Land Tenure in the Cook Islands
4 Of inter-district marriages between chiefs there is ample documentary evidence, but of the marriage of commoners only the evidence of present-day informants is available.
5 Moss, JPS 3:20.
6 Gill, AAAS 330.
1 Ibid. No pre-contact genealogical evidence to indicate the relationship between spouses has been located.
2 Indigenous writers do not specify any principle, but all polyginous marriages they refer to are those of chiefs. Foreign observers who refer to the plurality of wives do not indicate whether or not commoners were entitled to this privilege.
3 Among the many instances recorded in native accounts in which chiefs married sisters are two mentioned by Terei - Tuatua Taito 9 and 24.
4 Pitman, Journal 29.6.1827.
5 Gill, Gems… 12.
6 The wives of Kainuku Tamoko Ariki.
7 Gill, Gems… 13.
Child betrothals were arranged between chiefly families, but the extent of this custom is not known. Mrs Buzacott tells us that some of the chiefs wanted ‘to marry Karika's son who is perhaps about ten years old, to a daughter of Makea who is perhaps about six years of age. It is perfectly consistent with their former customs for the parents to agree for their children in their infancy and childhood…’ This ‘marriage’ was contracted and a feast was prepared as a confirmation of the arrangement.1 When the parties united by such marriages reached adulthood they were not always satisfied with the match their parents had made and disputes on this account were common. Even in the marriage of adults, the choice of spouse was a family and not an individual arrangement.2
1 Mrs Buzacott, Journal 16.8.1830. Gill states that it was common among chiefly families. - AAAS 326.
2 Moss, JPS 3:20.
3 ‘… all the people took cloth to the newly married couple according to their custom, the people as a body to the chief's son and the relatives of the damsel to her father. After which the father of the young chief takes the portion of the cloth brought to his son and sends it to the father of the damsel - and he in return sends his portion to the chief.’ - Pitman, Journal 9.11.1829.
While the preferred marriage was between persons of the same social class, none of the classes were endogamous and it was not uncommon for chiefs to marry commoners.2 A family of low status could improve its position by giving a particularly attractive daughter in marriage to a powerful chief, and it was not uncommon for a chief to marry off his daughter into an inferior group in order to swell the ranks of his lineage.3
2 Gill, JPS 20:129. The existence of this custom is beyond doubt, but its incidence is impossible to ascertain as precontact genealogies generally omit wives other than the senior wife through whom the title passed.
3 Gill, AAAS 329–30.