Added: 2016-08-23  Modified: 2017-11-11

Thomson (1)

Atu'a Mata Riri


(1) atu'a mata riri: the first part of the text which provided the title was left untranslated by Salmon. It has been interpreted as 'atua mata riri, meaning "God-of-the-angry-look" (Métraux 1940:320), "God (called) Eyes of Wrath" (Stimson 1953:42), and "God Angry Eyes" (Fischer 1997:96). A deity by this name or with this epithet, however, is not mentioned in other sources. If the text is analysed as a neru chant, the opening words can be understood as atu'a mata riri, "behind (her) repugnant figure". The use of the word mata in the meaning of "figure", "appearance", corresponds to that in other neru texts: mata nui, "gross figure"; mata 'iti, "delicate figure" (text C1); mata puku, "wrinkled figure"; mata revareva, "dangling figure"; mata taiko, "exuberant figure" (text C3). It is also supported by the name of the cave near 'Ana O Keke that was used to seclude boys, and which is mentioned in 1884 as "Anamatapuku" (Rocuant 1916:66): "Cave of the wrinkled figures".

Barthel (1958:256) suggests that riri may actually have been viri as Metoro mentions an atua mata viri, "a god with rolling eyes". It is certainly true that consonants "r" and "v" are often confused in Thomson's publication. Another argument in favor is the phrase mata viri kone, "round and clumsy figures", in verses 9-10. The point is of lesser importance, however, as the meaning of "round" would also fit the interpretation proposed here.

poporo: the poporo-plant which is given as "thistle" by Salmon and as the black nightshade (solanum nigrum) by Métraux (1940:320), has since been identified as the closely related solanum forsteri (Fischer 1997:96). Georg Forster, visiting with Cook in 1774, was the first to mention the plant and its possible use as medicine on Easter Island: "... we came to a cultivated spot, consisting of several fields planted with sweet potatoes, yams, and eddoes, together with a species of night-shade, which is made use of at Taheitee and the neighboring islands as a vulnerary remedy (solanum nigrum?) and may, for ought I know, be used here for the same purpose" (Forster 2000:311). It is proposed here that the expression "shadow of the poporo" is a description of a state of intoxication caused by excessive consumption of the berry.

(4) Miru: interpreting miro from the original text as "wood" makes little sense in this context. The phrase "Bring forth the Miru" seems to describe the end result of the neru's transformation from "fish" into "birds", i.e., into human beings and "adult" Miru.  

(7) servant: as tú'úra (Fuentes 1960:874) or tuúra (Englert 1978:274) means "servant of the king", this is possibly an indication of the high status of the neru.  

tei: alt.: tehe: "to menstruate".

mauku uta: the "inland grass" is followed in the next verse by the tureme (Dichelachne sciurea) (Métraux 1940:320); "a kind of grass used as forage" (Fuentes 1960:873)). Metoro gives a longer sequence: ka pu i te turemi - ka pu i te moku tai te moku uta (Barthel 1958:183): "Let the tureme be brought forth. Let the 'seashore grass' and the 'inland grass' be brought forth".

(8) smelling badly: although kava, "bitter", "sour", "acrid", here appears to contrast the smell in the damp and crowded cave with that of the fresh grasses outside, it may also have been used in the sense of "embittered". The literal meaning is also found in text M1 and the figurative use in text H1.

(10) runa: the original translation has "morning-glory plant". According to Métraux (1940:160), its stem and roots were eaten in time of food shortage. Possibly, it was a different plant as Englert gives tanoa as the Rapanui term for the "Beach Morning Glory" (Ipomoea pes-caprae) (1978:257). This name is used in Thomson's word list for Convolvulus, a vine with a similar appearance (1891:548). According to Stimson (1953:49), the Tuamotuan runa is a creeper with purplish flowers and long tubers (Boerhavia tetrandra) which were used as food in ancient times. On Mangareva, runa refers to the very similar Boerhavia diffusa (Biggs et al. 2015). Its close relative Boerhavia erecta was identified by the Forsters on Easter Island (Jakubowska 2014:84). As this plant has been widely used in traditional medicine (Schmelzer 2008:120-121), Atu'a Mata Riri's runa may refer to a species of similar usage.  

