Volume 103 1994 > Volume 103, No. 4 > Rapanui's 'great old words': E timo te akoako, by Steven Roger Ficher, p 413-443
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There is one chant which the Rapanui cherish above all others as their greatest and oldest — “E Timo te Akoako”. And well they may. On 28th January, 1870, the missionary Father Gaspard Zumbohm (Pq 75-3, General Archives of the Padri dei Sacri Cuori, Rome) wrote from Easter Island to Bishop Tepano Jaussen in Pape'ete: “I am keeping and guarding for you a very lovely ‘timo te ako ako’”;on 26th September, 1870: “Jorge [Arena] is going to give you a ‘timo ako ako’”. By this, Zumbohm meant one of Easter Island's famous inscribed tablets, because, in the 19th century, the Rapanui so closely identified these with the chant “E Timo te Akoako” that they called the objects themselves timo or timo te akoako. 1 At the beginning of the 20th century, Katherine Routledge's (1914-5: Reel 1, notebook p. 5) informant Kapiera (Gabriel Revahiva) was still perpetuating this custom when he designated the tablets ko te timo. And, when Routledge showed the leper Tomenika a 20-year-old sheet of derivative signs which had been drawn in a Chilean notebook, Tomenika immediately broke into chant: “He timo te akoako” (Routledge 1919:250). The chant was “ like the alphabet, you learn it first”, Routledge was told (1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note). Her informants also asserted (Routledge 1919:248) that Ure Va'eIko who, in 1886, had been the American William Thomson's rongorongo informant, had said “E Timo te Akoako” comprised Rapanui's “great old words”.

That the Rapanui chant “E Timo te Akoako” is premissionary — that is, pre-1864 — in origin and that it was important to the erstwhile “rongorongo schools” on Easter Island are certain. It is also alleged to be the only extant chant known to have once been inscribed on a rongorongo tablet. 2 According to Routledge's informants Kapiera, Porotu(Hongi 'Atua 'a Ure Au Viri),and Jotefa M/n>=""aherenga (1914-5: Reel 2, notebook p. 16), the chant belonged to the inscription class known as hakiri. This was a two-metre-long “piece of wood” that, in contrast with the smaller rongorongo of “little words” which were made for amusement, contained “a prayer to God with no bad words like some of the others, and the Prebyters 3 [sic] said it was good”. Kapiera told Routledge (1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note) that the chant signalled the “first time they prayed on this island”. Hati Rongo Pua's claim (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, notebook p.31)that his father Rangi Ue [?], who was born in about 1820, had taught him “the words ko timo te ako” would confirm the chant's dissemination on Easter Island in the first half of the 19th century.

According to eyewitness statements, “E Timo te Akoako” was the first chant - 414 that the young men of a rongorongo school memorised in preparation for their learning to “chant-read” and inscribe Easter Island's unique rongorongo script. As late as the 1930s, Rapanui's resident priest, the German Father Sebastian Englert (1980:227), like Routledge before him, was told that the chant was, in fact, a sort of “alphabet” for the instruction of future ma'ori kohau rongorongo, Englert's own designation for experts of the script: “Some of today's natives claim to have learnt from their ancestors that, in teaching the boys to read the inscribed tablets, there was first used, in the manner of a primer, the text of a tablet begining with the words: E timo te akoako”. If it is true, as the evidence suggests, that the idea of a script was introduced to the Rapanui only in 1770 when they were compelled to witness in ink a Spanish deed of possession — though the rongorongo script itself, in morphology and function, is completely a Rapanui creation — then the chant's dependence on the script's existence would indicate that “E Timo te Akoako” had been composed shortly after the script's local elaboration and the creation of the rongorongo schools. This would have been in the late 18th or early 19th century.

However, already at the beginning of the 20th century, Routledge (1919:248) wrote of “E Timo te Akoako”: “To get any sort of translation was a difficult matter, to ask for it was much the same as for a stranger solemnly to inquire the meaning of some of our own nursery rhymes, such as ‘Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle’ — some words could be explained, others could not, the whole meaning was unknown”. More than 20 years later, in the 1930s, Englert (1980:227) noted, “Like all the texts of ancient songs and recitations, [‘E Timo te Akoako’] contains archaic expressions whose significance will remain probably forever obscure”. Heyerdahl (1965:356) has ascribed this apparent textual obscurity to a “linguistic substratum” in order to argue for a non-Polynesian provenance. However, it is safe to regard the chant as a Rapanui composition which was couched in metaphorical Old Rapanui 4 and which, after the calamity of the 1860s' labour raids and pandemics, was no longer understood by the noninitiated, who continued passing it along in many corrupted versions.

Today, only a careful study of all the texts of “E Timo te Akoako”, most of which hitherto have remained unpublished, might allow the possibility of a preliminary reconstruction of a text approaching the “original” (a term I use with caution). This preliminary reconstruction might then be able to tell us something more of the chant's purpose and significance in the rongorongo schools of premissionary Rapanui. One should discard any naïve hopes of identifying this chant on any of Easter Island's few remaining rongorongo tablets. 5 Notwithstanding, these sundry texts and textual fragments of “E Timo te Akoako”, which is perhaps the most important of Rapanui's premissionary chants, 6 represent in themselves challenging and eloquent members of the Old Rapanui repertoire.

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TEXT A (Heyerdahl and Ferdon 1965: Fig. 127)

He timo. teako ako. heako ako tena. ete tuu etetaha. ete kuia. ete kapa. kapa. ete herehue. e te manu vae punaka. e te manu vae ehá. e. áhaana. e noho ana. itua teata ata. maru maru kohu kohu. ogaoa. nivae. kia hivatipara. a tua rugaé. para kava. tohua, ahama te riu. iki, monoho i roto itepu, e parae karutu itapu ohea. he timo rere. makai makai te timo herere. anake aô a hee, pua kapaua rava. totake tamaha hine. otapu ara tahá

This is from Rapanui “manuscript book” A, which is Esteban Atán's 1936 copy of an inherited handwritten notebook of rongorongo signs (after Jaussen 1893), oral traditions, recent island history, an 'ariki genealogy, nights of the moon, and so forth, composed or transcribed shortly after 1893 allegedly by Ure Va'e Iko, Tuputahi, and Tomenika (Heyerdahl and Ferdon 1965:361). Ure Va'e Iko could well have been the ultimate source, at least for this written version titled “He Timo”, since the text represents the longest, most comprehensible, and best scanned version of the chant. Despite its orthography, it is superior to the many versions that Routledge collected from the “younger generation” 20 years later in 1914-5.

TEXT B (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note)

at eti moté ako ako he ako ako te na e ete tue e te taha — eterino. e te kuia. e te cappa cappe ete héré ua eté ko otiro e te manu wyéha. A tua ha ita tô — tu té ue [or tie] he moa — tu tu te hau

Routledge's informant was probably Kapiera. The disjoined text reflects Routledge's unfamiliarity with the Rapanui language. One can infer from this that Text B was witnessed soon after Routledge's arrival on Easter Island in June 1914. Beneath her undated note, Routledge writes, “all written on there”, which could allude to her informant mentioning that this chant had been inscribed on a rongorongo tablet. Text B seems to be a combination of “E Timo te Akoako” and some other chant that is only partially remembered.

TEXT C (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, notebook p.1)

He timo te ako ako tena. e te tuu e te taha, e te kuia, e te kappa kappa, e te heréhua, e te kotiro, e te manu vai eha [at this point, “e te punuki” is crossed out] (here a little uncertain) e te pônuki e te manu vai éha. hoki ki he te Atua e haka tupu ana ki te henua. ki te tamaiti, ki te ta-ata. aruki héa aruki te henua

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The leper, Tomenika, recited this chant for Routledge on 22nd December, 1914, at the leprosarium when she showed him a sheet covered with four lines of derivative ta'u signs, a late 19th-century invention. The word pônuki is here glossed as “uk” (unknown); haka tupu ana ‘gives the boy in the woman’; tamaiti ‘boy’; ta-ata ‘tangata’; and aruki ‘look (search)’. Tomenika said, “The King wrote it”. Routledge asked what its name was. Standing alongside, Juan Tepano suggested “o te Ranga Koho Rono Orong, to which T. [Tomenika] agreed”. Like Text B, this seems to be a combination of “E Timo te Akoako” and some other chant, here beginning “hoki ki hē te 'atua” and including Tahitian tamaiti and ta'ata.

