Although none of the neru chants mentions 'Ana O Keke by name, they provide sufficient clues to connect some of them to this specific location. They speak of the discomforts of being secluded there: of the need to bend and crawl on hands and feet, of having to sit and hide in the darkness and shadows (ataata, marumaru, kohukohu) at the back (i tu'a) of a cave or hole ('ana, ava, pu) below the earth (i raro henua), the sorrow (timo, heva, tangi, kiu), the confused state (aniva), the agony (tata) and melancholy (para) caused by a prolonged stay, the longing for the relatives, the grieving parent standing on top of the cliff above the entrance, the taboo on going outside the cave (tapu o ea), the sloping path to freedom (ara taha) that is forbidden for them, the threat of the sun that will soil their fairness and the anxious waiting for its sinking into the ocean.

If it can be assumed that these girls came from the elite, it is also imaginable that they possessed some elementary knowledge of the rongorongo script as is suggested by the fact that the inscription at 'Ana O Keke that apparently was directed at them, consists of a mixture of pictograms and phonetic signs. McCall (1981:44) has claimed an even more active use of the rongorongo script for the neru: "To assist these nearly blind acolytes, the adult tradition specialists gave them braille like wooden tablets of mnemonic symbols." Unfortunately. he does not give a source for this conjecture.

The original texts together with their annotated reconstructions and translations can be found in the subpages. It must be stressed that the lyrics of these neru chants have been recorded over a long period of time by researchers from different backgrounds. Together with the changing language and the lack of a standardised spelling, this accounts for the differences in notation. In the reconstructions the texts have been adapted to some extent to modern orthography. The segmentation of the original or published texts is marked by "/". Where words have been broken up, this is indicated by "(-)".

The texts

Added: 2016-08-28  Modified: 2017-01-24

Songs of the neru

Introduction

Several songs in the recorded traditions of Easter Island can be associated with the neru. However, they rarely mention the neru by name. Notable exceptions are the kaikai chant that was recorded by Geiseler in 1882 (cf. text G1) and a short text that was first collected by Knoche in 1911 (cf. text K1). Both these texts also refer to a cave as the place of their seclusion.

An important set of three neru texts was collected by Paymaster Thomson and his interpreter Salmon on December 29, 1886 in their nightly session with the old Easter Islander named Ure Vaeiko. This consisted of Atu'a Matu Riri (T1), a text that has been interpreted as a traditional "creation chant", and two shorter texts (T2; T3) which have been taken for modern compositions dating from the second half of the 19th century. It will be demonstrated that the many puzzling aspects of Atu'a Matu Riri can be explained by interpreting it in the context of the neru and as such it offers a wealth of information on several aspects of the cult that is corroborated by other traditions. As the other two texts are more easily accessible, it is difficult to understand why they have not been recognized as songs about the neru. Although they are lacking the mythical worldview that is present in other texts it is clear that in one chant (T2) a parent expresses his or her longing for a child which has been separated from the family to become a neru and that in the other (T3) the brother of an absent neru girl is confronted with his little sister's misery.

Another significant text is called He timo te akoako after its beginning words. It was marked by the informants of Routledge who recorded several versions as ancient and connected to the rongorongo inscriptions (1919:248). Fischer who has collected all versions, has been the first to identify the chant as being connected to the neru (1994b). In the longer variants which also appear to be the oldest, Tangaroa. the god of the ocean, of fish, night, and death, and his opponent, an unnamed deity who is equaled to the sun, make their appearance, suggesting the possibility that the neru originally played a part in the ongoing struggle between Tangaroa and Tane, god of the sun and the earth, of birds and fertility.

Métraux (1940:107) has made the interesting suggestion that the neru may have kept themselves occupied by composing songs. These may have been accompanied by the execution of string figures (kaikai). He timo te akoako would make a good candidate for such a composition as it has been written from the perspective of the secluded girls. It is also possible that ritual texts which had been created to instruct them into certain aspects of the cult were later reworked or incorporated into "laments" focusing on their sorrowful situation. However, in proposing such as scenario caution has to be observed as it is also apparent that there may have been other influences at work at a later date.

The entrance to 'Ana O Keke

Fig. 1

Neru chants can be relatively easily identified by the presence of certain shared motifs. These have been indexed in the table below for comparison and to provide a thematic access to the texts (the abbrevations refer to Geiseler, Thomson, Routledge, Métraux, Englert, Heyerdahl & Ferdon, Barthel, and Campbell, respectively).

Themes

Theme/Text

G1

T1

T2

T3

K1

R1

R2

R3

R4

R5

R6

R7

M1

M2

M3

E1

H1

H2

B1

B2

B3

B4

C1

C2

C3

C4

neru/virgin

X



X

X










X










X


Miru


X


X

X









X











X


nobility











X




X










X


family



X

X

X

X








X

X







X



X

X

beauty/fair


X

X

X

X

X





X


X

X

X






X

X

X


X


hair/topknot


X












X






X







cave

X

X

X


X

X





X




X


X


X




X

X

X

X

sloping path

















X










seclusion


X


X

X

X





X




X





X

X



X

X


isolation/exile

X



X

X









X





X

X

X

X



X

X

stench


X









X




X












filth











X
















dampness



X






















X


darkness






X







X




X


X




X

X

X


blindness


X









X








X

X



X




pain/distress

X

X

X

X







X




X


X



X



X




melancholy


X

X


X






X






X








X


anger

X

X















X



X







crying

X


X

X


X









X


X


X

X




X



paleness



X


X






X


X


X










X


ugliness


X























X


swallowing





X

X





X






X










fatness

X

X



X

X





X



X






X

X

X

X



X

lameness

X

X


X


X





X












X

X


X

headache


X

























fainting


X


X























sickness


X























X

X

wounds











X




X












craziness


X

X








X






X










blood


X




X







X













X

menses


X











X











X


X

medicin


X

























poporo


X

























sweet foods

X

X









X











X

X


X


sugarcane

X

X



X






X
















insects


X























X


Tonga






X





















Hiva





X






X






X



X







paroko


X

























pangoro






X





X




X












fish











X



X





X







X

Tangaroa






X





















Hiro






(X)





X
















bird




X


X





X


X




X








X


young bird






X
















X





"hen"



X

X













X




X






sun (long for)


X


X























sun (threat)


X




X





X




X












sun deity


X




X





















dragonfly


X

























pohutu (larva)


X

























gourd/buoy





X






X













X



womb



























transformation


X









X
















liberation


X


X







X












X

X



festival




X










X









X

X

X