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The material on this Web site was obtained during a series of discussions with the elders of the Northern Gilbert Islands in (Kiribati Meang) about 1930. This material was then published in the 'The Migrations of a Pandanus People',
Part II, Polynesian Society of New Zealand, 1933.


The Gilberts (Kiribati) form part of that multitudinous archipelago of gemlike islets called Micronesia, which, beginning with the Palau Islands stretches eastward a full 2,000 miles above the equator, then curves away to the southeast, crossing the equator at the Gilbert Islands. The Gilbert atolls do not bulk large amidst so vast a concourse, and statistics seem to render them more insignificant still.

Soak in the enchanting sounds of the sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to you in 64kbps FM Stereo!


According to Taakeuta, an old man of Marakei Island, the substance traditionally known as te renga was the food of ancestors (bakatibu) in 'the line of lands in the west' called by the inclusive name of Te Bu-kiroro or Te Bongiroro. Quoting the same authority, who is backed by other old men of Marakei, Abaiang and Tarawa-all in the Northern Gilberts - 'te renga was a food which made the mouth red when it was eaten.' There is a tradition in Taakeuta's social group, and also upon the island of Abaiang, that this substance was not taken alone, being chewed (kantaki) with the leaf of a certain tree.

Taam, of Marakei, who is descended through nine generations from a Beru ancestor named Kaabwibwi, remembers a story of his clan relating how Kaabwibwi used to 'visit the west in dreams', there to chew te renga in company with his ancestral deity Tabu-ariki. Kaabwibwi is believed to have gone, after death, to live in Bouru with all his ancestors and to feast with them upon the red food.  

Supporting this individualized account is found a general tradition in the Northern Gilberts that te renga is the food of all departed ghosts, when they have accomplished their three days' sojourn with Nakaa, and joined the company of their ancestors in Bouru. A belief which finds acceptance on most islands of the Group is that the red food is the diet of the fair or red-skinned deities of the race - Auriaria (the spirit of the pandanus), Nei Tewenei (his wife, the meteor), Nei Tituabine (his sister-maramour), Riiki the eel (whose belly is the Milky Way), Tabu-ariki (the thunder god), and Taburimai - in their western home called Matang. The red lightning that flashes in the storm-clouds of the westerly winds is sometimes called in old songs 'the renga of Matang' and 'the renga of Nei Tituabine'. The redness of the sky at sunset is held to be a memorial of the food's colour, and of the western lands (sometimes Bouru, sometimes Matang) where it originated.

Clearly, all the above accounts of te renga have reference to a single family of ideas: in Taakeuta's story, it is the food of ancestors; in Taam's the generalized account, it is eaten by all departed ghosts when joined with the shades of their forefathers. The land of shades and the ancestral fatherland of at least one branch of the Gilbertese race are thus compactly identified, the one with the other, so that the red food of ghosts and gods may be regarded as an article once used by the human antecedents of the race in their western homes of Bouru and Matang.

Confirming the Marakei and Abaiang evidence that the food was not a simple but a composite substance is its name te renga, which means the mixture. The invaluable details (a) that one of the elements of the mixture was the leaf of a tree (b) that the whole was chewed, and (c) that it stained the mouth red, read together with the information that the food originated in the far West, enable the immediate identification of this substance with the betel-mixture (areca-nut, betel-leaf, lime) which is, of course, still commonly chewed in the far western Pacific and Indonesia.

The question which naturally arises, if the Gilbertese forefathers had the betel-chewing habit, is why their descendants have not persisted in the practice until today. This is fairly answered by the physical conditions of the Gilbert Group, whereof the almost purely coralline soil will support only two food-trees - the pandanus and the coconut-palm. If the areca-palm ever was introduced into these atolls, it could not well have outlasted the first generation of settlement. As the betel-chewing habit must thus have been involuntarily abandoned at an early epoch of the race-history, the memory preserved of the ancestral practice is remarkably precise.

Indonesia being the focus of the betel-chewing habit, it is natural to look first in that area for the far western lands named in the Gilbertese renga traditions; and, as the Moluccan portion of Indonesia stands at the gates of the Pacific, it seems prima facie more likely that the culture-stream which brought the Bouru-Matang-renga beliefs to the Gilbert Group emanated from that area of the Asiatic archipelago. Such a supposition is encouraged by the conclusion of Rivers that the betel-culture was brought to the western Pacific by immigrants from Indonesia, and receives further support from Haddon's finding, on quite different evidence, that the Moluccas were the most probable starting-point of the various race-movements into the Pacific Ocean.

Bouru is highly reminiscent of Buru, a large island in the centre of the Moluccan area, and a pair of topographical coincidences strengthens the suggestion that Buru may have been the ancestral land of the renga tradition: first, there is the story of Nakaa's great lake on Bouru, wherein the ghosts of the dead do their fishing. A glance at any large scale map will show that in the centre of Buru there is a lake called Rana, fed by a River Mone, which covers an area of approximately four square miles. And second, there is the tradition that a place or area called Manra lies either on the south coast or else the southward of Bouru. A further reference to the map will disclose the Bands Islands and Banda Sea immediately to southward of Buru.

Some further coincidences of nomenclature demand record in conjunction with these facts. Matang, the name of the other renga paradise already mentioned, is a widespread Indonesian place-name between Mattang of Sarawak and Madang of New Guinea; and Mwaiku, yet another Gilbertese paradise, recalls Waigiou by the Macassar Straits. Gilolo, facing Waigiou on the other side of the Straits, and immediately north of Buru, has already claimed notice in connection with the Kiroro cooking-oven, and Unauna in the northern bight of Celebes in connection with the Onouna of the katura oven. Between Unauna and Buru on the chart are seen the islands of Bengaai and Taliabu: Bangai and Taribo are common place-names in the Gilbert Group. To the east iof Buru lie Manipa and Serang (Ceram): there are many Manibas and several Terangs in the present home of the Gilbertese.

The cumulative value of these coincidences is enhanced by the diverse nature of the traditions which make them apparent. Two similarities of nomenclature have appeared in connection with cooking-ovens; four from an examination of Gilbertese place-names; one in a paradise story; and three in the paradise-renga traditions. It is certainly remarkable that whenever, in this diffuse material, the name of an original land is mentioned, it finds its counterpart in a single small area of Indonesia. The effect is that of a series of sign-posts set up at different points in Gilbertese culture and tradition, every one of them pointing to a common centre. Adding to this the commonly admitted likelihood  that from this very centre - the Moluccan area - both the betel-people and other migrant swarms emerged into the Pacific, there seems to be very reasonable ground for the belief that Buru, the Banda Islands, Serang, Gilolo, and the places grouped around them were once the homes of those Gilbertese ancestors who chewed the red food called te renga.


(a) Modern cases of cannibalism  

There can be no doubt that sporadic cases of cannibalism have occurred throughout the Gilbert Islands until recent times. In 1922 there was a man in Butaritari, whose father, just deceased at the age of about eighty, was known to have strangled one of his wives a short while before the establishment of the British Protectorate (1892) and eaten raw her thumbs, great toes and breasts. It seems that he committed this atrocity whilst drunk with sour toddy, under the goad of sexual jealousy. His object was not to procure food, but to load the dead woman with the last imaginable indignity. Individual cases of cannibalism from two to five generations old collected from eight islands indicate that this was by far the most common motive of cannibalism in later times.

A common practice during war-time in the Northern Gilberts was to pluck out the eyes of enemies slain in battle and crush them between the teeth. The mere biting in two appears, as a rule, to have sufficed, but this had been obtained from several old men of Tarawa and Marakei the admission that they actually swalloed the eyes thus enucleated. An idiom still in common use at moments of extreme anger is 'I bia orai mata-m' (Would that I might eat uncooked thy eyes). The operation was usually performed in the heat of battle, standing over the newly-fallen enemy; but it is told of a certain High Chief of the Northern Gilberts, not very long dead, that he would occasionally cause suspected rivals to be murdered and brought to him, in order that he might bite their eyeballs with due deliberation.

