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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.

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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.'
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.

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).

Funeral Eva

The funeral eva was termed eva tapara from the blackening (tapara) of the faces of the performers with charcoal. The hair was shaved, the skin cut to draw blood, and evil-smelling cloth (pakoko) dipped in mud was worn. This reproduced the procedure of the relatives immediately after the death of the deceased and during the actual funeral.

An eva given by Gill (6, pp. 281, 283) was composed by the chief Koroneu for his son Atiroa, who died of disease. Koroneu was so incensed at his god Tane for not saving his child that he openly reviles the god in the dirge. He was a bold man to do so, but he demonstrated very effectively the depth of his grief. Pangeivi, who is addressed, was the priest of Tane at that period.

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E Pange ō i! e rau raua ia tama, Oh, Pangeivi who treated my son,
Kau tomo te vaka. The canoe has sunk.
A aore e tu, e ta'u atua. Ah, you are no help, O my god (Tane).
I na'au ai kua 'oki ō, Through you he should have returned,
E vao rakau ra'ui na'au, [For we are] a forest protected by you,
Aore teta'i e tukua i te urunga piro. Not one was to be allowed to die on the evil-smelling pillow.
Ina tika 'oki Turanga, Such action may have been right for the god Turanga,
E vaimangaro ra taana! For a spring of lies is his.
Parau aore e kai 'oki ta'au. You are not weary, for you have eaten.
Tapara atu ra i te koi parara, May you be plastered with filth
Kororo-kururu 'ua atu ra. And even defaecated upon.
E atua te tangata e oia! Man is [as good as] a god.

Koroneu grieves that his son died of a disease on the evil-smelling pillow (urunga piro) instead of having to die in battle like so many of the Ngati-Tane. Koroneu carries the insult further by breaking wind ('u) at Tane and ends up by cursing the priest of Tane.

'Ua, e Tiki, i te ū turangi. Efflate, O Tiki, with the efflatus of another world.
Aria. Wait.
'Ua, 'ua'ia. Efflate, efflate at him.
Ko! [Chorus of pretended explosions!]
To taringa, e Pangeivi, Your ear, O Pangeivi,
I kai koe i ta'u tamaiti na. You have eaten my child.

The phrase "To taringa" (Your ear) is a Polynesian curse. In Maori, a similar curse is fully expressed in the form, "To taringa, ei kai mau" (Your ear, may you eat it). In both Mangaian and Maori it is enough to say "Your ear," for the rest is understood by all.

War Eva

The war dirge (eva puruki) was rendered by two large parties formed up in line facing each other and about 8o yards apart. They were armed with weapons made of light wood (orotea). Gill (6, p. 272) states that an animated conversation took place between the two leaders as to the cause of the assumed war. The nearest of kin to the deceased then commenced a solo page 195relating to the heroic deeds of the tribe. The chorus was taken up by both war parties and swelled into deep volume. At appropriate places, the chorus was accentuated by the clashing of weapons and a war dance carried on with all the semblance of a real battle. Other songs were introduced by the solo and were followed by the chorus of both companies. The eva puruki were carefully composed and embodied a great deal of history. Gill (12, p. 97) records the war dirge for Tuopapa which alludes to the final defeat of the Teipe tribe at the battle of Ikuari. The dirge describes the battle, the crash of weapons, and the slaying of men. The end describes the fate of the defeated.

Tera oa na kai-tamua a Tutavake. There are the first fruits of Tutavake.
Oi atu korua, e a'u taeake, ia atea. Move on, O my friends, make way.
Oi tika; oi atu. Move right; move on.
Tauma'a i te uru i te tokotoko ei vaerua toa, Recite a spell over your weapon to get a warlike spirit,
Ei momotu i te mokotua o Tong'aiti. To break the backbone of the Tongaiti tribe.
Piritoa, piritoa, piritoa. Crash, crash, crash.
Tueru'atu e Rongo, Scatter them, O Rongo,
Ia tu a papa tavake i te kopunga ra, That they appear as a flock of tropic birds in the west,
I te avatea; oi mate i'o, oi ora atu! In the daylight; some die, some live!
Ka 'ao Tutavake i ora ake. Tutavake makes serfs of those who live.

