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Mangaian Society



According to the Mangaian view, the only natural deaths except the few due to senility were those resulting from traumatic violence in peace or war. page 189All others were caused by supernatural agents, either as punishment by the gods or as black magic.

After death, the corpse was laid out in state by the relatives. The whole district assisted in providing food for the mourners. A messenger was sent around the island to announce the death in each district. This he did by yelling the war shout of "Iē-kō-kō" to draw attention. Then followed the announcement, "Ua mata — —." (— — is dead.) The relatives, in whatever district they were, gathered presents of bark cloth and hurried off to the house of the deceased. Here they laid the presents before the corpse and, with the family in immediate attendance, wept loudly over the dead. The corpse was covered with the best cloth.

A special mourning garment consisting of bark cloth steeped in taro-patch mud and termed pakoko was used by the relatives. Gill (6, p. 181) states that the cloth was dyed red in the sap of the candlenut tree and then soaked in the mud, which gave the cloth an odor representing the putrefaction of death. The relatives cut off their long hair, blackened their faces and bodies with charcoal, and cut their skin with shark's teeth to draw blood. The common fern singed with fire to give it a red appearance was worn in wreaths of mourning on the head. The use of the mourning wreath is also present in New Zealand.

A peculiar custom consisting of a series of sham fights (ta i te mauri) was indulged in.

The district of the deceased was termed the mauri, which Gill (6, p. 268) translates "ghosts." The mauri in New Zealand is regarded as the life principle of man and refers to his spiritual essence as contrasted with his material body. In Mangaia, the term has a similar meaning. On the morning after the death the young men of the district armed themselves and set off for the next district arrayed as if for battle. They found the young men of that district drawn up in battle formation, but instead of regarding them as enemies they termed them 'aka'oa (acting as friends). A war dance was performed and the two parties engaged in a sham battle with blows and parries as if in earnest. The two parties then joined forces and "attacked" the next district. The districts combined, and so, in turn, the various districts were "attacked," each district joining to pass on to the next. The circuit of the island was completed, and the accumulated force arrived back at the district of the deceased, where they partook of a feast that had been prepared. The circuit of the island was completed in one day and the 'aka'oa forces returned to their own homes before nightfall. The leader of the first party, no doubt a relative of the deceased, carried the end of a coconut leaf ('iku kikau) bound over his abdomen in the same manner as the corpse.

Gill regarded the battles as signifying that the ghosts in each district were well thrashed. It appears to me that the leader carrying the coconut leaf represented the deceased, and that each sham fight was intended to dispose of the life principle (ta i te mauri) of the deceased in order that it would not return to evilly affect the inhabitants of the district. The battles were so realistic that they were termed "a younger brother of war" (e teina no te page 190puruki). The procedure affected the mauri, but the vaerua (spirit) was not destroyed.

The war parties returned to their homes, but the relatives continued their mourning for a number of days, depending on the status of the deceased. No work except in providing the food for the mourners was allowed. Any woman not closely related who wished to beat cloth had to go to another district. Gill (6, p. 182) states that the object was to avoid giving offence to Mueu, a female denizen of Avaiki, who had introduced cloth-beating into the world. The sound of her beater was associated with death. When a person died, a proverb was quoted: "Era kua tangi te tutunga a Mueu." (The cloth anvil of Mueu is sounding.)

The presents of cloth that were brought to the funeral were divided among the guests. Care was taken in the distribution that guests and relatives did not receive their own back again. It was a point of honor that outside visitors and distant relatives should receive the best, and the nearer relatives usually went without any. Presents touching the corpse had to be buried with him, as they were placed on the body as a shroud.

The corpse was anointed with coconut oil and wrapped in layers of cloth. It was usually disposed of within the day after death. Some were buried in shallow pits dug in the earth, and people of note were sometimes interred within the precincts of a tribal marae. The following song records the wish of Te Rangai of Ngati-Tane in his old age to die upon the Marae of Maungaroa:

Apui ra i te 'inangaro o taka 'are, Desire grew in [the person] confined to the house,
la ta'aviri ua totoro 'aere i nunga Maungaroa. To twist and crawl on hands and knees to Maungaroa.
Kave atu te a'o ia tae tikai i te a'u marae, The breath lasted long enough to reach the raised marae
I 'akamate ai koe. That thou desired so grealty.

When Te Rangai crawled onto the marae, he beat his hands upon the earth and before expiring cried, "Ai a! A tae 'oki i te rua poro!" (Ah! the desired sepulcher has been reached!)

Noted chiefs and priests were sometimes exposed on the tribal marae for some hours and then removed to the tribal burial cave or chasm. Gill (11, p. 23) states:

If the body were buried in the earth, the face was invariably laid downwards, chin and knees meeting, and the limbs well secured with strongest sennit cord. A thin covering of earth was laid over the corpse, and large heavy stones were piled over the grave. The intention was to render it impossible for the dead to rise up and injure the living. The head of the buried corpse was always turned to the rising sun, in accordance with their ancient solar worship.

page 191

I could get no evidence of ancient solar worship, and the statement is probably an inference on the part of Gill. The lashing of the corpse in the bent-knees position shows the existence of a distinctive form of burial. Most of the bodies, however, were cast down into deep clefts that rendered them safe from interference by enemies. Others were hidden in secret caves. The different tribes had their own chasms and caves which were named, as Auraka, Raupa. According to Gill, numbers were buried in caves easily accessible to enable relatives to visit the remains from time to time. The corpse was occasionally exposed to the sun, rubbed with oil, and then wrapped up in fresh cloth. Such corpses, if duly treated for about a month, were preserved through dessication. The removal of the intestines for the purpose of embalming was not practiced.

The reason for secreting corpses, especially of successful warriors, was that enemies wished to avenge themselves for past injuries even after death. The body, if secured, was burned; but the subtle revenge of using the bones for fishhooks was evidently not indulged in.

Some of the personal belongings of the deceased were buried with the corpse. A woman might have a cloth beater laid beside her, and a man a stone adz or a shell ornament. Some articles were tapu and were never again brought into use by the relatives. Unless the articles were disturbed in position, they would give confirmatory evidence in the sexing of skeletons.

In New Zealand, the last food or drink partaken of by the deceased was regarded as the provision (o) for the journey of the spirit. In Mangaia, food for the spirit journey was placed with the corpse.

After disposal of the corpse, mature coconuts were opened and the water poured out on the ground. The nuts, usually five, wrapped in leaves and native cloth, were thrown toward the cave or down the chasm with the invitation for the deceased to eat. After the last nut and some taro preparation had been thrown, the mourners left the corpse.

The origin of the custom is attributed to Veetini, the first person to die a natural death. After his death his father Tueva, his mother Manga, and his sister Tiki sought his spirit in various parts of the coast of Mangaia. At last, on the east side at sunrise, they saw the spirit of Veetini coming to them from the east. He had been freed from the underworld of Avaiki to instruct mortals to make food offerings to the dead. Gill (6, p. 187) quotes a song composed by Kirikovi as follows:

Tueva 'aka'itu i te eva i te metua. Tueva seven times lamented as a father.
Ae; "E a'a to'ou ara i te ao nei?" Yes; "What is your path [cause] to this world?"
"I anamai au i te kave "I came to bring
I te pakūranga mate meringa, Death offerings and instructions,
Meringa mai 'Avaiki e, Instructions from Avaiki,
Meringa mai i o tatou metua Instructions thence to our fathers
E no'o i te ao nei." Who live in this world.'