May 17, 1994 I have noticed that many Polynesian teen-agers like to wear t-shirts with pictures of Polynesian warriors on the back. I sometimes ask, “Who is that?” The replies vary. The usual answer is, “Oh! I don’t know.” However, once I was told, “That is my boyfriend.” Because many people like the Polynesian warrior tradition I will write a few words about Polynesian warriors.
These words are from Vahitahi which is in the Tuamotuan islands east of Tahiti. In Tuamotuan, the title of this statement is:
“Teie Te Tahi Reko No Te Rirohaga o te Tagata Ei Kaito” (These Are Some Words About How a Man Becomes A Warrior). Since there are abundant stories in Polynesia referring to women who acted in the position of warriors and chiefs, these words also apply to women.
“When a man wanted to become a kaito (warrior) he would go before a tahuga (native priest) and the tahuga would teach him of the sort of things that a kaito would have to do. This is the first thing, running; and then, difficult contests at the place that the tahuga wanted. Then the eyes were tested so that they are not tired because of endurance. The man would have to run a long distance so that the tahuga would see if he was good or worthless.
“When these things were done, then the tahuga would instruct this man that what he saw was good. This is what they did first: spears. When this was done: curved knives. When this was done: Kane pepenu (unknown, probably a club). When this was done: Throwing taheahea missiles (taheahea: pointed hardwood stakes).
When this was done: wrestling. When this was done: slinging stones. Those are the things done by the kaito. When all these things were done, then he would become a great kaito of the island. That is how it was done. When all these things were done, then the tahuga would organize a feast for that warrior. Then that man was carried onto the holy marae (worship ground) of the king and he would continue in that title until he died. These words are done.”
This tells how the kaitos were respected in the ancient times. Before a man became a kaito he had to be taught, he had to be tested. When it was seen that he was a real kaito then he was given a special seat on the marae (worship ground).
The kaitos were not respected because they were tough or because they had big muscles. They were respected because their calling, their responsibility, was to protect their homeland or their home village from enemies. In these days, if someone acts in the calling of a kaito, they do not need to learn to fight with spears, because the enemy is not another person. The enemy is poverty and ignorance, and the weapon is knowledge, an education. Those who have studied hard all year in school, the parents who encourage their children in school, these are the kaitos of today. So if I ask, “Who is that on your shirt?” Maybe the answer is, “My Mother, she makes me do my homework.”
In these words we also see that a tahuga was a greater thing than a kaito. Why? Did the tahuga have bigger muscles? Was he meaner and tougher than a kaito? No, this is why. These words are called: “Teie te tahi Reko no te Hakatahuga i te Tagata” (These are some words about how a man becomes a Tahuga).
“When a man wanted to be ordained a tahuga (priest), something like a prophet. He would go to a Tahuga and the Tahuga would tell him about being a tahuga. That man would be taken to a burial ground. This was done at night. The Tahuga would lead him to the burial ground. Then the Tahuga would return to his home and that man would be left in the cemetary. This would be the first work done to ordain one to be a tahuga.
“When the night was late, then the Tahuga would go out and spy in the place that the man was at. So it was so, he would see what the spirit of the man was like. So that the Tahuga would see if the man was doing just like he had been told. It was not at all good to lie to the Tahuga.
“The Tahuga knew all things. There was nothing that was unknown to the Tahuga. When these things were done, then that man was taken onto a very sacred worship ground of the spirits. When this was done, then the man was carried below to Kororupu (a land in the Underworld). Then the Tahuga would teach him about the things of Kororupu. When this was done, this man would be led up to the ocean. When this was done they would go through the sky. When this was done, that man would be led to the place where the double canoe of Tukihiti is kept. When this was done that man would be led to the place that the spirits of men are taken. When this was done, then they would go to the mouth of the water hole on the reef where water spouts up. When this was done, then the great Tahuga would organize a feast for that man. When this was done he was placed on the sacred worship ground. This is the end of this work.”
From these words we learn that no one became a tahuga unless that person had the absolute desire, for, the person who wished to be tested was left in a graveyard at night. Kaitos were honored because they faced their enemies. Tahugas were honored because they faced the dead.
Although the text only mentions that the older Tahuga taught the student about Kororupu, the land in the Underworld, we can assume that at each place the student was taught about each of those places. What was taught? It isn’t known, very little of that information has survived to the present day. But we can see that the tahuga became a tahuga because of what he was taught, because of education. These words teach that in the ancient times, that learning, that education, was valued among the people. Education is a part of traditional Polynesian culture.
In these times some people don’t value education, they talk in class, they don’t take notes of the what the teacher says, they don’t do their homework. Maybe if they had to be tested like the tahugas were tested, by sitting in a graveyard at night, then, maybe, they would turn off the T.V., read, and ask lots of questions in class. If they did that, they would be modern day kaitos, modern day tahugas.
They should make t-shirts with pictures of warriors who hold calculators and read books instead of waving clubs and spears. The caption could read, “Hak�ko Polinesia! Polynesian Education!”.
Paea a Avehe of Vahitahi island in the Tuamotu Islands. Translated by Daniel Longstaff from Frank Stimson’s Tuamotuan notes which are located in the Peabody museum in Massachusetts. Microfilm copies of those notes are located in the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church’s family history library.
Revised: February 22, 1996
Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff
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