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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Titular System

Titular System

History Of The Single And Dual Ariki Titles

Primogeniture, or seniority in the male line, governs succession to rank and title in the Cook Islands and in the Society Islands. In the Cook Islands matahiapo is a general term for “eldest son,” but in certain family groups the matahiapo is a title held in the senior family. The ariki (chief) is simply the senior matahiapo of a number of family groups which have branched out from the original family. The more numerous the family groups, the greater the seniority and power of the ariki. The leaders of the expeditions which settled the islands must have had rank originally to enjoy the position of leadership. No matter, however, what their rank may have been in their original homeland, they have assumed the ariki title in the new lands on which they settled. The early use of the ariki title in Rakahanga shows that the institution was known to Toa and Tapairu and was introduced by them from their island of origin. In the later development of the dual ariki titles and the tribal titles, the names used indicate a local development and that the people were not guided in the formation of nomenclature by any memory of past tradition. The Rakahangans instituted new offices based on Polynesian principles but had to coin new local terms.

The term ariki was regarded as a taohanga (title). Toa was a warrior, as his name implies, and as Gill (10, vol. 2, p. 281) records. Toa himself may have had no title, but his wife, from her name, Tapairu, was evidently of high rank. The establishment of the ariki title dates from Toa's second family. The title-holders are shown in capitals in Table 5.

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Table 5. Single Ariki Title Holders

Table 5. Single Ariki Title Holders

Haumata-tua in Table 2 gives a different family of male children to Nanamu and derives Te-pori-o-kaivai and his brothers from Naunau, who is given as the youngest daughter. If correct, they were passed over for some reason and the title went to the sons of the youngest daughter. Of these, Te-pori-o-kaivai was the first-born, but he disappeared from the story and left no issue. Kairenga held that the title went first to the second son, Matangaro, and that his descendants were hui ariki (of the assembly of ariki) until the period of Kanohi, a female in the 10th generation. The title then passed to the Hukutahu line upon Kanohi's marriage to Tautape, a high chief of that line. The majority, however, state that the title went primarily to Huku-tahu, a younger brother of Matangaro. It is not clear why it should have passed to a junior. It was held that his grandmother, Tapairu, named him for the position. Tapairu's influence probably came from her supposed descent from Hiro and from the fact that she was a sister of the discoverer of the land. She was probably of higher rank than her husband, and the title may have been instituted from her side of the family. The phrase used to confirm Huku-tahu's appointment runs, “Te page 45 kapi o te hui ariki kei a Huku-tahu, kei a ia hoki te pohatu.” (The male issue of the ariki was with Huku-tahu, as he also had the symbol of office.)

The term pohatu (stone) was used to designate the symbol of office. Nothing is known of a stone symbol of office, but the term was at least used metaphorically. The ariki had priestly as well as chiefly duties.

In the 4th generation the title was held by Rua. Kairenga held that this was Rua-ariki, the son of Matangaro. The majority held that the second ariki was Rua-a-makoha, the elder son of Huku-tahu. He went on an expedition to Hawaiki and never returned. Some of the witnesses at the Land Court held that Hawaiki was New Zealand, but others referred to Rua as having gone to Tokelau. Rua left word that he would send back some sign if he arrived safely at Hawaiki. Some time after Rua's departure, a shoal of fish named marau-awa appeared, and the people, accepting them as the promised sign, refer to them as the excrement of Rua (Tutae-o-Rua).

Rua left no issue, so the title passed to the son of his younger brother, Kakahi. The ariki of the 5th generation had two names, Huku-tahu-rourou-a-whara and Tapu-mahanga. He had two wives. By the first wife he had a son named Kaitapu and by the second wife a son named Huku-potiki. The title passed to Kaitapu, who had the pohatu, but the powerful family of the second wife brought such influence to bear that Huku-potiki was given the office of attending to the distribution of land among the families. The office was termed tuha-whenua (land distributor), and Huku-potiki received special grants of land to go with his office, Paerangi in Rakahanga and Haroi in Manihiki. Huku-potiki was also entitled to the mata kairau, a contribution of food from the people in recognition of his rank. Thus the first division of authority is said to come from the two puna (families) of Huku-tahu-rourou-a-whara. This was the period in which the Hukutahu group was dividing into two subgroups which formed the bases of two tribes.

From the period of Kaitapu in the 6th generation there follows a list of four ariki, Nikai-patu, Touiho, Te Renga, and Tautape. According to Gill (13, p. 144) the name of Ruare-tapu comes before Tautape. These names are placed in brackets in the lineal line because it is not certain whether or not they are father and son. As the column on the right gives Niho-tapu as Tautape's father, the ariki who immediately preceded Tautape, whether it was Te Renga or Ruare-tapu, could not have been his father. This raises the problem of how Tautape became ariki when his male line of descent is evidently derived from the junior line of Huku-potiki in the 6th generation. It may have been that Tautape's mother belonged to the senior line in which male issue failed after Ruare-tapu. It will be noted that in the middle column of Table 5, if the doubtful Ruare-tapu is left out, Tautape coincides with the 10th generation, which is the same as that of his two wives, page 46 Heitutae and Kanohi, who are descended from Matangaro. His lineal descent, however, through Huku-potiki, is 4 generations longer. This makes a considerable difference in time if calculated in generations. However, it was stated that Niho-tapu, father of Tautape, and Poupou-whenua, father of the girls who married Tautape, were contemporaries. Thus the difference of 4 generations may be due to earlier marriages on the longer line or lapses of memory on the part of genealogists. For the purposes of following out the titles, Tautape will be regarded as living in the 10th generation.

Tautape is also known as Rahui-ariki, and some genealogists confuse him with Temu. The middle and right columns in Table 5 show the descent from the two families of Huku-tahu-rourou-a-whara, among whom the power was divided. The senior line of Matangaro, in the left column, joins the Huku-tahu-rourou-a-whara line through the two daughters by different wives of Poupou-whenua. Both daughters married Tautape. As a result of this double marriage a further rearrangement was made in social structure. Tautape was the last of the ariki to rule singly over the people. If Ruare-tapu is counted, there were nine ariki who held the single pohatu from Haku-tahu to Tautape. The number of generations, if taken on the shorter side, indicates that the period of the single ariki occupied from 250 to 300 years, roughly.

By the time of Tautape the population had increased (kua tupu te kura tangata) and aggregations of one blood (kura toto) had begun to develop into separate family groups. The individual households within the same group had, in turn, built their houses around the group nucleus within the common village. When a group moved out to secure more room for expansion, all the individual members linked together by a more recent blood tie (kura toto) moved and built their homes in proximity to each other. This expansion with the establishment of extra households is referred to in the phrase, “Kua tere te tangata me tona nani.” (People moved with their households.) Here nani is the equivalent of kainga (household) in other dialects. All the elements were present for a quarrel between the descendants of Matangaro and those of Huku-tahu, unless some arrangement was arrived at whereby the increased descendants of Matangaro could be pacified and given an active share in the government.

The head of the Matangaro stock at this period appears to have been Poupou-whenua, who is shown in the ninth generation in the Matangaro line in Table 5. Poupou-whenua had two wives, by each of whom he had a family of three children. A daughter from each family was united in marriage to the ariki Tautape, and in this way the two divisions descended from Matangaro and Huku-tahu came together. What subsequently transpired is as follows:

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The descent of the two wives of Poupou-whenua could not be traced, but it seems probable from what transpired that the mother of Heitutae came of Matangaro stock and the mother of Kanohi of Huku-tahu stock. The reason for this statement is that in quarrels over succession to a title it is usually the families of the respective mothers of two heirs who create the trouble which ensues. Heitutae had a first-born son, Temu-matua, and Kanohi had a first-born son, Tianewa-matua. Under normal circumstances the son of the first wife should have succeeded to the title. On the death of Tautape, however, complications came up as to the succession. Though both Temu-matua and Tianewa-matua were descended from Matangaro through the maternal grandfather, Poupou-whenua, a single title would have left the power with the Huku-tahu stock through their father, Tautape. It is evident that the Matangaro stock wanted direct representation through Temu-matua, which makes me think that his mother, Heitutae, was of Matangaro stock on her mother's side as well as on her father's. The other claimant to succession, Tianewa-matua, was associated with the Huku-tahu stock which had become divided into the two groupings known as Nu-matua and Tia-ngaro-tonga. If Kanohi, mother of Tianewa-matua, was of Huku-tahu descent on her mother's side, all the elements were present for the factional division of the Matangaro and Huku-tahu people, each faction demanding the succession of its respective close blood kinsman. It must have required strong expression of divided opinion to bring about the change in social organization which occurred. The opposing factions were pacified by a compromise, for the native historians state that in the period of Temu-matua and Tianewa-matua the authority (pohatu) was divided (I to raua tuatau i ngaha te pohatu). The compromise was the creation of a dual arikiship. Temu-matua was made an ariki and was the first to hold the Whainga-aitu title. Tianewa-matua was made an ariki and was the first to hold the Whakaheo title.

The people also divided into four tribes, and two tribes supported each title. The old tribes, Numatua and Tia-ngaro-tonga, upheld the Whakaheo title. Two newly-created tribes, Heahiro and Mokopuwai, banded together under the leadership of the Whainga-aitu. The native historians state, “Ko Heitutae e Poupou-whenua, ko te tumu ia o Mokopuwai.” (Heitutae and page 48 Poupou-whenua, they were the foundation of the Mokopuwai tribe.) The younger brothers of Temu-matua became heads of subtribes in the Heahiro tribe. Thus the descendants of Matangaro supported their own direct representative in the person of the Whainga-aitu, and the descendants of Hukutahu supported the continuation of the old single title under the new Whakaheo. The lands in both Rakahanga and Manihiki became divided among the tribes. The dual ariki ruled over their respective tribes, with evidently no serious friction, as there are no traditional records of local wars. The ariki were supported by their hui rangatira (assembly of chiefs), which included the special officers dealing with land and food, and the heads of subtribes. There was some differentiation in the powers of the two ariki. (See p. 210.) The dual arikiship existed down to the advent of Christianity, when the offices gradually fell into abeyance owing to changed conditions affecting the social structure of the people.

Lists of the successive holders of the two titles were obtained. Of the Whakaheo, eleven title-holders are listed from the time of Tianewa-matua to the last holder, Iese, who was alive in 1898. Of the Whainga-aitu, fourteen held office from the inauguration of the title to Tupou-aporo, the last holder. It is not clear whether the earlier names in the list are direct successions of fathers and sons, but the pedigrees of later members of both titles will be referred to to throw light on the question of succession. It may be said, however, that the period of the dual titles extended over more than 200 years.

The Whainga-Aitu Ariki

The Whainga-aitu title was a full ariki title, but the special term must have been developed locally, for it does not appear, so far as I know, in any other part of Polynesia. The term is said to be derived from the words whai (to follow), nga (the), and aitu (gods). The title thus stresses the priestly functions of the office, for the Whainga-aitu was the principal medium between his people and the gods. The word whai has been translated “to follow,” but it seems to carry the additional meaning conveyed by the Tongarevan word “hai” which means to recite in the religious inclosures ritual whereby the gods are placated and success is assured. Thus the phrase, “kua whai i to ratou atua,” does not mean so much “to follow,” as that “they had conducted the regular ritual to their god.” Of the powers of the Whainga-aitu it was stated, “Te Whainga-aitu nona te papa.” (The Whainga-aitu, his was the lower stratum.) The papa is here translated as the lower stratum because it includes the sea as well as the land. The Whainga-aitu had powers over things terrestrial, as opposed to things celestial. He was supposed to concern himself with the welfare of the land and the page 49 food growing thereon, as well as with promoting the food-productivity of the sea. He ruled over the two tribes, Heahiro and Mokopuwai, but did not interfere in the sharing out of land, which was left to the tribal heads, or whakamaru. The Whainga-aitu was the spiritual head and could command the assistance of the supernormal powers that commanded the productivity of land and sea. The whakamaru were the executives who superintended economic details.