An interesting story from Banaba (Ocean Island) relates that four or five generations ago a Tabiteuean canoe containing five starving occupants drifted ashore there. The castaways were kindly treated, one of them named Tebuke being adopted into a household of the village of Buakonikai. After several years, Tebuke was suddenly missed from the village and, after vain search, was given up for dead. From that time onward many other people of the same village district began to disappear mysteriously, and it was believed that they had become victims of the same evil power that had spirited away Tebuke. After a good many years, Tebuke reappeared, sick and on the point of death. Just before dying, he confessed that he had lain hidden all the time in a hollow rock (now known as Tebuke's rock), which stood near one of the paths taken by fishermen to reach the eastern shore of the island. Whenever a man or woman passed the rock alone, Tebuke had followed and killed them, then dragged the corpse back to his hiding place to eat it at his leisure. There seems to be no reason for doubting this story which shows that, in some cases at least, there was a tendency to revert to cannibalism for purely gastronomic reasons.

The word 'revert' is used advisedly, because tradition seems to leave no doubt that the eating of human flesh was commonly practised, in conjunction with a form of organised head-hunting, by the race-ancestors who came to the Gilbert Group from Samoa, about twenty-two to twenty-five generations ago. This, however, is one of the most carefully-hidden secrets of the Karongoa clan.

(b) The Little Makin head-hunting tradition

In 1925, three old men of the high chiefly group of Little Makin dictated the following text:

(1) Growth of the ancestor tree Kai-n-tikuaaba. A certain being lived in Mone in the depths, and his name was Taranga. That being's thought was for ever busy seeking a way up to the land above; so he took the seed of a certain plant, a very small seed, and he buried it in a hole in the earth.

And behold! that plant grew tall and great from Mone in the depths, and Taranga mounted its branches, for he desired to go up with it as it grew; but he did not see that another person was hiding in the top of the tree - even Auriaria.

And behold! the top of the tree reached the heights of Mone. The time came for it to spring forth above the land; the land was struck by it and cracked: Auriaria sprang forth on high, for he had mounted upon the top of the tree. As for Taranga, who was the very owner of that seed, he stayed in Mone in the depths, for the branches of the tree were held down by the sky on Mone, so that he could not spring forth on high.

That tree was a pandanus, and its name was Kai-n-tikuaaba. Auriaria mounted upon its top, and the branches of it were many when it was full grown, and people grew thereon - even Tabu-ariki, Riiki, Nei Teweven, and Nei Tituabine. And Taburimai grew from a swelling in its trunk; and Koura grew from its first bloom (tabaa); and Te-uribaba grew from its tap-root.

And all the inhabitants of that tree were gathered together, and Auriaria was the king of the top, and Te-uribaba was the king of the underside. Even thus was the first growing of the tree called Kai-n-tikuaaba, the ancestor. 

(2) Growing of Batuku-the-skull. Then was planted on Samoa the tree called Kai-n-tikuaaba, for there Auriaria planted it when he trod the south. It stood on the slope of a mountain. Auriaria dwelt in the top, and the man Te-uribaba dwelt beneath it. This was the manner of the mountain whereon the tree stood: its summit smoked, and sometimes burned fiercely; and the people of Samoa could not walk upon that mountain, for it was sacred, even as a shrine; and its name was Maunga-tabu (sacred mountain).

There came a time when the summit of the mountain swelled, and behold! it was cleft asunder, and that which was within came forth - even a skull. That was the great skull whose name was Batuku, the king of Samoa of old, and his anti was Auriaria. And behold! Batuku rolled about upon the summit of the mountain: he ate the living things of that place - even the rats and the lizards and little beasts, for that alone was the food which he found on the summit.

Batuku grew. Marvellous was the skull. It was tall, it was great, its height was the height of the maneaba. A long time passed and there came a day when that which was within the skull came forth. The crown (mango) swelled, and behold! the first-born came forth, even Te-mango. And Te-Kaburoro came forth from the brain (kaburoro, and Te-bure came forth from the occiput (bure), and Kabo-taninga came forth from the ear (taninga), and Koururu came forth from above the brow (koururu), and Te-ria-kaewe came forth from the lip (ria); and the last-born was Rairaueana Te-i-matang, (the-man-of-Matang). That man came forth from the front tooth of the skull. All these people indeed came out of the skull.

And the work of those men was to seek the food of their father. For a time they remained on the summit, and behold! the food on the crest of the mountain was well-nigh finished. Then it came to pass that they went down from the top of the mountain to seek the food of their father upon the low land. And the food of Batuku was the heads of the people killed by his children.

