Volume 90 1981 > Volume 90, No. 3 > Tioba and the Tabiteuean religious wars, by H. E. Maude, p 307-336
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This article has been written to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Tewai on September 15, 1880, one of the most important events in the post-contact history of the Gilbert Islands. It is a detailed study of the origins, progress and consequences of the Tabiteuean Religious Wars of 1879-80 based on a survey of the documentation which has accumulated on the subject, whether transcribed from the accounts of participants or compiled more recently from oral tradition.

After the thorough investigations into the traditions concerning the wars by Barrie Macdonald in 1969 it is doubtful if any fresh data of historical importance are likely to be forthcoming, especially as the tempo of modern life—coupled with the virtual disappearance of former sanctions enforcing accuracy—makes modern oral tradition of even recent events increasingly suspect. So perhaps it is an opportune time to call a halt and make a critical assessment of the quite considerable source material which we now possess.

On a less momentous plane this article may also serve to mark the half-century of our own writing for the Journal. In December 1931 we published a joint study entitled "Adoption in the Gilbert Islands" and now, 50 years later, we are grateful to the Fates, including in this category the present editors, to be privileged to return to our old locale and our former literary partnership.

In the century that had passed since 1765, when the Gilbertese first came into contact with Europeans, outside influences had made few changes in their economic life and virtually none in their social organisation.

There is evidence that the beachcombers may have introduced the method of fermenting coconut toddy, which caused a wave of alcoholic excess to sweep through the islands during the 1860s, but they had neither the desire nor the ability to alter the Gilbertese way of life. Neither had the whalers, though a few captains encouraged the production of fresh provisions, including chickens and pigs, in the southern islands. The traders had more effect, for their iron tools speeded the techniques of building, planting and fishing, without, however, changing - 308 them, while the coconut oil which they sought in exchange merely expanded an existing manufacture.

These generalisations would admittedly not apply without qualification to Butaritari or Abaiang, relatively fertile islands with good anchorages, where trading contacts had accelerated economic change, nor to Nikunau, Tamana or Arorae, situated on the Kingsmill "on-the-line" whaling grounds. More importantly for this study, however, they do apply unequivocally to the atolls of Nonouti and Tabiteuea where, owing to population pressure, there were few surplus coconuts for making oil and deaths from starvation were not uncommon (30 were reported during 1877). These "islands export almost next to nothing . . . it is true that they produce some mats and coir, and receive therefore a little tobacco, but no cash. . .".

Commander Dupuis of H.M.S. Rosario described Tabiteuea in 1874 as over-populated, and the islanders as "short of the necessary food" and not be be trusted, a distrust which was based on several incidents in which European visitors had been killed ashore, including Anderson of the U.S.S. Peacock, Ross of the Kate Grant and three men from the Dancing Wave, and which added to the reluctance of trading captains to call. 1 In 1857, however, a more potent agent for social change than whalers and traders arrived in the person of the Reverend Hiram Bingham Jr, of the Hawaiian Board of Missions, who established his headquarters at Abaiang and, with Hawaiian helpers, commenced the difficult task of converting the Gilbertese to his dour form of Protestanism.

Two Hawaiians, the Rev. W. B. Kapu and an unordained catechist, H. B. Nalimu, arrived in 1862 to strengthen the small mission band. Of a dominant and overbearing disposition Kapu was apparently assigned to the mission field with some doubts as to his fitness, for instructions were given that he was to be returned to Hawaii "in case his labours seemed productive only of negative results". Five years later the Gilbert Islands Mission Annual General Meeting contemplated sending him home: he had been "causing trouble" (of an unspecified nature), while his wife, Maria, was found to have used "exceptionable and insulting language". Bingham says that, had they listened to the advice of his associates Kapu would have been returned to Hawaii, but on his plea for forgiveness he was sent temporarily to Tarawa. 2 By 1867 the work of evangelisation had not progressed farther than Abaiang, Butaritari and Tarawa but Bingham was able to visit the southern islands that year in the mission ship Morning Star, when a brief landing was made at Tekaman on the north end of Tabiteuea. 3

At the general meeting of the Hawaiian missionaries at Abaiang the - 309 following year, it was resolved that Kapu and the Rev. G. Leleo, with their wives, should begin work on Tabiteuea, at the village of Eita, where a site for the teachers' houses was bought and the two families installed. A more difficult station could not have been found, for there were no chiefs on Tabiteuea and no unified government, the atoll being divided into 14 autonomous districts, each with its maneaba, or community house, where the "Old Men" sat in council to deliberate on political, legal and community affairs in general, under the chairmanship of the traditional tia taetae, or ceremonial Speaker who, however, had no status or power other than that conferred on him by the sacred maka of his position, which could render culprits against traditional norms maraia or accursed. 4

(Map of Tabiteuea, showing maneaba districts).
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To the outsider it seemed a chaotic position but it was usually successful in preventing inter-district warfare though not the Tabiteuean propensity for indulging in personal feuds and vendettas, which left almost every man, and many women and children, disfigured by the deep gashes made by their sharks-teeth weapons. These wounds, however, were considered to be marks of valour, and were displayed with all the self-conscious vanity of a 19th century German student.

The Mission general meeting at Abaiang probably felt that by assigning Kapu to Tabiteuea they were not only removing a troublesome colleague as far from themselves as possible but also testing him under conditions where he would be as likely to sink as swim. But the rumbustious turbulence of the Tabiteueans suited his own temperament and they, in turn, came to appreciate and respect his forthright and dominating character.

The creed of Protestant fundamentalism was ill-calculated to appeal to the Gilbertese, prohibiting as it did almost everything that alleviated the austerity of atoll life: singing, dancing, smoking, drinking, feasting, all were tabu to the aspiring Christian. Yet Kapu's militant evangelism succeeded in overthrowing the traditional religion in the important districts of Eita and Utiroa with remarkable rapidity and it was not long before all southern Anikai, by far the largest islet in Tabiteuea lagoon, adhered, at least nominally, to the new faith.

In October 1868 "320 things esteemed sacred, such as stones, branches of trees besmired with oil, trees, fish, birds, etc., were destroyed" and on New Year's Day it was claimed that 3,000 people met under the great sacred itai (Calophyllum inophyllum) tree, hitherto out of bounds to all, to celebrate "their first happy new year". Church services were held in the maneaba and schools started, with the result that there were said to be 1,800 students attending them in 1870, with 1,000 able to read the Gospels. New mission-inspired laws, enforced by the Old Men in their maneaba assemblies, now prohibited dancing and enforced teetotalism. 5

Maria Kapu was an able help to her husband in his work, teaching in her own girls' school and founding a women's society consisting of pagans, seekers and church members. "Mrs Kapu is an intelligent-looking woman of considerable executive ability", writes a visitor in 1875, "and in travelling about the island she holds meetings with the women when he does with the men". 6 Despite her tongue, it seems that she was a restraining influence on her husband's autocratic tendencies.

On Leleo's transfer to the neighbouring atoll of Nonouti Nalimu was sent to replace him, arriving in 1871; the two Hawaiians thereupon divided North Tabiteuea into two parishes, Kapu remaining at Eita in charge of the north of Anikai and Nalimu taking the southern districts with his - 311 headquarters at Utiroa. It was not long, however, before friction developed between them, for, as the Rev. W. P. Alexander reported to the Hawaiian board in Honolulu, "both are evidently men of energy and enterprise" but "those who in former years have been associated with Kapu say he is a very disagreeable associate". 7 By 1873 the annual meeting of the Gilbert Islands Mission was listening to charges made by Kapu to Alexander that Nalimu had been reported as drinking alcohol on a labour vessel, and that he had been heard to say that neither drinking liquor nor working on Sundays was forbidden.