The list of Whainga-aitu from Temu-matua is given in Table 6.

Table 6. The Whainga-aitu Title Holders

Table 6. The Whainga-aitu Title Holders

The list shows 15 title-holders, but Mr. Savage, in a table compiled for me, omits Munokoa, Utua, and Putuhonu and makes the next holder of the title Maraerau, a son of the first ariki, Temu-matua, by a wife named Teraro-puka. In evidence given before the Court, Haumata-tua gave Munokoa and Utua as sons of Temu-matua and title-holders. The relationship of Putuhonu was not given. From Putuhonu to Whaitika the names follow page 50 as a list, but from Whaitika the pedigrees are given. The pedigrees illustrate the rules governing succession to the title, which eliminated female succession and considered male seniority.

The 9th holder, Whaitika, had three children. The first-born was a female, so succession went to the senior male child, Whairoa-enemea. The 10th holder, Whairoa-enemea, had four children, but as the first two were females, the title went to the third child, Whaireka. Whaireka, the 11th holder, had two families, but as his younger brother, Whaipoto, appears on the list as the 12th title-holder, Whaireka must have died before his children were old enough to hold office. Whaipoto would thus have succeeded as a regent until the heir of the senior line was old enough to assume office. The title went to the family of Whaireki's first wife, of which the first two were females. The third child, a son named Tupou-ma-te-tika, succeeded as the 13th holder. He had three wives. The first wife had one daughter, and the second wife had five daughters. Neither had a son. The succession therefore passed to the family of the third wife, Makirau, who had a son named Tupou-aporo. Before Tupou-aporo was old enough to assume office, his father died. The privilege of maintaining the position was thereupon assumed by Whaireka's second family, and Ieremia acted as regent for ten years. Tupou-aporo and Ieremia really acted together, and at the end of ten years Tupou-aporo, having reached man's estate, took over full control of the office. Ieremia objected, but as he was not supported by the families concerned, he left the island.

A story in connection with the first Whainga-aitu, Temu-matua, illustrates the connection between the temporal and religious sides of the office. Temu-matua was a weakly child, so his maternal uncle, Rikiriki, was sent for. Rikiriki was the male representative of the Matangaro stock, which again shows how the Matangaro division had concentrated attention on Temumatua as their particular representative in the ariki families of his father, Tautape. Rikiriki took the child before the god Hikahara. The child recovered health. Some time afterwards, Rikiriki built a voyaging canoe (kua tuki pahi) with the object of visiting foreign lands (heaheake). He selected his party (tere), which included his nephew, Temu-matua, and went through the appropriate ritual before the god Hikahara to insure success (kua hakairo ia ratou i mua i taua atua). On the date of departure from Tauhunu in Manihiki they sang a song (pehe) in the channel or lagoon at Awanui. The tribe then realized that Rikiriki was taking the boy away with him on his travels, so the people begged him to allow the boy ashore that they might press noses (hohongi) with him in farewell.

