Volume 67 1958 > Volume 67, No. 1 > The children of Kaitu, by R. G. Roberts, p 1-10
THE CHILDREN OF KAITU
The legend of the first Polynesian adventurers to settle on the islands of Rennell and Bellona.
OF POLYNESIAN OUTLIERS in Melanesia those perhaps least influenced by the modern world, and about which possibly less has been recorded, are the upthrust atolls of Rennell and Bellona. These islands, rearing their grey coral cliffs from often stormy seas, ever surrounded by heavy surf and with few landing places, are situated some one hundred and forty miles almost due south of the large land mass of Guadacanar in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate.
Both Rennell and Bellona, many centuries ago, must have had the form of low islets surrounding irregularly shaped lagoons. Subterranean upheavals resulted in both atolls being raised, in the case of Rennell, as much as 360 feet. The lagoons, except for the eastern end of that at Rennell which today remains as a lake of brackish water, became drained and covered with rain forest. The western end of the Rennell lagoon, sharp coral pinnacles shrouded with dense vegetation with here and there pockets of cultivatable ground, supports possibly three-quarters of the total estimated population of one thousand while the remainder of the people dwell in small hamlets on the shores of the lake at the eastern end of the island. At Bellona, on the other hand, the former lagoon bed is a basin, the bottom of which is more or less level, of fertile soil and along a road running down the centre of the island are the villages of the eight hundred islanders. Fresh water is ever scarce on such islands and at the western end of Rennell it is obtained from caves and grottos, but at Bellona a daily walk is necessary from the villages in the interior to the outer wall, down the cliff and into caves but a short distance from the sea.
The legend has it that the original settlers came from the east, from a place known to them as Ubea and which might well be the Uvea or Wallis Island lying north of Fiji. The island of Rennell was given, by them, the name of Munggaba or the large [place that came] behind, and Bellona being the lesser of the two new discoveries was called Munggiki or the small [place that came] behind. The language of the islanders possesses a vocabulary definitely Polynesian, and the writer found that by using the letter “h” for “f,” and “ngg” (the second “g” being hard) for “l,” he was able to use the vocabulary of the Ellice Islands in roadside conversations. In the writing of place names in official and other documents the letter “v” has often been used, e.g., Lavanggu, but on the advice of District Headman Solomon Puia of the village of Teabamanggu there is no “v” in the language, the letter “b” being considered more correct.- 4
The origin of these Polynesian people and how they came to these almost inaccessible and far from hospitable islands were matters of interest, and a knowledge of the descent of chiefly families was important when it came to the adjudication of disputes and the selection of local body leaders.
During October, 1956, at the village of Teabamanggu in western Rennell, the president of the native court, Benjamin Teikangge, told the following story:
A man called Kaitu came in a canoe from the island of Ubea, and with him came his wife Tepeka, and four other men. Kaitu's first sight of Rennell was of the north-eastern coast but as he was not able to find there a place to land he was compelled to sail round the eastern end of the island to Ahanga. Kaitu found his way over the cliff wall to Te Nggano, the lake, and he settled there on the shore at a place named Manggamaubea. Later, he voyaged further to the island of Bellona, then uninhabited, but he did not long remain there and soon returned to Rennell. At the time of the arrival of Kaitu there were small people called Hitihiti living on the island. These Hitihiti were shy and seldom seen, and they were understood to possess some magical powers for they were able to make themselves appear like the grey coralline stones and so be invisible to the eyes of man. One of the members of Kaitu's crew, Temoa, managed to capture one of the Hitihiti and to converse with it, and this Hitihiti led Temoa to water holes and to gardens of taro from which Kaitu and his followers were able to obtain food. Kaitu had four sons but only the youngest of these, Taupongi, had issue and it is from him that have descended the five clans now living on Rennell and Bellona.
Table I shows the descent of the five clans of Rennell and Bellona as given by Benjamin Teikangge.
