WARS IN BUTARITARI

           

Two of the northern island still remained to be conquered. The army stopped at Marakei, however. It was lucky for them that they did, for the people of Butaritari and Makin weren't going to allow themselves to be taken over. While Kaitu an Uakeia had been moving north they had organized their own troops who were camped between Ukiangang and Onobi (Butaritari south). At that time it would seem that these islands were well populated. They waited from day to day, ready to attack the enemy fleet when it came into sight. Time went by and the enemy didn't arrive. Mangkia, a young chief, lost patience. He asked to go off and meet them farther south. He chose a company of the strongest and biggest warriors and set sail with them. To take the enemy by surprise, the canoes, sails lowered, rowed southward, covering the eighty miles between Butaritari and Marakei in this fashion. Again there were no Beru warriors. Their fleet had gone off for Tarawa and was at Taratai, with his men and faced Kaitu in the maneaba.

'Make yourself clear. Have you come to make war on Butaritari? If so we can fight here, right away.'

This pluck and sight of a solid body of warriors must have impressed the Beru men.

'We have no intention of going to Butaritari,' they replied.

'If that's true give me proof o your word. I will have Abemama.'

Mangkia was no ordinary man. He came from a lively and adventurous family. His grandfather was Rairaueana who came on the Kaburoro from Samoa and landed at Tabiteuea. In one bold stroke he had shown his forceful personality and sense of justice. He had built a village there called Matang. Then he took a wife and had a son, Teimauri.

He in his turn married Nei Rakentai, a widow, who must have come from an important family as she certainly knew how to organize her sons. She had three sons, born on Tarawa, where she had come to live with her husband. The eldest, Rairaueana, conquered Butaritari and Makin, where his mother and brothers joined him. He made Natanga, the younger, chief of Butaritari. Rairaueana himself lived on Makin with his mother and yhoungest brother Mangkia. Later he quarrelled with Natanga and wanted to make war against him. His mother managed to keep him from doing this, but, as if born for war, he set off to conquer Mille, one of the Mrshall Islands. There we lose trace of him and Mangkia has the honour of halting the Beru invasion.

The Beru warriors were not the sort of men who would want to see the fruits of their victories disappear. They came from an overpopulated island and now large areas of unpopulated land were available to them They didn't consider going back to their own island but shared out the conquered land and the slaves; most of those who hadn't escaped from them were kept as slaves.

It is impossible to estimate the loss of life that was a consequence of the invasion. In the rush of getting away from the invading forces overloaded canoes hardly watertight or without sails sank or came apart, or else the passengers died of starvation even before being taken by the sea. In most of the Gilbertese wars the same thing occurs - very few deaths in the actual fighting, a few victims of massacres, but hordes of losses at sea. The tiny Gilbertese forests offered no refuge to th4 defeated. Only the sea and its treacherous wastes offered them freedom.

The conquest by the Beru warriors unified the people in language and race. In the central Gilberts is there a single person who cannot trace his descent from some Beru warrior? Family trees are well maintained up to the time of which we are speaking. From then on they become rather entangled and soon became lost in myth.

Butaritari and Makin avoided the invasion only to become embroiled in extremely bloody internal wars. The ancient race of Melanesians - a small dark-skinned fuzzy-haired people - seems to have been wiped out by the half-Samoan descendants of Rairaueana. In the village of Kuma only two witch doctor were spared, so that they could hand on knowledge of the magic which made good warriors at the time of the ceremonial hair-cutting.

Teauoki, the final victor, was accorded the status of a hero, because of his courage and tenacity. They carried him from the battlefield positively bristling with arrows. He was scarcely treated for these horrible wounds before he was back in the fight. Once more he came off the field, in virtually the same condition, and set off again to fight. Wasn't it he, who at Makin broke up the canoes that had brought him and his army, so that his soldiers had no means of fleeing? Once he had defeated his enemies he shared out the land he had gained amongst his family and friends. Like Achilles, his fatal weakness was in his heel. One day when he was working away at a dyke in front of his house, he stepped on a pointed shell that broke off in his foot. The wound became poisoned and Teauoki died.

Many of the stories of war are full of villainy. There was no lack of cowards, traitors and assassins.

Pacific Islands Radio Stations
 
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 7th August 2009)