Nalimu thereupon countered that Kapu had paid the men who built his schoolhouse in tobacco and had given his children tobacco to buy things that he needed. Ultimately both men admitted that their charges were made on hearsay evidence only and agreed to withdraw them. Shaking hands "with affection and concord before all the members" they promised to "abandon thoughts which were mutually painful and to dwell in love and harmony always". 8

It appears to have been a genuine rapprochement for there is no record of any further disagreements between the two, who preached in each other's churches and maintained a united front against the heathen. On April 9, 1876 Maria died and Kapu had to leave for Hawaii to seek a new wife, the mission being opposed to unmarried employees in the field. After two years, however, he was still unsuccessful in his quest and returned to Tabiteuea a widower, on June 26, 1878. 9

In the meantime Nalimu had been turning his hand to politics, organising a petition to the President of of the United States and the King of Hawaii to send "a magistrate to restrain all the evil deeds that are done in this island, backed by the full power of the governments of the United States and of Hawaii". This plea was signed by 171 of Nalimu's parishioners, and was one of the factors which motivated Captain A. N. Tripp's visit to the Gilbert Islands as Hawaiian Special Commissioner to Central and Western Polynesia in 1883. On the religious front, however, Nalimu had been hard put to hold his own in his two large parishes, without making any major extensions to the Christian territory. 10

The Tioba Cult

The position on Kapu's return was that he and his colleague had succeeded in evangelising North Tabiteuea from Eita to Kabuna, with a few converts in Tanaeang, as well as most of those living on the islets of Central Tabiteuea as far south as the main central district of Aiwa. There was only one important group of converts in South Tabiteuea, Tekabwebwe and Nei Bwebwe (who changed their names on conversion to Aberaam and Nei Tarai) and their extended families.

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At this point the Hawaiians were blocked from any further advance by the fact that their converts, hitherto, had been nearly all pagans, an amorphous and unco-ordinated group who worshipped the variety of traditional atua and anti (gods and spirits) in the Gilbertese pantheon. They were in no position to make any concerted and sustained opposition to Christianity and were converted piecemeal and almost without a struggle. The people of Anikai islet from Buota north and the south Tabiteueans, however, belonged to a new aggressive and proselytising sect who worshipped Tioba (Jehovah) and were decidedly averse to being interfered with by Kapu or Nalimu and their Christian followers, the people of te Boki (the Book)—so called from the Bible carried by their teachers.

The worship of Tioba had been founded, probably in the early 1860s, by Tanako, a middle-aged Tabiteuean living in the kainga (clan hamlet) of Kuria at Tanaeang, who claimed to have brought it from Fiji. 11 In the early 1930s a former disciple of the cult gave an account of its origin which was later translated as follows by a leading Gilbertese linguistic expert, G. H. Eastman:


A native of Tabiteuea named Tanako dreamed that he was taken up to heaven; and when he fell between heaven and earth he was told of four islands, Beru, Onotoa, Nonouti and Tabiteuea; and he saw also other islands. Afterwards he was asked what he was doing, and Tanako said that he was returning whence he came. And he who had led him away said: "All right! I shall not lead you away for you wish to return home." And Tanako asked him who he was; and he replied revealing himself to be Tioba the mighty God. "And if you are willing to make me your God", he said, "I will tell you what things you shall make and which things you shall worship as symbols of my body. These are the things which you shall make:

Make a sacred circle—


and provide bunches of drinking coconuts to surround the sacred circle.

Then make a cross—

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and take the feathers of all manner of birds and tie them to the cross like this—


and make a head (or crown) to it.

Then set it up in the middle of the sacred circle like this—


This then will be your place of worship, and your times to worship me will be the morning and the evening. And now that you are about to descend I will go all over Tabiteuea with you, and then we will go all over the North and afterwards all over the South."

Tioba gave Tanako a sign that he was the true God by telling him of: the tobacco which two men, Nawere and Teakin, had hidden and were keeping. And he also told Tanako that he should visit them and tell them what Tioba had told him. When Tanako woke up in the morning he went to visit Nawere and Teakin and told them what he had been told by Tioba. These two men had their own anti before Tanako came to them, but they discarded them and believed in Tioba because he was able to know about their tobacco; and they took him to be their God. Afterwards they quarrelled with the people of the Protestant Church for they said that it was false and Tioba was true.

There was also a Hymn and a Prayer to Tioba, which are reproduced in the disciple's Gilbertese:

The Hymn of Tioba
Ai tiba Kamua mwitieai
E tiu e bubu te itiam
Ba e a bue nanou ma.
Koro te ae ni bubua
Mu Mo Mumouea
Mu mou Mumouema
Miti karai tiuta tata
Ruarua morumoru ake ake
Ai tata ruarua morumoru
Akea te tibatiba oro oro
Riburibu Kibakiba tabu.
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The Prayer to Tioba
Arewa te amarake Tioba
Tani mun mun mamao matai
Ngangatu mamao tebanei Iesu.
Nei Tioniba ma Nei Tenguinanti
Tabouakinai matauakinai
Tabouakinai kanam te bake aei
Tioba ao mataukinai.

Reid Cowell, author of two books on the Gilbertese language, considers that the transcriber of the hymn and prayer had reproduced the sound of what he had heard without attempting to make it intelligible. Some Gilbertese tabunea (magical incantations) do appear, in fact, to be a concatenation of sounds, sometimes repetitive or alliterative, and nonsense except perhaps to the initiated, so it is possible that the disciple did not in fact know that the sounds which he repeated had a meaning.

Cowell, however, has succeeded in making a credible retranscription of the text into intelligible Gilbertese, a free translation of which is given below:

The Hymn of Jehovah
How full of pride was I not long ago,
O save me!
Your glory has not grown dim!
A flame of deep devotion
burns bright within me.
Bow down, bow down, bow low-o-o!
Bow down, bow down, bow low-o-o!
In joy now let us join together
and circle rapidly around;
Separate and lonely we shall fall away
bewildered; quickly go astray.
Let there be no retreat
from unity; therein lies our strength.
In company, together
we are blessed
The Prayer to Jehovah
How great our offering of food is laid out there,
O Jehovah!
Your followers are filled with envy;
Thousands covet it,
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O Jesus!
Spirits and voices of the waving palms
call me to witness.
Prove me,
call me to witness.
For it is to you this offering is made,
Oh Jehovah!
Prove me.

The cross, which had the power of healing the sick, was worshipped as the symbol of Tioba and represented, in Gilbertese symbolism, his rabata or body on earth. It was anointed with oil and and to it the worshippers made offerings of coconuts, pandanus fruit, fish and other foods. Tanako was considered to be in communication with Tioba and also his appointed priest. Bingham was told by Tabiteueans that Tanako was informed by Tioba when the Sabbath was due; it was strictly observed and might continue for "two or three days or more at a time, according as the spirit directed him, and then the intervals between the Sabbath were not six days necessarily, but according as he was informed by the spirit". 12

From Tanako's headquarters at Tanaeang the Gospel of Tioba was taken by him or his disciples to Central and South Tabiteuea; at Tewai, the southern centre of the faith, it was brought by Baikitea, who was in communication with Tioba through a bird, the Teiabu, who brought messages which only he could interpret. The God was worshipped under an Uri tree (Guettarda speciosa), which is still standing there, at full, new and three-quarters moon, all services beginning with the apparently meaningless sentence: "Tioba Taroa te Atua". 13

In 1868 Tanako began missionary work on Nonouti, where Bingham came in touch with him again in 1872 and where, as on Tabiteuea, he persuaded his converts "to overturn their idols or spirit stones". "Songs to Jesus", presumably including the hymn quoted above, were taught and the sick invited to come and be healed through faith in Tioba. Bingham shrewdly comments that te Buraeniman (the Feathers), as the cult was called, was likely to prove more popular than his orthodox Protestantism since Tanako encouraged traditional singing and dancing. 14

There was evidently much latitude both in the form of the cross and the ritual of worship. On Nikunau Powell describes the feather God as: "An oblong frame narrowed above, covered with black feathers, with streamers of the same on each side. It was fastened to a pole stuck upright in the ground.. . . To this portion of the offerings is presented, which are sacred to the officiating priest; and on certain occasions it is - 316 carried about the village, while the priests call out "Iova e, Iova e! (i.e. O Jehovah, O Jehovah." 15

A later observer speaks of feathers fastened on pieces of wood crosswise which were taken in procession while the people sang "mournful dirges" and endeavoured to imitate Catholic priests at High Mass; their meetings were held about once a month and were accompanied by a great deal of feasting. In 1883 the crosses were described as being "in the form of an umbrella with feathers for the covering" placed in the village "with offerings burnt to it". 16

Bingham considered that Tanako had based his cult on the services which he himself had conducted on Tabiteuea on his first visit in 1867 but the London Missionary Society's visitors to Nikunau were almost certainly right when they attributed the origin to the Catholic Mass which Tanako had attended in Fiji or Samoa. In any event, it was a militant, iconoclastic and proselytising cult whose adherents, convinced that they possessed the true evangel, had as much contempt for those who turned to the new religion brought by the Protestant missionaries as they had for those who still retained their allegiance to the traditional Gilbertese pantheon. 17

The Battle of Taboaine

No one saw clearer than Kapu and Nalimu that any further progress in the christianisation of Tabiteuea was dependent on the conversion of the believers in Tioba—preferably by peaceful means, but failing that, it would seem, by force.

