Children were usually suckled at the breast as long as the mother's breasts secreted milk. Gill (11, p. 12) states that he saw a lad three years old still being suckled at the breast. In general, however, the period of suckling did not extend beyond two years. Many children of chiefs were provided with extra wet nurses with the idea of improving their physique through the quantity of food provided. Such services could be commandeered from among the many female attendants in the household of the chief or from collateral relatives. When children cried for the breast at night, it was usual in superior families to light a small fire of a few sticks either of small branches of toa page 88(Casuarina) or of stalks of roro (dried coconut flower stalks) to give the mother some light during feeding.
The toa fire consisted of sticks that had been previously lighted (komoto) and would thus readily light up again. It was held that, because toa was the wood from which weapons were made, children fed at a toa fire would grow up proud and arrogant and would seek for power in adult life. Though to others such a proceeding was offensive, the parents really desired their sons to act in a manner that befitted the rank to which they aspired.
The roro fire was a torch of strips of coconut flower stalks which, when lit, continued to smoulder away for some time. A child fed by such a light was believed to grow up modest and respectful in demeanor. Such children were approved of by others, the term 'aka'aka was applied to them, and of them the learned men ('are korero) said approvingly, "I taka ai teia i roro'ia." (This [child] is of good behavior because its night feeding was lighted with coconut flower stalks.) In this saying the noun roro is used as a verb, roro'ia, to denote not only the lighting but the feeding as well.
When the mother's milk was considered bad—and sometimes a lazy mother made this an excuse—the child had to be fed artificially. Owing to the absence of mammals that could supply a substitute for human milk, the substitutes used were coconut cream expressed from finely grated mature coconuts, cooked taro well chewed by the mother or attendant, and the cooked tender leaves (paka) of the taro made into a mush with a little water. As the child grew older, the soft flesh of immature coconuts was added to the diet. It is astonishing that any children survived artificial feeding.