TEXT D (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note)

Pre-Christian prayer

Time te ako ako. he ako ako téna etétu—e te kuia ete kapo été hérí hua ete kotôo Atua kahinga te vau kapo kapo te vau kotue te vau puna ka te vau

The informant is not identified. The words hérí hua are glossed “on est bien content” (Routledge was “profiting” from the services of the resident Frenchman, whose translations are weak attempts at best); kotue ‘old’; and puna ‘holes of water’. Routledge notes below her transcription: “could not be translated”. Text D also appears to be a hybrid.

TEXT E (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, notebook pp. 16-7)

he timo te ako-ako he ako ako téna he te tôô e te táha e te kuia et hére hua e te kappa kap

name(1) chant(2) c'est ça mast is aslant nk.[not known] bind people(3) bird alights with flapping wings

e te manuvaeeha atua panguru[-] atua te háré atua kahinga te vau karea te vau kuia te vau karea

birds+41egs God rumbles God nk. the house God faces nk.(4) nk. c' est lui nk

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orne mahunga te mahunga nui otonga te mahunga titoi o tonga te manu nui te manu roa kotiro (Atua

it is Hill hill big o Tonga(5) hill nk o Tonga bird big the bird long o a fish small (not eatable)

káhinga te vau. karéa te vau) te manu punua ka punua iraro yana korua e noho ana itua te ata ata

(6) little young nestling little nestling down falls down here all people is sat behind the shadow(7)

itua te maru maru i te manu íhopohía te ata te ariki o tea te rongo orongo a Tangaroa ka tagni veka karoa veka ki te rato henua a mahia hia rangaura

behind the shadow of trees bird gives the twilight the king day the rongo orong Tanga Roa cry all farewell all anyone our land carries or bows away a woman

The informants are Kapiera, Porotu, and Jotefa Maherenga. They are telling Routledge about what the deceased Ure Va'e Iko had known. Routledge's numbered notes: 1. “Timo said to be the hero of the legend of turning the body on the ahu. 2nd time said=chant”. 2. “ako chant, sing in tone, ako ako:…from symbols or writing”. 3. “Hua ‘quelque personnes’ number indefinite”. 4. “first given as Manu étahi and then corrected to Manu étk” [sic]. 5. “Otonga a hill w. [west of] Vaihu ?Remote origins”. 6. “?Repeated by mistake”. 7. “Ata shadow of a living person as distinct from that of trees or rocks—in twilight maru and koho shadow the same thing”. Routledge's glosses and notes must be regarded as uncertain interpretations. Text E appears to be a confused miscellany of parts of several chants.

Text F (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note)

E aha e noho itua te ata Ata

Mare Mare Koho Koho i

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Nu ani-va Tau tangaroa

The informant is not identified. Preceding Routledge's unnumbered note is the annotation: “timo te ako is like the alphabet you learn it first”, after which she writes “RoR” (rongorongo) and then offers Text F. Compare Text G.

TEXT G (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note)

E na hoa e na uto te puocho e ha ana e noho ana itua ata ata maru maru Kohu Kohu Rima

stand up put your hands on head what does he he[?]s he sits down behind the shadow Maru Maru shadow hand

oa niva é-é tau tangaroa tangai ai e tuu haka hehinga te ariki o ara hiu o ara hi hiu te kotea ka huhu mai

my yes yes perspire tired wood [?] fall down king road place to tie take your

te hau o te ariki kirotto né ki runge né ki te haka mata mata te haka mata hau tea tea he tuu he hahati te ariki

hat Chief inside alone to moare network come back bone [?] king

he hihinga he rohinga he moku he rére he poróreko te paroko ki te karu hihi

fall down turn your back fly fly slip little fish skiz [?] eyebro [sic]

Routledge's informant is Te Haha's wife Veri Tea 'a Tea, who claimed she once had lived with Ure Va'e Iko and had heard him chant this. She herself had been taught by Ure Va'e Iko, Veri said; for this reason, Routledge dubs her the “koho Rongorong [sic] woman”. Text G appears to be a combination of part of “E Timo te Akoako” (compare Text F) and one or more unknown chants (compare Text B). These could well have figured as authentic rongorongo inscriptions, albeit not in the wording of Text G.

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TEXT H (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, notebook p. 63)

kó ti mó te aku aku. e teta e te teta e te kôía e te kôia e te manu. vai é há e te hau topa. mai te ragni

The informant is not identified. Routledge titles this “Tablet words (recited)”. Glosses: vai é há ‘watches’; hau ‘sting’; topa ‘fall’; and ragni (rangi) ‘sky’. What follows vai é há either derives from another chant or represents spontaneous invention.

TEXT I (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, notebook p. 65)

ko timo te ako ako he aku aku téna e te tu e te taha e te rono e te kuia e te

o o spirit hat with feathers spirit hapaíere? slope sign wriggle enter slowly

kappa kap e te heru ua e te kotiro e te manu éhá hi te aitatu paoa maunga nui o

black bird in Mutu Nu = KA Kappa knee rain o birds four many things o in

Tonga ki tu turu mainoki ki a te mea (3 diamonds) te ariki éhá a koi e noho ana i tua te ata ata márô márô kohu kohu rima a niva tau tangawa [or Tangaroa]

Vaihu descends they go what have you to do he sits here behind the shadow shelter o o hand to give sue[?]

Routledge introduces this text: “Tablets. Fata and Hé turning over Thompson [Thomson's] reproduction and making it out between them and pointing to signs with piece of grass; translation by Frenchman”. Her informants “Fata” (Fati Rongo Pua, then nearly 80) and “Hé” (Román Hei, about 90) had both been adults at the height of rongorongo activity on premissionary Rapanui. From their description of the rongorongo signs from an unspecified reproduction in - 420 Thomson's 1891 publication, it appears that the men are looking at Thomson's photograph of Jaussen's tablet “Aruku Kurenga”. Interestingly enough, they begin at its obverse, line 1, indeed the correct starting point for reading a rongorongo tablet—its lower left-hand corner. Notwithstanding, their text “Ko Timo te Akoako” contradicts the internal structure of the original tablet's sign sequence. Furthermore, neither Fati nor Hei was ever mentioned by other Rapanui as having been knowledgeable in rongorongo affairs. (Ure Va'e Iko was the only informant to have held this distinction on the island.) It is evident that both are reciting a previously memorised chant or parts of chants which have nothing to do with the photograph in their hands. Text I shows similarities with Texts F and G. The Frenchman's “translations” are awkward attempts at a superficial glossing. Most significant in this informant session is that Fati and Hei display a conviction that “E Timo te Akoako” must be inscribed on a still extant, smaller rongorongo tablet — that is, not on a hakari tablet. At the conclusion of her transcription, Routledge notes: “about sign in line Fati does not know not [sic] any more, he was only a small boy and his father knew”.

TEXT J (Estella 1921:31)

E ti mo te ako ako E ako ako tena E te tu e te taha E te here hua E te paka paka

Estella titles this fragment “Plegaria Kanaka pascuense” and offers a musical notation of it which earlier had been transcribed by Padre Tomás de Elduayen and, with other songs, is “precisely the one that was harmonised” (1921:29). However, the melody given here is patently Western in origin. 7 In a later section of his book, Estella (1921:131) repeats the text, now calling it a “Lord's Prayer that the Easter Islanders anciently recited”: “E timote aku-aku e aku te ná, e te tu e te taha e te herehua, e te paka-paka”. Here, Estella offers an unacceptable “free translation approved by the most eminent Easter Island elders”: “The enemy of the spirit lies in ambush to destroy it when it sees it cold or dry for goodness' sake”.

TEXT K (Métraux 1934-5: unnumbered note)

E timo te akoako he akoako tena etetu ete kuia ete manu vaeha ete pohu-hutuhutu tere vai mangaro

This fragment from Métraux's unpublished field notes is glossed: “Teaching the song he sings this is large bird the bird claws 4 insect insect walks sweet water”. Métraux's informant in 1934 was Marí Manu Heu Roroa. Once again, - 421 after manu va'e 'ehā, the text dissipates in ambiguities.

