There was a man from Titikaveka in Rarotonga named Ta’unga-o-te-tini, which means the “Priest of the Thousands.” Ta’unga became a missionary in New Caledonia in the 1840’s. Later in life he was the minister of the Congregational church on the island of Manu’a. Since the people of New Caledonia at this time were cannibals, most of Ta’unga’s fellow missionaries were eaten. Once, Ta’unga was travelling from one village to another with two men. The three of them stopped at a stream and Ta’unga kneeled down to drink. While he was on his knees with his back turned to the other two he heard one speak to another in a different language. They did not know, but Ta’unga knew that language and he understood it when one said to another: “Should we kill him now?”, and the other responded, “No. Let’s wait so we don’t have to carry him as far.” When Ta’unga stood up he showed no sign to them that he understood. He asked, however, for the privacy to defecate behind some trees, which the other two gave to him. As soon as Ta’unga was behind the trees he started to run. The two men did not suspect anything until they saw him running over a nearby hill. Then they started to chase him. Ta’unga arrived at his friends’ village before he was caught so he lived to tell the story. His friends later went and caught those two. They brought both of them back, one dead, the other tied up. They were going to cook them both and when Ta’unga heard what was happening he went out to them. Up until this time the chiefs had been trying to convince Ta’unga to be a cannibal because cooked human flesh tastes so good. When he came out to them he said that since those two men had tried to kill him that he had the right to have a portion of what had been brought back. The chiefs thought that they had finally convinced Ta’unga to be a cannibal and they called out for someone to bring an arm to Ta’unga. They brought him an arm. But Ta’unga then told them that he did not want just an arm, but he wanted the man who was not yet dead. The chiefs who were initially surprised that Ta’unga wanted to join them in cannibalism realized that Ta’unga wanted to save the living man from being killed. They disagreed because they felt that it would be a waste of food. But Ta’unga persisted, so they gave the man to Ta’unga to be his servant. Later this servant asked Ta’unga for permission to go visit his relatives and Ta’unga gave him permission and cautioned him to please return because, “The chiefs will be angry with me and I may be killed.” The servant departed and visited his relatives. The chiefs were angry with Ta’unga that the servant had gone away because they did not think that he would return and that would be a waste of food. But the servant returned. And we see the good that was obtained because Ta’unga returned good for evil.
Later, Ta’unga was the minister of Manu’a. His wife’s name was Ngapoko and she was from Rarotonga also. One night Ta’unga died. Some children had come to his home to be taught by him. When his wife went in to tell him that the children that he was to talk to had arrived she found him laying on the floor, dead. She then went and told the children that Ta’unga was ill and could not speak with them. She then gathered their own children and they sat around their father in the night. She did not tell anyone because she knew that if she did, the people of the village would come and visit and she wanted to be alone with her children and with Taunga’s body. In the morning Ngapoko told one of her children to go and tell one of the deacons that Ta’unga was dead. At that point Ta’unga woke from his death. He told his family that the night before that he had felt very heavy and realized that he was dying. After he died his spirit left his body and met an angel. The angel asked Ta’unga if he would like to see hell. Ta’unga agreed, so the angel opened a door and Ta’unga could look down on people burning in waves of fire. Ta’unga felt really sorry for those people and was thinking if there was someone way that he could help them. When the angel saw what Ta’unga was going to do he closed the door. Then the angel asked Ta’unga if he wanted to see his children who were dead. Ta’unga answered that he did, so they were shown to Ta’unga. Then the angel asked Ta’unga if he wanted to see heaven and he wanted to. So the angel showed him heaven. When he looked into heaven he saw a lot of people that he did not recognize. But he recognized two chiefs of Manu’a who were dead and were now in heaven. At that point, the angel brought the spirit of Ta’unga back to Manu’a and he returned to his body.
When Ta’unga was old he returned to Rarotonga with his wife, Ngapoko. It is said that Ta’unga was so close to his wife in affection that they bowed at the same angle in their old age. In about 1901, there was a flu in Rarotonga and Ngapoko was taken by it. At this time, Ta’unga was old, but still in good health. Several days after the death of Ngapoko, Ta’unga called his son, Tamuera Tehei, to come to him. He told his son that he was going to die. His son argued with him that he was still in good health, but Ta’unga insisted that he was no longer needed because the land problems were settled and the genealogies had been taught to his children and grandchildren. That night, Ta’unga died and was buried beside Ngapoko.
(These stories came from a book called ‘The Works of Ta’unga.’) Revised: March 1, 1996 Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff