Volume 73 1964 > Volume 73, No. 2 > Ancient Tahitian God-figures, by Simon Kooijman, p 110 - 125
ANCIENT TAHITIAN GOD-FIGURES 1
The Society Islands collections of various museums include objects called to'o which, as “god-figures”, played an important role in the old religion of the Islands. 2 To'o are shaped like a club, and have a core consisting of a wooden stick. This core is entirely or partially covered with plaited sennit, in many cases showing a kind of relief decoration consisting of “appliquéd” strands of cord made of twisted fibres. Attached to this covering, as principal attribute of the deity, were feathers “impregnated with the essence of divinity”. 3 These feathers are missing from most of the pieces known to us, however, stamping them in the most literal sense of the word as “dead” museum objects.
Old reports of Tahiti mention such objects, and from them we get an idea of the great holiness of these god-figures, their meaning, and the role they played in religious life. The oldest source in which they are mentioned, to the best of my knowledge, is the diary kept by James Cook during his stay on Tahiti. The relevant passages mention a visit made by Cook himself, on July 20th, 1769, together with some of the members of the expedition including Joseph Banks and Charles Solander, to the island of Ra'iatea, the ancient political and religious centre of the Society Archipelago. During a trip across the island they stopped at a holy place spoken of as “a great morai called Tapodeboatea”. 4 This name is with- - 111 out doubt identical with taputapu-atea, the main marae, the “national holy place” of Ra'iatea. This marae was situated in Opoa, the place where, according to the sacred tradition, Oro, the leading god of the island, was born from the marriage of Tangaroa and Hina-tu-a-uta and which was dedicated to Oro. 5 The diary gives us the following description: “. . . it consisted only of four walls, about eight feet high, of coral stones, some of which were of an immense size, inclosing an area of about five and twenty yards square, which was filled up with smaller stones: upon the top of it many planks were set up on end, which were carved in their whole length: at a little distance we found an altar, or Ewhatta, upon which lay the last oblation or sacrifice, a hog of about eighty pounds weight, which had been offered whole, and very nicely roasted. Here were also four or five Ewharra-no-Eatua, or houses of God, to which carriage poles were fitted, like those which we had seen at Huahine”. 6 During a visit to the latter island, Joseph Banks had seen an ewharra-no-eatua (fare atua) for the first time. He gives a description of it 7 and Sidney Parkinson, the expedition artist, made a drawing of it. 8 A later description of these objects given by Teuira Henry, 9 deviates in some respects from the picture given in the diary, 10 but the essential points are the same in both descriptions. They concern an oblong chest with a roof-shaped covering made of palm leaves. Teuira Henry says that the size varied according to the size and shape of the image of the god kept in it. One of its ends was closed; the other had an opening for the deity and could be closed off with a tight-fitting stopper of sacred cloth. This holy object could be carried from one place to another by means of carriage poles. It was transported by four priests, each bearing an end of the pole on his shoulder and taking the most extreme precautions to avoid having the “ark” touch his body because of its extraordinary holiness.
The holiness was due to the presence of the god. This was already quite clear to James Cook and his officers when they visited the national sanctuary of Ra'iatea. We read that Banks, who as we have seen had already encountered a similar object and could apparently no longer control his curiosity, “. . . examined (one of these ewharra-no-eatua) by putting his hand into it, and found a parcel about five feet long and one thick, wrapped up in mats: he broke a way through several of these mats with his fingers, but at length he came to one which was made of the fibres of the cocoa-nut, so firmly plaited together that he found it impossible to tear it, and therefore was forced to desist; especially as he perceived, that what he had done already gave great offense to our new friends”. 11- 112
Although the description of this sacred object, the true dwelling-place of the god, is far from exact—indeed, Banks had no chance to examine it in detail—we may assume that he was looking at a to‘o rolled up in “mats”. The great length of the object would seem to be contradictory evidence: to‘o of such dimensions are not known to us from museum collections. On the other hand, however, we find mention that they varied greatly in length. For instance, William Ellis, speaking of the size of these god-figures, which he describes as “shapeless pieces covered with curiously netted cinet, of finely braided cocoa-nut husk and ornamented with feathers”, says that “. . . some . . . (were) six or eight feet long, others not more than as many inches”. 12
Thus there is no doubt whatever that on their visit to this marae consecrated to Oro, James Cook and his officers were confronted with the “image” of this deity. The Englishmen also found human jaw bones in the marae, 13 from which it may be assumed that human sacrifices were made in this place and that Oro was worshipped here in his aspect of god of war. Teuira Henry also expressly mentions the name Oro in connection with the image in this marae. 14
The cult was brought from Ra‘iatea to Tahiti by priests who in doing so probably made use of new songs and dances associated with Oro. The followers of the god Tane on Tahiti were vanquished by the priests of Oro, and Oro became the chief god of Tahiti. Oro also became the tutelary deity of the Tahitian Areoi society. 15 A version of the traditions relating to this cultural transfer are given by Teuira Henry: although the first attempt of the priests of Oro to become established on Tahiti and to build a marae for their god there failed, a second attempt had more success. They won the population over to their god, and with combined forces built a “great national marae for ‘Oro” in the eastern part of Tahiti, at Tautira, and called it taputapu-atea after the Ra‘iatean prototype. In it, too, the god was physically present in “a small log of tao or aito . . ., about six feet long, which was decked in sennit and red, yellow, and black feathers to give it all the original attributes of the terrible god”. 16 After a suitable dwelling-place had first been made for him, the god himself, borne by the wind, came to Tahiti. “He entered into the image, which was then called ‘Oro-rahi-to‘o-toa (Great-‘Oro-of-the-toa-image), and thus his hold on Tahiti commenced”. 17 After this, according to Teuira Henry, a new invasion of priests from Ra‘iatea took place and a new marae was built, this time at Paea on the southwest coast, where Oro - 113 was worshipped under the name of 'Oro-hu'a-manu ('Oro-of-the-bird-feathered-body). This is certainly the large marae of Maraetauta, consecrated to Oro, which was situated in the Paea district of the Attahuru region.
