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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

Lower Cook Group

Lower Cook Group

The Cook Islands proper, consisting of the volcanic islands of Rarotonga, Mangaia, Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro, and Aitutaki with the small coral atoll of Manuae, lie southwest of the Society Islands on the sea route to New Zealand. The islands have fringing coral reefs with no deep outer lagoons or good boat passages through the encircling reef. The valleys and coastal flats are fertile, and suitable timber for canoes was fair in quantity. Mangaia, Atiu, and Mauke have raised walls of coral, termed makatea, a varying distance in from the coast line, due to volcanic upheaval of the islands.

The definite settlement of Rarotonga was by the ancestors Tangiia and Karika, in about the middle of the thirteenth century. Aitutaki appears to have been settled at an earlier period by Ru. Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro have similar traditions of settlement by ancestors from whom the chiefly families claim descent. Mangaia differs in having a mythical origin in which the island emerged from the underworld with the ancestors of the present people upon it. Traditions and genealogies indicate that the islands were settled from the Society Islands, principally Tahiti. All the cultivable food plants were introduced, but the distribution of domestic animals varies, Aitutaki and Mangaia not having the pig. The tribal system and social organization indicate derivation from a central Polynesian pattern, as does the religion with respect to gods, temples, and ritual. In material culture, differences due to local development are present and the island of Mangaia differs much from the others in its arts and crafts.

Captain James Cook discovered Manuae in 1773 and named it Hervey Island, a name which was subsequently applied to the whole group and later changed officially to the Cook Islands. Cook also discovered Mangaia and Atiu in 1777. Bligh discovered Aitutaki in 1789. The most important island, Rarotonga, was not officially discovered until 1823, when it was visited by the missionary John Williams, who also visited Mauke. Native traditions indicate that Rarotonga was visited before Williams, when a ship carried off some of the inhabitants to Aitutaki. Byron called in at Mauke in 1825 and Belcher at Rarotonga in 1840.

The London Missionary Society established a station at Aitutaki and later at Mangaia and Rarotonga. When the people became converted to Christianity, they handed over many of their religious symbols to the missionary and their valuable collection is now in the British Museum. John Williams made various page 93visits to the group, and his work on "Missionary Enterprises" contains valuable ethnological information. The Reverend W. W. Gill, who was stationed at Mangaia, wrote several works on the islands which supply good source material. A work by the Reverend Aaron Buzacott, who was stationed at Rarotonga, describes the mission but is poor as regards native information.

Of Government officials, Frederick J. Moss wrote a general work, Lieutenant Colonel Gudgeon contributed some interesting articles to the Journal of the Polynesian Society, and Stephen Savage compiled an exhaustive dictionary, which has not yet been published. I visited the islands in 1926 under the auspices of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research, which published my work on the material culture of Aitutaki.

Bishop Museum published a vocabulary of the Mangaian language by F. W. Christian and the Diary of Andrew Bloxam, the naturalist with Byron on the Blonde (1824-1825). The Museum also sent me on a field expedition in 1929, when all the islands in the group were visited and measurements taken of the people. Two reports on the lower group were published, one on the arts and crafts containing much information derived from museum material in Europe and America. The anthropometrical observations were worked up by H. L. Shapiro.