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Mangaian Society



The taking of life during a state of war was regarded as a justifiable means for gaining an end, as it is now by civilized peoples. After the drum of peace was sounded, the taking of human life was theoretically prohibited. Exceptions, however, occurred as in other cultures. People were occasionally killed in punishment for theft, for adultery, and for breaking laws or religious prohibitions. Some tribes were liable to be drawn upon for religious purposes. Peace was sometimes ended by the slaying of a human sacrifice to Rongo "to cut the rule" (kia motu te 'au) of the party in power.

The killings which took place during a period of peace were termed ta rikiriki, or briefly, tariki. Both terms mean "little killings," in contrast with the wholesale killing of war (ta tamaki). The tariki were condemned by public opinion. They disturbed the established rule and led to reprisals which ended in war. Killings which may be regarded as capital punishment for breaking the laws and customs of society were considered justifiable, but the indiscriminate killings due to passion, grudges, and ambition were regarded as murder and tariki came to convey that idea. The blood that was shed (te toto ta'e) had to be avenged. In the carrying out of punishment, a conflict occurred between right and might. The punishment of the murderer devolved upon the relatives of the murdered person. Theoretically, the relatives of the murderer should offer no opposition to justice. If the family of the murderer was weak and had no status, it was useless for them to withstand a powerful family seeking vengeance; and justice took its course. page 156If, on the other hand, the positions were reversed, it was equally useless for a weak family to seek redress, and justice lapsed. If both families were powerful, the only recourse was war.

Public opinion, however, held that the blood of the murdered man followed the murderer (ka aru te toto) and exercised an evil effect upon his family which might extend to his whole tribe (kopu). Some murderers were said to have been discovered through the depletion of their families by natural deaths. The deaths led to inquiries within the family and the tribe and the discovery that a member had been guilty of committing murder. The gradual falling off of the family and the tribe could not be stayed until recompense had been made. The murderer was made known and delivered up to justice, which condemned him to capital punishment. Under such conditions the tribe considered that it was better for one man to die than that deaths in the tribe should continue.

The killing of relatives during peace (ta atua, "killing the god") was particularly abhorred. The relatives to whom the ta atua applied were evidently paternal relatives who worshiped the same tribal god. The god inflicted a blood curse upon the murderer and his family. Though the blood curse was usually manifested by fatal sicknesses, it also led to depletions by accident and a diminishing of vigor which led to death in battle. The blood curse also applied to the killing of maternal relatives who served other gods. Political aspirants avoided the blood curse by getting members of an outside tribe to commit murders of relatives for them. Potai, of the Ngariki, held the head of his uncle Namu while a member of the Tongaiti tribe struck the fatal blow. Potai did not actually shed his uncle's blood.

If a murderer was condemned by his own people, they refused to fight for him. When the murdered man's tribe came to seek vengeance they formed up in battle array in a formal mnaner, but blows and thrusts were made perfunctorily as a matter of form. Though the murderer's family were behind him, they made no effort to protect him. This is exemplified in the story of the murderer Moerangi (p. 160).

The slaying of relatives in war was not murder. As relatives on opposing sides were in different tribes serving different gods, the blood curse could not strictly operate because the killing was not ta atua.

An inconsistency is apparent between attributing the blood curse to the slaying of a worshiper of the same god (ta atua) and extending it to any murder (tariki). It is evident that the blood curse by a tribal god was instituted for promoting the unity and solidarity of the tribe by prohibiting murders within the tribe. In applying it, however, to blood relatives, the fear of its consequences extended to relatives who had been adopted into other tribes and served other gods. Although such an extension was a page 157natural expression of close kinship, which was natural during peace, it interfered with tribal solidarity if carried out during war. A special adjustment had to be made which placed the tribal bond before the family tie during war. The extension of the blood curse to include the murder of those not closely related was another adjustment to prevent murders which destroyed peace and ended in war.