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Mangaian Society



Polynesians have a great affection for children, and older people whose children are grown up are ever ready to adopt others. Such adoptions are of children related by blood through the male or female side and are made by some branch of either family who consider that they have a claim on the children. Except under exceptional circumstances, no parents would think of relinquishing their children to anyone who had no blood claim. In Mangaiia, adoptions were through the female side (tama va'ine) and were of two kinds, infant and adult.


Infant adoptions were involved in the custom of sharing children (tu'a tamariki), when the father of the wife demanded a share of his daughter's family. Patrilineal grouping and the dedication of the child to its father's god at the cutting of the navel cord placed all children in the father's tribe. To enable the mother's family to get a share, a prenatal demand had to be made in order that the child could be dedicated to its mother's god when the cord was cut. The children were shared alternately in order of birth, the first-born going to the father. Each family had to take its chance with the sex of the children, unless some special concession was made that the father should have the first male.

The family of my informant, Akaeakore II, illustrates the alternate sharing:

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The first three children were females and were shared alternately. At this stage, Kakao began to think that he was being denied male children through some influence exercised by his father-in-law, who was a son of the priest, Tereavai. He went to his father-in-law (purunga) with the idea of placating him. Akaeakore I gave him a taro patch to weed, which took eight days' work. Then Akaeakore I said to him, "You will have a son and you may name him after me." The next child was a male and he was accordingly named Akaeakore. In order of sharing, however, he went to the mother's family and was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Akaea-kore I. The fifth child was also a male and remained with the father. The sixth child was a female and should have gone to the mother's family, but Akaeakore I did not want another girl so he relinquished his claim to any further share. Thus the sharing of children could be claimed and relinquished at any stage, as the mother's family decided.

The rule of sharing alternately was departed from on occasion. For example, the first two children of Poito (Table 12) went to the mother's share.

If a husband's tribe was a subjugated one from which human sacrifices to Rongo were obtained, the mother would beg that the child be dedicated to her god instead of that of the father. The dedication of the child of a Ngariki woman married to a Teipe man to Teipe rendered it liable throughout life to selection as a human sacrifice. If the child were dedicated to her god, Motoro, the child would be absolutely safe from selection. This very act of dedication to Motoro, however, enrolled the child in the Ngariki tribe through its female side and involved the adoption of the child by its mother's father or one of her male relations. It is no wonder, therefore, that the father more often preferred to take the risk and keep his child in his own tribe by dedicating it to his own god.


Adult adoptions into the mother's family were also known. When a father's tribe was defeated in war, he and his children became fugitives. They were in constant danger of losing their lives unitl the drum of peace had sounded. Even after peace was declared, their taro lands remained confiscated by the victors, and they were relegated to menial positions. Under such circumstances, a mother sought out her father or a powerful relation in her tribe with the object of getting her son adopted on his female side (tama va'ine) and so protected from death and poverty.

As an adult served the tribe and tribal god from his dedication at the cutting of the navel cord, that tie had to be removed by bathing in a stream and a formal reception of the new member into the new tribe. The adopted member absolutely ceased to belong to his father's tribe and fought against them and his relations, should occasion demand.

The classic example of adult adoption is that of Manaune. His mother, seeking protection from her nephew Mautara, used the phrase, "Ka 'apai i raro i te keke o Mautara." (To place [him] under the armpit of Mautara.) The meaning of the expression is that while his head rested under the armpit of Mautara it could not be struck with a club. When his sons wished to kill page 99Manaune to end the enemy line of his father, Rurae, Mautara pacified them by saying: "E taporo! Va'o ei 'arikiriki mata i Te 'Apuna-vai!" (Oh spare! Let him spread fern on the floor in Te Apuna-vai!) In other words, they could have Manaune as a servant. Manaune was never trusted until he distinguished himself in the battle of Puku-o-toi, and incidentally slew his own father. By his valor he escaped the menial position at first indicated and was rewarded with a tract of land. Another example of adult adoption for protection was that of Muraai.