Volume 44 1935 > Volume 44, No. 173 > Traditions of Aitutaki, Cook Islands, by Drury Low, p 26-31
TRADITIONS OF AITUTAKI, COOK ISLANDS.
4. THE STORY OF OPE THE CANNIBAL.
IN the good old days, when our people were still cannibals, and tribal fighting was going on amongst us, there were two strong tribes who for many years had been at war with each other almost continuously. The two tribes, the Ureia and Ngatipaaki, were close together, and for years the people of Ureia had been the strongest and most feared of all the tribes. Vairuarangi was the ariki of Ureia, while Tamatoa was ariki of the Ngatipaaki. These two ariki and the head men of their tribes called a meeting at which peace was decided on, both sides agreeing that no more fighting should take place, that they should work together, and that they should be free to visit each other without fear of being speared and eaten. It was decided even to share their fishing-grounds, so that both sides would be free to use them for catching fish.
Some years later the men of the Ngatipaaki were seen cutting stakes from the toa or iron-wood tree, the wood of which was used for making spears. As the men were returning home with these stakes, the people of Ureia asked them what they were going to do with them. They said that they were for digging ko ti, a root used in those days for food. This the men of Ureia accepted as the truth, as peace had been going on for so long and no one seemed ready to break it. That same evening a woman of the Ngatipaaki who was sleeping with her lover, a Ureia man named Ngatua, who was famous amongst the Ureia people as a toa or leader in battle, told him not to sleep that night as the men of Ngatipaaki had made the iron-wood stakes into spears, and were coming, late that night - 27 or in the early hours of the morning when all the Ureia people were asleep, to spear all the fighting men and young boys. He would not listen to the woman's advice, and answered, “We are as one and at peace. There will be no more fighting between us.” “That's what you all believe,” she replied, “but listen to me, a woman of the Ngatipaaki people. They have long been waiting their time. They have never forgotten nor forgiven your people for killing off so many of their fighting men in the olden days.” But still Ngatua would not listen, and they turned in to sleep. Soon she woke him up saying, “I am troubled. You will not listen to me and live. I don't want to lose you, but death will part us this night. I am now going back to my people, as I dare not stay longer. If I am found here they will surely kill me too.” Laughing at her fears, Ngatua let her go home alone, and after placing his eight fighting-spears ready for use by his side, he went off to sleep again.
Some time before daylight the Ngatipaaki men arrived and surrounded his house. For some time they were afraid to enter, but at last one, becoming braver than the rest, crept quietly in and finding Ngatua asleep, he quietly collected the spears which he took outside. Now that Ngatua's spears had been taken from him, his foes became more courageous, and the hut was again entered. An anga or native rope was quickly passed around Ngatua's neck. This was twisted from behind by a stout stick. As it tightened Ngatua woke up and soon realized what was happening. His attempts to break clear were in vain; for the others, seeing him defenceless, rushed in to kill him. With his dying breath he managed to gasp out, “Papaia e purekua te meika ka aae koe e tetai ta te vai maira tetai ta,” which translated runs as follows, “You have picked off one banana from a big bunch, but there are many more left on it.” On hearing this the slayers replied, “They are all killed. You are the last.” “You have killed us in the dark like a lot of rats,” was his reply, as much as to say, “You have done in the dark what you could not do in the daylight.”
In the meantime two men, Mauri-moana and Ope, had escaped into the bush, and in the morning there were only women and children left alive in the Ureia settlement. - 28 Mauri-moana was found some weeks later by a Ngatipaaki man, a former friend, who took him to his house under cover of darkness, fed him and kept him hidden away until he felt it was safe for him to show himself. When he came out of hiding, he was well treated by his former enemies, and placed under the care of the ariki Tamatoa.
For more than two years Ope remainded hidden in the bush, and nothing was seen of him. During the day he lay hidden in a cave amongst some high cliffs, while at night he came out and gathered food as best he could. All the time he was living in fear of his life thinking that the Ngatipaaki people were still searching for him. Living by himself, and often being short of food, soon changed Ope into a wild man in all his ways. After a spell of bad weather when he was feeling very hungry, he followed a party of small children, and watching his chance until one of them became separated from the rest, he sprang upon the child, taking it away into the bush where he killed it. Being afraid of lighting a fire he ate part of the child raw, and hid the remainder away for the next day. The other children missing one of their number searched for it calling its name, but receiving no answer, they returned home telling their parents that the child was lost. A search party went out, but although they searched the bush for two days, no trace of the missing child could be found.
