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Shedding light on old carvings

Tuesday July 31, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
An example of a rei necklace as once worn on Atiu and Mangaia. 18073007/08 An example of a rei necklace as once worn on Atiu and Mangaia. 18073007/08

Dear Editor,

Rei a hiva, rei a tane, rei a o-te-patiki

Just to add some information and enlighten CINews readers regarding the story in CINews on July 28 about the artefacts: “rare collections of bone carvings included three testicle sacs dating back to the 18th century”.

Captain James Cook and his men first sighted and landed on Atiu at Orovaru, landing in April 1777. They were the first Europeans to land there. However, Captain Cook did not go ashore but instead sent one of his officers with some men or soldiers ashore. Lieutenant John Gore (a Britsh-American sailor who sailed around the world four times with the Royal Navy in the 18th century and accompanied Captain Cook on his voyages in the Pacific), was met by the priest of Mokoero Kopukanga by pressing noses - ongi.

Gore and his men were well accepted by the natives of Atiu. From Oravaru, they moved to the Marae Marau about three miles inland. Lieutenant Gore could see that some warriors were standing away from the multitude and wearing some kind of necklace around their neck. He wrote in his journal: “Some of the warriors were wearing small balls around their neck!” Lieutenant Gore through his translator Omai, a Raiatean native, got it from the natives of Atiu that: “They are the most fierce warriors and are the keepers and the guardians of the tribe and land!”

These small balls are known to the Atiuans from those days up to now as “rei”. I believe this would also give a clear explanation to the line in Saturday’s paper which says, “Many in the series are believed to be fertility symbols by auctioneers due to their being shaped like testicles.”

Well…I just proved them wrong!

            Vaine Veiao

Editor’s note: Another CINews reader has also explained that the fertility ornaments actually come off a rei necklace that was worn in both Mangaia and Atiu. He was kind enough to give us some phones to show what the rei necklace actually looked like. He says it was attached to a cord, sometimes made with human hair.