South Seas Companion
Cook's Iron AdzeIron Adze, carried by Cook on his first voyage
|One curious but little relatively known aspect of Cooks first voyage of discovery was his carrying to Tahiti an iron or possibly steel copy of a Polynesian adze or axe. The adze had apparently been made under the direction of Philip Stephens, secretary at the Admiralty from 1763 to 1795.|
We do not know when and how the original stone adze used to make this metal copy was procured. In his journal of the Endeavour voyage, Cook speaks of the adze as having been made in immitation of one of their Stone Adzes or axes. Possibly it was a copy of one that came into the hands of Samuel Wallis or one of his officers on the Dolphin voyage, during their time at Matavai Bay in June and July 1767. That said, the Dolphin did not arrive back in England until late May 1768. Cook left Plymouth in mid-August that same year, and this does seem a short period of time in which a replica might have been created. However, given the critical importance of Cook establishing peaceful relations at Tahiti in order to observe the Transit of Venus, it does not seem improbable that Stephens, quite likely acting on a suggestion from Wallis or one of his officers, ordered a replica adze be swiftly made so that it could be given to Purea, whom Wallis had assumed was the Queen of Otaheite.|
Purea, however, was not a queen, but a high-ranking woman who through 1767-8 sought but failed to make her only son Teriirere the pre-eminent chief on the islands of Tahiti and Moorea. In the process she attempted to further her sons cause by establishing bonds of friendship with the Wallis and Endeavour voyagers.
Purea was married to Amo, also known as Tavahitua, the paramount chief of the Papara district on the southwest coast of Tahiti.
Amo and Purea audaciously sought to establish Teriireres chiefly power by investing him with a new ancestral title that they claimed were sanctified by the war-god Oro. To this end they declared a rahui or spiritual prohibition of various everyday activities over the length and breadth of Tahiti and obliged the people of the Papara district to construct the biggest marae ever built on Tahiti in honor of Oro. This was the Marae Mahaiatea.
It has been suggested by scholars that Amo and Purea moved quickly to declare Teriirere chief over all of Tahiti and Moorea because they feared that if good relations developed between the ruling families of northerly districts of the island and the Europeans then their ambitious plans for their son would be ruined. Whatever their motives, by declaring a rahui over all Tahiti and building Marae Mahaiatea, Amo and Purea provoked the anger of ruling dynasties in neighbouring districts. Worse, the rahui led Vehiatua i te Mata'i, the paramount chief of the Taiarapu Peninsula, to invade Papara in late 1768.
Amo, Purea, Teri'irere and their entourage fled into the mountains, escaping what Banks' journal records was bloody conflict. They never regained their former power, though Purea worked hard to restore Teri'ireres prestige by courting the friendship of Cook and Joseph Banks.
While the replica adze that Cook carried to Tahiti may have been intended as a gift for Purea, it came to be given to Tutaha, a powerful member of the principal title-holding family of Te Porionu'u.
On arriving at Matavai Bay, Cook and Banks quickly came to see that Tutaha enjoyed far greater authority than Purea with other high-ranking Tahitians in the north west districts of Tahiti. Indeed, Cook initially assumed Tutaha was the chief man of the island and that that winning his friendship was critical to their establishing good relations at Matavai Bay. (National Library of Australia, MS 1, p. 57).
very desireous of seeing into every Chest and Drawer that was in the Cabbin. I satisfied his curiosity so far as to open most of those that belong'd to be [me], he saw several things that he took a fancy to and collected them together, but at last he cast his eye upon the Adze the moment he lay his hands upon it he of his own accord put away everything he had got before and ask'd me if I would give him that which I very readily did and he went away without asking for any one thing more which I by experence [sic] knew -- was a sure sign that he was well pleased with what he had got (MS 1, p. 59).Tutaha badly wanted the adze. However, its value in his eyes may well have stemmed from more than it simply being a gift from the Europeans made of iron or steel.
We would do well to consider his wanting the implement in the light of various observations and reflections made by the journalists of the Dolphin and Endeavour voyages, together with evidence deriving from indigenous sources illustrative of religious and political culture in the Society Islands in the 1760s. These sources tell us that, contrary to popular belief, Tahitians had encountered iron as a result of earlier European voyaging in the Tuamoto atolls. More importantly, they suggest that iron had profound religious significance within pre-contact Tahitian society.
Setting out and returning across open sea required strict observance of special ceremonies, not only by mariners, but by those they left ashore, and by the community on whose shores they landed.
While Oro continued to be worshipped at the great Taputapuatea Marae at Opoa, the power of the district's sacred chief and priests were greatly reduced. According to tradition, the god's sacred image and red feather girdle were brought to Tahiti, and a centre of religious knowledge established shortly afterwards at Haapape by the Opoan chiefess Toa-te-manava.
The rise of the Oro cult on Tahiti appears to have become interwoven with dynastic ambition in the wake of the changes in political fortune and alliances after the triumph of the Hau Fa'naui. Strategic marriages took place between leading chiefly families on the Leeward and Windward islands. Dynasties now sought to legitimate their titles through consecrating familial alliances before Oro. Strong links were maintained between the spiritual centre at Haapape and Opoa on Raiatea.
An important prophecy in circulation prior to the upheavals on Raiatea centred on the destruction of an ancient Tamanu tree growing within the precincts of the Taptapuatea Marae. One version of the prophecy spoke of the coming of a whirlwind that would leave only the bare and broken trunk of the tree standing. Another foretold the felling of the Tamanu by enemy warriors.
The news of these encounters appears to have soon reached Tahiti. In the light of iron being known and worked being known at Takaroa, it is tempting to speculate how this may relate to the presence of Tane, god of knowers such as sea-farers and expert canoe builders in subsequent Tahitian prophesying
|People: Tutaha (Haamanemane; 'Hercules') (1708? - 1773) | Purea|
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Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000423