This story has a significant bearing on the creation of the Whainga page 51 aitu title. The Polynesian historians have a habit, at times, of telling a straight narrative of a historical incident instead of discussing the details of the origin of an institution. Rikiriki was the eldest brother of Hei-tutae and the eldest son of Poupou-whenua's first wife. (See p. 47.) He was therefore head of the strong Matangaro group, and he cured his nephew Temu-matua. That he had prepared to go on a voyage to other lands and take his nephew with him shows that the dual arikiship had not been established at that time. It is probable that the ambition Rikiriki may have entertained for his nephew had not received sufficient whole-hearted support to result in tribal action. The intended voyage, therefore, may have been due to spleen. The singing of the song in the channel drew full attention to the voyaging canoe. When it was perceived that Temu-matua was on board, the two Matangaro tribes realized that they were about to lose him. They were galvanized into action then by the imminence of a disaster. They begged that the boy be allowed ashore that they might press noses with him in farewell. The historian states that, on getting him ashore, “Kua tohi te matakeinanga.” The matakeinanga is the large group or tribe, and the tribe evidently went through a ceremony termed tohi in order to detain Temu-matua. Rikiriki, seeing what was happening, called out, “Ka tohi kotou, ono reka iho. Kua whakairo au i taua tamaiti ki te atua.” (You are doing the tohi, he may remain. I have, however, already dedicated that boy to the god.) I did not get the full meaning of tohi in Rakahanga. In New Zealand tohi refers to ceremony performed over a new-born infant or over adults on certain occasions to make them successful. The tohi over Temu-matua was undoubtedly a ceremony proclaiming him high chief over the Matangaro matakeinanga, and so making it impossible for him to leave. Rikiriki had probably achieved what he desired, to establish Temu-matua, and he volunteered the further information that the child was already in close connection with the god and so fitted for his position.

At this time the two Matangaro tribes, Heahiro and Mokopuwai, were affected by a serious sickness (uiha). No one had been able to relieve (tunoko) them. The tribes, as shown by the story, were living on Tauhunu. Temu-matua then devised a plan for alleviating their distress. He went to the island of Te Puka and sought out a coconut that grew singly on one flower stalk. This nut (tautahi) he took, with some puraka, to Tukou as an offering to the god Hikahara. The disease thereupon cleared up (moki). This incident established the custom of traveling from Tauhunu to Tukou via Te Puka. The marked success of Temu-matua proved that he had power with the god and confirmed his authority. He became kana or tutara to the gods, or in other words, he became priest as well as ariki.

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Table 7 gives the pedigree of the three families of Tupou-ma-te-tika in full to show the manner in which succession passes over female issue.

Table 7. Manner in which Succession Passes over Female Issue

Table 7. Manner in which Succession Passes over Female Issue

The Whakaheo Ariki

The term Whakaheo is said to be derived from waka (canoe) and heo (to surround). In the voyages made by the whole population between the two atolls, the ariki holding the title surrounded the canoes with his priestly and supernormal powers and thus insured safe transport. The ariki was therefore termed originally the “waka-heo.” In the course of time waka (canoe) became changed to whaka (the causative prefix), but the title of whakaheo has not changed materially in meaning. It now means “to cause to surround with priestly influence,” and its original application to the voyaging canoes is understood. Of the powers of the position it is said, “Te Whaka-heo, nona te tira.” (The Whaka-heo, his is the tira.) The tira is in contradistinction to the papa of the Whainga-aitu. Just as the papa refers to things terrestrial, so the tira refers to things celestial. The Whakaheo had power over the phenomena of nature. He could demonstrate his power by causing the lightning to flash, the thunder to sound, and the rain to fall. He thus controlled the winds and storms, and it was through this power that he was able to surround the voyaging canoes with his priestly protection and insure a safe passage between the atolls.

The Whakaheo trace their descent through Tianewa-matua, the first of the dual ariki who represented the Huku-tahu division of the people. Under his arikiship were the two tribes, Nu-matua and Tia-ngaro-tonga. Patrilineal descent and seniority decided succession to the title, and women could not succeed to it. The list of title-holders is given in Table 8.