TEXT L (Englert 1948:322)

He timo te akoako e te tuu e te taha e te kuía e te kapakapa e te here hua

Englert writes of this fragment: “No one can translate for example the first sentences with which they recite the song of a tablet”.

TEXT M (Englert 1980:227)

E timo te akoako, he akoako te ná e te tu'u e te taha e te kuía e te kapakapa e te manu va'e punaka e te manu va'e ehá e aha á e noho ana i tu'a te átaáta marumaru kohukohu o Nao a niva é ki a Hiva te para atua ruNa para kava tahua a há mata riu rerere mako 'i mako 'i e timo he rere aué ahé pua ka ravarava totaki tamahahine a tapu ara taha

José Fati gave Englert (1980:226) to understand that his father Te Hati Renga (Fati Rongo Pua, from Hati Rongo Pua) had told him that Hati's grandfather, Kekepu 'a Marama 'o Hiva, a rongorongo expert, had taught this text to the young men learning to read rongorongo. Evidently witnessed by Englert in the 1930s, Text M is so similar to Text A that we must assume it to derive from a shared source. Apparently, it is from the Fati family's Rapanui manuscript book, one which could date back to the last years of the 19th century. However, one detects significant differences and omissions in Text M. Also, Text M differs enormously from Text I which the same Fati, together with Hei, recited for Routledge in 1914.

TEXT N (Barthel 1959:168)

he timo te akoako he akoako tena e te tuu e te taha e te kuia e te kapakapa e te herehua e te manu vae punaka e te manu vae eha e te pohutuhutu tere vai mangaro

Barthel admits (1959:171, n. 50) that his text is a composite, artificially put together from Routledge (1919:248), Estella (1921:131), Englert (1948:322), Métraux (1934-5), and Rapanui manuscript books A (here Text A) and F (unpublished). On the basis of his resulting 10-line text, Barthel (1962:8) later claims that the Rapanui had purposefully arranged the song in “ten lines” and, therefore, it would represent another example of a Polynesian decadic. This cannot be correct, because Barthel put together his own 10 lines, because the true - 422 length of the chant is unknown (Text A, for example, is considerably longer), and because Polynesian oratory did not comprise “lines”, which presupposes a lineally written text. 8

TEXT O (Campbell and Silva 1970:176-7)

He timo teako ako he ako-ako tena he te tu'u he te taha e te kuia e te kapa-kapa e te herehue e te manu va'e punaka e te manu va'e eha eaahaana enohoana i tua te ataata maru-maru kohu-kohu ongaoanivae kiahiva te para atuarungae tohua ahaama teriu iki monoho i roto i te pu eparae ka rutu i tapuohea he timo rere makai mai he timo herere anake au ahee pu 'a karavarava totake tamahahine o tapu arataha

Campbell and Silva's informant is Luis “kiko” Paté, Tomenika's great-nephew. Kiko evidently had access to an older family “manuscript book” version of the song: Text O bears so close a similarity to Text A, even more than Text M, that it must be regarded as an immediate derivative. Campbell and Silva have made no attempt to edit the text; their orthography leaves much to be desired. Their Spanish translation, done with the assistance of Rafael Haoa, is naïve and amateurish, and need not be repeated here. They call (1970:174) the chant a patautau; however, this is a recently borrowed Tahitian term for a recitation preceding a dance. Campbell and Silva further err in claiming that Routledge's informant, Tomenika, when shown the sheet of derivative signs, called the written text “He timo te ako-ako”; Tomenika simply recited Text C without associating this chant with the written signs. On the basis of this error, Campbell and Silva then declare Text O to be Routledge's sheet of written signs and present a “decipherment” of this derivative ta'u script using Text O as their purported “reading”. Their fallacious premise and unscientific method fail to convince. Later, Campbell (1971:394-5) returned to this same “decipherment” to offer an edited and abridged text of “E Timo te Akoako” with the same translation as before and with a monotonic musical notation in which the text is altered to fit the rhythm. In a more recent study, Campbell (1987:266-70), working with Kiko and Ricardo Hito, presents a third text of the chant, with a new and equally unsatisfactory translation. Campbell sees in the text “a borrowed form of expression based on episodes from the Passion of Jesus” (1987:270). Campbell's most recent treatment of the chant (1990:93-6), with Kiko's and Victoria Rapahanga's assistance, affords still another “translation”, which Campbell again links to the Holy Scriptures.

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Rapanui's “E Timo te Akoako” evidently suffers the “Hey Diddle-Diddle Syndrome” in which tradition has survived purpose. It has become too corrupted in all its extant versions to provide anything but “cow-jumped-over-the-moon” data. Perhaps we must dismiss this chant altogether, declaring it to be beyond redemption, as some have stated. However, before giving up entirely, we should look for new techniques which might permit a preliminary reconstruction of one of the chant's “original” versions. New techniques are available. The chant's metrical scanning according to the recently discovered “Rule of Eight”, when combined with the recent data of Rapanui and Polynesian historical linguistics, recommends itself as perhaps one of the most effective new techniques we might be able to implement here.

Premissionary Rapanui knew scanned oratory. The French missionary Brother Eugène Eyraud (1866:66-7)wrote, upon leaving Easter Island in 1864: “What is sung? Oh! I confess that this poetry is very primitive, and above all very little varied…. one is content in simply repeating the matter, sometimes the word alone that expresses it, and it is sung in all the tones, from the beginning of the festivity till the end”. Seventy years later, Métraux (1935: unnumbered page) wrote: “I discovered in addition that the poetry of Easter Island is composed of short scanned measures”. Métraux (Laroche 1990:180) also wrote of Rapanui's kaikai (string games) as being “recited like the ancient Polynesian hymns in a scanned rhythm…But it is traditionally known that the rongo-rongo were once recited in the same fashion….” Englert (1948:322) noticed the similarity of the chant “E Timo te Akoako” to these kaikai recitations. This is significant, because Rapanui's kaikai are known to have also been used to instruct the young men of a rongorongo school. 9 We can assume that “E Timo te Akoako” was metrically chanted, since almost all versions scan in their first few phrases. From this, it can be postulated that, wherever this scansion breaks down, there is a corruption. Such a corruption might be reversible through the process of reducing the text back into its original metre.

Also, it would not be untoward to claim that “E Timo te Akoako” was composed in strict adherence to the “Rule of Eight” since, once more, its initial phrases in most versions count exactly eight morae to the “sense unit”. For over two centuries it has been known that the Polynesians originally chanted in “rhythms”. However, it was not until Bruce Biggs (1980) discovered a “Rule of Eight” operating in Māori waiata that the mechanism behind one type of these “rhythms” was identified and understood. This was later musicologically analysed by Mervyn McLean (1982). In its essence, the Polynesian “Rule of Eight” dictates that one “sense unit” of chanting — “without regard to the musical structure” (Biggs 1980:48) — shall comprise no more than eight morae, with - 424 short vowels counting one mora and long vowels two morae. In Western transcription, this yields eight vowels to each half-line of written text. 10 In this way, each line of written text would comprise two short “sense units”, or 16 morae, that often consist of two grammatical phrases.

There are certain features to be observed in the use of such metrical rules in Polynesian chants. Already in the first half of the 19th century, the Rev. R. Maunsell (Grey 1853:xiii) noted how Māori oral poetry “was not only abrupt and elliptical to an excess not allowed in English poetry, but that it carries its licence so far as to disregard rules of grammar that are strictly observed in prose”. Maunsell specified “the omissions of the articles ko and te, omissions of ai, of the pronouns, of such particles as nei and of other complementary words, omissions of the nominative case, of the objective, often of the verb, and verbal particles, omissions of the prepositions, changes of one preposition into another, unusual words introduced, and words sometimes inverted…”. Biggs (1980:48) contends that this alleged “disregard for the rules of grammar” in Māori oral poetry is “aimed directly at attaining the magic number of eight vowels in each half-line” of written text. McLean (1982:281-2) agrees, and has detailed the mechanism governing this process. 11

The value of identifying the “Rule of Eight” and understanding how it functions lies in the possibility that this yields to “reduce” an ancient Polynesian song or chant—perhaps corrupted, expanded by informants, or unsatisfactorily witnessed by investigators — back to its original metre. Biggs (1980) has demonstrated how such a process of “metrical reconstruction” can be implemented. A recent attempt to apply metrical reconstruction to Pukapukan chants has been made by Kevin Salisbury (1991a). The “Rule of Eight” is pan-Polynesian. I have verified its use in the oldest witnessed chants from New Zealand, Tokelau, 12 Mangareva, 13 Hawai'i, 14 Mangaia, 15 the Tuamotus, 16 Rapanui, 17 and other Polynesian islands. There is sufficient evidence to claim that the “Rule of Eight” is a compositional feature at least of Proto-Polynesian provenance.

