Volume 12 1903 > Volume 12, No.4, December 1903 > Arai-te-tonga, the ancient marae at Rarotonga, by S. Percy Smith, p 218-220
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IN 1897, accompanied by Mr. Hy. Nicholas and Te Ariki-Taraare, I visited the famous marae of Arai-te-tonga, situated about two miles east of the village of Avarua, island of Rarotonga. The following brief account of this marae may prove of interest, because a few years more and it will have disappeared from mortal ken owing to neglect and the overwhelming growth of tropical vegetation.

First, as to the Ara-nui-o-Toi, shown on sketch accompanying this, the ancient road which encircles the island of Rarotonga on which the Marae is, and along which in former days were situated the principal villages of the island. The “great road of Toi” is the meaning of its name, but who Toi was there is some doubt; none of the natives I consulted could tell me anything of this man, beyond this, that he lived in the “very long ago,” before the times of Tangiia, who flourished circa 1250. It may be that this is the same Toi-te-huatahi who the Maoris of New Zealand say lived in Hawaiki some generations before the great migration to New Zealand circa 1350, but it is uncertain. This ancient road follows generally the foot of the hills, cutting across the mouths of the valleys, and leaving the level flat that encircles Rarotonga outside or seaward of it. It is about 22 or 23 miles in length, and for about two-thirds of its length is paved with flat volcanic or coral stones. Its width is about 15 to 20 feet. In several places, at the sites of the old villages (or oire) are to be seen the stone seats where the local gossips used to sit and learn the news of the passers by. These are better preserved at Arai-te-tonga than in other places, and are of the form shown in sketch.

Arai-te-tonga was the principal marae of Rarotonga, where the ruling chiefs of the Makea family often dwelt, and where the sacrifices to the gods were made, and the Takurua, or annual feast at the presentation of the first-fruits, was held, accompanied by many ceremonies and much rejoicing. It is probable that, like the other maraes of the Cook group, it was at one time enclosed with a stone wall but there is no sign of it left.

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Are-rangi (see sketch) is where the ariki or high chief (some member of the Makea family) of the island usually lived. This is a platform about two feet above the level of the road, the face of which is lined with stone seats having backs to them, and which resemble the seats at the tutu behind Tuapa in Niuē Island;1 these were used for similar purposes. When the mataiapos or minor chiefs used to visit the ariki these seats were occupied by them, and they lodged in the seven-roomed house on the opposite side of the road, which was called a are-kariei, or house of amusement, kariei2 being the Rarotonga equivalent of the Tahitian 'Arioi, and Marquesan Ka'ioi. The chiefs of the Makea clan, as detailed by Te Ariki-taraare, were Vaka-a-pora, Te Ariki-taraare (the two principal ones), Uirangi, Te Ava, Tamaiva, Puretu, and Kamoe These are really family names and descend from father to son, distinguished by descriptive cognomens. Te Ariki-taraare is descended from Potiki-taua, who accompanied Tangiia to Rarotonga circa 1250, and his family have always had important priestly functions to perform in the Makea family from the earliest dates.

Arai-te-tonga is situated about one hundred yards to the west of Arerangi, and here was the marae proper, where all the religious services were performed. During the great functions the ruling ariki made use of the house marked ‘g’ on sketch (called the are-vananga) probably as chief pontiff, and when offerings were made to him he sat on the stone seat marked ‘a’; on his right was seated Takaia, a taunga or priest; at ‘c’ sat Potiki-taua (or Te Ariki-taraare), which seat was called puera, meaning to open or disclose, because it was through this priest that Makea declared his decision on any matter before him. The next seat, ‘d,’ was called maringi-toto, or blood-spilling, because on this stone were laid the heads of the human victims brought there to be sacrificed to the gods. The victim was called an ika-matuati, or first-fish. The stone marked ‘e,’ named tau-makeva, is about 24 inches square and 8 feet high, and is said to have been brought from Avaiki. It is not quite level on top, and the whole pillar is now somewhat inclined from the perpendicular. It played an important part in the anointing of the ariki, for it was here this function was performed, the ariki being lifted up onto the stone by the mataiapos, or minor chiefs. As they lifted him they repeated, “Akāuruuru e! Ka ti perepere ta!” After this had been performed the ariki was carried to another marae at Pureora, near Nga-tangiia on the east side of the island, which is the principal home of the Ngati-Tangiia clan. Here the ariki and his priests said many karakias, or invocations, and the name which the - 220 ariki is to bear in future is given him by Te Ariki-taraare. At this time also is delivered over to the ariki the supremacy over the lands, the right to all turtles and sharks caught, &c. After this the Ngati-Tangiia clan take the ariki to another marae, named Pukura-nui, where the slain in battle are first offered before being finally taken to Vaerotā, a marae just on the north-west point of the entrance to Nga-tangiia harbour, and opposite the islet Motu-tapu. Mimiti, or skulls (? of the slain), are deposited at Vaerotā.3

It is absolutely necessary that the member of the Makea family who is appointed ariki shall own a portion of land, however small, at Arai-te-tonga. The younger branches of the Makea family are named Anau-toa, Tumu-toa, Tutara and Kao. In case the right of anyone to be ariki is disputed, it is said of him, “E kirikiri teatea no Arai-te-tonga,” the translation of which is, “a white pebble from Arai-te-tonga,” but no doubt it has some historical meaning not disclosed in the words themselves.

At ‘f’ on the sketch is a large utu (or Barringtonia Butonica Forst) said to have been growing there in the time of Tangiia (circa 1250).

The spot marked ‘h’ on sketch is where the offerings to the ariki were made, i.e., of the special matters which pertained to him as of right, such as the onu (the turtle), the raratea (the shark), the urua and punupunu (certain fish), &c. These are still the right of the present ariki, Makea-Takau.

Letter ‘i’ on sketch marks the seat appropriated to Pa-ariki, the head of the Ngati-Tangiia clan, whilst ‘j’ is that of the Kainuku, ‘k’ of the Au and Maturua, ‘l’ of Tino-mana, ‘m’ of Vaka-a-tini families and others.

Te Au-o-tonga marae is said to have been built originally by Tangiia, who was driven from Tahiti, and settled in Rarotonga circa 1250, but it has always been the particular marae of the Makea family, who obtained it, and the supreme power in the island, during the troublous times just after Tangiia had settled down. In order to obtain the assistance of Makea-Karika (a chief who came from Samoa to Rarotonga with his people not long after Tangiia) against Tu-tapu-aru-roa, Tangiia agreed to hand over the supremacy to Makea, and it has remained in that family down to the present time, the present representative being the worthy old lady Makea-Takau, who is twentieth in descent from Makea-Karika.

1  Vide Journal Polynesian Society, Vol. XI, p. 174.
2  The Rarotongans also use the form karioi.
3  A gale early in 1897 disclosed over 100 skulls at this spot.