And once, as the children of Batuku were going about on the mountain side, they met Te-Uribaba, who lived beneath the tree of Auriaria, and they disported themselves with him. Te maka (sling) was the name of their game. And behold! the hand of the man Rairaueana Te-i-matang went astray, and the front tooth of Te-Uribaba was struck. The heart of Te-Uribaba was hot when his tooth was struck, but he hid it within his heart. That was the first anger of Te-Uribaba toward the people of the mountain.

(3) Building of the canoe 'Kaburoro'. There came a time when the children of Batuku fared forth to seek the food of their father from the west. Whence they should they get them a canoe? They spoke to Batuku, and this he said to them, 'Go, call the cutters of the timber of your canoe - even Au-te-wenewene, and Au-te-rarangaki, and Taburitokia.'

These people were called, and they went to cut timber for the canoe, even the timber of the ranga tree, which grew on the slope of the mountain. When that was done, the children of Batuku said to their father, 'Who shall build our canoe?' And thus spake he: 'Call Kotunga.' Kotunga was called, but he was unwilling to build the canoe, and said to them, 'Tell your brother Kaburoro (brain) to build the canoe, for this is a mighty work.' They asked Kaburoro, and he consented.

First was built the shed of the canoe. When that was done, the keel was laid. The time came to lay the garboard strake in place, and behold! there were no women of their company to make twine for there were only men of their company.

The main Kaburoro created the string-makers: he rubbed the edge of the garboard strake so as to make it sit well upon the keel; and the dust fell from the wood, and behold! a company of women grew from the dust (bubu) of the wood - even Nei Bubuia; not one woman only, but a family of many persons. These were the makers of the twine of that canoe. The garboard strake was laid in place. The time came to fit the second plank, and again there grew a family of persons from the dust of the plant - even Nei Te-wa-matang (The-canoe-of-Matang), a numerous company of women.

Again there grew people from the third plank (buaka) - a numerous company of men, even Nan-Te-buaka. Again the fourth plant (eke) was laid in place: Nei Kaekea came forth, a numerous company of women. Again the gunwale strake (wi) was laid in place: Nei Te-wi came forth, a numerous company of women. Then was the hull of the canoe strutted out, and the ribs (aiai) were set in place. Nei-Te-wi came forth, a numerous company of women. Then was the hull of the canoe strutted out, and the ribs (aiai) were set in place: Nei Kiaiai grew from the dust of the ribs, a numerous company of women. The deck-planks (bao) were lashed on: people grew from the lashings, even Nei Kameenono, a numerous company of women. The canoe was finished, and its name was Te Kaburoro. The outrigger float was shaped, and its name was Te-ira-n-timtim. The sail was made, even Te-akarinaba, and the steering oar, Bakamwea-tarawa. This is the full tale of the things which were named. The canoe is ready for launching.

They went to seek rollers (nangoa) for the canoe; they went to slay men to be the rollers of it; they slew men and brought them up to the canoe-shed. They set the canoe upon the dead people for rollers. They loosened the screens of the canoe-shed, and behold! heaven thundered, lightning flashed, the thunderbolt fell and rain also. The canoe was moved down to the sea, and the name of the launching place where it went down to the sea was Te-bu-nagonango (the stinking-of-many-rollers). And it was night of that day: Te Kaburoro was launched on the morrow.

The crest (bou) of the canoe was made: a man grew from it, even Nan Tabera-ni-bou. The sail was hoisted: a man grew from the outrigger-stay (ata), even Nan Te-ata. The sheet (baba) was hauled: a man grew, even Nan Te-aa-baba. The steer-oar (bwe) was lashed in place: a man grew, even Nan Tari-ni-bwe. The fore and aft stays (taumori) were hauled tight: a man grew, even Na Uamori.

And behold! the canoe sped away: a women grew from the wake, even Nei Te-buburo (the coiling). Now it is done; the tale of people who grew is finished. And all the people who grew from Te Kaburoro went up on shore: they returned to Samoa, for that was indeed their land.

(4) First voyage of Te Kaburoro. Then went Te Kaburoro with its crew, the children of Batuku-the-skull, to seek the food of their father from the west. They came first to the land of Futuna. The canoe sailed up to the land and lay under its lee, and the people of the land stood on the crest of the beach to watch them.