(11) parental god: the epithet 'atua matua, left untranslated by Salmon, has been interpreted as "Parent-god" by Métraux (1940:321), as "God-parent" by Stimson (1953:49), and as "Parental God" by Fischer who considers it to be "a missionary loan" (1997:97). Regardless whether the god's name is ancient or a later introduction, he is clearly associated with the sun and fertility. Verse 11 mentions to'ona raa, "his sun", verse 13 hana o 'atua, "the heat of the god", and in verses 11-12 the same diety is responsible for the growth of nuts and the toromiro. The most probable candidates therefore are gods like Rongo and Tane/Makemake.

niu: this is not the coconut as the tree did not thrive on Easter Island but another edible fruit. Nuts of other plants have also been called niu, for example, those of the mako'i (Thespesia populnea) (Métraux 1940:323). The nut returns in verse 28.

gaze of that god: in Polynesian myth, heavenly bodies are sometimes regarded as the "eyes" of certain gods. In Mangaia, for example, Venus as Morning Star was called "the brilliant right eye of Tane" (Gill 1876:50). The Rapanui name for Mars, Matamea, "Red Eye", suggests a similar belief.

(13) blue sky: since the "parental god" who is addressed here manifests himself as the sun, moana should be interpreted as a reference to the "blue" of the sky, instead of the ocean (cf. Churchill 1912:229: TAH: moana: "ocean", "abysmal depth or height", "heaven"). In the Estaban Atan manuscript, a Rapanui translation of the first part of Genesis uses moana for "firmament" (Heyerdahl & Ferdon 1965:fig. 134-136). Metoro gives a similar phrase: "ka pu - i te ragi" (Barthel 1958:182): "Bring forth the sky!"

(15) colored like dragonflies: the ripe soapberry is translucent and has the same "fair" color as the dragonfly.

(18) girl living underground: moko means "to submerge quickly to the bottom of the sea (of fish)" (Englert 1978:200), which is fitting as the neru were also imagined as "fish" and 'Ana O Keke as a watery environment. The term returns in verse 48.

(19) scratched all over: an uncertain interpretation were it not for the occurrence of a similar phrase, eve rakuraku, "scratched buttocks", in text K2.

ants: the presence of ants – like that of flies – is to be expected in a place stocked with sweet foods like sugarcane and banana flower juice. Their marching "in rows" in verses 20-21 may be an allusion to the neru dancing "in a row" at the end ceremony. Englert (1978:131-132) mentions a "knee flexing" dance which was performed in a row, called hikiŋa [k]aúŋa.

(20) (a)nuhe pura: Métraux (1940:321) has suggested the reconstruction Nuhepura, "Glowworm". As the glowworm (anuhe) is not a worm but an insect larva, it provides another reference to the idea of metamorphosis. The choice of pura is interesting as the word not only means "to glow", but also "to become white".

(21) toa: "sugarcane", is spelled here and in verse 48 as to. This could be a Mangarevan introduction (too) or a correction by Salmon (after Tahitian to).

(22) pupuhi ... kava: these lines may include another allusion to the ants. As the animals filled their stomachs with sugarcane juice their abdomen would also have swelled up visibly. Their formic acid produces an acrid smell, which may have been compared to the stench of the overcrowded cave.

(24) ahe: the word covers a wide range from "headache", "migraine" (Churchill 1912:186) to "blackout" and "faint" (Englert 1974:18).

(28) niu: as Thomson's text has niuki, it was probably recited as niuhi, "shark", perhaps as a result of the presence of the whale in the next verse. Nuts and sharks are easily confused in ill understood texts (cf. De Laat 2014:32-33).

(30) tuki te hatatu: since the combination of hatu and tuki is found in verses 42 and 43 it has been assumed that Salmon interpreted Ure Vaeiko's tuki as tiki because his mind was set on identifying Polynesian gods and Tiki was known on Mangareva and on his native Tahiti (as Ti'i). The phrase can therefore be compared to a line in another neru chant that has tuki in combination with hatatu: he unga i te maanga he tuki a e te hatatu, "(We) bring (them) portions of food, (but) (their) stomachs cause (them) grief!" (text K2). The use of hatatu which actually means "gizzard", may be part of the animal imagery.

That "God Tikitehatu" was a figment of Salmon's imagination and that he must have been unfamiliar to the Easter Islanders, is confirmed by the Makemake myth of which versions were collected by Métraux (Englert 1948:162-163; Barthel 1957:63), Englert (1980:12-15, two versions), and Heyerdahl (Fedorova 1965:397). This myth was expanded – or perhaps assembled – with two of the verses in which "Tikitehatu" appears (30; 32), using Salmon's erroneous segmentation and replacing the name by Makemake.

discharge: turu: "to fall in drops", "to flow", "to leak" (Churchill 1912:264). The usage is made clear in verses 45 and 47. Text C4 uses the word in a similar context.

paroko: the relation between the paroko and the neru is discussed on the page Metaphors: "fish". It is proposed that it was a goby or blenny species with a slimy skin instead of scales. This would explain the reference to the paroko's corruptible "smoothness" in verse 36.

(31) ka pu ti 'ina kumara: it has been assumed that the first part is a repetition of a similar phrase in verse 6 and that the ti-root the neru were required to eat is contrasted here with the forbidden sweet potato. The kumara is mentioned again in the final verse.

(32) herahera tiko: the only interpretation of herahera which makes sense in this context is "to spread". This suggests that the meaningless kito is the result of transposing the consonants in tiko, "menstruation".

(34-35) mo tunu o te ika mo hangai i te 'ariki tokona: the image of the sun as fisherman with the rays as "lines" and "nets" also appears in text R3. Apparently this was a familiar metaphor as similar phrases are used by Metoro (Barthel 1958:217). The term for the rays of the sun appears as tokotokona in Ure Vaeiko's Apai text (cf. De Laat 2014:32, comment on line 105).

(35) tunoko: "dislocation", "luxation" (Englert 1978:273). Also given as tunóku (Fuentes 1960:871) and tumoku (Churchill 1912:263). Alt.: tonokio: "callus".  

poko'o: Campbell (1993:159): tunoko, poko'o: "luxation". Alt.: pokoo: "toothache" (Churchill 1912:242). As the segment ki ai kiroto tunoko ka pu te poko'o of verse 35 interrupts the lines about the danger of the sun rays, it probably belonged to another part of the text.

(36) tokotoko: a synonym of tokotokona.

"smoothness": a reference to the slimy skin of the paroko, which will dry out when exposed to the sun too long.

(39) what an uncomfortable feeling: alt.: "How (she) staggers!" (Churchill 1912:219: kuikui: "to stagger").

soiled: as the cave is very damp, an alternative is rari, "wet", "soaking".

(43) pararoroko: the term appears in the Makemake myths as verbal form: i parokoroko, "many small fishes called paroko arose" (Englert 1980:12-15) and i paroparoko, "the fish parokoroko came into being" (Fedorova 1965:397).

tae-rongo vevete: as the neru are called rongorongo a Tangaroa, "the ones who obey Tangaroa" (text R1), possible interpretations are that the girl's "disobedience" to him would "free" her or that it would "release" the menstrual flow, and in this way secure her freedom.

(46) announced: alt.: "summoned", for example by the intake of poporo juice.

(47) turu ... manavai roa: cf. vai tuturu roa e: "the fluid is coming down in a broad stream" (text C4).  

In 1886, the 83-year old Easter Island native Ure Vaeiko recited five chants for Paymaster William Thomson of the USS Mohican and his intermediary, the Tahitian Alexander "Pa'ea" Salmon. One of these texts was structured and translated by the latter as a series of couplings of gods and goddesses which produce a variety of animals, plants, inanimate objects, and new gods. To what degree Ure Vaeiko was responsible for this interpretation is uncertain, but, given the result, it seems unlikely that he was able to give much information on the actual meaning of the text he was reciting.