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Table 8. The Whakaheo Title Holders

Table 8. The Whakaheo Title Holders

Table 8 is only a list, for the exact pedigrees from Tapaha-matua (2) to Takai-whakaheo (9) could not be obtained. It was assumed that sons followed fathers throughout, but this is not certain. A detailed pedigree from Takai-whakaheo which throws further light on the complications that sometimes arise with regard to succession was obtained. (See Table 9.) Christianity entered the atolls in 1849, and in this year Takai-whakeheo (9) was holding the title. lete was alive in 1898.

Table 9. Succession to Takai-whakaheo

Table 9. Succession to Takai-whakaheo

Takai-whakaheo (9) had a family of eight, the first child a daughter. Three sons followed. The senior son, Whakaheo-tama, went to Malden Island. During his absence his father died, and the next son in seniority, page 54 Tuteru-utua (10), who was on the spot, was raised to the title. When Whakaheo-tama (11) returned from Malden Island seniority asserted itself, and he was made ariki in place of his younger brother. Tuteru-utua, having had to relinquish office, left the country and went to Tonga. Later, he returned and settled down. Both Tuteru-utua and the younger brother, Tarau, died before Whakaheo-tama, the title-holder. Whakaheo-tama had no children of his own, but he adopted Takai-taupe, the eldest son of his younger brother, Tuteru-utua. Whakaheo-tama is stated to have wished to confer his title on Tairi-orometua, the native missionary who came from Raro-tonga to spread the gospel in 1849. Tairi rightly refused the honor. On the death of Whakaheo-tama, however, Tairi used the strong missionary influence that existed, and the title passed to Iete (12), the son of Whakaheo-tama's elder sister. Had either Tuteru-utua or his younger brother, Tarau, survived, the title would undoubtedly have gone to them. Under the circumstances the rightful heir according to the laws of succession was Takai-taupe, the son of Tuteru-utua, who had been adopted by Whakaheo-tama. Probably Iete was an elder of the church, but certain it is that missionary influence interfered, and succession took place through an elder sister's line. The title ended with lete. Had the title continued, it would have been interesting to learn whether it would have continued down the Iete line or returned to the Tuteru-utua line.

Other Titles

It was held that each ariki had his hui rangatira (assembly of chiefs). The term hui rangatira is a Rarotongan one which includes the heads of families who are closely related to the ruling ariki. It is probable that the term was adopted from Rarotonga but that the principle involved was in force. Thus, the younger brothers and paternal uncles of the ariki were of high rank and would be closely associated with the official head of the family who held the title. Associated with the ariki were certain chiefs who had to deal with the economic details within the tribes. We have seen that the special office of tuha whenua was given to Huku-potiki in the 6th generation. When the spread of population resulted in family groups or tribes, the heads of the tribes functioned as tuha whenua, but the special title, whakamaru, was evolved. The tuha-whenua title that was instituted in the 6th generation became merged in one of the whakamaru titles that were evolved about the 11th generation.

Whakamaru was the local taohanga (title) given to the heads of tribes. It corresponds to the Rarotongan title, mata(h)iapo, which was not known in the atolls until after the introduction of Christianity. Whakamaru (to give shelter or shade) is thus an expressive term, as the head of the tribe page 55 ought to shelter his people. According to some informants, there were two whakamaru under each of the dual ariki, thus making one representative for each of the four tribes. Others seemed to think that the heads of subtribes were also whakamaru. Some of the subtribes must have been fairly small in number, and it is hardly likely that the term would have been applied to the heads of many subtribes. It was stated that on the death of a whakamaru, his relatives (huanga) elected (mono) his successor. Others held that the whakamaru was elected by the subtribes, as he had power over their lands. It is unfortunate that no tribe was able to give a list of its whakamaru. No check data are available for pedigrees to indicate on what principles the whakamaru was really appointed. It is to be presumed, however, that the whakamaru was appointed by succession in the male line from the leading family in each group. Relatives and heads of subtribes probably met to discuss the pedigree and ratify the election of the person who was entitled by birth to succeed.

