Volume 1 1892 > Volume 1, No. 1, 1892 > Futuna, or Horne Island and its people, p.33-52
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THE following notes have been compiled from three French works1 published within the last fourteen years, and which it is unlikely the members of the Polynesian Society will see. It has therefore been deemed advisable to abstract from them such parts as bear on the habits, customs, and belief of this branch of the Polynesian Race, and to note a few matters in connection therewith wherein the original works are wanting. The Island possesses an interest to the student of Polynesian matters, as it is situated close to the dividing-line between the pure Polynesians and the Melanesians, being, in fact, only 160 miles north-east of Vanua Levu, of the Fiji Group.

The notes are frequently a literal translation from the French, at other times the information has been summarised from the different works, and brought under one heading for convenience of reference.

This Island must not be confounded with the other Futuna (or Fotuna) situated near the south-eastern end of the New Hebrides Group, and which is also—in part at least—inhabited by Polynesians. The Futuna of which we are about to speak is situated between 14° and 15° south latitude, and in 178° 15′ longitude west. It was discovered by the Dutch expedition under Le Maire and Schouten in 1616, and was by them called “Horne Island,” from the peak on it, the native name of which is Puke, a hill about 2,200 feet high. The native name is believed to be derived from Futu, a tree which covers the coasts of the Island.2

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Père Chanel, from whose letters most of the information has been derived, was left on the Island with Frere Marie Nizier by the well-known Bishop Pompallier on the 12th November, 1838, in order to convert the natives. He was brutally murdered by the people a few years afterwards, but lived to see some progress made towards the end he had in view, and to which his noble life and martyr's death contributed not a little. The Rev. Father therefore saw the people in their original savage state, and hence the value of his observations.

The Island is some times called on the charts “Allofatu.” Under the denomination of Futuna are comprehended two isles, which are separated by a small arm of the sea. The largest, which may have a circumference of nine or ten leagues, bears the name of Futuna, whilst the other, of less extent, has that of Alofi. The two isles are very broken: they enclose deep valleys and hills of considerable height, and the people, like so many of the Polynesian Race, account to themselves satisfactorily for these inequalities by the following well-known story, which is common to a great part of the Pacific, though differing in detail in each:—

“Maui-Alonga, a god who never worked except by favour of darkness, was one day informed by Te-Ailo-ito, his porter, that there were in the depths of the ocean shoals of fish—that is to say, many groups of isles. The same evening the god embarked in his canoe, and cast his fishing line. He was successful in hauling up an island. So soon as one appeared above the surface he jumped on to it, and gamboled about with the intention of making it flat. In this manner he fished-up and flattened out several islands. Now the daylight, which would interrupt his work, commenced to appear. Maui hastened to cast his line for the last time. This island came up, and the god jumped on to it, but he was only able to make a few springs because of the daylight. Hence all the irregularities of surface that are to be seen in Futuna.”

In the above myth, we recognise the bare outline of one of Maui's great feat, which other branches of the race have related with full detail. All the principal groups inhabited by the Polynesians have the story in some shape, as have some of the Melanesians.3 Maui-Alonga, of Futuna, is probably Maui-(tiki-tiki)-a-Taranga, of the New Zealanders, and some other branches of the race.

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The natives of Futuna have also another myth, common to several of the islands. The Island is volcanic, and subject to earthquakes. The natives give the following account of the reason for them:—“According to them, the god, Mafu-isse-Fulu, or Mafu-ike-Fulu (Mafu-ike in Samoa, Niue, and Tonga; Mahuika in New Zealand), sleeps at a great depth under the Island: when he has slept for the space of one year on one side, he turns himself to sleep on the other, and it is the effort which he makes that causes the earth to shake. If the crater re-opened, they would be able to add that it is still Mafu-isse who blows the fires, and their fable would be as poetic as that of Enciladus amongst the ancients.”

Futuna is of great fertility, and seen from the sea it appears like a bouquet of flowers and verdure. The streams are abundant, the water limpid and good, and the animals and plants common to the other islands are found there. At the end of this paper is given a list of some of the plants, etc., the native names of which are common to many of the islands of the Pacific, from which we may deduce the fact that a number of them were brought with the people in their various migrations from the East Indian Archipelago, and applied to the plants most resembling the vegetation of their older home.

The People.

It has already been stated that the people belong to the Polynesian race. They have all their exterior characters: they are of a fair height, of a strong constitution, and well proportioned. Their colour is light copper, and their forms are well developed. They are intelligent and industrious. The clothing (lava) consists of leaves, of tapa (or as they call it siapo,4 as in Samoa and Tonga), or of mats, with which they clothe themselves from the waist down to the knees. The same materials are used by both sexes, the only differences being in the manner of wearing their garments. It is only when fishing or at work that they content themselves with a simple waist band, or malo, or tau-nape. The people are cleanly in their habits, and are fond of bathing daily. The dry weather, in depriving them of sufficient fresh water to bathe in, is looked on as a great affliction.

The men allow their hair to grow long, softening it with perfumed oil (Faka-taka-la-la), and ordinarily tie it in a knot on the summit of the head; but they let it fly loose when they meet a chief, a relative, or a friend, as a mark of respect. To traverse a village without rendering this testimony of respect, would be to commit an offence sufficiently grave to induce a declaration of war.5

The women wear their hair short, but allow one or two tufts - 36 (ponga) to grow, which they arrange, according to their manner, as an ornament to gratify their vanity. At the death of a near relative they shave their heads in token of mourning. The young girls allow their hair to grow long until the time of marriage, when it is cut short. Like most Polynesians they occasionally whiten the hair with lime, called lase, or cover it with ashes, termed lefu.

There is a personal ornament the Futunians use of which they are very vain. It consists in dividing the face in four symetrical squares, two black and two red. The first is simply painted with charcoal, the others with the juice of a root which they collect and prepare in common, with all the joyous sports which characterise amongst us the vintage. The people of both sexes habitually carry suspended in the lobes of their ears various flowers, shark teeth, or shells.

The people of Futuna, Père Chanel tells us, are very hospitable. They are not inclined to stealing, like most of the inhabitants of other islands of Oceania, and their manners are soft and pleasant. After a hurricane, however, when much of their food was usually destroyed, stealing was looked on as a venial offence.

