Ethnology of Tongareva
Two roughly circular arrangements of limestone pillars were seen. No curbstones define the spaces between the pillars. Nothing is known of their use, and no names are applied to them by the inhabitants. They are not regarded as maraes and have not been used as cemeteries.
One of these circles is on the island of Naue, on the lagoon side of the Mahue marae. Ten pillars of medium size are arranged roughly in a circle about 37 feet in diameter. Within the inclosure I found a piece of pearl shell in the preliminary stage of shaping to form a fishhook for catching ruhi. (See figure 41, a.)
The other structure is on the lagoon side of Atutahi about 120 yards from the Rupe-tangi-rekareka marae. It consists of eight limestone pillars with long spaces between some of them. Other pillars have probably been removed. The inclosed space is more elliptical than circular; the difference between the two cross diameters is 24 feet. (See figure 41, b.)
Figure 41. Stone circle and ellipse. a, circle, Maue, pillars under 2 feet wide and about 3 feet high: 10, large broken pillar. Diameters from points 1 to 6, 35 feet; from 2 to 7, 36 feet; from 4 to 10, 40 feet. b, ellipse, Atutahi: 1, tall standing pillar; 2, standing pillar; 3–8, pillars broken, but bases still imbedded in ground indicate original sites; 4, pillar with notch 5 inches deep at each top corner. Bottom width of pillars ranges from 1 foot 4 inches to 3 feet; top width ranges from 1 foot 6 inches to 3 feet; height ranges from 3 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 3 inches. Diameter between points 1 and 5, 44 feet; between points 3 and 6, 68 feet.
These circular arrangements of upright pillars are interesting in view of erroneous statements in anthropological literature that stone circles of Stonehenge type are present in Tongareva. The error originated in a carelessly worded description by Lamont (15, p. 111) and has been perpetuated by Westropp (30, p. 56), Smith (23, p. 91), Perry (20, p. 23). In describing the Rakahanga marae Lamont says: “I suddenly came on an open page 181 space of some hundred yards square. It was encircled by tall, flat stones, some six feet in height, … a sort of ‘Stonehenge’ in a small way.”
In quoting Lamont, Westropp seemingly stressed the word “encircled,” for he speaks of “a stone circle in one of the Penrhyn Islands like the sepulchral circle of Stonehenge and the stone circles of Khassia [and] Algiers.” As a matter of fact, the marae described by Lamont is rectangular, not circular, and its area is much less than a hundred yards square. (See p. 172.) Perry quoted Westropp with reference to the existence of a “megalithic stone circle” and came to the conclusion that sun worship was practised on Tongareva by an archaic civilization. My discovery in 1928 of circular arrangements of stones on the islands of Atutahi and Naue does not alter the fact that both Smith and Perry were misled by Westropp's erroneous, though natural, interpretation of Lamont's word, “encircled.”
The lack of knowledge regarding the circles does not necessarily imply that the structures were built by a hypothetical archaic civilization for sun worship, as the natives are equally ignorant of the ceremonial uses of parts of the maraes which their own ancestors constructed. If an extinct people built the circles, they must have built them before the marae builders arrived. The circles, however, would not have survived through 17 generations of Polynesian occupation. The stones are of the same type as those used as marae pillars, and as sun worship was unknown to the Tongarevans, the stones of ancient structure would have been used in building the present maraes. The very presence of the circles may be taken as evidence that the inclosures served some social purpose in the period immediately preceding missionary influence. As the pillars, including the bilateral notched pillar in the Atutahi ellipse, are trimmed in the same way as the marae pillars, they must have been made by the ancestors of the present population. They are, in fact, extra marae pillars that have been set up near the marae for some subsidiary purpose. The inclosures were evidently gathering places on the way to or from the maraes. What purpose could they have served? After stating that the women and children accompanied them but stopped short of the marae, which they could not enter, Lamont (15, p. 123) goes on to say that after the marae ceremony the men marched off to a clear space near the beach where the women were congregated. Here the “shukai” (saka) dance was performed and the wailing ceremony enacted. This was an accessory ceremony performed outside the marae that needed a clear space not far from the marae itself. A function for the circular or elliptical inclosures can thus be found. No stone circle was observed near the Rakahanga marae, and it is evident from Lamont's description that the accessory ceremony took place in a clear space not encircled by pillars. Other island communities, however, may have introduced some elaboration into the spaces. page 182 It is significant that the two circles seen are on the southern side of the atoll, and that in Lamont's time both Naue and Atutahi were under the influence of Te Puka. Lamont (15, p. 144) states that when the Te Pukan people visited Mangarongaro, after the wailing and saka, one or two other dances were performed by the men in a circle, with their hands joined. The Te Pukan people, accustomed to forming a circle for a particular dance, may have arranged pillars in a circle to embellish the clear space where such ceremonial dances were held. The absence of a circle on Te Puka itself may be attributed to the influence of the modern village, which required more pillars for its larger cemetery, and which completely demolished the ancient marae of Punaruku. I would submit the theory, therefore, that the circular inclosures on Naue and Atutahi were congregating places for both men and women where ceremonies subsidiary and complementary to the marae ceremony took place. These circular inclosures were not tapu like the maraes and were probably ordinary gathering places, hence the presence of fishhooks in course of manufacture in the Naue inclosure. The distribution would also indicate that the method of embellishing the meeting place was local and confined to the southern part of the atoll, where circular dances were in vogue.