COOK ISLANDS LEGENDS

           

 

The following legends on the peopling of the Cook Islands was first recorded by the missionary, John Williams, who published it in 1840 in his book A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands. 

 
The legend states that Karika, the ancestor of the present Makea family, came originally from an island to the westward named Manuka. This Karika was a mighty warrior and a great navigator, who, in his peregrinations at sea, discovered the island of Rarotonga. On landing, he found it uninhabited; and, after remaining there for some time, he again put to sea, and in this voyage he met with Tangiia. This man was a chief of Faaa, a district in Tahiti, who, by cutting down a favourite breadfruit tree, had so much exasperated his brother, Tutabu, the insatiable pursuer, that he was determined to put Tangiia and all his family to death.

On hearing this, Tangiia launched his large canoe, and sort safety in flight; and, taking with him his family and followers, among whom were two beautiful daughters, he sailed for Huahine, which is about a hundred miles to the westward of Tahiti, where he arrived in safety. He had not, however, been there many days, before Tutabu with his tini or thousands entered the harbour of that island with a determination to destroy his brother. To escape his vengeance, Tangiia set sail immediately for Raiatea; but was closely followed by Tutabu. Continuing his flight, he sailed to Porapora (Bora Bora), where he had scarcely landed, when he again found his pursuer at his heels. From hence he proceeded to Maupiti, the last of the Society Islands, but here also Tutabu followed him; when, seeing no possibility of escaping the fury of the unrelenting foe, Tangiia with his tini, launched upon the trackless ocean, in search of a refuge where he might happen to find it. After having been a long time at sea, he fell in with Karika, from the island of Manuka, who forthwith prepared for battle; and, lashing his canoe firmly to that of the poor unfortunate Tangiia, was about to attack him, when he made submission, by presenting to Karika the emblems of supremacy, both civil and religious, saying "Tena moi te vaevae roa" - "Yours is the long-legged," or man belongs to you. "Tena mai to vavae poto" - "Yours is the short-legged," or the turtle belongs to you; which being the most sacred fish, was considered as an emblem of supremacy in religious affairs. "Yours is the butunga, opinga, katoatoa, or the source of every treasure," reserving to himself only his "tako kete," or the food with which the people of his own district might supply him.

With this Karika was satisfied, and having made a friendly covenant with Tangiia, received from him one of his beautiful daughters to wife. The brave warrior then informed his friend of the lovely island he had discovered, told him the direction in which it lay, and promised, when he had accomplished the object of his present voyage, to return and settle there. Tangiia, taking leave of his formidable ally, steered for Rarotonga, and, on reaching it, took up his residence on the east side. Karika returned to the island some short time after, and, with his tini, settled on the north side. But they had not long enjoyed the comforts of repose, when, to the astonishment and consternation of Tangiia the fleet of his determined enemy Tutabu was descried off the harbour's mouth.

Chiefs of the Makea-Karika tribe of Rarotonga clad in bark cloth (tapa)

The "relentless pursuer" had determined to range the ocean in search of his adversary, and now that he has discovered him, felt confident that he should effect his destruction. Tangiia immediately despatched a messenger to inform his friend Karika of Tutabu's arrival, and to request his assistance in the ensuing battle; hoping that, by an union of their forces, they might conquer him. Karika accordingly collected his tini, and went forthwith to the assistance of his friend. A desperate engagement ensued in which Tutabu was conquered and killed. They next had to bake him; but this they found more difficult than to kill him; for, although they heated a large oven thoroughly, and put many hot stones inside him, they found on opening the oven that it was cold, and Tutabu quite uncooked. Failing here, they conveyed the body to the next district, where they prepared another oven, and used a different kind of wood for fuel, but with no better success. This process they repeated in every district in the island with a similar result, until they came to the last, at which they succeeded.

For this reason they gave to this district its present name of Taana, which signifies "well done or baked over again." There is in this tradition a great deal more than has been mentioned, especially in relation to the canoe in which Tangiia came to Rarotonga, which is said to have been built in the invisible world, and to have been conveyed by the birds to the top of a mountain during one night, and the next, to have been removed from thence by the same extraordinary carriers to a large canoe house erected by Tangiia for its reception. This celebrated ship had nine or ten remarkable names, taken from so many striking circumstances connected with its building, the manner in which it was conveyed to this world, and other incidents. The principal name of the canoe was Tarai-po, or "built in the invisible world."

Footnote: William's comments that the Tahitian and Society Islanders have other traditions respecting both Tangiia and Tutabu, which state that they were both great travellers, that they had a serious quarrel about their lands and that they dwelt in the district of Faaa in Tahiti. Hence it may be fairly assumed that such persons did actually exist and were not the mere creations of fantasy such as other legends involving a long-boned giant. Also, the political divisions still existing in the island were at that time comprised of two distinct bodies designated Ngati Karika or the descendants of Karika; and Ngati Tangiia, the descendants of Tangiia. It was also mentioned that superior chieftainship was vested in the Karika family; for, although the Ngati Karika had been beaten many times by the descendants of Tangiia, the conquerors agree in allowing them the supremacy which they have possessed from time immemorial. At that time the Makea was the 29th of that family.   

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 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com  -- Rev. 30th November 2008)