As seen here in Texts E, I, J, K, M, and N, there already have been attempts to stave Rapanui's “E Timo te Akoako” into chanted “sense units”. However, this has never been done metrically. Only a metrical reconstruction of this text will establish those working parameters which might allow one to retrieve a conditionally valid approximation of how one of the versions of the premissionary composition originally might have been chanted. 18 When applied correctly, this reduction process could reveal, for instance, how present surface forms are only the product of folk imagination. That is, one might learn here how the chant has been changed in a describable fashion by those who, no longer understanding it in Old Rapanui or fearing censure, have unwittingly or intentionally reshaped the - 425 message into one which is more acceptable in Modern Rapanui.

For this reason, when implementing metrical reconstruction, it is best to offer a selection of contextually qualified possibilities for each word or phrase. Metrical reconstruction only hermeneutically reduces and contains; it does not retrieve and identify, which is the task of historical linguistics. Thematic correspondences will then isolate meaning from the various semantic possibilities, since texts are coherent in most cases.


I shall begin by assuming that the chant “E Timo te Akoako” was composed in an ambiguous and obscure form of Old Rapanui which would have been appreciated and understood only by the initiated — Easter Island's rongorongo experts and their pupils. For this reason, we should be prepared to accept that its esoteric meaning will probably never be fully understood. Notwithstanding, its exoteric significance should be able to be understood and, at the very least, point the way towards a domain of shared meaning which could then reduce exponentially the chant's number of possible esoteric implications.

The Mangarevan and Tahitian elements in Roussel's 1866-70 dictionary (1908), our earliest Rapanui lexicon of value, have been expurgated in the following presentation of evidence.

My working text for metrical reconstruction will be Text A, which is evidently the oldest, longest, and best scanned version of the chant. Text A could derive, indirectly, from Ure Va'e Iko, one of Rapanui's most important informants in the second half of the 19th century and an alleged rongorongo aficionado, although not an expert. In accordance with the “Rule of Eight”, each reconstructed line of Text A should consist of two half-lines of eight morae each, or 16 morae per line.

Line 1: E timo te akoako, he akoako tenā

Of the many possibilities for reading e (agent marker, nominative marker, existential particle, future marker), it is most likely that e is here the preverbal exhortative mood particle (Weber 1988:26). However, e could also be the vocative particle 'e, as is perhaps the case in the 1873 Metoro fragment (“e moa te kapakapa, (')e moa te herehua (Jaussen 1886:192). This would make timo the addressed subject, the ‘encharged one’ (Englert 1938:125). Be that as it may, this interpretation appears to be contradicted by the second half-line. E is, then, ‘ought to, is to be’ and identifies timo as a verb.

Old Rapanui timo hitherto has been known only as a noun meaning ‘grief’ (Roussel 1908:193) or ‘one who exercises certain ritual offices’ (Englert 1938:125), ostensibly burial ceremonies. There was also a rongorongo tablet - 426 class known as the kohau timo (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, notebook p. 99), which was apparently an ahu list of “murdered men”. Old Rapanui timo would derive from Nuclear Polynesian *timo ‘peck (as a bird)’ (POLLEX 1991), whence comes its secondary Rapanui significance ‘mourning, grief’. 19 Here I might perhaps posit the contextual meaning ‘to recite, declaim, formally sing a chant’, possibly deriving from the repetitive bowing of the head (from “pecking”). This, or some other bodily movement, accompanied most ancient Polynesian oratory, evidently to mark rhythm (Firth 1990:16). Routledge's informants had told her that, here, timo meant ‘chant’ (see Text E).

Campbell and Silva (1970:179) believe that akoako is an error for Rapanui' s famous akuaku ‘spirits of the deceased’. However, akoako is clearly Old Rapanui ‘recite, chant, study, instruct, try; recitation, chant, lesson, instruction, attempt, instructor’. 20 Here it identifies a rongorongo song to be an akoako ‘chant’. The he aspect particle “functions to encode foregrounded material in a discourse or embedded discourse” (Weber 1988:20). Because he's purpose is to continue the semantic value of a foregrounded particle, it cannot begin a new discourse. For this reason, Text A begins with e and not he. Here, he reiterates incipitial e ‘ought to, is to be’.

Tenā ‘this, that, the following’, lost in Modern Rapanui, shows that Old Rapanui — contrary to the claim of Langdon and Tryon (1983:21) — shared the pre-and postpositive (nondiscontinuous) Nuclear Polynesian te- forms of the demonstrative series (hence, Old Rapanui *tenei and *terā).

The chant's first line was adequately translated in 1934 by María Manu Heu Roroa (Métraux 1934-5:unnumbered note) as “Teaching the song he sings this”, which Barthel (1959:168) correctly interprets as relating to the learning of a recitation. The line's syntax is reminiscent of that of many ancient Polynesian incipits. Compare, for example, the beginnings of the Moriori chant (King 1989:209) Ko e hau te kamakama, kamakama irunga and the Mangarevan chant (Laval 1938:17) E tini te eketea, eketea ana mai.

Line 2: E te tu'u, e te taha, e kuia kapakapa

Barthel (1959:168) regards lines 2 and 3 as a “series of titles”. One could also hypothesise acts of declaiming, pedagogical instructions, religious terms, or sexual allusions, all of which interpretations, too numerous to detail here, I have tested and discarded. The interrelation of the elements in lines 2 and 3, which are linked by the existential particle e (‘there is, it is’, synonymous with the verb ai and the particles ko and he in certain environments), appears to lie in the names of birds and of one “four-footed bird”.

Unfortunately, tu 'u is listed nowhere as a bird or any other creature on Easter Island. For this reason, I shall leave it without translation, with the understanding that tu'u probably signifies some bird which was still extant on Rapanui at the - 427 close of the 18th century but which has since become extinct on the island. Taha is a ‘frigate bird’, according to Jaussen's (1893:24) informant Metoro (in Mangarevan taha means a bird with down, not feathers); perhaps taha is a larger Fregata, since Rapanui makohe is known to be the Fregata minor.

The te kuia of the texts is reduced here to kuia without the article te in order to attain a count of eight morae to the half-line. Kuia is a ‘booby [bird]’, according to Thomson (1891:548); kuia is also attested in Māori as the grey petrel and black petrel. Knoche (1925:141) uniquely registered uia ('uia from kuia?) as the island's domestic chicken (Gallus ferrugineus); however, this could be a typographical error for moa. Old Rapanui kapakapa ‘to flap’ derives from Proto-Polynesian *kapakapa ‘flap wings’ (POLLEX 1991). Although Barthel's (1959:171-2, n. 51) informants in 1957-8 recognised kapakapa as ‘to flap the wings’, the word does not figure in any Rapanui lexicon. Assuming that kapakapa qualifies kuia, I posit the tentative translation: ‘flapping booby’.

Line 3: E te here hua(hua), e manu va'e 'ehā

Herehua figures in Texts C, D, E, (I), J, L, and N; herehue in Texts A and O should be regarded as a corruption. There is no evidence that we have here, or in any of the following cases of vowel change in “E Timo te Akoako”, an intentional poetic modification, such as in Tikopia song (Firth 1990:40-1). Although herehua is known to be a type of Rapanui fish (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note), there is no Rapanui bird bearing this name. But, in 1866-70, Roussel (1908:229) was told that a poule attachée (‘sitting hen’) was a moa here 'ā and that a poule sans queue (‘tailless hen’) was a (moa) huahua. The expression here huahua, whose second hua I have appended in order to attain a count of eight morae in the half-line, would perhaps signify ‘tailless brooder’.

E te manu va'e punaka was later intercalated in Texts A, C, D, M, N, and O on the basis of the following e (te) manu va'e 'ehā. Punaka had evidently been suggested by line 2's kapakapa, since punaka is the young of the marine bird kakapa. The intercalation is omitted here.

Te manu va'e 'ehā, here reduced to manu va'e 'ehā. for scansion, were all goats, sheep, and pigs — “four-footed birds” — that were first introduced to the Rapanui by La Pérouse in 1786. 21 The concluding lines of Rapanui's “ancient song” “'I 'Anakena Au 'i Mate ai” (Barthel 1960:847) are: e te herehua and e te manu va'e 'ehā. These were evidently borrowed from line 3 of “E Timo te Akoako” after here huahua had been changed to herehua, but before Punaka had been intercalated. In 1873, Metoro also used the form herehua (Jaussen 1886:192) in an apparent citation of the chant.

Line 4: Aha ana? Noho ana 'i tu'a te 'ata'ata

Aha ana ‘What are (the birds) doing?’ The existential particle e in Texts A, - 428 F, G, I, M, and O is omitted here for scansion, as in the following reply, Noho ana ‘(They are) dwelling’. 'I tu'a ‘behind’ foregoes a following 'i or 'o particle also because of scansion.

Old Rapanui 'ata'ata, duplicative plural of 'ata ‘shadow of a living being’, also forms part of the expressions 'ata'ata popohanga ‘twilight of dawn’ and 'ata'ata ahiahi ‘twilight of evening’ (Routledge 1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note). See also Text E, note 7.

Line 5: Marumaru, kohukohu, 'o ngau 'a Nivaē

In 1866-70, when asked what was “shadow” in Rapanui, Roussel's(1908:242) informants replied: marumaru kohukohu, exactly as read in line 5 of “E Timo te Akoako”. Marumaru signifies ‘shaded, sheltered’ in many Polynesian languages, from Proto-Polynesian *malu ‘shade’ (POLLEX 1991). Roussel notes marumaru as ‘shade’ and ‘umbrella’ (1908:223, 225). Routledge was told that it meant the ‘shadow of trees’ (compare Mangarevan marumaru ‘in the shadow of leaves’) and that, “in twilight maru and koho shadow [mean] the same thing” (see Text E). Roussel further notes that “bushes, copse, underwood, brushwood” (1908:183, 245) and “shelter” (1908:174) is a koona marumaru. Routledge (1914-5: Reel 2, unnumbered note) lists “shady place” for both kona marumaru and kona kohokoho (kohukohu). Kohukohu also meant ‘clouds, cloudy’ as well as ‘storm, stormy’ (Roussel 1908:222, 224). All three elements — 'ata'ata, marumaru, and kohukohu — appear to serially qualify Rapanui shadow and shade to that of: 1. animate beings; 2. plant life; and 3. inanimate objects and meteorological phenomena.

The conjunction 'o ‘lest’ is the reflex of Proto-Polynesian *(')o “Conjunction preposed to subordinate verb, and (then)” (POLLEX 1991). Because Rapanui shares 'o with Hawaiian o ‘or, lest, if’ and Marquesan o ‘if’, I can perhaps reconstruct a Proto-East Polynesian *'o ‘lest, if’. The Old Rapanui glottal in 'o is confirmed by Roussel's (1908:227) ho ‘de peur que’. Roussel often wrote h for/?/, as in mohai ‘statue’ (1908:243) for Old Rapanui mō'ai (Modern Rapanui moai), Easter Island's famous monolithic statues.

I read ngau ‘bite’ for the ngao ‘neck’ of Texts A, M, and O. Such a reading is demanded by the preverbal conjunction 'o. The replacement by o for an original u in ngau may perhaps be explained by the allophonic alternation of these two vowels in the Rapanui language. The following 'a is the personal particle fronting names and pronouns, from Oceanic *'a (POLLEX 1991); Modern Rapanui has replaced this with Tahitian a. This allows us to see in niva the person Niva (traditional Nivaniva), one of the three Rapanui brothers who discovered that obsidian flakes could make a lethal mata 'a spearhead (Métraux 1940:376).

The terminal ē, when not preceded by the discontinuous vocative particle 'e, - 429 sometimes signals in Rapanui chants the end of a series of connected phrases. Perhaps this terminal ē derives from Rapanui ē ‘yes’ as an affirmative or emphatic interjection. Equally plausible, however, is that it is merely a filler vocable.

The significance of the half-line is: “lest Niva bite”. (Terminal ē requires no translation). Here “bite” would be a euphemism for “butcher, slice”. The variants i nu ani-va (Text F), rima oa niva é-é (G), and rima a niva (I) suggest a parallel version of the chant that stresses the “hand of Niva” as a warning of the same weapon. 22

That we are at the end of a series of connected phrases is marked not only by terminal ē. In the manuscript of Text A there appears, below and to the right of ē, a sublinear bracket of a kind featured beneath figures' elbows and so forth on the rongorongo tablets (its meaning is still unclear).

Line 6: Kia hiva, tī, para, para kava tō hua

Kia is the prepositional preverbal mood particle ‘let there be, let us’ which has been replaced by ki in Modern Rapanui. Transitional kia ki was still being used in the 1930s (Englert 1948:380). Modern Rapanui kia is the lexicalised ‘go on! come on! let's go!’ (Fuentes 1960:228). Since kia is preverbal, hiva cannot be Hiva — the traditional homeland of the Rapanui — but must be an otherwise unattested Old Rapanui verb, presumably meaning ‘to dance and sing (at the same time)’, from Proto-Polynesian *siwa ‘to dance and sing’ with further East Polynesian reflexes in Hawaiian and Māori; it is also attested in Pukapukan (POLLEX 1991).

Tī, whose length is demanded by the scansion, appears in Texts M and O as te ‘the’. I cannot accept te as ‘the’ here because the following para cannot allow either of its vowels to scan two morae (para is also repeated in the second half-line). It seems more likely that Text A's is the correct reading. Rapanui signifies ‘to sew, stitch’ and ‘to bend over, lean over, stoop, bow’, apparently describing the same bowing action as in timo chanting, from Nuclear Polynesian *timo ‘peck (as a bird)’ (POLLEX 1991).

Among para's many meanings in Old Rapanui (Roussel 1908: ‘impair’, ‘soft/soften’, ‘rottingremains’, ‘use/used/antiquated/old’), it also signifies ‘ripen, to be ripe’ from Proto-East Polynesian *para ‘ripe’ and Proto-Polynesian *pala ‘overripe, rotten, withered’ (POLLEX 1991). In a similar fashion to lines 4 and 5, the first half-line of line 6 presents a series of three: “Let there be dancing and singing, stitching (bowing), ripening”. The exact meaning of “ripening” in this context remains obscure.

At this point Texts A, M, and O include the (Christian?) invocation 'atua runga (ē) ‘O Lord above’, which fits neither the context nor the scansion and separates the first half-line's para from the second half-line's para. (Compare the - 430 number of 'atua insertions in Text E.) Although this 'atua runga (ē) is obviously a later intercalation, it shows that the two para do not join to form a duplicative morpheme parapara — missionary Rapanui for ‘card’ and ‘paper’ (Roussel 1908:184, 225) — but were understood to be two separate words in the chant, each para belonging to its respective “half-line” or “sense unit”. That this also accommodates the “Rule of Eight” argues with equal cogency for an original separation of the two para.

At first glance, the second half-line appears either to qualify para or to elaborate the para theme using similar verbs. It is possible that we have here, in the first half-line, a metaphorical para ‘to soften’ in the sense of ‘to supple, to arouse’ — in this context, along with one's simultaneous dancing and singing or “stitching” (bowing) — and in the second half-line the literal para ‘to ripen’ with specific reference to kava: ‘(let there) ripen kava’. Kava has never been attested on Rapanui (Métraux 1940:159), yet it must have been known on the island, because the Rapanui word kava (‘bitter, salty; thirsty’) is still common today and because there are many Rapanui toponyms which include kava in what appears to be its original significance as the shrub Piper methysticum or Macropiper latifolium: ahu Tia Kava, 'ana Kai Kava, 'ana Tau Rape Kava, hare Kava Hia, and so forth. A tangata kava ‘odorous man’ was considered to possess sexual strength; the kavakava 'atua is a type of Rapanui fern. If the kava in the chant “E Timo te Akoako” does signify the shrub kava, this would prove that the Rapanui still cherished the preparation and consumption of kava at the time of the chant's composition about the year 1800.

