Volume 11 1902 > Volume 11, No. 4 > The vigesimal system of enumeration, by J. J. Large, p 260-261
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- 260

IN the June 1901 number of the Polynesian Society's Journal there appeared an article under the above heading, by Professor Thomas, and a request was made that members would furnish any information they had collected on the subject. The following is a brief account of the ancient system of enumeration in use in this Island, and, with small modifications, throughout the Cook group, prior to the advent of foreigners, who shortened and simplified the system into its present European standard. The numerals up to ten were the same then as they are now, viz., Tai, 1; Rua. 2; Toru, 3; Aa, 4; Rima, 5: Ono, 6; Itu, 7; Varu, 8; Iva, 9; and Ngauru, 10. The latter was formerly Ngaungauru, as Ngaungauru ma rima,, 15; literally 10 and 5. It is now, however, shorn of the first syllable. The natives of this group were in the habit of counting by pairs: for instance, 10 twos made Okotai takau = 20, or one score; 10 takau (score) made Okotai rau = 200; and 10 rau made Okotai mano = 2000. Anything beyond this was generally designated E tini, or E mano tini, meaning a very great number. A correlative system of enumeration was also used indifferently with the above. This was distinguished by the prefix Oko: for instance, Okorua was 20 doubled, or 40; Okotoru, 60, and so forth, up to Okoiva, which was 180; but it seems to have been confined to those limits. The verbal particles E, ka, kua, also tua and taki, were, and are in use here in connection with the numerals, also the conjunction ma, in much the same sense as they are now used in New Zealand. The particle káti, used in the same sense as the particle E above mentioned, appears to have been peculiar to Aitutaki, i.e., kati rua, &c. Nga tuma, meaning an addition or excess, was also in common use in this group in connection with the numerals. According to the above, 26 would be expressed, Okotai takau nga tuma e ono, i.e., 20 plus 6; while 30 was, Takau ma raungauru; - 261 and 40, E rua takau (or Okorua); 75 would be E toru takau (or Okotoru) ma raungauru nga tuma e rima. Okorima (or e rima takau) was 100. The number 250 would be expressed, Okotai rau e rua takau ma raungauru; while 1353 was, E ono rau e itu takau ma raungauru nga tuma e toru (that is, six 200's, 7 score, and 10 with 3 added); 2195 was, Okotai mano okoiva (or e iva takau) ma raungauru nga tuma e rima The above numerical system and nomenclature, with slight modifications, appears to have obtained in New Zealand at one time; but that is not surprising considering the close affinity between these two branches of the Polynesian race. In the New Zealand dialect takau becomes tekau, and now signifies 10 (though it was formerly, I believe, double that number), and there were other slight differences. But this cumbrous method of counting has been long disused in the latter country, and it is, also, nearly obsolete in this group. Under the system now in vogue in this group the above number, 1353, would be expressed, Okotai tausani e toru anere e rima ngauru ma toru—“tausani” and “anere” being corruptions of the English words “thousand” and “hundred.” The New Zealand system, where the pure Maori words mano is used to express 1000 and rau 100, is, to my way of thinking, a great improvement.

This defect obtains to a very great extent throughout this Cook Islands language. The early Missionaries, in their translations of the Bible and other books, used foreign words (Hebrew, Latin, Greek, &c.) where they could not find equivalents in the native language, and (unwisely, I think,) retained the foreign spelling to a considerable extent, introducing such letters as s, b, d, &c, instead of rendering the words into a form that could be pronounced by the Maori tongue, as was done in the case of the New Zealand translations. To this day a great majority of the natives here are unable to pronounce these letters, and render such words as “ekalesia” and “Maseli” as if they were spelt ekaretia and Matere. It has also led the natives to corrupt their own language. In many instances, in their letters to each other, they use l instead of r, d instead of t, b instead of p, &c, a practice tending to confusion and obscurity.