The duties of the whakamaru were to act as public custodian over tribal lands, to settle disputes, and to prevent outside interference from another tribe. He had to do with directing the planting of food crops and the protection of the coconut plantations and puraka swamps from theft. He had power also over the redistribution of tribal lands which had to be adjusted to the ebb and flow of population. His decision was final, and not even his ariki could interfere with him in matters that concerned the interior economy of the tribe. His status was as high or even higher than that of the ariki in local matters. When it came to questions which concerned the intervention of the tribal gods, however, the ariki was superior, owing to his special priestly functions. From a modern point of view, the whakamaru in his own tribal district was judge of the native land court, Crown ranger, and director of agriculture. He also had a priestly function. When the whole population crossed from one atoll to the other the whakamaru from the tribes went first to the marae to conduct the appropriate ritual to the god (ka whai i to ratou atua). It was also stated that certain lesser tribal gods were in the keeping of the whakamaru.

The moa was a speaker or messenger between the whakamaru and the ariki. He was a whakamaru appointed by whakamaru. In discussions among the whakamaru he assumed seniority, and his decision was final. The title-holder seemed to be associated particularly with the Whainga-aitu.

The tira was an honorific title applied to the Whakaheo on account of his supernormal powers in dealing with natural phenomena. He was the astronomer who studied the heavens with regard to star signs of the seasons and the advent of winds.

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The papa was a special title held by one Tuteru-te-tahua. He dealt with economic matters with which the ariki, by virtue of his priestly position, was not allowed to concern himself. He thus controlled land and food supplies. He had power with the Whainga-aitu division through his father and power with the Whakaheo division through his mother. He could thus conduct the religious ritual at the Poutu marae at Tauhunu and at the Akaroa marae at Tukou. He probably was a super whakamaru who by birth and ability carried influence with the whakamaru of the four tribes.

It has been pointed out that a woman could not succeed to an ariki title even when she was the first-born child of an ariki by his first wife. This rule held in the Cook Islands, but was broken after the advent of Christianity. In Manihiki and Rakahanga it was observed until the extinction of the titles. The first-born females of the ariki lines, however, had a high status. They received personal names which became established as set names for those born in that line. The eldest daughters of the Whainga-aitu were named Haumata, and the eldest daughters of the Whakaheo were named Takai. Toa's wife was named Tapairu-taki-hetu. The first part of the name, Tapairu, means, in the Cook Islands, a first-born female. This meaning of the word was evidently carried on in the memory of Tapairu's descendants, for the special title, whaka-tapairu, was given to the first-born daughters of the ariki. By receiving special titles of dignity, the first-born daughters were effectively eliminated from any possibility of succeeding to the male ariki title, “Kare te wahine i te taohanga ariki, ka noho ratou i te taohanga whaka-tapairu.” (Women could not occupy the ariki title, they remained with the title of whakatapairu.) The first-born daughter of the Whainga-aitu was thus named Haumata-whakatapairu and that of the Whakaheo, Takai-whaka-tapairu. The prefix whaka is causative and carries the idea that the bearers of the titles had been made tapairu or first-born.

The whakatapairu had certain privileges and performed certain functions connected with the title. Thus, after the whakamaru chiefs had visited the marae on landing at one of the atolls, they returned to the canoes. The whakatapairu then visited the marae in turn to perform their duties, and only after that could the people leave the beach and explore the land. The details of what they did on the marae are not clear.

The Takai-whakatapairu had special powers to calm the sea. If the sea was rough during a bad season when food was low, the whakatapairu went out to the reef and beat upon the waters of the lagoon and the reef channel with a coconut leaf. At the same time she recited a chant (pehe). Her action caused the seas to subside and enabled the men to go fishing. Her power (mana) was derived from her position as direct representative of the Whakaheo who possessed the tira, or power over natural phenomena.