When Bingham had visited the Tanaeang maneaba in 1868 he had found it "surrounded by a line of small crosses some four feet high, and adorned with many light tufts of birds' feathers", presumably a rabu or sign prohibiting entry erected by Tanako and his co-religionists. On June 13, 1879, Kapu and Nalimu went by boat to the maneaba from Eita, while about 2,000 followers accompanied him by canoe or marched along the lagoon shore. When Kapu arrived he was asked his business, but instead of replying he went to the beach in front of the building and attempted to read aloud to the people from his Bible. The Old Men then rushed out from the maneaba in a nude state and greeted him with one of the rudest and most obscene gestures known to the Gilbertese.

Nalimu reported that they "tried to enter and to teach them the word of God and for this they jumped on us, grabbing us as though we were thieves and prepared to assault us with sticks and knives and to shoot us and our followers with guns". Unarmed as they were, it was time to retreat, but they destroyed everything connected with the Tioba cult as they went south. When the Tioba people discovered the desecration they - 317 realised that they must fight for their religion or abandon it. They decided to attack the Christians on the following Sunday, June 15, when there was to be a big religious gathering at Eita. 18

Warfare on Tabiteuea had always been conducted according to strict traditional rules and amounted to a series of individual contests which aimed to wound the adversary and thus incapacitate him, but without killing him which would have necessitated the payment of nenebo (land given in compensation for killing) or the death of the transgressor at the hands of the victim's utu or kindred, and was to be avoided at all costs. The trader Garstang, who had lived longer on Tabiteuea than any other European, stated in 1881 that "until the Hawaiian teachers were brought here, the Natives never killed each other; they fought, but only to wound with their shark's teeth swords". 19

In the inter-maneaba warfare each side normally marched in three groups, with the main party in the centre of the islet flanked by supporting groups on the lagoon and ocean beaches. Once the parties met, the outcome depended on the result of individual challenges made by warriors armed with unun (sharks-teeth spears from 12-18 feet long), who were normally preceded by the henchmen armed with taumanaria or ie(branched lances 12-18 feet long) who engaged each other and at the same time helped to assist the spearman by fending off his opponent's toothed spear with the branches of their own. Both the main opponents would have armour consisting of knitted or woven coir twine or sinnet tunics and trousers and a stout plaited coir twine coat with a high back, a belt of coir twine or dried ray skin, a skull cap of plaited coir twine and a helmet made of porcupine fish skin; this left the arms, legs, armpits, face and throat as the most vulnerable parts. 20

It was this type of warfare, resembling the jousting of unmounted medieval knights in armour, that the Tioba adherents were expecting, as they marched down the islet from Terikiai maneaba, with the people of Tanaeang on the lagoon side and centre and of Buota on the ocean side. Tanako had consulted Tioba in the morning and, when the feathers on the cross began to shake his followers realised that the omens for victory were against them, but they had made their preparations and eaten their farewell feast and it was too late to postpone the sally.

All this time the Christians were engaged in their service at Eita and the northerners were not seen until someone left the church to relieve himself and ran back with the news. To quote from Nalimu: "we closed the service and everyone went out to prepare weapons, equipped with guns and sticks (i.e. spears), 40 or more guns on our side, with sticks".

The battle took place at Taboaine, with the Christians from Tanaeang taking the ocean side, so as not to face their relatives, Eita on the lagoon - 318 side and the districts from Utiroa to Aiwa in the centre. The Old Men leading the Tioba people had told them to fight strictly according to the Tuan Tabiteuea(Tabiteuean rules) and not to kill anyone, so when someone was accidentally killed on the ocean side the eastern flank was ordered to withdraw. Contrary to Tabiteuean custom, however, they were pursued and as many as possible killed. 21

The two remaining sections were then surrounded and in all "14 of the enemy were killed by us and many wounded. One of our side was slain. They all fled, were pursued, had their houses set on fire, their canoes stolen, etc. One day the battle raged then ceased. They abandoned their gods and no one was allowed to set up gods for them on penalty of death and forfeiture of lands, etc.". So says Nalimu, and Ah Nim, the Chinese trader at Tanaeang, with nine other witnesses, confirms the number killed, and adds that the victors burnt the district maneaba and that Nalimu was the ringleader and "the first man to apply the fire". 22

The Massacre at Tewai

The north was thus subjected to instant conversion, with stiff penalties for apostates, and Kapu and Nalimu were able to direct their attention to consolidating their position on Anikai and completing the work of evangelising Tabiteuea by the conversion of the hitherto obdurate south Tabiteueans.

Though the southern districts were in Nalimu's parish, Kapu seems to have been the mastermind in operations for which his less discreet subordinate ultimately got the blame. Indeed, Kapu now appeared to visitors to be a model pastor and teacher, energetic and resourceful, and had clearly gained an ascendancy over his normally unruly parishioners which his colleagues on other islands must have envied. "What a wonderful man Kapu is", enthused a missionary visitor in January, "almost another Elijah". In an unaggressive mission staffed in the main by ineffective personnel he shone like a beacon. 23

A meeting of all North Tabiteuea was held in December, with a few sympathisers from the south also present. At this gathering it was agreed to abolish war—those present breaking up and burning 79 guns, over 300 spears and other weapons, as well as their coconut-fibre armour—and even the traders, under pressure, produced nine guns and a couple of pistols and smashed them to pieces in front of the crowd.

Under Kapu's guidance new laws were passed at the meeting prohibiting the importation of firearms, getting drunk in public, malicious wounding and breaking the Sabbath, with severe penalties which included, for drunkenness and wounding, the cutting down of from two to twenty coconut trees: "Not a canoe sails on the Sabbath. There is no - 319 fishing, no climbing of coconut trees." These laws were said to have been agreed to by the few southerners present, but, if so, they were probably under duress and certainly without any mandate to bind their compatriots. 24

According to Alfred Hicking, one of the most respected traders in the Gilberts, it was towards the end of 1879 that Kapu and Nalimu began to preach the necessity for a holy crusade to convert the south Tabiteueans to Christianity. Whether they openly advocated war is doubtful, and perhaps immaterial since the northerners undoubtedly thought that that was what they meant: "I was over and over again told by the natives that Kapu was preaching this war. The natives would come and tell of this on Sundays after service was over." 25

It seems unlikely that Kapu was averse to the intimidation of the south Tabiteueans, even if it entailed bloodshed, should it be a necessary prerequisite to their conversion, and his more ingenuous colleague made remarks which implied that he, at least, was an advocate of the Church militant. But Kapu's actual preaching probably consisted of invective against the heathen southerners for refusing to allow the Gospel to be preached to them and for preferring to worship the embodiment of evil in Tioba with feasting, dancing, drunkenness and debauchery.

Kapu no doubt warned his listeners to keep a watchful eye, and their weapons refurbished, against an attack from the south, as had happened from the followers of Tioba at Tanaeang, but he apparently considered that the southerners should first be given an opportunity to be converted by peaceful means before more forceful measures were taken against them. It was not necessary to convey more than a tacit approval of a possible holy war, since his hearers read their own hopes and desires into his strictures on the idolaters; and war was what the northerners wanted most for they had old scores to pay off against the south and, above all, they coveted the lands of the southern party.

Kapu thus went south on two occasions to remonstrate with the Tioba party but was received each time with a refusal to listen to him, accompanied by abuse. In September 1880, he decided to go with Nalimu in the small mission boat for a third attempt, it being time for the periodical mission visitation to the southern villages. On this occasion he was accompanied by a crowd of about 1,000 northern Christians, including women and children, some of whom proceeded by land and some in a fleet of canoes as far as Aiwa, the last of the Christian villages. Had this large body reached, as was intended, an unarmed South Tabiteuea it would in itself have been sufficient to coerce the inhabitants of the five relatively less populated maneaba districts there, in addition to being a strain on their food resources.

