Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours: Story of an Island, Part 2

Continued from
Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours: Story of an Island, Part 1

Paengiriki marae, Aitutaki

Paengiriki marae, Aitutaki

While Ngaa’s (NAH-ah’s) Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours show off some spectacular jungle and hilltop views and a gorgeous bounty of local fruit, we felt his stop at the interior’s Paengariki marae was the true highlight.

Paengariki is a potentially huge site, now only partially cleared from the encroaching jungle with the help of the production crew of the TV show Survivor: Cook Islands (for which Ngaa was a cultural consultant in 2006). Laid definitively with large black basalt rocks arranged to best illuminate sunset, sunrise and the solstice, its main purpose was denoted by the discovery of a huge, tall upright rock with two round rocks beneath it — the Polynesian symbol for land fertility.

Photos courtesy of Ngaakitai Pureariki

Photos courtesy of Ngaakitai Pureariki

Ngaa showing Adam the throne for super-incision

Ngaa showing Adam the throne for super-incision

Ceremonial gatherings were held here each day, and to prepare traditional feasts, new umu (underground ovens) had to be dug each time; dozens of these have so far been uncovered.  One of the ceremonies performed here was super-incision, a Polynesian version of circumcision, traditionally performed on 10-12 year-old boys while seated on a basalt throne.

While a pig would do in a pinch, occasionally, poor luck (e.g., a bad harvest or unfavorable turn in the weather) would call for a human sacrifice to appease the Maori gods.  In order to stay stocked, a hapless neighboring villager would be kidnapped and their ankles broken to prevent escape from a sitting position in a deep hole; kept captive here, the unfortunate offering would be fed to plumpness until they were, um…needed.

While Cook Islands Maori never practiced true cannibalism (to Ngaa’s great disappointment), they were ritual cannibals; the bodies of sacrifices (or warriors killed in battle), would be dismembered and boiled to both expose the bones and preserve the spirit, or mana.  As mana was thought to reside most strongly in the head, the teeth and hair would often be worn as a necklace to keep a person’s power close.

Jawbones were especially precious, shaped into tools used to create tattoos.  Such tattoos are still locally popular today: Ngaa sports one that symbolizes 1000 years of his Cook Islands ancestry.

Objects found at the site include: Perfectly round “sling stones” that were used as throwing weapons; adze blades used for wood cutting and ceremonial sacrifices; limestone carvings in the shape of male genitalia, meant as offerings to the god of fertility; and the fossilized bones of puffer fish eaten at marae feasts.

Most photos courtesy of Ngaakitai Pureariki

Most photos courtesy of Ngaakitai Pureariki

It’s Ngaa’s ultimate aim to pursue a degree from the University of the South Pacific and become Aitutaki’s first full-fledged native archaeologist.  To see more on his excavations and cultural reconstruction:

Paengariki Marae Archaeological Project
Aitutaki Discovery Safari Tours

See related posts:
Cook Islands: Scenes from Aitutaki
Pacific Resort Aitutaki?  Yes, Please
The Small Blue Yonder: An Aitutaki Lagoon Cruise
Ever Thought About Moving to Paradise?
Flying ‘Round the Cooks: The Easy Version
Flying ‘Round the Cooks: The Not-So-Easy Version

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