The chant appeared in Thomson's Smithsonian report under the title of "Atua Matariri", after its beginning words (1891:520-522). Of Ure Vaeiko's five recitations it has attracted the most scholarly attention as it has been considered to be a rare specimen of traditional Rapanui literature (cf. von Heine-Geldern 1938:844-845; Métraux 1940:320-324; Stimson 1953-1958; Fedorova 1978:43-46; Fischer 1997:93-100). As the published text suffers from poor spelling and sloppy editing, Métraux, Stimson, and Fischer have attempted to reconstruct the original. However, notwithstanding the fact that the accompanying translation has been deemed very unreliable, none of these authors has called into question the validity of Salmon's interpretation of the text as a procreation chant.

Behind that repugnant figure,   

(she) has to stay in the "shadows" of the poporo!

Bring on the poporo-berries,

(she) has nothing for medicine!

(She) has to stay inside!

(She) will preserve (them) until (they) are ripe!

Bring on (her) colorlessness, oh juice!

(She) has to stay inside!

Those kohe-plants have a bitter taste,

bring on those kohe-plants, mother!

(She) has to stay inside until (her) beauty becomes wrinkled!

Bring on that Miru!

O glare of the sun, where are (you)?

(She) has to stay inside (her) "swelling", cutting up ti-roots!

Bring forth (her) physical appearance, o ti-roots!

(She) has to stay inside (its) "stiffness"!

Bring on those ti-roots, servants!

(She) has to stay inside until (she) has grown!

Let the inland grass be brought forth!

What good is (it) (to her)?  

(She) has to stay inside, smelling badly!  

Let the tureme-grass be brought forth! Where is (it)?  

(She) has to stay inside, on (her) mat!

Let (her) figure be brought forth, round and clumsy!

(She) has to stay inside,

(with) a flabby face and hair to the ground!

Let the runa-plant be brought forth by the parental god!

(She) has to stay inside as long as his sun rages!

Let the nuts be brought forth by the parental god!

(She) has to stay inside for the gaze of that god!

Let the toromiro-trees be brought forth

by the parental god!

(She) has to stay inside,  

the heat of that god is forbidden (for her)!

Let the blue sky be brought forth!

When is (she) going to enter (it)?

(She) has to stay inside!

Where is (she) going to enter (it)?

Bring on those soapberries,

colored like dragonflies!

(She) has to stay inside,

that "fresh water skimming larva"!

Bring on that dragonfly (and) make (her) fair!

(She) has to stay inside (and) become fat!  

Bring on those stinging flies,

(She) has to stay inside, with soar fingers and toes!

Bring on the sorrow

of that girl living underground!

That pale girl has to stay inside!

Bring on (her) blindness and (her) fainting!

(She) has to stay inside, a girl scratched all over!

Let those scratches all over (her) be brought forth by the ants!

That "glowworm" has to stay inside!

Bring on those ants, passing by in rows!

(She) has to stay inside until (she) is pale!

(She) will meet (them) on the floor!  

Bring on the sugarcane, look at (her) puffiness!

(She) has to stay inside, look at (her) bitterness!

Bring on that bitter arrowroot!

(She) has to stay inside, feeling miserable!

Bring on that arum, (she) has headaches!

(She) has to stay inside, feeling melancholic!

Bring on those gourds, (she has) none!

(She) has to stay inside, eating sweet foods,

sweet foods (that) make (her) paralytic!

Bring on the sun, burning high above!

(She) has to stay inside, (it) will not reach (her)!

Bring on those hens of the finest quality!

(She) has to stay inside, (they) will not reach (her)!

Bring on those burning flares, (her) headache is throbbing!

(She) has to stay inside,

(with a) sadness of the finest quality, and paleness!

Bring on those nuts of the finest quality!

(She) has to stay inside, (they) will not reach (her)!

Bring on the "whale"!

(Her) stomach causes (her) grief!

(She) has to stay inside  

(and) grow stout for (her) discharge!

Bring on the paroko-fish!

(Her) stomach causes (her) grief!

(She) has to stay inside,

(she) has not become bloated (yet)!

Bring on the ti-roots, (but) not the sweet potatoes!

(Her) stomach causes (her) grief!

(She) has to stay inside (and) grow pale!

Let the menstrual "spread" be brought forth by that fair one!

(Her) stomach causes (her) grief!

(She) has to stay inside, shivering!

(Her) stomach causes (her) grief!

Bring on that aggrevation until (she) is white!

The sun is deplored by that fair one,

– before, (it) shone on (her) face –

because that "fish" will be cooked

if that "king" is nourished by (his) rays!   

(She) has to stay inside, with dislocated limbs!

Bring on those luxations!

Those rays are destructive

because the paroko will be competely corrupted,

if (its) "smoothness" disappears

because of those far-reaching beams!

Heads are cracked – of fish,

of small crabs, of big crabs – by (their) strength!

(She) has to stay inside, until (she) is transformed!

Bring on those convulsions!

What an uncomfortable feeling!

That soiled beauty has to stay inside!

Bring on those convulsions!

What an uncomfortable feeling!

(She) has to stay inside, shivering like (she) is sick!

Bring on the painful moving around

(of) that slow-moving beauty!

That slow-moving beauty has to stay inside!

Let that beauty be brought forth,  

fainting because of these hardships!

That "aching stomach" has to stay inside!

Bring on that state of delirium

(so that) the paroko-fish will come into being!

That "aching stomach" has to stay inside!

Bring on (her) "disobedience"

(so that) (she) will be set free!

That aggrevation is taking (too) long!

(She) must stay inside as long as (she) lives in

the "shadows" of the poporo!

Bring on those poporo-berries

for the fairness of that youngster overthere!

(It) will stream down red,

the blood of the (menstrual) discharge!

Bring on the discharge!

The discharge is announced,

(it) streams down (her) muscles,

resembling a wide stream!     

Let the sunlight bathe (her) back!

(She) is leaving that cave in a hurry!

What will remain (with her)

of that interment, of her living underground?

What is going to nourish (her)?

Sugarcane? Or yams and sweet potatoes?

(1) Atua Matariri;

Ki ai Kiroto, Kia Taporo

Kapu te Poporo.

(2) Ahimahima Marao;

Ki ai Kiroto,   

Takihi Tupufema,    

Kapu te Kihikehi. (3) Aoevai;

Ki ai Kiroto,   

Kava Kohe Koe     

Kapu te Koe. (4) Matua anua;

Kia ai Kiroto, Kappipiri Haitau,   

Kapu te Miro.   

(5) Augingieai;     

Kia ai Kiroto, Kia Humutoti,     

Kapu te Maluta. (6) Hiti;  

Ki ai Kiroto, Kia Heta   

Kapu te Ti. (7) Atura

Ki ai Kiroto, Katei,  

Kapu te Monku Uta.   

(8) Ahan;  

Ki ai Kiroto, Vava,   

Kapu te Tureme. (9) Ahekai;

Ki ai Kiroto, Hepeue,   

Kapu te Mataa. (10) Viri Koue;     

Ki ai Kiroto,

Ariugarehe Uruharero,

Kapu te Runa. (11) Atua Metua;

Ki ai Kiroto, Kariritunarai,    

Kapu te Niu. (12) Atua Metua;    

Ki ai Kiroto, Kite Vuhi o Atua,  

Kapu te Toromiro.

(13) Atua Metua;   

Ki ai Kiroto,      


Kapu te Moana.       

(14) A Heuru;      

Ki ai Kiroto,  


Kapu te Marikuru. (15) A  


Ki ai Kiroto,     


Kapu te Veke. (16) A Hahamea;

Ki ai Kiroto, Hohio   

Kapu te Takure. (17) Aukia  

Ki ai Kiroto; Moremanga,

Kapu te Ngarava.

(18) Avia Moko;      

Ki ai Kiroto, Viatea,

Kapu te Kena. (19) Tereheue;

Ki ai Kiroto, Viaraupa,

Kapu te Kaupa. (20) A Heroe;     

Ki ai Kiroto, Unhipura,   

Mapu te Ro. (21) Tahatoi;

Ki ai Kiroto, Katea (-)  


Kapu te To. (22) Irapupue;

Ki ai Kiroto, Irakaka,  

Kapu te Pia. (23) Mangeongeo;

Ki ai Kiroto, Herakiraki   

Kapu te Kape. (24) A Hen;  

Ki ai Kiroto Pana   

Kapu te Hue. (25) Heima;

Ki ai Kiroto Kairui


Kapu te Raa. (26) Huruan;

Ki ai Kiroto Hiuaoio

Kapu te Moa. (27) A Hikua:  

Ki ai Kiroto Hiuaoioi   

Kapu te Uruara. (28) Tingahae:  

Ki ai Kiroto      


Kapu te Niuki. (29) A Hikue:  

Ki ai Kiroto Hiuaoioi  

Kapu te Tabraha.   

(30) Tikitehatu:

Ki ai Kiroto      


Kapu te Paroko.   

(31) Tikitehatu:  

Ki ai Kiroto


Kapu te Hiuakuhara.  

(32) Tikitehatu:  

Ki ai Kiroto Maea

Kapu te Heraherakitomea.  

(33) Tikitehatu:   

Ki ai Kiroto Rurua (-)  


Kapu te Teririkatea.  

(34) Atimoterae: mea    

a mura i hiki te alu

mo tunu o te ita,

mo hangai it te ariiki. (35) Takoua:   

Ki ai Kiroto Tukouo,

Kapu te Poopoo.   

(36) E. Toto te Efi    

no Kino no naroko

no ngaoreno      

no nga tokutoko rua (-)

papa. (37) E puoko te nuika

no Tupa-iti no Tupa-nui. (38) Uku

Ki ai Kiroto, Karori   

Kapu te Ngaatu.  

(39) Kuhikia  

Ki ai Kiroto Taurari   

Kapu to Ngaatu.  

(40) Kuhikia   

Ki ai Kiroto Ruperoa  

Kapu to Turi.   

(41) Taaria  

Ki ai Kiroto Taaria,

Kapu te Tau (-)   

eehu. (42) Haiuge     

Ki ai Kiroto hatukuti,

Kapu te Evea.  

(43) Pauaroroko   

Ki ai Kiroto Hatukuti,

Kapu te Taerongo (-)  


(44) Hiuitirerire  

Ki ai Kiroto Kanoho (-)  


Kapu te Roporo.   

(45) Numia a Tangaire   


te toto o te o korare.

(46) Kamau te Korare

taratara te Korare.

(47) Turuki te Ua  

Maanau Manavai roa.

(48) Kaunuku raitua (-)  

hea anakihorou  

eaa e to e

tua tanu to tana moko

eaha Uaugai

e to e ufi e Kumara.  

atu'a mata riri   

ki ai kiroto ki 'ata poporo

ka pu te poporo   

ai na 'ina ma ra'au  

ki ai kiroto   

taki ki tupu ena

ka pu te kihikihi aue vai

ki ai kiroto   

kava kohekohe

ka pu te kohe matua nua

ki ai kiroto ka pipini ai tau

ka pu te Miru

aue ngingi he ai

ki ai kiroto ki ahu motu ti

ka pu te makua e ti  

ki ai kiroto ki 'eta  

ka pu te ti a tu'ura  

ki ai kiroto ka tei  

ka pu te mauku 'uta   

aha na   

ki ai kiroto kava

ka pu te tureme ahe ai  

ki ai kiroto i pe'ue     

ka pu te mata viri kone  

ki ai kiroto   

'aringa rehe huru araro  

ka pu te runa 'atua matua

ki ai kiroto ka riri to'ona ra'a

ka pu te niu 'atua matua

ki ai kiroto ki te u'i o 'atua

ka pu te toromiro   

'atua matua    

ki ai kiroto

tapu hana o 'atua  

ka pu te moana

ahe uru

ki ai kiroto   

he tomo

ka pu te marikuru a   

ta veke

ki ai kiroto


ka pu te veke a haka-mea

ki ai kiroto hiohio   

ka pu te takaure huki a

ki ai kiroto more manga

ka pu te ngarahu a  

a vi'e moko

ki ai kiroto vi'e tea  

ka pu te keva te rerehu

ki ai kiroto vi'e ra'a'u pa (?)

ka pu te ra'a'u pa a e roe

ki ai kiroto (a)nuhe pura

ka pu te roe taha tui  

ki ai kiroto ka tea  

pipiri iraro   

ka pu te toa ira pupuhi

ki ai kiroto ira kava  

ka pu te pia mangeongeo

ki ai kiroto he rakerake  

ka pu te kape ahe   

ki ai kiroto para  

ka pu te hue e 'ina  

ki ai kiroto kai ruhi  

kai ruhi haka-maruhi   

ka pu te raa huu runga  

ki ai kiroto 'ina oioi  

ka pu te moa iku a  

ki ai kiroto 'ina oioi  

ka pu te uraura tingi ahe

ki ai kiroto

parapara iku tea  

ka pu te niu a iku a   

ki ai kiroto 'ina oioi  

ka pu te taoraha   

tuki te hatatu

ki ai kiroto

hiohio ki te turu  

ka pu te paroko

tuki te hatatu   

ki ai kiroto  

'ina pupuhi 'a  

ka pu ti 'ina kumara   

tuki te hatatu  

ki ai kiroto maeha  

ka pu te herahera tiko mea

tuki te hatatu  

ki ai kiroto ruru a   

tuki te hatatu   

ka pu te riri ka tea  

e timo te raa e mea   

amu'a i hii ki te aro

mo tunu o te ika

mo hangai i te 'ariki tokona   

ki ai kiroto tunoko  

ka pu te poko'o (?)

he toto te hii   

mo kino no paroko   

mo ngaro rengo

o nga tokotoko roa  

papa he puoko no ika  

no tupa iti no tupa nui uhu  

ki ai kiroto ka rori   

ka pu te ngatu  

ku'i ke a   

ki ai kiroto tau rare  

ka pu te ngatu   

ku'i ke a   

ki ai kiroto ru pe rua   

ka pu totori  

tau riha

ki ai kiroto tau riha  

ka pu tau

rehu (?) hai onge

ki ai kiroto hatatu tuki

ka pu te heva  


ki ai kiroto hatatu tuki

ka pu te tae-rongo  


hini i te riri   

ki ai kiroto ka noho

te 'ata poporo   

ka pu te poporo

mo mea a tanga ira  

turu herohero

te toto o te kovare  

ka ma'u te kovare  

taratara te kovare   

turu ki te ua   

manau manavai roa  

ka unu kura i tu'a  

e'a 'ana ki horou  

he aha e toe   

to tanu to ta'ana moko

he aha hangai  

e toa e uhi e kumara

Text Thomson












































































































































In its published form, Atu'a Mata Riri consists of 48 verses of which 41 are structured as X ki ai kiroto Y kapu Z, which was rendered by Salmon as "X and Y produced Z", and subsequently by Métraux as "X by copulating with Y produced Z", by Stimson as "X did copulate with/into/within Y whereupon came into being Z", and by Fischer as "X copulated with Y, there issued forth Z". Guy (1999d) points to some grammatical issues concerning this formula, stating that kiroto means "into", that the presence of kiroto is awkward as 'ai, being a vulgar expression of "to copulate", would most likely be transitive, and that ka does not mark past tense, but imperative mood. As a result of this and the apparent nonsensicality of many of the couplings and their progeny, he raises doubts about the text's subject matter and proposes instead that what Ure Vaeiko remembered may have been a "spelling bee" for rongorongo students, i.e., a series of "formal descriptions of compound signs using a prescribed formula 'by X being incorporated (copulating) into Y, let Z come forth' ".

On this pagee an alternative solution is proposed for the text's apparent grammatical irregularities and for the series of otherwise unknown gods and goddesses and their often unlikely offspring. This has been triggered by the fact that there appears to be a basic element missing in the "kiroto Y" formula, as one would expect this to be "kiroto ki Y" or "kiroto i Y", if it is to be interpreted as a copulation or incorporation "into Y". The suggestion that the language has changed in this respect would not hold as the original text has three verses (1, 5, 6) which have this form. The remaining verses, however, would be perfectly grammatical if their "kiroto" is not interpreted as a preposition, but adverbially as "inwards", "inside". This in turn would make it likely that the preceding verb is not 'ai, "to copulate", but ai, "to be". By taking the first ki as marker of the imperative, the result for ki ai kiroto would become "... must stay inside" with a (usually omitted) first or third person subject and without the need of altering anything in the original recitation. This is then followed by the imperative statement proposed by Guy:  ka pu Z: "bring forth Z" or "let Z be brought forth". The identity of the person who has to "stay inside" as well as the reason for doing so, is revealed most conspicuously by verses 18 and 21 which have ki ai kiroto vi'e tea, "The white girl must stay inside!" and ki ai kiroto ka tea, "(She) must stay inside until (she) has become white!", respectively. They unequivocally assign Atu'a Mata Riri to the specific genre of  "neru chants".

Fig. 1

Alexander Salmon

(ca 1885)

Ure Vaeiko's recitations have suffered heavily from the circumstances under which their recording took place and the subsequent sloppy editing process at the Smithsonian (cf. Fischer 1997:90-94). Many of the errors that were introduced in Ure Vaeiko's recitation have already been corrected in the reconstructions by Métraux (1940:320-322), Stimson (1953-1958), and Fischer (1997:96-100). The present reconstruction is based on an alternative interpretation of the recurring phrases ki ai kiroto and ka pu that give the chant its rigid structure. This makes it possible to revise Salmon's incorrect segmentation, after which the relationship between the variable elements – the "gods" and "goddesses" of the original translation – becomes clear. The bulk of these elements can be assigned to the following categories: 1) fattening foods: sugarcane, ti-roots, sweet foods; 2) forbidden foods: sweet potatoes, chickens, gourds, nuts; 3) consequences of seclusion: fairness, colorlessness, hair growth, fatness, puffiness, flabbiness, stiffness, wrinkles, paralysis, headaches, cramps, melancholy, bitterness, delirium, becoming Miru, menses; 4) medicinal and cosmetic plants: poporo (nightshade), soapberry, kohe, and possibly arum, arrowroot, runa; 5) inaccessible things outside the cave: sun, warmth, blue sky, grasses, trees; 6) pestering insects: flies, ants; 7) animals which function as metaphors for certain aspects of the neru: whale (fatness); paroko (ability to function in and travel between two different environments), glowworm (fairness; metamorphosis), pohutu/dragonfly (metamorphosis, change of environment, fairness).

Interpreted in this way, Ure Vaeiko's recitation appears to have produced a fairly complete and coherent text, one that does not require major adjustments to be understood. Although the internal logic suggests that the original order of the verses may have been somewhat different, this does not substantially interfere with the interpretation (verses 21-28, for example, may originally have been grouped in accordance with the above categories as sugarcane, sweet foods / arrowroot, arum / gourds, nuts, chickens / sun, flares / melancholy, headaches, fairness).  

Had it not been for the possessive pronoun ta'ana, "her", in verse 48, nouns and verbs referring to the neru could have been translated as plural. Their singular number, however, is not necessarily inconsistent with the notion that the neru as a collective are the subject of the chant.

For reference purposes and to indicate the original segmentation, the verses of the published text are numbered according to Stimson and Fischer. The breaking up of words of the original text to distribute them over two lines is marked by "(-)". In the reconstruction the spelling has been "modernised" to a certain extent, especially by insertion of the glottal stop. In general the restraint of the Diccionario Etimológico Rapanui-Español with regard to its presence in initial position has been followed. Salmon's capitalization and erratic punctuation have been omitted.