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The Hawaiians went on alone in their boat to the maneaba at Tewai, the first of the pagan districts of South Tabiteuea and the headquarters of the Tioba cult, but found it practically deserted, since the southerners had been alerted and were seen gathering in the distance, apparently preparing for war. The two missionaries then sailed on to Buariki, the main district in the south, where they slept on the night of the 10th. After calling at Nikutoru, they returned on the 11th to Aiwa, their journey having proved fruitless as all but a few Christians had left for Tewai.

The following day being Sunday, Kapu maintained that he preached a sermon warning the people that, like Paul on his way to Damascus, God might smite them if they persisted in their warlike preparations. Whether he did so is questionable but in any case it was too late, for the Old Men had sent north for their arms and reinforcements. Monday and Tuesday were spent in preparations while at night the young men searched for stray southerners on the neighbouring islets. One man, Tekaie, escaped to warn his compatriots, who prepared to meet the Christians at the passage in front of the Tewai maneaba. 26

Alfred Hicking was in his boat on the way south to trade when he was intercepted by northern canoes and brought to Aiwa on the grounds that it was dangerous to go farther. In his written account he says that: "I personally saw the natives of the north assembled at Burubut [Barabatu] in war array. They carried spears, bayonets, big knives and tomahawks and a certain number of guns. I saw them march away from Burubut for the south end." 27

It was decided by the Christian party that the fight, like the battle of Taboaine, was not to be conducted in "Tabiteuean style" as a series of individual combats, but in massed formation, and that, instead of the customary nenebo being paid to the families of anyone killed, the lands of the conquered were to be taken by the victors. At this point, if not sooner, it appears that Kapu and Nalimu, seeing that war was inevitable, spent their time planning the campaign. The army was divided into a main central group consisting of the people of Utiroa, Terikiai and Tekaman, a lagoon flank comprising people from Eita and Tanaeang, and an ocean flank, which was to divide later into two divisions, with those from Aiwa to Tauma. The Christians, pagans and former followers of Tioba of doubtful reliability were thus mixed up.

Before marching south on Tuesday afternoon a service was held, with prayers for victory, after which everyone sang their battle hymn Tai Matemate Ngkami: "Oh, do not be discouraged, for Jesus is your friend.. . . He will give you grace to conquer, and keep you in the end"; and, for ease of recognition, they were provided with a distinctive emblem, te kikanang (the star fish), consisting of coconut leaflets - 321 "woven like a cross" hung from the neck as pendants back and front. It is said that the southern side also had a distinguishing sign—tufts of feathers tied to their weapons, these being the insignia of the buraeniman. 28

The most credible account of the Christian tactical moves is given by G. M. Murdoch, the Government officer who was in control of Tabiteuea for many years between 1898 and 1915 and had a knowledge of the "Irishmen of the Pacific", as they were called, which no other European has managed to acquire. He made a detailed study of the battlefield, questioned the then numerous survivors and drew a sketch of the terrain which is reproduced below. According to Murdoch, whose account is substantially similar to several others:

During the night [of Tuesday, September 14] the Hawaiians, taking advantage of the reef being dry at low water, sent out three flanking parties, and of the two which proceeded south-east along the eastern reef one party established itself at a point north of Tewai, the other travelling further on to a point east of Tewai. The third party traversed the lagoon flats to the west, and skirting a long point of land eventually located itself on the foreshore of a deep bay immediately to the south. Having arrived at their respective positions, the flanking parties were to await the signal for attack. The main body moved from Barebatu to a small islet westward of Tewai. Thus the adherents of the Feather Cult were hemmed in on all sides by forces which outnumbered them by three to one.
At dawn the signal was given and the Mission natives from four sides moved to the attack. Each spear-man had one, sometimes two, men supporting him with defensive weapons. The Feather Cult people had little chance against the surprise attack at dawn by a numerically-stronger party, and, in accordance with the plan outlined by the two Hawaiian missionaries, were driven out across the lagoon flats to the west of Tewai, there to meet the main mission body from the north. The slaughter was terrific, but few of the fighting men of the Cult escaping death. 29

All accounts agree that the southerners were defeated because they were encircled by their opponents. The Tioba force had placed great confidence in a cannon which they had acquired from a wreck, and which they crowded around instead of spreading out to face the enemy. The cannon was pointed at the main party of Christians, who stayed behind a clump of coconut trees and were reluctant to attack through fear of being killed by a ball. It only fired once, however, and this shot merely ricocheted across the water hitting one man, Kainanang, who was reputed to have been the only northerner to have performed the kauti ni

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Sketch of the Battlefield at Tewai, 1880. (From Murdoch 1934.)

mane routine (magical ritual to make a man strong and vigorous) before the battle. The rain then fell, wet the powder and rendered the cannon useless, whereupon a hand to hand battle began between the southern party and the northern main force advancing in front of them, resulting in the south being driven back by superior numbers and surrounded by the flanking parties. 30

The circle in which they could operate grew smaller and smaller as they were hemmed in by their opponents "into a round immobile mass. Those in the centre were not able to get close enough to the enemy to fight. As they became more crowded, those in the centre had to raise their spears and other weapons in order to avoid hurting themselves and each other." 31 The Christian party were able to move back whenever those facing them struck with their spears, but the Tioba people could not retract their spears for another strike without injuring those behind them, who in turn "could only point their spears at heaven". It is pleasant to find that in the midst of this mêlée some Christians went around putting the northern pendants around the necks of their relatives on the - 323 other side in the hope that this might prevent them from being killed.

Nalimu stated to a Mission enquiry in Honolulu that sharks-teeth swords and spears were the principal weapons used but that there were also a few guns which had not been destroyed or had been brought since the destruction by repatriated labourers from Samoa; another witness who had been present at the battle, the Gilbertese Tekaria, estimated that there were 20 to 30 guns with the southern side and about 10 with the Christians, but they had little or no effect at close quarters and in the rain. 32

Within two hours the battle had turned into a massacre and those of the Tioba folk who were able to had fled south, pursued by the victors. Most of the slain were lying in a heap where the main body of southerners had been surrounded, and, according to the testimony of eye witnesses given to the investigating committee which visited the site of the carnage in August of the following year:

The wounded and frightened crawled up on the dead, the Christians pricked and struck them with their swords and spears, and others kept crawling up on them, till there was a pile as big as the mast of the 'Morning Star's' boat. After the fight they dragged more of the dead and threw them upon the pile; and then set fire to them (first piling native houses on them) and burned them up. Men, women and children were killed. Some ten were buried, many bodies were washed away by the tide, and dogs ate some. 33

A number of the southerners escaped by claiming sanctuary in Aberaam's house at Buariki, which was a large two-storeyed building, where they were vouched for by him as being relatives and Christians. Others remained hidden until Kapu imposed an interdict on further slaughter.

Nalimu claimed to have made a count of the dead on a house-to-house visit of the then five maneaba districts of South Tabiteuea—Tewai, Taungaeaka, Buariki, Nikutoru and Taku—and found them to number 373, but this figure is almost certainly too low. There are several estimates varying from 400 to 2,000, the number of killed tending to increase with the passage of time since the event as is usual with oral tradition. For reasons given in a note, we consider that the figure of 600 suggested in Taylor's 1881 report, made after questioning participants from both sides, is more likely to be approximately correct than any of the others. According to Tekaria, two of the Christian force died, but the usual figure given is one, Kainanang. 34

The extent to which Kapu and Nalimu participated in the war has been the subject of controversy but, after examining all the evidence, it seems fair to say that by September 11 peaceful measures had failed and the - 324 followers of Tioba were already at Tewai preparing for battle. The Hawaiians could not have stopped the north by then even if they had wanted to and the evidence indicates that they accepted the inevitable and, beyond some stylised protests for the record by Kapu, they in fact did what they could to ensure that the Christian party won.

Kapu was the general who worked out the plan of operations, so dissimilar in its strategy and tactics to anything seen on Tabiteuea before; he then led the assembled troops in prayer, sang the battle hymn with them and arranged for the distribution of the Christian insignia, after which it seems that he departed from the scene and slept in his boat.

