Characters and Legends

saints savages and buried treasures

Characters and Legends

Never let it be said that all was smooth sailing in getting this far into history in the south Pacific, without having our fair share of Saints and Savages, famous Characters and Legend makers from all parts of the known world.

Most Cook Islands legends involve elements of cannibalism and spirit worshipping. Only the mild tales are included below and will be listed seperatley to thoses story of the Characters that have woven their way into the very fabric of the South Pacific and beyond...

...the stories about the CHARACTERS who sometimes were passing through, or other times taking up residence, or for that matter taking the people from their lands and homes and scattering then far and wide, as upaid labour, hostages or indentured labour. These people were know as Blackbirders and some of their stories are also told within...

Loveable Characters like Robert Louis Stevenson took up residence and became part of the culture adding flavor and colour to the lives and languages that make up Polynesia ( Poly by the very definition meaning many ).

Robert Dean Frisbie , and our own Hermit of the South Seas Tom Neal and not forgetting Ian Forbes of later years.

Still here today, you can talk and read of the adventures of 2 school boys who rode on their enthusiasm and became a major part of the Cook Islands, Mr Bob( Robert ) Boyd and his dear freind Capt. Don Silk.

Other like the Brutal Bully Hayes , and Prolific breeder William Masters who with his three wives populated the entire island of Palmerston, and whose decendant spoke a mix of Polynesian Moari and Old English in a language of their own.

Ahh, Yes, Characters of the Polynesian Islands and Legend makers, villains and pirates, sometimes hard to distinguish between them all, rubbing shoulders together at waterfront drinking holes round the foreshore of Polynesian Islands. Incestuous living, Black Birding , Smuggling, Drunken Orgies, Polygamy and Murder, such is the history on the south seas.

Sometimes the exaggeration can blend the villain into a saint , and sometimes the saint into scoundrel. But rest assured however the story gets passed down , one thing for sure ,there was more than likely an element of truth in the beginning , and by golly, it sure makes for interesting reading.

Legends Retold- The mild ones

Fascinating aspects on Rarotonga and also thru-out the Cook Islands are the myths and legends associated with this part of Polynesia.

Through out all of the Cook Islands you will hear ancient folklore and stories about various gods who once ruled in this part of the world. Variations may exist about each, depending on which Island you are hearing these legends retold. However it does not matter on which island you are hearing these folklore retold, there is a common thread that permeates thru each one.

Whenever you visit the local dance troupes performing you will see these legends and folklore being retold by way of dance and song – don’t forget to go to at least one of the Island Nights to capture the true pleasure of a traditional Cook Islands, Island night - complete with dancing ,show and a true island feast. Make sure you go with an appetite.

It is traditional in the Cook Islands that the Table Must Win ( ie: There is so much food provided , that it is almost impossible to finish. )

Throughout the Pacific and across Polynesia you will find many myths and stories of how the universe came into being. Gods like Tangaroa, Vari, Vatea, Tane and Rongomatne are the most popular, while demigods Rata and Maui are also well known.

Tangaroa is the ‘creator’ god across much of the Pacific islands, with many tribes worshipping him as most high of these gods. However, on Cook Islands, Tangaroa is only the god of the seas and fertility. The god Tane used to oversee the forests, while Rongo looked after agriculture and harvests.

Let the legends begin...

Tangiia and Karika

Once there were 2 warriors, Tangiia from Tahiti and Karika from Samoa who were at sea in search of the island which we now know as Rarotonga.

In the past, Rarotonga was also known as Tumu-Te-Varovaro and before that Nukutere (these names have stories that go with it, but i will explain another time). Anyway, they saw each other approaching on the horizon, and Tangiia told the men on his canoe to go below deck.

It was said that Tangiia had about 200 people on his canoe. So as they drew closer to each other, Karika noticed that there was only women on Tangiia's canoe. When they discovered that each was in search of the same island, they engaged in what was called 'putoto' which is sort of like tug-o-war, but instead of pulling a rope, they pushed each others canoes.

As you would expect Karika was winning. Tangiia waited until Karika's men had used up a lot of their strength, then he called his men to get up and paddle and so they did. And it was said that they almost pushed Karika back to Samoa. In resignation, Karika gave Tangiia the directions as to how to get to Rarotonga. So off Tangiia went in search of Rarotonga.

The further they went the more Tangiia noticed that it was getting much cooler, so he dipped his hand in the sea and it was cold indeed, much colder than he expected where Rarotonga would be, so he knew he had been duped, they had gone too far south.

That is where the name Rarotonga (which means down south or down under ) came from. So he quickly ordered his crew to turn around and they went north again only to come across Karika again and in view of Rarotonga. So they engaged in another pushing war and after several days, neither winning, they decided to split Rarotonga in half.

So they decided that Tangiia would get the half which had Takitumu (includes the villages, Titikaveka, Ngatangiia and Matavera) and Karika would get Te-Au-O-Tonga which is on the town side of Rarotonga. It is not stated as to who was to get the other big village, Arorangi. But note that Rarotonga was already inhabited when these two arrived. But I was told that Tangiia and Karika were welcomed by the native Rarotongan's and even married chiefs daughters.


