Volume 103 1994 > Volume 103, No. 3 > The pre-Christian ritual cycle of Futuna, Western Polynesia, by Patrick V. Kirch, p 255-298
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On 28th April, 1841, the Marist missionary Père Pierre Chanel was brutally murdered by Musumusu, at Poi on the windward coast of Futuna. The murder — precipitated by Chanel's proselytisation, which had openly challenged the power and authority of the paramount chief Niuliki — ultimately assured for Chanel the status of sainthood (he is known as “the martyr of Oceania”). More immediately, his death was followed before the end of 1842 by a mass conversion of the Futunan population to Catholicism. With this conversion, the island's traditional cycle of ritual events ceased to be practised, at least as an integral ritual system. 1

Among the horticultural societies of Polynesia, ritual systems were structured according to annual cycles closely tied to the seasonal rhythm of crops and other ecological patterns (Handy 1927:296-311; Sahlins 1989:386-97). Tikopia provides the archetypal case, with the annual “the work of the gods” cycle documented so thoroughly by Firth (1967a, 1970). The ritual cycles of other Polynesian island groups are less perfectly known, since most have had to be reconstructed from early historical sources (e.g., Valeri 1985), or from the recollections of informants who had taken part in such rituals before missionisation (e.g., Monberg 1991). Nonetheless, the famous makahiki and luakini ritual cycle of Hawai'i (Valeri 1985; Sahlins 1981,1989), the pararoa matahiti ceremony of Tahiti (Henry 1928), and the Tongan ritual calendar with its great 'inasi ceremony at Mu'a (Gifford 1929:345) obviously share many elements of a horticulturally based ritual cycle which probably owes much to common roots in Ancestral Polynesian Society (Kirch and Green 1987).

For many Polynesian societies, however, the details of such premission ritual calendars remain virtually unknown. Such is the case for Futuna, where ethnographic study (Burrows 1936; Panoff 1970) did not begin until nearly a century after conversion to Catholicism in 1842. In a brief discussion of traditional Futunan religion, Burrows (1936:102-13) relied primarily upon Williamson (1924) and Smith (1892), both secondary sources, for his discussion of a “great annual feast” involving first-fruits offerings. Yet Smith's and Williamson's accounts are actually tertiary, based on Bourdin (1867) and other secondary French missionary sources. Williamson's description of the scene of Futunan rites — with its allusion to cannibal feasts and sexual orgies — would be comical were it not part of a scholarly tome:

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In the interior of the island of Fotuna there was a thick forest which had, from time immemorial, borne the name of the “sacred wood”; in the centre of this wood was a vast enclosure, where the king, his ministers, and all the notables of the country gathered together for great deliberations. Here and there in this enclosure human heads and bones were hanging on trees; it was there that old men, women, and children were slain in honour of the god; it was there that, the night before war, the people came to sing war hymns, and again, after the battle, to devour the corpses collected on the battlefield; and, most often of all, the people came there in crowds to fêtes, which began with dancing and games and ended in all sort of orgies (Williamson 1937:163).

Burrows' account (1936:102-13) is more tempered in its weighing of missionary sources, but adds little to our understanding of the ritual cycle.

In 1974, I spent six months on Futuna conducting ethno-ecological and archaeological studies, focused on the island's agricultural system, noted for its intensive taro irrigation (Kirch 1975; 1976; forthcoming). During this field work, my interest in the pre-Christian ritual system peaked when I located and recorded, with assistance from Futunan informants, the ritual site of Lalolalo. As part of a restudy of my ethno-ecological data on agricultural intensification in tropical Polynesia (Kirch, forthcoming), I recently turned to the key French mission sources immediately predating the conversion of the Futunan population to Christianity. The mission journal of Père Pierre Chanel (Rozier 1960), not available to Smith, Williamson, or Burrows, contains a remarkably detailed record of ritual occurrences during the years 1838-9. Supplemented by other texts of Chanel and his peers (Rozier 1963), these records suggested the possibility of an analysis of the traditional Futunan ritual cycle. 2 The significance of such an analysis is at least twofold. Firstly, it elucidates a hitherto undocumented Polynesian ritual cycle of ethnographic interest in its own right, especially with regard to certain problems of Futunan culture history. Secondly, this ritual system displays remarkable similarities to other Western and Outlier Polynesian 3 religious cycles, such as the well-documented Tikopian “work of the gods”. A comparison of the Futunan, Tikopian, and other Polynesian cases may suggest ritual patterns that were pervasive throughout Outlier and Western Polynesia in the protohistoric period. Such comparisons yield clues as to the original ritual structure of Ancestral Polynesian Society, from which the ethnographically attested systems were ultimately derived (see Kirch and Green 1987).

My objectives in this paper are threefold. After a brief ethnographic orientation, discussion of the textual sources, and other preliminary remarks, I offer a detailed analysis of Chanel's journal as it relates to the ritual cycles of 1838-9. Secondly, the rites of these two years are compared in an effort to abstract the underlying structure of the Futunan ritual sequence. Thirdly, I - 257 offer a brief comparison of the Futunan sequence with those of other Outlier and Western Polynesian societies, with which it appears to share so much in common, and offer some speculative comments on the culture-historical implications of these similarities.


The twin high islands of Futuna and Alofi (collectively referred to here as Futuna; also known as the Horne Islands) are situated in Western Polynesia, midway between Fiji and Samoa. Futuna's closest neighbour is 'Uvea (Burrows 1937), and the two islands were in regular communication in protohistoric times. Futuna, with a land area of 46 km2, today supports a permanent population of somewhat more than 3,000 people; Alofi (18 km2) is not permanently inhabited, although it is regularly gardened by the occupants of the main island.

First discovered by Schouten and le Maire in 1616 (Villiers 1906), Futuna began receiving regular visits from European ships in the early 1800s. By the time of the arrival of the Catholic mission in 1837, there were a few European residents (in particular, a trader named Jones; see Kirch [forthcoming] for a more detailed review of early European contact). Since the late 19th century, Futuna and 'Uvea have comprised the French Territoire des Îies Wallis et Futuna.

Archaeological investigations (Kirch 1975, 1976, 1981; Frimigacci 1990) reveal that Futuna was colonised by makers of Lapita pottery by the end of the first millennium B.C. (i.e., at about the same time that Samoa and Tonga were also settled). Linguistically, Futunan is a Nuclear Polynesian language which falls more specifically within the Samoic-Outlier subgroup (Pawley 1967); it is, thus, related to Samoan, and to Outlier languages such as Tikopian, Anutan, and Bellonan. Culturally, Futuna is “Western Polynesian” (Burrows 1939), and thus shares with other Western Polynesian groups such cultural traits as elaborate kava ceremonial, the fahu privilege, the Pulotu concept, a distinctive lunar calendrical system, and certain characteristic material culture patterns (e.g., barkcloth pasting, barkcloth tablet rubbing, coiled basketry). Although oral traditions refer to various “wars” or “battles” with invading Tongans, Futuna — unlike 'Uvea — was apparently never brought under Tongan domination.

Ethnographic studies of Futunan society were carried out by Burrows (1936) and Panoff (1970), both of whom described the social structure. The major social units are the kāiga, or local residential group, and the kutuga, or ramage. Chiefly titles (aliki) are inherited within kutuga. There are 25 such aliki or titled chiefs, each of whom is responsible for a particular village, or village section (potu).

The island is divided into two independent and formerly warring chiefdoms, - 258 each headed by a paramount chief (sau). The Sigave chiefdom occupies the western part of Futuna, where most of the major taro irrigation systems are situated (Fig. 1). The principal villages of Sigave are Leava, Nuku, Fiua-Vaisei, and Toloke. The Alo chiefdom occupies the eastern part of Futuna (which has very little irrigated land), as well as the smaller island of Alofi. The principal villages of Alo today are Taoa, Mala'e, Alo, Kolia, and Vele. The mission records refer primarily to the Alo chiefdom, within which Père Chanel lived during most of his residence on Futuna. Although he made various short visits to Sigave (to visit the sau Vanae), most of his time was spent in and around the villages of Poi, Asoa, Fikavi, and Vele, on the eastern end of the island.

Futunan subsistence is based on a complex horticultural system that includes intensive taro (Colocasia esculenta) irrigation in the well-watered Sigave valleys, and swidden or shifting cultivation. (A detailed ethno-ecological description and analysis of Futunan agriculture is presented in Kirch [forthcoming].) The swidden cycle is ecologically regulated by the region's wet-dry seasonality and the tropophytic nature of the dominant yam crop (primarily Dioscorea alata, but also D. esculenta and D. nummularia). Interplanted with yams in these swiddens are aroids (Colocasia esculenta and Alocasia macrorrhiza) and bananas. Permanent tree cropping of breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) and other fruit and nut-bearing species adds yet another component to the agricultural system. The Futunan ritual cycle was closely integrated into the annual seasonality of this agricultural system, especially the first-fruits harvest of the ta'u mua yams and of breadfruit.


The most important source for the reconstruction of the Futunan ritual cycle — and without which this exercise would be futile — is the mission journal of Père Pierre Chanel (Rozier 1960). As a 34-year-old French Marist father, Chanel arrived at Futuna in the Raiatea with Brother Marie-Nizier Delorme on 12th November, 1837. Except for two brief periods during which Chanel visited his superior Bishop Bataillon, on 'Uvea (Wallis), Chanel remained on Futuna until 28th April, 1841, when he was murdered by Musumusu at Poi. Chanel's death probably hastened the conversion of the population to Catholicism, which occurred before the end of 1842 (Burrows 1936:20) under the charge of Père Servant, who had continued the work of the mission. Chanel's biographers, Bourdin (1867), Nicolet (1885), and Mangeret (1884, 1932), provide further details of his life.

The “Journal de Mission,” expertly edited by Rozier (1960:318-485) and published by the Société des Océanistes, begins on 26th December, 1837, and runs more-or-less continuously until 1st January, 1840. After this date, there

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Figure 1. Map of Futuna Island, showing the locations of villages and other places referred to in the text. The areas shown in black are the irrigated taro pondfield systems; note that these are largely confined to the Sigave chiefdom.
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are only a few scattered entries, the last being for 22nd April, 1841. During the approximately two-year period when Chanel kept daily entries, each day's events are represented by a minimum of several lines, and frequently by one or two long paragraphs. The entries typically begin with the number of masses performed since his arrival on Futuna, the time of his waking, and other minor details of morning prayer or meditation. Chanel then described the major events of the day, which more often than not concerned the affairs of the paramount chief (sau) of the Asoa-Alo chiefdom of Futuna. During Chanel's residence, the sau title was held by Niuliki, a powerful chief whose hegemony frequently extended over the chiefdom of Sigave as well. Chanel and Delorme were essentially “guests” of Niuliki, and frequent recipients of his hospitality in terms of food and material support. Chanel's proselytisation posed a direct challenge to Niuliki's paramount authority, a challenge that ultimately cost Chanel his life.

Living in close association with Niuliki, and frequently invited by him to participate in kava ceremonies, feasts, and other activities, Chanel was in a privileged position to observe the key ritual performances of this most powerful paramount chief of Futuna. Indeed, Chanel's journal provides a surprisingly detailed record of Niuliki's comings and goings, his taking part in ceremonies and feasts, and so on. Fortunately, the detailed entries span two years, thus permitting a comparison of events over two ritual cycles. Correspondences between these cycles allow us to determine (or at least to speculate) which events and activities were regularly recurring, and which may have been unique. It is this record that permits a tentative interpretation of the Futunan ritual cycle. Nonetheless, Chanel's account is in many parts incomplete, and it also reflects his biases. Chanel did not accompany Niuliki everywhere, and he certainly must have missed some ritual activities. Other ritual events are mentioned, but it is clear that Chanel did not personally attend (his attendance often seems to have depended on the likelihood of his receiving a share of the food distribution). Thus, gaps in the record are a potential problem.

