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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga



Children, as they grew up, were instructed in the observances of life as they came under the influence of the elder members in the composite household. Grandparents, who had more time than the parents, told them tales and myths and probably gave more instruction than the parents. The children played with tops and darts on land. Within the calm waters of the lagoon they early learned to swim and to handle canoes, and so laid the foundation to future success as fishermen and seamen.

Mr. Savage writes me that girls of high rank were specially cared for from childhood. A female child was kept in a private house and attended by an elder woman of the family. During the period of childhood she was carefully fed, and her limbs were massaged with the coconut oil (romonga) prepared from mature nuts. She received careful attention in early childhood as regards the processes of excretion. After micturition or defaecation the parts were washed and gently patted during the washing. Such action is the natural care of children during babyhood, but its continuance with a selected attendant went with higher rank. The careful feeding and massaging was influenced not only by affection, but in order that the girl should become well-favored for some future marriage of note.

The care lavished on a female child of rank was increased as she reached puberty. At about the age of the first menses she was kept guarded in a house by the mother and female attendants. This seclusion was for two purposes, to keep her from exposure to the hot sun to render her skin fair, and page 40 to prevent her from obtaining any premature sex experiences. When she was allowed outside for physiological reasons she was accompanied by female attendants to guard her from any love affairs that the desires of her age might dispose her to entertain. Walks for the purpose of exercise were taken in the evening, to protect her skin and also to prevent others from seeing her too closely. Always, she was guarded by female attendants.

A third reason for the seclusion and night walks was to keep the form and beauty of the girl a secret from other families until she should make her public début. During the period of seclusion the best foods obtainable were contributed by the family and subtribe to make her well-nourished, for plumpness was one of the standards of beauty acquired and required by the upper classes. The greater the impression created at the official début of a girl of rank, the greater the credit and satisfaction to her family and subtribe. That a girl of high rank was being kept in seclusion was known throughout the village. All in the community, particularly the families of rank who had marriageable sons, were interested. Thus the whole population looked forward to the time when the girl would make her public appearance.