The children of Batuku went ashore to slay the inhabitants of Futuna. They were not prevented, for the inhabitants of the place knew naught of fighting. The killing made by the children of Batuku was even as many as a hundred slain.

And there were chosen from among the dead the bodies of men who were the first-born and bearded and bald. The canoe was loaded with them, for they only were the food most acceptable to the kings of Samoa. And the children of Batuku cut off the heads of the dead, and used the heads as the crests of their canoe. And behold! the blood of the heads dripped down from above, and as they sped westward, fish followed them to eat the blood which dripped from the boom, even two rereba (trevally) and a turtle mounted on the outrigger float to drink the blood which flowed down from the stay of the mast. Then came the canoe to Samoa; it sailed up to the land at the launching-place called Te-maungi-n-aomata (the putrefaction-of-men), and the dead within it were taken ashore. 

The time came to divide the food in shares. First set apart was the foodof Batuku and his anti Auriaria, even the heads of the men slain at Futuna. The food of Batuku was carried and set down at the base of the mountain, for the treading of that place was feared.

And when Batuku did eat, the summit of the mountain smoked furiously. After that, they portioned out the food of the people; the flesh was divided among the families; all the families of Samoa received a share. Only the share of Te-Uribaba was forgotten among all men: he had no share of the flesh, for he partook only the remnants, even the entrails. Te-Uribaba was hot of heart, but he said no word, for he held his counsel.

Then again the canoe Te Kaburoro went voyaging to find the food of the kings of Samoa: it went that time to Nuku-maroro Nieue, and once again, even as at Futuna, the people were slain at Nuku-maroro, for they also knew naught of the fighting. And when the dead were brought ashore, their heads were laid on the slopes of the mountain, to be the food of Batuku and his anti Auriaria. But when the flesh of the dead was divided up among the people, the share of Te-Uribaba was again forgotten; and the heart of Te-Uribaba was sore at that manner of sharing, but he hid it.

Once again Te Kaburoro went voyaging to find food for the kings of Samoa; it went that time to Tonga, to southward of Samoa. And behold! the man Te-Uribaba arose: the time had come for him to go with the canoe. It was night when he arose, and went and hid himself under the leaf-mats which lay within Te Kaburoro. And behold! the canoe set forth, and the people of it knew not Te-Uribaba.  

When Te-Kaburoro came to Tonga, the people of the land were slain, even as the people of Futuna and Nuku-maroro before them, for they knew naught of fighting. And when the canoe was about to return to Samoa with its cargo of dead men, behold! Te-Uribaba slipped forth from under the leaf-mats, and dropped into the sea with a leaf-mat to cover him. The people of the canoe saw the mat when it fell, and one among them said, 'Behold! a mat has fallen.' Others answered, 'No matter, it is only a coconut-leaf.' They knew not that Te-Uribaba was hidden beneath it: they drove forward without heed to Samoa.

The man Te-Uribaba swam ashore: he landed on Tonga; he gathered together the people to teach them the ways of fighting and battle; he taught them the craft of striking, and the craft of the spear, and the craft of all weapons, and all the ways of war. Mayhap there was no manner of fighting that he did not teach them. Much time passed, and they were skilled in battle, for he gave them all his skill. And after that, Te-Uribaba arose and went to Futuna and Nuku-marororo, and all the people of those lands learned his skill. Never before Te-Uribaba had those people any skill in war. 

(5) War of Te-Uribaba against the people of Samoa. And behold! a new generation grew up on Futuna, and Nuku-maroro, and Tonga, and they were all skilled in war.

There came a time when the canoe went again to seek the first-born, the food of the kings of Samoa. It sailed first to the land of Futuna, and when it lay-to under the lee of the land, not a man was seen to stand on the crest of the beach. Then thus said the people of the canoe, 'How strange is the manner of this land, for the manner of it is changed! The people were formerly wont to stand before us, and now not a man do we see on the crest of the beach.'

They went ashore to slay the people; they went up to the village; there were but a few people in the village who, when the people of Samoa came, arose and fled before them. The people of Samoa followed them into the bush: they came to the mist of the land.

And behold! when the people of Samoa came to the midst of the land, a great host of people stood before them. All the people of Futuna were gathered together before them, and they were skilled in war.

