Legend of the Drum

Here’s a legend that tells how the Cook Islands and the French Polynesian Islands split apart. The story can be found in the book Legends of the Cook Islands.

Legend of the Drum

Legend tells of a great drum challenge that happened between two islands. In this time the islands of Rarotonga and Ra’iatea (an island in French Polynesia) were situated next to each other.

The chiefs of Ra’iatea said to the chiefs of Rarotonga, “Our drummers are the best drummers of all the South Pacific Islands.” The chiefs of Rarotonga asked if the gods would determine which island had the best drummers, and so, the great drum challenge took place.

Both islands assembled their best drums and drummers. The drummers beat fast and furiously all day. Polynesians from every island stopped and listened when they heard the drums and marveled at their sounds. As the day drew to a close and the stars shone in the night’s sky, the gods announced that they had made their decision. They all agreed that the Rarotongans were the best drummers.

The Rarotongans celebrated their success with lots of singing, dancing, drumming and feasting. The following morning, although the Rarotongans were happy with their victory, they decided to take the people of Ra’iatea a gift- one of their magnificent pate drums.

Legend of the Drum (Cook Islands)

“Legend of the Drum,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2018.

A group of strong, tattooed, Rarotongan warriors set sail in their canoe with the pate drum to gift to the people of Ra’iatea. However the Ra’iateans were still angry from their loss. As the Rarotongan warriors pulled their canoe onto the shores of Ra’iatea the native warriors attacked and killed all the Rarotongan warriors.

The gods became furious when they saw what the people of Ra’iatea had done. To keep the people of Rarotonga safe from future attacks from the Ra’iatean people, the gods threw a large fish-hook into the island of Rarotonga and pulled it further down south from the island of Ra’iatea.

The gods then spoke to the people of Ra’iatea and said, “You wronged your people, the people of Polynesia. Until the end of time, when the drum sounds, everyone who is of Polynesian ancestry, wherever they may be, will hear the beating of the drums and they will unite to become one people.”

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