From the historical point of view this version seems very unlikely. It would seem obvious that the Oro cult must have been introduced on the side of Tahiti nearest to Ra'iatea, i.e. the south-west coast, and not on the far distant Tautira on the east side of the island. In his critical analysis of the history of this event, R. W. Williamson also comes to the conclusion that the sanctuary of Paea must have been the first marae of Oro on Tahiti, and that it originally also must have held a large image of Oro which was later, after much fighting and many difficulties with the people of Attahuru, brought to Tautira by King Pomare II. 18 Under the protection of the king, the marae of Tautira with the image of Oro became the national sanctuary of Tahiti and Oro became the principal god of the island. We can imagine without difficulty that at this point royal circles were inclined to forget the whole Attahuru period and to imagine that Oro had come direct from Ra'iatea to Tautira, this being the royal tradition transmitted by Teuira Henry. 19
In 1777, during Cook's last visit to Tahiti, the image of Oro was still in the marae of Attahuru. Cook recorded that on September 15th of that year he was present at a human sacrifice at this marae. 20 This ritual was of the utmost importance: it took place as part of the preparations for a campaign against the island of Eimeo, and in this connection there is hardly room for doubt that Cook stood on the platform in front of the great “national” marae of Maraetauta. At the time, the Englishman did not know to which god the sacrifice was being made, but this was revealed to him on the following day. A small bundle, clearly the dwelling-place of the god, was opened on one side; during this act, the foreigners were kept at a distance to prevent them from seeing the secret contents of the bundle. They were told, however, that “. . . the Eatooa, to whom they had been sacrificing, and whose name is Ooro, was concealed in it: or rather what is supposed to represent him. This sacred repository is made of the twisted fibres of the husk of the cocoa-nut, shaped somewhat like a large fid, or sugar-loaf; that is, roundish with one end much thicker than the other. We had, very often, got small ones from different people, but never knew their use before”. 21
The realm of the god Oro was long restricted to Attahuru. Through his power—he was the god of war—the local people were able to maintain themselves for many years against the Pomare rulers. The latter - 114 repeatedly attempted in their battles with the people of Attahuru to get hold of the image, and one even receives the impression that this was one of the main reasons for the war. Finally, in 1803, Pomare II succeeded in capturing the image. Three years later it was placed in the great marae of Tautira at the easternmost point of the island, 22 and with the help of the king the cult of this god became, as we have seen, the national religion.
But this did not last long; King Pomare II became a Christian in 1816, and the old gods were done away with. The missionary W. Ellis describes how the soldiers of the king forced their way into the marae at Tautira and dragged out the image of the god Oro: “. . . they stripped him of his sacred coverings and highly-valued ornaments, and threw his body contemptuously on the ground. It was a rude, uncarved log of aito wood, casuarina equisatifolia, about six feet long . . . The log of wood, called by the natives the body of Oro, into which they imagined the god at times entered, and through which his influence was exerted . . . was subsequently fixed up as a post in the king's kitchen and used in a most contemptuous manner, by having baskets of food suspended from it; and finally, it was riven up for fuel”. 23 By the “sacred coverings” and the “highly-valued ornaments” of the god-figure were undoubtedly meant the sennit covering and the feather decorations which are also mentioned in Teuira Henry's description of the image of Tautira. The length mentioned by Ellis—six feet—also agrees with her report. 24
We may now ask whether this was the same figure which was described to James Cook during his visit to the marae of Attahuru. This is difficult to determine from the diary, which does not specify the length but only mentions that it was a large example. The sennit covering is mentioned, but not a feather decoration. The absence of feathers is not conclusive, however, because they could have been added later. In addition, Cook himself did not see the object. Keeping in mind the fact that both cases concern the most holy object of the marae which the god Oro himself had entered and that for this reason this holy object, after many battles and much effort, had been brought from Attahuru to Tautira, it seems more than probable that the image which in Attahuru in 1777 was so tabu that no foreigner might set eyes on it, must have been the same as the god-figure which was exposed, dishonoured, and destroyed in Tautira. 25- 115
According to these data, Oro on Tahiti was a to'o figure consisting of a club shaped piece of wood covered with sennit and decorated with feathers. This is confirmed by the description given by the French naval officer, E. de Bovis, of the representation of this god. In this connection he briefly mentions a “morceau de bois emplumé” 26 and in his description of a religious ceremony of “national” importance he mentions that at the climax of the celebration “le grand prêtre lui [viz. the god-figure] enlève les enveloppes extérieures dans lesquelles elle est enveloppée; les plumes précieuses et les tissues fins sont exposés au jour, les morceaux de bois restent cachés”. 27 William Ellis reports, however, that representations of the god Oro are also found among the group of images which he designates as “rough unpolished logs of aito, or casuarina tree, wrapped in numerous folds of sacred cloth”. 28 This “sacred cloth”, which was in all probability tapa, was not a permanent cover, however: the author mentions that at the inauguration of a ruler “. . . the image of Oro (was) stripped of the sacred cloth in which he usually reposed, and (was) decorated with all the emblems of his divinity . . .” 29