A further complication arises with the record for 1839. During this year, the last war between the competing chiefdoms of Sigave and Asoa-Alo was fought, with war preparations beginning in early June, and the decisive battle from which Niuliki and his supporters emerged victorious (malo) taking place at Vai on August 10. These hostilities certainly affected the progress of the ritual calendar, and probably account for the absence of the defeated (lava) Sigave chiefs and people at the wet-season harvest feasts towards the close of 1839.

Several other sources augment the mission journal. These include Chanel's letters, also edited by Rozier (1960:199-317). The correspondence of Brother Delorme (1907), who was on Futuna with Chanel, and of Père Chevron (1842, - 261 1844, 1895) who succeeded the latter at the mission station, as well as those of Père L.-C. Servant (1838, 1844, 1845), were published intermittently in the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi and in the Annales des Missions d'Océanie, both of Lyon. A selection of key passages from these writings, pertaining to traditional Futunan culture and society, was edited and published by Rozier (1963:85-118). Virtually all subsequent notes on Futunan religion, including those of Smith (1892), Williamson (1924, 1933, 1937), and Burrows (1936:102-13), are based on the writings of these Marist missionaries, and are therefore secondary (and sometimes tertiary) sources.


Burrows regretted that, “of all phases of Futunan culture, the old religion is the one that has most completely disappeared” (1936:102). The early sources, however, do yield a few significant details, and some comments on what these reveal regarding deities, priests, and sacred places will aid in making sense of Père Chanel's references to ritual activities.

Deities and Spirits

The widespread Polynesian term “atua” applied as well in Futuna to deities and spirits. While there are a few passing references to Tagaloa in some songs and a legend (Burrows 1936:105), he appears not to have been a “god” in the sense of a deity to whom rites were directed. Nor are any of the other primal gods of Eastern Polynesia represented (e.g., Rongo, Tū, or Tāne). In this respect, Futuna falls within the typical Western Polynesian religious complex (Burrows 1939). The principal atua appear to have been deified ancestors—either real or mythic—and the greatest of these was Fakavelikele, founding ancestor of the kutuga of Niuliki, paramount chief of Alo. 4 In Chanel's journal, the name Fakavelikele appears repeatedly, and it is clear that many of the most important rites were directed to this god. The name Fakavelikele can be glossed as ‘[he who] makes the earth bad’, suggesting a deity who was regarded as responsible for unleashing droughts, cyclones, and other destructive forces on the island. In Futunan oral tradition, Fakavelikele was the sixth-born offspring of Mago and Tafaleata, “Samoan” chiefs who “arrived in a coconut shell” at Anakele on the windward coast of Futuna (Frimigacci 1990:69-75). Fakavelikele committed incest with his older sister, Finelasi, and then fled to Asoa, where he set up his political base. His descendant was Niuliki, Chanel's sponsor.

In addition to Fakavelikele, there were a host of other ancestral atua, collectively termed atua muli (muli, ‘behind’). Some of these are alluded to in Chanel's journal. Burrows (1936:105-8) contributes additional notes on various of these atua muli, and on totemic spirits.

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Priests and Spirit Mediums

As far as can be ascertained, there was no separate class of priests in Futuna. Rather, the chiefs (aliki) and lineage elders (pule kāiga) served as the ritual officiants. Indeed, at certain tapu periods, the chiefs' bodies were believed to become the “tabernacles” of these deities. Père Servant wrote that “les grands tapous des insulaires avaient leurs sources dans la volonté du roi, regardée comme celle du grand Dieu dont it était le tabernacle” (in Rozier 1963:116). In his journal, Chanel often refers to the principal chiefs themselves as atua, making it clear that the chief and the god which he represented were at times “merged”. These living atua would sometimes undergo trance states, as in the case of the paramount chief Vanae, about whom Burrows quoted Chanel: “Old Vanae thought he had grown young again and had recovered Fakavelikele. He had a stentorian voice and his left breast throbbed strongly. Semuu and Urui then made Songia and Fitu speak” (1936:110).

Sacred Places

As with other Western and Outlier Polynesian societies, the Futunans did not construct elaborate, megalithic temples as are found, for example, in many Eastern Polynesian island groups. Futunan rites were conducted in two main spatial settings: in the house of the paramount chief, and on a village plaza or courtyard (malae). Burrows quotes Frère Nizier regarding the sacred space situated within Niuliki's house:

Our property was put into the king's house, directly beside his ‘sacred place,’ a space between two posts, and about 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. This sacred place was so respected by the natives not of the royal family that they would not have crossed it for all the wealth in the world, for fear of incurring the wrath of their supposed great god Faka-veli-kele, would have made it felt, they said, by some disease or by death (Burrows 1936:109).

Within Futunan houses, the main supporting post (the pou matagi, or “wind post”) was regarded as the “dwelling” of the god. In the case of commoner houses, this would presumably be the abode of ancestral kāiga deities but, in the case of the paramount's residence, the post (called the pou tapu) was sacred to Fakavelikele, ancestor of Niuliki and the island's preeminent deity 5 Of the pou atua in “maisons principales” Père Servant commented that

c'est devant cette colonne sacrée qu'ils portaient leurs offrandes et enfouissaient les doigts qu'ils avaient la coutume de se couper quand leurs parents et leurs amis étaient dangereusement malades et cela pour apaiser la colère divine (in Rozier 1963:116).

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Most public ceremonies — such as kava rites with accompanying food distributions, sometimes followed by dances — were held on the village plaza or malae, a ceremonial space common to Western Polynesian societies. One such malae which figures prominently in Père Chanel's journal is at Lalolalo, a site on the upland plateau of Asoa. Chanel does not describe the specific location, and may never have visited it, although he refers frequently to ceremonies being conducted there. In 1974 I was able to visit Lalolalo, guided by Sosefo Sekemei, an elder of the lineage to which Niuliki belonged, and I recorded the archaeological remains of the malae. The site straddles the gently sloping Asoa plateau, an area of fertile, reddish-brown soil covered in second-growth, and favoured for yam swiddens by the people of Vele Village. Throughout the area there are low walls or alignments of loose coral rubble, former field boundaries suggesting a more intensive system of cultivation with permanent plot boundaries in the past. The principal archaeological feature at Lalolalo is the malae or plaza used for ceremonies, especially katoaga feasts and kava presentations. This malae is a leveled space, roughly rectangular, perhaps 1000 m2. Bordering the northern edge of the malae is an alignment of coral slabs (each about 30 cm high, 40 cm long, and 10 cm thick), some 8 m long. This stone facing, called the fatu malae by my informants, marked the edge of the plaza where the chief — flanked by his retainers and principal warriors — sat during the formal serving of kava. Centred directly in front of the coral slab alignment, and 1.2 m in front (south) of it, is an upright coral slab, the backrest slab of the paramount chief (Fig. 2). Informants, still in awe of the mana invested in this backrest slab, identified it as having been used by the paramount chiefs Veliteki and Niuliki. Other features observed in the vicinity of the malae were a rectangular tomb of coral rubble (2 m long and 1.5 m wide), said to be the burial of a noted warrior (toa), and two abandoned food storage pits (lua masi) for the ensilage and fermentation of breadfruit paste. Such fermentation pits figured in the wet season ritual associated with first-fruits offerings of breadfruit (see below).

There seem as well to have been small god houses (fale atua), as were also found in some other Western Polynesian societies. Père Servant wrote that, before a certain feast,

le peuple construisait une petite maison [simple toit sur quatre pieux] à laquelle on donnait le nom: la maison des dieux [fale atua]. Suivant l'opinion populaire, les dieux y faisaient leur résidence pendant quelque temps (in Rozier 1963:117).

Such a temporary god house appears to have been constructed at Lalolalo during the wet season ritual of 1839 (see below).

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Figure 2. Sosefo Sekemei and a young relative with the cut-and-dressed limestone backrest slab (pae atua) on the malae plaza at Lalolalo in the Asoa uplands.

Before turning to the analysis of Père Chanel's journal, a consideration of the traditional Futunan calendar is essential. The indigenous Futunan classification of lunar periods based upon astronomical phenomena has been long supplanted by the Gregorian calendar. The modern Futunan month names are simply borrowings from French (e.g., apelili, “avril”, etc.). However, the indigenous calendrical system was recorded, if only in skeletal form, by Grézel in his “Grammaire Futunien” (1878b:68-9), and is provided here in Table 1. Grézel indicates that this system of 14 lunar periods 6 was determined partially by astronomical phenomena (such as the rising of Pleiades), and that these periods were correlated with major ecological cycles critical to the agricultural year. In particular, Grézel notes the correspondence of lunar period names with “the variation of seasons, of minor rains, of the first great rains and the second, then of the season of great winds [cyclones], of their diminution, and finally of their end” (1878b:69).

Grézel's month names correspond fairly closely with the indigenous calendrical systems of Tonga and Samoa (Burrows 1939, Table 5; Makemson 1941, Table II), all of which may be retentions of a very old Ancestral - 265 Polynesian system. That the Futunan sequence is of ancient derivation is suggested by the two lunar periods termed palolo-mua and palolo-muli. The lexeme palolo, which does not otherwise occur in Grézel's dictionary (and was unknown to my informants), refers elsewhere in Western Polynesia and Fiji to the reproductive segments of a species of sea worm (Nereis sp.), considered a delicacy (Samoan, Tongan, palolo; Fijian balolo; Walsh and Biggs 1966:83). Mua and muli designate “before” and “after”, respectively. In Samoa, palolo swarm to the surface of the ocean in October and November, and are sought after for food. “The palolo season is of importance in the Samoan calendar and some of the months are referred to as before or after ‘palolo’” (Buck 1930:441). Although the approximate timing of the lunar periods palolo-mua and palolo-muli is correct for Nereis swarming, the worm itself does not occur in Futuna. Several hypotheses could account for the presence of these lunar period names in Futuna: (1) The Nereis worm was formerly present in Futuna, but was extirpated due to an unknown agent, such as increased siltation or turbidity on the reefs; (2) the lunar period names were borrowed from Samoan; or (3) the Futunan names reflect an ancient Polynesian calendrical system which developed elsewhere in Western Polynesia where the Nereis worm occurs, and have been retained in Futuna. The third hypothesis appears to me the most plausible, but none of the three can be clearly rejected on present evidence.

The month named Mataliki seems to have had particular importance in the annual ritual cycle, as the analysis of Chanel's journal will indicate. Mataliki is the name for the constellation Pleiades, as are cognate terms throughout much of Polynesia (Makemson 1941:75-81). In June, Pleiades appears on the eastern horizon just before sunrise. Chanel's journal for 1838 reveals that the paramount chief Niuliki was holding regular early morning kava ceremonies beginning on 24th May, and continuing throughout most of June. These kava ceremonies may have been associated with Pleiades, and with the marking of a new ritual cycle. 7

In 1932, Burrows was given an alternative list of lunar months from several elderly informants in Nuku Village (1936:13), also listed in Table 1. The names are concerned with ecological seasonality and agricultural activity, especially the swidden cycle. The three periods from ualasi (“heavy rains”) to uafakaaoki (“end of the rains”) refer to the height of the wet season. This is followed by a succession of names referring to the sun (kametala'a), the planting of yams (puketau), and the sprouting of new vegetation (tautaupeka). Taufu refers to the start of rains, and matagi (“wind”), to the onset of me feared cyclone season. My efforts to check Burrow's list in 1974 with elderly informants in Nuku Village elicited no response, and this system — like that recorded by Grézel — has apparently disappeared from memory. As Grézel worked primarily in the Alo - 266 chiefdom, it is conceivable that these two sequences of lunar periods represent systems particular to Alo and Sigave; unfortunately, we have no way of checking this supposition. Despite the variation in specific names, however, the same key ecological phenomena are indexed by both systems: the wet-dry cycle of rainfall, the period of cyclones, and the integration of these latter with the swidden cycle.

