In the 1600’s there was this great warrior and navigator in the Tuamotus named Moeava. This is his story.
There was a man from Hao island who married a woman from Takaroa island. So he went to live in Takaroa with his wife. (In Tuamotuan culture, it appears that a man would go and live on his wife’s island, not the other way around).
In time they gave birth to a boy named Tangaroa and then to a second son named Moeava-Tukirima, Moeava for short. When Tangaroa grew to adulthood he married and in time his wife gave birth to four sons: Tagihia-ariki, Rogotama, Parepare and Reipu. Then the wife gave birth to a girl who was named Tutapu-hoa-atua (Tutapu for short).
Meanwhile the uncle of these four children, Moeava, had als grown up. He made himself a canoe near a marae on Takaroa that is named Ragifaoa. Moeava named his canoe Muri-henua and he traveled to many places on his canoe outside of the Tuamotu islands. Moeava was a great navigators and he loved to travel to many different places.
Sometime later, the older brother of Moeava, Tagaroa died along with his wife. Since Moeava’s nephews and niece were now orphans Moeava adopted them as his children.
These children stayed on Takaroa as they grew. But Moeava traveled a lot in his canoe. During his travels Moeava visited Napuka and he fell in love with a woman named Huarei and those two married. In time Huarei gave birth to an infant boy who was named Kehauri.
When Kehauri had grown to manhood he moved with his parents to Takaroa island. There he stayed. Unfortunately, his cousins did not welcome him as they should have. They felt that he should to Napuka and not stay in Takaroa. As the days went by they sometimes said things to Kehauri to cause him sadness.
One day a turtle was caught and was taken to the marae at Takaroa. The turtle was cooked and then it was cut into portions to be eaten.
Kehauri was the first born son of Moeava. Although his cousins were older than he they were the adopted children only of Moeava. Because he felt that his right was greater than his cousins, Kehauri asked for the head of the turtle.
Tagihia-ariki was the oldest cousin of Kehauri and the first born grandchild of his grandfather. Because of this he had a greater right to the head of the turtle than Kehauri. In addition, Tagihia-ariki was the priest of the marae, that is, he was the one who had the authority to distribute the parts of the turtle.
In this capacity as priest of the marae, Tagihia-ariki rejected his cousin’s claim to the head of the turtle. Tagihia-ariki also mentioned to Kehauri that if Kehauri wanted to eat the head of the turtle then he could return to Napuka island, where he was the first born. But that he would not eat the head of the turtle on Takaroa island.
Kehauri’s mother also became involved in this argument and she cautioned her son, Kehauri:
I to kaiga ra,
Na koe te uru o te honu,
I ko nei ra,
Na to tuakana, Tagihia,
Te uru o te honu, In your homeland,
The head of the turtle is yours,
The head of the turtle
belongs to your cousin, Tagihia,
This stopped Kehauri from asking for the head of the turtle. However, from that time on, his one desire was to return to Napuka. With tears he asked his parents to take him back to Napuka. He told them, “Taku nanu nei ki te po i Havaiki.” (My shame is in the night world, in Havaiki). So they did.
Moeava had fought many wars, and so he had many enemies. After Moeava left Takaroa to take his son to Napuka, the enemies of Moeava decided to attack Takaroa and to kill Moeava’s adopted children. The leader of these enemies was named Muta and he was from Makemo.
Moeava had killed a giant from Makemo, so the people from Makemo were angry with him. But it was not just Muta and some people from Makemo who came to Takaroa to fight. People from many different islands came.
When the enemies approached Takaroa, the youngest nephew of Moeava, Reipu, and his sister, Tutapu, saw them coming. So these two went and hid in a tree that had a vine covering the bottom of it. The branches of the tree were concealed from view because of the vine growing underneath this tree.
When the enemies came, they captured the three oldest nephews of Moeava. They killed them and they prepared a fire to roast them and eat them. But they did not capture the youngest nephew and his sister.
At this same time, a man and his daughter had come to Takaroa with the enemies. The man’s name was Tautu and his daughter’s name was Ragahua. Although, they had come with the enemies, they did not participate in the fighting. They just came to watch.