There are also indications that Oro was represented as an anthropomorphic figure in wood, however. We read in Ellis that before an Areoi group started on a voyage, two temporary marae were erected on their boats for Orotefa and his brother, two god-figures closely associated with Oro. “This was merely a symbol of the presence of the gods; and consisted principally of a stone for each, from Oro's marae and a few red feathers from the inside of the sacred image”. 30 Thus, it would seem that the feathers were kept in a hollow object and this suggests that the image was of a human figure because many of the anthropomorphic god-figures were hollow, the holy feathers being kept in this space. 31
In the light of the foregoing and other information supplied by Ellis, however, it seems very probable that anthropomorphic representations of Oro were exceptional. In his treatment of the god-figures from Tahiti, he gives seven illustrations of god-figures in human form or provided with small human figures. 32 In describing them he does not mention the name Oro, however. We may conclude from this that in old Tahiti the god Oro was almost exclusively represented by a club-shaped figure varying greatly in length. It was either covered with tightly-plaited sennit or left uncovered, but was decorated with feathers in either case. These feathers formed the essential part of this sacred object because they bore the divine mana.- 116
Examples without a covering are unknown to me from museum collections. Various museums possess sennit-covered pieces which, however, as is often the case with museum objects, are poorly documented or entirely lacking documentation. Of the four relevant examples in the British Museum described and illustrated by P. H. Buck, 33 it is known of only one apparently badly damaged example what deity is represented, 34 namely Temeharo, the principal god of the Pomare family. This “god-figure” was originally part of the collection of the London Missionary Society, and was in all probability one of the group of god-figures and sacred objects given to the missionaries of the Society by King Pomare II in 1816 after his conversion, which found its way to the Missionary Museum in London. 35 The image had been the “own god” of Vairaatoa, Pomare I, the father of Pomare II, and the feathers with which it was decorated had come from the ship of Lieutenant Watts which touched Tahiti in July, 1788. 36 Concerning the god Temeharo, whom this eighteenth century Tahitian image represents, we know that he was the chief god of the pantheon headed by Tane, belonging to the old Tahiti in the time before the arrival of the Oro cult from Ra'iatea. 37 We also know that at the ceremonial installation of the god-figure of Oro in the marae of Tautira in 1806, the images of five other gods, including those of Tane and Temeharo, were placed next to the image of the principal god, 38 which indicates that Temeharo had been able, albeit in the shadow of Oro, to maintain his position as the tutelary god of one of the leading families of the country. All we know about the function of this god is that he is reported to have been the “god of strangulation”. 39 He therefore had to do with death in its violent form. Was it the thanatic aspect of this god that led, after the introduction of the cult of Oro into Tahiti, to his being represented in the “shape” of Oro, the god of war, or was this aspect the reason why the image of Oro was indicated by his name? We do not know, but we do know with certainty that conditions in the Tahiti of that time were favourable for the development of such syncretistic phenomena. These conditions were to a great extent determined by the contact, collision, and partial mixing of the existing religion with the new cult of Oro, and in the period from which our information dates—the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries—this process was in all likelihood at its height. For as far as we can determine, the cult of the god Oro was a recent phenomenon in early nineteenth century Tahiti. In his treatment of the early history of the Society Islands 40 R. W. Williamson stresses the fact that both James Cook and George Forster call Oro a Ra'iatean god. But Cook, as- i
PLATE 1, PLATE 2- ii
Plate 1: Early nineteenth century to'o designated as “god of war, Oro”. L.: 61, 9 cm. Auckland Institute and Museum, Auckland, N.Z., no. 31576 (Oldman Collection, no. 365)., Plate 2: To'o found in the Orofere Valley, Paea district, Tahiti, in 1925. L.: 42, 8 cm. B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, no. B-10,548d.
PLATE 3, PLATE 4- 117
Plate 3: To'o, history unknown. L.: 44 cm. Rijksmuseum voor Volkerkunde, Leiden, Netherlands, no. 3299-1., Plate 4: Early nineteenth century to'o designated as a representation of Tangaroa. L.: 55 cm. Ex collection of objects given by King Pomare II to the Rev. Thom. Haweis in 1818.
mentioned above, had already witnessed the presence of the image of Oro in the marae of Attahuru built as a result of Ra'iatean contacts, while, as we have also seen, the intervention of the Pomare monarchs had made Oro a national god with a national sanctuary.
In addition to those mentioned and illustrated by P. H. Buck, there are in the British Museum four other gods of the Tahitian type in which closely-plaited sennit covers or very nearly covers the wood core. 41 Two to'o of this group are documented, 42 one is provided with a label indicating it to be a representation of the war-god Oro, 43 the other is only designated as a god of war.
