According to legend, Manihiki and Rakahanga (then still joined together) were discovered underwater by a Rarotongan named Huku, and fished up from the waves by the demigod Maui (see p37). When Huku and Maui fought for possession, the land was broken into two pieces - Rakahanga and Manihiki.
Right up until the 19th century, Manihiki and Rakahanga were populated by a single group of people. Most of the time, the population lived on Rakahanga, but would migrate en masse to Manihiki whenever supplies on Rakahanga ran down. Many lives were lost on these inter-island trips when canoes were blown off course.
Manihiki may have been sighted by the Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros in 1606, but credit for the European discovery is normally given to Captain Patrickson of the US ship Good Hope in 1822. Patrickson and a successive stream of whalers and traders bestowed a series of forgettable names upon the island -Humphrey's Island, Great Ganges, Lider-
ous, Gland, Sarah Scott and Pescado. Fortunately, none of them stuck.
Christian missionaries came to Manihiki in 1849 and left two Polynesian missionary teachers behind (as well as several previously unknown diseases). By 1852 the missionaries had converted most of the islanders to Christianity, and convinced them to settle for good on either Manihiki or Rakahanga.
The women of Manihiki were famous for their beauty, a reputation that continues to this day. In the late 19th century, however, that notion led to raids by Peruvian slavers and a variety of Pacific ne'er-do-wells. In 1869 'Bully Hayes' spirited off a number of islanders, supposedly for a visit to Rakahanga; in reality they ended up as sugar plantation labourers in Fiji.
In 1889, when relations between the British and French in the Pacific were tense, the islanders fell out with their missionaries and asked the French from Tahiti to take over the island. A French warship duly turned up, but the missionaries speedily hoisted the Union Jack and the French opted for discretion rather than valour. Later that year the island was officially taken under the British wing.
In 1901, Manihiki and Rakahanga came under the control of the newly established New Zealand protectorate in the Cook Islands, which ensured improved health facilities and economic stability for the island. A radio station was established in 1937.
In November 1997, Manihiki was devastated by Cyclone Martin. Both of the island's villages, Tauhunu and Tukao, were destroyed, and most of Manihiki's crops were lost. The population raced to save themselves by launching boats onto the protected lagoon, but many boats were sunk, depositing whole families into the sea. Miraculously, considering the extent of the destruction, only 19 lives were lost.
In the aftermath of the cyclone, most of Manihiki was evacuated to Rarotonga. The villages have since been completely rebuilt at great expense, but many families never returned home. Manihiki's current population consists of about 390 people, including many from the Southern Cooks who have moved here to work on the island's pearl farms. The pearl industry was completely wiped out by the cyclone, but has since recovered, and now contributes over NZ$18 million to the country's economy every year.
Manihikian literary giants are few and far between, but one Manihikian author, Kauraka Kauraka, published a significant number of poetry collections and books exploring the traditional myths and legends of Manihiki. Look out for Legends from the Atolls (1983), Return to Havaiki (1985) and Dreams of a Rainbow (1987) at the University of the South Pacific Bookshop in Avarua (see p54). Kauraka passed away on Rarotonga in 1997 and his grave is on Manihiki.
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