The tribe which traces its descent from Karika was known as ‘Te Au o Tonga ‘ and this name was likewise applied to the district they occupied. In recent years the name has fallen into disuse to be superseded by the name Avarua, and this latter name will be used throughout. The evidence is not clear as to when this tribe became established, or just when Avarua became recognized as a separate district. It was Tangiia who organized the division of the whole island into tapere and was responsible for the allocation of the lands, and he, too, organized the building of the marae at intervals around the island and the appointment of chiefs to take charge of each of them.
High priests were chosen for each of the two parties, five for Tangiia’s party, and one for Karika’s, though at a much later stage one of Tangiia’s high priests (Potikitaua) transferred his allegiance to the Karika party. Karika himself and some of his followers left the island after some years of residence and set sail for Iva, never to return. However, not all his party left, and those who did not maintained marriage connections with the people of Tangiia.The direct line from Karika was preserved on the island by a man with the title name of Makea who is variously described as a son of Karika or as a grandson of Karika born of the union of Tangiia with Karika’s daughter.
By the time of arrival of the first Europeans the Tangiia and Karika parties were politically separate entities, and Makea was the ariki title of the Avarua district, but this division was of relatively recent origin. In the eighteenth century the Makea title was divided into three branches.This division occurred as a result of the then title-holder elevating the eldest son of each of his three wives to the rank of ariki. Though all were of equal rank, the Makea Nui Ariki has since the period immediately preceding the arrival of the gospel exerted greater political influence than either of the other two.
The title of mataiapo was not used in this district, nor, consequently, was that of komono. The next rank below the ariki was that of rangatira, who, though generally appointed from the junior ranks of the ariki family, were occasionally chosen from right outside the family group. The rangatira do not trace back to a member of Karika’s canoe, but rather to Karika himself through some holder of the Makea Ariki title. The territorial subdivisions of this district were also called tapere and, in contrast to the general pattern, some of the lesser of them were headed by rangatira.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that, by 1823 at least, the holder of the Makea title exerted much greater political influence over his tribe than did either Pa or Kainuku over theirs. Likewise, it appears that Makea had much greater influence over land matters within his tribe than did any other ariki on the island, but, as this question has been a matter of some controversy, it is necessary to enumerate the reasons for this opinion.
While the power of the ariki of Takitumu was diffused by the existence of mataiapo and komono, that of the Avarua ariki was not. Each mataiapo had his own marae as well as his own lands and as there were about thirty mataiapo in the Takitumu district, they constituted a very powerful political group. There was no equivalent restraint on the Makeas. While a wide range of terminology is used to describe the situation, the following sources give an indication of the relative status of the mataiapo of Takitumu and the rangatira of Avarua (who were, of course, next in line to the ariki in this district). Rangatira, on the other hand, he regarded as tenants at will under the ariki or mataiapo, whom Moss considered to have been the landowners.
The origin of the different political structures (and consequently the landholding systems) may alternatively be sought in the respective Tahitian and Samoan origins of the two groups. However, the evidence indicates that the Samoan immigrants contributed but little to the culture of Rarotonga as it was at the time of first European contact. As some authors stress the Samoan connections of the Karika party beyond the point which the available evidence can support, the issue requires some elaboration.
The different authority structure and the different degree of power wielded by the Makea ariki as opposed to other ariki on the island can best be understood by viewing the Avarua district as an overgrown tapere. In the initial land division each ariki and mataiapo was given a tapere of land, usually comprising a valley in the mountains and the flat land which fronted the valley. By the time of first European contact the Makea Ariki was dominant over the Takuvaine and Avatiu valleys, though it is apparent that this had not always been the case and that this status had been achieved after many generations of settlement by two other ariki whose tribes had subsequently been conquered and driven out.
The support of the three most powerful groups within the Avarua area was maintained by the high chief taking a high-ranking wife from each of them, and creating the eldest son from each wife as an ariki. This triple arikiship was, theoretically at least, an unstable compromise which could hardly have been expected to last, and within a generation one of the titles was in eclipse. By the next generation thereafter, however, the mission arrived and the existing situation was crystallized and has remained with little change since.