Follow the Right Star
Follow the Right Star
About 300 or 400 years ago the people of Hao set off in a canoe named Tenati to visit an island named Manuagi. Normally no one During their journey two groups on the canoe got into an argument. One group thought that they would reach Manuagi by following the path of a certain star. The other group thought that they should follow a different path. One of the groups won the argument.
But it was the group that wished to follow the wrong star. Because of this they never reached the Manuagi. Instead, they wondered on the sea for days, they ran out of water and they almost died of thirst. In the end they came to a small island named Tematagi which is about 300 km south from the main group of the Tuamotu islands. They and their descendants stayed on that island for generations and did not return to the main group of the Tuamotus until the 1860’s when missionaries took them back to Hao and to Tureia.
(This story is recorded in J. Frank Stimson’s Tuamotuan notes which are located in the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts and can be found in film nos. 761846-761848 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints genealogy library collection.)
Why Mariteragi Put Fish On The Graves
In the 1800’s on the island of Taega there was a man named Mariteragi. Although Mariteragi lived on a very poor island, he was descended from a princess of Hao who had married a man from Raroia. But that is another story.
At night Mariteragi would go fishing and he was always successful, even when others could not find fish. Mariteragi had a son named Rua a Mariteragi, which means Rua of Mariteragi. That is how Tuamotuans were identified at this time. When Rua a Mariteragi reached a certain age his father would take him fishing. At this time Rua was even more surprised at his father’s ability to catch fish, because they would go to places in the lagoon of Taega which were known as being bad places for fishing and Mariteragi would still catch lots of fish.
Each night when they went fishing, Rua would fall asleep in the bottom of the canoe. After several hours, in the early morning, before it was even light yet, Rua would wake up and would see that there was another man in the canoe helping his father to fish. Then Rua would doze off to sleep and in the morning the other man would be gone.
Rua asked his father who this other man was and his father would tell him not to ask because it was not his concern. Consequently Rua thought that the man was someone who had probably swam out to the canoe from the shore.
One night Rua and his father had visitors before they went fishing. Therefore, they didn’t go fishing until it was really late. Rua fell asleep in the canoe again and when he woke up later it was almost daybreak. The other man was there beside his father. When the morning star rose the other man acted very disturbed. At this point Rua had never seen his face because he had always kept his back turned towards Rua. But this morning, when the morning star rose, this man turned to look towards the east. Then Rua saw his face and eyes, and it was the face and eyes of a dead man. Then the man disappeared.
Rua then knew why his father always caught fish and why his father would put some of the fish that he caught on the graves of the dead.
(This story is from Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘In the South Seas’.)
Kidnapped By A Mokorea (Demon)
In the 1860’s or the 1870’s on the island of Fagatau in the eastern Tuamotus there was a woman who was kidnapped by a mokorea named Tane-mata-tinao. A mokorea is a demon from the night world.
This particular mokorea had really long hair which he parted in the middle. At night he would lie down with this woman on half of his hair. The other half of his hair he used to cover the woman and himself. This mokorea also had really long fingernails. When he went fishing he used his fingernails to spear the fish.
The woman’s husband did not know what had happened to his wife. So he went to a tahuga (shaman) to get help. This particular tahuga was also the woman’s uncle and he was named Tefau.
Tefau did not know where the woman was, so he had to use magic. He first sent a request to the people of Takume island to send him the bones of a dead chief named Viritua. Although Viritua had been a chief of Fagatau island, the people of Takume kept his bones because they were also related to him.
The bones of Viritua were brought to Tefau in the coconut fiber bag in which they were stored. Tefau talked with the bones and the spirit of Viritua told Tefau where he could go to find the kidnapped woman. So Tefau led the people of the village to the place that the spirit of Viritua had told him to go.
Tefau was leading the group and since he was in the front he was the only one to see the mokorea with the kidnapped woman. When the mokorea saw Tefau the mokorea fled because he knew the Tefau’s mana (power) was greater than his. So the woman was saved from this mokorea.
During the time that this woman had been kidnapped she had become pregnant to the mokorea. In time she delivered a baby girl. Most of the time this girl appeared to be completely human, but sometimes you could tell that she was part spirit.
(This story came from Paea a Avehe of Vahitahi island and is recorded in J. Frank Stimson’s Tuamotuan notes which are located in the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts. A microfilmed copy of these notes can also be found in genealogy libraries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints genealogy library collection, film nos. 761842-761848. I think that this story came from film #761846.)
This shaman, Tefau, had more mana than the mokorea and the mokorea knew it. Because of this the mokorea ran away from Tefau.
It is clear from Tuamotuan stories that the mana of shamen like Tefau was a result of their great learning. We don’t know what things they knew. But we see that because of their learning that they had mana. The same thing is true of us. We have different things to learn than they did. But by our learning we can have mana like they did. Then we will have a right to stand with them in the eternities and to call them fathers and mothers.
The vast majority of what they knew is lost. It is like the old journals that were written 80 years ago. You open the journal, read the poetry which is in a language that is lost and you read the names of people in the genealogies whose faces are forgotten and whose names only remain in old unread journals. (But they were people once and their spirits have gone on!) Then you carefully close the brittle pages and return the book to its trunk. Then you look down at the table and see the crumbs of broken pages from when you handled the book. That is what is left of Tuamotuan culture, just the crumbs.
I have access to thousands of microfilmed pages of Tuamotuan poetry. Once I wanted to view a genealogy that could only be accessed by first viewing hundreds of pages of poetry. As I quickly turned the pages of poetry, written in a forgotten language, I closed my eyes. I could not bear to see this much lost knowledge pass before my vision without me comprehending it.
Te Ati Miti: The Ocean Disaster
At the turn of the century many people in the Tuamotu islands would travel from island to island to dive for pearls. In January 1903 a great many of them were gathered in Hikueru. On the night of January 15 and 16 a terrible storm came. Because the island is an atoll island it is flat and consists of nothing more than a sandbar that is probably no more than a couple of hundred meters wide at the widest point. The waves of the storm were four to five meters over the island. People saved themselves by tying themselves onto coconut trees.
Hundreds of people perished. In some instances, entire families consisting of children, parents and grandparents were swept away. Most people from the eastern Tuamotus had relatives who perished.
In one instance a man and a woman were swept away and ended up a 150 km away on the island of Paraoa.
When the storm started to wash waves over the island some people from the island of Hao went and poured wine into the sea as an offering to the sea so that the waves would stop washing over the island. Later, people said that the reason that the storm was so bad in Hikueru is because those people of Hao should have put their faith in god. The people of Hao answered:
Ua pari ‘oe i te pariraa hape i to Poeragi tamariki, Ahiri te Fatu i haapao i to Hao, Ua tia ta ‘oe ute,
You have accused a wrong accusation to the children of Poeragi (the people of Hao), If the Lord only took care of Hao, Your words would be correct,
The meaning is that if the Lord had only punished people from Hao then it could be concluded that the people of Hao were the reason for the fierceness of the storm. However, there were more than just Hao people who perished in the storm.
This storm is known as Te ‘Ati Miti, or ‘the Ocean Disaster’.
(This came from an oral genealogy that is available on microfilm in the genealogical collection of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I don’t know the reference. Some parts of this story also came from Beniamina a Honopiki who lives in America, but was raised on Hao and Vahitahi islands.)
An Old Custom
In the ancient times on Vahitahi, if a woman’s kaefa (husband) left her for another woman. She would swim out into the sea and call on a tuputupua tupuna mai te po mai (an ancestral spirit from the night world). If the spirit came in the form of a whale the woman would ride the whale to another island.
(This story came from Paea a Avehe of Vahitahi island and is recorded in J. Frank Stimson’s Tuamotuan notes which are located in the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts. A microfilmed copy of these notes can also be found in genealogy libraries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints genealogy library collection, film nos. 761842-761848. I think that this story came from film no. 761846.)
In Polynesian legends, a person’s mana or power, came partly from who they were related to. This is particularly true for women. In this custom, the abandoned wife, swims out to sea, singing a song and calls on an ancestral spirit who takes her to a new life where she will not be neglected.
The husband who abandoned his wife should hang his head in shame, being ignorant of the pain that he has caused his greatest ally.
A Really Cool Poem
This poem is from the island of Negonego and describes it’s beauty:
E Faatara no Negonego 1 O Negonego ki te kohu nui
- Te faraagiagi i te uru gahegahe,
- Ki te Faahiehie
- Na vahine e tuveve i te ara nihi,
5 O Teroroakupuariki matua regarega,
- E kapa i te kaiga,
- E taka i te rua o te Tokerau,
- Manu mai tai,
10 Te muri taiakino,
- Rokiroki te tika Ororagia,
- Ofaofa te rau ofaga,
- Taparuhipahia e aku te tika o taku kaiga,
- Kua farefare,
15 Kua rokiroki,
- Kua rupehupehu,
- Kua tau maomao i te tika o taku kaiga,
- Kinau atura vau i te turaga pito,
- Karere to mauri i te tua o te ragi,
20 Kia tagi te rutu a Ngati Marere,
- Kia ara na tama a te ahiku maeva,
- Kia kiriti Marere i tana hau aitu,
- Hei ake i tana Heitapu Fakariki,
- Ki mua kokohu ora i te rau toro ariki i te puarau nono,
25 Teie te runaga, tei Faraagiagi,
- Teie te tahua o Nukuhaumea,
27 Te manava ria kino te arofa i taku kaiga,
1 Negonego of the great expanse of sky,
- The cool wind blows through the sweet smelling grove of
- It is marvelous,
- Women standing together in a flat place,
5 Teroroakupuariki is the overflowing ancestor,
- Dancing before the people of the homeland,
- Separating the source of the Tokerau wind,
- The bird flies over the lagoon,
- All is spread out,
- The support of the face of the sky is calm,
- The ofaga leaves rustle,
- The support of my homeland is sen by me,
- It overhangs like a cloud,
15 It is calm,
- It is clouded over,
- The support of my homeland is seen in the distance,
- I called upon the zenith of the sky,
- Your soul flies up to the god of the sky,
20 When the drum of the Marere tribe sounds,
- When the children of the glorious creator awaken,
- When Marere flies away to his soul,
- Then he will be crowned with his sacred garland necklace
- of royalty,
25 The assembly of people is in the cool wind,
- The public gathering place is at Nukuhaumea,
27 The love for my homeland rises up,
This is a poem about the beauty of the island of Negonego. This poem is interesting because Negonego isn’t what you would think to be a beautiful place. It has no scenic mountains like other islands. It is a flat atoll island with a few kinds of ragged trees growing on nothing more than a beach.
Negonego means ‘the smell of carrion or rotting meat’. This is definately NOT a prime vacation spot in French Polynesia. In fact, it has been abandoned and this poem is only a remnant of the people who used to live there.
In this poem the people who lived in Negonego in ancient times talk of the beauty of the sky over the land and of the wind blowing the trees. For them it was the most beautiful place of all. In this poem we can read their minds even though they are long dead.
My hope is to someday go to Negonego, stand on the land and watch the wind blow clouds over the face of the sky. Then I will say: “Teie te runaga, tei faraagiagi, Teie te tahua o Nukuhaumea, Te manavaria kino te arofa i taku kaiga” (This is the gathering place, in the cool wind; This is the public common, Nukuhaumea; Oh! How my homeland inspires love!)
(This poem came from a collection of private journals written by Turumakiteponui a Tekehu which are in the possession of his grandson, Tekehu Munanui.)
Faateni no Marokau i Topikite no te Tekokurutani 1 O vau teie Ko Tehaihopuariki,
- E tu ana i ruga Hurumanu,
- Fakarogo ana i te tagi o taku manu e rere i ruga nei,
- E fakarogo ana i te gaehegaehe i na rua Korokoro,
5 I tua i tahua manu,
- Huri ake taku aro ki te taiaro Kakina,
- Te tara i te kokoru taukeva,
- Koia te tara nui,
- Koia te tara iti,
10 O te tara �a,
- I fakaaraara i te moe o Tetaihopuariki,
1 I am Tetaihopuariki,
- I stand at Hurumanu,
- Hearing the cry of my bird that flies above,
- Hearing the rustling of the Korokoro leaves in the wind,
5 My bird is out at sea,
- I turn my face to the lagoon at Kakina,
- The poem at Taukeva point,
- This is the great poem,
- This is the little poem,
10 This is the poem,
- That awakens the sleep of Tetaihopuariki,
Tetaihopuariki was born over 300 years ago. He probably never saw a metal object in his life. He may have had a taste for human flesh. He was a stone-age tribesman who lived on Marokau, an island that you have never heard of.
When I translated this poem, it was late at night, and the weirdest feeling came over me. I no longer saw Tetaihopuariki as a stranger from a strange time and culture. I saw that he was a man who did not want to be forgotten. Because of this I see that he is like me, and that is why I love the old Tuamotuans.
Tuamotuan poetry is full of poetry like this where people who are long since dead speak of themselves and their feelings. They did not want to be forgotten.
These words are done!
(This and other poems came from a collection of private journals written by Turumakiteponui a Tekehu which are in the possession of his grandson, Tekehu Munanui.)
Revised: June 13, 1996
Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff