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History 2017-05-18T20:14:22+00:00

The History of the Site

The Marae Paengariki Archaeological Project-Nikaupara-Taravao-Aitutaki

There has been an ongoing research excavation on Paengaariki marae in Nikaupara under the direction of Mark Eddowes field archaeologist and researcher from Huahine Island in French Polynesia.


He has worked as an archaeologist for the Ministry of Culture in Tahiti French Polynesia for the last 20 years.  He has excavated and restored marae and paepae throughout the Society Islands, Australs and the Marquesas.  His research in marae on the islands of Tubuai and Rimatara in the Austral Islands drew him to compare many with those in the neighbouring Cook Islands.  He noted the very striking similarities between the two islands of Tubuai and Aitutaki in particular.  Showing he believed a common origin for its two peoples.  These findings he published for the Minister of Culture of Tahiti in 2005.


Consulting the oral traditional material in puta tupuna in the Australs he came upon a number of unique recollections.  First that a number of tupuna sailed to the west, the direction of the Cooks, and likely settled there.  That certain names known only on Tubuai among the opuhuiari’I or chiefs such as Tamatoa, and Tahuhuiterangi are found also only on Aitutaki, the latter person known on Aitutaki as Teu’ukiterangi.  Thus there is an ancient connection between the islands.  Of course the legend of Ru and the women of Tubuai as the ancestors of all people on Aitutaki is yet another example of the very close relationships between the islands in the distant past.


He believes that archaeology can serve to in some ways provide some information about the contacts anciently.  The similarity in the architectural appearance and plan of the marae is not he believes by chance but points to a period of interaction between the two cultures. There are other areas to be explored during the project. For example through a scientific method of analysis of basalt stones one can determine where exactly a toki or adze came from.  So adzes from Hawaii have turned up in the Tuamotu’s.  Marquesan adzes from the island of Eiao have been found on Raiatea island.  Mark believes that some of the adze fragments found during the excavation of Paengaariki marae may be from Tubuai which was a major source of fine quality stone.  If sourced to their origins these will throw light on the continued use of double hulled long distance voyaging canoes being used up to the time of contact with Europeans.


The other aspect of the research at Paengaariki is that as an experienced archaeologist in marae studies he can bring his knowledge to share with the people of Aitutaki in archaeological methods and marae research.  When was the marae built?  What ceremonies happened there? What foods did the ancestors prepare there?  What other activities occurred at the marae.


With a field crew of only local participants who were generously provided by the Islands Secretery Sapati Toromona and a trainee archaeologist on site as assistant to the Director of the excavation Ngaakitai Pureariki much is being found out about the ancestor’s ancient beliefs and practices.  For example a “paepae tehe it te ure” or super-incision stone has been located in the ensemble where boys of rank from the tribes of Nukaupara would undergo this rite of passage of sectioning the prepuce at 12 on a special stone on the marae.


Thus this proves that in common with other areas of Polynesia this was an ancient practice upon Aitutaki and a highly important and ritualized event in the life of a young man in former times.  Warfare is alluded to in the presence of a large sling stone found during the excavation of one of the terraces of the marae.  A broken ritual adze was recovered from the ancient altar or atarau.  Sacred ovens (umu) have been uncovered with the ritual foods cooked in them. The excavation is still on going and all are welcome to visit.  All artifacts recovered during the excavation will be measured, drawn to scale, and photographed on Aitutaki.  They will also remain up on the island in the hands of the Mataiapo of Nikaupara.  The only materials to leave the island will be faunal material for analysis (fishbone, pig bone, birdbone etc…) to learn more about the species exploited in the diets of the tupuna in the past.  And charcoal for radio-carbon dates to provide a chronology for the building and use of the marae over time.


We wish to thank in particular the mataiapo of Nikaupara and community who through Ngaakitai Pureariki requested the archaeologist Mark Eddowes to come from Tahiti to help in this work and all the Members of the Council and the Mayor for their support in this project. Also to the people of Aitutaki who have been so helpful in this historic event.  The first aerial excavation of a marae in the Cook Islands.  The project is ongoing and Ngaakitai seek funding through his tour also outside donors.