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Maungaroa Cultural Landscape

Date de soumission : 17/01/2024
Critères: (iii)(iv)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Minister of Education, Justice, Youth and Sports
État, province ou région :
Arorangi, Rarotonga
Coordonnées S13 14 25.27 W159 48 50.65
Ref.: 6700

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The Cook Islands comprise of 15 islands spread over 2.2 million square kilometres of ocean, in the center of the Polynesia Triangle between the islands of Tonga to the west and French Polynesian to the east.

Rarotonga is the capital island of the Cook Islands and is physically unique compared to the neighboring islands, where erosion and periodic submersions have reduced mountains to gentle hills. Rarotonga's central massif is the eroded remains of a volcanic pyramid whose crags now form sawtooth peaks and razorback ridges covered with tropical jungle. The mountains are separated by streams running down steep valleys. 

The Maungaroa Valley is a Cultural Landscape situated on the Western side of Rarotonga in the Vaka (district) of Puaikura. Maungaroa means “long mountain” describing its fortress like shaped peak. The name Maungaroa is synonymous with other islands across Polynesia it is Mauna loa in Hawaii, Maungaroa in French Polynesia, Aotearoa (New Zealand) Rapanui, Samoa and Tonga. This mountainous sanctuary extends above sea level at about 300 metres and spreads inland from this height for over 100 acres (40.5 hectares) before meeting the base of the mountain incline. 

The Maungaroa cultural landscape is covered in dense tropical forest and bush with a number of streams and rivers meandering through its steep valley. Beneath the protective overgrowth are the remains of the settlement sites of the Vaka Puaikura and the descendants of the chief Tinomana. Here the ancient people of this tribe used this landscape to sustain their livelihood and practice religious rituals.

The settlement sites of Maungaroa comprise four clusters – lower Maungaroa cluster, southern Maungaroa cluster, Raemaru cluster and upper Maungaroa cluster.  These clusters of structures are located on the slopes of Maungaroa and the adjoining mountain, Raemaru and are the best well-preserved material representations of pre-European contact Eastern Polynesian social structure in the Cook Islands. 

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

The Maungaroa Valley is the largest cultural landscape in the Cook Islands. The settlement sites in the valley include at least 8[1] marae structures and 3 cooking / storage caves. The landscape reflects centuries of communal living on Maungaroa that focused on the[2] Koutu: the royal court of Tinomana Ariki including “Tamoko O Te Rangi”.

There were intricate road systems mainly inland, connecting to various important planting, ceremonial, spiritual and communal places of activity. Some of these roads are still visible in the form of foot tracks. The remains of agricultural taro (colocassia esculenta) plots beside the streams in the Maungaroa valley shows evidence of shifting cultivation; an agricultural practice found across Polynesia. Maungaroa is the only known natural traditional fortress in the Cook Islands. (Bellwood) Security was a critical aspect of daily life as inter-tribal warfare was widespread. Oral history tells of a battle between the tribe of the high chief Tinomana and the neighbouring tribe of Takitumu on the land Oro’oroamoa was so violent that the blood of the slain turned the water in the river red. Thus the naming of the nearby stream running to the sea ‘Vaiakura’ meaning the red water. The Maungaroa valley provided a natural defence system for the tribe against unwelcome intruders.

The natural environment of Maungaroa sees an abundance of “Ui” (Dioscorea alata or yam as it is commonly known) very rarely seen on other mountains on Rarotonga. This was the staple for the traditional diet along with pork meat and fish.  Yam was an important source of Potassium, Vitamin C and fiber as well as being low in sugar, vital nutrients to build strong and resilient people. The endemic pua neinei a beautiful flowering plant as well as other flora common to the neighboring Polynesian islands populates Maungaroa.

 Criterion (iii): The Maungaroa Cultural Landscape shows characteristics of East Polynesian cultural traditions. The Polynesians were voyagers travelling as far east as Easter Island, southwards to Aotearoa, New Zealand and northbound to Hawaii —their mastery included the technology involved in shipbuilding and navigation. It also infiltrated social organization, religion, food production, and most other facets of the culture that allowed the successful colonization of Oceania.  Islands separated by hundreds of miles of ocean, and whose populations were separated two millennia ago, a comparison of material goods such as stone adzes and fishhooks reveals a remarkable similarity. Kinship terms, plant names, and much of the rest of the technical vocabulary of the cultures, as well as for art motifs, genealogies, legends and medical preparations all passed through the generations are similar. In many Polynesian societies, the chief or the Ariki was the person of highest status and the authority over this cultural heritage.

The Maungaroa Landscape represents over two hundred years of human settlement history. Archaeologically, the valley would appear to have been settled since about A.D. 1300. (Bellwood, 26) The people of the Vaka Puaikura built structures on the sloping terrain 300 meters above sea level to protect themselves from invading seafarers and the wild forces of nature such as tropical cyclones. The terrain is difficult for habitation in some areas the slope is almost vertical. The archaeological remains of the settlements – including stone platforms, wall, pathways, and the Marae for worshiping of Gods - remain intact and have excellent preservation. The lower Maungaroa cluster are 20 metres above the stream providing water to sustain a population estimated to be over 500 inhabitants (Jonassen).  

