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Mangaian Society

Death Songs and Dances

page 192

Death Songs and Dances

In the period of mourning immediately following death, dirges were sung during the lamentations, and probably dances in addition to the war dances of the sham fights were indulged in. In the later period of Mangaian history, certain customs were expanded and elaborated. Not only were death dirges elaborated in number and character, but special tribal gatherings to do honor to the dead were held some months after the death. The death recitals were organized by powerful chiefs in honor of a favorite son or daughter or some other close relative or friend who had died. They were marked by fresh exhibitions of grief and by dirges specially composed for the occasion and rehearsed by soloists and choruses. The more ancient songs, as Gill states (12, p. 96), have long become a literary curiosity among the Mangaians themselves. It was during the rule of the Ngati-Vara, particularly from the period of Potiki, that poetry reached its highest development. The most prolific Ngati-Vara poet was the warrior lord of Mangaia, Koroa.

A date for the recital was selected that gave time for his family and tribe to prepare food for a feast. It also gave time for the composition of special dirges and for rehearsals.

The death celebrations took three definite forms, but were all collectively termed eva. The term eva was applied specifically to dirges accompanied by dances. The other two types were the death talks and the special dirges and acting which followed a dart-throwing competition.