's adventures. Both of these stories belong to the Maori-Rarotongan branch of the race, and hence Niuē people only know them in a sketchy kind of way and have made a local application of them. Tinirau, or as they and the Samoans call him, Tigilau, was known by name to the Niuē people, which is natural, for he flourished before the date of the migration to Niuē, in Fiji.

Now this story, though it only mentions the name of one emigrant —Mutalau—and partakes of the frequent marvellous character of so many old legends, contains no doubt the germs of a true story of a further accession to the inhabitants of the island.

As to the origin of the Tafiti people, it seems to me probable that they were some of the Tonga-Fiti people who occupied the coasts of Samoa, and were expelled from there at the time of Matamata-mē, or when Savea became the first king of all Samoa, and received the name for the first time, of Malietoa. This occurred according to the several Samoan genealogies about the year 1250, or about 550 years after the arrival of the Motu people at Niuē. This period is characterised in Polynesian history by the close connection of the Polynesians with the Melanesians in the Fiji group, when intercourse was frequent and intermarriage constant. Hence the greater Melanesian strain in the Tafiti people than in those of Motu. It is due also to this Melanesian intercourse, that the large number of Tongan words, with some of their grammatical forms, was introduced into Niuē, gradually overriding and replacing much of the purer Polynesian dialect spoken by the Motu people, the traces of which are still apparent in their old songs.

* In the usual story of Tura, according to Maori history, he is shown to be a contemporary of the Polynesian hero, Whiro. But it is clear this latter Tura is quite a different person from the more ancient Tura, who visited the country where natural birth had to be assisted by an operation.

See this Journal, vol. viii, p. 6.