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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

The Tribe

The Tribe

The term “tribe” is usually applied to a fairly large number of people who occupy a territory defined by boundaries, speak a common language or dialect, are governed by one head, and share a common culture. This definition would cover all the inhabitants of Rakahanga and Manihiki. The four matakeinanga speak a common dialect of the Polynesian language. They originally had one common ariki, but the creation of a dual arikiship broke this unity. The general culture is identical, but there are differences with regard to leadership and the worship of gods. Furthermore, the land in the two atolls was definitely divided among the four matakeinanga.

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The term matakeinanga, in Mangaia, means a group of kinsmen, but evidently it was not in use as a tribal term. In Rakahanga the basic meaning of the term was similar to that in Mangaia, but when the four groups of kinsmen were distinguished by individual names these named groups were definitely referred to as four matakeinanga (e ha matakeinanga).

Each matakeinanga elected its head independently of the others. The special term whakamaru was coined to distinguish him. His powers have been defined. For practical purposes, the matakeinanga was a small tribe, independent of the others as regards local government, but uniting with another matakeinanga under the two priestly ariki for religious purposes. All four matakeinanga federated for voyages back and forth between Mani-hiki and Rakahanga. The matakeinanga might have been regarded as sub-tribes were it not that each of them split into named subdivisions to which the term subtribe is better applied.

The naming of the tribes creates a problem. In Tongareva, owing to the spread of secondary centers of habitation, the groups which grew up were designated by the territorial name of the island they occupied. In Rakahanga, as the whole population lived on one island and not in territories, the territorial designation of groups was not applicable. Under such circumstances, a group designation conveying descent from a common ancestor might be expected. In New Zealand and other areas, tribes are commonly designated by the application of a plural prefix to the name of an eponymous ancestor. Latent in the four Rakahangan tribal names, Numatua, Tia-ngarotonga, Heahiro, and Mokopuwai, is a possibility of derivation from ancestral names, but the people themselves were unable to settle the difficulty by locating the eponymous ancestors, if such they were, on their family pedigrees. Nu-matua looks like a personal name but does not appear in the pedigrees. Ngarotonga appears in the 5th generation (p. 26) as a grandson of Matangaro, but the Tia-ngarotonga is a Hukutahu tribe. Haumata-tua stated that Heitutae and Poupou-whenua were the stock through which the Mokopu-ngarotonga descended, and that Poupou-whenua, the father of Heitutae, was of Matangaro stock. This will bring in the name Ngarotonga as an eponymous ancestor, but when I pointed out that the Tia-ngarotonga tribe was not of Matangaro descent, the reply was given that Mokopu-ngarotonga did not refer to the Tia-ngarotonga but to the Mokopuwai, which is of Matangaro stock. No explanation was offered as to the Heahiro tribe. It is probable that the tribal names are derived from ancestors who lived between the 5th and 9th generations, but the imperfect transmission of the pedigrees prevents illustration of this.