Analyzing Historic Nuku Hivan Tribal Boundaries and Dynamics
In the early nineteenth century, American Naval Captain David Porter attempted to colonize the island of Nuku Hiva and its inhabitants. The journal he kept on Nuku Hiva discusses and seeks to understand the native tribes he encountered, including their cross-tribal dynamics and their familial relationships. Though he was an ethnocentric man from a distant land, Porter managed to accurately capture details of the island culture and his writings are still used today to learn about lost practices.
During his time on Nuku Hiva, Porter described several areas, characterized by geographic boundaries, which were occupied by the indigenous tribes. He wrote about the large “great” tribes and the numerous small ones of which they were comprised, and sought to understand the power dynamics and socio-cultural systems of the local population.
The Valley of Tieuhoy (Taiohae) was occupied by six lesser tribes collectively called the Taeehs (Teii), which signifies friends.1 Four of the six tribes, the Pakeuhs, Moavhs, Howneeahs, and Hekuahs were under the power of Chief Gattanewa, and he possessed influence over the remaining two, the Hoattas and Havouhs though one had their own chief and the other was a democracy without a chief. The leeward part of Huchaheucha (Hakaaui) bay was inhabited by the Taioa, a collection of three sub-tribes, the Ma’amatuahs, Tiohahs, and Cahha’aho.2 These three tribes recognized two chiefs and were constantly at war with each other (Porter, Niva, Marquesan Dictionary).
1 All tribe names used are Porter’s spelling. Names in parentheses are the currently accepted spelling.
2 Today the bay of Hakaaui is called Hakatea, “haka” meaning “making,” “aui” is “cook,” while “tea” is “white.” Making is understood as a function to be done in the valley.
On the northeast side of the island lies the Valley of Anaho (Hannahow), which was occupied by two great tribes, Hatecaah and Woheaho; each recognized their own chief. The Hatecaahs were composed of the Mooaekah, Attishou, and Attestapwiheenah; and the Attehacoes, Attetomcohoy, and Attekakahaneuah made up the Woheahos (Porter, 33; Niva). Not mentioned by Porter is the valley of Hatihieu. It was occupied by the tribe of Pouhiohio, under which six sub-tribes existed: Pouhiohio, Kaei, Puku, Tapatea, Tu’uoho, and Heu’u (Millerstrom, 111).
Spanning from northwest Comptrollers Bay into the Taipi Valley lived the great warlike tribe of the Happahs. The Happah people were sub-divided into six tribes: the Nicekees, Tattievows, Pachas, Kickahs, Tekaahs, and Muttaaohas, each of whom recognized their own chief. In the Valley of Taipi to Comptrollers Bay lived the Shoeume (Houmi), which consisted of the smaller tribes of the Cahhunaka, Tomahaheena, and Tickeymahu. Their principal chief was Temaa Tipee, and remained an ally of the Typees when they were not at war with them (Marquesan Dictionary, 192).3 Finally, in the valley of Hatuatua (Tahtuahtuah) lived the small tribe of Tiakah (Porter, 33).
3 Taipi Valley today is called Taipivai, it is the merging of the Happah and the Houmi. According to oral tradition, the Happahs come from Hakapaa, the neighboring southern valley (Marquesan Dictionary, pg. 192).
During his time on Nuku Hiva, Porter befriended Gattanewa and employed him as a median to enter Nuku Hivan tribal life. Gattanewa was a cross-tribal respected chief due to his descent from the god Oataia (Atea), meaning “space,” and Ananoona (Atanua) meaning “cloud” (Porter, 34; Niva). This and the claim that Gattanewa was able to trace his ancestry eighty-eight generations back to the period where the island was first peopled and drew “his greatest consideration from inheriting the honours of the great Oataia, and an alliance with him is sought by every family of any considerable rank in the island” (Porter, 34; Niva). In the other tribes who posses a chief, he is either the oldest man of the tribe, possesses the most land, is owner of the most breadfruit and coconut trees, or the most influential individual among them (Porter, 34).
Once power was gained, it was the task of the chief to sustain it by ensuring the happiness and wellbeing of his people. As long as the chief remained just, the people lived harmoniously under his rule “having neither rewards to stimulate them to exertion nor dread of punishment before them… they appear to act with one mind, to have the same thought, and to be operated on by the same impulse” (Porter, 67). Porter compares the relationship of the chief to his people as having the “mild and gentle influence of a kind and indulgent father among his children,” who possesses no real authority over them (Porter, 68). If a chief was regarded by his people as unjust, they could run him out of his position; Porter describes such a case with a man called The Elephant. He was the former chief of the Havouhs, and a notorious glutton who frequently took the daily catches away from young children (Porter, 33-34). His greed and obvious disregard of his people and their mana was the foundation for his removal (Niva).
The tribes of Nuku Hiva observed a defined social system; at the top was the “hakaiki.”4 Gattanewa was at the very top due to his blood ties to the gods, completed by his family, the chiefs of the subtribes and their families, and other wealthy individuals (Niva). The hakaiki possessed wealth, which in turn garnered them respect and power (Porter, 34). Below the hakaiki were the priestly class called “tohunga.” They were individuals who were born into the hakaiki, and could have enough influence with the people to decide in all cases of controversy and determine the time for going to war (Niva and Porter, 33). Like the tohunga, the “toa” were an all-male class; they were born into the common class and upon their becoming a warrior moved into the toa. Finally, there were the masses, called the “mata’eina’a” (Niva).
4 “Hakaiki” is the word used for a male chief; a woman in power is called “ha’atepeiu.”
Porter notes that at times the stratification was apparent, while at other times it was not. For example, he asserts Gattanewa would often mix unnoticed in the crowd, catch his own fish, and if a stranger walked into his house, he would mostly not be able to tell him apart from one of his domestics (Porter, 69). Though the separation was not always obvious, the people of his tribe knew and respected his rank. Actions such as touching or passing over the top of Gattanewa’s head were looked upon as blasphemy, while women or any member of an inferior class were forbidden to touch his mats (Porter, 68-69).
The separation of classes is also evident in the manner in which Porter describes the encounters between native females and his sailors. The lower class seemed to connect with whomever appealed to them with minimal attachments, and often during these liaisons the only thefts known to Porter would occur (Porter 61, 63). Porter claims women of “that class” would often steal little “tie ties” from the sailors with whom they cohabitated, and asserted that honesty was not to be expected from women of this class (Porter, 61). Women of the “superior class” formed more meaningful and respectful relationships, where a genuine fondness for the person with whom they connected was present (Porter, 63).
During his time spent on Nuku Hiva, Porter observed and noted numerous kinship patterns. It was preferable to marry someone outside of one’s own tribe in order to regenerate the blood (Katupa). When this occurred, a new bond was formed between the two tribes involved, and forged a stronger relationship (Niva). Either the husband or wife could join their new spouse’s tribe (Niva). When tribes were at war with each other, those who had married cross-tribally “were permitted to pass and repass freely and uninterrupted from one tribe to another” (Porter, 21-22). In instances where a warrior was killed fighting against his tribe of origin, his body would be taken care of by his family and receive proper treatment, while the corpses of other enemies were rejoiced over in the public square (Porter, 44).
When Porter formed a relationship with Gattanewa, the chief requested that they exchange names. This act, called “taio,” is symbolic of a new, strong bond created between two people. Taio dates back to ancient times and links the exchangers together as one person (Niva). Once the exchange occurred, the parties involved had to maintain a strong relationship (or in Porter’s case not have anything done to upset him) in order to keep the names (Niva and Porter, 72). In his first exchange with Gattanewa, Porter bestowed on the chief his strongest name, his last name hoping to forge a strong relationship that would benefit Porter in his Nuku Hivan pursuits. Hoping to establish good terms with Porter, both Temea Tipee (chief of the valley of Houme) and, following the Typee war, many of the warriors, chiefs, and priests sought to exchange names (Porter, 72 and 110). For the latter, they were persistent in taking the names of all the male members of his family, and once those ran out the female members as they were eager to form a relationship with him (Porter, 110).
The landscapes of Nuku Hivan tribes have changed with time. As years passed tribes have relocated from the areas explained by Porter, practices have changed and traditions have been lost. Today, many Nuku Hivans have mixed tribal heritages and embrace all of them (Katupa).
Tribal Boundaries of Nuku Hiva (circa early 19th century)
During David Porter’s time on Nuku Hiva he observed and recorded the indigenous tribes. Occupying seven areas throughout the island lived the “great” tribes and the numerous smaller “lesser” tribes that composed them. The white shaded area indicates the dry, unoccupied portion of the island, while the seven other colors denote tribal boundaries.
The orange color signifies the valley of Hannahow (Anaho)5, which lies on the northeast side of the island. It was home to two great tribes: the Hatecaah and the the Woheaho. The Hatecaahs were composed of the Mooaekah, Attishou, and Attestapwiheenah. While the Attehacoes, Attetomcohoy, and Attekakahaneuah made up the Woheahos.
5 All tribe names that have parentheses around the following word are Porter’s spelling of the tribe and then followed by the current accepted spelling.
Red indicates the Taioa, a collection of three sub-tribes: the Ma’amatuahs, Tiohahs, and Cahha’aho, who lived in the leeward part of Huchaheucha (Hakaaui) bay.
Not mentioned by Porter is the valley of Hatihieu, denoted by the purple shading. It was occupied by the tribe of Pouhiohio, under which six sub-tribes existed: Pouhiohio, Kaei, Puku, Tapatea, Tu’uoho, and Heu’u.
Colored green is the valley of Hatuatua (Tahtuahtuah), it was inhabited by the small tribe of the Tiakahs.
Yellow represents the Houmi (Shoeume), whose land spanned from the valley of Taipi to Comptrollers Bay. They consisted of the smaller tribes of the Cahhunaka, Tomahaheena, and Tickeymahu.
The Valley of Tieuhoy (Taiohae) is shaded blue and was occupied by six lesser tribes collectively called the Taeehs (Teii). Four of the six tribes, the Pakeuhs, Moavhs, Howneeahs, and Hekuahs were under the power of chief Gattanewa, and he possessed influence over the remaining two, the Hoattas and Havouhs.
Shaded pink is the land from Taipi Valley to northwest Comptrollers Bay, it was inhabited by the Happahs. They were sub-divided into six tribes: the Nicekees, Tattievows, Pachas, Kickahs, Tekaahs, and Muttaaohas.
Jayme Smith, George Washington University
Le Cleac'a, Herve. Pona Tekao Tapapa'ia. Papeete: n.p., 1997. Print.
Katupa, Yvonne, Mayor of Hatiheu, Personal Interview. 16 Feb, 2013.
Millerstrom, Sidsel. "Gravures Rupestres Et Archeologie De L'habitat De Hatiheu a Nuku Hiva." Service De La Culture Et Du Patrimoine (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Niva, Paul Moohono , Personal Interview. 18,19,22 Feb, 2013.
Porter, David. Journal of A Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean. Volumes 1&2. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1815. Vol 1. 1-72, Vol 2. 1-113. Print.
How to cite this page:
Jayme Smith. “Analyzing Historic Nuku Hivan Tribal Boundaries and Dynamics,” Atlas for Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA. 2013. Web. [Date accessed] <html>