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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga



In comparison with high islands, the low volcanic islands or atolls are greatly restricted as to natural variety in food. Manihiki and Rakahanga were not on the ancient sea routes followed by the voyaging canoes that sailed between Society Islands and Cook Islands, and this may in part account for the failure of many of the foods carried by the early Polynesians to reach these two atolls. The pig, the dog, and the domestic fowl were not known. A small rat, no doubt introduced accidentally, was not eaten, according to the inhabitants. For flesh foods, the people depended on the sea and the lagoon. Certain sea birds with their eggs also augmented the larder. Of vegetable foods, the introduction of the coconut was attributed to Huku, who, besides planting a ni ponga which floated ashore, brought others from his land of birth. Tradition does not connect Huku with the puraka (species of taro) page 84 which was grown on the atolls. It is probable that this plant was brought in by some of the local voyagers who were reputed to have visited other lands, such as Tokelau, and to have returned. If Huku did come from Rarotonga, his not bringing the puraka is in accordance with the fact that the puraka was not grown on that island. If he brought other species of taro they perished, for the puraka seems to be the only species that thrives in Manihiki and Rakahanga. The presence of the puraka resulted in the use of wooden pounders which are not found on Tongareva, owing to the absence of that food plant, and of coral slabs for grating. Of the native plants, the hala (Pandanus) and the Morinda citrifolia were the only ones that could be utilized. If the hala was introduced, there is no historical narrative supporting its diffusion as there is in Tongareva. With the main vegetable supplies consisting of the coconut and the puraka, the people made the best of their limited resources by serving them in as many different forms as possible to add variety to their diet.

Variety of cooking utensils was also restricted by paucity of material. Much of the food was prepared in the kitchen, a separate establishment set at the back of the dwelling house to shelter the earth oven from the rain.