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Mangaian Society



Children were not subjected to the close discipline that characterizes Western culture. The real or adoptive parents, however, instructed them in manners and deportment and the correct attitude to other members of society. Boys were instructed in the general arts and crafts by their fathers and uncles, and usually the grandparents had a lot to do with their practical instruction. From their mothers and the older female relatives of the family the girls learned their duties and the crafts of plaiting and beating out bark cloth. For special teaching in the crafts and the use of weapons, experts were requisitioned. For instruction in traditional lore and tribal history, selected children were sent to a man of learning ('are korero) whose reputation was established in the tribe.

Approaching adolescence, the children of chiefs were specially prepared for making their public appearance at an organized dance entertainment that was planned ahead. The requisites for public approval and admiration were a well-nourished body and a fair skin.

The boy or girl was confined to the house during the day to avoid the darkening effect of the sun's rays. They were allowed out at night for walking exercise and were accompanied by attendants. The attendants of girls were female relatives who acted as guards to prevent any clandestine love affairs. Though the two sexes had considerable liberty in their love affairs before marriage, the girls of rank who were being prepared for an page 89official coming out were restricted, as it added to the prestige of the family and the family group if the girl went to the marriage bed a virgin. Such guarded girls were talked about and their personal prestige increased the prospects of making an alliance of note. During the stay in the secluded house ('are pana) they were fed with the best of food that the family could provide. Not only quality but quantity was insisted on so that a process of forced feeding with little exercise took place. The family honor was involved in producing a representative as fair and fat as possible. Gill (11, p. 13) makes the curious statement, "I know of no more unpleasant sight than the cracking of the skin as the fattening proceeds; yet this calls forth the admiration of the friends." The cracking of the skin seems an exaggeration.

The desire for a fair skin is illustrated by the story of Ngaru.

Ngaru, taught surf-riding on a board by his grandparent Moko, fought a contest with two sea monsters for eight days and nights. During this time his skin became so blackened by exposure to the sun that on his return home his wife, Tongatea, deserted him because of his black skin. To blanch his skin, Moko advised him to undergo the treatment used in ripening green bananas. Ngaru was accordingly covered up in a hole lined with scented fern leaves and left there for eight days. On the eighth day, flashes of lightning proceeded from the pit and removed the covering so that Ngaru emerged. The flashes of light were then seen to be produced by the dazzling fairness of Ngaru's skin. He subsequently appeared in public at a dart-throwing match. His wife, struck by the fairness of his skin, urged him to take her back. On Ngaru's refusal, his wife committed suicide.

After confinement (no'o 'are pana), the public appearance of adolescent youths and maidens was a sign that they had reached maturity and were fit to marry and take part in the adult life of the community. It was a spectacular entrance into society by ambitious families and was in no wise a necessary puberty initiation. With the mass of the people the transition from adolescence to maturity followed the natural order of growth and age. For all males, however, the recognition of approaching maturity was signalized by the operation of super incision at the age of 17 or 18 years.

The superincision operation was performed by inserting a smoothed piece of mature coconut shell between the prepuce and the upper surface of the glans penis. The prepuce was then slit longitudinally with a sharp stone flake by cutting down on the piece of coconut shell, which prevented the glans from being injured. The two sides of the slit prepuce were then pushed backwards to expose the glans. No skin was removed as in circumcision and, on healing, the slit prepuce formed folds of redundant skin on either side of the base of the glans. The penis (ure) so treated was termed a te'e we. The mythological account states that the operation (angaanga) was commenced (tomata'ia) on the god Rongo by Tua. It is not explained who Tua was or why the operation was per formed.

The freedom that existed between the sexes prior to marriage led to the early acquirement of sex knowledge. As girls are mature at about 14 years, boys participated in love affairs before they were superincised. They were then regarded merely as boys by the opposite sex. After superincision they were regarded as men. A good deal of freedom of speech existed in conversation regarding sex and natural functions. A mature, well-grown youth, no matter how handsome, was jeered at by the single girls if he possessed an unslit prepuce and found it difficult to secure a sweetheart, for the girl her-page 90self would be subjected to badinage and ridicule for accepting the addresses of such a person. It is even stated that women obtain more sexual pleasure from a male who has been superincised than from one who has not.

Neither the fattening process nor superincision in Mangaia can be regarded as an initiation ceremony. The individual's tribe and god had already been settled at the cutting of the navel cord, and, except for the psychological attitude of the opposite sex, superincision did not admit the patient to any rights or privileges to which he was not entitled before the operation. It marked a period of growth which demanded the observance of a particular custom. The, parents and relatives regarded the youth as having reached an age when more mature obligations were required of him. The fattening process was a privilege enjoyed by rank, but superincision was obligatory.