Nalimu, a meticulous and unemotional adjutant, saw that everything was understood and proceeding according to plan. Witnesses reported him as saying: "We must kill them. All must go. It is the Lord's war." Then he too went to sleep in his boat, with his wife and children, as the Rev. Taylor dryly remarked, "out of harm's way". 35

We do not credit statements that either Kapu or Nalimu took an actual part in the fighting. Both went ashore in the morning and, after an alleged attempt to stop hostilities, Kapu went into the Tewai maneaba and tended the wounded of both sides, while keeping in touch with the course of events; and Nalimu appears to have actually led the lagoon flanking party and later, on his own admission, was attracted by the smell of burning flesh and went to watch the bodies being cremated on the pyre, but without remonstrating that some were, as he supposed, still alive. Finally, he joined Kapu in the maneaba. 36


About three months after the battle, on their next mission tour, the northerners, accompanied by Kapu and Nalimu, divided up the lands of the defeated party. The victors wanted to take all the lands but Kapu argued that they should be divided into four shares: (1) for the widows of those killed; (2) for the orphans; (3) for the defeated; and (4) for the victors. This was eventually agreed upon, subject to an additional share (said to be up to 16 lands, though witnesses vary) being given to the two Hawaiians. 37

As a result of this repartition of lands, many of the southerners were left with insufficient means to support themselves and their families. Some were recruited as plantation labour, usually preferring to work in Hawaii, while a few are said to have become serfs to northern land-owners. The Christians were, of course, exempt from land confiscations, and some of the others were able to supplement their own land holdings by acting as caretakers for relatives who had been recruited or were widows or orphans. 38

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Few ships called at South Tabiteuea owing to the extensive ocean reef which made navigation hazardous, but C. M. Woodford, who landed there in 1884 when recruiting labourers for Fiji, remarked that there were hardly any men to be seen—in one village he found only six—but many women and children; the men, he was told, had all been killed by the people from the north end. The islanders were clearly poverty-stricken, made no copra "and do not seem to have a very good time". Not surprisingly, no one Woodford spoke to had a good word for the Hawaiian missionaries and, indeed, one of the labourers had returned with three Schneider rifles and a revolver for the express purpose of killing Nalimu, the only Hawaiian then on the island. 39

North Tabiteuea, however, had a good anchorage off Utiroa and on September 17, two days after the battle, the Morning Star arrived at Tabiteuea from Abaiang with Captain Isaiah Bray and the newly appointed missionary, A. C. Walkup. A highly partial account of the affair was given by Kapu and when three traders came on board later, "all full of abuse and accusations against the missionary", Bray was able to dismiss their charges with ease:

We told them to meet us the next day at Kapu's church, bringing all their charges and witnesses to prove them, and we would investigate them. Accordingly we met and took up the charges one by one. Not one of the traders had a single witness to prove the charge, we praise the Lord that everything resulted favourably.. . .

One can scarcely believe that Captain Bray was so naïve as to believe that any Tabiteuean would come forward in Kapu's church and charge him or his colleague with being an accomplice to wholesale murder, and in fact Bray was later censured by the Secretary of the American Board for his negligent conduct. 40

It was not long before the allegations made, as the Missionary Herald put it, "by two or three drunken traders", spread throughout the Pacific, to be repeated in Australian newspapers and in an Associated Press release which even reached the pages of the London Times. To quote the Missionary Herald again:

It is singular that while our brethren are so earnestly engaged in preventing these conflicts, sometimes being successful as peace-makers and sometimes failing, the story started nearly a year ago by some profligate traders at Tabiteuea, that the natives are instigated to fight by the missionaries, should be travelling around the world appearing here and there in new forms. This slander will probably be made to do duty for some time to come. 41

More importantly, the allegations continued until they could no longer be discounted by the local European and Hawaiian missionaries and - 326 were discussed at the annual general meeting of the Gilbert Islands Mission at Abaiang on July 25, 1881, when a Committee consisting of the Rev. H. J. Taylor, W. N. Lono, G. Leleo and S. K. Maunaloa, with Captain Bray, was directed to investigate them on the spot. 42

The committee performed its duty with a remarkable degree of impartiality, for Taylor, the chairman, was genuinely horrified by what he had already heard, notably from participants in the war who had since come to Abaiang as students at the Training School there. Two parties of Tabiteueans were questioned separately on different days, one consisting of the victors only and the other, at the scene of the battle, of both sides. Each group gave substantially the same story:

There were two parties on the island, the heathen and the christian party. The heathen party did not want to be taught, but wanted to drink and dance; but they did not hinder the christian party in getting the coconuts from their land to the south of the heathen party's land. When the heathen refused a formal demand to receive the missionaries Nalimu asked what they would do about it, and the christians said they would kill them. The missionaries did not try to hold them back. The christian party were much the stronger, and the heathen had not offered, or threatened to fight them. The missionaries said every body must go to the fight, it was the Lord's war.

When the actual battle began: "Kapu withdrew to a council house ("maniaba") within hailing distance of the battlefield.. . . Nalimu led them into the fight. There were perhaps six hundred killed."

At Nalimu's village and with him present for part of the time, witnesses contradicted themselves and further investigation had to be abandoned. In view of the power which Kapu and Nalimu had acquired by this time, any other result could hardly be expected. 43

The committee were only empowered to report to the Mission's parent body, the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, and perforce had to leave Nalimu in charge at Tabiteuea despite the evidence of his culpability; they did, however, direct that the produce of the lands given to the missionaries as their share of the booty should be used by the defeated party pending a decision by the association.

Their Report proved as disconcerting to the association as it was to be later to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Boston and the Board's Committee on Foreign Missions was directed to order Nalimu to return to Honolulu, where Kapu was on leave, and to hold a further investigation, which was done under the chairmanship of Hiram Bingham Jr, from June 23 to 29, 1882.

Kapu and Nalimu gave evidence, as did Taylor, Lono and Maunaloa of the first committee and two Tabiteuean church members who were eye - 327 witnesses, Tekaria and Ioteba, who Nalimu brought to testify from the Gilbertese workers then in Hawaii. The witnesses were questioned at length, the minutes of the proceedings taking up 36 foolscap pages and the report of the committee, 16.

The report makes rather curious reading. After saying that no more competent body than the Gilbert Islands Mission Committee could have been appointed, and that "at this great distance from Tabiteuea we cannot claim we have the material here for forming a more correct judgement as to the facts in the case", they proceeded to attempt just that. Their conclusions were:

  • 1. That it would have been better for Kapu and Nalimu to have avoided all occasion for scandal by returning immediately from Aiwa when they found that all their remonstrances were unavailing.
  • 2. That they should have refused to have anything to do with the division of lands by the victorious party, and that Nalimu in particular deserved censure for his conduct in this matter.
  • 3. That Nalimu was also guilty of unchristian conduct for not having remonstrated at the burning of the bodies of the dead and dying.

It was considered that Nalimu had shown himself to be unsuitable for missionary work and his dismissal recommended. The recommendation that Kapu should be stationed on some other island than Tabiteuea was apparently deleted from the final report, and, in fact, he went back to the atoll in his former position at the end of 1883.

Perhaps it is not so surprising that the Hawaiian Evangelical Association should, in effect, reject the clear implications of the Taylor Report after hearing new evidence from only the defendants and their witnesses. 44 The American board had expressed their embarrassment at "having so often denied the assertions respecting Nalimu's complicity and now met [in the Taylor Report] with the confirmation of them"; and an adverse reaction could be expected from the Hawaiian Government should any of its subjects in the mission field be treated in a politically undesirable manner.

So the two Hawaiians were found to have committed errors of judgment, which could if necessary be readily explained to the readers of the Missionary Herald as due to inexperience, but not culpable acts. But by then the American board had burnt its boats by publishing a trenchant criticism of Nalimu's conduct based on the Taylor Report; that their views did not change may be seen in letters from their Corresponding secretary, the Rev. J. O. Means, in which he says "I do not see how it is possible for you at Honolulu questioning the accused persons themselves - 328 to arrive at any more correct judgment than was reached by those who had made the examination at the islands", and later, "I would say also privately that after a careful examination of all the evidence of all the papers, I cannot avoid the conviction that Nalimu is guilty as represented in the original report of the committee of five, who investigated at Tabiteuea". 45 In any case, Nalimu could be dismissed from missionary service with comparative impunity, for he was only employed "in a subordinate capacity. . .as a catechist"; Kapu, the ordained minister, was sent back to Tabiteuea with a reprimand.

After his return, however, Kapu's conduct began to cause further criticism. While he was away in Honolulu, dissidents had asked Captain Maxwell of H.M.S. Rosario "if the missionaries in England prevented the people from singing and dancing, and whether they were obliged to pay all the fines the missionaries imposed?". This undercurrent of resentment was exacerbated by the severity of the penalties, usually payable in coconuts, particularly as they were divided between the Old Men who imposed them and Kapu himself, thus providing him with a lucrative income. In addition, he and his family were actively engaged in trade, while his daughter "had played the harlot, and her husband had been satisfied by a payment of three times as much land as had formerly been paid for such sin, but which law had been annulled until the case of his own daughter occurred".