The principal acts of life become the occasions of rejoicing, accompanied by festivals, dances, and games, as the following descriptions of some of their customs will show:—

Tatooing (Ta-tatau)

is practised at Futuna as in most of the other islands. The operator provides himself with an implement made of tortoise shell, the form of which resembles a comb, furnished with five or six sharp points. This is dipped into a black pigment and forced into the flesh with slight blows of a stick. By means of these punctures different designs are formed, which cover the body from the loins to just above the knee. Their arms are covered with designs in the same manner. The women content themselves with a number of fanciful lines on their hands and forearms. The operation is always the occasion of a fête, and to divert the thoughts of the patient from the pain his friends sing and recite the songs of the country.

Circumcision (Kulanga.)

The people have this custom. Their male children, so soon as they arrive at the age of puberty, are submitted to it. Although the ceremony has not in their eyes any religious signification it constitutes one of the most solemn periods of their lives. When the time for it arrives they invite all the children of a valley of the proper age (tukatuka) to some particular house. During the first five days which follow the operation they are not allowed to go outside, and pass their time in eating and sleeping. At the end of that time the circumcised are painted black and red, and they are said to be “attired in the interior of the house” (Faka-maa-fale). They renew the ceremony five - 37 days afterwards, and then they are said to be “attired to go forth.” (Faka-maa fofo.) Lastly, fifteen days after the ceremony, the relations collect together—the circumcised clothed in the cloth of the country—and celebrate a fête, in which the food is served in abundance. That fête is called Faka-maa, or “permission to go forth.”


so common in the other islands, was introduced into Futuna by Veliteki, one of the last kings of the district of Poi, in consequence of a dreadful tempest which had brought on a disastrous famine. It became in time, owing to their perverse instincts, a dreadful scourge, which threatened to depopulate the Island. “The desire to eat human flesh,” says Père Chevron, “arrived at such a point that wars did not suffice to furnish the victims for their horrible festivals, and the people took to hunting down members of their own tribes. Men, women, and children, old and young, friends or foes, were killed without distinction. They have been known even to eat the members of their own families; mothers have roasted the fruits of their own bodies. I was shown once an old man who alone survived from the oven out of a village of three hundred souls.” Thus the population, prior to the introduction of Christianity, was decreasing in a terrible manner. It did not comprise more than one thousand souls when Père Chanel first arrived at the Island. Niu-liki, Chief of Singave, had already interdicted, under the most severe punishment, the eating of human flesh, and the arrival of the Rev. Father finally put a stop to it.


But even if Niu-liki had thus put an end to one atrocious custom, he had not succeeded in putting down another—that of the killing of infants. That horrible usage, tolerated by pagan manners, arose in some sort from the nature of the marriages, which in Futuna, as in other islands of Polynesia, had nothing of a religious character about them. It was a simple formality which did not involve any inviolate engagement, and was broken from the slightest motives. Separation engendered disgust, hatred, and vengeance. How many infants have not owed their death to unions ruptured with so much facility? “It was not even felt as a shame for a mother to kill her children. Some there are who have destroyed as many as six. Ordinarily the child was crushed before birth by pressing the body with heavy stones, at other times they were stifled at birth, or were buried alive in the sand.”

Marriage (Fakamau.)

The reader will easily understand that marriage gives rise to rejoicings of a solemn nature. When a young man wishes to marry he makes a demand, through his relatives, for the girl he desires to - 38 espouse. The proposition is always accompanied by presents.6 Usage accords three days to the relatives in which to give or refuse assent; if the latter, they in their turn send presents to those from whom they have received them, and this is taken as a proof that the marriage will not take place. In the case of acceptation of the offer, no response is made. At the end of the fourth day after the proposal the friends of the young man prepare food in great quantity, and carry it to the house of the relatives of the lady. The two families, and often the inhabitants of many valleys, unite for the marriage-feast, to which succeed games, songs, and dances. In the life of Monsignor Elloy, page 346, we find that “a miserable vanity—remains of paganism—had rendered the practice of marriage rare, and hence were engendered and propogated grave abuses. It was required formerly in order that a marriage should be reputed honourable, that the family of the young man should furnish a great quantity of hogs, so that the festivities might be prolonged for several days, and that the young woman should display a proportionate number of fine mats (kie-sina); the wife, therefore, cost a great deal. A small number of families only were found in a condition to furnish these requisitions of two of our capital sins, and rather than avow in public their inferiority of fortune they preferred to abandon their offspring to clandestine unions, which succeeded one another in disorder.”

The day after the marriage fête—which often lasts several days—the wedded pair receive a species of nuptial consecration. They paint their faces and cover themselves with flowers, and put on their best mats. Afterwards they go before the toe-matua, or priest of the family, who causes the bride to sit at the foot of the “sacred column” (pae-atua), during which he conjures his god to accord to her the blessing of fertility. The chiefs indulged in polygamy, called by them tinifu.

Death and Burial.

At Futuna, the funerals were more or less solemn, according to the age, the rank, or the merit of the defunct. After death, the corpse was anointed with a perfumed oil, and its visage painted with red and black. Its breast was covered with a fine mat, and for a day before burial they exposed the corpse at the entrance of its house. The relatives and friends assembled in crowds, and poured out their tears (songi-mala and tangi), making the most lamentable cries the while. They would tear their breasts and faces with their nails, or with shells; the women howling and pronouncing those exclamations of sorrow which was their peculiar right. When the time of burial had - 39 arrived, each one approached and pressed his nose against that of the defunct (songi), thus taking a final farewell. The grave—dug near the house—was covered with fine sand, and four days after interment the tomb was surrounded by stones (pae-pae), more or less large, according to the dignity or rank of the deceased. During ten days at least the grave was sprinkled in the morning with perfumed oil, and in the evening it was covered with fine mats made of the beautiful siapo. The near relatives, in sign of mourning, cut their hair, more or less close, and clothed themselves in their coarsest garments, whilst they refrained from bathing, and from time to time renewed the sanguinary scenes of the day of decease.

Ordinarily the funerals were followed by a grand feast, to which succeeded dances (lau-fola, kikisi, and saka), and pugilistic encounters (vusu). It was the custom on the death of a chief to distribute his fine mats, or siapo, to the different villages; and on that of the king to hold a mimic war, called fakatu, which was accompanied by excesses of various kinds.

Belief in a Future State.

But what, in the ideas of the Futunians, becomes of the soul? They call it mauli—the life—and believe it immortal. They admit of two future lives: the one happy, the other unhappy. To hold a part in the first, it was necessary to have honoured the gods, respected the tapu, obeyed the chiefs, to be married, and above all to have poured out blood on the field of battle. They represented langi (heaven) as a country where are to be found in abundance all sorts of foods, games, and divers amusements. Pulotu, was also a name of their heaven, or residence of the gods, a name known and used to express the same ideas by the Samoans and Tongans, to which branches of the race and their off-shoots it appears to be confined, a very notable fact. In the middle of langi there grew an immense tree named puka-tala, of which the leaves were able to supply all their wants; when cooked in an oven they turned into all sorts of delicious foods.7 Directly the happy inhabitants of langi felt themselves growing old, they had but to bathe in the life giving waters of Lake Vaiola, and they came forth full of life and beauty.8 The place of honour in langi was reserved for those who fell in battle. Neverthelsss, before entering into heaven, the soul wandered four days around the place where it left its earthly body, and during that time the relatives feel it incumbent on them to search for it. They placed themselves at the - 40 very spot where the deceased had died—where they extended a mat—then retired a little way off, and watched attentively for the first insect or reptile which alighted on it, or even for the shadow of a bird flying over. As soon as such an event occured, they folded up the mat with care, and buried it near the corpse, for, to them, the soul of the warrior had passed into the insect, or whatever it might be that had alighted on the mat.9

Père Chanel says, after a battle which had just been fought:—“The fourth day after the combat, we found several women at Tuatafa, who had gone to cry (over the dead), and to observe into what animal or insect the souls of the defunct persons had entered.” On arrival at Singave, he heard it said that one had passed into a fly, another into some other insect.

The ordinary people (seka), who were not worthy of heaven, went, without distinction of age, sex, or condition, into the “Home of the dead”—fale-mate. Each family or clan had its own; either a hollow in a tree, a rock, &c. There resided a god called Atua-mata-lua, or “the god with two eyes.” After living there a certain period they died a second time, and then went to the realms of another god named Atua-mata-tasi, or “the one-eyed god.” Dying a third time, they found themselves under the empire of a god named Atua-mangu-mangu, a god deaf, dumb, blind, and without mouth or nose. Whilst living with these various gods the soul became like them in all respects, preserving two eyes with the first, one with the second, and losing with the third their eyes, ears, mouth, and nose, and remained in a living state without hope of ever seeing an end to this deplorable state. Whilst with these gods they had nothing to live on but reptiles and insects, such as lizards, ants, centipedes and earthworms.

The celibates—both men and women—had to submit to a chastisement of their own before entering the fale-mate.

The Tapu.

This form of interdiction was very common, as with all Polynesians. “They go so far as to tapu the day—e.g., to interdict all work in order to please the gods, or to avert the hurricanes. The King has the right to establish a tapu on various objects, and no one dare violate it on pain of the anger of the gods. It is generally applied on great occasions in concert, and with the approbation of the chiefs, when they tapu the hogs, the cocoanuts, the breadfruit, yams, &c., so that no one shall partake of them until the day of feast.” Although all things might from time to time become tapu at the will of the King or great chiefs, “there is one thing only which is always tapu. No one but the King, who rejoices in the title of Malo, or conqueror, has a right to the turtles (fonu) caught off the coast, or - 41 may even kill one. Near to each royal residence is a place set apart especially for the killing of them, and it is an occasion of great ceremony when one is despatched.” This is a custom common to most of the Polynesians.10 “It is an occasion of great ceremony when one is killed. All is in movement to prepare the fire that is to cook the turtle. When all is ready the King puts on his insignia of rank, which are: The end of a cocoanut leaf passed round his neck, a small piece of white tapa on his right arm as a bracelet, a small strip of bamboo in his right hand, and with which he strikes each morsel of turtle that is presented to him. This is done to remove the tapu.”

They had a custom called nonoa, which appears to answer to the rahui of other islands. It consisted in marking for personal use a cocoanut tree or other thing by tying round it a string, a creeping plant, &c.

War and Peace.

The Islanders appear to have been frequently at war with one another, the large island being divided into two realms or puleanga, the chiefs of which assume the title of Malo, or conqueror, according to whichever obtained the ascendency. The northern chief appears to have had his capital in the district of Tua, at the village of Poi, whilst his rival lived at the village and harbour of Singave, at the southern end of the Island. The Island of Alofi was always obliged to submit to the yoke of the conqueror, and, in consequence of the wars, has now only one village, though formerly very populous. The following incident illustrates an interesting ceremony in connection with the installation of a new King:—

The chief of the vanquished party (Vanae), whose residence was at Singave, and who had prevailed, by means of presents, in securing from the Malo the presence of two priests named Semuu and Urui, went through a ceremony which appears to have been undertaken with the view of recovering his prestige lost in the last war (taua). Père Chanel says: “The crowning of the King of the conquered party or Faka-alofa, took place on the 30th July. From early morning the chiefs and old men collected in the house of Vanae. The three principal gods of Futuna—Faka-veli-kele, Songia, and Fitu—spoke in their turn after the kava. [Presumably the Pére means they spoke through their accustomed mouthpieces—the priests.] Then their war songs were recited, both before and after the breakfast. Towards 10 o'clock the place, or malae, which is before the house of Vanae, was occupied by the chiefs, the warriors, and the people. Those who had some function to fulfil were in their places, when Vanae advanced between Semuu and Urui towards the “sacred stone.” A solemn - 42 silence reigned amongst the assembly. Semuu took a shell, and cut three pieces of cocoanut leaf, which he placed on the top of a piece of tapa. Vanae at that time was sitting close to the ‘sacred stone.’ The ‘first Minister’ (Tui-savaka), accompanied by all the chiefs, advanced gravely. He had round his neck a cocoanut leaf11 He took the three pieces deposited on the tapa, and, kneeling before Vanae, passed round his neck these signs of royalty, pronouncing at the same time certain words. All then squatted down three times, raising simultaneously a great shout. Vanae, thus crowned King, distributed a piece of white tapa to each chief in order to reinstate him in his ancient rank. Kava was then served in accordance with the ceremonies reserved to the conquerors. Then they thanked Fakaveli-kele for having obligingly quitted the other side of the Island to take up his residence with them, and made offering to him of a fine roast pig surrounded by several baskets of taro. After an abundant distribution of food the people sang and danced till the evening.”

