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The Whare Kohanga (The "Nest House") and its Lore

The Mating Problem at Irihia and Mangaia

The Mating Problem at Irihia and Mangaia

In No. 5 of Addenda is given a remarkable tradition preserved by the Maori. This recital describes a peculiar custom said to have been practised in olden times by certain folk of Irihia, the original homeland of the Maori. This custom was one of taunaha wahine, the claiming or selection of women as wives; though the women were also allowed to choose their husbands, hence there must have been, as with us, cases of disappointed hopes. Te Matorohanga explained in his recital that Irihia was a very hot country, so much so that the people thereof went naked, or nearly so. Men wore a very scant form of maro, or loincloth; girls and lads were practically naked, but when a girl married she took to wearing a taupaki, a very abbreviated form of kilt that just covered the posteriors.

When the time arrived for young people to mate they assembled at a certain place and there arranged themselves in two ranks accordingpage 64 to sex. The young men had first choice, and each selected the young women of the opposing rank who appealed most strongly to him, after which the girls made their choice. We are not given any details as to adjustment of matters in cases wherein the views of young folk did not coincide. Young men selected girls whom they deemed good-looking as to the face, who had shapely legs with a well-poised body, a comely junction of the trunk with the buttocks, a straight legged, erect carriage. Girls selected young men of a stalwart, matured aspect, with well-shaped body, handsome face not too wide, large eyes that looked with a mild expression upon mankind, with shapely loins and lacking any excessive protruberance of the buttocks or stooping-forward of the body; lacking also restless eyes, overhanging eyebrows, upturned nose, and gaping mouth. Such would be the choice of these young folks. Another matter was with regard to the mouth—that the cutting-teeth might be well set and sightly, as also the double teeth. And so were marriages arranged. When all was arranged, then male and female elders would give their consent. Then the women donned a taupaki and the man a loin-cloth.

Now, this particular institution described above was also known in Polynesia, but we know not how far the custom was spread. It was a feature of the social life of the island of Mangaia, as explained to me by the late Colonel Gudgeon in 1912. The whare motunau was an old institution at Mangaia. It was a place where young girls of good family were received and cared for until they were of marriageable age, which would be when they were well matured—say, twenty years of age. When a number of these girls had arrived at that period of life they were conducted to a house and formed a rank along one of the walls thereof. A number of young men of equal rank were then admitted and seated in a row along the opposite wall; thus the rows of young folk faced each other. Each young man then selected the girl whose appearance pleased him most, and, if she agreed, then the two were, with much ceremony, conducted to the young man's house and were looked upon as man and wife. Presumably the young men took it in turns to make a selection, otherwise some confusion would probably arise.

It seems quite possible that the whare motunau institution had been introduced into Polynesia from elsewhere, and equally possible that our local pundits have credited to the ultimate homeland what pertained to the immediate homeland. The Maori of New Zealand is unfortunate in having two homelands to deal with—namely, the isles of Polynesia, and the remote land from which he came to Polynesia in the mist-laden past. Both are known as Hawaiki, and the two have probably been confused to some extent.