Adz Eva

The adz dirge (eva toki) was enacted as the appropriate eva to commemorate craftsmen, who were worthy of special recognition both for their valuable services to the tribe and because their knowledge was under the special patronage of the god Tane-mata-ariki. The mourners were evidently divided into two parties as in the war dirge. They were armed with model adzes cut out of ironwood, for stone heads were prohibited. At certain parts, the mourners struck the earth with the wooden adzes to convey the idea of cleaving it open to give a passage for the return of the deceased from the underworld of Avaiki. The mourners wept with tears streaming down their faces. In the example of an eva toki given by Gill (6, pp. 273-276), the solo consists of two lines and the rest is all chorus.

Crashing Eva

The crashing dirge (eva ta), so translated by Gill (6, p. 273) from ta (to strike, to crash), was a war dirge which differed from the eva puruki in that the type of weapon was a wooden sword about an arm span long, and in that the recital of battles was concluded by a comedy. A good example was composed by the Ngati-Tane warrior Arokapiti in honor of Ruru page 196(6, pp. 276-280). This eva was performed by the mother's tribe (Ngati-Tane) and followed the adz eva which had been performed by the father's tribe. The dance opened as follows:

Ia Ruru te toko i te ra oi. Ruru was the prop of the sun [high chief].
Tera, e Ruru, te uira vananga ei unu'i i to manava, There, O Ruru, is the lightning flash to loosen thy spirit,
O Ruru 'atia vaie — O Ruru, broken alas!
Te kutu i te mangungu e karara i te rangi. The thunder crashes in the heavens [to salute you].
(Ie koko koko.) (War dance.)

After the recital of historical battles, the comedy part was introduced by the soloist, who stated that the drinking nuts of Ina, the moon goddess, were being stolen. The chorus divided into two and successively urged various kinds of land crabs to climb the coconut tree to catch the thieves.

One Half
E kake ra koe, e te unga. You climb, O robber crab.
Other Half
Auā au e kake; na te irave e kake. I will not climb; let the irave crab climb.

So each side alternately suggested a kind of crab until the unga, irave, papaka, tupa, karau, and kari'i were all enumerated. The rat (kiore) was then mentioned, and two men who had climbed a hala tree with ripe fruit called out, "No'ai teia nga'i?" (Whose place is this?) The full chorus then sang words which represented the sounds made by rats eating the hala fruit, squeaking and fighting.

Ake! ake! Keka! Keka! Tutute! Tutute!
Ngenengene! Ngenengene! Kaika! Kaika!

The "rats" showered handfuls of the ripe keys of the fruit over the performers below as they sang the final verse of the eva ta.

Death Dramas

The death dramas sung and acted at dart-throwing matches were extensions of the crashing eva with more acting. The dart-throwing competition itself was part of the commemoration of the death. The song composed dealt with some historical subject and, besides the chorus, actors were selected to play the principal part. The song recorded by Gill (6, pp. 238-243) was composed in honor of a woman, hence not only the dart-throwing competitors but the chorus and the actors were all women.

page 197

The plot of the drama concerned the adventures of Ngaru, who married two of the fairy daughters of Miru. He was carried by them to their mother's abode in the underworld. The parts of Ngaru, Miru, and the two daughters were represented. The two daughters sang the leading parts as a duet, and their singing alternated with that of the chorus. At the appropriate time the two daughters carried a large bundle representing Ngaru over the crest of the hill. The oven of Miru was prepared but not lighted, and the woman representing Ngaru was dragged toward it. The performance took place in the daytime at the base of a hill near Tamarua.