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Mangaian Society



Authority within the family was exercised by the patrilineal head. In a group of related families occupying a subdistrict, the chief authority was exercised by the subdistrict chief (kairanga nuku), who consulted the heads page 152of families. In the tribal district, the chief authority was vested in the district chief (pava) who was the tribal chief unless the tribe was spread over more than one district. The district and subdistrict chiefs formed a council which attended not only to matters affecting land distribution but to all matters covering the welfare and interior economy of the tribe.

In important matters the tribal god was consulted, and his decisions, as made known by his priest, were implicitly obeyed. The tribal priest thus exercised considerable authority on the policy of the tribe. Twice the priests of Motoro saved sections of the Tongaiti tribe from extermination at the hands of the enraged Ngariki by oracular utterances decreeing banishment instead of death.

The behavior of the individual and the group was guided by custom. Established custom acted automatically and usually required no enforcement by might. Customs which were brought into operation on particular occasions, such as closed seasons, were discussed by the chiefs and inaugurated at the time decided upon. So with various activities such as public works, feasts, and war. During the occupation of Mangaia, however, a number of adjustments had to be made which resulted in conflict before they crystallized into established custom.

Public opinion condemned lawbreakers. Such condemnation might lead to loss of prestige and lack of support, but often the culprit's family and even his tribe felt bound to support their kinsman against outside punishment. The individual was responsible for the protection of his property and his honor and he initiated steps to punish an injury. Reprisals commonly depended on the respective status and power of the injured and the culprit. The injured person might call up his family and tribe to his assistance and, if the culprit was of another tribe, the trouble might end in war.

Punishment for infringement of tapus was supposed to be brought about automatically by the gods. The gods sometimes acted slowly and there was a tendency to consider accidents, disasters, arid sickness the results of actions long past. Sometimes the gods, if left to themselves, acted not at all. There was commonly a psychological punishment from the knowledge of guilt. Thus Manaune was made mad for a time by the gods because he killed his father. The human upholders of the divine laws were not always content to wait for punishment to come about by supernatural means. When Teaio, Lord of Mangaia, wore the scarlet hibiscus flowers in his ears in the prohibited sacred district of Keia, Mouna, the priest of Tane, killed him by a blow on the head.