This “crowning” (or Faka-taupalā) of Vanae led to a war between the two parties, in which numbers were killed. The following is the account of the commencement:—

Declaration of War.

“A number of the young men of Singave arrived at Niu-liki's settlement whilst he and his people were absent in their cultivations. They deposited nine roast hogs in the court (malae) before Niu-liki's house, then rapidly made a rough litter, on which they placed a small piece of white tapa, and then, after several war cries, the litter was taken up by a number of men, who, shouting at the top of their voices, carried it off to Singave. The people declare that they have taken away the god of Niu-liki. On the return of the latter and his people they were greatly enraged and made immediate preparations for war. First, all seated themselves, and the king (Niu-liki) and the gods (priests) harangued the people. Then they offered kava to the gods which had been stolen, and subsequently distributed the roast hogs. One of the atuas (priests) spoke with such animation and elevation of voice that it was like distant thunder.”

“On the approach of war they offer a kava root to the gods, together with a spear of bamboo, both of which are deposited at the foot of the ‘sacred stone’; the ceremony is accompanied with three great war cries. After this the warriors depart for the contest,” armed with spears, tomahawks, and clubs. Declarations of war were made by sending to the opposing party a piece of tapa, called pau-velile-kele. In going forth to battle the warriors dress themselves in their - 43 best; those of repute wear a crown of feathers. The spears (tao) were thrown by hand, and an adroit warrior would ward them off, catch them in his hand, and return them from whence they came.12 Some of their spears were barbed. The women accompanied the men to the fight, and remained in the rear to stop the fugitives and cause them to return to the battle field, a custom called Kupenga-fafine.

Smearing with Blood.

After a battle which the good Père attended, in order to help the wounded, he says:—“Amongst the wounded was found the brother of the vanquished King (Vanae). It was sad to see his wife collect in her hands the blood which had flowed from his wounds, and throw it on to her head, whilst she uttered piercing cries. All the relatives of the wounded collected in the same manner the blood which had flowed from them, down even to the last drop, and they even applied their lips to the leaves of the shrubs and licked it all up to the last drop.” This smearing of the face with blood was very common with the New Zealanders and other branches of the race.

Making of Peace.

As was the custom with the Polynesians, “women were sent as peace-makers: the daughter of Niu-liki, the King, and wife of another of the chiefs went to the vanquished with presents of European cloth.” In another place, we read:—“The solemn act which should cement the peace took place on the 22nd August, in the following manner:—The King and his chiefs went to Nuku (a village near Singave), and after a short rest they directed their course towards the mountains on which the vanquished had entrenched themselves. They soon discovered four old men, with their hands joined, their heads covered with ashes, and a branch of green-wood on their breasts. A basket filled with presents preceded them; they followed in solemn silence. Arrived where the young men had planted some branches for shade, all sat down together. The kava was then prepared, the four old men assisting, but leaving their places occupied by their green branches. The basket was then opened, and two natives placed before the King the pieces of tapa which it contained. The principal chiefs of the conquering party, or Malo, then arose, and congratulated the old men on their submission and on their love for their country. The King spoke - 44 in his turn, and on completion of his discourse their relatives approached and embraced them.”

The Gods of Futuna.

It is somewhat strange that none of the works from which these notes are culled make any mention of the great gods of Polynesia (except Tangaloa, who holds quite a secondary place), i.e., the gods of first rank, for Maui, already mentioned, is merely one of the second order, if not simply a deified man. It would be somewhat hazardous to risk the statement that this branch of the race is unacquainted with Tangaloa, Rongo, Tane, and Tu, who everywhere else in Polynesia are known, though not equally venerated. One would expect from a study of their language, and the customs noted above, that the Futunians belong to that branch of the race which peopled Samoa and Tonga, and more especially the latter, and that therefore Tangaloa would find an exalted niche in their Pantheon, whilst perhaps Tane might be unknown or not held in so great esteem, he being, as the writer has reason for believing, the special god of quite a different migration to that of the Tongans and Samoans. But no notice of these great gods occurs, whilst their particular gods are several times mentioned, of whom Faka-veli-kele is the principal and most powerful. The absence of a knowledge of the great gods of Polynesia apparently characterises also the belief of the people of the neighbouring isle of Uea or Wallis, whose principal deity was Kakahu (perhaps the Kahu-kura of the rest of Polynesia). But this people does, however, know the name of Tangaloa, for they accredited him with the same feat of fishing up their island as the Futunians do to Maui. For reasons, which will be given when treating of Uea, it is believed that this change is due to their intercourse with Tonga, where Tangaloa is the god who fished up that group, and that the story is not native to the soil.

The following are the gods of Futuna so far as can be ascertained from the works quoted:—Faka-veli-kele, who occupies the supreme rank, Atua-mata-lua, Atua-mata-tasi, Atua-mangu-mangu, Songia, Fitu, Atalua (a female), Fau-whenua, Fine-lasi, Kuli (the dog), Lita (a female), Mango, Mafuike, Sakumani, Tao-fia-liki, Te-ailoilo (who stood at the gate of heaven and noted all who passed), and lastly Tangaloa, but evidently not the great god of that name.