In the Auckland Institute and Museum there is a similar object 44 (see Plate 1) acquired in 1821 in Tahiti by George Bennet who, together with the Rev. Daniel Tyerman, was deputed by the parent Society in England to visit the various stations of the London Missionary Society, in the course of which he also visited the Society Islands. This god-figure is designated as “God of War, Oro”. 45 It is not clear who was responsible for this identification; it may have been made by Bennet himself. In any case, it is confirmed by a label on the object carrying the following text (probably in Bennet's handwriting): “Tahitian idol made of the fibre of the cocoanut husk. To this class of idols human and other sacrifices and offerings were executed. G. Bennet Esq.” This is unquestionably an image of Oro, for only to him, as god of war, were human sacrifices made in old Tahiti.
In the B.P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu there are two similar pieces. 46 One of them 47 (Plate 2) was found by K. P. Emory during excavations in Tahiti in 1925. These excavations were made in the Paea district on the south-west coast. The object in question was found near Amou, on the eastern side of the Orofere River, in a bluff shelter in the valley wall. A large paved platform was also found in the vicinity. 48 The Paea district has already been mentioned as one of the places where the cult of Oro was introduced by priests from Ra'iatea, and here, too, was the marae in which James Cook witnessed a human sacrifice to Oro and in which the image of the god was kept. Although the place at which this to'o was found is about three miles away from the ruins of the marae of Maraetauta, which we may assume to have been “Cook's marae”, this entire region was dominated by Oro. It also seems likely that the place at which this piece was found was sacred ground: it was found near a burial niche 49 and this fact as well as the presence of the large, - 118 paved platform both point in this direction. There is little room left for doubt that the object in question is a representation of Oro.
Several other museums also possess similar pieces. The National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden has a Tahitian sennit god 50 bought in Paris in 1956, but for which no particulars are known (Plate 3). The Museum of Natural History in Chicago has a similar “Idol from Otaheite” which was originally presented to the Chichester Museum in England with this designation. 51 The Museum of Primitive Art in New York also has an example 52 bought in 1947 from K. J. Hewett in London; neither its history nor its original function and meaning are known. 53
A sennit god whose history can be traced back to the beginning of the nineteenth century is shown on Plate 4. This piece, which has also been in the possession of K. J. Hewett, was given by King Pomare II in 1818—thus shortly after his conversion—to the Rev. Thomas Haweis at the latter's request. In an accompanying document the monarch states that the little idol bears the name of Tarao. 54 This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only case we know in which a to'o was designated Tangaroa. This designation is not difficult to understand. Tangaroa and Oro were closely related: according to Tahitian tradition, Oro is the son of Tangaroa. A Tangaroa cult was therefore very closely related to the Oro cult brought from Ra'iatea to Tahiti. R. W. Williamson even speaks of a Tangaroa-Oro cult which, as a new element from Ra'iatea, spread over parts of Tahiti. 55 It is perhaps also well to keep in mind that the designation of the image as Tangaroa was made by the king. The royal family may be assumed to have had a powerful tie with the gods of the old Tahitian pantheon, and it would therefore seem likely that Pomare would not have felt impelled to make a sharp distinction between the various new, strange gods and so used Oro's father's name for the image.
In discussing the god Temeharo above, reference has already been made to the group of “family idols of Pomare” which came into the possession of the London Missionary Society in 1816. These are illustrated in Davies' History of the Tahitian Mission. 56 Seven of these ten god-figures are to'o. Of these seven to'o, one is a representation of Temehare or Temeharo (no. 3) as we have already mentioned. The name of no. 2 is unknown. No. 1 is called Termapotuura or Teri'itapatuura, a god-figure for whom no details are known except that it is reported that he is the son of the great god Oro. No. 7 is indicated by the name Tiipa. It seems probable that this is the object, without its feather decoration, illustrated by James Edge-Partington, who found it in the British Museum as part of the London Missionary Society Loan Collection. 57 In any case, Edge-Partington reports that the god-figure in question is also designated as Tiipa, with the additional remark that this - 119 god presided over the winds. This information, which must obviously have been obtained from the missionaries, is also given by Williamson, 58 who in this connection mentions Orre-orre as god of the wind, 59 but this god, in spite of a certain similarity in the sound of the name, probably may not be equated with the god Oro. 60 We seem to make a little more progress with the help of a remark made by Teuira Henry that Ti'ipa (Barren-ness) is the “god of sterility in women who had no children or in those who bore but one child”. 61 Here we discern a clear reference to the childlessness which was customary and prescribed for large groups of women in old Tahiti. This held for the members of the Areoi society, and the prohibition came from Oro, the guardian deity of the society. 62 Although no other details of Tiipa are known, it seems probable that this god was related to Oro functionally, and perhaps also in other respects. It is also possible, but in the absence of data impossible to prove, that Tiipa, like Temeharo, belonged to the old pantheon of Tahitian gods before the arrival of Oro and that his function as “god of sterility” was later taken over by the new god, the patron of the Areoi society.