From this on, hardly a week went by without a small child being missed from this settlement of Vaitupa, or from the neighbouring settlement of Vaipeka. Thorough searches were made, but no traces of the children could be found. The people of the two settlements becoming alarmed, began to watch their children and would not allow them to leave the settlements. Ope who had by this acquired a craving for human flesh, and not being able to get any more helpless children, decided to try for older people. One night two men were out spearing fish by torchlight, in water up to their knees. Ope followed them up for a long while in hopes of catching them. Creeping along behind them just out of reach of the light of their torches, he was at last able to spring on one of them, who, caught unawares, was soon killed. But during the struggle his companion - 29 heard the noise, and caught sight of Ope. Not waiting a moment he put out his torch by dipping it into the water, and then under cover of darkness he crept quietly ashore. While hiding behind a tree he saw Ope make off with his companion. Being greatly frightened he rushed off home to the settlement of Vaitupu where he told of what he had seen that night, and of the death of his friend. He described Ope as a wild man of giant size, and terrible to look upon. He said his body was covered over by paua and pipi shells. The news was quickly passed from house to house, and all the people were quickly called together, no noise being made, as all were very frightened. The meeting lasted until daylight, and in vain they tried to choose from amongst themselves a man strong and brave enough to go out and kill the dreaded wild man. At last Te Aravakatoa, a man braver than his companions, volunteered to go. It was his brother Aputu who had escaped from the cannibal on the previous night. Te Aravakatoa asked that they should first call in the aid of their taunga, a man famous amongst his people as having the gift of second sight. His advice was always sought before going into battle, and upon all important occasions. When Maevakura arrived he was told of the night's happenings, and the reason for the disappearance of so many of their children. Te Aravakatoa explained to the taunga that he wanted to go out and kill the cannibal so that they could once more live in peace, and that he wanted his advice as to the best way of doing this. Maevakura suggested that Aputu should accompany his brother, a suggestion which did not entirely meet with Aputu's approval as he had already been given such a scare by the wild man. After a while, however, when it had been pointed out to him that he knew where to look for him and that having once escaped he should not be afraid, he decided to go. They were instructed the next day to make two long coconut-torches each of three leaves and well bound with kiriau. When the sun set they both went to Mavakura's house for final instructions. After Aputu had explained that it was at a place called Taria, a spot near the end of the mainland where the small islands start, that he had first seen the wild man, and that he had come from the direction of the island, Maevakura unfolded the - 30 plans to them. Aputu still being a little afraid, pleaded for one more man to be allowed to go with them, but to this the taunga would not agree, saying that the wild man would suspect a trap and not come near them.
Now the two brothers were sons of a famous fighting man named Te Araroa, and both were well over six feet high, while on the other hand the cannibal who was very broad and heavily built, was not more than average height. When they arrived at Taria, they had hardly finished lighting their torches, when they heard shells banging together, and saw the cannibal advancing toward them. Remembering Maevakura's instructions they waited until he came quite close to them, and then keeping close together they backed slowly into the deeper water of the lagoon. So much afraid was Aputu that he wanted to run away, but his brother, who was not afraid, heartened him with these words, “My brother, we are both sons of a famous father, and to-night is our chance to prove ourselves worthy of him.” Aputu kept close to his brother, but in his fear neglected his torch which went out, and which had to be lighted again from Te Aravakatoa's torch. When they were getting into the deep water the wild man came close up to them calling them to come back into shallow water, but they goaded him on telling him to come and take them from the deep water. So ugly was he that even Te Aravakatoa became a little afraid, but by now the torches were burning well, and the two brothers seeing that the wild man was working himself into a rage at the thoughts of losing them in the deep water, realized that this was the chance they had been waiting for. Rushing forward, Te Aravakatoa took the cannibal unawares and thrust his blazing torch into his face, blinding him. Yelling out in agony he attempted to cover his face with his hands, but again and again the brother rushed in with his blazing torch thrusting and jabbing it into the cannibal's face and calling to his brother who had been sheltering behind his back, to come to his assistance. At last Aputu seeing that his brother was getting the upper hand, plucked up his courage, and both working together they soon had the wild man blind and crying for mercy. Suddenly he cried out, “Te Aravakatoa, Aputu tungi tungi marie Ope,” meaning “Burn me, Ope, gently.” When they heard their names - 31 called, and heard his name they realized who he was. No longer were they afraid of him. They overpowered him and drowned him. After dragging his lifeless body on to the small island they cut off his head with the two stone axes which they had concealed behind themselves.
Returning to the settlement they took the head with them and gave it to Maevakura who beat the tokere to call all the people together. It was not long before all the village drums were beating, fires were burning, and all the people were out to see Ope's head. As they were no longer afraid, dancing and feasting went on until daylight, when runners were sent out to all the settlements telling them that Ope, the wild cannibal, had been killed, and inviting them to come and see his head. Before long many hundreds of people had gathered all wishing to see the face of the wild man. His mouth was wide open showing his teeth, which were special objects of interest. Many of the older people remembered Ope's face. They thought that he had been killed on the night of the raid, no one knowing that he had escaped to the bush, and forced by hunger had turned cannibal in order to live. Ope's head was buried by the house of Maevakura.
Later in the day they all set off for the small island to view the cannibal's body. It was soon seen that he had been a very strong man, having enormous legs and arms and massive shoulders. In a very shallow grave on the small island they buried his body, and this was the pee that they sang over his head and body:
P.S.—Ope's hiding-place was afterwards found. It was in the hollow trunk of a large puka tree, and was full of bones and skulls both large and small.