While the Gregorian calendar has supplanted the indigenous Futunan lunar calendar, another indigenous temporal classification — that of yam-planting periods — has been retained. Grézel states:

Les Futuniens divisaient leur année en deux époques: tau mua et tau muli. Le tau mua datait de la première plantation d'ignames, qui avait lieu de suite après la dernière lune des tempêtes; elle correspond donc au mois d'avril…Le tau muli, ou dernière plantation d'ignames, est la seconde époque dont se sert le Futunien pour s'orienter dans ses travaux; elle est très-variable. On ne peut au juste fixer a véritable lune (1878b:69).

In 1974 my Futunan informants described three ta'u, or yam-planting periods: (1) ta'u mua, roughly from April to June; (2) ta'u lasi, from late June to August; and (3) ta'u muli, roughly from September to October. Thus the dry season is partitioned into three successive ta'u phases. The agricultural activities of cutting, firing, and planting new yam-aroid swiddens are thus closely tied to the tropophytic requirements of the Dioscorea yam (see Coursey 1967:71-4).

The indigenous agricultural calendar, including the ta'u phases which are still in use, reflects an integration of the swidden cycle with the natural seasonality of wet and dry. Of special importance is the yearly cycle of rainfall (wet and dry seasons), and the tropophytic ecological template of the yam crop, with its dormant phase. 8 Dioscorea alata and its allied species D. esculenta and D. nummularia, with their dry planting period requirement, have in large measure organised the agricultural calendar. The first-planted yams (planted in the ta 'u mua phase) begin to yield mature tubers as early as October, and yam harvesting continues to the end of the wet season (April). This is likewise the case in other Oceanic agricultural systems in which yams play a major role (e.g., Malinowski 1935:52-5). The primary periods of breadfruit yield correspond as well to the wet season. Even in Sigave, where pondfield irrigation overshadows shifting cultivation, yams nonetheless control the agricultural calendar. The Futunan ritual cycle also appears to have been keyed to this wet-dry seasonality, with its yam-oriented agricultural calendar. What I shall term the “main ritual season” (in which first-fruits offerings were pivotal) started with the onset of the wet season, and the beginning of the first yam harvests (those yams planted in the ta'u mua).

A matter of great concern to contemporary Futunan gardeners, as it was to - 267 their ancestors, is the threat of cyclones and of drought, both of which have the potential to devastate the agricultural system, resulting in famine (oge). A potential shortage of staple starch foods may occur in the latter part of the dry season. During this period (approximately July to October), the harvested yam crop has been largely consumed, and breadfruit is not yet in season. If a drought occurs, or if a cyclone has devastated the shifting cultivations during the preceding wet season, there is real potential for famine. Oge is no abstract concept to the Futunan; it is always a threat, lurking in the wings, subject to the vagaries of rain and wind. Chanel's journal reveals that specific ritual activities were addressed to the gods to forestall these devastating natural events.

The 1838 Ritual Cycle

Chanel's journal begins at the end of 1837 (26th December), towards the close of the monsoon or wet season. (At this time, Chanel had virtually no knowledge of Futunan language, and his understanding of the events he witnessed must have been limited.) The first few entries (26-8.12.37, p.18) 9 refer to a “feast… at a place in the valley of Epoe [Poi]” 10 which was attended not only by Niuliki, but by “the king of Singave” as well (this was Vanae, the sau of Sigave). The presence of both the Sigave and Alo paramount chiefs at Poi suggests that this was one of the island-wide feasts of the monsoon ritual season for 1837. On 5th January, Chanel was invited by Niuliki to dine on bananas at the latter's house, possibly part of a first-fruits ritual (Rozier 1960:320, fn 2). Another feast at Poi, or a continuation of the same, was held a few days later (9.1.38, p.321), attended by a “large number” of people.

On 17th January, after a night of thunder and strong wind, with rain in the morning, “the grand priest” made kava and announced that the day would be tabu, “to kill the evil wind” (17.1.38, p.322). The following day, three young men from Sigave brought a “superb turtle” to Niuliki as an offering; the sau was absent at Poi, and therefore the turtle was left alive until the paramount's return on the following day. On the 20th, the turtle was cooked and eaten in an elaborate ceremony:

Lorsque tout est prêt, le roi prend les insigné de sa royauté, qui sont un bout de feuille de cocotier passé autour du cou, un petit morceau de tape blanche au bras droit, pour lui servir de bracelet, un petit morceau de bambou à la main droite, et avec lequel il frappe ch[a]que morceau de tortue qu'on lui présente, afin d'en ôter le tabou (20.1.38, p.322).

The turtle was eaten without taro or other starch, after which kava was drunk, - 268 followed by a feast of cooked bananas. Finally, on the 24th at Fikavi, before a “multitude of men”, kava was offered to the “evil god of Futuna”, presumably Fakavelikele (24.1.38, p.324). At this ceremony, Niuliki did not take his usual place of honour, but sat with “the other chiefs.” He later assumed his usual seat, and addressed the assembly in a speech that Chanel did not comprehend, followed by speeches from “one of the greatest atua” 11 and “the greatest warrior.”

The next reference to ritual activity occurs a month later in mid-February, when the two villages of “Assoa Laloua” and Fikavi came to offer “a small feast” to Niuliki (16.2.38, p.329). 12. Vanae, the sau or paramount of Sigave, arrived late in the day, and dancing began with nightfall. This celebration continued on the 17th, with more night dancing; “the old men chanted loudly for a long time in the king's house” (17.2.38, p. 33). 13

The onset of the trade-wind ritual season for 1838 is indicated at the end of May by frequent references to early morning kava ceremonies. 14 Chanel continually remarked on these kava performances, as they disrupted his masses (e.g., “Sacred mass a bit late because of the kava,” 25.5.38, p.352). He notes kava ceremonies on the 24th, 25th, 27th, and 29th of May, and on nearly half of the days of June (4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29.6.38). As indicated earlier, these morning kava sessions were probably correlated with the appearance of Pleiades (Mataliki) on the eastern horizon just before sunrise; the old Futunan name for this lunar period (late May-early June) was Mataliki.

The principal focus of the trade-wind ritual season seems to have been the extraction and manufacture of turmeric dye, lega or ama, 15 a substance of great importance throughout Polynesia. 16 In Futuna, turmeric is used medicinally (e.g., to coat the bodies of mother and child after birth), as a pigment for barkcloth, as face paint, and formerly, for bodily adornment at feasts, dances, and for war (Burrows 1936:57, 66, 189, 195-6,198-9). Ago (Curcuma longa) — the plant from which the dye is extracted by a filtration process — withers during the dry season, after which the pigment-containing roots must be harvested. The first reference to turmeric production in Chanel's journal occurs on June 8 when, after the morning kava ceremony, Niuliki departed for Alo, “to make the paint in a few days” (8.6.38, p.356). The following day, Chanel commented on the men who were eating with the sau: “the men …were angry again … on the matter, I believe, of a wooden vase”. Very likely this was a wooden cylinder for baking the dye in its final stages (cf. Firth 1967:444-5 on such cylinders in Tikopia). Having been on Futuna some seven months by this time, Chanel was anxious to get his own house and, on the 11th, approached Niuliki with this demand. The sau put Chanel off, citing as his excuse “the work necessary for making the paint, called ringa” (11.6.38, - 269 p.357). In fact, nearly one month would pass before the important work of turmeric preparation was completed.

On 17th June, prayers were addressed to the gods without the usual kava drinking. By the 19th, the actual work of turmeric preparation seems to have started, as Chanel notes that “the valleys of Assoa and Epoe have gathered at Fakakii to sew the bags in which one will flow [filter?] the pigment” (19.6.38, p. 359). 17 On the 22nd, Chanel remarked that Niuliki and most of the occupants of Poi were at Alo “to work at the making of the red colour” (22.6.38, p.359). The complex filtration process for extracting the dye was evidently carried out over the next few days, and on the 24th, Niuliki arrived back at Poi, carrying “two small vases of red colouring” over which he chanted certain prayers, and which he dried over a fire for the remainder of the day (24.6.38, p. 360). 18 Niuliki was followed the next day by “the island's greatest chief next to the king”, who similarly arrived from Alo with a cylinder of turmeric. On the 26th, Niuliki and the other men were said to be engaged still in the work of making turmeric dye. Indeed, the work continued into the first part of July; on 7th July, Chanel noted that “the red paint is finished, and many people are returning to the places where they work” (7.7.38, p.363). The completion of this important work of manufacturing the sacred dye was celebrated by Niuliki and his people on 9th July, by a kava ceremony and “small feast”. During the night, dancing was held in the chief's house (9.7.38, p.363). In sum, the work of the turmeric had taken almost exactly one month to complete. 19

Other events noted in late July and early August were the ceremonial cooking and feasting of turtles on two occasions. On 30th July, the Sigave people brought Niuliki 12 turtles, which were cooked and consumed on the 31st (30-31.7.38, pp.367-8). Chanel briefly comments on the usual tapu period when the turtles were cooking, but unfortunately he wrote in his journal only that “the ceremony is too long for me to describe here”. A similar turtle feast was held on 12th August, with four turtles brought from Sigave (p.371). 20

During July, the early morning kava also continued to be performed frequently (Chanel's journal refers to morning kava on 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 20th, and 22nd July). By the beginning of September, however, the regular performance of the morning kava had ceased (the last mention is on 3rd September, and then does not occur again until 20th October).

We now enter the last four months of the year — the monsoon season — which, as will become apparent, constituted the most important ritual season, marked by the first harvests of yams and breadfruit. Because the ritual events during this period were numerous, I have briefly summarised them in Table 2, which may be referred to throughout the following discussion. The first - 270 indication that the monsoon ritual season was pending was a fono or council of chiefs held at the morning kava on 3rd September (p.377), at which the agenda was the fixing of a date for a forthcoming feast. The feast was set for 10 days thence, and a “tambour” (probably, a wooden lali drum) was beaten to announce this decision to the population. The seriousness of this fono is indicated by Chanel's comments that

on fait des toasts aux dieux sur la place du pays du palais [the malae]. Le kava est offert par le roi à un chef de Singavé, pour lui donner la commission d'inviter tout le monde de l'autre côté de l'île à se rendre à cette fête (p.378).

Preparation for this first feast of the monsoon season began immediately for, on 5th September, Chanel observed “a great quantity of taro” being transported from Fikavi (p.378). On the 7th, Chanel was told that “the men of the other side of the island are at Aro [Alo],” and were awaiting the rising of the moon in order to come on to Poi for the feast (7.9.38, p.378). That night there was paddle-club dancing (paki). On the 8th, the Sigave people arrived in large numbers, and there was a “distribution of great numbers of food, raw and cooked taro, pigs, fish, bananas, coconuts, etc” (8.9.38, p.378). This, however, seems not to have been the feast proper, but merely a preliminary; Niuliki and his people were engaged the next two days in fishing (on nearby Alofi Island), presumably to obtain additional foods for the main feast. This began on 12th September, with the arrival of more “elders and some young people” from Sigave (p.379). Chanel writes that the main celebration, to be held the following day, was called “faka angui angui”. 21 There was a large food distribution that same day, and dancing throughout the night. On the 13th, another food distribution was held (unfortunately, while Chanel celebrated mass, so he did not attend), followed by the paki dance (p.380). This concluded the fakaagiagi feast, and the Sigave people retired to their own district.

After about three weeks without any evident ritual activity, Niuliki left Poi for Fikavi village on 8th October to open a masi pit of fermented breadfruit paste, to be distributed to all of the “Maro” (i.e., to the people of his chiefdom, which was referred to as maro, having been the victors in the last war with Sigave; p.386). This ritual opening of the breadfruit pit and distribution of masi paste was probably in anticipation of the ripening of the breadfruit crop and harvest which would take place in about one month.