The other three to'o are designated as oromatua (nos. 4, 5, and 6). This word has several meanings, 63 and in this context we are best served by the definition “ghosts of the dead”. 64 It is clear, however, that these are not ordinary ghosts of the dead. They possess supernatural powers and are really a kind of inferior gods. 65 Oromatua were greatly feared. They were said to wait near a dying man to seize his soul at the moment of death and to conduct it to its destination. 66 But the oromatua were also interested in the bodies of the dead: they scraped the flesh off the bones of dead people as a kind of punishment. 67 In connection with the latter function, Williamson has risked an etymological interpretation 68 in which he gives oro the meaning of “to grate”, “rub as in a grater”, “friction”. This seems extremely improbable. Andrews's dictionary indeed gives the word oro in the sense of rasp, grate, to destroy, 69 but the composite oro-matua—rendered as “old flesh-scrapers”—formed from it, seems a very un-Polynesian construction. 70 It then seems that by taking the meaning of oro as man, the term can be explained satisfactorily. We may also wonder whether the word had any connection with the god Oro. An indication in this direction can be seen in the sphere of activity of these minor gods: the sphere of death. Oro is the god of war and the god of death. Thus the oromatua work in the realm of Oro. Not only this - 120 but also the lugubrious task assigned them—the scraping off of the flesh from the bones of the dead—is directly connected with Oro, in essence it is one of his functions: in the kingdom of the dead it is the god Oro himself who scrapes off the flesh of the newly dead with a seashell so that they can become pure spirits who may be devoured by him and transformed by passing through him. 71 The oromatua are thus deified spirits of the dead working in the realm of Oro and acting as his servants. Those who pronounced his name must certainly also have had in mind Oro, the god of death. Is it then surprising that the images by which they are represented resemble that of the sennit-clad to'o into which the god Oro had entered? In the drawing reproduced in Davies' book, two of the three oromatua figures (nos. 4 and 6) are appreciably smaller than the figure of Termapotuura (no. 1), the son of Oro; the third oromatua (no. 5) is about the same size but much smaller than the image of Temeharo (no. 3). There is no indication whether the figures are drawn to scale, but if they were, we should find in the mutual relations of their sizes a reflection of the functional relation of Oro and his oromatua.
It must by now be clear that the sennit-clad god-figures from Tahiti called to'o represent either the god Oro himself or divine or deified beings closely related to Oro. In his treatment of the various forms of the god-figures occurring in Tahiti—in which he does not deal with their function and meaning—P. H. Buck 72 states that the making of to'o was a late development and that before that time anthropomorphic figures had been made in Tahiti. He is inclined to relate this change to the great religious value attributed to red feathers, to which the power of the god was imparted and through which it was transferred to the objects to which they might be attached. The sennit cover of the to'o was indeed pre-eminently suitable for the attachment of feathers. But this does not explain such a basic change, unless the idea of feathers as bearers of the divine mana was a later development, for which there is no evidence at all. In view of the significance of the to'o, it would seem more probable that the coming of the god Oro to Tahiti and the dominant position he acquired there were the most important reasons why a new material form by which to represent the god was sought. Unfortunately, nothing is known of the absolute age of the to'o, so that there is no support for this hypothesis.
If we now attempt to answer the question why the god Oro was almost always represented in the form of a to'o, we must keep in mind the fact that in Polynesia the wrapping of sacred objects in sennit was rather widespread. The Maori had god-figures, the so-called god-sticks, on which only the head is distinctly represented and the torso consists of a stick covered with sennit. 73 In view of the origin of the Maori, one is inclined to think of borrowing from Central Polynesian examples, but however this may be, it is in any case clear that the god-figure in his typical Polynesian form acquired an entirely new form in New Zealand. - 121 The problem is now whether, within the framework of its own culture, an explanation can be given for the form of this type of god-figure characteristic of Tahiti. In other words, is there a symbolic relationship between these to‘o representing the god Oro and certain features and functions of this god?
In this connection it is relevant to recall the reports mentioned above that the core of these god-figures was made of hard wood of the toa or aito (Casuarina equisatifolia). For practical reasons—safeguarding of the object from destructive insects—preference would naturally be given to a hardwood variety, but in all probability the choice of just this variety as a dwelling-place for the god was determined by a complex of inter-related factors which lay partially in the purely practical sphere and partially in the religious sphere. In this sense the casuarina tree was an essential part of the environment of the marae consecrated to Oro. As such, “Ces arbres . . . étaient sacrés, et les fruits ne pouvaient en être cueillis et mangés que par les prêtres”. 74 Further, in old Tahiti the weapons of war were usually made of toa wood. 75 This kind of wood and this tree were so closely associated with war and the weapons used for fighting that the word toa also meant warrior, hero, and fighting man. 76 In relation to these representations, it is therefore obvious that the core of the image of the god of war would be made from toa wood.
The question may next be put as to whether the specific form of the Tahitian to‘o figure can also be explained from this complex “toa—weapons—god of war”. Is there in fact reason to assume that this god-figure is in essence a battle weapon which by the addition of a sennit covering, a schematic indication of the human figure by means of applied strips, and a feather decoration, became a sacred object into which the god entered? We find an indication in this direction in an epitheton that was assigned to the god in another function, apart from that of god of war. In his study on the Areoi society, W. E. Mühlmann demonstrates that Oro, besides being god of war and god of death, is also the lord of war and death, 77 and so finally becomes lord of peace as well. As such he acts as guardian deity of the society and the ceremonies and celebrations organized by it. When the Areoi of the various islands all met together, it was in a peace which no one would have dared disturb. The god then had “the special title of Oro-i-te-tea-moe (Oro-of-the-spear-laid-down), the emblem of which was a triangle . . ., made of spears, thus ▽, meaning that Oro was then a god of peace”. 78 Mühlmann translates this term as “Oro of the sleeping spear”. 79 From these interpretations it might be inferred that the spear made of toa wood, the most important battle weapon of old Tahiti, was an important attribute of Oro. It is then conceivable that in the wooden core of the god-figure it became a symbol of the deity; in other words, the to‘o—covered and decorated - 122 and therefore sacred—represents the spear of Oro, symbolizing the violent and thanatic character of the god.
