The ariki title of Mangaia has historically been held by the Ngariki tribe, believed to be the original settlers of the island and direct descendants of the originating ancestor Rangi.
Over time, other ngati arrived on the island resulting in competition and conflict over the island’s resources. The leading warrior of the dominant ngati , who were successful in war, became the effective leader of the island. His title was te ua mangaia.
As a result, for many centuries, the hereditary ariki was sidelined in all matters of economic, political and social importance. The ariki’s role instead became a religious one, with the title ‘ariki’ more closely connoting ‘high priest’ than ‘king.’
In the years 1814 to 1823, immediately prior to missionary contact, the ua mangaia was held by the Ngati Manaune, led by a young warrior called Pangemiro. In 1814, Pangemiro appointed another upcoming young man called Numangatini as ariki pa tai (‘shore high priest’).
On Mangaia, ariki were expected to remain neutral in wars but not Numangatini.
In 1870, as an old man, he recalled: “When quite a lad I went to the battle of Te Atu Apai [c.1810] carrying a basket of stones to sling at the foe, and later, having attained to manhood, at the battle of Rangiura , I fought with a flat wooden sword. In the subsequent battle of Araeva , for the first time, I wielded the long spear.”
In the battle of Araeva, Numangatini fought alongside the ua mangaia Pangemiro to defeat an older and more senior ariki pa uta (‘inland high priest’) known as Te Ao who had allied himself with Ngati Vara against the Manaune.
Shortly after the battle, the Christian missionaries arrived. They were given sanctuary on the island marae by Numangatini. Around this time, Pangemiro died, possibly from a disease introduced by the mission. With Pangemiro’s death, and the end of warfare, the title of ua mangaia passed into history.
Numangatini became leader of the island, with the Christian church as his tama ‘ua (‘child of the lap’). He remained ariki na te ‘au for the next 60 years.
Unlike other islands, the Mangaian ariki has no significant land holdings (other than as one of the six rangatira of the Tavaenga district). Of the Mangaian ariki, it is said “E tiputa rangi ua to ou e ta’u ariki.”
The abolition of warfare under Christianity meant that the division of land and titles that had been allocated at the battle of Araeva, became permanent and the leading warriors at that battle became the six kavana of the six puna (taro lands) of Mangaia.
It is the kavana, traditionally known as pava, who allocate land, water and the other resources on Mangaia and confirm titles.
Numangatini ariki lived a long life and on his death in 1878, the island faced a crisis. Given that succession by warfare had been abolished, and that Numangatini had children from five different marriages, the question arose – which of his descendants was eligible to succeed him?
At least two of Numangatini’s marriages had been consecrated in Christian times. Children of the three earlier marriages were ruled ineligible to succeed.
(We believe the most senior of these, Teremate, moved to Te’avaro, Moorea in French Polynesia where his family remain today).
The question was whether the ariki title should pass to the senior grandson of Numangatini’s first Christian marriage – that is, Teariki Nooroa, just 6 years old at the time – or should the title go to the firstborn son of his second Christian marriage – the 22 year old Metuakore John Trego. The choice of Trego was complicated by the fact that his mother was Rarotongan.
The solution arrived at was to install the young Teariki Nooroa as ariki while appointing his uncle Metuakore John Trego as tiaki tao’anga.
But as Sir Peter Buck noted “the older and more dominant person, [Trego] wielded the greater influence. He was really a regent for his nephew but he clung to office even after his nephew reached maturity”. The result was a de-facto dual arikiship.
When Teariki Nooroa died in 1922, Metuakore John Trego continued as a single ariki. And when Trego died in 1928 the title passed to his son Matekeiti and to Tane Nui a Rangi, the firstborn son of Teariki Nooroa.
(But as Tane Nui a Rangi was living overseas until 1944, Matekeiti effectively ruled alone for almost 16 years).
On the death of Matekeiti (without male issue) in 1948, the title passed to his younger brother John Tangitamaine who ruled jointly with Tane nui a Rangi ariki.
On the death of Tangi ariki in 1956, Rangi ariki carried on alone until his own death in 1964. From that point, the island reverted to a single ariki, Ongoaere Ruita Trego, the niece of Matekeiti and Tangi ariki.
By this stage, the Aronga Mana had decided to allocate the title alternatively between the two branches of the Numangatini family, with the Rarotongan [Trego] line designated ariki pa tai and the Mangaian [Nooroa] line designated ariki pa uta.
When Ruita Trego (pa tai) died in 1991, she was succeeded by Nooroa (pa uta), the daughter of Rangi ariki. Following the death of Nooroa ariki in late 2018, the Aronga Mana has allocated the title, on this alternating basis, to the pa tai branch in the person of Tangitamaiti Tereapii, Mangaia’s 9th ariki of the modern era.
Since Numangatini’s time, succession to all titles in Mangaia has followed the general principle of primogeniture in the patriline – that is, the firstborn son of the senior male line, with some regard to the pa metua (junior brothers sometimes being favoured before senior sons).
And since rules exist to be broken, there have been numerous exceptions including two female ariki, a female kavana, and several female rangatira. First born sons have, on occasions, been discarded in favour of a more suitable candidate within the family.
Recently, significant depopulation has made these general principles still more difficult to apply and, today, many titles are held by people quite distant from the patriline and often in an acting or mono capacity.
As in all matters, the final decision on land and titles, including the ariki title, rests with the Aronga Mana, the descendants of Mangaia’s last warriors.
Since 1996, these powers have been recognised in the Cook Islands Constitution. Section 48 (3-4) states that “the Land Division [of the High Court] shall not exercise any jurisdiction or power in relation to land or chiefly titles in any of the Islands of Mangaia, Mitiaro and Pukapuka …[and] where…. jurisdiction or power in relation to land or chiefly titles is exercised in accordance with the customs and usages of that island, the exercise of that jurisdiction and power shall be final and binding on all persons affected thereby, and shall not be questioned in any court of law.”
This means that the pava sitting in council with the ariki retain the supreme authority over all resource and succession matters on Mangaia.
Neither the central government, nor the High Court of the Cook Islands, nor the Privy Council of the United Kingdom can question or reverse their decisions.