Texts A's and O's tohua (I dismiss M's tahua ‘post, tier’ as contextually illogical) would be — since we must remain within the parameters of the “Rule of Eight” — either tohu 'ā or tō hua. Rapanui tohu ‘magic spell, to divine’ can be justified only through elaborate argumentation; tō hua is a much more economical reading. is the Old Rapanui possessive article ‘that of’ which was still common in the 1860s and 1870s. In Modern Rapanui, it survives only in the possessive pronoun series as -and in the phrases tō runga, tō roto, and tō nei. Hua ‘testicles, fruit’, also figurative ‘son’, yields the phrase para kava tō hua: ‘(let there) ripen kava, that of the sons/testicles’. This would be a call by the youths of the rongorongo school who are learning to sing this chant, a call whose sexual connotation cannot be denied, assuming that tō hua is the correct reading.

Line 7: A ha ma te riu iki? Noho roto 'i te pū

Here we have aha ‘what’ with a postpositive preposition ma, rather than the more common Old Rapanui ma aha ‘why’ (Roussel 1908:230); it would translate as ‘what for, why’. (Text M makes mata ‘eye’ out of ma te and omits iki after riu; these are assumed to be corruptions.) Riu is Old Rapanui for ‘song’. Englert (1948:495) considers riu as often sentimental or serious songs. That the - 431 word riu appears in the chant is not very significant, as it does not identify a specific type of rongorongo song but only “song” in general. The riu being sung is an akoako (line 1).

Iki is not listed in any Rapanui lexicon. Its varied meanings in Māori (‘consume, devour, devastate; sweep away, clear off’), Hawaiian (i'i ‘bristling, dishevelled’), Rarotongan (‘appoint, settle, fix; destine, devote; nurse, rear [like children]’), Tuamotuan (‘collect, gather together’), Pukapukan (‘lift up or carry [a canoe]’), and 'Uvean (‘undo, comb’) do not allow a secure semantic reconstruction. From the context, I posit a possible “take up” or “devote” in the sense of “taking up” or “devoting oneself” to a song; however, this interpretation must remain speculative. The syntax of the first half-line follows the object-verb (riu iki) order common to Rapanui complementation, an order shared with Marquesan and Mangarevan. A suggested literal translation retaining this order: “Why the song-devotion?”

Originally, the Rapanui understood that the posed question in the first “sense unit” demanded an answer in the second. This explains why Texts A and O begin the second half-line with mo ‘for to, in order to’. However, I have omitted mo for scansion, along with the grammatically unnecessary particle i qualifying roto ‘inside, within’.

Noho signifies ‘stay, remain, dwell, reside, occupy; position, posture’. is Old Rapanui ‘a small opening; to prick, perforate, pierce; perforated, pierced’ (Roussel 1908:224, 226-7, 228; Jaussen 1893:30). Pū hēnua is the placenta (Roussel 1908:228). Modern Rapanui recognises in ‘hole, orifice, crack, leak, cavity, burrow, button-hole, pore, well’. The original significance of the second half-line was apparently “to occupy the small hole, to stay inside the orifice”. Once again, a sexual connotation cannot be ignored.

Texts A's and O's 'e para ē is a later intercalation.

Line 8: Roto 'i te pū hea? Tī mo rere mako'i

With the question “Inside the hole where?” I have deleted Texts A's and O's initial ka imperative particle because this does not scan and because it contradicts the interrogative hea. These same texts' rutu is obviously an allophonic variant of roto from line 7; I write it here as roto. Ta is apparently an error for te from line 7; here it is corrected to te. And I have also deleted the grammatically dispensable 'o in 'o hea in order to attain a count of eight morae to the half-line.

The second half-line in Texts A, M, and O — which neither scans nor justifies an internal repetition — has been reduced here to the simple reading based on Text A: tī mo rere mako'i. The second half-line must answer the question hea ‘where?’ of the first half-line. This is (not timo), here signifying the leaves of the shrub (Cordyline fruticosa) on which the Rapanui youths tossed (rere) or spun (nini) their wooden tops (mako'i, as in Text M). The reply to “where?” is - 432 then: “[on the] leaves for tossing mako' i”. I believe the mako'i ‘top’ represents at the same time the sexual partner whom one “tosses” on the leaves. 23. I should add that this perhaps uncongenial interpretation is plainly borne out by the chant' s last two lines. Both are explicit in their language and avouch the chant's second level of meaning — the sexual — that is intended to be understood together with the literal. This is a characteristic feature of Polynesian poetics so common as to require no further explanation.

Line 9: Ana kea 'ua he'e, 'ua kapa, 'ua rava

Ana is the Old Rapanui conjunction ‘if’ or ‘when’ from Proto-East Polynesian *ana ‘if and/or when’ (only in Rapanui and Māori) (POLLEX 1991). However, it is also the determinate conjunction ‘so that’ (Roussel 1908:174). Kea survived in 1866-70 in arakea ‘tumefy, tumefaction, tumour, ulcer’ (Roussel 1908:249), literally ‘suppurating way’. This shows that kea in its inherited significance of ‘discharge, excretion, emission; to suppurate, discharge, excrete, run’ and so forth from Proto-Polynesian *ke(')a ‘thrush (throat infection)’ (POLLEX 1991) was still known on Rapanui in the 19th century. 24. Here, kea is translated as verbal ‘runs, suppurates’.

'Ua ‘rain’ derives from Proto-Polynesian *'uha (POLLEX 1991); its glottal has been lost in Modern Rapanui, presumably through replacement by Tahitian ua. With surprise, one learns that the rain here is not hoa mai ‘falling’, as it should do in Old Rapanui; rather, it is kea ‘running, suppurating’. There can be no doubt that ua is a metaphor for takatea ‘semen’. This interpretation is supported by the 'ua further being described as he'e, a word not included in any Rapanui lexicon but evidently deriving from Proto-Polynesian *se'e ‘negative marker’ (POLLEX 1991) with reflexes throughout Polynesia. Here, it would mean “the rain that is not [a rain], the non-rain, the pseudo-rain”. If this interpretation is correct, this would be the first obvious abandonment of the hitherto carefully maintained dual levels of meaning in the chant, that is, the literal and the sexual.

Text M deletes the series of three 'ua, evidently in order to concentrate instead on the pua ‘flower’ variant, which also contaminates the second half-line of Texts A and O. This may be regarded as a contemporaneous parallel conclusion of “E Timo te Akoako”. For brevity's sake, I shall limit myself to an analysis of the version in Texts A and O.

Pua in Texts A and O is here corrected to 'ua in order to restore the line's presumed original series 'ua…'ua…'ua. (Pua apparently represents a contamination from the parallel version in Text M that anticipates the following pua in line 10.)

Kapa must qualify this reconstructed 'ua in a similar fashion to he'e in the first half-line. However, kapa is not listed in any Rapanui lexicon. Its duplicative kapakapa features in line 2 and is mentioned once in 1873 by Metoro as (')e moa - 433 te kapakapa (Jaussen 1886:192), presumably meaning ‘a flapping chicken’ or ‘it's a chicken flapping [its wings]’. Nuclear Polynesian *kapa ‘dance’ would likely derive from an etymon *kapa that describes a particular type of bodily motion, a flapping or fluttering, since it appears to qualify the gesturing of hands, fingers, and arms (compare Māori kapa ‘play, throb, quiver’). Here I could perhaps posit a tentative Old Rapanui *kapa ‘flutter, squirm, wriggle, twist’. Its contextual significance — 'ua kapa ‘squirming rain’ — must remain speculative.

Rava claims more meanings in Old Rapanui than any other word. In light of the chant's context, I should perhaps single out “much”, “fill up”, and “conquer” (Roussel 1908:180, 221, 187). This would suggest the translation: “filling rain, overwhelming rain”.

The ka ravarava and karavarava of Texts M and O, respectively, seem to derive from an erroneous reading either of Text A's kapaua rava (correct: kapa, 'ua rava) — which error is understandable in view of Text's A primitive orthography (see Heyerdahl and Ferdon 1965: Fig. 127) — or of a copy of the same.

Line 10: Tatake, tamahahine, 'o te pua rata hā

Totake (Texts A and O) and totaki (M) are unknown words in the Rapanui language. Presumably these are corruptions of the verb tatake ‘fight, quarrel, dispute, argue, make a fuss’ that is being used here in the imperative voice, addressed to the tamahahine ‘girls, young women’. For 'o ‘lest’, see line 5 above.