This hypothesis, however acceptable it may seem, loses its probability because we must, in the light of philological data, ask whether this epitheton of Oro has been properly rendered by these authors. It is true that Teuira Henry translates tea as spear, but the five types of spear she lists in her treatment of the Tahitian weapons all have other names. The meanings given for the word tea are: beam, rafter, or horizontal stick on which to fasten an upright piece, crossbeam, any piece of wood fastened crossways, transverse, across. 80 Further: arrow 81 and arrow shot from a bow. 82 The word, and composites containing it, are also used to indicate arrow-shooting competitions, 83 which were ritual games in Tahiti as part of the upaupa, the complex of games and festive spectacles. The most important of the five or six gods connected with the upaupa was Urutaetae. 84 This god was also the guardian deity of the highest group of the Areoi society, 85 which is not surprising in view of the dominating role played by the Areoi in the Tahitian festivals. Urutaetae is also one of the gods associated with the abode of the dead. 86 Functionally, there is thus a distinct agreement between Urutaetae and Oro. In this connection the latter is not mentioned explicitly, but the existence of an association of Oro with the archery games may be considered very probable.
On the other hand, however, it is improbable that in considering this epitheton the word tea should be taken as associated with arrows and the shooting of arrows: tea moe as “sleeping arrow” would be a rather pointless expression, especially if it is kept in mind that in Tahiti the bow and arrow did not serve as military weapons. The meaning of the word tea in this context should in all probability be sought in the series of meanings which suggests a construction with a vertical and a horizontal component and, in particular, a horizontal stick or beam fastened to an upright “body”. If we also keep in mind that while it is true that moe may have the primary meaning of sleep and rest, it has a distinct sexual implication as well, 87 it becomes very likely that Oro-i-te-tea-moe does not convey, or at least not in the first instance, the god of war at rest but that in all likelihood it indicates Oro with the erect phallus.
In terms of Oro's function as tutelary god of the Areoi society, this interpretation may be considered extremely plausible. The great sexual freedom of its members was one of the most striking characteristics of the society. The descriptions of eyewitnesses repeatedly refer to “obscene” dances and performances. In his study on the Areoi Williamson speaks in this connection of “pictures of voluptuousness and love, in which it was - 123 not uncommon for youths and girls to indulge publicly in the pleasures of Venus”. 88 As patron of the Areoi, Oro is the god of sexual desire and enjoyed sexuality. In addition to the meaning of man, person mentioned above, in Tahitian the term oro also means affection, desire. 89 In this sense the concept oro and the god Oro in Tahiti correspond both etymologically and functionally with koro, desire 90 and the god Koro of the Maori who was the teacher of dancing and the god of desire. 91
Thus in this function the god Oro had a pronounced phallic aspect. Did this imply that the phallus became the symbol or one of the symbols for Oro and that as a consequence the representation of the deity acquired a phallic form? In other words, may we conclude that the to'o, in so far as they refer to the god of the Areoi, are phallic symbols? Although the argumentation is perhaps not to be taken as evidence in the strict sense of the word, it seems unusually acceptable in view of the sphere of Oro's activities and the associations connected with him. But it does not seem justifiable to go so far as to see this interpretation as the only possible one. The phallic character was certainly not the only aspect of Oro. We must leave the possibility open that his function as god of war also found expression in the shape of the god-figure and that the to'o were sacred weapons of war as well as phallic symbols.