The general name for the gods was Atua, as in the rest of Polynesia, and their attributes appear to have been of the same mischievous nature as elsewhere. They were of the first and second order. “The principal one has a name which is not of a flattering nature, i.e., Faki-veli-kele, he who makes the land bad. Under him in power and importance are several called Atua-muli, but the three - 45 principal gods of Futuna are Faka-veli-kele, Songia, and Fitu. All evils were attributed to them; they persecuted the people with sickness and death. Invocations and offerings were made to them on several occasions. Each god had its separate house, and each one was supposed to have power over different parts of the body, and to them offerings were made in case of sickness or disease affecting particular parts. Sickness was said to be caused by the god eating the body of the afflicted.” They were apparently represented by idols, and were fickle in their attachment to and protection of any particular chief, as already stated in the case of Vanae, who, by aid of the two priests, attracted to his side the special god of the King Niu–liki, his opponent. Père Chanel says, on visiting Vanae's malae, “What was my surprise to see in the place of honour usually occupied by Vanae a morsel of tapa, and above it three cocoanut leaves. I learned that this religious ceremony was intended as an invitation to Faka-veli-kele to come and repose in that agreeable verdure.”13

Offerings to the Gods.

In case of sickness offerings were made to the gods of fruit, fine mats, cloth, and other objects of value, which became the property of the priests. The sick themselves were carried to “those who have the gods,” i.e., the priests, when offerings were made, and in the event of non-success with one they were taken to another god to secure a return of health. Fêtes were given and offerings made to avert hurricanes, which often do great damage to the bread-fruit, bananas, &c., on which the people mostly subsist, and the duration of which was supposed to depend on the will of particular gods. In the case of an appeal to the personl god of Malingi, the King's “first minister,” or Tui-Savaka, the feast commenced in the evening and lasted over the next day, whilst, when the god of the King was appealed to, the invocations and feasting lasted for seven days, ending in a religious fête. The following is an account of the ceremony connected with the offerings to appease the gods and cause them to avert famine:—“The first bread-fruit and early yams are saved. The crowd retired after prayers had been offered by Falima, who had demanded of the god a cessation of the wind, a less powerful sun, fruit and water in abundance, many fish in the sea, and finally a termination of his anger towards his people. The invocations continued for several days. At the end of that time a procession was formed by the men, each one holding in his hand a banana leaf as a “palm branch.”

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On the illness of Niu-liki's son, that chief carried “a finger of his father-in-law” as an offering to one of the gods. Generally a root of kava formed part of every offering. The allusion to the “finger” above, and the fact that Père Grezél gives the meaning of the word mutu as “the remains of a finger cut off,” would seem to show that these people possessed the Tongan custom of cutting off a joint of a finger in sign of mourning.

The natives are persuaded that the gods take up their residence in the great chiefs or the King, and hence their fear and reverence for them: they never look directly at the King in addressing him.


The people believe in the efficacy of offerings to the gods to procure rain. Père Chenal says: “A great pagan ceremony (lau-ifi14) took place to-day to procure rain. A number of people proceeded to the summit of a mountain to convey to the god who has power over the rain, quantities of cooked bananas, taro, fish, &c. All of them passed the night there under the stars, persuaded that their wishes would be fulfilled the following night.” And again: “The dry weather continuing, the King and several chiefs held a council (fono) as to the advisabilities of building a house in honour of Faka-veli-kele in order that he might send rain, and that the harvest of bread-fruit might be plentiful. The most experienced workmen of each village assembled at Poi to polish with their best art the wood for a house which they are going to build on the mountain with the intention of thereby procuring rain.”

Fête in Honour of the Gods.

Having fixed the day of the festival “The drums (ta or lali) were beaten to announce it. They made toasts (sic) to the gods at the malae in front of the King's house. A kava root is offered by the King to a chief of Singave as commission to invite all those of the other side of the island to attend the fête. As the dance enters into the programme of all their ceremonies the natives prepare for it with much care, and practice the various exercises the evening before. On the day arranged a great number of people gathered together. All was conducted with the ceremony prescribed on such occasions. The contributions of food brought by the visitors of the various valleys was at first all presented to the King, who presided in person. His first Minister recites a prayer; afterwards—by order of the King—the food - 47 is distributed to the chiefs of each village, and by them again to each family forming their particular clan. After the feast the dance commences. A hollow trunk of a tree serves for a drum, and he who performs on it is surrounded by a number of people, who accompany his drumming with chants. The dancers themselves are divided into two groups, the men on one side, and the women on the other; they unite their voices with those of the choir, and execute simultaneous movements, each agitating a battledore (pallete) sometimes with one hand, sometimes with the other. During the dance several girls of from 15 to 20 years of age, belonging to the royal family or to those of the chiefs, stood upright near the King, as in a place of honour. They were superbly painted in red and black, but took no part in the dance. They were replaced successively by girls from the other valleys in their turn.”

Sacred Stones.

Mention has been made more than once of these stones, or paeatua. “Before the house of each principal chief of a valley is a sacred stone, which the natives never touch for fear of Faka-veli-kele. They are something like milestones in appearance; the largest are in size about a yard square, the smaller ones from 15 to 20 inches. These stones are held in great respect by all, and the King alone has the right to sit near it, or sometimes, whilst presiding at a feast, to use it as a support whilst sitting.” Some parts of the houses are also sacred, such as the space between the two principal supports of the roof, between which the people never pass for fear of offending Faka-veli-kele. No one would even touch these “divine columns.” The atua muli, or minor gods, have their presence denoted in the forests by baskets suspended from the trees.

Twirling the Cocoanut.

The Futunians have a custom called takale, which appears to be identical with one described by Marriner as common in Tonga, and which is not known, it is believed, in any other of the islands inhabited by the Polynesians. Père Chanel says:—“In the case of the non-success of offerings made to a god to cure sickness, they decide which god shall next be applied to by ‘spinning a cocoanut,’” and no doubt—though the Rev. Père does not say so—the direction in which it falls indicates that of the most propitious god to address; such, at least, was the Tongan custom.


of the first fruits to the gods was common, and to the principal personages at a feast, when it was called faka-ulu, and presents of food, called omoe, were made to those who decorated the dancers for a feast. In offerings of food to a god on behalf of a child, the name of - 48 the child was not mentioned, but it was alluded to as the unga, for fear that the god would not listen, or, perhaps, do the child some harm—a most peculiar contradiction of ideas.

The King was called Sau—the Hau of other islands; it also meant a reign—and many of the chiefs of various parts appear to have had titles in addition to their names: Such as—Manifa, he who sits on the King's right hand in a feast; Sakafu, one of his Ministers; Moa-akula, one who sits beside the Sakafu; Mua, he who distributes the food at a feast. Some of the titles of chiefs of the various valleys were—Manafa, of Fiua Valley; Saangongo, of the Pouma District; Safeisau, of the District of Olu; Safei-tonga, of the District of Tufu-one; Tiafoi, of the Valley of Fikavi.

The priests were called Vaka-atua, or Faasinga-tapu; they were either male or female. We may suppose the first name to originate from the fact of the priests becoming possessed by the gods when communicating with mankind—Vaka meaning canoe, atua god.15

Père Grezél says that the first Futunian was named Nimo, and that he was the “tabernacle of Faka-veli-kele.” It is much to be regretted that we have not a little more information as to Nimo, and of the folk-lore of this interesting branch of the Polynesian race. No doubt they had—possibly still have—stores of traditions like other islanders. To preserve some of these before they are finally lost would be a work of great utility and interest, and would add honour to the names of those who have the opportunity of doing so. Père Grezél has rendered a very great service to science by the publication of his excellent dictionary of the language, which contains, roughly, about 5000 words, many of which have a great number of meanings. If his compatriots would preserve some of the poetry and traditions of the people they would confer a lasting debt of gratitude on all students of Polynesian matters.

The following are the names of some of the stars, the general name for which is fetu:—

  • Fetu-ao, Venus (when a morning star).
  • Fetu-aàsoa, Jupiter or Saturn (a planet).
  • Fetu-ea, Jupiter or Saturn (a planet).
  • Fetau-ngapepe, two small stars near the Southern Fish.
  • Filo-momea, the Eastern Star of the Twins.
  • Kaniva, the milky way.
  • Kau-amonga, the Eagle.
  • Maafu-lele, the nebulæ west of the Magellan Clouds.
  • Maafu-toka, the nebulæ east of the Magellan Clouds.
  • Moa, the Southern Cross.
  • Malama-kainga, Venus.
  • Mata-liki, the Pleiades.
  • Munifa, one of the constellations, with four stars, something like the cross.
  • Palolo-mua, Sirius.
  • Palolo-muli, Regulus.
  • Sumu, the dark spot, or “coal sacks,” in the milky way.
  • Tanuma, the Southern Crown in Sagittarius.
  • Tapuke-tea, the Western Star of the Twins.
  • Tau-tama, the Twins.
  • Tau-taina, the two bright stars in the compass.
  • Tiko-tara, a star.
  • Tolu, the three stars of Orion's belt.
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Certain stars presided over the months. The following names are copied from Père Grezél's grammatical notes at the commencement of his dictionary:—

“The natives of the isle give to the stars, which they use for that purpose, the general name of tupua:

  • 1st. Ualoa, April. Three stars in line, of which two are quite close.
  • 2nd. Tulalupe, May. Four stars, representing a pigeon roosting.
  • 3rd. Mata-liki, June. Pleiades.
  • 4th. Tolu, July. Orion's belt.
  • 5th. Palolo-mua, August. Sirius.
  • 6th. Palolo-muli, September. Regulus.
  • 7th. Munifa, October. Four stars forming a small square.
  • 8th. Tauafu, November. The lesser rains.
  • 9th. Vai-mua, first great rains.
  • 10th. Vai-muli, second great rains.
  • 11th. Lisa-mua, December. First great winds.
  • 12th. Lisa-muli, January. Second great winds.
  • 13th. Faka-afu-ola, February. Lessening winds.
  • 14th. Faka-afu-mate, March. Last winds.

“The ignorance of the Futunians as to the calculation of time was excessive. They never count by days nor weeks, but by the moon alone; and for that purpose they use the stars, of which the general name is tupua, but which they design by a particular name, according to its emblem, or sign. Such are the first seven months; the seven others take their names from the variations of the season, from the lesser rains, the greater rains, etc. The ninth and tenth divisions have no corresponding ones in our months, which arises no doubt from the fact that the Futunians always intercalate one part of the month in another, as I have many times remarked in their conversation.

“The Futunians divide the year into two parts: tau-mua and tau-muli. The tau-mua dates from the first planting of the yams, which takes place after the last month of the hurricanes; it corresponds therefore to the month of April, since the four months of hurricane are January, February, and March, Lisa-mua, Lisa-muli, &c. The tau-muli, or last plantation of yams, is the second epoch which they use to arrange their work; it is very variable, and the true month cannot exactly be fixed.”

Of the above names of the months, only a few can be recognised as common to other Polynesian Islands, these are:—Paroro, July in Rarotonga; Fa'a-ahu, February, Paroro-mua, Paroro-muri, June and July in Tahiti; Makalii (Mata-riki), January in Hawaii; Ua'oa (Uaroa), January in Marquesas; Fa'ahu, March, Palolo-mua, Palolo-muli, July and August in Samoa; Munifa, September in Samoa. Not having the names of the months in Tonga, they cannot be compared, but it is reasonable to suppose that some correspondence will be found, for the language and customs are perhaps more akin to those of Tonga than any other island.

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Some Natural Productions of Futuna.

Père Grezél, in his excellent dictionary gives the names of over 160 trees and plants common to Futuna, but most unfortunately he omits the botanical names, and therefore no exact comparison can be made with similar names in the other islands. This is a subject worthy of enquiry and study, for by its means many of the migrations of the Polynesians might be traced. If we find branches of the race living at opposite ends of the Pacific who have common names for plants identical, or even resembling one another, the inference is certain that those two branches of the race must at some time have known a plant from which both derived the name, and it follows that they must have inhabited the same place at some time or other.

The birds, animals, fish, and insects would offer the same results from the same line of enquiry. In the lists which follow, only a few of the most striking and common names are given, with their suggested equivalents in some of the other islands; but it is obvious that until the scientific names are known there is considerable uncertainty as to the indentity of them. Even where plants, animals, &c., are not identically the same in any of the new countries to which a migration arrives, it is obvious that those most similar in the new country to those of the old will receive the same names, sometimes with variations to distinguish them.

