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Mangaian Society



Marriage was arranged by the parents. Social status was the first consideration. A successful debut increased the range of selection, for, as inherited social position could make up for physical unattractiveness, so physical attraction, as judged by fairness of skin and corpulence of body, could make up for a slightly lower social status. In the first marriage of young couples the decision of the parents was usually accepted without demur.

The family which first decided on a marriage sent a messenger of social prestige to make the formal proposal to the parents of the other party. Presents were also given to ratify the agreement. Although girls were not bought, the parents were more likely to acquiesce to the proposal if given valuable presents, especially when differences of rank existed.

In less formal alliances, which might or might not lead to marriage, a man approached a girl by bringing her a present, usually a fish. Other presents could be given, but the prevalence of the fish gift is shown by its use as a metaphor to indicate a subterfuge by one tribe to deceive another before attacking it. The battle of Erue is thus referred to:

Tukirua te miro ia 'Erue, A second victory occurred at Erue,
Ua u Ngariki i te miro koviru, Where Ngariki conquered through deception,
Ua 'inga Ngo'ingo'i te vai ra i Katamai. And Ngoingoi fell at Katamai.
Te tai kiri papa e — By the lagoon, fishing was going on,
E poro na te tane, A gesture by the men
E rave i te va'ine ia keu mai. To attract the women to favor them.

Formal marriages took place on a day arranged beforehand in order to allow the family and their relatives to prepare a feast to mark the occasion.

On the marriage day the people of both families gathered and presents were made to the bride and bridegroom, who were seated together on a piece of white bark cloth. The family of the bridegroom made their presents to the bride and that of the bride to the groom. The names of the donors were called in a loud voice and the presents laid before the couple. In the feast which followed each family group usually supplied page 91the food for the other. As the food was cooked and brought to the assembly place in baskets, the feast constituted an exchange of food between the two families. The public acknowledgment of the couple completed the marriage. It was a function in which the priesthood did not officially take part.

Among the masses living together constituted marriage, and children born of such unions were legitimate. Social grade was distinguished by the size of the feast and the quantity and quality of the presents. Among distinguished families, the marriage of the first-born was given greater importance by adding the maninitori ceremony to the usual feast and exchange of presents:

The bride's family prepared a feast and supply of bark cloth which were laid out in front of the house of the bride's father. The prospective son-in-law was then sent for and the bride's family group and tribe formed an ara tangata (human path) by lying prostrate on their faces across the path. The groom stepped from body to body, and, if the living carpet was too short, those who had been stepped upon ran to the front to prolong the carpet until it reached the bride's house. The groom was accompanied by his near relatives, who, walking on the ground, clapped their hands, chanted songs, and recited the deeds of his ancestors. At the end, three elderly females formed themselves into a seat for the groom. Gill (7, pp. 59-63) states that a fish was cut up into small pieces on a human body with a bamboo knife. The raw fish was consumed by the groom and the food and cloth then formally presented to him. The groom kept the presents, but the food was divided up among all present. After the feast, the human carpet was relaid to enable the groom to return to his house.

A reciprocal maninitori was given by the groom's family and surpassed the first, unless the husband's family were inferior in station to that of the wife. Sometimes the second maninitori was postponed until the birth of the first child, when it served a double purpose. Gill (7, p. 60) states that the custom dates back to time immemorial. The reciprocal feasts and presents form the standard pattern of Polynesian weddings, but the addition of the human carpet seems to be a local development in Mangaia. It may be an elaboration of the custom of lifting the new-born child onto the shoulders of his kinsmen. I believe, however, that the marriage custom has a slightly different meaning than that of kinsmen's support and finds its appropriate origin in alliances through marriage with subjugated tribes in order to gain strength and assistance. The prostration in the maninitori ceremony seems to be an acknowledgment of inferiority and an act of fealty that is associated with subjugation. The reciprocal part of the ceremony was doubtless a later development, for with patrilocal residence the walking of the bride over the backs of her husband's kinsmen does not acknowledge the idea of inferiority; she is being admitted into the tribe with which she will take up her residence.

In Mangaia marriage within the tribe was banned. Gill (11, p. 13) says: "Exogamy was the universal rule in olden time." The Mangaian custom seems to be a local development, for the main Polynesian cultures had no incest inhibitions that necessitated exogamous marriages. Except on Mangaia no exogamous mandate exists in the Cook Islands, and one of the Makeas of Rarotonga married his own full-blood sister. Full-blood sisters were page 92occasionally married in Hawaii in high families when there were no other women available of high enough rank. The Maori favored marriage within the tribe and even subtribe, but outside alliances were made by chiefly marriages.

When the original Ngariki tribe developed in Mangaia before the advent of the Tongaiti, presumably they married within their own tribe, as they had no other source from which to obtain wives. It is not known whether the Tongaiti brought their own wives or not. The Ngati-Tane fugitives from Tahiti may have brought some women, but probably they had to obtain most of them from other tribes. The Te-kama tribe are stated to have had no women at all. The Ngariki, who probably constantly lost women through supplying the matrimonial needs of succeeding waves of settlers who had few or no women with them carried the burden of maintaining the balance of population.

As the other tribes produced families, the Ngariki naturally seized the opportunity of taking women from them as wives in recompense for what they had supplied. Thus was set up a practice of obtaining wives from outside first from necessity and later with the idea of recompense. Custom developed religious tapus against marriage within the tribe.

Fighting between intratribal factions such as took place in the Ngati-Vara brought about a complication. As the gods disapproved of marrying a woman of the same tribe, the problem was met by declaring that when a tribe split into two factions each faction was to be regarded as a distinct social group for marriage purposes.

The exogamous system in Mangaia, then, savors of local manipulation to meet changing circumstances and should not be confounded with any ancient exogamous system diffused from the west.

Though wives were taken from other tribes, the bridegroom could not be related to the bride through her mother's connection with his own tribe. According to Gill (11, P. 13),

Distant cousins sometimes (though rarely) marry, but must be of the same generation i.e. be descended in the same degree (fourth or fifth, or even more remotely) from the common ancestor. That the male branch should thus invade the female is a far more pardonable offence than the converse, but even then, should misfortune or disease overtake these related couples, the elders of the tribe would declare it to be the anger of the clan-god (kua kai te angai). It is the duty of parents to teach their growing children whom they may lawfully marry, the choice being extremely limited.

Monogamy was the general rule, but polygamy was the privilege of chiefs who cared to avail themselves of the institution. Polyandry did not exist. The records of 134 males taken from the Ngati-Vara genealogies (Table 14) show that 80 percent of the marriages were single. Of the 20 percent plural marriages more than half consisted of two wives, more than a quarter of three wives and there were single instances of four and six wives.

page 93
Table 14.—Marriages of the Ngati-Vara
Male Male Number of Wives
Generation Births Marriages 1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 1 1
7 8 6 4 1 1
8 24 17 11 2 4
9 92 53 43 9 1
10 168 57 48 5 3 1
Total 293 134 107 17 8 1 1
Percent 80 12.7 5.9 .7 .7

The great Mautara in the sixth generation had only one wife, though his son, Ikoke in the seventh, had six. Arekare, a chief of another tribe, had ten wives, and Parima of Ngati-Tane had six. Slaves sometimes shared in the privilege of their masters, for Ikoke's slave also had six wives. It is likely that some of the slave wives who produced no children have been omitted in the genealogies. In Table 14 the percentage of polygamy is not as high as 20 percent, as some of the second wives were probably married after the first wife had died. Plurality of wives depended on social position, individual desire, and extra opportunity through conquest in war.

It was not an uncommon custom for a chief to marry two sisters. Mau-tara's two daughters were married to the warrior chief Manini. The Ngati-Vara genealogies indicate one sororate in the seventh generation and no less than nine wives in the tenth generation. Table 15 shows two sororate marriages in one family.

Table 15.—Sororate

Table 15.—Sororate

The two sisters in a sororate establishment were not married to their husband at the same official ceremony. The second marriage came about through a train of circumstances regarded by both families as natural. As shown by Table 15, the chief Muraai married the eldest of six sisters of page 94rank, the daughters of a high chief. The marriage was celebrated according to the social status of the two families.

Tapaivi, the youngest daughter, accompanied her married sister and entered her household as her companion and attendant. When the wife, Teora, became pregnant and sexual intercourse was cut off, she allowed her younger sister to fulfill her marital obligations. Enforced continence on the part of Muraai during the period of gestation and following birth was thus obviated. This lessened the danger that Mura-ai would become unfaithful with outside women. It was better to keep him within the family than to risk the danger of losing him. Tapaivi thus automatically became a second wife; it was unnecessary to celebrate the occasion with a special feast, as the two families had already been officially united. Similarly, Utikaa married Tatua, and the younger sister Aravaevae entered the establishment as companion to become in time a second wife. The children of the first wife remained senior to those of the second wife, not only because of priority of marriage, but also because of seniority of birth on the mother's side. Teora gave birth to five sons and two daughters, and Tapaivi to five sons and five daughters.

A chief who married the eldest girl of a slave family usually took her sisters into his household, and they became subsidiary wives if he so pleased. He took them because of his power. In chiefly families, however, the sororate depended upon the elder sister's acquiescence.

Allied to the sororate in one of its basic ideas was the marrying of the deceased wife's sister. It was regarded as the natural thing for a sister to look after her deceased sister's young family, and if the widower did not take her in marriage for that purpose she felt neglected.