A few days later, preparations for a second major feast of the monsoon season commenced with the arrival of the Sigave paramount chief Vanae at Poi (13.10.38, p.386). Vanae had come “in order to commence today the public prayers for appeasing the wind that smashes the breadfruit and - 271 bananas”. The chiefs Farema and Urui were also present, and in the evening, prayers began “to the god of the great minister of the king, Marigni, and will not last but a day, and 7 to the god of the king [Fakavelikele]” (p.386-87). The next day, Chanel ate in the chief's house, where the first breadfruits and yams of the season were served (14.10.38, p.387). There were again prayers, by Farema, who demanded the cessation of the wind, “a sun that does not scorch, fruits, water in abundance, many fish in the sea and the ending of the god's anger”. The next day, Chanel wrote that preparations continued for “the great religious celebration which will take place in 6 days” (15.10.38, p.387). Yams were offered to Niuliki's god Fakavelikele on the 16th. On the 17th, a number of chiefs arrived at Poi, where five small sharks and a large one, plus a large ray — all of which had been caught at Alofi Island — were offered to the god. 22 Prayers were offered before and after each serving (17.10.38, p.387). On the 18th, “several relatives of the king came to eat the tithe of yams” while, on the following day, “some first-fruits of yams were brought to the king” (18-19.10.38, pp.387-8). All of this suggests that the forthcoming feast, for which preparations were hastening, was focused on a celebration of the harvest of the first yam crop, the ta'u mua.

The second great interisland feast of the monsoon season began on the 20th of October, with the arrival of the Sigave men, followed by a food distribution. “The kava was drunk repeatedly in honour of the gods” (p.388). Significantly, Chanel notes “consecration of takapaos [tapakau mats] which served as the seat of the king”. 23 Despite the obvious importance of the day's events, however, Chanel was told by the chiefs that the following day's activites would be “more solemn than that of yesterday”. On the 21st, the day began with a food distribution, after which most of the crowd retired. There was then a procession of men, “each holding a banana leaf in the manner of a palm-branch. Solemn kava made in large leaves, and which was drunk only by the atua men [hommes atua]. The celebration ended with this last ceremony” (21.10.38, p.388). 24 The drinking of kava from large leaves (possibly Alocasia leaves), rather than from the usual wooden tanoa bowl, is especially notable. This second feast of the monsoon season ended the next day, with kava, the distribution of a pig, and the departure of the Sigave men back to their district. There was also an “ordinary ceremony” of cooking a turtle.

Just a week later, Niuliki announced that there would be another feast at Vele, in 10 days' time (29.10.38, p.390). This third feast of the monsoon season was witnessed by Chanel on 7th November (p.391). The ceremony took place at Pouvaru, the ancestral house site of Veliteki (paramount chief of Alo before Niuliki), renowned for its eight large posts. As with the two previous feasts of the season, the Sigave elders, accompanied by various younger people, arrived with great quantities of food. Chanel only mentions - 272 a ceremony that followed: “Compliments paid to the king [Vanae?] and to the others who came with their small craft [canoes, presumably] and proceeded to pour sweet water over their bodies”. The food was spread upon the malae, after which paki dancing began, followed by a feast. The dancing began again after the arrival of the chiefs of Fikavi, Olu, and Tamana villages, and continued into the night. The last day of this celebration, on the 8th, Niuliki awakened Chanel at 4:00 a.m., when the men announced their arrival by chanting. The food was placed on the malae “in the very early morning” and was immediately distributed and eaten (p.391-2). After the feast, the paki dancing began again, in which the women played no part. Various village groups danced in turn: Fikavi, Poi, Fakakii, Asoa, and Vele (i.e., all villages of the Asoa-Alo chiefdom). This ended the third island-wide ritual celebration, but was not yet the conclusion of the monsoon season ritual, for other events were to follow.

Whereas the previous activities had clearly been focused — at least in part — on the harvest of the first yam crop, the breadfruit did not begin to yield heavily until late in November. On the 19th, “the first breadfruits were served to the god of the king [Fakavelikele]” (p.393). This was followed, the next day, by a gathering of the principal “gods” of the island (presumably represented by their oracles) to eat “the first breadfruits”.

No further ritual activities were noted by Chanel until 1st December, when there was a “grande cuisine de maci [masi, fermented breadfruit]” offered to the angry gods “who prevent the rain” (1.12.38, p.395). On this day, Niuliki and his mua also took food offerings to the gods of Urui and Semuu.

Towards the end of the monsoon ritual season, in late December, the pubescent males of Alo were circumcised. Chanel first noted this on the 15th, when he found “the valley occupied with a feast of circumcision” (p.399). A “2nd feast of circumcision” was noted on the 16th, and on the 18th, “the feasts in honour of the circumcised furnished us with food in abundance” (p.400). These circumcision rites continued until the 26th of December, when a ceremony called “fahamaa” (fakama fafo, see Grézel 1878a:98) was held, permitting the previously tapu initiates to go forth among the people (p.402). Although falling within the next calendar year, the final event of the monsoon ritual season was probably the offering by Niuliki, on 19th January, of a small piece of cloth to Fakavelikele (p.406). 25

The 1839 Ritual Cycle

In analysing Chanel's record for 1839, one must keep in mind two events that probably resulted in deviations from a “normal” ritual cycle. The first of these was a cyclone on 2nd-3rd February, which destroyed crops, houses, and other property. Considerable effort had to be expended over the next few - 273 months to recover from this disaster (for example, Chanel records the repair of Niuliki's house on 3rd-7th March). Perhaps more significant was the outbreak of hostilities between Alo and Sigave, beginning in June. 26 A major battle between the two sides was enjoined on 10th August, with Alo emerging victorious, although not without loss of life and other injuries to both parties (Niuliki himself was wounded). The absence of Sigave people at the monsoon season rituals can probably be ascribed to this situation. Also, several of the activities recorded for April and May might not have been regular parts of the ritual cycle, but rather related to preparations for war; this is difficult, if not impossible, to determine from Chanel's journal.

Two events are recorded for March. On the 10th, “the valley of Fikavi brought a small feast to the god of the king [at Poi?]; roast pigs, taros, kanaka [a special taro pudding]; all in abundance” (10.3.39, p.417). Chanel also notes, somewhat enigmatically, that “the valley of Epoe must always pay coconuts in these circumstances”. On 16th March, Chanel arrived at Fikavi to find the village holding a “small feast to the god of Farema” (p.420).

Several ritual events were held in April although, at this point, it is unclear to what extent these were precipitated by the developing tensions between Sigave and Alo. On the 5th, Asoa-Vele and Laloua people arrived at Poi to receive a distribution of food from the villages of Fikavi, Pouma, Olu, and Tamana (villages of the windward Tu'a coast):

Du taro cuit et cru en abondance, deux gros cochons, sont les présens offerts pour appaiser la colère de l'atua Faka veri kere. Niuliki fait parler son Matua Siri. II prêche la paix, condamne l'ambitions de quelques chefs, etc. (5.4.39, p.425).

On 19th April, Niuliki and the Poi people were involved in another food distribution with Tamana and Olu (p.427). Later in the month and on into May, Niuliki was preoccupied with the potential defection of the chief Urui to Sigave, and visited that district on the 29th-30th (p.428). On 4th May, “the valley of Fakakii came to offer a small feast to the king and to his god with the intention of obtaining that the Maros [victors] will always be maro” (p.429). The following day, “some kinsmen of the king brought some taro from Fikavi” (p.430). Similar activities involving Niuliki, Urui, and other chiefs, and frequently involving oracles of Fakavelikele or other gods preaching peace, are referred to on the following dates: 2.6.39, p.437; 10.6.39, p.438-9; 20.6.39, p.441; 21.6.39, p.441; 22.6.39, p.441; 23.6.39, p.441; 27.6.39, p.442; and 28.6.39, p.442. However, all of these appear to be related specifically to the ensuing war with Sigave, rather than regular ritual activities of the dry season.

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On 12th June, Chanel refers to a turtle-cooking ceremony (p.439). This recalls the turtle feasts during the 1838 dry season, and suggests that ceremonial consumption of turtles by the paramount chief may well have been a regular dry-season ritual activity.

Only a single passage in Chanel's journal indicates that the preparation of turmeric was also proceeding as usual during this dry season, despite the increasing preparations for war. On 10th July, at Sigave, Chanel observed “the men who are preparing the necessary objects for making the pigment” (p.445). (It may also have been that the novelty of this process, which obviously interested Chanel during his first year on the island, had worn off, and therefore he simply did not think it noteworthy to record in the mission journal.)

The decisive battle between Alo and Sigave was engaged on 10th August, at Vai, with Alo emerging victorious. 27 Two days later, Chanel notes that offerings to Fakavelikele did not cease all day (p.455), consisting of baked pigs and baskets of taro. At the end of August (28-31.8.39, p.460), all of the villages of Alo prepared a major victory feast, which was celebrated on 2nd September: “Paddle dance, after the distribution of food; presents of tapa and cloth [presumably European trade cloth] offered to the great god Faka veri kere” (p.462).

As in the previous year, the opening events of the monsoon ritual season began in early September. 28 On the 11th, after morning kava, Niuliki “spoke for his god Faka veri kere. Everything that he said was for the good of the island” (p.464). Five days later, Niuliki accompanied by a “good number of chiefs” prayed to Fakavelikele for rain (16.9.39, p.465). “At the time of the kava and of the luncheon, requests to Faka veri kere to water the land which is scorched with drought, not to hold back the rain for long”. On 30th September, “the king returned to Assoa for a religious ceremony called mauri” (p.467); no further explanation was offered. 29

In early October, the first major feast of the 1939 monsoon ritual season was celebrated at Lalolalo, in the uplands of Asoa (see discussion of the archaeological manifestations of this site, above). Chanel, unfortunately, did not attend, but notes the “operning of a feast” on the 4th (p.468), and that a large number of people spent the 5th and 6th at Lalolalo with Niuliki, carrying much food with them. They returned to the coast on the 7th (p.468).

On 8th October, the people of Poi began preparing for a feast to their god “Taofi ariki (who supports the king)” (p.468). Totally occupied with his increasing efforts at converting the populace, Chanel refused an invitation to attend the Taofialiki feast preparations on the 9th (p.469). The main feast at Poi was celebrated on 14th-15th October, “for the god of the 1st minister Taofi ariki, the king's upholder” (p.469).

A week later, Chanel writes that “the natives have come to search for wood to cook the religious feast which they will prepare and which they call atua” - 275 (21.10.39, p.470). These preparations continued the next day, when “the 1st minister of the king left for Fikavi. Some natives followed him with baskets of yams” (22.10.39, p.470). The reference to yams indicates that the impending feast was a celebration of the first yam harvest (the ta'u mua), thus corresponding to the similar feast held the previous year between 20th-22nd October (see above). On the 23rd there was fishing, and coconut baskets were prepared (p.471) and, on the 24th, “the natives left in the early morning for Fikavi [where the feast itself was obviously celebrated] with bunches of bananas, fish, etc” (p.471). They returned from Fikavi on the 25th, when Chanel witnessed “… boxing and the contest called fetafetaaki” 30 (p.471).

As in 1838, when the yam harvest celebration was followed by that for the breadfruit, Chanel's journal records the fermenting of masi for a feast on 5th November (p.473). On the next day, “the natives prepared a small feast, to make offerings of the first breadfruit to the gods”.