At the village of Niupani on the shores of Te Nggano, the lake, the aged chief Taupongi, prompted by his great-nephew and by other men of the place, gave a different version:
The ancestor Kaitu, at Ubea, had been told by a spirit of the existence of Rennell and he set out to find it. Kaitu settled originally at a place called Teinggoa at the far eastern end of the lake. He then moved to and lived at no less than eight different sites near Te Nggano and each of these temporary settlements was named Ubea after the island from which he had come. Kaitu then moved to a desolate spot on the southern coast of the island below the present village of Matangi, and it was from here that he made his voyage to Bellona and to which he soon returned. The Hitihiti were usually not visible, but they were similar in appearance to the Rennell people of today and the ancestor Kaitu was able to converse with them. The Hitihiti ate coconuts and taro, snakes and rats, the only foods on the island at the time of Kaitu's advent. These Hitihiti had no knowledge of fighting, and in time Kaitu killed and ate them. Kaitu had been followed from Ubea by his uncle, Tongo, but soon after his arrival at Rennell the latter was killed by the Hitihiti.
Taupongi's story cannot be relied upon, partly due to his senility and his having apparently to be corrected by others, and partly due to the fact that he was clearly unable to differentiate between descent by- 5
The descent of the five clans of Rennell and Bellona Islands as described by Benjamin Teikangge.
Family Tree. Ngatonggagei, Ngatonggabibanggu, Ngatonggamatua, Taupongi=, Saumagogengga, Baungga, Kaitumatua, Puia, Panio, Tetaikona, Tanggomaka, Taubenggaki, Baungutau, Tangomaha, Nonggaki, Nika, Tauhenggaki, Maumau, Senggika, Kanggobai, Nika, Sau'uhi (b. 1950), The Tominginuku clan of Matangi and Teabamanggu, western Rennell. Baimanggo, Tauniu, Tinopau, Kaitumatua, Saoba, Panio, Tebabaganggi, Toatupu, Soahenua, Baiabe, Tuhenua, Tanggosia, Teketa, Moeanggo, Teketa, Niumane (b. 1950), The Tuhuniu clan living on the shores of Te Nggano (the lake)., Ngatongga, Tuhaika, Niutapu, Huaitemahina, Taupongimatua, Moa, Teangaimanggu, Osemei, Teikanoa, Kaipua, Giusanga, Tonggaka, Teikangge, Sau'uhi, Tanggosia, Temengga, Tahua, Taupongi (b. 1945?), The Hakatu clan of the coastal area of Labanggu, central-south Rennell. Tonggakamatua, Saonggau, Huaitengga, Mausonga, Uao, Teposi, Temoa, Tuhenua, Tebai, Tinggia, Tonggaka, Temoa, Oea, Hatiuhi (b. 1928?), The Senggena clan of Kanggua and Hatanggua, western Rennell. Manu, Tonggohangga, Ngakei, Tehoakimatua, Teikaunggua, Takihenua, Teamanggu, Saueha, Sangoihenua, Teunggutiangge, Tonggongga, Saukona, Tu'umatangi, Nggivutai, Putuika, Taunggengga, Tauasoa (b. 1920?), Taunggengga, The Nggonggau clan of Bellona.
blood and descent by authority. Taupongi himself, while acknowledged as chief of the Tuhuniu clan, has his power by virtue of his being the oldest living descendant of the original Taupongi and not by the rules of primogeniture. For what it may be worth, the chief Taupongi's version of his descent is given at Table II.