Captain Bray of the Morning Star, who reported these incidents, had been dismayed at witnessing in 1885 "a deacon and other church members accusing the pastor of "theft", and then people and the pastor standing face to face, calling each other "thief" and "liars", "and advised Kapu to return to Honolulu in the mission ship. He declined to go, however, and the following year he was released from further service for "spiritism", or more precisely for communicating with the spirit of his dead wife, a purely ecclesiastical offence which in actual fact gave him an accession of prestige among the Gilbertese, who regarded mediums able to contact the spirits of the dead with awe and veneration as possessing exceptional maka and not to be trifled with.

For a couple of years Kapu lived as a landowner, making copra from his three lands in Utiroa, and those in the south which had been given to him as his share of the victor's spoils, one of them called Tabon Tekakai being described as exceptionally large and productive. These were the lands which Kapu had assured the Bingham Committee that he had declined to accept and had added to the shares of the widows and orphans—a significant comment on the reliability of his evidence. 46

In 1888 Kapu married a Gilbertese and became a trader for the American firm of Crawford and Company of San Francisco and - 329 Butaritari, but he continued to be the dominant power on Tabiteuea until 1892. The Rev. Z. S. K. Paaluhi and S. P. Kaaia took charge of the pastoral and teaching work on the atoll and even took a hand at revising the legal code, but Kapu remained for most of the time the grey eminence behind their control of the maneaba governments (later called church committees) and thus of the effective legislative, judicial and executive administration; for it was the Old Men who made the laws, tried offences against them and, through the police whom they appointed, enforced law and order throughout their districts and in the south, which was considered conquered territory: and the Old Men were still largely under Kapu's domination. 47

Called "the lawgiver" by the Tabiteueans, he was responsible for the construction of the first lagoon-shore road extending the whole length of Anikai; but his proclivity for dominating led to his eventual downfall for many of the people of Anikai were grumbling at the severity of the mission regime. Finally four villagers from Tanaeang were found guilty of drunkenness and the district was fined 100,000 nuts or in default to having 50 of each of the accused's bearing trees cut down. 48

This was the last straw for the former adherents of. Tioba in the northern districts of Anikai and they refused to accept any more missionary-inspired punishment. The Protestants thereupon held a meeting of the remainder of Anikai at Kabuna and it was decided to go to war again.

This time, however, Tanaeang was able to call for help to a more powerful protector than Tioba, for in 1888 the first Roman Catholic missionaries had landed on the neighbouring island of Nonouti, bringing a form of worship which, we have suggested, was the prototype of the Tioba cult and was, in any case, far more congenial to them than the militant theocracy of the Hawaiians. The followers of Tioba on Nonouti had embraced catholicism with enthusiasm and now Teunaia and Kaetiti were sent by canoe to ask for a priest to come urgently, promising to build a church for him in each of the dissident districts.

In January 1891, during the middle of the westerly season, Father Bontemps arrived in a newly acquired mission boat and was greeted eagerly by the inhabitants of the three northern districts, and soon beyond them in the districts to the south. The danger of war passed, for the Protestants were loth to tackle European missionaries under the protection of the French Government, as shown by the visit of a French warship to them only five months after their arrival. 49

Nevertheless, feeling was still running high when Captain H. M. Davis arrived in H.M.S. Royalist in 1892 to declare Tabiteuea under British protection. Finding that dissension continued between the northern and - 330 southern districts of Anikai, and that the Catholics were having a meeting at Tanaeang at the time, Davis walked up Kapu's new road and, after enquiries, arranged for a joint meeting of both religions at Utiroa the next day. The Catholics alleged unanimously that Kapu was at the back of all the trouble on Tabiteuea, "as he always had been", and at the meeting Davis found that their complaints were justified. 50

Kapu was thereupon ordered by Davis to leave the Gilberts within a month. On his return to Honolulu his attorney petitioned the Hawaiian Government to request the British authorities to permit his return to Tabiteuea, with damages for wrongful treatment and losses incurred, or failing that, damages of $10,000 for "unlawful and violent treatment". 51

On receipt of this petition, Bramston, of the Colonial Office minuted that: "This seems to be a very high handed proceeding on the part of Captain Davis, and we shall probably have to let the man return to the Gilberts, and give him some compensation", but Sir John Thurston, the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific, who was thoroughly familiar with Kapu's history on Tabiteuea through his long association with the islands, strongly opposed the return "of a man who, on the spot, is regarded as a strong headed and wrong headed bigot". 52

In the event, the Foreign Office informed the Hawaiian Government that the action taken by Davis "was imperatively demanded in the interests of the peace and good order of the Protectorate, and that it must be regarded as a measure of high policy, necessary and justifiable as an act of State", carried out "at the instance of the local authority, in order to prevent a renewal of the disorders long fomented by Kapu". 53

To quote a modern Gilbertese writer on Kapu's final departure from the scene after 25 years on Tabiteuea: "The people of the north and south may still be rivals over some things but they have lived in peace since then." 54 He might have added that in attempting to convert the Tioba worshippers of Tabiteuea into Protestants by force of arms Kapu merely succeeded in making them Catholics: and Catholics most of their descendants remain to this day.


In completing the documentation on which this study is largely based we have been generously helped by the historian, Barrie Macdonald, who sent us the notes of field investigations on the Religious Wars made by him during 1969 in both North and South Tabiteuea and also procured some key missing items for us from the former Western Pacific High Commission Archives in Suva and the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library in Honolulu: to him our sincere thanks.

We are also indebted to W. H. Geddes for copies of the Eita Protestant Elders' History of the Protestant Church and the sections on the wars from his doctoral thesis. The maps were prepared by Mr Pancino of the Cartographic Office, Department of Human Geography, A.N.U.

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- 332 Page of endnotes

- 333
Unpublished Sources
  • The abbreviated locational indicators which follow most of the unpublished sources are: ABCFM—American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; AH—Archives of Hawaii; HMCS—Hawaiian Mission Children's Society; LMS—London Missionary Society; NAK—National Archives of Kiribati; PRO—Public Record Office; RNAS—Royal Navy Australian Station;
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  • WPHC—Western Pacific High Commission.
  • AH NIM, John, et al., 1880. Letter to Commodore Wilson, H.M.S. Wolverine, 1.3.80. NAK.
  • ALEXANDER, W. P., 1872. "Report to the Hawaiian Board by their delegate to the Micronesian Missions, 3.12.72." H.M.C.S.
  • BINGHAM, Hiram, Jr, 1868a. "Report on the Voyage of the Morning Star, 1867-68." ABCFM.
  • —— 1868b. Letter to N. G. Clark, Nov. 1868. ABCFM.
  • —— 1872a. "Report of a four and a half months Visit to the Gilbert Islands in 1871." HMCS.
  • —— 1876. Letter to N. G. Clark, June 1876. ABCFM.
  • —— 1878. Letter to N. G. Clark, 7.2.78. ABCFM.
  • —— 1879. Letter to N. G. Clark, 6.3.79. ABCFM.
  • —— 1880a. Letter to N. G. Clark, 16.1.80. ABCFM.
  • —— 1880b. Letter to N. G. Clark, 23.3.80. ABCFM.
  • —— 1882. "Report of the Commission on Foreign Missions respecting Messrs Kapu and Nalimu." HMCS.
  • BRAMSTON, E., 1892. Minute dated 19.12.92. on expulsion of Kapu. CO225/41. PRO.
  • BRAY, Isaiah, 1885. "Report of the First Voyage of the missionary steam barkantine Morning Star to Micronesia, 1885." ABCFM.
  • CLARK, N. G., 1882. Letter to A. O. Forbes, 13.4.82. ABCFM.
  • COLCORD, Mrs A. D., 1875. Journal of Mrs Andrew D. Colcord aboard the missionary brig "Morning Star" on a Voyage to Micronesia, 1875. Russell Sage Foundation.
  • COWELL, REID, 1981. Notes on the Tioba Hymn and Prayer. Maude Papers.
  • DAVIS, H. M., 1893. Letter to C. in C., Australian Station, 17.3.93. RNAS.
  • EASTMAN, G. H., 1959. Correspondence on the Tioba MS., 9.2.59. Maude Papers.
  • EITA, PROTESTANT ELDERS OF, n.d. "Moan rokon te Aro i Tabiteuea Meang iroun Dr Bingham." W. H. Geddes, personal communication, 1976.
  • FOREIGN OFFICE, 1894. Dispatch to Consul, Honolulu, 9.1.94. CO225/46. PRO.
  • GARSTANG, J., and ALFRED F. HICKING, 1881. Letter to H.B.M.s Consul, Samoa, 7.3.81. BCS Series 2, v.4. PRO.
  • GILBERT ISLANDS MISSION, 1873. Minutes of Annual General Meeting, 1873. HMCS.
  • —— 1881. Minutes of Annual General Meeting, 1881. HMCS.
  • HICKING, Alfred F., 1893. "Statement of Mr Hicking respecting Kapua, 7.6.93", in Thurston 1893.
  • HYDE, C. M. 1882. "Notes of Evidence given at the Commission of Foreign Missions Enquiry into reports on the connection of Kapu and Nalimu with the massacre on Tabiteuea in Sept. 1880." HMCS.
  • KAPU, W. B., 1876. Letter to M. A. Chamberlain, 26.4.76. HMCS.
  • —— n.d. Notes on Kapu's account of the Battle of Sept. 1880. HMCS.
  • LE HUNTE, J. R., 1883. "Report of Cruise in H.M.S. Espiegle, 1883." PRO.
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  • LERAY, J., 1893. Letter to High Commissioner on the Battle of Tewai and the plight of the south Tabiteueans, 7.7.93, in Thurston 1893.
  • MacDONALD, Barrie, 1969. Field notes on the Tabiteuean Civil War made in North and South Tabiteuea during 1969. Barrie Macdonald, personal communication, 1971.
  • MARRIOTT, J., 1883. Journal entry on a Visit to Nikunau, 20.9.83. LMS.
  • MAUDE, H. E., n.d. "The Evolution of Local Government in the Gilbert Islands." Maude Papers.
  • MAXWELL, W. H., 1881. "Report on Ellice, Gilbert, Marshall, and Caroline Islands." RNAS.
  • MEANS, J. O., 1882. Letter to A. O. Forbes, 14.7.82. ABCFM.
  • —— 1883. Letter to A. O. Forbes, 2.3.83. ABCFM.
  • MURDOCH, G. M., 1934. "The Bible at the Point of the Spear. A brief account of the Massacre in the early 80s on the islet of Tewai in the Tabiteuea Group, as related to G. M. Murdoch by some of the Old Men who were participants, and the circumstances which led up to it." Westbrook Papers.
  • NALIMU, H. B., 1879. "Parish Report of South Tabiteuea from June 1, 1878, to June 1, 1879". HMCS.
  • —— 1881. "Parish Report of Tabiteuea, 15.8.81." HMCS.
  • PHILLIPS, C., 1881. Journal entries on Visits to Nikunau, 12.10.81, and Onotoa, 15.10.81. LMS.
  • POGUE, J. F., 1869. "Hawaiian Board of Missions to Micronesia, Report of Delegate Rev. J. F. Pogue in 1869." HMCS.
  • POWELL, Thomas, 1879. Journal entry on a Visit to Nikunau, 26.10.79. LMS.
  • ROBINSON, M. P., 1892. Letter to H.B.M.s Consul, Honolulu, 14.11.92. PRO.
  • STRONG, E. E., 1882. Letter to A. O. Forbes, 13.4.82. ABCFM.
  • SWAYNE, C. R., 1895a. Despatch to High Commissioner, 1.7.95. PRO.
  • —— 1895b. Despatch to High Commissioner, 17.9.95. PRO.
  • TAYLOR, H. J., et al., 1881. Report to the Board of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, 27.8.81. HMCS.
  • TEATIA, et al., 1878. Petition to the President of the United States and the King of the Hawaiian Islands, 1.6.78. AH.
  • THURSTON, J. B., 1893. Despatch to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 25.8.93. CO225/42. PRO.
  • TRIPP, A. N., 1884. Report to W. M. Gibson, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hawaii, 17.6.84. AH.
  • TUNAI, 1893. "Statement made by Tunai on board H.M.S. Rapid, off Tabiteuea, on the 8th July, 1893", in Thurston 1893.
  • WOODFORD, C. M., 1884. "Journal of a Voyage from Suva, Fiji, to the Gilbert Islands and back. From March 4th to June 22nd, 1884." PRO.

Published Sources (including theses)

