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The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days

Betrothal and Marriage

Betrothal and Marriage

The custom of taumau, or betrothal, was an old Maori usage, and was practised in relation to infants in some cases. Thus at such a function as the one described a man might rise and propose a betrothal; he would bespeak the infant as a future husband, or wife, for a child of his own clan or group. Such betrothals were often made for political purposes in former times. Natives were particular in regard to the marriage of those of near kin, and objected to what were termed incestuous marriages. The line was page 102 drawn at two generations from a common ancestor; if the young folk were three generations from a common ancestor they were allowed to marry. Thus we cannot apply the term “exogamous” to Maori folk, for marriage within both tribe and subtribe or clan was allowed.

A betrothed girl was known as a puhi in some districts, but among the Matatua tribes of the Bay of Plenty this term was applied to a girl of rank who was appointed as a person of importance, a leading woman of the tribe or clan. Such a young woman was provided with a special residence and female attendants, and was exempt from all ordinary labours.

In regard to courtship, such a procedure was often not followed, as in many cases a young man first informed his elders of his desire, whereupon they would arrange the matter. Girls sometimes made known their desires in a similar way. Quite frequently the parents took no prominent part in such arrangements, which were conducted by other elders of the young couple. Probably a meeting of the family group would be held, at which the matter would be discussed, and whereat any member of the group had a right to object to the marriage. The girl would be asked before the assembly whether or not she desired to marry the young man. Communism breeds strange customs, and considerable stress was laid on the fact that a marriage was arranged in a proper and orthodox manner.

When it happened that a woman declined to meet the advances of a man, there were several acts of white magic to which he might resort in order to influence her. That known as atahu consisted of the recitation of a charm and the employment, in some cases, of a bird messenger to act as a medium between the love charm and its object. The despatch of the bird necessitated another act of white magic. Some very singular stories are related of such alleged occurrences. The bird so employed on such delicate errands was apparently in most cases the miromiro, the little black-and-white tit. When the bird settles on the person she (or he) is compelled to rise and proceed to the sender—the impulse cannot be resisted. We are told that such bird messengers were sent long distances on such errands.

A form of marriage by capture was practised by the Maori. For instance, a clan or family group might resolve to demand a young woman of a neighbouring clan as a wife for one of their number, and a party would go and demand her. Owing to the unwillingness of the girl, or page 103 to a feeling that resistance was the correct attitude, her people might refuse to hand her over, and then a wild scene would ensue. The claimants would seize the hapless woman and endeavour to take her away, while her friends would also seize her in order to foil the abductors. The rough scene that followed beggars description, as these excitable folk fought, struggled, and yelled like maniacs, while the hapless female was in grave danger of being torn limb from limb.

There was a form of “aristocratic marriage,” on the lines of the Roman confarreatio, in which certain ritual was repeated over the couple, though this was practised but to a limited extent and among the more important families only. Yet all marriages called for careful and deliberate arrangement by the group community, otherwise they were viewed as not having been properly arranged. The feast that accompanied a marriage was known as kai kotore among the Matatua folk of the Bay of Plenty district. This function and the formal handing-over of the woman is usually called pakuwha.

As in most barbaric communities, adultery was punished more severely when the culprit was a woman, though her husband would also suffer in such a case, as the punishment was by muru, or plundering. These taua muru, or plundering-parties, acted as correctives doubtless, but some wild scenes resulted from their activities, and the parties sometimes came to blows, houses might be destroyed and duels fought. Payment in goods, as reparation, was sometimes demanded and made, as apart from direct plundering, in order to equalize some injury.

The Maori is a very practical person in many ways. When Takarehe, of Ruatoki, struck his wife for not preparing his dinner in a proper manner, he assuredly asked for trouble, and he got it. She fled to her father, Tama-hape, whom she found weeding his crops. Tama saw her wound, and said, “You are an escapee.” Said the woman Mahuru, “It was my husband; he follows me.” “Enough,” said Tama, “Remain here by my side.” When Taka arrived he was at once attacked by Tama, who succeeded in slaying him. Not wishing to waste useful provender, Tama and his daughter got a steam-oven under way and proceeded to utilize the late son-in-law and husband.

There was a certain ritual of divorce employed in former times that was based upon the separation of Sky and Earth in the days of the gods. This was one of the ceremonies performed in a stream, and during which page 104 the subject was sprinkled with water by the priest officiating. Widows were often taken to wife by a surviving brother of the defunct husband, this being a very old custom in many lands.

Polygamy was not uncommon among the chieftain class, and it was supposed to add to their dignity. The principal wife was the first one; she possessed more authority than the others, who were called wahine murimanu.