During a meeting of the Island Council, an assembly of respected elders, at Bellona during September, 1957, the following tale was told by the high chief Matthew Saomoana Taupongi of Nggotokanaba village and his version of the original migration and settlement was agreed to by all the old men then present:
At Ubea a man called Tahasi told the people of a small island far away. Then the mother of Kaitu had a dream in which she saw the new land and which she recounted to Kaitu, and added that two men would come to show the way. They left Ubea and came to Hutuna (Futuna?) where the men of Kaitu fought a battle with the inhabitants, first on the beach and then inland at a village; Kaitu did not take part in these fights as he remained on the canoe. Then they departed from Hutuna and came to a small place called Henuatai, devoid of vegetation and without water, where they pulled their canoe up on the reef and where they worshipped. The god told them, through the man Tahasi, that at Ubea a man called Nggiunataha had died after they had sailed and the voyagers all remembered that Nggiunataha had previously married a woman called Tenggena who was extremely fair. The majority of the travellers then relaunched their canoes in haste to return to Ubea and to seek the hand of Tenggena. While the party had been ashore at Henuatai the tide had fallen and it was only the smaller and lighter canoes that could be lifted and carried to the sea. The craft captained by Kaitu and Taupongi were heavy double canoes known as ngguanggua (a pair) and these could not be moved. Tongo, who was Kaitu's nephew and his second in command, asked the god to send a flood tide so that the two heavier canoes could be refloated. The god, apparently, responded with enthusiasm for a large wave came and with such force that all the small canoes, already launched, were swamped while those of Kaitu and Taupongi were again waterborne. Kaitu, Tongo and Taupongi then rescued some of the others from the sea, Kaitu being careful to select one person from each of the seven tribes or families of which representatives were making the voyage. The canoe of Taupongi was smaller than that of Kaitu, and it sailed ahead to “show the way past rough parts of the sea.”
They eventually landed at Ahanga at the eastern end of Munggaba (Rennell). Tahasi was still with them and he was asked if this was the land of which he had spoken at Ubea. Tahasi replied that it was not, and the voyagers threatened to “burn” him if he did not soon find it. So they left Ahanga and sailed along the southern coast of Munggaba and landed again at a place they called Ubea, and here they planted the few trees (one called paipai, a type of betel nut palm) they had brought with them. From this place they could see another island and to it they then sailed.
As they approached Munggiki (Bellona) the man Tahasi said that this was the land of his dream. They sailed along the northern coast of Munggiki and each of the travellers named a worshipping place for himself. Tahasi was certain that Munggiki was the island they sought. They landed on a small sandy beach at the western end- 7
The alleged descent of the present chief of the Tuhuniu clan of Te Nggano, eastern Rennell.
Family Tree. Kaitu, Ngatonggagei, Ngatonggabibanggu, Ngatonggamatua, Taupongi, Ngatongga, Taupongi, Baimanggo, Tauniu, Tinopau, Kaitumatua, Saoba, Tebabaganggi, Toatupu, Saohenua, Teunggumouku, Tuhenua, Tanggosia, Huaitebai, Tanggobai, Tahua, Baieke, Tanggosia, Taupongi (the present acknowledged chief of the clan), Teketa (b. 1916?), Niumane (b. 1950)
of Munggiki and they called this place Ahanga, and they took ashore two black stones which they had brought from Ubea, and they danced on the sands. On the following day they climbed up from the beach taking the black stones with them, and these they set up in the ground; a large wave then came and swept up from the beach right to where the stones had been placed, so the people took the stones back to the beach in order to keep the sea down. Other men had also brought stones with them from Ubea and some of these were taken back to Munggaba, while others were carried along the island and down to the coast again by another path, and these last were taken back to Ubea by three men named Kongohakatini, Tepupunitoto and Titihatu'unggi.
The leader, Kaitu, was described as hakamataku, fearful, for one eye remained ever open, even when he slept. Kaitu found small, black people called Hitihiti living on Munggiki and these he killed.
Kaitu and some of his followers did not long remain at Munggiki, and it appears that when the Hitihiti had been annihilated he returned to Rennell. One of his lieutenants, Taupongi, remained at Munggiki to settle there and to found the sub-clan of Sa‘aiho at the western end of the island. At the same time, however, this Taupongi must have sired children at Munggaba (Rennell) for in due course his son Manu came to Munggiki from Rennell, settled in the centre of the island and founded the clan of Nggonggau. Then, five generations later, a descendant of Manu called Tokahitumatua separated from the Nggonggau, took control of the eastern end of Munggiki and the Matangi sub-clan came into being.
Table III shows the descent of the present acknowledged high chief of Bellona, Matthew Saomoana Taupongi, from the original Taupongi who accompanied the voyager Kaitu, and also gives the generations of the Sa‘aiho sub-clan. Table IV gives the generations of the Nggonggau clan founded by Manu, the grandson of Kaitu, and also of the Matangi sub-clan established at the eastern end of Bellona by Tokahitumatua.
