Volume 43 1934 > Volume 43, No. 170 > Traditions of Aitutaki, Cook Islands, by Drury Low, p 73-84
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- 73

ABOUT twenty-six generations ago, on an island far to the north and east of here, lived a young Maori ariki. He was the eldest son of the ariki, or supreme chief, of that island. The name of that group of islands was Avaiki, and the name of the young ariki was Te Erui, and the name of the island on which he lived was Kuporu; this was not a large island but it had a big lagoon, and the fishing there was good.

This island was noted for its canoes, and the people of the island were in the habit of making voyages in them to other islands, some of which were close at hand, while others took some days to reach. Sometimes they stayed away on these visits for months at a time.

On all these voyages the young ariki Te Erui was the leader, and always took the steering-paddle of the leading canoe. On Kuporu he was recognized as the best - 74 of all the young canoe-men. He was also strong and fearless, and skilled in the art of canoe-making.

On the island of Kuporu in normal seasons food was plentiful, but the island was becoming over-populated owing to a long reign of wise chiefs, who had put down all tribal fighting, and had forbidden their young men to go raiding in their canoes to other islands. Soon after returning home from a long visit to a distant island Te Erui asked permission of his father to build a new double-canoe and in it to make a long voyage to the south and west in search of new islands, as for many years there had been rumours of uninhabited land in that quarter. At first the father would not listen to this, fearing to lose his son, as well as doubting the existence of any such islands.

But as time went on and his son persisted he at last gave his consent, first making Te Erui promise to spend a specified number of days at sea in search of land, and failing his finding land within the time to return to Kuporu.

If, on the other hand, he discovered a suitable uninhabited island, he was to return when rested to Kuporu and take back with him as many of his own people as could live on the new island. The ariki pointed out that Kuporu was already over-populated, and should they get dry seasons it would go hard with them. Te Erui readily promised to do all his father asked. During the next few days a start was made on the new canoes; two large tamanu trees were chosen as suitable for making the canoes. The felling of these two trees took over two weeks; it was done by heating stones close to where the trees were growing, and when red hot the stones were placed around the trunk of the tree level with the ground; when the stones got cold they were replaced with fresh ones. In this way, helped out with their stone axes, the trees were at last felled. The day the last tree fell was given over to rest and feasting, and the following day a start was made to shape the canoes. This, with the help of all the men on the island skilled in canoe-making, took over half a year. When at last they were completed, all the island turned out and helped drag them down to the lagoon-side. Masts and sails were now made. This done, the canoe was tried out in the lagoon, Te Erui taking the steering paddle expressing himself as pleased with her sailing and - 75 handling. A meeting of all the island was then called by the old ariki to arrange for the gathering of food for the coming voyage. Te Erui named his new canoe Viripomoetakauri, and one of the masts he named Tuterangimarama; this class of double-canoe was called katea. At this meeting the taunga (wise man) of the tribe warned Te Erui against starting on his voyage. Te Erui would not heed this warning, saying that it was he who was to steer the canoe and that he was not afraid. His father was also against his leaving. In vain they tried to persuade Te Erui to put off his voyage till later, but Te Erui would not listen and was in a hurry to be gone, so food was gathered consisting of dried fish and dried paua (shell fish), kuru (bread fruit), taro, coconuts, and puraka. The water was carried in bamboos, gourds, and also in coconuts. When food and water were ready another meeting was called, and at this meeting Te Erui was made a high chief, and he also chose the men to go with him as his crew, among them his three younger brothers whose names were Matareka, Tavi, and Tava. The crew were all chosen for their strength as well as for their skill as canoe-men, and were men of proved courage. Next morning the food and water were carefully stowed in the canoe, and leave was taken of all friends and relatives. The farewell was a sad one, and the old ariki was overcome with grief. He told them all to remember their promises and not to disgrace him.

Sails were now set and the canoe headed for the passage; this passed, sails were trimmed and the canoe put before the wind, Te Erui took the steering paddle, and Matareka went up into the bows to act as pilot. The first day at sea the wind was strong and fair and the canoe made good way, but in the night the wind grew stronger, and when morning dawned the sun rose red and threatening, the sky was overcast, and the sea grew very rough. All the morning the wind increased in strength and the seas in size and by mid-day it was blowing a gale. In the afternoon the wind increased and the sea was still rougher. Fearing a hurricane Te Erui's brothers begged him to turn back before it was too late, but to this Te Erui would not agree, saying the canoe would weather the storm. Te Erui carried on till late in the afternoon, when a sudden gust carried away one mast, and both sails were torn. - 76 Te Erui was now forced to save as much of his sail as possible. The broken mast was also saved and lashed to the canoe which was then brought head on to the wind, and an attempt made to paddle her back to Kuporu. All night the brothers paddled, keeping the canoes head on to the seas, and when morning dawned the wind and sea were seen to be going down. About mid-day the brothers commenced repairing the balance of the sail. The broken mast was also lashed together again; short as it was it served for the sail that was left. As darkness set in the sail was once more hoisted and a start was made homeward. All night the brothers took turns at steering and sleeping. The morning dawned clear and the wind veered a little, enabling the canoe to make better headway. Seven days and nights were spent in this way but as the weather was fine Te Erui was sure of making the land. On the eighth morning land was sighted, and they were soon close enough to make sure that it was Kuporu. Late that afternoon the canoe was once more safely through the passage and soon reached the shore where all the people, having seen it approaching, had been waiting for some time. The chief was overjoyed at seeing his sons again, and the canoe was quickly brought ashore. The four brothers were taken home and fed and made much of, then a meeting of all the leading people was called. The taunga's advice was sought, and he was asked why the canoe had met such bad weather and had been nearly lost. He told them that it was on account of the name Te Erui had given the canoe; the name of the mast was also wrong.

The old ariki was very much against his sons going to sea again, but said that if they insisted he would have another new canoe made for them, hoping in this way to keep them with him for some time. Te Erui, however, would not agree, saying that the canoe had proved herself strong and a good sailer. In this the taunga sided with Te Erui, saying that if he named or rather renamed the canoe and masts the canoe would be safe and they would meet with no more bad weather at sea. Te Erui agreed, and the old ariki had to be satisfied. Next morning everybody went to the beach where the taunga named the canoe Rangi-pai-uta, Rangi-pai-tai; the two masts he named Tangaroa and Rongo after the two gods; the fore-stay for - 77 the mast he named Ikumanavenave-mua and the back-stay he named Ikumanavenave-muri; the wooden bailer he named Auaumarorenge, and the sail he named Ra. Three days were spent on the island while new sails were made and a new mast fitted. The canoe was repaired again and another supply of food and water placed on board. As before all were there to see them start. Again the four brothers took their places. Once more on reaching the sea Te Erui took the paddle and Matareka acted as pilot. This time the canoe met fair winds and good weather and the sea was smooth. Nine days and nights were spent at sea but early on the morning of the tenth day land was sighted a little to the westward of the canoe. The course was altered to bring the land ahead. Late in the afternoon the canoe was close in to the reef and a number of small islands were seen, also a large lagoon, and a little further on the mainland. Te Erui kept the canoe close in to the reef, telling Matareka, who was acting pilot, to keep a good look out for a suitable passage into the lagoon, as he did not want to spend the night at sea. Shortly after this smoke was noticed coming from the mainland, though at first Te Erui and his brothers had thought the land uninhabited. The canoe sailed on round the island until they came to the north-west side where a good passage was noticed. Here Te Erui had the sails taken in and as these were lowered he and his brothers saw two men who appeared to be fishing on the reef. The canoe was paddled toward the passage, and was soon safe inside the lagoon. One of the men fishing on the reef came over close to the canoe. He was Tupa, a son of Ru. Te Erui asked his permission to go ashore, but Tupa began to threaten Te Erui and refused to allow him to make for the shore. He told Te Erui that beyond was the open sea and he must turn his canoe about and go back and look for a land for himself. This made Te Erui very angry and he shouted, “You do not know to whom you are talking. I am Te Erui ariki from Avaiki, and a toa.” With that he leapt out of his canoe, which was still in shallow water near the reef, and taking hold of Tupa quickly killed him. Just inside the passage they met the other fisherman, and again Te Erui asked permission to go ashore. This man's name was Mokoroa. He also told them that he was a son of Ru - 78 who owned the island, and that Te Erui and his brothers could not go ashore but must turn back and again put to sea and go in search of a land for themselves. This made Te Erui very angry, and to Mokoroa he shouted, “Don't you know that I am Te Erui, ariki from Avaiki, a famous toa?” Then he jumped out of the canoe and killed Mokoroa also. When Mokoroa was dead Te Erui ripped out his stomach, and throwing the entrails into the harbour or passage, named the place Ngakau. He then tore out Mokoroa's tongue and threw it into the other side of the passage which he named Arero. Taking Mokoroa's body in the canoe they paddled in towards the land, but Te Erui soon stopped the canoe, and cutting off one of Mokoroa's legs threw it into the lagoon, naming this place Te Turio-o-Mokoroa. To this day these names are still known and used. Again they paddled toward the shore and the place where they landed Te Erui named Kakeute-rangi. That night the brothers slept on the beach close to the canoe, fearing that they might be surprised and set upon for the killing of Tupa and Mokoroa. Next morning on going a little way inland Te Erui and his brothers could see no signs of people, houses, or clearings. They quickly set to work to get some food, consisting of crabs and some shellfish, from the lagoon. After having eaten, Te Erui and his brothers began to make Te Erui's marae. A suitable place was chosen on a high piece of land close by. This work was called au te marae, meaning ‘marking off a piece of land.’ As a rule the land was marked off with stones, and in many of the bigger marae they were paved with flat stones. These marae would as a rule be used as a place for praying to their gods, and all important meetings, such as wars, or battles, or fighting, would be held on them. Sometimes when a near relative was killed in battle the enemy who had killed him would be a marked man. If this man were later killed by the victim's friends and family, his head would be brought to the marae, and there eaten by them as a sign of their anger, and also with the idea of giving them added power and strength in future battles. The brothers completed the marae that day, and Te Erui named it Kakeu-te-rangi, which name it still bears. That night the party returned to the beach and slept near their canoe. On the second morning they arose early and - 79 gathering some food made a hasty meal. Just as they were finishing it a man was seen approaching from the beach. He came close and called out, telling them that he was a son of Ru whose island this was, and asking who they were and whence they came. Te Erui replied saying that he was Te Erui, ariki from Avaiki, a famous toa, and that with him were his three brothers Matareka, Tavi, and Tava, who also were men strong in battle. Here Te Erui pointed to the canoe and said, “This is our canoe called Rangi-pai-ta, Rangi-pai-uta, and in it we came from our home in Kuporu, where our father is chief of all.” To this Ru's son answered, “I am named Utataki-enua-o-Ruki-te-moana and I am Ru's first born son.” He then told them that he had come at his father's request to take Te Erui and his brothers to Ru, who had heard of their arrival and waited for them at his house some distance away. Te Erui told him to lead the way, and they would follow. A short distance along the beach they turned off into the bush and soon arrived in sight of the home, which was built on the top of a small hill. Here the brothers met Ru with his four wives, and two daughters named Araau and Pitoroa. The brothers were quick to notice the absence of men, while there were many women. Ru made them welcome and had food placed before them. After having eaten Ru asked them who they were and whence they came. Te Erui answered him and in turn questioned Ru. Ru told them who he was, saying that he and his four brothers, named Taiteraiva, Taiteravaru, Rutakina, and Virituamaroa, his four wives, named Te Papa-kura, Ruiaai, Kipapa-eitara, Ararau-enua, and twenty tapairu had arrived there in a canoe named Ngapuariki from Tupuaki. Ru told Te Erui that he had only three sons, the first-born named Utataki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana, the second Tupa, and the third Mokoroa. Te Erui then told Ru that he had only one son left, as on their arrival two days ago Tupa and Mokoroa had refused to allow them to come ashore, and Te Erui had killed them both. On hearing this Ru and his wives were very much upset and Ru said that if he were only Te Erui's age, or if his brothers were still with him on the island, it would go hard with Te Erui and his brothers. Te Erui laughed and told Ru to leave fighting and talk of fighting to younger and stronger men. He also - 80 told Ru that he had yet to meet his equal in battle. Ru, realizing that he was no match for the younger and stronger man, and that the island was big, and they were in need of men, soon decided to keep peace. Te Erui and his brothers stayed that night with Ru but early next morning returned to the marae Kakeu-te-rangi and started to build their new homes nearby. They remained at this place only about three months, however, as they soon chose a much more suitable site to which they then moved and where Te Erui at once built a new marae naming it Aurupe-te-rangi, still known to-day by that name. Having completed the marae they started to build a small settlement at a place which Te Erui called Ureia, still known as such. Here Te Erui lived until the new houses were built and then to his two brothers Tavi and Tava he gave the new settlement, while he and Matareka moved to another place about a mile to the south. This was situated on higher ground and nearer to Ru's settlement. Here he built another marae which he named Reureu-i-te-mata-o-Te Erui-ariki, meaning ‘this represents the eyes of Te Erui ariki.' Soon after this Te Erui took as his wife Ru's daughter Pitoroa, who was very beautiful, and about this time his three brothers married each a tamaine tapairu. By his wife Pitoroa Te Erui had one child, a boy whom he named Taruia. Te Erui was now ariki of the island. As Ru was not of royal family he was content to let Te Erui become ariki and do all the work. When Taruia had grown into a big boy and was old enough to go out fishing, his grandfather, Ru, slowly sickened and died. At his death the whole island was overcome with sorrow, as Ru was very much loved. His four wives were still alive. When Taruia had grown into a young man his father Te Erui was taken ill and died very suddenly, and on his death Taruia was made ariki. By this time the population of the island was increasing. All Te Erui's brothers had large families. For the first few years of Taruia's chieftainship things were quiet and peaceful, Taruia himself being a strong quiet man. One day word was brought to Taruia that another canoe had landed on the eastern side of the island, and only one man had come in it. Taruia asked who he was and whence he had come, but could learn very little about him beyond the fact that he was a young man, very tall, - 81 powerful, and good to look upon. He was living in a settlement named Vaitupa on the other side of the island. Some years later one of Taruia's people came running to him one day with a canoe made of coconut leaves, which he had picked up as it was sailing along in the lagoon close to the beach. He had never before seen anything like it. Taruia took it from him and examined it carefully, questioning the finder as to where it had come from. When given all particulars Taruia told those gathered about him that it was a sign that on the island was another ariki. “This,” he said, “is a sign from one ariki to another. Considering where it was found and the direction of the wind, it must have come from Ruatea. Go there quickly and if you find a strange man bring him to me.” The man at once set off and when he reached Ruatea found a strange man sitting down close to the beach. He told the stranger that he had been sent to bring him to Taruia and they returned together. Taruia then asked the stranger who he was, whence he came, and what he was doing on the island. He replied that he was Ruatapu the ariki and he was from Taputapuatea, supposed to be the old name of Ra'iatea, and that he, Ruatapu, was on a voyage to visit new islands. This pleased Taruia, who insisted upon Ruatapu making his home with him, saying that two ariki should live together. Taruia then called for food for Ruatapu who agreed to live with Taruia.

For many months Ruatapu lived with Taruia, and they became great friends. They were always trying out games of skill and strength which were always won by Ruatapu. Taruia's people liked Rautapu as he told them of other islands and other people, and it amused them to see how easily he could beat Taruia in trials of skill and strength. At nights Ruatapu used to tell Taruia of other islands, and of the beautiful women to be found on some of them, saying that there were no women like them on Utataki; he also told of women who were very light in colour. At last Taruia begged Ruatapu to take him to one of the other islands to see them. Ruatapu then proposed that they build two new canoes, one for each, in which they would set out to visit all the other islands so that Taruia might see for himself all the handsome women. To this Taruia agreed, and also agreed to a race to see who could - 82 build his canoe first. Work was commenced on both canoes next day, each ariki having his own followers to help him. Ruatapu as usual won the race, and had his canoe brought out from the bush and carried down to the lagoon. That night Ruatapu told Taruia that he intended to leave in the morning for Rarotonga as the wind was favourable. Taruia asked him to wait for two more days as his canoe was nearly finished. Ruatapu agreed and two days later Taruia's canoe was ready for sea. But food for the voyage was not yet stowed, and as this was being brought down to the canoe Ruatapu jumped into his canoe and as he was leaving joked with Taruia telling him he would be waiting in Rarotonga to meet Taruia on his arrival. With that he sailed away and was soon out of sight. Taruia left about two hours later. He had named Ruatapu's new canoe Te Atua-apaipai, meaning ‘the gods will take his canoe where he wants to go’ When some mile away from land Ruatapu put down his sail and waited for Taruia's canoe to come in sight. He then purposely upset his canoe and waited till Taruia came close to him when he called out, “My friend come and help me right my canoe.” On hearing this Taruia laughed and said, “My friend I told you to wait for me but you would not, but laughed and said you would be waiting for me on the beach in Rarotonga. I am now going on alone and from there will call for you to come.” Then he sailed on alone. As soon as he was out of sight Ruatapu quickly righted his canoe, bailed out the water, put up his sail and was soon on his way back to the island, amused to see how easily he had duped Taruia and got rid of him. Arrived on shore he went straight to Taruia's house and next morning called a meeting of all Taruia's people. He explained to them that soon after leaving the island he struck big seas which swamped his canoe and he had decided to turn back. He said he did not know what had become of Taruia, or whether he was still alive. After talking things over amongst themselves for some days, some of the people who were against Taruia suggested that Taruia might now be dead and it would be as well to make Ruatapu ariki lest he should decide to sail away to some other island and they would be left without an ariki. The people agreed, and - 83 three days later Ruatapu was made ariki of Utataki-enua-o-Ru.

In the meantime Taruia had arrived safely at Rarotonga, and was made much of. There he waited some weeks for Ruatapu to arrive, and when he did not appear began to suspect that he himself had fallen into a trap and that Ruatapu was now ariki in his stead. He invited a number of his new friends, especially those noted as toa, to go back with him to Utataki-enua-o-Ru. When all was ready Taruia and his new followers set sail. When they arrived off the island of Utataki-enua-o-Ru they were seen by the people on shore, and Ruatapu was soon informed that some canoes were approaching the island. As soon as Ruatapu saw the canoes he knew that Taruia was arriving with a war-party. He proposed that his people follow him and give battle to the oncoming canoes just outside the main passage and thus prevent them landing. This they decided to do, fearing that if Taruia again came into power, supported too by strangers, it would go hard with them all. Ruatapu led them out and awaited the arrival of the canoes off the passage, the place where the fight took place being now called Ruai-kakau. Taruia's followers had not expected to fight, much less fight at sea, and therefore fought badly and were soon beaten off. Seeing most of his followers killed and their canoes upset Taruia came close in and called out, Ko au teia ko Taruia maki tonu ariki ki Avarua, meaning “This is I Taruia the ariki who went to Rarotonga.” Ruatapu answered, Taruia maki tona ariki ki Avarua poatu papa ka riro ke, meaning “Taruia, ariki, your chieftainship I have taken from you.” The few of Taruia's followers who were left with him in his canoe then ceased fighting, and Taruia headed his canoe northward. They sailed on eventually reaching an island named Mangarongaro, now known as Penrhyn. This voyage, even with good weather all the way, took nearly three weeks, and they arrived there very weak and exhausted for want of food. The passage they sailed through from the sea into the lagoon Taruia named after himself, Taruia-ariki, still known by that name to-day. On reaching the shore Taruia and his followers were welcomed by the people of Mangarongaro and were kindly treated. Here they remained. Taruia took as a wife a woman - 84 named Rakoa by whom he had a child, a boy named Ruatitau, who, when he became a man married a woman named Toua. Two children were born to them, the first a boy named Uaapu, the second a boy named Roaina. When Uaapu grew up he had a canoe built for him and when it was finished had it loaded with food and water. He then set out alone for the land of his fathers, Utataki-enua-o-Ru. He struck good weather during part of the voyage, good winds and smooth seas, but when about halfway he ran into heavy rain squalls which lasted two days. Fifteen days Uaapu spent at sea before reaching Utataki-enua-o-Ru. On his arrival he was met by a number of people, and when he told them who he was and where he had come from, he was made welcome by his own relatives and taken to live with them in the settlement of Reureu-te-mata-o-Te Erui. Here he was treated as one of themselves. Not yet was he given any rank of standing or importance owing to his being of mixed blood. Soon after his arrival Uaapu took as a wife, a woman named Auariki, and they had a son whom they named Uri. He, in turn, when he grew to manhood, married a woman named Utiki. They had a son whom they named Ranginui. Now Ranginui's mother, Utiki, was of the royal family, and at her death it was decided to make Ranginui ariki of Reureu as he was really of the royal family on both sides. After many meetings and much talk Ranginui was eventually elected Te Urukura-ariki, he being the first of that line to be so elected. At the present time the family are still ariki (which may be supreme chiefs or chiefesses) of Reureu, a woman, Teurukura-ariki, being the head of her race.

(The marae made by Te Erui and named by him Reureu-i-te-mata-o-Te Erui-ariki was very well made, and can still easily be traced. Some of the stone seats are also still to be seen.)

1   Since the name of the island is now Aitutaki, it would seem as though the name in the title of this article should be spelt Ututaki …, not Utataki…. The following quotation from Te Rangi Hiroa (The Material Culture of the Cook Islands, 1927, p. xix), however, makes the reason for the spelling clear: “The island was named Utataki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana. The name was derived from utauta, a cargo, and taki, to lead. It refers to Ru leading the valuable human cargo over the sea. Another name given to the island is Ararau-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana. Ararau is to search for land at sea with a canoe, and the name applied to the island refers to Ru's search on the ocean. The first name was shortened to Aitutaki, and the second to Araura Araura should be spelt Arahura, and it is difficult to see how it is connected with ararau. The meaning of ararau is significant of a period when many voyages of discovery were undertaken….”