Then came the time for the people of Te Kaburoro to be slain, every one of them. Their heads were beaten, their throats were cut, their vitals were pierced by the people of Futuna. A single man was saved of their number, even the child of Batuku whose name was Kabo-taninga. That man was held by the people of Futuna. They dragged him to their village; they wounded his body; they cut out his tongue; and thus they said to him, 'Thou shalt return to Samoa, and thou shalt spread the news of this land, even that we shall be ready to carry war to Samoa after three moons.' Then they gave the steer-oar into his hand, and he returned to Samoa.

Watch was kept for Te Kaburoro on Samoa. And behold! the people saw it coming from the west. There was no company thereon, nor any dead men. One man only was thereon, even Kabo-taninga. The canoe went up to the northern tip of Samoa, and grounded among the rocks. Men went down to lift that man ashore.

Bewildered were all the people! The body of Kabo-taninga was wounded and he could not speak, for he had no tongue. He was led to the Council-House, so that the people might hear his news, and he was asked of the manner of the slaying of his companions. He could not answer. They said again, 'Sir, what man of that land is skilled in warfare? What is his name, and of what country is he? Then Kabo-taninga pointed at that land of Samoa, and they knew that it was a man of Samoa.

And they brought out to him all the families of Samoa, and thus said they, 'Is he of this family?' And he shook his head. Only when the family of Te-Uribaba was pointed out did he nod his head. Then enquiry was made to find them. They asked Kotunga, who was the friend of Te-Uribaba from of old, 'Where is thy friend?' and thus said he: 'Doubtless it was he who brought us defeat, for he was not of heart because of his share of the food, even the bowels.' And Kabo-taninga nodded his head when he heard, so that the people of Samoa knew that it was Te-Uribaba.

Then all the people made ready, for the time of war had struck. The appointed time of three moons went by, and the people were all ready. And behold! the canoes of Futuna and Nuku-maroro and Tonga came out of the west; they came up to the land at the northern tip of Samoa; their people disembarked on the shoal; and the people of Samoa stood ready with their warriors before them. A division went down upon the shoal to meet the people of Tonga: they fought with spears and pelted each other with throwing sticks. Many of the people of Samoa fell that day, for there was one man among the people of Tonga who was stronger than they, even Te-Uribaba. And the people of Samoa were defeated.   

They retreated to consider their plan of battle for the morrow, and the warriors were questioned by the old men. 'Why are ye defeated?' The warriors answered, 'There is one man who is stronger than all the rest, at whose hands we are slain, every one of us.' The old men said, 'Did you recognize him?' They answered, 'We did not recognize him.' The old men said, 'Enough! Ye shall recognize him to-morrow.'

When the morrow came, another division went down to give battle. Then they recognized that man, and it was indeed Te-Uribaba; so some of their number played a stratagem, and took Te-Uribaba, and brought him ashore. Te-Uribaba came to land. They asked him, 'Why didst thou bring us defeat, and slay the people of Samoa?' He said that his heart had been hot when his tooth was broken, and because of his share of the food, even the bowels.

Then they said to him, 'Enough! Let there be peace.' He agreed. And Te-Uribaba with his companions was held upon Samoa, to dwell upon the northern tip of the land, and not to leave that place. They were held for long on Samoa, but afterward all their food failed, for there was a great number of them; so Te-Uribaba was called by the people of Samoa, in order that he might tell his friends to go back to their homes.

And behold! they went away: they returned to their homes, and never came again to Samoa. As for Te-Uribabva, he sailed northward until he came to Onotoa and Nonouti, and Tabiteuea. There remain his descendants to this day.

(6) A canoe from Tarawa. Rairaueana Te-i-Matang, the son of Batuku-the-skull, desired again in his heart to go voyaging, so he launched Te Kaburoro for a voyage to northward. The companions of his voyage were the whole company who had grown at sea when the canoe was first launched.

The canoe sped northward. After a while it met with another canoe, which came sailing down from Tarawa, even Te Aka-rua-Tarawa. That canoe and Te Kaburoro collided with each other to windward of Rotima, and Te Kaburoro was damaged: her deck planks were torn away, and so she sped down-wind to Rotima (or Rotuma which is a rocky island 840 feet high, some 600 miles west of Samoa and 300 miles south of Nui, in the Ellice Islands now called Tuvalu) to be repaired. Te Aka-rua-Tarawa beat up to Samoa, and reached land at Makua-n-te-rara (high-tide of blood), and was taken ashore to the canoe-shed in that place. The people of the canoe were Taubakarebua the captain, and Nei Marebu the sorcerer, and Kotei the diviner. And when they were in the canoe-shed, they were fed there by the people of Samoa. Food was brought to them for two days, but behold! they were to have been slain on the third day. A certain man of Samoa told them that they were to be slain; so when they launched their canoe on the evening of the second day. But the canoe did not depart, for they had forgotten their steer-oar, so they went to anchor in the deep water under the lee of Samoa.

In the morning, the time for their slaying arrived, but they were not in the canoe-shed, for they had gone. And their steer-oar was discovered: the people of Samoa held it, and awaited the return of the people of the canoe to beach it.

And Kotei, a man of the canoe, made a divination concerning the recovery of the steer-oar. The divination was unfavourable to the recovery of the steer-oar by day, but it was favourable for the night.

And when it was evening, a storm came: it thundered and lightened. Then Kotei directed the man who was to fetch the oar. 'When thou comest to the crest of the beach, crouch down and await the lightning. When it lightens, though shalt examine the path, and when it is dark, again, though shalt tread the path that though has seen.'

The man came to the canoe-shed, and there again he hid under the leaf-screens. When it lightened, he saw the steer-oar, and when it was dark, he seized it. And behold! he came back to the canoe, and they returned to Tarawa.

(7) Voyage of Rairaueana to Tabiteuea. Te Kaburoro was repaired at Rotima, and launched again in the sea. It sped northward and came up to the southern end of Tabiteuea, windward of the place called Te-manoku. There landed the people of the canoe. A time passed, and they saw a man of Tabiteuea, whose name was Nan Tebuanna. They asked him concerning water, for they were thirsty: he went to fetch it, and brought it to them together with a hat, full of blood for their food. They asked him, 'What kind of blood is this?' This he said, 'it is the blood of a porpoise which lies stranded on the eastern shore.'  The said, 'How great is the porpoise?' He answered, 'It is very great. All the people are gone up to seek it.' They said, 'Thou shalt go get some of it for our food.' And that man said, 'You will get no food from it: I am but now come away from it, and there is no room on the porpoise for the multitude of men, and if I go there I shall be killed.' They answered, 'Enough! Go and say that we beg our food.' So he went and begged for them, but he was refused: he could not reach the porpoise. Then again spake Rairaueana Te-i-matang, 'Enough! I will go with thee. Go, get thy weapon.' He went to get his weapon, and Raioraueana also took his. Their weapons were throwing-sticks.

They came beside the porpoise a multitude of people was gathered upon it. Rairaueana stood upon the high ground above the beach, and he told Nan Tebuanna to go to beg food. Again he got no food, for he was pushed back from the porpoise. Then thus said Rairaueana, 'Enough! Stand aside, that I may throw.' He aimed at the forehead of the porpoise: it was pierced through from forehead to tail-bone, and not a man remained upon it, for all were slain by the throwing stick of Rairaueana.

Then came Tebuanna to cut up the food, and no people came after that, for they were afraid. Rairaueana took his food, and they departed. And the saying of the people of Tabiteuea went abroad, 'If a porpoise be stranded after this, let no man take the first share thereof, for the porpoise belongs to the people of Matang.'

And Rairaueana and his companions remained at the south end of Tabiteuea, at Te-manoku. One night they lay down to sleep at Te-manoku, but when they awoke no houses covered them, for they had been taken away. Auriaria, their anti, had removed them, for he was not content that they should live at the end of the land; he desired that they should live in the midst of Tabiteuea. The arose in the morning to seek their houses, and they found them in the midst of the land, at the place called Utiroa, where Auriaria had placed them. There, at Utiroa, they remained to dwell.

Then Rairaueana lay with a woman of Tabiteuea, even Nei Mangati. He begot children upon her: his descendant was Te-ietoa.