Preparations for the final feast of the 1839 monsoon ritual season began at the end of November. On the 30th, Niuliki and “some elders” held a fono at Tamana, to discuss the construction of a “house to Faka veri kere, in order that the rain will arrive and that the harvest of breadfruit will be good” (p.477). Preparations began on 2nd December with workers from each village arriving at Poi, “to put the final touches to the wood of a house which they will go and construct on a mountain [Lalolalo] in honour of the god Faka veri kere, with the intention of obtaining from him the rain and an abundant harvest of breadfruit” (2.12.39, p.477). This work continued on the 4th and, on the 6th “the natives arrived, in the early morning, from the neighbouring valleys, to carry away on a mountain of Asoa called Larolaro, the wood of a house for the god Faka veri kere. They also took abundant food” (p.478). Although invited to take part, Chanel declined, leaving us without an eyewitness account. This celebration took place at Lalolalo on 7th December, and Chanel again states its purposes as to obtain rain, “an abundant harvest of breadfruit and an abundance of fish” (p.478-9). 31

Finally, as in 1838, the end of the monsoon ritual season saw the circumcision of the young men, as evidenced by the journal entry of 28th December: “… a feast of circumcision at Fikavi” (p.482). Since Chanel ceased making regular journal entries after 1st January, 1840, we do not know if the cloth offering that seems to have closed the ritual year in 1838 also occurred in 1839.


The preceding analysis of Chanel's journal provides the raw data upon which we may attempt an interpretation of the Futunan ritual system, as a cycle of annually repeated activities. My working assumptions are (1) that, when the same events or activities — or functionally equivalent variants — occurred in both years; and, (2) when these occurred at the same time of the year, we can - 276 definitely take such actions as a recurring part of the ritual cycle. Unfortunately, the converse does not necessarily hold, since the absence of an event in one year may simply be a reflection of Chanel's imperfect record. However, events or activities that occur in only a single year have to be treated as more tentative than those which are known to have been repeated. In Figure 3, I present a diagrammatic summary of what I believe to have been the main features of the Futunan ritual cycle. The diagram also depicts the Futunan lunar months (according to the system reported by Grézel [1878b]), the temporality of yam planting and harvesting, the main period of breadfruit harvesting, and the climatic cycle of wet and dry seasons.

According to Grézel, the first month of the year was Ualoa (‘long rains’),

Figure 3. Diagrammatic summary of the Futunan ritual cycle, as reconstructed from Chanel's mission journal.
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the final month of the wet season (about April). The ritual year seems to have begun slightly later, very probably marked by the appearance of the Pleiades (Mataliki) on the horizon just before sunrise; indeed, the third lunar month is named Mataliki. It is conceivable that the frequent early morning kava ceremonies reported for 1838 in May and June were specifically related to the observance of Pleiades, and to the timing of the beginning of the ritual year.

The main ritual activity of the dry season was unquestionably the extraction and concentration of the reddish-orange turmeric dye. Various remarks of Chanel's indicate that the procedures used to extract this precious substance — through grating, filtration, decanting, concentration, and final baking in wooden cylinders — closely paralleled the techniques practised by the Tikopia (well described by Firth 1967a:416-64). We know from the 1838 record that the work of making the turmeric dye occupied Niuliki and his people for a full month, from 8th June to 9th July. Grézel's dictionary (1878a:213) gives the following entry for nuaga; “period when, under paganism, one prepared the paint which one used to besmear oneself”. 32 The term nuanga has an identical gloss in Tikopian (Firth 1985:298-9). 33 Another term listed by Grézel (1878a:217) further underscores the importance of turmeric manufacture: omoe, “present of food which was made in paganism to those who prepared the mixture used to paint one's face in great gatherings, in dances, war”. The completion of the nuaga seems to have been celebrated by a kava ceremony, feast, and dancing (as on 9th July, 1838).

One other kind of ritual activity which occurred during the dry season is the ceremonial feasting on turtles (presumably the green turtle, Chelonia mydas). In 1838, Chanel reported turtle feasts on 30th July and 12th August, and in 1839 such a feast is recorded for 12th June. Green turtles have a seasonal nesting cycle (Loveridge 1946:21-4; Wiens 1962:422-8) and, while the period for egg laying varies with latitude, the months from June to September seem to be the main period in many parts of Polynesia. During such nesting periods, turtles will appear off the islands in larger numbers than usual, seeking sand beaches in which to lay their eggs. I shall have more to say about the possible significance of the Futunan turtle feasts in the comparative section of this paper (below).

Throughout the dry season, the main agricultural work consists of clearing, firing, and planting swidden gardens with yams (and interplanted with aroids). By about September — the lunar month of Palolo-muli in the old Futunan system — the heavy rains of the monsoon or wet season have begun, and the gardens will begin to yield their yam crop. The first yams — those planted in the ta'u mua phase (see Kirch, forthcoming) — will be ready for harvesting by about October-November (Munifa-Tauafu). The onset of the wet season also appears to have marked the beginning of the main ritual period - 278 in pre-Christian Futuna. This main ritual period incorporated a large number of individual ceremonies and feasts (see Tables 2 and 3), but the underlying themes are clear: first-fruits or harvest celebrations, and offerings/sacrifices designed to bring about bountiful harvests, rain, abundant fish, and to prevent destructive cyclones. What I have termed the “main ritual season”(we do not know if the Futunans had a specific term for this period in their ritual calendar) seems to have lasted for about four months and, in this respect, is similar to harvest celebrations in other parts of Polynesia (see Comparisons, below). A formal opening of the monsoon ritual season for 1838 is suggested by the fono or council of chiefs held on 3rd September, and by the beating of a wooden drum.

There is some variation in the accounts of ritual activities during the wet season between 1838 and 1839 and, as noted earlier, this probably reflects the state of hostilities between the Sigave and Alo chiefdoms. In 1838, the first major feast — held at Poi on the windward coast (in early September) — clearly involved participants from both polities, including the two paramount chiefs. In 1839, Sigave had just been defeated in the bloody battle of Vai, and the ritual activities of early September appear to have been confined to Niuliki and his own people with kava and prayers to Fakavelikele, and the otherwise unexplained ceremony called mauri.

First-yam offerings are clearly indicated in both 1838 and 1839 in October. In 1838 these feasts were more elaborate (or at least reported in greater detail by Chanel), but that a regular first-fruits offering of yams occurred at this time is unmistakable. Similarly, in both years there was formal opening of the breadfruit fermentation silos (masi), on 8th October in 1838 and on 5th November in 1839. First-fruits offerings of breadfruit to Fakavelikele and the other deities are also recorded.

It is difficult to know exactly what to make of other variations in the specific ritual activities during October and November of the two years. The consecration of tapakau floor mats on 20th October, 1838, and the construction or refurbishing of a godhouse at Lalolalo in late November 1839 may be related as aspects of an annual renovation of temples or godhouses, but this cannot be proved. The fascinating ceremony so briefly noted by Chanel on 21st October, 1838, in which a solemn procession of men carrying banana leaves, followed by kava drinking from large leaves, was not reported for 1839, but this may simply be an omission from the record. What comes through clearly is that, in both years, the numerous events of the wet season were all associated with the celebration of first-fruits, and with supplications to the gods for the fertility and protection of the land.

In mid-to-late December of both years, the monsoon ritual season ended with the circumcision of the young boys, and with the fakama fafo ceremony - 279 in their honour. The offering of cloth to Fakavelikele by Niuliki in January 1839 might have marked a ceremonial closing of the main ritual season, but this cannot be definitively ascertained.

With the closure of the “main ritual season”, there then began a series of village feasts occupying the remainder of the wet season. These are recorded especially for 1839, with a feast celebrated by the people of Fikavi in March, and food distributions from the villages of Fikavi, Pouma, Olu, and Tamana in April. These villages were all within the Tua polity under Niuliki's rule, and the feasts may well have been acts of tribute. In this sense, they are again reminiscent of harvest-season tributes offered by the people to chiefs in other Polynesian societies (e.g., the Hawaiian makahiki, or the Tongan 'inasi).


Having abstracted a working model of the Futunan ritual cycle, I turn to some comparisons with ethnographically documented or historically reconstructed ritual systems in other societies of Western and Outlier Polynesia. Several of the Polynesian Outliers are of particular interest in this regard, for good culture-historical reasons. Linguistic analysis shows that the Outlier languages, together with Samoan and Futunan, fall into a relatively low-order subgroup of Nuclear Polynesian, termed Samoic-Outlier (Pawley 1967). Oral traditions and ethnographic comparisons have long suggested that the Outliers were settled by drift voyagers from Western Polynesia (Bayard 1976), including Futuna (e.g., Firth 1961:158). Systematic archaeological investigations of some Outliers (including Anuta, Tikopia, Rennell-Bellona, and Nukuoro) have now affirmed these close historical connections (Kirch 1984a). The case of Tikopia is instructive: originally settled about 900 B.C. by makers of Lapita pottery, the island received a series of Polynesian-speaking drift-voyage immigrants beginning about A.D. 1200, and probably continuing for some centuries (Kirch and Yen 1982). Although the older population was not genetically replaced (see Kirch 1985), the immigrant Polynesian language and culture came to dominate. Basalt adzes dating to this final Tuakamali Phase are exotic to the island, and are of distinctly Western Polynesian morphology; they may derive from the Tataga-matau basalt adze quarry on Tutuila, Samoa. 34 Futuna is one likely point of origin for some of the Polynesian-speakers who came to dominate Tikopia in the last few hundred years before European contact. In any event, it is clear that the peoples of the Outliers, Samoa, and Futuna share a common cultural legacy with a time depth of less than one millennium. 35 It is, therefore, plausible to anticipate certain shared innovations in the ritual systems of these societies, in addition to shared retentions deriving from the older, Ancestral Polynesian society (see Kirch and Green 1987).

- 280

“The Work of the Gods” (Te Fekau Nga Atua) is the only Polynesian ritual system to have been ethnographically recorded through direct participant-observation before mission conversion, and Firth's monographs (1967a, 1970; Firth and Spillius 1963) provide an unparalleled account. There are some striking similarities between the Tikopia ritual cycle and that reconstructed here for Futuna; indeed, these parallels are closer than for any other pair of Samoic-Outlier speaking societies. As indicated above, this presumably reflects the immediate origins of the dominant Tikopian culture in the Futuna-Samoa region within the past 1,000 years.

The Tikopian cycle fell into two main ritual periods: the “work of the monsoon”, and the “work of the trade wind”. Firth succinctly summarises the main events as follows:

a symbolic act to initiate the cycle; a resacralization of canoes; a re-consecration of temples; a series of harvest and planting rites for the yam; a sacred dance festival; several memorial rites on the sites of vanished temples; and in the trade-wind season, the ritual manufacture of turmeric (1967a:27).

Virtually all of these activities, excepting the canoe rites, have resonances in the Futunan events recorded by Chanel in 1838-9. A point of particular interest is the use of Pleiades in determining the timing of the “work of the trade winds” (Firth 1967a:29-30, 418):

The nuanga [turmeric manufacture] season is also correlated with the movements of the Pleiades. This constellation, Matariki, appears on the eastern horizon before dawn at the opening of the trade-wind season. The Ariki Tafua said that when he saw it stand up directly over the shoulder of the mountain from his village of Matautu he knew that the turmeric was fit to dig (1967a:418).

This accords well with the evidence for early morning kava observances during the Futunan month Mataliki, just before the start of the month-long work of turmeric extraction (also called nuaga) in 1838. With regard to the process of turmeric extraction, there are many points of specific correspondence, in terminology, in technology (coconut fabric sieves for filtration, baking in wooden “vases” or cylinders), and in the sacerdotal function of the orange-red dye (old Futunan term lega, Tikopian renga). In describing the Tikopian nuanga, Firth stresses the necessity of an ample water supply during the complex filtration process (1967a:419), a point I can verify from my own observance of the nuanga of the Ariki Tafua on Tikopia in 1978. This probably accounts for the Futunan nuaga being carried out on the windward - 281 coast (evidently at Fikavi, or perhaps also at Poi) where streamflow would have provided the required water flow. (Niuliki's main residence at Vele is in a limestone karst environment with brackish water provided by wells.)

