Principal Koutu and Marae of the Makea Tribe

Arai-te-Tonga is the name of the marae (temple) and koutu (royal court) of the Makea Tribe of Te-au-o-Tonga and the name Arai-te-Tonga is also used to describe the area surrounding it.

A marae was a sacred place which served mainly religious purposes. In the past it was used for worshipping the gods and for presentation of offerings. Marae are ancient ancestral places still considered tapu (sacred; forbidden) by the families who own them so please do not take anything from the land, or disturb the rock formations.

The koutu, was the place where the ariki (chief) was invested with his title and where he and his family resided. It was also where all ariki and persons of rank or members of the ariki family were buried. All tribal annual feasts at the presentation of first fruits and ceremonial feasting and dancing were also held on koutu. In tribal importance, a koutu took precedence to a marae. In the past, each tribe had its main koutu and lesser grade koutu.

Established by Tangiia Nui, a great ancestor of the Rarotongans, Arai-te-Tonga became the principal koutu of Makea Nui Ariki, paramount chief of the district of Te-au-o-Tonga and is said to be one of the first three koutu built when Tangiia Nui first settled on Rarotonga around 1350AD.

According to Takitumu tradition, Karika Ariki, who later left Rarotonga, was the first Ariki to be invested at Arai-te-Tonga as an ariki-putokotoko (a supporting chief; an associate chief) of Tangiia Nui. Arai-te-Tonga still remains as the investiture site for the three Makea Ariki titles of Te-Au-o-Tonga.

Arai-te-Tonga is surrounded by many marae that belong to mataiapo (sub-chiefs) clans. It was the practice in the past for mataiapo, owing allegiance to the ariki and for the sake of maintaining mana (power; prestige), to have his land section bordering the koutu in order to be near his ariki.

A well preserved feature of Arai-te-Tonga is the rectangular platform approximately twelve feet long, seven feet and eight inches high, which is offset by a central pillar. Taumakeva is the name of both platform and the upright pillar. Its main purpose was for the investiture of the ariki, who was lifted onto the pillar by his seven mataiapo. This was done using crossed spears, upon which the ariki sat.

A large, rounded rock erroneously named Maringitoto ("blood-spilling") in a publication by Percy Smith (1903), was said to have been used for blood sacrifices. Four local aronga mana (title holders) contradict his information and call the rock Pu'era. On this rock were placed sharks, turtles and other sea food to which the ariki had exclusive rights.

Other marae in the vicinity are: Manuka Pureora, Murivai, Koroa and Ta'urutu. Further inland is the large (and mostly intact) t-shaped paepae (stone platform, or forecourt) called Te-Maru-o-te-Taiti. Paepae formerly fronted the house of an ariki or mataiapo. This one is associated with Tara'are Mataiapo.

Tangapatoro, a warrior-ariki of renown from the island of Atiu, who came to Rarotonga in the service of Tinomana Ariki, is buried at Arai-te-Tonga.

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