The Maungaroa Valley structures are also the material representations of the development of the Polynesian Chiefdom within the specific Rarotongan context. The Ariki, Arii (French Polynesia) and Alii (Hawaii) or paramount chiefs were the rulers of these communities and guardian of its cultural traditions. Tinomana Ariki was the reigning chief of the Maungaroa Valley.

In 1823, missionaries from the LMS (London Missionary Society) arrived on Rarotonga from the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia. They established mission posts around the island as the local population converted to Christianity and villages set up around the islands major harbours. This wave of transformation also impacted Maungaroa, the settlement was abandoned, the community moved to the flat land near the seaside as demanded by the Chief of the day Tinomana Enuarurutini. The stone structure of the settlements remained unchanged since the movement of the population to the coast.

As a result, the cultural landscape of the Maungaroa Valley is an outstanding example traditional Eastern Polynesian settlement and society in the Oceanic world.

Criterion (iv): The Maungaroa Valley is the largest most diverse, and most complete archaeological landscape on the island and includes both surface features and structures in the form of monumental architecture, rockshelters, and shell scatters and gardens, and many sub-surface archaeological features, such as umu (earth oven) and postholes from organic structure and artefact deposits. 

The monumental stone architecture of the valley is an outstanding example of the Eastern Polynesian marae building tradition. These are large rectangular courtyards paved with basalt rocks where various religious ceremonies would be conducted. One end of the courtyard commonly held a statue of the Gods such as Tangaroa and Rongo, dieties also found in other countries in Polynesia. Similar to French Polynesia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) the marae was and continues to be a sacred courtyard used for ceremonial purposes.

The settlements of the Maungaroa Valley also contain evidence of a wide variety of other structure types reflective of the traditional political, economic, social and religious systems of Rarotonga are also found. 

Maungaroa Valley bears a unique and exceptional testimony to the Eastern Polynesian cultural tradition that developed and flourished in the Oceanic world.

[1] A marae is a sacred place which served both religious and social purposes.  As a rule, maraes consisted of an area of land in-closed by four almost straight sides meeting at angles approaching right angles.  (savage, p144)

[2] A koutu is what could properly be called as seat or the royal court of a reigning ariki or high chief (savage, 121)

[3] Maori are the indigenous people of the Cook Islands

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

Post-European contact settlement has significantly disturbed the coastal flats around Rarotonga, resulting in the destruction of much of Rarotonga’s archaeological record. The Maungaroa Valley settlement sites are intact exhibit no evidence of modification, except by natural geological processes, since their abandonment during the conversion of the island to Christianity in approximately 1882. Thus, the integrity of the majority of the structures is exceptional given their time depth and their spatial relationships to each other and the valley environment remain intact.

The Maungaroa Valley site is situated in the interior of the Vaka Puaikura. Because of its isolation and location within the mountains and valleys it has remained untouched for 150 years. It has escaped the vigorous developments progressing on the coastal areas. Access to the Maungaroa Valley is limited by the dense bush and mountainous terrain. A walking dirt track through the mouth of the valley near the stream allows the public access to the entrance of the site. The difficulty of accessing the Maungaroa landscape has led to further preservation of the area and the archaeological monuments.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The Maungaroa Cultural Landscape is similar to the sites found in the Marquesas Islands, currently on the Tentative List of France. In the Marquesas Islands human settlement has been established in the most difficult terrain. These inhabitants built intricate structures for dwelling and ceremonies under the protection of thick forest and a natural fortress to ensure safety and security. Throughout the centuries the cultural landscape has remained intact and complete. Although there are cultural similarities, Maungaroa is different because of the presence of the Koutu and its added functions marae that makes it unique to the cultural traditions of the Cook Islands.                                                                                                             

The four Maungaroa Valley settlement clusters represent nucleated versions of the normal eastern Polynesian settlement type, which consists of scattered marae loosely surrounded by the houses of the social group to which each marae belongs. This type of pattern correlates with the tropical Polynesian subsistence economy, which was based partially on shifting cultivation and partially on exploitation of more permanent resources such as tree crops and irrigated taro (Bellwood, 71). The similarities in the rectangular paved marae are similar to those found in Papahanamokukea, a World Heritage site in the Hawaiian Islands, as well as in Aotearoa, New Zealand. They demonstrate the transmission of architectural, agricultural, and other traditional knowledge from one corner of the Pacific to another all connected through voyaging. These cultural traits moved throughout Polynesia from the Marquesas to Rapanui, Hawaii to Aotearoa carried by the Polynesian navigators to their new destinations. The concept of marae and its structures survived the generations and the distances of the ocean to become an integral part of human settlement in these Polynesian islands.