The reduplications of pohutu which occur in both texts resemble the paraparoko, paroparoko, parokoroko variants of the paroko fish. It is possible that the name was turned into a verbal form to convey the meaning of "to be, to act like a dragonfly larva". It is however also possible that the word was lengthened because it evoked other associations such as pohutu, "dirty", "to be soiled". To reach the supplies of fresh water, the neru would have to crawl through a system of narrow tunnels and chambers, the floors of which were very muddy and in some places covered by thin layers of water (cf. Steiner 2008:265-
The fact that Pantala flavescens crosses over from one habitat into another must have secured it a place among the "ambiguous" animals. As such it will have functioned in the neru imagery in a role similar to that of the paroko. In the first place, however, the dragonfly's extraordinary metamorphosis from a dark green or brown and rather nasty looking aquatic bug into an elegant flying creature, colored in bright reds and yellows, must have been regarded as the perfect symbol for the dramatic changes to the children's body in preparation for their ultimate emergence from the "aquatic" environment of 'Ana O Keke.
Although the information on the neru cult has only survived in scattered fragments, it seems evident that its ideology centered around the theme of transition. In Atu'a Mata Riri, vs 38, this idea is most clearly stated as ki ai kiroto ka rori, "(She) has to stay inside, until (she) is transformed!" Surely it is by no means surprising to find motifs of change – of one's place in society and of one's body – figuring prominently in an initiation rite. What makes the Easter Island case a very special one, however, is the fact that, perhaps more than anywhere else, these ideas have been formulated in an explicit metaphorical language. At the same time, however, they have been embedded in a very familiar Polynesian mythological scheme.
Since both Tangaroa and an unnamed Sun god make their appearance in the neru chants and since the children are referred to both as "fish" and as "birds", it seems not too farfetched to assume that they somehow played a part in the eternal war that was waged between the brother gods Tangaroa and Tane. For Easter Island, some traces of their fundamental dichotomy can be found in Metoro's recitations for Jaussen: ko te ariki kua noho i te henua ko te ariki kua noho i vai: "this king lives on the earth, this king lives in the sea" (Barthel 1958:187) and in the myth of Tangaroa's landing at Tongariki which states that his mana was "over the sea" while that of his brother was "over the land" (Métraux 1940:310-
On Easter Island, this imagery comes together in the depiction of the sun god as a heavenly fisherman with his rays serving as nets and fishing lines. In Atu'a Mata Riri, vs 34-
The idea of transition has found a prominent visual expression in the middle part of the cave's large petroglyphic mural (fig. 3). To the left a bottle gourd is depicted in such a way as to suggest a whale, which – as already mentioned – was one of Tangaroa's many 'ata. To its right a much smaller figure of a bird is moving toward it, its head touching on a curled line – perhaps a wave indicating the border between land and water. Possibly, the bird image is a cleverly designed trompe-
Some early traces of the allegorical themes of the mythological background of the neru cult are found in the report of the pioneering field work that was undertaken during the Spanish expedition of 1770. The Spanish made an attempt to collect the Rapanui names for the numerals from one to ten, but they were given a series of terms that, although clearly Polynesian, have nothing to do with numbers (Barthel 1962:3; Fedorova 1969:146). The manuscript of captain Aguera's journal at the Mitchell Library in Sydney lists these as "uno: cojàna; dos: corena; tres: cogojù; quatro: quirote; cinco: majanà; seis: teùto; siete: tejèa; ocho: moroqui; nuebe: vijoviri; dièz: queromata-
To explain what could have caused the misunderstanding, Mellén Blanco has argued convincingly that the informants, while not understanding the Spanish questions, must have had a good look at a list with Arabic numerals (1994:38). This can be deduced from the fact that the number 6 was interpreted by them as teùto, i.e., te uto, "buoy", apparently because it resembled a bottle gourd (which were probably used as net floats), and the number 8 as moroqui, i.e., moroki, the name of little fish which were used as bait.
