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Mangaian Society



The impending birth of a child of rank was made a social occasion. Relatives and others feasted and sang and danced to cheer the mother and help her through the period of labor.

Two types of song were used. The women seated themselves in a row in front of the house where the confinement was to take place. A man singing the tauariki (solo) walked about in front and behind the row, and when he had finished the women sang their mire (chorus) to the accompaniment of waving hands and swaying bodies. The following is an example of a tauariki:

Ma'ikai nei e nui mai O Maikai, big with child.
Ka nui, ka pere'i, ma 'anau i va'o e — Thou art big, pendulous, and will be delivered of
E tamaroa. A male child.
Tapa'ia a'o ra te ingoa ia Name him with the name to
Pou-Ta'iti-i-te-tua-O-Tane. The Post-in-Tahiti-at-the-back-of-Tane.

Maikai was the wife of Te-tonga of the Ngati-Tane tribe, hence'the reference to Tane in the last line. The universal desire for a male child is voiced by the song. Other tribes would use the prospective mother's name and end with their own tribal god.

The mire consists of several verses which may vary in topic and seem not altogether appropriate. The words, however, are merely the medium for expressing pleasing tempos and rhythmic movement. The following is an example:

Ua no'o Piro i tana tane, Piro is united to her husband,
Ei rima'ere metua i Tonga e — Who will support the mother [of his child] at Tonga —
Ka 'aere i Manihiki moe ai. They will go to Manihiki to sleep.
O Piro te va'ine i no'o i te 'aukato, Piro is the woman tripping o'er the morning dew,page 85
E ngara tane nui i te pua mareva Desiring a famous husband to bedeck with flowers,
Mareva atu ai. Who may then go away.
A piripiri aku 'ani, Karo 'ia e Piro, etc. We are joined together in an embrace. Look at us, O Piro, etc.

Within the house the woman sat during labor on the floor with her father or her husband seated behind her.

Support or assistance in pushing her up into the squatting position when labor pains came on was given by the father or husband. Usually a rope was tied to the roof and dangled down in front of her. This she seized and pulled against to help her with the bearing-down pains, much as a European woman may use a towel tied to the foot of the bed. Women relatives seated on either side of the patient eased her by massaging her back, loins, and lower limbs in the intervals between pains. The term pere'i used in the solo refers to the condition of the abdomen when it becomes pendulous owing to the dropping of the womb before delivery. There is usually little trouble in delivery. From the position adopted during the bearing-down pains, the head of the foetus is directed more naturally toward the outlet than in the lateral position assumed by Europeans.

The child is received on a piece of tapa cloth and kept between the mother's legs until the placenta comes away. It is not orthodox to cut the cord until the afterbirth has been expelled.

I was called to a case of retained placenta at Tamarua during my stay on Mangaia. The thing that struck me immediately was that though the child had been born five hours, it still lay between its mother's legs with the cord uncut. No objection was raised to my tying and cutting the cord before expressing the afterbirth. In order to see the native method of tying the cord, I asked who of those present would tie it in the Mangaian method. The husband proceeded in a hesitating manner, but as he was so young and asked advice of one little older than himself I dispensed with his services. It was stated that the cord could be cut in cases of retained placenta, but it was evident that those present had a feeling that so long as the placenta had remained connected with the external child by the cord there was a better chance of the afterbirth's coming away.

The placenta is termed the 'enua (land), and the membranes surrounding the foetus in utero are termed the ora. Aiteina states that the fine membrane which comes down with the 'enua is termed ora because the ora or life of the mother is associated with it.

If the mother is weakened through difficult or prolonged labor, the ora must on no account be pulled forcibly away. The placenta, on expulsion, must be placed in cold water held in a kape (Alocasia) leaf receptacle, when the ora will separate itself from the placenta. This must be done before the placenta is taken from its position at the external opening or else the mother will die. The usage has probably been based on some fatal experiences after pulling on the membranes and cord to draw out a retained placenta.

In pre-Christian times, the child with the placenta still connected was placed in a bath formed of a large kape leaf. Any person could cut the navel cord of ordinary children, but for first-born or important children the treatment of the navel cord was entrusted to a special priest (vaikea), for during the cutting operation (ta pito) the child was dedicated to his tribal god. The page 86term pito was applied to both the navel cord and the navel depression. The term ta used in the cleaning process (ta ma) was applied to the whole process, ta pito.

The priest seized the cord with the left hand about 4 inches from the navel, and with his right hand stroked and squeezed the cord toward the abdomen to drive any remaining blood into the child (ta ma). The cord was then tied with a thread of oronga bast fiber at the spot 4 inches from the navel. Tying close to the abdominal wall was not done. With a strip of bamboo or cane as a knife, the priest then made a longitudinal incision along the cord away from the tie and removed any clots. The cord was then cut beyond the tie.

