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Mangaian Society

The Levirate

The Levirate

The junior levirate, actuated by the same general motive, the care of the children, was not uncommon. From the Polynesian viewpoint, the most natural protector for a woman's young children is her husband, even if he is not their father. When, however, the children are his dead brother's wife's, they are of his blood and bone and, according to tribal ideas, the same as if they were his own. Another motive was to keep the children within the family. Fulfillment of the obligation by a younger brother, who was more likely to be free than his older brothers, avoided the complications created if the children of the second marriage became senior to the first family, which would happen if a woman married an elder brother of her first husband. Two junior levirate marriages in Mautara's family are shown in the following pedigree:

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Raumea had had two sons and a daughter by Peereka when he died of wounds. Peereka then married the younger brother, Ikoke, by whom she had four sons and three daughters. Ikoke subsequently had five other wives. Mautara's fifth son, Takurua, married Teuke, by whom he had one son and one daughter. After Takurua was killed in battle the widow married Ngara, the youngest brother; both Karorau and Kakina, who were senior to him, were dead. Teuke was Ngara's second wife, as he was already married to Tangaina. Teuke had two sons and one daughter by Ngara. In the eight levirate marriages shown in Table 16, the second husband was younger than the first. Each woman had children by both husbands, proof that it was desirable to keep the widow in the family group.

Table 16.—The Levirate
Order of Birth of Husbands Children to First Husband Children to Second Husband
First Second Male Female Male Female
1. 2d 3d 2 1 4 3
2. 5th 8th 1 1 2 1
3. 1st 5th 4 5 2 3
4. 1st 2d 1 1 3 2
5. 2d 6th 1 3 1 1
6. 1st 4th 5 3 1 0
7. 1st 2d 1 0 4 2
8. 2d 3d 2 0 4 1

The unmarried adolescents and adults of both sexes had ample opportunity of satisfying physiological desires without incurring the ban of their society. To have a child from such temporary unions was, however, a mistake. Though the child and the mother were not ostracized in the cruel manner pertaining to Western culture, they were not approved. The mother was blamed, not for having committed a sexual crime, but for having allowed herself to become pregnant out of wedlock. When the girl's parents found out that she was pregnant, they made inquiries as to the putative father and approached his family. Both parties were regarded as equally to blame, and usually the two families prepared a reciprocal marriage feast by which the child was born in wedlock. When the marriage did not take place the child was illegitimate (kakaoa, pao'ao) and had a bar sinister in his pedigree. He was adopted by a relation and brought up without any distinction from the other children of the family. In childhood's arguments, however, he was liable to be taunted with his birth. In adult life he could rise to a position of power and authority, but he could not very well boast of his ancestry. Even the three great ancestors of the Ngariki tribe are referred to as an illegitimate family ('anau kakaoa) because their mother Tavake bore them page 96to her own father Rongo to whom she could not be married. However, inhibitions due to the fear of becoming pregnant out of wedlock were rare.

Permanent matings are primarily for the procreation of children. A father's attitude on the birth of a son is one of delight that his family line is perpetuated. His next wish is that he may have more sons in order to strengthen the family and, incidentally, the tribal group upon which depends his maintenance of food lands. When his boys grow up, he arranges marriages in order that he may have grandchildren and be assured both of the perpetuation of his family line and the continued strength of his tribe.