Although this scenario seems plausible enough, attempts to link the descriptions of the other numerals to pictures, objects or even rongorongo signs, fail to produce any convincing results. If, however, instead of concentrating on the individual numerals, two or more of the Rapanui descriptions are joined together and interpreted as such, it becomes clear what the Easter Island informant was trying to communicate. With minor modifications of Mellén Blanco's reconstruction of the Rapanui words from the Spanish notation, the phrases can be read as ko 'ana ko renga / kokohu kirote ma hana te uto / tehe a moroki / iho viri / kero mata pahu / paka haka-
Interpreted in this way, this early Rapanui text provides an accurate description of the neru practice, using the same ritual imagery that is found in traditions, songs, and petroglyphs. The little moroki-
"(...) the object of secluding women at menstruation is to neutralize the dangerous influences which are supposed to emanate from them at such times. That the danger is believed to be especially great at the first menstruation appears from the unusual precautions taken to isolate girls at this crisis. Two of these precautions have been (...) that the girl may not touch the ground nor see the sun. The general effect of these rules is to keep her suspended, so to say, between heaven and earth. Whether enveloped in her hammock and slung up to the roof, as in South America, or raised above the ground in a dark and narrow cage, as in New Ireland, she may be considered to be out of the way of doing mischief, since, being shut off both from the earth and from the sun, she can poison neither of these great sources of life by her deadly contagion."
The neru cult fits remarkably well in the general scheme of rites of passage that was drawn up by Van Gennep in his seminal "Les rites de passage" (1909). He distinguishes three ritual phases marking an individual's transition from one group of society into another: in the first, termed "séparation", the individual is detached from an earlier fixed point in the social structure. In the middle phase ("marge" or "liminarité"), the subject lives a marginalised existence, is stripped from the external signs of his former status, and receives instruction for his new role, accompanied by ceremonies of inversion. In the third phase ("agrégation") the subject returns to society and takes up his position in the new group.
In the case of the neru, information on the first phase, the ritual behavior in the advent of the seclusion, is lacking, but the last phase, their reintroduction to society, is reported as being marked by certain ceremonies in which they were put on display and which involved singing and dancing. The bulk of the information in oral traditions, chants, and petroglyphs, however, pertains to the intermediary phase of their stay at 'Ana O Keke. This is in agreement with Van Gennep's claim that rituals belonging to the middle phase make up the better part of initiation rites (1981:14).
Several aspects of the neru cult that have been discussed above are accounted for in the detailed analysis which Turner has made of this "liminal" phase – in particular for initiation rites. The neru's concurrent associations with "death" and "birth" are explained by the fact that in the liminal phase initiates are structurally, if not physically, "invisible" for the rest of society: "The structural 'invisibility' of liminal personae has a twofold character. They are at once no longer classified and not yet classified. In so far as they are no longer classified, the symbols that represent them are, in many societies, drawn from the biology of death ... The other aspect, that they are not yet classified, is often expressed in symbols modeled on processes of gestation and parturition" (Turner 1967:96). In this state of ambiguity and paradox – in which the initiates are considered ritually polluting – they are in general concealed by masks, paint, or seclusion in special places (Turner 1967:99). The fattening and bleaching of the neru can therefore be interpreted both as symbols of this ritual dying and growing and as strategies of masking and hiding.
The fact that certain elements appear to operate in an ambiguous way, one that is, for example, encountered in 'Ana O Keke's function as both "birth" and "burial" place, is not an uncommon phenomenon in this context: "Undoing, dissolution, decomposition are accompanied by processes of growth, transformation, and the reformulation of old elements into new patterns. It is interesting to note how, by the principle of the economy (or parsimony) of symbolic reference, logically antithetical processes of death and growth may be represented by the same tokens, for example, by huts and tunnels that are at once tombs and wombs ..." (Turner 1967:99).