Tapu a- in Texts A, M, and O is interpreted as being a corruption of te pua; ta for te also occurs in line 8. Pua ‘flower’ might have been an Old Rapanui metaphor for the female pudendum, labia minor, or even virginity. Moremore pua means ‘to deflower’, literally ‘to tear flowers’ (Roussel 1908:191); Modern Rapanui uses hakaheke. It is noteworthy that pua signifies the labia minor in Ra'ivavaean (Stimson and Marshall n.d.:322) and the pudendum in Tahitian (Andrews and Andrews 1944:126), whereas Māori puapua are the pudenda muliebria (Williams 1985:301). On Tikopia, in the taunting songs which youths and girls exchange while dancing, the metaphor of “an unopened frangipani or gardenia bud is held to be a token of virginity, especially for girls” (Firth 1990:38).

Rata ‘to tame, refine; tamed, domesticated, refined’ derives from Proto-Polynesian *lata ‘tame, domesticated’ (POLLEX 1991) with widespread Polynesian reflexes. appears to be a hitherto unattested Rapanui phrase-terminal emphatic particle or interjection cognate of the phrase-terminal interjection in Hawaiian and Marquesan and the phrase-terminal interjection 'ā in Rarotongan. These might be cognates of the phrase-initial interjection ha! in Māori and the phrase-initial particle ha in Tahitian. Englert (1948:436) notes the use of an otherwise inexplicable phrase-terminal hati in some Rapanui songs; perhaps this hati, literally ‘to break, interrupt’, could be related - 434 to the Old Rapanui interjection

The second half-line 'o te pua rata hā is best translated: “lest the flower be tamed, ha!”, an obvious metaphor for a defloration or seduction.

The Metrically Reconstructed Version of the Chant “E Timo te Akoako”

E timo te akoako, he akoako tenā:
E te tu'u, e te taha, e kuia kapakapa,
E te here huahua, e manu va'e 'ehā
Aha ana? Noho ana 'i tu 'a te 'ata'ata,
Marumaru, kohukohu, 'o ngau 'aNivaē.
Kia hiva, tī, para, para kava tō hua!
A ha ma te riu iki? Noho roto 'i te pū.
Roto 'i te pū hea? Tī mo rere mako'i
Ana kea 'ua he'e, 'ua kapa, 'ua rava.
Tatake, tamahahine, 'o te pua rata hā!
A Literal English Translation
  • 1. To be formally sung is the chant, to be chanted is this:
  • 2. There's the tu'u, there's the frigate bird, there's the “flapping booby”,
  • 3. There's the “tailless brooder”, there's the “four-footed bird”.
  • 4. Doing what? Dwelling behind the shadows of people,
  • 5. Shadows of plants, shadows of things, lest Niva bite.
  • 6. Let there be dancing and singing, stitching [bowing], softening; let there ripen kava, that of the sons [testicles]!
  • 7. Why the song-devotion? To stay within the hole.
  • 8. Within the hole where? [On the] leaves for top-tossing
  • 9. When [So that] there runs non-rain, squirming rain, filling rain.
  • 10. Put up a fight, young women, lest the flower be tamed, ha!

The chant “E Timo te A koako” is internally identified as an akoako, a specific form of riu ‘song’. It reveals no borrowed — that is, Mangarevan or Tahitian — elements, and is certainly of premissionary provenance. From line 3's manu va'e 'ehā ‘four-footed bird’, one must conclude that this chant was composed after La Pérouse's visit in 1786 when, for the first time, the Rapanui beheld four-legged creatures. On the basis of this metrical reconstruction, I should reaffirm the date of the composition of “E Timo te Akoako” at about the year 1800.

E Timo te Akoako” begins with a formal preface which springs from the immediate pedagogical situation. It is addressed to the young men of the - 435 rongorongo school in the form of a propositional imperative encouraging them to learn and recite. Then follow two lines that serialise birds: the tu'u (unidentified), frigate bird, “flapping booby”, “tailless brooder”, and a “four-footed bird”. This is evidently a facetious serialisation, alluding to Rapanui's neru, young women of high-ranking families who were cloistered in caves for many months to whiten and fatten before their first parturition, a common custom in ancient Polynesia. They would be the ones “dwelling behind the shadows of people, shadows of plants, shadows of things”, the three aspects of creation. “Lest Niva bite” humorously informs the rongorongo youths of another reason why the neru girls are being hidden away: Niva(niva), who invented the lethal mata'a spearhead, might “bite” — that is, “slice, cut” — the young women. This is prosopopoeia (a figure of speech in which an imaginary or absent person is represented as speaking or acting) for the youths' potential “slicing” or “cutting” of the young women's hymen before the neru can be properly mated.

It is noteworthy that the first half of the chant, except for the preface, is devoted to this humorous description of the cloistered neru, although the immediate audience consists of the rongorongo pupils, who are exclusively male.

Line 6 comprises an injunction that suddenly disturbs this purported seclusion. Since the youths are the ones supposed to be reciting this chant in front of a rongorongo house, they are also the ones who are now calling out for “dancing and singing, stitching (bowing), softening, (let there) ripen kava, that of the sons (testicles)”. Here, the first half-line apparently describes not only the pupils' own formal instruction and development but also a sexual encounter. The second half-line introduces a ritual use of kava that is equally a metaphor for the young men's sexual maturation.

Line 7 would appear to confirm this interpretation. “Why the song-devotion?” the pupils ask. In other words, “Why are we learning to chant like this?” “To occupy the hole”. The initial and most compelling reason to learn to chant, read, and write the rongorongo tablets, then, would be for the young men to make a proper match in Rapanui society. Informant evidence reveals that the occupation with rongorongo was reserved for those enjoying the highest social status (Fischer n.d.). Rongorongo instruction itself would apparently have been a youth's opportunity to maintain or improve his social station or his family's rank by validating or improving his marriageablility. In this, the instructed rongorongo males are the social pendant to the cloistered neru females.

An alternative interpretation might be argued. I could say that the list of birds designates the young men themselves, despite the “tailless brooder”; that these are the neru hiding in the shadows “lest Niva bite”; and that the “hole” or “orifice” is literally a young man's cave or hut. But the chant's last three lines seem to dispel any doubt that what we have here is part of important Rapanui puberty customs in which also the tamahahine (‘girls’) - 436 play a major role.

Line 8 informs us that the “hole” or “orifice” can be found on the leaves where the young men “toss their wooden tops”, an apparent metaphor for sexual intercourse. A sexual interpretation is demanded by the following “rain” metaphor too that obviously signifies semen — the “non-rain, squirming rain, filling rain” that does not “fall” but “runs, suppurates” (kea) like pus from an open wound.

We learnt how line 1's preface was a propositional imperative directed towards the rongorongo males. Line 10's peroration is a monitory imperative now directed towards the neru females to “put up a fight…lest the flower be tamed”. However, it must be recognised that there were no females present before the rongorongo house to hear this warning. At this time, line 10 is intended only for the ears of the rongorongo youths. It is a humorous and flattering apostrophe whose apparent purpose is to bolster the pubescents' sexual confidence as it instructs them in the art of formal chanting. However, it can be assumed that the chant, once learnt, was also publicly performed at a later stage in the youths' training. At such performances the imagined target will have become the real target, the neru girls.

Whereas the “Rule of Eight” has established that the chant is divisible into ten lines (of written text), it also reveals that the lines themselves group into two stanzas. Whether this is common for ancient Rapanui riu is unknown. The first stanza comprises five lines and presents a rhetorical preface and a description of the neru. The second stanza also consists of five lines and deals with an imagined encounter between the sexes, ending with a one-line peroration addressed to the neru girls.

“E Timo te Akoako”, as a young men's taunting song in which a chant is directed against the other sex, evidently figured highly among the paraphernalia attending on the puberty customs of premissionary Rapanui. These were elaborate affairs called manu and take, which had to do with the first-born children of high-ranking families; their details are a chaos of contradiction among Routledge's informants (1914-5: Reel 2, notebook pp. 17, 32, 47, 49, 101-21), who are our best source of information. The importance of rongorongo chanting in these rites is manifest in Routledge's unpublished field notes. Since “E Timo te Akoako” was always the first chant to be taught to the rongorongo pupils, one may conclude that the preparation for their manu and take initiations would also have been an integral part of the rongorongo instruction.

