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Mangaian Society

Death Talks

Death Talks

Death talks (tara kakai) consisted of a recital of as many as thirty dirges composed for the occasion. The recitals took place at night in large, specially constructed houses well lighted with candlenut torches.

The songs were historical and not only referred to incidents concerning the life and manner of death of the deceased, but also contained allusions to traditional history and myth, including references to the journey of the spirit to its future home. The solo part in each song had to be sung by a close relative of the deceased. If he could not compose his own song, he had to pay a poet to compose one for him. Gill (6, p. 270) states that Koroa composed no less than ten songs for one recital. The songs were divided into two classes, the tangi and the tiau, which were rendered alternately in the recital.

The tangi was so called because on its conclusion the entire assembly burst into tears and wept loudly over the death commemorated and reawakened in memory by the tangi dirge. A near relative took the solo part, and the chorus came in at intervals. There was no accompaniment with page 193musical instruments, as the appropriate music was the massed crying at the end. Gill (6, p. 270) states that the tangi dirges invariably began with the words "Tio ra —" (Sing we —).

The tiau (a slight shower of rain) was so named as a contrast to the heavy shower of weeping that accompanied the tangi dirge. The tiau, like the tangi, consisted of a number of alternate parts for the solo and the chorus. The soloist, again a near relative of the deceased, commenced the dirge. When the chorus took up their part, the soloist wept loudly until the end of the chorus part. As the chorus ceased, the soloist again took up his part and so alternately to the end of the dirge. Thus the "slight shower" was provided by the tears of the soloist, who was chief mourner. A harmonica, a wooden gong (ka'ara), and a shark-skin drum (pa'u) accompanied the chorus in the tiau dirges and were also used between the different songs. The poets welcomed the opportunity of displaying their skill and their wide knowledge of history and myth.

The death talk concerning a person, say Puvai, was alluded to as te kakai ia Puvai (the death talk concerning Puvai). Each song was divided into a number of stanzas termed in their respective order tumu (introduction or cause), papa (foundation), and inuinu (offshoot). The inuinu usually consisted of an inuinu ta'i (first offshoot) and an inuinu rua (second offshoot), but sometimes a third and a fourth ('a) were added. The orthodox solo commencement, "Tio ra" is shown in the tangi for Maruata of the Teipe, who was killed as a human sacrifice to Rongo. "Tio ra, tinoa'ia Maruata e!" (Sing we of Maruata slain for sacrifice!)

Gill (6, p. 271) records that if a chief of the same tribe died within a year or two of a death talk, the old recital might be repeated with the addition of a few new songs. Such a recital was termed veru (secondhand).