From Italy to Mangaia

Monday April 16, 2018 Written by Published in Outer Islands
From Italy to Mangaia

In February this year, 18 members of the Heather family were in Mangaia to restore the gravesites of their Italian tupuna Iosepha Joseph Agostini and his wife Vaine Uaa.


More than 100 members of the family are preparing to travel to Mangaia in September for the unveiling of the two headstones.

Ahead of this event, Agostini descendant Sam Crocombe takes a look back at his illustrious ancestor and how he came to live on Mangaia in the Cook Islands.

Iosepha Joseph Agostini was born on May 10, 1788, on the Italian island of Capraia. His father was Joseph Agostini and his mother was Jeanne Colobani.

In later years, his parents moved to Bastia, Corsica, which is now a French territory. Like his father, Iosepha was a mariner and traded goods around the Mediterranean and the Pacific.

Young Iosepha married an Italian woman by the name of Marie Olivieri, also from Capraia, in 1822. His parents eventually passed away and then later his wife, leaving Iosepha alone without any issue.

This was the beginning of his journey to the wider South Pacific and its islands.

Landing on Mangaia in 1837 at the age of 49, Iosepha fell in love with the place and made the island his home, possibly due to similarities with his home island of Capraia in Italy.

At first he opened a trading shop in Kumukumu between Tavaenga and Ivirua. He made one of the natural caves beside the road his home and became good friends with Numangatini Ariki, the high chief of Mangaia.

Around about 1862, a Peruvian slave ship named The Impressor sailed into Mangaian waters and managed to kidnap five Mangaian youth, one of whom was the high chief Numangatini’s son Tavita.

Numangatini Ariki knew only one person who could help to bring these youth back, and that was his friend Iosepha Agostini.

As he was the only one around at the time who could write and speak English, Agostini offered his help.

With his experience from abroad, he knew what was happening in the slavery world. He wrote a letter to the English and French authorities explaining the situation of these abducted youths, requesting help to repatriate them to Mangaia.

With the support of the British and French governments, Agostini eventually ended up in Peru, where he set about protesting to abolish the slavery trade around the South Pacific. Successful in his mission, Agostini returned Tavita to his homeland of Mangaia.

After the return of Tavita to Mangaia, Numangatini Ariki was overjoyed and gifted a huge piece of land to Agostini in Vaitotara, where he became the first foreigner to farm cows on the island.

Later he was married to Uaa, the daughter of the Kavana of Keia Muraai Atatoa. They built a beautiful Italian-style home up in the makatea in Keia, and the Mangaians called this place Pari (Paris), as they thought he was a Frenchman.

Agostini and Uaa had two beautiful daughters, Louisa and Maria. Apparently Maria didn’t have any issue but Louisa married Isaia Papehia, the grandson of Tinomana Enua Rurutini Ariki and Tepori A Pa. They had five children, two boys and three girls – William, David, Catherine, Rangitai and Tepaeru.

Only one of those five produced a grandchild – Rangitai, who married a New Zealand Maori/Scottish man by the name of Stanley Heather, son of Mahanga and Uanaki of Ngati Mahanga, Waikato. The couple had one son, also called Stanley.

Young Stanley would go on to marry Teupoko Exham, daughter of Richard Exham, the first British Consul to the Cook Islands, and Matarii Tamatoa of Borabora.

Stanley and Teupoko had 15 children and that was the beginning of the Heather family in the Cook Islands.

Today Iosepha Joseph Agostini lies in the yard at Mangaia beside his wife Uaa. His headstone reads, ‘Joseph Agostini died 21 09 1873, A native of Corsica and lived in Mangaia for over 36 years’.

A big thank you to Carl Mautariki and Taokia of Mangaia for the information they have provided regarding this wonderful story. A big thank you also to Mama Marjorie Crocombe and Nari Crocombe for their input in the research of Iosepha J Agostini.

Not to forget, a special acknowledgement and meitaki maata to my good Italian friend Paulo Cattania Di Montarso and my French friend Guillaume Kapfer for assisting in the research that went as far as the islands of Capraia and Corsica in the Mediterranean.

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