Neither stanza appears to be overtly derogatory or denigrating towards its ultimate target audience, the cloistered young women. One could even call the chant's tone “affectionately teasing”. Indeed, the peroration, though a warning, confirms the girls' virginity and thereby harbours a compliment. Further, the chant's diction remains within the bounds of “proper” speech; there seem to be - 437 no vulgar words here. This attests again to the formal and public nature of the chant in which veiled or allusive language marks the apogee of the permissible in the presence of unrestricted categories of kin.

It is unknown whether, in Old Rapanui, this was the same as the 'ei satirical song attested by postmissionary informants. One may assume that “E Timo te Akoako” was simultaneously danced and sung (hiva) by the rongorongo young men, who perhaps deleted the pedagogical preface at such occasions. One may also assume that there would have been a corresponding and well-known taunting song delivered publicly at some subsequent event by the neru maidens as a formal reply. This reply 'ei (if such) has not survived or has not yet been identified. Both the young men's challenge and the young women's reply would have been danced; such dancing would have been formal, not erotic displays. One can imagine that each chant, while sung, was “beaten” () on a percussion plate (Métraux 1940:354-5) as a dance accompaniment.

Contrary to the claims of some scholars, “E Timo te Akoako” is neither sacred nor solemn. Although the chant's structure appears to be identical to that of an ancient Mangarevan ‘sacred song, prayer’ (Laval 1938:17), “E Timo te Akoako” is clearly a Rapanui riu that evidences no sacral or esoteric significance. All introductory assumptions about the esoteric potential of this chant can be dismissed.


Following a basic principle of Polynesian poetics (Barthel 1974:187; Volland 1975:267), “E Timo te Akoako” clearly encodes in a superficial description of something tangible an intangible level of meaning — the sexual. If the interpretation offered here is correct, the chant “E Timo te Akoako” is a vivid and ingenious jeering or taunting song whose purpose is to entertain and teach the young rongorongo males, through rhetorically making merry with the young neru females, their social counterpart. The chant would have been easy to learn and retain, especially in rhythm, and therefore would have encouraged the youths to learn more. The sexual in “E Timo te Akoako” has been couched in rather abstract and indefinite terms. Still, this was apparently too explicit for later Rapanui Christians. “E Timo te Akoako” became corrupted shortly after the arrival of the first missionary in 1864 and, soon after that, was no longer understood.

The interpretation offered here does not have to be the correct one. For this chant there is no reliable music which might have helped with the textual reconstruction. There are many phrases which have had to be put together with context as our only control. Much of the Old Rapanui lexicon has been lost. Comparison with other Polynesian languages can suggest only tentative meanings for obscure words in the chant. Everything reconstructed here is open to - 438 question; another interpretation might be equally arguable.

Nevertheless, before the “Rule of Eight”, the Rapanui chant “E Timo te Akoako” was regarded by most scholars to be incomprehensible. After the “Rule of Eight”, which has here permitted a tentative metrical reconstruction, “E Timo te Akoako” may be enjoyed in at least one comprehensible statement. I believe the “Rule of Eight” has shown itself in this Rapanui test case to be an effective tool for such provisional reconstructions, one certainly worthy of further attention in Polynesian philology.

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I should like to thank Bruce Biggs and Mervyn McLean not only for kindly sending me their earlier publications on the “Rule of Eight” but also for their personal contributions in discovering and describing this remarkable and evidently extremely archaic feature of Polynesian poetics.

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1   In the 1870s, the Mangarevan word rongorongo (‘priests who direct ceremonial dancing and chanting’) was borrowed and semantically expanded to include the inscribed tablets, the name by which they principally are known today on Rapanui and elsewhere.
2   Routledge 1919:248; Heine-Geldern 1938:847; Englert 1948:322; and Fedorova 1965:395.
3   The “Presbyters” were probably the three Mangarevan and one Mangaian catechists who began residing on Rapanui in 1866. Two had died by 1868. The remaining two left the island with the last priest (Roussel) and lay brother (Escolan) in 1871.
4   Old Rapanui designates the stage of the language evidenced in the island's premissionary chants and kaikai recitations. Contrary to the claims of some recent scholars, Old Rapanui is comprehensible. See Fischer 1991, 1992, and Du Feu and Fischer 1993.
5   For a complete catalogue of the inscribed artefacts of Rapanui, see Fischer 1993.
6   For collections of Rapanui chants, see Métraux 1940; Barthel 1960; Campbell 1971; Fedorova 1978; and Blixen 1979.
7   A more recent monotonic chant of “E Timo te Akoako” has been reproduced by Campbell (1971:395).
8   With many Polynesian chants, it is proper to speak of scanned “sense units” of 3, 4, 6, 8 and so forth syllables.
9   Lavachery 1935:59; Métraux 1940:354; Barthel 1959:169; and Blixen 1979:3-4.
10   McLean (1982:281) also demonstrates how other morae counts are possible. There is a “Rule of Twelve”, with four subphrases of six vowels to the unit, and a “Rule of Twelve and Eight”, too. However, among Polynesia's metrical chants, the “Rule of Eight” appears to predominate
11   There are significant exceptions to the “Rule of Eight” in Māori (McLean 1982:281-2): 1. excluded from the count are various meaningless particles; 2. meaningful particles (like i) are occasionally omitted to achieve a count of eight; 3. some particles (ra, rā, e, ka, me, “ngā”, and tēnei) have ambivalent status (either one or two morae); 4. ai, ei, and au claim one mora when assigned to a single note in the music; 5. attaching -e, -i, or -o to the final vowel of the preceding word creates a “pseudo-diphthong” which also often counts as one mora; 6. like adjacent vowels can reduce to one mora to achieve a count of eight; and 7. e is optionally two morae when used as a vocative.
12   Thomas, Tuia, and Huntsman (1990:17): Teumata, Teumata, tū i te mulipapa..
13   Laval (1938:17): E tini te eketea, eketea ana mai.
14   Fornander (1917:515): Kai a puni, kai a lalo koe, koe, koe nā..
15   Gill (1876:89): Tamu tamu tai tara E Ina e tou reka.
16   Emory (1947:59): Ka [k]ohiti mai te tai, Tupa ruga, Tupa raro.
17   Blixen (1979:60): Tātā, tātā, te vaka po ihuihu..…
18   It is unfortunate that Estella's (1921:29) and Campbell's (1971:395) musical notation for this chant is too unreliable to justify here the implementation of McLean's (1982:293–7) excellent suggestions for musical controls in the process of metrical reconstruction. The evidence suggests that ancient Polynesian songs or chants originally fitted the music to the vowel count.
19   Because of the timo tablet class and the implication of “mourning” in the word timo, Barthel (1958:8) suggests “E Timo te Akoako” could be an elegy. However, the chant's further text appears to refute this idea.
20   Roussel 1866-70; Roussel 1908:178, 198, 200, 201, 212, 215, 231; Churchill 1912:302, 303; Estella 1921:102; Englert 1938:16; and Englert 1977:100.
21   Fedorova (1978:39) believes manu va'e punaka are ‘pigs’ and manu va'e 'ehā are ‘sheep’. However, she furnishes no evidence to support this claim. In the late 1860s, pigs were known as 'oru on Easter Island (Roussel 1908:186, who writes horu).
22   This is implicit in the use of the possessive particle 'a after rima instead of the expected possessive particle 'o: 'a is for tools, knives, and spears, whereas 'o is for the hand. Here, rima ‘hand’ with 'a shows that “hand” is being used in a metaphorical sense, one impossible to convey in this manner in a non-Polynesian language. The rima 'a Niva(niva) would, of course, be an obsidian mata'a spearhead.
23   In the Pukapukan chant “E mako tilitili kōua”, the spinning top symbolises a young girl's vagina in the act of opulation (Salisbury 199 lb: 18). I believe there is reason to assume the existence of a Proto-Polynesian secondary vocabulary of sexual organs and customs that transcends Western metaphor
24   In 1873, Jaussen (1893:25) noted Rapanui kea to be a ‘scoter (sea duck)’. Failing to name her source, Fedorova (1988:138) registers Rapanui kea as a ‘name of a sign (crab)’