COOK ISLANDS AND THE BLACKBIRDERS

 

In all, a total of no fewer than 725 Cook Islanders from the four northern Cook Islands were permitted to embark on the Peruvian ships willingly, without the ariki and mission teachers stopping them. Although these recruits were to a greater or lesser degree duped, only seven were actually kidnapped. Indeed, the people of the northern Cooks, along with their ariki and teachers, were still completely undiscriminating in their attitude to white foreigners.

 

           

The first ship to be fitted out for the Peruvian labour trade was the 151 ton barque Adelante (Captain August Grassman). The hold of the ship had been divided into three compartments with iron grating separating them and there were similar gratings over the hatches to prevent anyone from escaping. In addition, the vessel was armed with two swivel guns mounted by the after hatch and two more were placed on top of the poop. The crew were also heavily armed and finally four extra crew members were signed on to guard the hatches day and night.

The Adelante left Callao on the 15th June 1862 with her first port of call being Hatihea Bay on Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. She arrived there on the 10th July, 1862 and remained there for three days taking on water. Soon after leaving Nuku Hiva, the ship's owner, J. C. Byrne decided to stop over at the atoll of Tongareva in the northern Cook Group, which lay on their route in order to investigate the commercial possibilities of their lagoon, known to contain the beche-de-mer and pearl-shell. Here they met a beachcomber known as Beni who told him that a ship seen by them the previous day was the French Protectorate schooner Latouche-Treville, and that she had just recruited 130 Tongarevans to plant sugar cane, coffee and taro in Tahiti on two-year contacts at four dollars a month.

In this fortuitous manner, Byrne had happened to discover the one island in Polynesia where the people were only too eager to be recruited as a result of a devastating disease infecting their coconut palms deriving them of their main source of food.

This situation had been getting worse for some time and in 1857 the Aitutaki people had sent them a shipment of coconuts and when their crop had failed they were reported to be starving. In fact, the missionary Wyatt Gill had actually been prospecting uninhabited Nassau Island as a possible new home for them. 

 

In addition to this, the Tongarevans had the persuasion, or at least the blessing, of the London Missionary Society's teaching on the island, who seized upon the opportunity of earning money to emulate the churches built on Rarotonga, Manihiki and other islands in the Cook Group.

Hence it was decided that at least one of the six teachers should accompany each batch of recruits who care for their spiritual welfare.

The start of the Polynesian labour trade was, therefore, something of an accident resulting from the unpremeditated decision of Byrne to call at Tongareva for a reason unconnected with his recruiting venture.

Envy of churches like this on Manihiki led the Tongarevans to recruit From F. J. Moss, Through Atolls and Islands ... (London 1889)

As it now transpired, there was no longer any need to engage in a long and expensive voyage to Melanesia to procure a cargo of truculent savages when gentler Christianized Polynesians were more readily available. The Adelante returned to Callao on 13th September, 1862, with a cargo of 253 recruits (83 men, 83 women, 30 boys, 19 girls, 19 male and 19 female infants).

On their arrival at Callao, the recruits were sold at 200 dollars for men, 150 dollars for women and 100 dollars for boys, care being taken to avoid splitting up the 83 families. Of the new arrival, 206 were classed as workers and were sold to buyers requiring domestic servants or agricultural labourers.

Use of the lucrative human cargo awaiting the enterprising entrepreneur on islands so near at hand quickly spread. The first ship to then arrive at Tongareva was the brig Trujillo who kidnapped a local chief as interpreter, with his wife and two boys, before joining the Apurimac and Manuelita Costas off Manihiki, where they hoped to be the first to recruit from this island. The next visit seemed to have been a little 98 ton schooner called the Genara which embarked 43 voluntary recruits together with a second teacher.

The Adelante left again for Tongareva on the 10th October, 1862, to pick up the remaining able-bodied islanders and their families. There were only two more visits recorded by recruiting ships. The brig Ellen Elizabeth called on the 25th January, 1863, and stayed for ten days before leaving for the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), followed later by a barque, probably the Dolores Carolina: but there was no one left to take.

Where the Peruvian ships anchored: Omoka Village on Tongareva
From F.V. de G. Stevenson, The Cruise of the 'Janet Nicol' ... (London 1915)

Tongareva is the largest atoll in the Cook Group and its characteristic pattern of dispersed settlement had led to the population living on their coconut land holdings scattered around the lagoon, rather than in villages as on the smaller atolls. As soon as the islanders were converted to Christianity, however, four churches were erected at Omoka, Motu Unga, Tautua and Te Puka and by 1862 nearly everyone was living in one of the four villages which grew up around these churches.

When Wyatt Gill called at the atoll on the 11th March 1863 in the missionary ship John Williams, he found 40 inhabitants of Omoka still living in their village by the main entrance into the lagoon with the sole remaining teacher Ngatikaro. The total number of Tongarevans transported to Peru was approximately 472 of which 88 remained when Wyatt Gill returned in March 1863.

RECRUITING IN THE SOUTHERN COOK ISLANDS

After the raids on Easter Island in December 1862, six of the eight vessels set sail for the west on or before the night of the 26th December, 1862. The six vessels were Rosa y Carmen, Rosa Patricia, Guillermo, Micaela Miranda, Jose Castro and Cora. Their prearranged rendezvous was the isolated island of Rapa, the southernmost of the Austral Group with all the fleet arriving with the exception of the Cora.

The raiders' rendezvous: Ahurei Bay on Rapa, showing the precipitous terrain.
From Peter H. Buck, Vikings of the Sunrise (New York 1938)

When the 88 ton schooner Cora, the smallest vessel employed in the labour trade, arrived a few days later, a Rapan called Mairoto was told by a Samoan member of her crew that an Easter Island boy was held as a prisoner on board, and that the Rapans had better take care as the Captain was out to capture any he could get hold of. Mairoto had received a decoration when serving with the French army and, while the Captain of the Cora was trying to recruit the islanders by offering lavish rations of meat, bread, rice, beans, brandy and wine, he called a meeting of thirteen chiefs presided over by the High Chief Aperahama, at which it was decided to seize the ship and deliver her to the French authorities in Tahiti, who they felt would know best what should be done with her. 

A party of armed men, with their weapons concealed, boarded the Cora and succeeded in securing the Captain and capturing the vessel. The schooner was then sailed to Tahiti by three Europeans engaged by the chiefs - including James Connor, a local beachcomber and carpenter, helped by Mairoto and seven other Rapans. The arrival of the Cora at Papeete on the 17th February, 1863, called a sensation among the Tahitians with the ship being eventually abandoned and sold as unseaworthy on the 5th May, 1863.

To the credit of the Rapans, no one was taken from the island despite the visit of eight ships, including some of the worse blackbirders in the labour trade; while one of the eight was actually captured by them - an exploit still celebrated in the songs and dances of Eastern Polynesia.

The fleet at Ahurei Bay on Rapa was now reduced to four ships by the capture of the Cora and the decision of the Captain of the Jose Castro to return to Easter Island. The barque Rosa y Carmen, with the brig Micaela Miranda, proceeded to the northern Cook Islands of Rakahanga and probably Manihiki. The barque Rosa Patricia with the brig Guillermo proceeded to Niue calling at Mangaia and Atiu in the southern Cook Group on their way.

At Mangaia, the European missionary normally stationed there, the Reverend Wyatt Gill, was away and on his return he was very annoyed to find that the Rosa Patricia had endeavoured to recruit 200 men from the island. No one could be induced to leave the island, however, at a Atiu the Rosa Patricia succeeded in kidnapping five islanders who came off to the ship, one of them being the son of a chief.

The following month the Empresa also visited the two islands when returning to Peru from Manihiki and Rakahanga by the southern route. Calling at Atiu first, the ariki (high chief) and his wife were invited to dinner, the chief was offered large sums of money to provide some 200 men however he wisely declined and once safely ashore prohibited all contact with the ship. Only one youth, who swam off despite the tapu, was taken. 

The Ariki Numatangani of Mangaia, whose son Davida was captured but survived to return. From W. Wyatt Gill, Life in the Southern Isles ... (London 1876)

At Mangaia, Wyatt Gill was still away and, mistaking the Empresa for the mission ship, John Williams, bringing him back, a canoe with Davida, the son and heir of the principal ariki Numatangani, and seven others paddled out and made fast.

Five climbed on board, including Davida where they were given the now standard drink of brandy and opium mixed by the doctor and all were seized.  The remaining three suspecting foul play made it safely back to shore.

Apart from the eleven men kidnapped at Atiu and Mangaia by the Rosa Patricia and Empresa on their way to and from Rapa, the sole recruiting grounds for Peru in the scattered Cook Group were the four northern atolls of Tongareva, Manihiki, Rakahanga and Pukapuka.

BLACKBIRDING IN THE NORTHERN COOK ISLANDS

MANIHIKI

The Trujillo, which had called briefly at Tongareva en route, joined the Apurimac and Manuelita Costas off Manihiki on the 10th November 1862 but left again the same day to recruit at the sister island of Rakahanga only twenty miles to the north while the other two anchored off the reef. Two days later both the Apurimac and Manuelita Costas were driven ashore in a storm to become total wrecks.  By the time the Trujillo returned with a number of Rakahangans and took off the shipwrecked crews, the Manihiki people had been forbidden to leave the atoll by the ariki and not one to be induced to go on board this or any of the later recruiting ships. Consequently, the tally of Manihiki islanders to leave for Peru was therefore nil and it must be emphasized that there is no doubt on this point.

Recruiter on the Empresa who turned trader: George Ellis on Manihiki.
From F.J. Moss, Through Atolls and Islands ... (London 1889)

RAKAHANGA

When Wyatt Gill reached Rakahanga on the 5th March 1863, his chief informant on the activities of the Peruvian labour vessels was Tairi, the first mission teacher (or orometua) on the island. From Tairi, Gill learned that the first labour vessel to visit Rakahanga had been the Trujillo which had taken 76 recruits (42 men, 20 women and 14 children) with the consent of the ariki. These have been volunteers who left on the condition that they would be employed on light work such as gathering cotton or planting sugar cane, and would be returned within a year. When the Adelante arrived later with her compliments of Tongarevans, accompanied by the Jorge Zahara, a further party of families numbering thirty left on board the latter vessel under the same conditions.

Following this visit, the chief and Tairi agreed that no further recruiting should be permitted since 60 of the 495 inhabitants were on Fanning Island and 106 had gone to Peru. Shortly afterwards, however, the Rosa y Carmen arrived from Rapa and seven youths ignored the tapu and rowed off to the barque which then left to Pukapuka. In all a total of 115 Rakahangans eventually left for Peru.

PUKAPUKA

After Captain Davis of the Jorge Zahara had been frustrated by the ariki and teachers on Manihiki in his endeavours to recruit there, he left for Pukapuka where he was successful in obtaining 85 islanders (80 men and 5 women) including the Rarotongan mission teacher Ngatimoari. The large number was due in the main to the efforts of a resident beachcomber, Paddy Cooney, who acted as recruiter, coupled with generous presents to the ariki, and eight fathoms of cloth to the relatives and friends of each recruit. Cooney had lived for years on Pukapuka as well as in Tahiti and Samoa and on Aitutaki and Palmerston Island, and for a short time on Fanning Island.  

Loto village on Pukapuka
From Ernest Beaglehole, Islands of Danger (Wellington 1944)

The Jorge Zahara left Pukapuka on 27th January 1863. The Rosa y Carmen arrived from Rakahanga in February, 1863 with her cargo of Easter Islanders and Rakahangans. Captain Marutinai appeared to take the advice of Paddy Cooney who suggested that the Pukapukans should be engaged ostensibly to make coconut oil on Palmerston Island for a respected Tahiti merchant. In any event, the offer was a popular one and 50 men and women were added to the 70 already on board. Later ships visiting the island were unsuccessful in recruiting further people. As late as November 1863, when the trade was at an end, Reverend Gill reported that the total number taken from Pukapuka was 140 although evidence now suggests that it was 145. 

In all, a total of no fewer than 725 Cook Islanders from the four northern atolls were permitted to embark on the Peruvian ships willingly, without the ariki and mission teachers stopping them. Although these recruits were to a greater or lesser degree duped, only seven were actually kidnapped. Indeed, the people of the northern Cooks along with their ariki and teachers were still completely undiscriminating in their attitude to white foreigners. Naive and credulous, the teachers were as much deceived by the promises of the recruiters as anyone else and accepted whatever they were told without question. Also, of course, the few left behind seemed quite unaware of the true character of the parties who had desolated their island. This is shown by the fact that Ben Hughes (or Beni), the local beachcomber who had collaborated throughout with the recruiters continued to live on Tongareva without opposition from those who remained. It was only after Reverend Gill had fully explained the situation to the local people that he had to leave for Fakaofo (Tokelau Islands) with his family and retainers.   

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 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com  -- Rev. 10th May 2009)