Taakura was an extremely beautiful red-haired maiden that lived on the island of Rarotonga. She was so much in love with her young warrior boyfriend. But one day, she discovered that he was having an affair.

Devastated she vowed to destroy her boyfriend and every other Rarotongan man. So she committed suicide and at night her spirit would sit on a rock by the side of the road, combing her long red hair, she used her hypnotic beauty to lure her boyfriend off the edge of a bridge.

Taakura's spirit still roams Rarotonga and continues to lure men to plunge to their deaths. Don't worry, the last case reported was back in the early 1980's, when a man drove his vehicle off the side of a bridge, he didn't die, but claimed it was Taakura.

"Taakura continued to haunt people into the 1980's"

Ina and the Shark

Do you know why sharks have a dent on top of their head. Well, long time ago there was a beautiful maiden called Ina who asked a shark to take her to another island to see her boyfriend. Anyway, during the journey she was hungry and decided to open one of the coconuts she had brought along. But she didn't have anything to open it with. Then she suddenly got an idea. She got one of the coconuts and cracked it open on the sharks head. The shark then shook her off his back and ate her. Anyway, thats how sharks got a dent on their heads.


According to legends, Raemaru was the tallest mountain on Rarotonga. Raemaru is on the west side of Rarotonga in the village of Puaikura or now known as Arorangi. Raemaru, means ‘in the shade of the sun’.

The fame of this mountain reached as far as Aitutaki island. Aitutaki was completely flat then and so they sent some warriors to steal the mountain. Hence, in the night, these Aitutakian warriors cut the mountain top off and took it back to Aitutaki.

So now Raemaru has a flat top which has been that way long before white man ever set foot on Rarotonga and Aitutaki has a small mountain. "the story of Raemaru is unbelievable and yet there are elements of truth in it"

Ati and the people from the Underworld (Momoke)

Ati was a humble planter who lived in the village which is now Arorangi, a long time ago. One day when he went to his plantation, he discovered some of his crops were missing. He paid his neighbours a visit and demanded that they own up to this offence, he even accused and threatened his neighbours loose animals.

But nobody would come forward. So determined to get justice, he figured that the thief was bound to return. So he hid in the bushes nearby and waited for the thief to come back again. He did this nite after nite, but the thief did not return. Then one night, the moon was full, Ati was almost about to dose off convinced that his threats to the other villagers had definitely scared off the thief, when there was this funny sound like rippling water.

He glanced over at the pool near his plantation and it was glowing. Then suddenly, human figures started to emerge from the pool. They were almost like him except that they were white-skinned. He watched more in amazement than fury as they uprooted and helped themselves to the fruits of his labour.

When they had gathered enough, they climbed back into the pool and disappeared into its depths. Curious, Ati followed them into the pool, but no matter how hard he tried he could not hold his breath long enough.

Not that he knew how deep he had to go either. Eventually, he gave up. He then planned how he would capture these white-skins (momoke) the next time.

"descendants of Ati and his momoke still live on Rarotonga"
On the nite of the next full moon, Ati again lay in the bushes, but this time nearer the pool and watched the momoke raid his plantation. While they were busy, he threw a net that he had woven especially for this purpose over the pool and then rounded up the momoke.

They rushed back to the pool, but the weight snapped some of the twine and all except one was able to escape. Ati, ecstatic, gathered up his captive and took it home. When morning came he took a good look at his captive and realised it was a woman.

He decided to make her his wife. She was very unhappy initially.

In addition, she couldn't go outside during the day because it hurt her eyes. However, time went by and she became accustomed to living in Ati's world, eventually bearing him a son. They were very happy together. However, one day when Ati came home, he found her crying. She asked him if they could go and visit her parents as she wanted to show them their child.

So that nite they prepared and went to the pool. Ati held the child. They took deep breaths and attempted to dive. Ati could not hold on and had to come up again for more air. He tried again and again, unsuccessfully.

His wife had not emerged again to assist him. Eventually, he gave up, and sat by the pool with their son, mourning, knowing she was never to return to the surface again. He named his son Ati've (which means seperation) and sealed off the pool.

Anyway, I am telling you this story, cos while you are in Rarotonga and if you come across some extremely fair Rarotongan's (no, not the Caucasians living there or the Cook Islanders who have Caucasian ancestors), then you will know they are descendants of Ati've.

Momoke is the Rarotongan word for albino. No matter how much these people try, they don't tan. Anyway, the pool is still there too, but you have to ask the old folk in Arorangi where it is.

The Octopus and the Rat

Another similar story to Ina and the Shark, is about the octopus getting ink in his head.

This is how it was retold to me.

There was a rat on a canoe that was being hurled around in a storm. Eventually, the canoe started to break up. Afraid and shivering, the rat looked around for something to which he could cling too. Then he noticed an octopus swimming nearby and called over to it. He asked it to take him to land and that he would pay him generously.

The octopus being ignorant positioned himself close and allowed the rat to climb on top of his head, then the octopus carefully made his way towards land. Once they were near the beach, the rat jumped off and quickly ran onto dry land.

The octopus then called out to him "where is the payment you promised me". The rat turned around and shouted, "Feel the top of your head".

Anyway, enough of the gross tale. But that is why the octopus has that black ink in his head and thats why octopus's hate rats.

Click Here to return from Characters and Legends page to Home page