Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1773 Rarotongan ariki

Subjectariki / rangatira chief
Culture: Cook Islander / Rarotongan
Setting: late 18th-early 19thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Barrow 1979 p73-75
"The highest arts of the Cook Islands were the religious arts supported by the high chiefs (ariki) and the lesser chiefs (rangatira).  Genealogical standing determined the position of the individual in the social hierarchy.  A tribal style of life prevailed with land divided amongst the chiefs in order of rank, who in turn parcelled out plots to their followers.  Priestly experts (ta'unga) included specialists skilled in religious ritual, chanting, carving, and any other occupations that called for long training and professional devotion.  Rules relating to sanctity, developed from concepts of mana and tapu, controlled both secular and sacred life, but with less severity than in Tahiti.  The great gods of the Polynesian pantheon -- Tangaroa, Tane, Tu and Rongo -- were all given their due worship with regional modifications of religious ritual."


* Barrow 1979 p77-81
"Head ornaments were the delight of the Cook Islanders as they were of the Tahitians.  They vary from flower and leaf wreaths worn for a day and then cast aside, to the elaborate feathered helmets of the war chiefs.  Feather headbands, turbans of bark-cloth, and cone-shaped sennit caps were also commonly worn.  Eye shades protected the eyes of fishermen working on dazzling seas, while cone-shaped coir caps, a specialty of the island of Atiu, served to protect the heads of warriors.  The high feather headdresses of these islands are obviously related to the Tahitian forms ..., but those of the Rarotongan and Aitutakian chiefs stand in a special class of their own.  They are superb examples of the use of feathers which conceal a complexity of craft-work including a sennit-lashed base-frame and a coir cap.  The long, thin feathers used came from the tails of tropic birds and were highly prized.  Only a few feathers could be obtained from each bird and it was sometimes necessary to voyage considerable distances to obtain a good supply -- the atoll of Manuae was regarded as a fruitful source of such feathers.
    "The portrait of the Rarotongan chief, Te Po, or Te Pou, conveys some of the glory of the Cook Island ali'i wearing a high headdress.  He also carries a triangular fan and a spear which combined with his bodily tattoo give a striking effect, to say the least.  Unfortunately, little is known of Cook Island tattoo designs.
    "Cook Island clothing basically consisted of a loin cloth (maro) for men and the short skirt wrap-around (pareu) for women, but ponchos (tiputa), rectangular capes and plaited girdles were also worn.  War chiefs had coir helmets, and plaited waist bands which probably served to hold small weapons in the New Zealand Maori manner."


* Barrow 1979 p75-77
"Warfare was extensively practised and inspired an art of its own.  The ironwood pole clubs of Rarotonga are superb in the precision of their craftsmanship; the labour of cutting such graceful and balanced weapons from a block of wood, which needed to be at least as wide as the widest part of the blade, is a marvel of patient craftsmanship."

* Pelrine 1996 p72
"Among the most elegant weapons from the Cook Islands or, indeed, from anywhere in Polynesia is the pole club, or akatara.  A typical weapon of Rarotonga, the major island in the Cook group, it may only have been manufactured there, though James Cook described a very similar, but shorter, club at Atiu, an island to the northeast.
    "The akatara was carved from the ironwood tree, or toa, specifically from its heart, taiki.  Toa is also a general term for warriors and bravery, while taiki also refers to warriors using weapons made from the heart of the ironwood.  The close association between the warrior and his weapon is also represented visually on the butt end of many akatara, ... which are carved in the form of a phallus.  This symbol serves as an empathic reminder not only of the connections between males and warfare but also of the power and aggressiveness -- qualities associated with the male Cook Islander -- necessary for success in battle.
    "Blades of the pole clubs vary in width, but all are characterized by symmetrical concave scalloped edges with one or more raised lines on the blade carved parallel to the edges and echoing their shape.  some have long, delicate points at the end; these may originally have been present on most, but would easily have snapped off, either in use or later.  On most clubs, a small carved motif circles the shaft below the blade.  The Wieglus club shows a typical decoration: a pair of eyes, depicted in a style similar to those on figure carvings of gods from Rarotonga, with the eyeballs indicated by a central band.  ... [T]his similarity might indicate the association of ancestor spirits with the clubs.  The remainder of the shaft on this and other clubs is undecorated, except for the usual carving at the bottom, which is one of severla variants of the phallic form.
    "In the earliest surviving Rarotongan reference to their varieties of clubs, Tane, the Cook god of fertility and patron of artists, is credited with directing the carving of eight different forms, one of which was the akatara.  Before the carving began, he is said to have recited a chant to facilitate the splitting of the wood and to imbue the weapons with mana.  In the Cook Islands, a ta'unga, or male craftsman, no doubt proceeded with carving this club in much the same way, reflecting the Polynesian belief that such work was a religious process that spiritually charged the object being made."  [references omitted]

* Barrow 1979 p72 f79
"Serrated pole clubs from Rarotonga.  As a rule, the blade parts measure somewhat more than one-third of the total length.   The eyes set below the blades, and the teeth serrations, give credence to the theory that this design has an animalistic origin, and perhaps derives from the crocodile motifs of Indonesia and Melanesia."