Hakahau Bay, Ua Pou, Marquesas Islands
The Marquesas are a chain of ten large mountainous islands and some islets in east-central Polynesia. Mendana, who discovered the southern Marquesas in 1595, named them Las Islas de Marquesas de Mendoza, after the wife of the Viceroy of Peru. France has maintained political control since 1832.Two CILAMS’ council members have just returned from an excursion through the six inhabited islands of the Marquesas. With the memory of the visit still fresh in their minds, it seems an apt moment to reflect on this group of islands, which has many cultural and historical links with the Cook Islands. In a later blog, we will discuss the few Marquesan pieces in our museum collection.
Not only do we share linguistic similarities (particularly Rarotongan), there are also a number of ancient legends and chants in some of the islands of the Cook group, which refer to ’Iva (Marquesas) and the eastern direction (‘itinga ra’, towards the sunrise), as the place from which our ancestors came to settle these islands.
Ancient connections to the Cook Islands
There are a number of legends about Rarotonga, which concern visits by people from ’Iva. Tangaroa and Aumake came from ’Iva for a visit around 450 AD. Aumake chopped the hill overlooking Arorangi, Raemaru, in half. Later, a man called Ngare and a woman called Toko also came from ’Iva – Ngare gave his name to a stream in Arorangi, Vai-o-ngare. Toko named the passage through the reef at Arorangi, Vaitoke. In the ninth century two canoes arrived – one with a man called Ata-i-te-kura from ’Iva and one from Haapai (Tonga) with two brothers.
A legend from Puaikura tells the story of Rau Mataiapo and his son, who went to ‘Iva to obtain tattoo patterns (using highly prized kura feathers in exchange), but were killed for their efforts. His widow’s tears are said to have filled the ground and turned into a continuous spring named Vai-o-kura. About 1050, Toi of ’Iva built Rarotonga’s back-road, called Te Aranui o Toi (now called Ara-metua), which once completely encircled the island. It was paved for about two thirds of its length with flat volcanic stones. Its width was about 5-7 metres. Most of the road is still in use today, though it’s now tar-sealed.
The links weren’t just one way. Legends suggest that Rarotonga was well known to other islands in ancient Polynesia as a source of kura (red lorikeet) feathers. Aka (Rata) from the Marquesas lost up to 100 of the 140 men he travelled with in a perilous voyage to Rarotonga (A’otona) to get kura feathers. He is said to have obtained enough feathers to pay back the families of the deceased when he returned home.
In the saga of the discovery of Ma’uke island in the Cooks, there are chants which refer to ’Iva.
Nuku-ta’a-roa ki-’Avaiki, the ta’unga (priest), while dedicating the child, Uke, son of the chief, Tangaroa-nui, utters:
E ariki reia, e ariki puareia ki ’Iva.
A chief with talisman necklace, a chief with flower necklace at ’Iva.
In the same story, Ma’uke’s discoverer, Uke, says to an enemy, whom he encounters on his voyage of discovery:
Ake koe e te tuna o Vaerota e porutu vave mai. Ka ’ iri’iri katoa atu au iaku kia kite koe. Ko au ko Uke Ariki, e tamaiti na Tangaroa-nui, e noo i te enua o te tane, koia taku pito enua ko Avaiki.
Do not make noise yet, you eel of Vaerota. I will also introduce myself so you will know who I am. I am Uke Ariki, the son of Tangaroa-nui living in the land of men, which is my line of birth in ’Avaiki.
The references to the Marquesas, as in ‘’Iva’, and the ‘land of men’ (the name of the Marquesans for their islands – Henua Enana, Land of Men), is evident throughout the story.
Part II next week.