Prior to being roasted the bodies of the three dead nephews of Moeava laid out on the ground. This young woman, Ragahua, passed by the bodies. Since the bodies were face down she could not see their faces to identify them. But she looked at their tattoos.
On one she saw a special design which was reserved for shamen (priests), so she knew that it was the body of Tagihia-ariki, the oldest. On the second body she saw the tattooing of a warrior, so she knew that it was the body of Rogotama. On the third body she saw some more tattooing which had a certain significance. She knew that the third body was the body of Parepare, the third nephew. But she knew that there were four nephews so she concluded that the fourth one had escaped. She said nothing about this to anyone.
During this time, Reipu, the youngest nephew of Moeava and his sister Tutapu were hiding in the tree that had the vine underneath it. The enemies of their uncle searched Takaroa, but they did not find these two. At one point, these two captured two taketake birds, which they sent on an errand to tell their uncle of the war that was happening on Takaroa. Those two birds flew to warn Moeava.
After the bodies of Moeava’s three nephews were roasted they were eaten. Then the enemies left Takaroa to return to their home islands. The last person to go was this man who had come with his daughter to watch. As these two were preparing to leave, the daughter saw a bird on the shore and she went to it. She then noticed that there was a man hiding nearby underneath a bush. She rightly presumed that it was Reipu, the youngest nephew, who was hiding.
This young woman, Ragahua, spoke kindly to him to convince him to come out of hiding. He did this. Those two fell in love and they married. In time this young woman became pregnant. Reipu cautioned his wife and his father that they must leave Takaroa because Moeava was coming. He told his wife that they must go to Paraoa island and that if she gave birth to a boy that she should name him Tane-kura-taketake. Then this woman left Takaroa with her father.
The two taketake birds that had been sent to Napuka to tell Moeava of the death of his sons warned Moeava. But since these birds could not talk, Moeava was ignorant of the nature of the trouble. He set out with his wife and son to return to Takaroa to find out what had happened.
On their way they stopped at Makemo island and they stayed there for awhile. During this time, Kehauri played with the young men of Makemo. At one point these young men mocked Kehauri. They said, “To koe tuakana, Tagihia, i tunuhia e i kaihia e matou” which meant, “Your cousin Tagihia, he was roasted and eaten by us.” This was true because these young men had just recently returned from killing Kehauri’s cousins in Takaroa.
Kehauri returned to his parents weeping. The mother and father asked him why he was weeping. He told them what the young men of Makemo had said to him.
So Moeava went to where those young men were playing. He listened to their songs and when he heard what they were saying about roasting and eating his adopted sons, he burst forth on them. He took a rope and a spear, he killed some of them. The rest he speared through their underarms and passed the rope through the muscles of their shoulders. He made a big string of them. Some he put in his canoe, the others he let them drag behind his canoe. Then he sailed to Takaroa with his wife and son.
When they arrived at Takaroa, the fire that his adopted sons had been roasted on was still burning. He tried to put out the fire, but it was a magic fire. Finally he called out, “Ka tinai, ka tinai!” (Be put out, be put out). Then he threw himself on the fire and by doing this he put out the fire.
After this Moeava went through the Tuamotu islands and he took revenge for the death of his sons.
In time, Moeava, died. This is how he died. He was on Hikueru and he was sick because you see he had a spear in his heart. And that is how he died . . . in Hikueru, far from his homeland.
This is a story about revenge. Moeava’s enemies avenge their wrongs by killing and roasting Moeava’s nephews. Then Moeava spends the rest of his life avenging the death of his nephews, and then Moeava dies violently, far from his home.
This is an example of the Lord’s words when he said, “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” Anyone who reads this story sees that the Tuamotuan system of taking revenge only led to more revenge and violence. Perhaps some wonder that maybe these people were mad to be so dedicated to the idea of taking revenge. Moeava must have been blind in a way to not see that his revenge was going to lead to his own death.
But before we criticize Moeava we should think. If Moeava or any of the old Polynesians, came to us today and saw some of our ways of doing things and the assumptions that we make. That person may think that we are the ones who have gone mad.
‘Journal of the Polynesian Society’,1918, p. 26.; the author was Father Herve Revised: June 13, 1996 Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff