A Savage compendium of Cook Islands Language, History & Culture

Fiftyone years ago the New Zealand Department of Island Territories published
a dictionary of the Maori language of Rarotonga. But the genesis of this seminal
work dates from long before this – well over one hundred years ago in fact.

Its origins lie with Stephen Savage who was born in New Zealand in 1875 and
came to Rarotonga in 1894. He was part New Zealand Maori, being of the
Whanau Apanui Tribe in the Bay of Plenty.

Fluent in New Zealand Maori he quickly took an interest in the Maori language of
the Cook Islands. But Savage’s interest went well beyond words and extended
to the customs and traditions of the residents of Rarotonga as well.

Savage’s notes show that from the early 1900s he began compiling words for
a dictionary. Sadly an earlier work was destroyed by fire and Stephen Savage
painstakingly began his work anew.

Savage died in 1941 and his, by then complete manuscript, was purchased from
his estate by the New Zealand Government in 1950. But it was not until 1962
his work was finally published for the first time. In 1980 it was reprinted and last
year, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the first publication it was published for a
third time by the Cook Islands Library & Museum Society Incorporated.

There are invaluable historical and cultural notes captured in this work.
One example is the word “Ina-nui-o-te-ra”. A typical dictionary would
not include this word and others would only briefly explain she was the
daughter of the god Rongo. But the Savage dictionary explains the name
covers several persons in legend and mythology and then goes on to tell
us a lot more, including the belief Ina-nui-o-te-ra had the power to restore
the old to youth by immersing the elderly in the waters of Te Vai Ariari, also
known as Muri-vai-o-Tonga.

This extraordinary compendium of language, culture and history is available from us. We are located opposite University of the South Pacific, Makea Tinirau Rd, Taputapuatea, Rarotonga, for $45.00. For overseas orders please email us at tatau@oyster.net.ck.

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