Te-ietoa voyaged northward to Butaritari, and there he settled. He was made a high chief on Butaritari. He lay with Nei Maima: his son was Ataata-ni-makin. Ataata-ni-makin lay with Nei Kabutibo: his son was Te-i-mauri. Te-i-mauri lay with Nei Rakentai, the daughter of Beia, who was a high chief upon Tarawa; and the children of Te-i-mauri with Nei Rakentai were Rairaueana-the-Warrior, and Na Atanga, and Mangkia, from whom are descended the high chiefs of Abemama, and Abaiang, and Butaritari, and Mille to this day.

The salient features of this account from Little Makin are corroborated by a somewhat less detailed version collected from the Karongoa sib of Beru in the Southern Gilberts; and discounting marvels, I see no reason for doubting the general accuracy of the facts related. Further supporting evidence is supplied by traditions connected with the canoe-crest of Karongoa; this crest consists of various arrangements of tufts and pennants of pandanus-leaf, which I have described elsewhere. Almost any Karongoa man in the Group knows that the tufts are representations of human heads, 'in memory of the food of the kings of Samoa in olden times'. The account given in the Little Makin texts of how the heads of the slain were hoisted in the rigging of the raiders' canoe interlocks very well with this widespread tradition.

As I have stated, the head-hunting and cannibalism of the Gilbertese ancestors in Samoa and elsewhere is the dark secret of an inner circle of Karongoa. Members of the outer circle, and of other social groups, possess versions of the Little Makin story told, not in terms of fact but in curious cryptic form, which they relate without in the least understanding their hidden significance, and which, set side by side with the authentic story, form a most interesting study. They are mythopoetic renderings of the truth which the initiates of Karongoa have put into currency, in order the more completely to conceal the real facts of history.

It is related in the cryptic class of traditions that stranded porpoise formed the favourite food of the people of Samoa, and that the heads of the porpoise were the portion (tibia) of the kings of Karongoa. To a bitter quarrel arising out of the unfair division of certain porpoise is attributed the scattering of the people from Samoa, and their migration to the Gilbert Group. This, it is seen, agrees in general outline very well with the Little Makin account; only, porpoise-flesh, replaces human flesh, and all details concerning the practice of head-hunting, the rituals surrounding it, and the deities with whom it was associated, are suppressed. In the expurgated versions, no mention is made of Auriaria or the skull named Batuku, these two personages being replaced by a king of Samoa called Namakaina (the moon); and though the ancestral tree figures in the story as the 'abode of the kings of Samoa', nothing is said of the 'sacred mountain that smoked' whereon the authentic account places the tree.

Assembling the details with which the two classes of tradition, read side by side, furnish us, we have the following information:

1. Cannibalism among the Gilbertese ancestors in Samoa was secondary to the offering of human heads in sacrifice to certain deities.

2. A form of organized head-hunting was practised to supply the deities with their 'food'. The heads of those who were the 'first-born and bearded and bald' were preferred for ritual reasons.

3. The spiritual powers to whom sacrifice was made were Auriaria, a god believed to dwell in the top of an ancestral tree, and Batuku, who was associated with an enormous ancestral skull. There seems to be a connection between these two things and the moon.

4. The ritual of sacrifice was connected with a sacred volcano called Maungatabu, the home of the tree-god and the skull-god.

5. The victims of sacrifice were not, in later times at least, inhabitants of Samoa, having been fetched from the islands of Nieue, Tonga, and Futuna, all about two hundred and fifty miles distant from Savaii.

6. The euphemism - perhaps the ritual word - used to designate a corpse to be eaten by the people was te kua - the porpoise.

7. The partition of dead bodies amount the various social groups was a ceremonious occasion. It was some failure to observe the rights of a social group or groups in the course of such a ceremonial that caused the break-up of the race in Samoa.

8. As the carriage of corpses by canoe from the neighbouring islands named to Samoa could not have occupied under two or three days, the flesh must have been putrid before arrival. This suggests that the form of cannibalism practised was theoretical or ritual rather than actual or gastronomic.

The connection of Batuku the skull-god with the moon is arresting, because the association of cannibalism with beings who dwelt in the sky is of common personage called Tawhaki by the Maori, wherein Tawhaki himself is seen to be descended from a cannibal grandmother, Whatitiri, who was not only a sky-astronomical associations of cannibalism are even better defined in some versions of the story quoted by Dixon for these place Tawhaki eventually, with his grandmother, in heaven as a deity of lightning.    

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 16th October 2010)