While the priest was cleaning the cord, he asked, "Ka taia teia tamaiti ki a'ai?" (To whom is the navel cord of this child cleaned?) The standard procedure was for the father to give the name of his own tribal god, even though such action doomed the child to future selection as a human sacrifice to Rongo. It was a point of honor involved by the custom of the patrilineal grouping of tribes; as Gill (11, p. 10) remarks, the child, though eligible, might not be required as a sacrifice. If the mother's tribe was not eligible for sacrifice, the mother would endeavor to protect her child by having the name of her tribal god pronounced over the child. Consent on the father's part, however, relegated the child to the mother's tribal grouping. In the recognized custom of sharing children, the children who went to the mother's share would of necessity have the name of her tribal god pronounced over them. If the name of Motoro was given, the vaikea said, "Ua taia teia tamaiti ia Motoro." (This child has had its navel cord cleansed to Motoro.) The child, at the very beginning of its post-natal life was dedicated to the services of a tribal god, and every follower of that god had to stand by him through life. The bamboo knife with which the operation was performed was taken to the marae of the particular god and left on the ground to rot. Gill (11, p. 10) states that if two gods' names were pronounced over the child, the knife was taken to one marae and the name of the babe pronounced only on the second marae. Two names would certainly create complications in tribal grouping and must have been rare.

According to Aiteina, the office of vaikea originated with the Ngariki tribe, who dedicated the children to Motoro. Later, when other tribes desired their services, the vaikea dedicated the children to the gods named by the parents. In the story of Vaiaa (a vaikea) related by Gill (12, p. 199), the real reason for his rescue has been missed.

When the news reached Te-Ko that Vaiaa had been captured and was to be killed, she said to her son Te Uanuku, "Tera ake ta'u kiko?" (There is my flesh?) Te Uanuku thereupon saved Vaiaa from his own men on the grounds of his relationship to Te-Ko. Te-Ko, however, was influenced in her remark by another motive besides relationship. She knew that Vaiaa was a vaikea. Vaiaa was a son of Akapautua of the Ngariki tribe who had fled to the Cave of Terns with Ruanae after their defeat. Vaiaa had thus the prestige that went with the original line of vaikea. Te-Ko desired Vaiaa saved in order that he might transmit the power to act as a vaikea to her son, Te Uanuku.

The child treated by a recognized vaikea of rank acquired greater prestige than one dedicated by an ordinary person, and he was more likely to become a person of knowledge ('are korero).

In a dispute regarding ancient lore and knowledge, the person who had been dedicated by a vaikea could say to his opponent not so treated, "Kare koe i kite i toku i'i i ka'ikai." (You have not seen the chestnut tree I used after defaecation.) This intentionally rude remark refers to the occasional use of the buttresses of chestnut trees (i'i) in place of the sanitary paper of modern times. It was the Mangaian idiom for express-page 87ing both conscious superiority and contempt and was justified by the difference in status due to the cutting of the umbilical cord by the vaikea. Persons treated by a vaikea could be referred to as pito ta. The ceremony was performed over female children who were senior in birth in a family. Thus of Tungane, the elder sister of Afokapiti, it was said, "I taia te pito, e 'ine." (The cord was cleansed, [she was] a firstborn female.)

After tying the cord and washing the child, a band of bark cloth was wound round it as an abdominal bandage. If the cord separated from the abdomen in three days, all was well; but if it separated in one day, it was held that the child would die.

The dried, separated piece of cord was placed in an ariri shell and tightly plugged with coconut husk fiber to prevent insects (manu) from getting at it. Sometimes the shell was deposited in rock caves or crevices. When a child was forgetful or hard to teach, it was said that insects had got at its cord in the ariri shell. At times the shell was sunk in a deep hole in the reef channels or in the deep sea. This disposition of the cord conferred stamina and sound wind (ka roa te a'o) on the child, who received immunity or protection from misfortune and untimely death and would be able to dive deep because his wind would be long. The sea and its depths would have no fears for him, and physically he would endure cold when capsized and the buffetings of storms. The sinking in the sea of the navel cord was a form of sympathetic magic which made the adult at home on the ocean at all times and under all conditions.

Among good families the child was lifted soon after birth on the shoulders of relatives. The relatives prostrated themselves face downwards, while the person carrying the child passed among them and rested him for a brief moment on their shoulders. This announced visibly to the relatives and the family that a new member had joined the tribe. The reception on their shoulders indicated that the tribe would support him. It was a token of fealty, an early form of the custom of raising an ariki on the shoulders of his supporters. The ariki was useless unless supported on the shoulders of his tribe.