It seems obvious to assume that as phallic deity Oro also would have had the aspect of fertility god. In terms of the data concerning the performances given by the Areoi and the associated rituals in which they played an important part, this implication does indeed seem likely. Writing about the so-called obscene dances, Moerenhout reports that he believes “. . . qu'elles . . . représentaient seulement, par des images vivantes, au lieu de figures inanimées, les deux principes de génération dans la nature . . .” 92 and Mühlmann remarks in his study on the Areoi society in the same connection that these are really fertility dances, acts which, in spite of their perhaps predominantly hedonistic content, actually go back to mythical events in nature and cosmos whose intention is the promotion of natural fertility. What is involved here is not the fertility that encompasses all of living nature in the widest sense of the word, but exclusively procreation and the thriving of plants and animals used by man. This can be clearly seen in another report, also taken from Moerenhout, in which he gives a description of periodic, seasonal religious ceremonies in which, for instance, the gods are invoked in the marae and offerings brought to them. Although the Areoi are mentioned only incidentally in this connection, it is nonetheless clear that they played an important role in this ritual. Its essential purpose, says Moerenhout, was “d'obtenir des dieux la fertilité et l'abondance, dans des saisons tardives et de disette”. 93 One modern author states in this connection concerning the Areoi that they “were active during the season of fertility, exhibiting - 124 at the fertilization festivals their dances that dramatized the procreational activities of nature”. 94
There is no mention whatever of the exercise of a positive influence on human procreation by the god Oro, however. The reverse held for his direct followers, the members of the Areoi, whom the god himself commanded to remain childless. This provided the religious justification for the custom of the Areoi society members to kill newborn children. 95
The character of the god Oro, whose intervention increased the fertility of plants and animals but who was for people the god of sterility, thus seems at first sight to show a remarkable contradiction. In trying to explain this contradiction, it seems most useful to start from the concept that in all this the god is attempting to help and support his people in the concrete situation in which they find themselves. Particularly the ecological situation of the islands of the Society Archipelago would seem to have played a role here. On an island which it was almost impossible to leave, and one with a relatively small area and limited resources, the dependence of its people on hunting, fishing, and horticulture must have caused them to see every increase in the products of these pursuits as a boon of the god, and every noticeable increase in their own numbers would easily be seen, even if unconsciously, as a threat to the community and a transgression of the divine commandment. 96
Thus, as god of mankind, Oro-i-te-tea-moe, Oro with the erect phallus, is the god of desire and the sensual satisfaction of that desire. He is also, according to the myths, the god of eternal youth. 97 His beauty never fades and his libido does not lessen. In his followers, the attempt to reach this unattainable ideal led to a way of living as youthful, beautiful, pleasure-seeking people for whom progeny would only be reminders of old age and decay.
1 Data of great relevance to the subject were collected in 1963 in museums in the Pacific region during research on ornamented bark-cloth which was financed by the Netherlands Organization for the Advancement of Pure Research.
2 To'o is also rendered as stick, staff, and wand (Andrews and Andrews 1944: sub to'o). Etymologically, to'o is related to the Maori word toko (Williams 1957: sub toko). In New Zealand the miniature “godsticks” representing the major deities are also indicated by the word toko (Handy 1927:121).
3 Buck 1944:471.
4 Hawkesworth 1773:vol. 2, 256.
5 Henry 1928:120-126.
6 Hawkesworth 1773:vol. 2, 256-257.
7 Hawkesworth 1773:vol. 2, 252-253.
8 Hawkesworth 1773:vol. 2, no. 6.
9 Henry 1928:136.
10 e.g. Cook mentions that the carriage poles were attached to the oblong sanctuary by means of “little arches of wood, very neatly carved . . .”, whilst Teuira Henry reports that the two poles were tied to each other by sennit cord and that the “ark” rested on this arrangement.
11 Hawkesworth 1773:vol. 2, 257.
12 Ellis 1831-32:vol. 1, 337.
13 Hawkesworth 1773:vol. 2, 257.
14 She reports that “. . . (the image) was woven with fine sennit into the shape of a man, two or three feet long, and covered with red and yellow plumage. It wore a girdle of red feathers. The title ‘Oro-maro-‘ura (warrior-of-the-red-girdle) was given to it, associating ‘Oro in his earthly capacity with the highest royalty” (121). This description is unclear in the sense that words “woven with fine sennit into the shape of a man” could imply that a kind of human figure made of sennit was meant. Such figures did not occur in ancient Tahiti, however (cf. Ellis in his summary of the various categories of Tahitian god-figures, 1831-32:vol. 1, 337; and Buck 1944:469 ff.). We may thus accept with certainty that Ellis's description is of a to‘o figure.
15 P. H. Buck cited by Mühlman 1955:22.
16 Henry 1928:130.
18 Williamson 1924:vol. 1, 207-208.
19 Miss Teuira Henry was the granddaughter of the Rev. John Muggridge Orsmond who in 1817 arrived in Tahiti as missionary in the service of the London Missionary Society. She edited and published her grandfather's personal notes and original manuscript about life in Tahiti in the early nineteenth century. Rev. Orsmond reached the island shortly after the conversion of King Pomare II to Christianity. The relations between the ruler and the missionaries were good and the king was Orsmond's main source of information for the general ethnology and folklore of the Tahitians (Gunson 1963:416). He was therefore inclined to regard the royal traditions as historical truth.
20 Cook 1784:vol. 2, 31 ff.
21 Cook 1784:vol. 2, 38.
22 Williamson 1924:vol. 1, 207-208.
23 Ellis 1831-32: vol. 2, 156.
24 Large examples of this kind are not known in our museum collections; small ones have survived. This is explained by the iconoclasm of the early missionaries and the first converts. The large god-figures were destroyed (cf. letter of King Pomare II to Rev. Thomas Haweis d.d. 31 October 1818, Maggs Bros. Ltd. n.d.:599). In addition, there were never more than a few examples. The to'o measuring two to six feet in length were the property of the rulers and of high-born people, and the largest played a central role in the religious ceremonies in the marae; the common people, we are told, had “dieux de poche en étui de bambou” (de Bovis, 1855:520). There must have been many of the latter on Tahiti.
25 The possibility cannot be excluded that during the three years between its capture by Pomare II in 1803 and its ceremonial placement in the marae of Tautira in 1806 the image became lost and an entirely different one was inaugurated. Because of the enormous value attached to its possession, however, this seems unlikely.
26 de Bovis 1855:510.
27 de Bovis 1855:527.