Dr. Guppy, in his “Soloman Islands,” has already suggested this method of tracing the origin of some of the Polynesian races, and has illustrated it with two or three examples; but, unfortunately for him, his information was deficient, and he has consequently made some absurd mistakes in the Polynesian names of plants. Mr. Joshua Rutland, one of our members, has written a very valuable and interesting memoir on the cultivated plants of Polynesia which has not yet seen the light. It is a most able contribution to the “whence of the Polynesians.”

The following are the names of some of the trees and plants of Futuna:--

Futuna Name. Equivalent Names in Other Islands.
Aka, a liana (edible root) .. Aka, a liana, N.Z.
Aoa, the Banyan .. .. .. Aoa, the Banyan, Mangaia; a tree, Tahiti, Bolabola
Fala, the Pandanus .. .. Fara, the Pandanus, Tahiti, Mangareva, Tonga; Ara, in Rarotonga; Hala, Hawaii
Fau, the Hibiscus .. .. .. Whau and Aute, paper mulberry, N.Z.; Au and Hau, Hawaii; Au, Mangaia; Fau, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa
Fue, a creeping plant .. .. Hue, a creeping plant (calabash), N.Z.; Fue, Tonga, Samoa
Futu, a tree .. .. .. Hutu, a tree, N.Z.; Hutu, Mangareva; Futu, Tonga, Samoa; Hutu, Tahiti
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Fetau, a tree .. .. .. Fetau, a tree, Tonga, Samoa
Ifi, a walnut (? chestnut) .. .. Ifi, Rarotonga, Tonga (Inocarpus edulis)
Kape, a plant .. .. .. Kape, the large arum, most of the islands, Tonga, &c.
Kahokaho, a species of yam .. Kaho-kaho, species of yam, Tonga
Kava, the kava plant .. .. Kawakawa, N.Z.; Kava, Ava, Kawa, most of the islands
Kea, breadfruit .. .. .. Kea, species of bread-fruit, Tonga
Kiekie, a liana .. .. .. Kiekie, a liana, N.Z., Rarotonga; 'Ie'ie, a creeping plant, Tahiti, Hawaii
Kofe, bamboo .. .. .. 'Ohe, bamboo, Hawaii; Koe, bamboo, Mangareva; Kofe, Tonga; Ohe, Tahiti
Koka, a tree .. .. .. Koka, a tree of Tonga: 'O'a, a tree, Hawaii; Koka, the banyan, Mangaia
Kumala, sweet potato .. .. Kumara, N.Z., Rarotonga; Umala, Samoa, Uwala, Hawaii; Umara, Tahiti; Kumala, Tonga.
Lafi, papyrus, from which tapa is made .. .. .. ..  
Leva, a tree .. .. .. Rewarewa, a tree, N.Z.; Reva, a tree, Mangaia
Lemu, seaweed, moss .. .. Rimu, moss, seaweed, N.Z., Rarotonga; Lemu, Tonga; Remu, a fern, Tahiti
Mafai, a creeping plant .. .. Mawhai, a creeping plant, N.Z.
Mei, bread-fruit tree .. .. Tu-mei, Mangareva; Mei, Tonga
Milo, a tree .. .. .. Miro, a tree, N.Z.; Milo, Hawaii, Tonga; Miro, Mangareva, Rarotanga
Mosokoi, a tree, scented flowers .. Moho'oe, a tree, scented flowers, Samoa
Niu, cocoanut .. .. .. Niu, cocoanut. Universal name in Polynesia
Nukanuka, a species of myrtle .. Manuka, a shrub, N.Z.
Piu, species of cocoanut .. .. Piu, a fern, N.Z.; Piu, species cocoanut, Tonga
Polo, species of love apple .. Poroporo, species of solanum, N.Z., Mangaia; Polo, shrub, Tonga
Pua, a tree .. .. .. .. Pua, a tree, Rarotonga, Hawaii, Tonga
Puka, a tree .. .. .. Puka, a tree, N.Z., Rarotonga; Pu'a, Samoa
Pulaka, a species of kape .. Puraka, Raratonga and many other islands; Pul'a, Samoa
Talo, the taro .. .. .. Taro, N.Z.; Talo or Taro, in all Polynesia
Tamanu, a tree .. .. .. Tamanu, a tree, Rarotonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Mangareva
Tava, a tree .. .. .. Tawa, a tree, N.Z.; Tava, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa
Teve, Balanda insula .. .. Teve, Raratonga, Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa
Ti, cordyline .. .. .. Ti, cordyline in all Polynesia; Si, in Tonga
Tiale, a scented flower .. .. Tiare, Rarotonga, Tahiti; Siare, Tonga
Toi, a tree .. .. .. .. Toi, a tree (cordyline) N.Z.; a tree, Tonga
Tolo, sugar cane .. .. .. Toro, a tree, N.Z.; To, sugar cane, several islands
Tui-tui, candle-nut tree .. .. Tui-tui, Tahiti, Tonga, Rarotonga; Ku-kui, Hawaii
Ufi, yam .. .. .. .. Uwhi, a potato, N.Z.; Ufi, general name for yam all over Polynesia
Ufilei, species of yam .. .. Ufi-lei, species of yam most islands of Polynesia
Vi, a tree with edible fruit .. Vi, a tree with edible fruit, Tahiti, Rarotonga, Tonga
Mutie, a tree .. .. .. Mutie, a tree, Mangareva

The following are some of the names of birds, of which thirty-four are given in the dictionary:—

