Memory and Monumentality in the Rarotongan Landscape

By Campbell, Matthew | Antiquity, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Memory and Monumentality in the Rarotongan Landscape


Campbell, Matthew, Antiquity


Introduction

Recent studies on the archaeology of memory (Alcock 2002; Bradley 2002; Van Dyke & Alcock 2003; Williams 2003a, b) have developed an increasingly sophisticated awareness of how ancient societies were aware of and responded to their own pasts, how their successors would in turn remember them and how these memories could be conditioned by strategic actions in the present. Archaeologically, this is most commonly visible in the construction of monuments, which imply a commitment to memory--to interact with the monuments of the past is to engage in an act of remembrance. At the same time memory is fluid, so the meanings attached to the past will change to fit current circumstances. Two central parameters of memory are time and space, but notions of time and space in other cultures may be very different from our own conceptions. Western, Cartesian time and space are characteristics of a mercantile economy, with its marketable commodities composed of measurable units, a concept that may have little application outside such an economy (Bradley 2002: 2). Time and space are cultural constructs. Western time and space may provide appropriate analytical units within archaeology, but will not necessarily lead us to an understanding of non-western times and spaces (Ingold 1993). The ways in which a culture conceptualises time and space are particularly powerful clues to its (self-)identity (Roymans 1995: 2).

It is at this juncture that Pacific archaeology and anthropology have much to offer. The Pacific has a rich record of ethnography and oral tradition which can be used to examine alternative times and spaces and to illuminate the material culture that expresses them. In this paper, I wish to provide evidence for these alternatives, and to argue for a more inclusive view of difference in the times and spaces of memory. This paper looks at memory in a Polynesian culture, and how it is reflected in the archaeological record. It begins with an examination of concepts of time and space, using ethnographic, or oral traditional, data from the records of the early twentieth century colonial Land Courts on Rarotonga in the southern Cook Islands.

The Rarotongan landscape

At roughly 11 x 6km, with a maximum elevation of 653m, Rarotonga is a typical Polynesian high island, its topography characterised by deeply incised valleys surrounded by a continuous coastal plain generally about 1km wide. A fringing reef enclosing a shallow lagoon up to 1km in width surrounds this. The tapere system of landholding develops out of this concentric resource pattern. Tapere are radial land units, centred on the inland valleys, each containing mountain, coastal plain, lagoon and reef resources. But the tapere system is as much culturally constructed as it is environmentally conditioned. The tapere was the home of the matakeinanga, the corporate landholding community group. At the core of the matakeinanga was the ngati, or local descent group, the central political unit. The (usually) senior (usually) male member of the ngati, the man genealogically closest to the founding ancestor, was the mata'iapo, the chief.

Ariki were the highest chiefly grade and exercised vital ritual functions in society as well as heading cross-tapere alliances. Ariki and mata'iapo power and status were represented by the marae, a place that served as both a ritual focus and the house of the gods. Rarotongan marae survive into the archaeological record as they are robustly constructed of stone, though they are less elaborate than similar structures elsewhere in east Polynesia.

The Ara Metua

According to oral tradition, many generations ago two voyaging canoes arrived on Rarotonga together. One, the Takitumu from Tahiti, was captained by Tangi'ia Nui who was fleeing from his elder brother, Tutapu. While at sea he met the canoe of Karika from Samoa. Together they sailed to Rarotonga, where Tutapu caught up with his brother, but was slain. …

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