The ritual isolation of children before puberty has also been reported in connection with the elite. On the Marquesan island of Nuku Hiva, "it was said that there were certain tapu places where girls in general, but particularly daughters of chiefs, were taken at the time of their first menstruation" (Handy 1923:94). The selected children of both sexes who were submitted to the practice of seclusion on Easter Island were probably also of chiefly families (Métraux 1940:104). They were kept indoors as poki huru hare, "children who have to stay inside the house" (Englert 1974:163), or secluded as neru, "virgins" in the native translation, in two remote caves located in the north-
The cult of the neru
According to tradition, the dominant political force on Easter Island was the tribe of the Miru, which supplied the 'ariki mau (Routledge 1919:241) and many of the birdmen (Horley 2012:69). The distribution pattern of certain petroglyphs "suggests that, in earlier times, one clan, probably the Miru, controlled the entire north coast, including the northern half of the Tupahotu and the Poike Peninsula" (Lee 1992:115). This would mean that the site of 'Ana O Keke was located in Miru territory. It is therefore likely that the neru not only came from chiefly families, but were also members of the "royal" tribe of the Miru. One of the recitations of Ure Vaeiko refers to this tribe: tangi teina / i te hare huru a / i te hare huru a mo nire / haka-
Some traditions maintain that the neru used red ochre (ki'ea) to enhance their beauty (e.g., text K1). Although its decorative use as bodypaint by both sexes is well attested for Easter Island, it seems strange that it would have been applied by children who were specifically admired for their "fairness". It is therefore more likely that it served some ritual purpose or was used as protection for the sun.
It does not come as a great surprise that a prolonged stay in the damp and dark quarters of 'Ana O Keke in combination with an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise had severe repercussions on the physical and mental condition of the inhabitants. A century after the disappearance of the practice this was still known to Arturo Teao: Ana ea-
Some texts which compare the neru to "birds", extend this metaphor to their handicaps. They are, for example, described as uha here uha kapa uha rava: "trapped hens", "wing-
Confined to their sluggish bodies and the dreary surroundings of 'Ana O Keke, the secluded children had more than enough reasons to develop serious mental problems. The neru are described – by themselves or by the composers of these chants – as "exiles" (tui, text B4) and "captives" (ranga, texts B3; G1; R1) who were "subjected" (haka-
The kohe, a species of fern, growing on the coast (Englert 1978:177) is another plant that is requested for the neru in Atu'a Mata Riri: kava kohekohe ka pu te kohe matua nua: "Those kohe-
In T1, vs 22-
The ethnographic sources on Easter Island have very little information concerning the seclusion of boys. The same holds true for the neru chants discussed here which are dealing exclusively with girls. Whenever these texts make mention of a remote cave as place of isolation, they appear to be referring to 'Ana O Keke, the "Cave of the Setting Sun", which was also known as the "Cave of the White Virgins".
The first investigator to mention the seclusion of children and the use of caves for this goal was Knoche who took part in the Chilean expedition to Easter Island in 1911: "This remote island also had some kind of Vestal virgins cult, whereby fathers secluded their daughters in caves, for the rest of their life or until they reached puberty" (1925:191). The reference to ancient Rome indicates that Knoche suspected some ritual dimension in the neru custom. The life-
That the first menses marked the end of the seclusion for girls, is confirmed in the last verses of Atu'a Mata Riri: turu herohero te toto o te kovare ... e'a 'ana ki horou: "(it) will stream down red, the blood of the (menstrual) discharge! ... (She) is leaving that cave in a hurry!" (cf. text T1 (1)). In a song fragment published (but misinterpreted) by Métraux, a neru girl complains to her companions: e manu e ka pari mai toto hare kere ena 'a'aku: "O 'birds', until (my) blood is spilled, this gloomy place will be mine!" (text M1). In another text, collected by Campbell, the end of a girl's seclusion is announced by the ma'ori ("experts") as: vai tino e'a vai tuturu roa e: "The vaginal fluid is appearing, the fluid is coming down in a broad stream!" (cf. text C4).
A small path on the steep cliffs.is the only access to the cave.
Although both informants emphasised the intake of sugarcane, they seemed unaware of the fattening effects of this type of high calorie diet. However, it appears to have had the same function as, for example, the popoi, consisting of "fruit, bananas, and mashed breadfruit mixed with water", reported by Moerenhout as being used in the Tahitian custom of ha'apori, "fattening" (1837:286). Englert's informants also assumed that sweet potatoes were forbidden because they would make the children fat whereas it must have been for the exact opposite reason. As the starchy kumara is low on calories it would not have contributed significantly to body weight increase, but being very nourishing, it would have prevented the intake of other, more fattening foods. In one text, the absence of sweet potatoes is mentioned as: i te po e manu e e au ta'e kai i te kumara o tou korohua nei: "In this darkness, o 'birds', I am not eating the sweet potatoes prepared by the old folks!" (text M1). The accounts of Tepano and Teao are also supported by T1, vs 31: ka pu ti 'ina kumara: "Bring on the ti-
The poporo is mentioned several times in Atu'a Mata Riri and is apparently administered for different purposes: ki ai kiroto ki 'ata poporo, "(she) has to stay in the shadows of the poporo", in verse 1 seems to describe a state of intoxication caused by the consumption of the berry. This is followed by ka pu te poporo ai na 'ina ma ra'au / ki ai kiroto taki ki tupu ena / ka pu te kihikihi aue vai: "Bring on those poporo-
'Ana O Keke's location on Poike
While the neru were still remembered in post-
Ti (Cordyline fruticosa)
However faint, traces of the practice of fattening can still be found in the information on the neru custom which Englert collected in the 1930's. Juan Tepano told him: Me'e ta'e kai i te kai rakerake he úka huru haré, he repa huru haré. He [t]oa paka nó te me'e kai, he maika, he uhi, kai itiiti-
Another informant, Arturo Teao, confirmed the most important details, stating: Ina ekó kai i te kumara; te me'e mo kai he toa paka, he pipi, he puré: "They did not eat sweet potatoes, what they ate was sugarcane and shellfish" (1939:208).
Several neru texts have preserved references to the enlarged bodies resulting from the special diet using terms such as puta, "fat", "plump" (G1; K2), ahu, "swollen" (B4; C3; C4; H1; M2; T1, vs 5), pupuhi, "puffed up", "bloated" (T1, vs 22; 31), hiohio, "stout", "corpulent" (B3; T1, vs 16; 30), puha, "stuffed", "getting fat" (C3), and keakea, "swollen (of the belly)" (C3).
Judging by some of these texts, it seems questionable that plumpness was considered beautiful, at least at the time these texts were composed or adapted. A neru chant recorded by Routledge, for example, has the phrase haka-
There are several indications that in order to overcome these ailments a varied set of plants with medicinal properties was administered to the neru. Although it is difficult to establish what each of these was expected to remedy exactly, it seems logical to assume that some of them were used in the first place to alleviate the effects from overeating and inactivity. Others may have served to stimulate the bleaching of the skin or to suppress menstrual pains. It is even imaginable that some were applied to dull the children's senses when their mental state deteriorated or when they started to oppose their confinement.
On Easter Island, the poporo (solanum forsteri) was used both as food in times of scarcity (Métraux 1940:150) and as medicine (Fuentes 1960:825). The berries and leafs of closely related nightshade species such as the Black Nightshade (solanum nigrum) and the American Nightshade (solanum Americanum) are widely used in and outside the Pacific region for various purposes, such as the treatment of wounds and the regulation of menses (Wiart 2006:275). However, eating of the toxic nightshade is not without risk and the unripe berries in particular are poisonous.
Ripe and green poporo berries
Another plant of which the fruits were likely administered for medicinal and/or cosmetic purposes is the marikuru, the "soapberry" (Sapindus saponaria), which appears in T1, vs 14. The berries of this small tree may have been used to stimulate the bleaching process or as remedy for skin problems and suppressing hemorrhages. According to the botanist Fuentes (in 1913), on Easter Island it was the source of an astringent medicine (Langdon 1996a:186). On the Marquesas, the juice was used for bleaching cloth and for the external treatment of skin diseases (Langdon 1996a:187-
(1) The neru texts are referred to by the first letter of the name of the researcher who recorded and/or published it: B(arthel); C(ampbell); E(nglert); G(eiseler); H(eyerdahl); K(noche); M(étraux); R(outledge); T(homson), followed by a serial number. The respective webpages can be found under "Songs of the neru".
(2) The following – although recorded at a relatively recent date – appears to be an exception to this: "According to Emilia Kaituoe, her maternal grandmother was secluded inland from Hanga Ho'onu bay and was so heavy when the day of celebration arrived that she was unable to walk. The girl's father and uncle exhibited her by carrying her on their shoulders and she was considered the most beautiful girl present" (Edwards & Edwards 2013:261).
Métraux was both mistaken in his estimate of the available material and in his evaluation of the nature of the custom. Although the rapid population decline and the cultural transformation in the second half of the 19th century must have erased much detailed information, oral traditions nevertheless preserved a remarkable amount of material on the neru, especially in a substantial collection of songs. A number of these were collected by the early visitors, most importantly the texts called Atua matariri and He timo te akoako, but these were not identified as having to do with the ritual seclusion of children. Others were collected by Métraux himself, but he too failed to notice the references to the neru. Another important opportunity to gain a deeper insight was missed by him when he did not bother to investigate "two caves in Poike" that were pointed out to him and "which were said to have been inhabited by neru" (1940:104).
Englert who took up residence on Easter Island in 1935, a few months after the Franco-
The petroglyphs at 'Ana O Keke