Futuna Names. Equivalent Names in Other Islands.
Akiaki, a seabird .. .. .. Akiaki, a seabird in N.Z.
Amatuku, a bird with long neck, a heron .. .. .. Matuku, a heron, N.Z.; 'Otu'u, Tahiti; Kotuku, N.Z., Rarotonga, and Mangareva; Matu'u, Samoa
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Ngongo, a seabird .. .. .. Ngongo, a seabird, N.Z., Tonga, Fiji
Kalae, a bird, red beak and crest Kalae, Tonga; Alae-keokeo, Hawii
Kuka, a bird .. .. ..  
Kulu-kulu, a dove .. .. Kulu-kulu, a dove, Tonga; Kuku, Mangareva; Kulu, Ualan
Lofa, a bird .. .. .. Roha, the big kiwi, N.Z.; Lofa, a bird, Tonga
Lulu, an owl .. .. .. Ruru, an owl, N.Z.; Lulu, an owl, Tonga, Samoa; Ruru, Tahiti
Lupe, a pigeon .. .. .. Rupe, a pigeon, N.Z.; Lupe, Tonga; Rupe, Tahiti, Rarotonga
Moso, a small bird .. .. Moho, quail, N.Z.; Moho, Tonga, Hawaii; Mo, Fiji; Moó, Rarotonga
Peka, a large bat .. .. .. Peka, a bat, N.Z.; Peka, Tonga; Beka, Fiji
Senga, green and red parroquet Senga, a parroquet, Samoa
Tavake, Tavaki, tropic bird, Rarotonga; Tawake, Mangareva
Toloa, wild duck .. .. .. Toloa, albatross, N.Z.; Toloa, wild duck, Tonga; Toroa, a seabird, Tahiti; Toloa, duck, Samoa; Koloa (Toloa), duck, Hawaii
Tui-tui-kape-ata, a black bird, white on belly .. .. Tui, a black bird, white on throat, N.Z.
Tuli, a snipe .. .. .. Turi, a snipe, N.Z.; Tule, Samoa; Kukulu (Tuturu), plover, Hawaii
Veka, a bird, grey, long tail .. Weka, wood hen, N.Z.; Ve'a, a rail, Samoa
Moa, a fowl .. .. .. Moa, a fowl all over Polynesia
Tu, a bird .. .. .. Tu, or Tu-aimio, Samoa

The names of the winds and cardinal directions are as follows:—

  • Fakatiu, the north-west wind
  • Funga-alofi, the south-east wind
  • Keu-Matangi, the south wind
  • Lua-tuu, the south-east wind
  • Mata-fenua, the east
  • Muli-keu, the south
  • Tonga, the south wind
  • Toke-lau, the due north wind

The above list is by no means exhaustive for Futuna, or for any of the other islands. Could we procure the names of trees, plants, animals, and birds of the East Indian Archipelago in the language of the most ancient races there, considerable light would be thrown on the whence of the Polynesians.

S. Percy Smith.
1  1. “Vie du Bienheureux Pierre-Louis-Marie-Chanel,” by Le R. P. Nicholet, published by Emanuel Vitta, 3, Place Bellicour, Lyon, 1890. 2. “Mgr. Bataillon,” by Le R. P. Mangeret, 2 vols., published by V. Le Coffre, 90, Rue Bonaparte, Paris, 1884. 3. “Dictionnaire Futunien-Français,” by Le R. P. Grezél, published by Maisonneuve et Cie, 25, Quai Voltaire, Paris, 1878.
2  Although first known to Europeans through Le Maire and Schouten, the Tongans, and no doubt others, had made voyages to Futuna long before those navigators. Captain Cook, in his third voyage, mentions the Island amongst others known to the Tongans, though he himself did not recognise it under its native name. The Rarotonga tradition mention the conquest by their ancestors of the adjacent Island of Uea or Wallis, and no doubt they would equally know Futuna; but, if so, it was by a name not now recognised. This conquest took place in the early history of the migrations to the Pacific. See “Genealogy of Pa” in the present number of this Journal.
3  See “Oceania,” by the Rev. D. Macdonald, of Efate, New Hebrides. In Efate it is Maui-tuki-tuki who hauled up the Island; in Fotuna, New Hebrides, it is Mo-shishiki; in Tanna, Ma-tiktiki; and in Aneityum, Moi-tikitiki.
4  Hence, probably, the New Zealand word hiapo, and hiako, or bark, from which the siapo is made.
5  This is the custom also of the Wallis Islanders, and of those of Rotuma.
6  The present of a hog is called Pu-umu. Père Grezél says in his dictionary “Pu-umu, present of a cooked hog that the Futunian formerly made to the parents of a person he desired to marry. The pig was left, without saying anything, at the house of the parents, and the donor retired. If the parents retained the pig it was a sign of consent to the marriage, but if they returned it it was a sign of refusal.”
7  The Père Monfat, in his “Les Samoa,” page 171, speaking of the Hades at the West end of Savaii, says:—“Another tree is found there, the puka-tala, of which the leaves themselves make for the fortunate spirits a cuisine, exquisite and varied, according to the taste of the most fastidious.”
8  Père Monfat, tells us, in the work quoted, that the same belief is common in Samoa, and that the lake was situated at the foot of puka-tala. Our readers will recognise Te-wai-ora-a-Tane, known to so many branches of the Polynesian race.
9  The Samoans have the same custom as this.
10  See “Transactions New Zealand Institute,” vol. xxii., page 96, where particulars of the ceremonies connected with the killing and offering of the turtle, as prevailing in Tongareva or Penrhyn Island in the olden times, are described.
11  Those who were privileged to wear this emblem were called Kau-lau-niu, from kau, a company, lau, a leaf, niu, the cocoanut.
12  The Maoris and the Hawaiians were very expert in catching spears thrown at them. Prof. W. D. Alexander, in his “Brief History of the Hawaiian people,” says:—“They used no shields, but were wonderfully expert in catching and warding off spears thrown at them. Vancouver relates that in a sham fight he saw six spears cast at once at Kamehameha I., of which he caught three, parried two, and avoided the sixth by a quick movement of the body.”
13  It will be noted what an important part in all their ceremonies the cocoanut leaf always played, and generally in the shape of three leaves. The three leaves in Tahiti were called tapaau, and were there equally connected with their ceremonies. See also Transactions N.Z. Institute, Vol. XXII., page 96.
14  The lau-ifi ceremony consisted in painting the forehead with ashes in sign of humility, and was used equally in approaching the King to beg a favour. Lefu is the term for ashes, and also the act of painting with them. Paninga means also the same thing.
15  In New Zealand waka means the “medium of a god” as well as “canoe.”—Ed.