28 Ellis 1831-32:vol. 1, 354.
29 Ellis 1831-32:vol. 3, 109.
30 Ellis 1831-32:vol. 1, 234.
31 Ellis 1831-32:vol. 1, 338. The following report of the inauguration of the ruler in Ra'iatea is illustrative of the divine potency of these feathers: “. . . greatest of all the work was the concatenating of a new lappet to the maro 'ura (. . feather girdle), the royal insignia in which the monarch of either sex was invested on the ascension day. The girdle derived superlative sacredness from some of the feathers, which were taken from the image of the tutelar god, who in later times in Ra'iatea, Tahiti, and Porapora was 'Oro . . .” (Henry 1928:189). The interior of an Oro image is also discussed in the diary of Tyerman and Bennet (1831:vol. 1, 254 ff.).
32 Ellis 1831, 1832:vol. 1, facing 354.
33 Buck 1944:469 ff. and Plate 16, D. E. F. G.
34 Namely, the one illustrated in Plate 16, E.
35 Davies 1959:198-200. On p. 199 there is a reproduction of a drawing of the “family idols of Pomare” which is borrowed from Missionary Sketches, III, October 1818, and one of these god-figures, a sennit-covered and feather-decorated to'o is designated as “Temhare (Temeharo), the principal god of Pomare's family”. See Fig. II, no. 3.
36 Davies 1959:199, according to a letter from Pomare to the missionaries on February 19th, 1816.
37 Henry 1928:128.
38 Williamson 1924:vol. 1, 208.
39 Henry 1928:376, 386.
40 Williamson 1924:Chapter VI.
41 i.e. TAH. 66, TAH. 68, 7375, according to a letter written by B. A. L. Cranstone dated 7th August, 1963, and L.M.S. 591. The latter shows half of the wood core, the “back” part of the sennit cover having been removed.
42 No. 7375 and L.M.S. 591.
43 i.e. no. 7375; the text on the label reads: “Taiti. Le dieu de la guerre oro, idol des habitants de Taiti” (letter from B. A. L. Cranstone, dated 7th August, 1963).
44 No. 31576. This object was part of the Oldman Collection (Oldman 1943: Plate 5, no. 365).
45 Oldman 1943:4.
46 Carrying the nos. B-10, 548a and B-10, 548d.
47 No. B-10, 548d.
48 B. P. Bishop Museum, registration card no. 10,548, and Emory 1933.
49 B. P. Bishop Museum, registration card no. 10,548.
50 No. 3299-1.
51 In 1912 the piece was acquired by A. W. F. Fuller in London and in 1958 it came into the possession of the Museum in Chicago (letter from Phillip Lewis dated July 25th, 1963).
52 No. 57.258.
53 Letter from Douglas Newton dated July 25th, 1963.
54 Maggs Bros. Ltd. n.d.:599.
55 Williamson 1933:vol. 2, 232.
56 Davies 1959:199. The numbers cited are those used in Davies' illustration.
57 Edge-Partington 1890:Pl. 23, no. 7.
58 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 142.
59 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 141.
60 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 189.
61 Henry 1928:377.
62 cf. the end of this article.
63 Andrews and Andrews 1944: sub oromatua.
64 Ibid.: oro means “person”, “man”, matua is “parent”. It is thus conceivable that oromatua can mean both old man, ancestor as well as ghost of the dead.
65 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 376, 394.
66 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 358.
67 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 369.
68 Williamson 1933:vol. 2, 80, note 3.
69 Andrews and Andrews 1944:sub oro.
70 In the analysis of this material I received valuable assistance from Dr. J. C. Anceaux.
71 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 371.
72 Buck 1944:469.
73 Barrow 1959:199; 1961:233-237.
74 Moerenhout 1837:vol. 1, 469. De Bovis 1855:520 reports that besides ironwood (Casuarina equisatifolia) and ati (Calophillum, Inophillum) other varieties of wood were also used for this purpose, but that preference was given to the two first-mentioned kinds, with which “l'intérieur et les alentours du marae . . . étaient plantés”.
75 Henry 1928:298.
76 Andrews and Andrews 1944:sub toa.
77 Mühlmann 1955:168.
78 Henry 1928:230.
79 Mühlmann 1955:142, 168.
80 Andrews and Andrews 1944, and Tregear 1891:sub tea.
81 Andrews and Andrews 1944: sub tea.
82 Tregear 1891:sub tea.
83 Ihle 1939:214.
84 Ihle 1939:205.
85 Mühlmann 1955:164.
86 Williamson 1933:vol. 1, 365, 369, and 394.
87 As in the combination form moepo, the first embrace, to sleep together (Andrews and Andrews 1944:sub moef).
88 Williamson 1939:126.
89 Andrews and Andrews 1944:sub oro.
90 Williams 1957:sub koro.
91 Handy 1927:109.
92 Moerenhout 1837:vol. 2, 131.
93 Moerenhout 1837:vol. 1, 523.
94 Handy 1927:112.
95 For a detailed treatment of this phenomenon, see Mühlmann 1955:113-138.
96 This relationship between overpopulation and infanticide is also established by de Bovis in his statement that “le christianisme n'a point détruit cette habitude, et si elle a diminué d'intensité au moment où je parle, il ne faut point l'attribuer à notre présence, mais bien à la diminution de la population qui a changé insensiblement les idées à cet égard” (1855:402).
97 Mühlmann 1957:134.