“The work of the yam'” — a complex series of first-fruits rites — lies at the core of the Tikopian ritual sequence, and clearly parallels the first-fruits yam offerings made by Niuliki and his associates. Firth (1967a:141) noted that, in Tikopia, the yam is a rather minor crop from the economic viewpoint (less important than Colocasia taro, breadfruit, or the giant pulaka aroid [Cyrtosperma]), somewhat out of keeping with its premier ritual status. This again may reflect the origins of the Tikopia rituals in Western Polynesia, where yam cultivation is a dominant feature of shifting cultivation (see Kirch, forthcoming).

Several other similarities and possible historical connections between Tikopia and Futuna provoke speculation. For example, the Futunan fakaagiagi ceremony might be related to the Tikopian “freeing of the land” (Firth 1967a:255). Likewise, much Futunan wet-season ritual was clearly aimed at gaining the co-operation of the gods (especially Fakavelikele) in keeping destructive cyclones away from the island. In these celebrations there is more than a hint of correspondence to the Tikopian “dance to quell the wind” (the Taomatangi, Firth [1967a:281]).

Bellona and Rennell

The traditional religious practices of Bellona and Rennell Islands (two Outliers south of the main Solomon Islands) were terminated in 1938 by a sudden conversion of the population to Christianity. Members of the Templeton Crocker Expedition, including the anthropologist MacGregor (1943), had the good fortune to spend two weeks at Rennell in 1933 at the time of a major harvest ceremony. 36 Subsequently, Monberg (1991) conducted a thorough reconstruction of the religious beliefs and rituals of Bellona, with assistance from islanders who had taken part in these events in their youth. Monberg reports that “the cycle of harvest rituals is by far the longest and most elaborate” (1991:218); as in Tikopia, yams (Dioscorea alata and D. esculenta) were the primary crop celebrated in these first-fruits rituals. The appearance of the Pleiades (Matangiki) “just above the horizon in the morning” was critical to the harvest ritual timing (1991:225). Although the kava plant (Piper methysticum) was absent from Bellona, the cognate term (kaba) was retained in certain ceremonials, such as the kaba-ki-hange (“kava for the house”) ritual performed when the yam tubers had been harvested. As in Futuna, these harvest rituals involved formal food presentations and distributions, sometimes followed by dancing (see also MacGregor [1943:34-5] on the Rennell harvest ceremony). Turmeric played a major role in ceremonies, being used, - 282 for example, to anoint the sacred staff and the body of the priest-chief (Monberg 1991:173,187), but Monberg does not describe the specific rituals associated with its manufacture. 37


The religion of Kapingamarangi — a Polynesian Outlier situated in Micronesia — was described by Emory (1965) based on recollections by informants. As an atoll, Kapingamarangi lacked an extensive agricultural system, and thus the absence of elaborate harvest ceremonials is not surprising. However, the breadfruit harvest was marked by a first-fruits ritual (Emory 1965:335-7). The major rites, performed at the “national cult house”, Hereu, focused on the annual renovation of the structure (renovation of frame and thatch, replacing the floor mats). These rites (1965:236ff.) appear to be related to the Tikopian “re-carpeting” rituals, and add further support to the hypothesis that temple or cult-house renovations were a significant part of earlier Western Polynesian ritual systems. As in both Tikopia and Futuna, the Kapingamarangi priest-chief was adorned with a necklet or other adornments of young coconut leaves (Emory 1965, fig. 37) (see description of Niuliki at the turtle ceremony of 20th January, 1838, described above).


Given substantial similarities between Futunan and Samoan cultures, we might expect to find considerable similarities in their indigenous ritual systems. Unfortunately, our understanding of Samoan religion — and especially of the ritual cycle — seems to be about as poor as that of Futuna. Early sources, such as Pritchard (1866), Turner (1884), and Stair (1897), give lengthy lists of gods, but provide little information on the sequence of ritual activities. Pritchard's brief account (1866:121-3) of a feast mentions that “fish, yams, and taro were duly cooked, and with hundreds of cocoa-nuts and countless roots of ava were piled before the temple and the priest”. This was followed by a kava ceremony, formal food distribution, and dancing, all of which would fit well with Chanel's accounts of Futunan ritual celebrations. Mead (1930) also provides a discussion of the Manu'an variant of Samoan religion, but says virtually nothing of the ritual cycle. An historical ethnographic reconstruction of Samoan ritual practice, based on the actual journals and other manuscript accounts of early European visitors and missionaries, might greatly amplify our present ignorance on these matters.


Linguistically, Tongan is not a part of the Samoic-Outlier subgroup of Polynesian languages, whose speakers' ritual practices we have been compar- - 283 ing. However, as a part of the Western Polynesian “sub-culture area” (see Burrows 1939), Tongan society shared many practices with its Samoan, Futunan, 'Uvean, and Fijian neighbours. Further, in late prehistory, the Tongan polity aggressively extended its hegemony over much of this region (Kirch 1984b:217-42), undoubtedly resulting in cultural as well as linguistic borrowings. A brief comparison of Futuna and Tonga is thus warranted.

Gifford, in his classic monograph Tongan Society (1929:287-346), discussed a host of Tongan deities in exquisite detail, but provides virtually no information on the ritual cycle. Fortunately, some early sources, such as Mariner (Martin 1817), provide first-hand accounts of various rites performed at the Tongan chiefly centre of Mu'a (see Kirch 1984b:227-30) and at other localities. Ferdon (1987:82-95) summarises many of these early sources.

The major ritual event of the contact-era Tongan chiefdom was a complex series of rites performed at the ritual centre of Mu'a on Tongatapu, which were collectively glossed under the title of the 'inasi. Although highly elaborated, 38 the 'inasi consisted fundamentally of a first-fruits offering of yams, especially the prized kahokaho variety of Dioscorea alata. The timing of the 'inasi, about October (Ferdon 1987:84), was determined by the seasonality of yam planting, and corresponds closely with the functionally similar yam rituals in Futuna. However, in Tonga this first-fruits ritual had become elaborated into a more formalised tribute prestation from those districts and outlying islands subjugated by the Tongan paramounts. Nonetheless, the Tongan 'inasi adds yet another case in which first-yam offerings held pride of place in a Western Polynesian ritual cycle.

A Further Note on Turtle Feasts

I have suggested that the taking of sea turtles during the June-July nesting period, and their ceremonial cooking and consumption by the paramount chief, was a regular part of Futunan dry-season ritual. This hypothesis finds support in a variety of Polynesian ritual practices involving chiefly turtle feasts, not only in the societies of Western Polynesia, but also in those of Eastern Polynesia. Some of these instances are briefly recounted here.

Lau Islands. Hocart (1929:117-8) describes the taking of turtles “in the breeding season when they come to lay eggs in the sand at night”. Turtles are sacred to the Tui Naiau; others may not consume them unless granted the privilege by this chief. Turtles are kept in special enclosures until sufficient numbers are accumulated for a feast. Thompson (1940:72) states that, in Lau, “turtles and pig are great delicacies only at important feasts for high ranking persons”, but that turtle is “the most chiefly food”.

Pukapuka. The Beagleholes (1938:351) note that the appearance of the - 284 Pleiades (Mataliki) directly overhead “is a sign of turtles coming to lay eggs on the outer beaches”. In former times, “all turtles were taken to the meeting place of the old men and there the meat, fat, eggs, and shell were divided among the people of the island” (1938:70).

Mangareva. Buck (1938:91) reports that “turtles were tapu as the fish of the chiefs”, and that “turtles were reckoned singly like men and houses, because they were very important” (1938:417).

Tuamotu Islands. According to Emory's account of Tuamotuan ritual practice, based in large part on his Napuka fieldwork, the capture of turtles and feasting on them was “the most frequent occasion for use of the marae” or temple (1947:58). Emory (1947:59-93) describes the Turtle Feast in great detail (see also Emory 1975:217). In relation to the Futunan turtle feasts, which seem to have been correlated with the month Mataliki, it is significant that, in the Tuamotus, Matariki or Pleiades stands for a female turtle. As recently as 1950, the ritual significance of turtles was maintained to some extent, as reported by Danielsson (1956:190-3) on Raroia. Danielsson confirms that the main season for taking turtles is June to September, and he provides a Raroian chant which also refers to Matariki (Pleiades) as a female turtle.

Marquesas. Rolett (1986), inspired by a marvelous petroglyph boulder depicting “synthetic figurative” turtle motifs 39 in the Hatiheu Valley (Nukuhiva Is.), discusses the evidence for ritual consumption and symbolic significance of turtles in the Marquesas. Handy (1923:174) indicates that the sacredness of turtles was materially marked in certain ways; for example, “popoi [food] pounders used to prepare the popoi eaten with the turtle flesh were tapu for other work”. Furthermore, there were specialised experts (tuhuna) who “devoted themselves exclusively to turtle fishing”, and these tuhuna “had stone images (tiki) made in human form”. Based on his Marquesan archaeological and ethnohistoric sources, Rolett argues that “the religious significance of turtles in the Marquesas, and in Polynesian cultures generally, is related to a symbolic association between turtles the transcendence of boundaries between worlds” (1986:87). 40

Rapanui. Easter Island appears to be at the climatic fringe for the natural range of Chelonia mydas, yet the ritual significance of turtle feasting extended to this remote Eastern Polynesian outpost, as reported by Metraux (1940:187-90; 1957:70). Lee's recent survey of Rapanui petroglyphs reveals that turtle motifs are a recurrent part of the corpus, especially along the north coast which — significantly — was the domain of the high-ranking Miru tribe (Lee 1992:80-5).

Hawai'i. In Hawai'i, the tapu status of turtles was reflected in the restriction of this food to men; turtles were evidently also offered as sacrifices - 285 (Malo 1951:29; Valeri 1985:117, 119, table 3). Handy and Pukui (1958:177) state that sea turtles (honu) were a manifestation of the god Kanaloa. However, I have not been able to find any information regarding specific Hawaiian rites connected with turtles.

Though they represent a mere sampling of the ethnographic material on the ritual consumption of turtles in Polynesia, the sources cited above are sufficient to construct a hypothesis that the widespread distribution of these traits reflects shared retentions. The precise nature of turtle symbolism and turtle-associated ritual in Ancestral Polynesian society is a subject beyond the scope of this paper, but one suspects that it was related to the seasonal egg-laying behaviour of Chelonia mydas in June to September (hence the association with Pleiades). Archaeological evidence lends some insights to this aspect of ancient Polynesian ritual, for the earliest settlement sites on many Polynesian islands characteristically yield large quantities of turtle bone in their midden deposits (e.g., Tikopia, Kirch and Yen 1982; Niuatoputapu, Kirch 1988:221). One can readily imagine that when the ancestors of the Polynesians first colonised the islands of Remote Oceania — which, before the arrival of humans, had no large vertebrate predators — the populations of annually nesting sea turtles may have appeared to be a vast, incredible food resource. Although prolonged predation by Polynesians certainly led to reduced numbers of these sea turtles (attested by significant declines in the quantities of turtle bones in later archaeological assemblages), the symbolic and ritual associations developed in Ancestral Polynesian society were retained, albeit in modified form, in many Polynesian cultures, including Futuna.


