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Rennell Island

Rennell Island

ETHNONYMS: Mugaba, Munggava, Rennellese

Both Rennell and its twin island Bellona (Munggiki) are Polynesian outliers in the central Solomon Islands. Rennell is a raised coral atoll, with a large lake in its southeastern end, located between 11°34 and 11°47 S and 159°54 and 160°37 E. In 1976 there were 1,945 inhabitants of Rennell Island. Rennellese is part of the West Polynesian Group of Austronesian languages. Rennellese settlements tend not to be nucleated into villages but rather are scattered throughout the island. They consist of one or more dwellings and a cook house around an open clearing off the main path.

Food is obtained mainly through horticulture and fishing, supplemented by hunting and collecting. Yams, taro, and bananas are very important cultigens. The coconut is tremendously important as a source of food and raw material. Various birds, flying foxes, and sharks are also eaten. In general, women cook, garden, collect fruits and herbs, fish inshore, plait, make nets, and take care of the children. Men do the heavy gardening, hunt, fish, make tapa and sennit, and are responsible for wood carving, canoe making, and house building. Elaborate feasts effect the distribution of agricultural, sea, and forest products among the descent groups. Land is held individually by the men of a lineage. The profession of expert carpenter (mataisau ) is a highly respected one.

Important kin groups include clans, subclans, and patrilineages. The Rennellese view marriage as a means of creating alliances (hepotu' akinga ) and as a way to continue a man's lineage. One's mother's brother's daughter is the preferred mate, and this tradition leads at times to conflict between parents and child in the choice of spouse. Polygyny was traditionally approved but was not very common. Residence is nearly always patrilocal, although after a divorce a woman Returns with her infant children to her father. The core of the domestic unit (manaha ) is a nuclear family, often supplemented with various relatives, both natural and adopted.

The kaka'anga was the largest politically integrated unit. Primary authority was vested in the landholding males and in the senior men of senior lineages in each generation. In addition to these leaders Rennell had a paramount chief (angiki ) who was descended from the leader of the first immigrants. The angiki could communicate with and influence the gods during trances. He was also the judicial authority and could have criminals beaten or put to death or have their crops destroyed. In spite of the overwhelming patrilineal emphasis of Rennellese society, a person maintains close ties with the members of his or her matriline as well.

Rennellese religion had little to say about eschatology or cosmology; its major concern was life and the fertility of Humans and of the plants and animals they depended on. Today, nearly all of the people are Christians. All adult males officiated at the various rituals, which were directed by priestchiefs (tunihenua). The most important rituals were associated with the harvest and distribution of yams. Mediums possessed by supernatural forces could convey the latter's messages and wishes. Each kakai'anga had its own set of ancestors, who were worshiped as gods. In addition, there were two high gods: Tehainga'atna, the fierce god of nature; and Tehu'aigabenga, the god of culture, society, and cultivated plants.


Birket-Smith, Kaj (1956). An Ethnological Sketch of Rennell Island: A Polynesian Outlier in Melanesia. Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Historiskfilologiske Meddelelser Bind 35, no. 3. Copenhagen: Danish Natural Museum.

Birket-Smith, Kaj (1966). Language and Culture of Rennell and Bellona Islands. Copenhagen: Danish Natural Museum.

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