  • BARANIKO, Mikaere, et al., 1979. Kiribati: Aspects of History. Suva, Institute of Pacific Studies and Extension Services, University of the South Pacific, and Tarawa, Ministry of Education, Training and Culture, Republic of Kiribati.
  • BINGHAM, Hiram, Jr, 1868c. "Abstract of an Account of a Visit to the Gilbert
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  • Islands in 1868." Missionary Herald, 65: 130-2.
  • —— 1872b. "Visit to Nonouti." Missionary Herald, 68: 184.
  • BRAY, Isaiah, 1880. Letter on a Visit to Tabiteuea, Sept. 1880. Missionary Herald, 77: 60-1.
  • BRITTON, H., 1873. "The Pacific Labour Trade." The Argus (Melbourne), 10.11.73:6.
  • CRAWFORD, Leona and David, 1967. Missionary Adventures in the South Pacific. Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, Charles F. Tuttle Company.
  • DUPUIS, Commander, 1874. Letter dated 31.10.74. on H.M.S. Rosario's Visit to the Gilbert, Ellice and Marshall Islands in 1874. Sydney Mail, 27.3.75:399.
  • THE FRIEND, 1892. Issue for November.
  • GEDDES, W. H., 1975a. North Tabiteuea Report. Wellington, Department of Geography, Victoria University of Wellington.
  • ——1975b. "Tabiteuea North: its social and economic organisation." Ph.D. thesis. Wellington, Victoria University of Wellington.
  • —— 1977. "Social individualisation on Tabiteuea Atoll." Journal of the Polynesian Society, 86: 371-92.
  • GRIMBLE, Arthur, 1921. "Canoe Crests of the Gilbert Islands." Man, 21: 81-5.
  • LUOMALA, Katharine, 1953. "A Gilbertese Tradition of a Religious Massacre." Hawaiian Historical Society, Sixty-second Annual Report fo the year 1953.
  • MAUDE, H. E., 1963. The Evolution of the Gilbertese Boti. Memoir No. 35. Wellington, The Polynesian Society.
  • MISSIONARY HERALD, 1877. Report on Gilbert Islands Mission in issue for July.
  • —— 1881. Editorials in issues for July and September.
  • —— 1882. Editorial in issue for May.
  • MURDOCH, G. M., 1923. "Gilbert Islands Weapons and Armour." Journal of the Polynesian Society, 32: 174-5.
  • PATEMAN, May, 1942. Aia Karaki nikawai I-Tungaru. Beru, Gilbert Islands, London Mission Press.
  • PAALUHI, Z. S. K., 1888. New Laws for Tabiteuea proclaimed on 10.7.88. The Friend, 47(11): 88.
  • POGUE, J. F., 1870. Letter on Tabiteuean affairs, 15.11.70. Missionary Herald, 67: Feb.
  • POWELL, Thomas, 1878. Report of a Visit to Nikunau in 1878. London Missionary Society Chronicle, 1878: 199-200.
  • SABATIER, Ernest, 1977. Astride the Equator: an Account of the Gilbert Islands. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
  • THE TIMES, 1881. Issue for 22.7.81.
1   Bingham 1876, 1878; Dupuis 1878; Britton 1873.
2   Bingham 1868a. Kapu and Nalimu were called Kabu and Nanim by the Gilbertese.
3   Bingham 1868b.
4   Bingham 1869; Le Hunte 1883; Maude n.d.; Geddes 1977:379.
5   Pogue 1869, 1871. The totals of 3,000, 1,800, and 1,000 appear to be overestimated.
6   Colcord 1875.
7   Luomala 1953:20; Alexander 1872.
8   Alexander 1872; Gilbert Islands Mission 1873.
9   Kapu 1876; Teatia et al. 1878.
10   Teatia et al. 1878; Tripp 1884.
11   Bingham 1868b; Macdonald 1969. The evidence appears to be conclusive that Tanako was a Tabiteuean, and not a Tahitian as informants told Geddes (Geddes 1975a: 17), though it is possible that Tanako obtained his ideas for the Feather Cult when in Samoa, where he may have worked before he went to Fiji. For the Gilbertese kainga see Maude 1963: 28-34.
12   Bingham 1868b; Pogue 1869. Luomala was told by a former disciple that the routine of worship was dependent on the phases of the moon. (Katharine Luomala, personal communication, 1981.)
13   Macdonald 1969.
14   Bingham 1872a, 1872b.
15   Powell 1878.
16   Phillips 1881; Marriott 1883.
17   Bingham 1868b; Alexander 1872. The Tioba or Buraeniman cult is an interesting example of the intermediate or transition religious movements which, like Siovili in Samoa, served to bridge the period between the decay of indigenous beliefs in the face of European technological, and therefore presumed religious, superiority and the establishment of European-style Christianity. It borrowed its symbols from both religions: the cross from Christianity and the feathers from Gilbertese symbolism, as seen e.g. in their canoe crests (Grimble 1921: 81-5). Its thaumaturgical practice may have come from Gilbertese beliefs or Catholic example (Sabatier 1977: 180) or from both; its hymnody was in form Christian but mixed with Gilbertese magical concepts; its spirit mediumship and emphasis on devotional offerings was essentially Gilbertese; while its latitudinarian toleration of dancing, feasting, and smoking was probably a response to Protestant puritanism. So far as one knows, it was not chiliastic.
18   Nalimu 1879; Macdonald 1969.
19   Maxwell 1881; for nenebo see Maude 1963: 47, Baraniko et al. 1979: 74-5.
20   Murdoch 1923: 174-5.
21   Macdonald 1969.
22   Nalimu 1879; Ah Nim et al. 1880, where the battle is wrongly said to have occurred in May. Murdoch 1934 confirms the firing of the Tanaeang maneaba and adjacent houses.
23   Bingham 1880a, quoting the Rev. L. Lyons.
24   Bingham 1880b; Kapu n.d.
25   Hicking 1893. There are 23 main printed or manuscript accounts of the battle between North and South Tabiteuea, with its causes and consequences, of which 9 were written or dictated by persons present at the fight or on Tabiteuea at the time, 9 are based on evidence given by persons who were present and 5 are transcripts or redactions of oral tradition. Of these 18 are in manuscript and 5 at least partly in print.
26   Evidence of Kapu, Nalimu and Tekaria in Hyde 1882; Luomala 1953: 22-3, Baraniko et al. 1979: 81.
27   Hicking 1893. Barabatu is the name of the islet on which the Aiwa district maneaba stood in pre-Protectorate times.
28   Evidence of Tekaria in Hyde 1882; Murdoch 1934; Luomala 1953: 24; Macdonald 1969. The battle hymn is a translation of H. E. Matthew's "The Sunday School Army"—Baraniko et al. 1979: 79.
29   Murdoch 1934.
30   Murdoch 1934; Luomala 1953: 23-4; Baraniko et al. 1979: 82.
31   Baraniko et al. 1979: 82.
32   Evidence of Nalimu and Tekaria in Hyde 1882; Baraniko et al. 1979: 83; Luomala 1953: 24.
33   Taylor et al. 1881.
34   Nalimu 1881; evidence of Tekaria in Hyde 1882. According to a census of Tabiteuea taken by Kapa on his return in 1878, the population was 4,538, the decrease from a previous estimate of 6,170 being attributed largely to the labour trade (Garstang estimated that by 1881 about 3,000 had been recruited for Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii and New Caledonia). Murdoch's investigation into the battle of Tewai indicated that the southerners were outnumbered 3 to 1 and, if we assume that the proportion of those who fought to the total population was the same on both sides, the South Tabiteueans would therefore have numbered about 1,134. This north-south ratio of 75:25 is compatible with that of 77:23 in the 1947 census (the first to give totals by villages), by which time the south might be expected to have recovered its population loss. In view of the observed, though not quantified, numbers of men, women and children who survived the massacre, we consider that the estimate of 600 dead (or 53% of the estimated southern population) made by Taylor and his colleagues, after visiting the battlefield and questioning the participants on both sides, is probably the best we have—Bingham 1879, Missionary Herald 1877: 137; Taylor et al. 1881.
35   Taylor et al. 1881; evidence of Taylor in Hyde 1882; Tunai 1893.
36   Taylor et al. 1881; evidence of Kapu and Nalimu in Hyde 1882. That Kapu should be blamed by most Tabiteueans today for instigating the war against the south and Nalimu held to be the culprit by the Mission is probably due to the greater finesse with which he concealed his part in the affair and the fact that he made no overt move in support which could not be explained away if necessary. Nalimu, on the other hand, was not only conspicuously present on or near the battlefield but also less careful to voice his disapprobation of the whole affair. Indeed, he was said by Taylor to have expressed the opinion that there was only one way to quiet the troubles on Abaiang and Tarawa "and that was to subdue the pagans in battle as they had done on Tabiteuea", though when faced with dismissal he claimed to have been misunderstood.—Bray 1881; Bingham 1882.
37   Kapu n.d.; evidence of Kapu in Hyde 1882.
38   C.R. Swayne, the first Resident Commissioner, visited South Tabiteuea in 1895 to investigate land complaints. He found that the northerners had already restored two lands to each able-bodied male survivor of the massacre, but that they still retained a large number. As the population had increased and was still increasing Swayne considered that the existing land-holdings were becoming insufficient, despite this reversion, and recommended to the northern Kaubure that the remainder should now be returned to prevent further ill feeling between north and south, since "in holding these lands they had not followed the prevailing custom of the Group".
When Swayne returned to Tabiteuea two months later he found, to his surprise and pleasure, that the restoration of the southern lands had been considered at a full meeting of island Old Men and that it was agreed that all holdings taken as a result of the 1880 war should now be returned. "I had scarcely hoped", he comments, "that the people of the northern districts would have after fifteen years of occupation so willingly restored their lands. More than fifteen hundred distinct holdings of cocoanut lands are now placed in the possession of the southern Maneaba. A number of the original owners of these lands are in Fiji driven out by semi starvation." When the Lands Commission began the lands settlement of Tabiteuea in 1950 the Old Men of the combined atoll maneaba decided, at the suggestion of the southern elders, against any further claims being considered if based on transfers made as a result of the war, as these would probably be unjustified and unprovable at this late date and could result in reactivating old enmities.—Swayne 1895a, 1895b; Baraniko et al. 1979: 84-5.
39   Woodford 1884.
40   Bray 1871; Strong 1882.
41   Missionary Herald 1881; The Times 1881.
42   Gilbert Islands Mission 1881.
43   Taylor et al. 1881.
44   Bingham 1882. Apart from making the questionable assertion that not one in a hundred Gilbertese spoke the truth unless it was to his advantage, the committee did not attempt to explain how different groups of Tabiteueans on separate occasions could have concocted, independently, on the spur of the moment and in detail, substantially the same story.
45   Bingham 1882; Strong 1882; Clark 1882; Missionary Herald 1883; Mears 1882, 1883.
46   Maxwell 1881; Bray 1885; evidence of Kapu in Hyde 1882; Thurston 1893; Tunai 1893; Luomala 1953: 21.
47   Paaluhi 1888: 88.
48   Macdonald 1969.
49   Sabatier 1977: 134, 198-200. The warship was the Fabert (Commander Bernier), which called at Nonouti, Nikunau and Butaritari in support of the Catholic Mission.
50   Davis 1893.
51   Robinson 1892. In Hawaii Kapu claimed that he had been deported at the instigation of "Romish priests against whom he had spoken at the Sabbath School celebration", and there was some sympathy for his plight in Protestant circles: "We have yet to learn", said the Friend, "that he has wilfully acted an unchristian part, or proved himself disloyal to the people and land of his adoption".—The Friend 1892. Missionary apologetics continue to blame the South Tabiteueans for the war: "One of the Hawaiian missionaries had become so exasperated at the depredations made on his church and people by the anti-missionary party that he lost all sight of the principle that Christians should not fight with war weapons".—Crawford 1967: 227.
52   Bramston 1892; Thurston 1893.
53   Foreign Office 1894.
54   Baraniko et al. 1979: 85.
55   Reid Cowell is the author of The Structure of Gilbertese (Beru, Rongorongo Press, 1951) and Simplified Gilbertese Grammar (Tarawa, Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, 1964). His retranscribed Gilbertese version, with notes on the text and translation, is available on request from the authors.