The stone walls said to have been erected by the Hitihiti, possibly to demarcate garden plots or hutment areas (they are too vast to suggest they were places of worship) may still be seen at the eastern and western ends of the island. Large pits resembling those excavated by an atoll people for the growing of swamp taro and allegedly dug by the Hitihiti are found in the centre of the island. The formation of Munggiki is such, however, that no water would lie within them. The spoil from one of these pits was apparently carried a distance of twenty-five yards to form a small hill which has been suggested by elders alive today as being the site of a Hitihiti place of worship.
The people of Rennell and Bellona no longer construct canoes suitable for long ocean voyages, the art seemingly having been lost, but there are still occasional visits made between the islands in fine weather. The only record of contact with other peoples of the area, before the arrival of European vessels, appears to have been when a group of black men and women arrived at Bellona, some twelve generations ago, from Taumako in the Reef Islands to the east; they were offered food and shelter but did not linger and soon sailed away. The first official visit to both Rennell and Bellona took place in 1907 when the Resident Commissioner of the Protectorate landed on each island. Attempts were- 9
The number of generations from Taupongi, a member of Kaitu's crew and the founder of the Sa'aiho sub-clan of western Bellona, to the present acknowledged high chief Matthew Saomoana Taupongi.
Family Tree. Taupongi, Sokoa, Tenginginggonggo, Tenggonggamatua, Tebakakiu, Tuata, Tamamaho, Nggiuika, Saukiu, Tepunggetuhu, Huaitebakaeha, Nausu, Tenggautenggata, Saunggonggo, Saukiu, Haikiu, Baiabe, Matthew Saomoana Taupongi (b. 1890?)
made by the South Seas Evangelical Mission to introduce Christianity to Rennell in 1937, but due to the murder of the native pastor left there the Gospel was not accepted until two years later. In 1939 a Rennell man named Noa, a recent convert to Christianity, travelled to Bellona taking the Gospel with him.
Acknowledgements are made to the Senior Geologist of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Government who contributed charts of both islands, to the high chief and members of the Bellona Island Council, to Taupongi and Teketa of Te Nggano, and to Benjamin Teikangge and Solomon Puia of western Rennell.
For Table IV and Maps see throwout.- i
The generations of the Nggonggau clan of central Bellona, and of the Matangi sub-clan of eastern Bellona, as described by the Island Council.
Family Tree. Kaitu=Tepeka, 3 sons without issue, Taupongi, Manu (who settled in central Bellona), Tonggohangga, Ngakei, Tehoakimatua, Teikaunggua, Tokahitumatua, Takihenua, Teikanggonggo, Teamanggu, Nuakitangata, Saueha, Ngaimono, Sangoihenua, Ribao, Teunggutiangge, Taupongi, Tangahau, Tongongga, Teikanggonggo, Teikanoa, Saukona, Anggonggua, Saunggonggo, Manggienggoa, Tu'umatangi, Taukiu, Sangaeha, Takiika, Teunguteange, Taikanggonggo, Tanggaibasa, Tei'ingia, Gibutai, Saueha, Teikanggonggo, Teikaunggua, Tonggaka, Tonggaka, Saunggonggo, Temaungaika, Putuika, Tehaibakiu, Saunggonggo, Saenggeahe, Tausia, Saomoana, Kuminggau, Namona, Taunggengga, Sanggoihenua, Teikanggei, Teikanggua, Tamua, Pongi, Teikanggonggo, Tebai, Tauasoa, Ngakei, Tuhanuku, Peseika, Tonggaka, Namona, Taunggengga, Sauhonu, Giusanga, Peseika (b. 1925?), The sub-clan of Matangi holding lands at the eastern end of Bellona, Ngakei
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Bellona islanders washing clothes outside the cave in the cliff face, about 10 feet above the surf. The face of a girl can be seen appearing from within the cavern.
Canoes (Bellona) tember, 1957. are holding the hand net in which flying fish the light torches made from dried coconut fronds.