I have no startling new insights on which to conclude this paper. I see its contribution as essentially a minor — if painstakingly extracted — addition to our knowledge of long-abandoned Polynesian ritual practice. It is to me personally gratifying that the journal of Père Chanel should yield the very clues to reconstruct the outlines of a ritual system which his own proselytising — and ultimately his violent death — were responsible for overthrowing. The exercise is also enlightening in its demonstration that hitherto-overlooked sources still have great potential for enlightening us on various aspects of contact-era Polynesian societies which have remained refractory to anthropological investigation. In closing, however, I would take this opportunity to suggest that investigations such as this historical-ethnographic study of the Futunan ritual cycle have an additional significance, when they are viewed as preliminary efforts towards a comparative historical ethnography of Polynesia. The comparative method has not been in favour much in recent decades - 286 among sociocultural anthropologists but, when applied with systematic rigour — and particularly when used in conjunction with archaeology and historical linguistics — this approach can be a powerful tool for reconstructing the Polynesian past. I hope that the present effort might inspire similar historical ethnographic forays into the untapped archival records for other Polynesian societies, ultimately yielding the tools with which an enhanced appreciation and historical understanding of Polynesian cultures may emerge.


I am grateful to Sir Raymond Firth, Prof. Torben Monberg, Prof. Valerio Valeri and Prof. Marshall Sahlins for their useful comments on an earlier draft of this paper; naturally, they bear no responsibility for any of the interpretations advanced here.

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  • Williamson, R. W., 1924. The Social and Political Systems of Central Polynesia. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • —— 1933. Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Polynesia. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • —— 1937. [ed. R. Piddington]. Religion and Social Organization in Central Polynesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Note: The following glossary lists Futunan terms relating to religion or ritual practice derived from Chanel's journal (Rozier 1960) and from Grézel's dictionary (1878a). Glosses in quotations are from Grézel; other glosses are my own best approximations of the probable semantic value of terms. For comparison, cognate terms in other Samoic-Outlier languages are provided, based on Firth (1985) for Tikopian (TIK), Elbert (1975) for Rennell-Bellona (R/B), Feinberg (1977) for Anutan (ANU), and Pratt (1893) for Samoan (SAM). Where available, I also give Proto-Polynesian (PPN) reconstructions. Note that the velar nasal is transcribed “g” in Futunan and Samoan, and “ng” in Tikopian and Rennell-Bellona.

  • ago. Turmeric plant (Curcuma longa), from which the orange-red pigment was extracted.
  • Atalua. “Name of the wife of a pagan divinity”. TIK ango, “turmeric plant”. R/B ango, “turmeric plant”. PPN ango.
  • atua. God, deity, divinity, spirit. Atua muli, secondary deities. TIK atua, “supernatural being in general”. ANU atua, “spirit being”. R/B 'atua, “god, spirit, deity”. SAM
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  • atua, “a god”. PPN 'atua.
  • fakaagiagi. TIK fakaangiangi, “making breezy; with special ritual”. ANU pakaangiangi, “to expose oneself to wind or breeze”. R/B angiangi, “to blow, of wind; to stir”. PPN angiangi.
  • fakamaa fale. TIK fakama, “cleanse”. R/B hakamaa, “to associate and co-operate with, esp. with relatives”.
  • fakamanu. “To remove a tapu, to render licit (term of paganism)”. TIK fakamanu, “give power, trad. of mystical order”. Cf. SAM fa'amanu, “to place a gift on the head, to thank in a most respectful manner”.
  • fakatu. “Simulated combat at the death of a king (in paganism, accompanied by devastation [havoc]”.
  • Fakavelikele. Name of the principal deity of Futuna, of whom the paramount chief Niuliki was considered the oracle. Literally, “to make the earth bad”.
  • fale atua. “Temple, divine house (pagan term)”. God house.
  • Faufenua. “Name of a pagan divinity giving good counsel for the good of the country”.
  • gasue. “Preparation and assembly of food for public works, feasts, and funerals. (v. fakagasue)”. Cf. R/B ngaki, “to bring food, as tubers or fish”. Cf. SAM gaese, “the preparation of an oven of food”.
  • kaulauniu. “Name of persons who, in paganism, had the right to attach to the neck a coconut leaf in the coronation of a king or the day of a public feast”.
  • kulaga. “Futunan circumcision (in paganism)”. R/B kuga 'anga, “circumcision, to circumcise”.
  • kuli. Dog. “Name of a pagan divinity”.
  • Lalolalo. “Place where a pagan divinity was chased because of his crime”. Grézel is obviously alluding here to the god Fakavelikele, who fled from Anakele to Lalolalo after having committed incest with his older sister Finelasi.
  • loaua. “The entire body sprinkled with turmeric”.
  • Mafuikefulu. “Name of a pagan divinity situated underground, presiding over earthquakes”.
  • malae. “Public place in front of the houses”. Ceremonial plaza. TIK marae, “open place for public assembly, trad, often highly ritualised”. ANU marae, “open area in which traditional religious rites were held”. SAM malae, “an open space in a village, where public meetings are held”.
  • mana. “Thunder, lightening”. TIK mana, “power of extraordinary, non-physical quality; mystical power or influence; thunder”. ANU mana, “power”. R/B mana, “to thunder”. SAM mana, “supernatural power”. PPN mana.
  • manu. “Good fortune, prosperity; happiness”. TIK, manu, “trad, concept of power of extraordinary, non-physical quality, esp.exercised by chiefs through spirit agency, and manifest by apparent conformity of natural phenomena to their expressions”. ANU manuu, “power”. SAM manū, “luck, good fortune”.
  • Mataliki. “Pleiades. Third Futunan lunar month”.
  • matini. “Bunch of coconuts, bananas, pulled from their trunk for pagan ceremonies”. TIK, matini, “flag, pennant”. SAM matini, “an offering of branches of certain trees, to induce aitu [gods, spirits] to place over the place where they are hung without calling in”.
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  • mio. “Toast of kava in paganism”.
  • Nimo. “Name of the first Futunan who, it is said, held the tabernacle [oracle] of Fakavelikele”.
  • nuaga. “Period when, in paganism, one prepared the paint which is used to daub oneself”. TIK nuanga, “turmeric extraction”. R/B nunu 'anga, “rubbing in preparation of turmeric”. SAM nuaga, “a grating down, as of arrowroot or turmeric”.
  • omoe. “Gift of food which was made in paganism to those who prepared the mixture which served as make-up in great reunions, dances, war”. TIK, ome, “special food, prepared for turmeric expert”.
  • pae atua. “Divine stone (of paganism)”. Upright stone slab situated in front of the chief's house and fronting the malae plaza. TIK, pae, “block, slab, usually of stone”. (In Tikopia, identical stone uprights on sacred places are called pae marae.) R/B pae, “pile, heap, as of stones”. SAM pae, “a set erected in the open air”.
  • tautaumafa. “Futunan feast of thanksgiving to a pagan divinity”. R/B taumaha, “to dedicate food or hail the gods or ancestors”. SAM taumafa, “to eat or drink, of chiefs and a chief's pigeon”.
  • Teailoilo. “Name of a pagan divinity who is supposed to have been at the door to heaven to see who might pass”.
  • Tiafoi. “Title of the chief of Fikavi in paganism”.
  • toematua. “Priest or priestess of paganism”.
  • tukusua. “Assembly of all the people in paganism, at which only obscenities were spoken”.
  • uga. “Pagan ceremony, concerning foods destined for a child”.
  • umu-kokaaga. “House where siapo [barkcloth] was made, in pagan times”.
  • vaka-totoko. “Make-believe boat of devils (paganism)”. Cf. TIK totonga, “practice, custom, rites”.
Table 1: Futunan Agricultural Calendar
Month Season Modern Names Yam Season Grézel's Month Names Burrows' Month Names
April WET Apelili Ta'u Mua Ualoa Uafakaaoki
May WET Maio Ta'u Mua Tulalupe Tulafulu
June DRY Sunio Ta'u Mua Mataliki Kametala
July DRY Sulio Ta'u Lasi Tolu Puketa
August DRY Okusito Ta'u Lasi Palolo-mua Lavaipaku
September DRY Sepetepeli Ta'u Muli Palolo-muli Tautauapeka
October WET Okotopeli Ta'u Muli Munifa Kalokalo
November WET Novepeli   Tauafu Taufu
  WET     Vai-mua  
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December WET Desepeli   Vai-muli Matagi
  WET     Lisa-mua  
January WET Sanualio   Lisa-muli Tagaloa
February WET Fepualio   Fakaafuola Ualasi
March WET Malesio   Fakaafumate Ualiliki
Table 2. Chronological summary of events during the monsoon ritual season of 1838.
3.9 Fono held to set feast date
5.9 Fikavi village brings quantity of taro
7.9 Paki dance held
8.9 Start of “grande fete” with Sigave people present; Food distribution
12.9 “3e commencement” of feast called “faka angui angui” with Sigave people present; food distribution and paki dance
13.9 Food distribution and paki dance
8.10 Fermented breadfruit paste distributed by Niuliki
13.10 Vanae at Poi; public prayers (Taofialiki) to quell the wind
14.10 Chiefs eat first yams and breadfruit of the year; Farema prays for fertility, etc.
15.10 Preparations begin for “grande fête”
16.10 Yams offered to Fakavelikele
17.10 Sharks offered to god with prayers
18.10 Niuliki's kin bring offering of yams
19.10 More yams brought to Niuliki
20.10 Sigave people arrive at Poi; food distribution and kava ceremony; dedication of tapakau mats
21.10 Food distribution; formal procession of men carrying banana leaves; solemn kava made in large leaves and drunk by priests
22.10 Kava; pigs distributed
29.10 Feast at Vele announced for 10 days hence
7.11 Feast held at Vele; Sigave people arrive with food; washing of bodies with water; dance
8.11 Men arrive at feast chanting; food distribution; paki dance of village teams
19.11 First breadfruit offered to Fakavelikele
20.11 Priests assemble to eat first breadfruit
1.12 Feast of fermented breadfruit offered to rain gods; Niuliki and mua take food offerings to Urui and Semuu
15.12 Circumcision feast
16.12 Circumcision feast continues
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18.12 Circumcision feast continues
26.12 Fakama fafo feast for initiates
30.12 Small feast offered to Fakavelikele
19.1 Barkcloth offered by Niuliki to Fakavelikele
Table 3. Chronological summary of events during the monsoon ritual season of 1839.
11.9 Kava performed; Niuliki is oracle for Fakavelikele
16.9 Niuliki and chiefs pray for rain; Fakavelikele beseached to water the land,stop drought
30.9 Niuliki at Asoa for mauri ceremony
4.10 Start of feast at Lalolalo
5.10 Many people at Lalolalo with Niuliki
6.10 Food carried to Lalolalo for feast
7.10 Return from Lalolalo
8.10 Preparation for taofialiki feast at Poi
9.10 Food preparation for taofialiki feast
14.10 Taofialiki feast for god of “lère ministre”
15.10 Taofialiki feast continues
21.10 Wood sought for atua ceremony
22.10 Preparations for feast at Fikavi; yams harvested
23.10 Fishing and baskets prepared for feast
24.10 People go to Fikavi with bananas, fish, etc. for feast there
25.10 Return of people from Fikavi; fetafetaaki mock combat
5.11 Breadfruit fermented
6.11 Ceremony of first breadfruit
30.11 Fono at Tamana regarding godhouse for Fakavelikele
2-5.12 Preparation of godhouse for Fakavelikele
6-7.12 Ceremony at Lalolalo; erection of godhouse for Fakavelikele to ensure rain, abundant breadfruit fish, etc.
28.12 Circumcision feast at Fikavi
1   Some aspects of the ritual cycle did continue, but in alterred form and context. For example, the production of turmeric dye, so important to many aspects of Futunan culture, has continued up to the present time, although stripped of most of the elaborate ritual which doubtlessly contexted this activity in premission times. Likewise, a cycle of village katoaga feasts has also continued, but these are now tied to a Christian calendar of saints' days.
2   In this paper, I have confined myself to the available published texts, described in detail below. Doubtless, further details might be gleaned from a search of unpublished mission letters or diaries. Some such manuscript sources were shown to me by Père Siffert at the Lano Seminary on 'Uvea in 1974, and others probably exist in the Société de Marie archives in France. I leave this task to others.
3   Western Polynesia, the cultural area first defined by Burrows (1939), includes Futuna along with Samoa, Tonga, 'Uvea, Niue, Niuatoputapu, and Niuafo'ou. Oultier Polynesia consists of some 18 societies of Polynesian-speakers geographically distributed through Melanesia and Micronesia (Bayard 1976; Kirch 1984a). Pawley (1967) has demonstrated that the Outlier languages form a subgroup with Samoan, Futunan, and the older (pre-Tonganised) language of 'Uvea, which he has termed Samoic-Outlier.
4   Here we must keep in mind that Chanel and the other French sources refer largely to the Alo chiefdom. It is entirely likely that Fakavelikele may not have been the primary deity in Sigave, where the paramount lineage had other origins.
5   Nizier (in Burrows 1936:109-10) also explains how Père Chanel set up his portable altar at this pou tapu, and drove large spikes into the sacred post to hang up the holy-water vessel. Little wonder that Niuliki viewed Chanel's activities as a direct challenge to his own authority.
6   A 14-month lunar year is obviously too long by two months. Grézel accounts for this discrepancy by noting that “la neuvième et la dixième lune n'ont pas de correspondant dans un mois; cela provient sans doute de ce que les Futuniens intercalent toujours une partie d'une lune dans une autre, comme j'ai remarqué plusieurs fois dans leurs conversations. C'est ce qui leur a valu l'honneur d'avoir quatorze lunes au lieu de douze” (1878b:69).
7   The use of Pleiades, whether at sunrise or sunset, to mark key junctures in the ritual cycle is widely reported from other Polynesian islands. In Hawai'i, for example, the appearance of Makali'i at sunset (about November) marked the beginning of the makahiki harvest season (Malo 1950:30; Sahlins 1981:18; Valeri 1985:197-8). In the Tuamotu Islands, Emory (1947:58-61) notes that Matariki is both the name for Pleiades, and the symbol of a female turtle; turtles appear about July to lay their eggs, and this is therefore the time for the key Tuamotuan turtle feasts. Similarly, for Pukapuka the Beagleholes (1938:351) state that “Mataliki directly overhead in the sky is a sign of turtles coming to lay eggs on the outer beaches”. On Pukapuka, the rising of Pleiades (May to June) also marks the division between seasons.
8   Valeri (1985:198-99) describes a similar division of the traditional Hawaiian year based on climatic factors: “The most important… is the opposition between the dry season (kau), lasting six months, which begins when the Pleiades set at dawn, and a wet period (ho'oilo), which occupies the other six months of the year and begins when the Pleiades rise at sunset” (see also Malo 1950:30). The Hawaiian “New Year's festival” or Makahiki fell during the wet period. These correspondences between the Futunan and Hawaiian cycles are doubtless shared retentions from a common, ancestral Polynesian culture (see Kirch and Green 1987).
9   Throughout the following pages, all citations from Chanel's journal are referred to by date (day, month, year), and by page number in the Rozier (1960) edition of his writings. For ease of reading, I have translated all infra-linear quotations from the French.
10   I have consistently translated Chanel's term “fête” as “feast”, because the preparation and distribution of foodstuffs such as taro, yams, and pigs appears to have been a common feature of these ritual gatherings.
11   Chanel frequently uses the term atua, “god” or “deity” when referring to a particular chief or priest who represented that deity or served as its oracle.
12   Throughout this account, it will be noted that the village of Fikavi on the windward coast of Futuna (see Fig. 1) had frequent associations with the paramount chief, Niuliki. Fikavi fell within Niuliki's political dominion, but it was not his main residence, which was at Vele on the south-eastern shore. However, Fikavi is closely linked with Niuliki's principal god, Fakavelikele. According to Futunan traditions, it was at Fikavi (and particularly on the kāiga estate of Anakele) that the “samoan” chief Mago arrived and set up his residence. Mago and his spouse, Tafaleata, were the parents of Fakavelikele who eventually left Anakele after an incestuous episode with his sister Finelasi (Frimigacci 1990:69-73)
13   From 24th March until 27th April, Chanel was absent from Futuna on a voyage to Wallis Island.
14   In 1932, the then sau of Alo, the Tu'i Asoa, told Burrows that, “in the old days it was customary to serve kava to chiefs, at least those of Loka [an important malae site on Alofi Island], before sunrise ‘every day, like early mass’” (1936:203). “This early kava party was called tae'ao, assembly (at) dawn” (see also Burrows 1936:125).
15   There is some confusion regarding the Futunan terms for turmeric dye. Burrows (1936:199) says the bright orange pigment is called ama, while the yellow, coarse material used in cooking is taua; this confirms my own field notes. However, Chanel's journal (Rozier 1960:357) refers to “ringa”, his rendering of the widespread Polynesian term renga or lenga. It seems likely that lega was the Futunan term for the ritually charged pigment, but that this went out of use after the conversion to Catholicism. In his dictionary, Grézel (1878a) does not list any of these terms in connection with turmeric, a curious omission considering his usual thoroughness with regard to “pagan” religious terminology.
16   Père Chevron, in a letter from Futuna dated 21st October, 1840, remarked, concerning turmeric manufacture, that “pour ce travail, ils se réunissent par village dans les lieux où croit la racine; c'est pour eux un véritable temps de vendanges” (quoted in Rozier 1960:356, fn. 5).
17   This reference is presumably to the preparation of strainers made from the “fabric” found at the bases of coconut fronds (Burrows 1936:199). Similar strainers, supported on large wooden tripods, are used in the Tikopian turmeric extraction process (see illustration in Kirch and Yen 1982, fig. 7).
18   The reference to praying over the wooden cylinders in which the turmeric is baked in its final stages of preparation is particularly noteworthy, as this replicates precisely the procedure in Tikopia (Firth 1967a:416-64). In 1978, I was able to take part in the “work of the turmeric” of the Ariki Tafua at Matautu on Tikopia, and observed the careful baking — in a special ritual earth oven within the chief's house — of the concentrated pigment and coconut oil mixture in wooden cyclinders, all done under strict tapu and following prescribed ritual order.
19   On the 10th-11th, the people of Fikavi Village also brought food and kava to Niuliki for a small distribution at Poi. Whether this was directly related to the completion of the turmeric work is not certain from Chanel's journal.
20   It is uncertain whether these turtle feasts were a part of the regular ritual calendar, or whether they were held on an impromptu basis, subject to the capture of turtles.
21   This would appear to be Chanel's rendering of the Futunan term fakaagiagi, which Grézel (1878a:86) defines as “prendre l'air; prendre le frais au vent; exposer au vent, faire sécher au vent; essayer si tout est en harmonie pour une danse que l'on exécute pour une première fois”. In Tikopia, the cognate term fakaangiangi also has the definition of “making breezy” (Firth 1985:38). However, Firth notes a figurative usage “without special ritual; light, free in ritual sphere”. It is conceivable that the Futunan term also conveyed some sense of the lifting of a tapu, or of a last period of “free” activity before the onset of the important (and presumably tapu) first-fruit rituals which were to follow. Such an interpretation, of course, is pure speculation.
22   In many Polynesian societies, sharks were held in special regard. In Hawai'i, for example, sharks were associated with the chiefs, the latter being characterised as “sharks who travel on the land”. Firth (1967b:551-5) discusses the symbolic associations of sharks in Tikopia, where they sometimes had totemic significance.
23   The brevity of Chanel's description of this consecration of coconut frond floor mats (tapakau) is frustrating, since there is an intriguing hint of similarity here with the important Tikopian rituals of “recarpeting” of the ancestral temples (Firth 1967:198-254). In the Tikopian rites, tapakau mats (the same term applies), upon which the chiefs and ritual elders are seated during ceremonies, are replaced in the ancestral temples. Significantly, the Tikopian re-carpeting rites immediately follow the “work of the yam”, or Dioscorea first-fruits.
24   The procession of men carrying banana leaves is another instance where Chanel's description is tantalising, but insufficient to interpret the symbolic significance of the act. Elsewhere in Polynesia, banana leaves or trunks had considerable symbolic weight. In Hawai'i, for instance, “both the banana tree and its fruit are considered metaphors of man. The trunk of the banana tree is used ritually as asubstitute for the human body” (Valeri 1985:46). Both Sahlins (1985b:74) and Dening (1992:197) have written of the incidents surrounding the Dolphin's arrival at Tahiti in 1767, including the offering of plantain “branches”, which were evidently a token human sacrifice to the Tahitian war-god 'Oro. We can only speculate whether the ceremony observed by Chanel might have had symbolic overtones of metaphoric human sacrifice to the gods.
25   It is not clear whether this was of native barkcloth, or a piece of European trade cloth. However, elsewhere in his journal Chanel generally uses the term “tape” for barkcloth, so that his mention of “étoffe” here probably signifies trade cloth.
26   The timing of this war may itself be significant, coming in the dry season, and not during the principal monsoon harvest rituals. In other Polynesian societies, the timing of war was prescribed ritually, as in Hawai'i (Valeri 1985; Sahlins 1989), and always occurred outside the period of the harvest festivals.
27   Frimigacci (1990:14-50) provides a detailed analysis of the battle, based both on Chanel's eyewitness account, and on Futunan oral traditions.
28   That these events were now concerned with the annual harvest ritual, rather than with offerings to Fakavelikele for success in war, is clear from Chanel's reference to prayers for rain, fertility, and so forth.
29   Once again, Chanel tantalises us with a hint of some significant ritual. Grézel (1878a:200) defines mauli as “life, living, to be alive;” it is a term with widespread Polynesian cognates. A possible connection with Tikopian ritual practice is again indicated: the word mauri on Tikopia refers to “spirit, life principle, vitality of man or animal” (Firth 1985:260), and the taumauri canoes were sacred craft which were the focus of major ritual activity (Firth 1967a:56-7).
30   Grézel (1878a:127) defines fetafetaki as fighting with a club or other object.
31   Since Chanel did not actually attend this ritual at Lalolalo, it is uncertain whether the wooden timbers prepared at Poi were for a wholly new godhouse, or whether they were to be used for the ritual refurbishing of an existing structure.
32   Grézel's use of the term “époque;” seems noteworthy, indicating that this activity took up a considerable period of time
33   The term nuaga or cognates appears in other Western Polynesian and Outlier languages as well. According to Buck (1930:299), nuaga in Samoan referred to the manufacture of turmeric by an entire village. Elbert (1975:199) gives Rennellese and Bellonese nunu as “to rub turmeric roots in turmeric preparation”, and nunu 'anga as “rubbing in preparation of turmeric”.
34   Best et al. (1992) were not able to obtain the Tikopia basalt adzes for geochemical sourcing, but similar basalt adzes from the Polynesian Outlier of Taumako (with which Tikopia had voyaging ties) were definitively sourced to the Tatanga-matau quarry.
35   In contrast, the time depth of separation between the societies of Eastern Polynesia (Hawai'i, Rapanui, New Zealand, etc.) and those of Western Polynesia, is closer to two millennia.
36   The expedition's cameraman also took some remarkable black-and-white movie footage of these rituals, copies of which are in the archives of the American Museum of Natural History (New York), and in the Bernice P. Bishop Museum (Honolulu)
37   Monberg (personal communication, 14th February, 1993) focused in his 1991 book on the harvest cycle, leaving an account of the rituals of turmeric manufacture to a later work
38   An additional consideration when comparing Tongan and Futunan rituals is that the contact-era Tongan chiefdom had achieved a level of sociopolitical complexity much greater than that of Futuna, with greater hierarchy
39   The term “synthetic figurative” refers to the major styles of prehistoric art descibed by Leroi-Gourhan in his classic monograph (1982).
40   Rolett's argument hinges on the hypothesis that Polynesian peoples saw an analogic relation between the air-breathing but marine-dwelling turtle, and the transcendence of boundaries between the material and spirit worlds.