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Mangaian Society

The Family

The Family

Biological Family

The biological family consisting of the children of one pair of parents is alluded to as their 'anau (birth). Before giving the names, as in reciting a family pedigree, they may be termed te puke tamariki a — (the group of children of —). Male children are tamaroa (sons), and female children, tama'ine (daughters). The term puke may be applied to a family of boys (puke tamaroa) or girls (puke tama'ine). The eldest son is tama and the eldest daughter, 'ine.

The recognition of bilateral descent is seen in the custom of sharing children between the father's and mother's families. Patrilineal descent, to which the greater weight is attached, is described by the term tama tone, and matrilineal descent by tama va'ine. All the children of a biological family are tama tane to their father's family group or tribe and tama va'ine to their mother's group. Though tama tane literally means "male child," in the above usage it means "child of the male." Similarly tama va'ine means "child of the female." If the father belongs to the Ngati-Vara tribe and the mother to Ngati-Tane, every child is tama tane to Ngati-Vara and tama va'ine to Ngati-Tane.

The family is patrilocal. The wife leaves her father's household and comes to live with her husband in his house within his tribal territory or on land which has been allocated to him. The family thus shares all the teachings and traditions of the father's tribe as it grows up.

The blood tie of the children with the mother's tribe is less significant owing to remoteness of domicile. Yet under the custom of sharing children and of adoption, children might leave the father's home and be brought up by the mother's people in their territory. They became matrilineal, though not living with their mother. Forced to rely upon his wife, a husband of a defeated tribe who found himself destitute of land after peace was declared, domiciled his family upon the wife's share of land in her tribal territory. The family then became matrilocal.

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Within the patrilineal and patrilocal family, the authority of the husband and father was supreme. As a member of the tribe, he had a right to share in the cultivable land belonging to the tribe. His rights to land he in turn divided among his children so that the succession to land was also patrilineal. The mother, on the other hand, had a right to a share in her father's land, but when she married and left the tribal residence she could not take the land with her. In matrilocal residence, owing to the husband's being destitute, the mother as tama tone within her own tribe claimed a share of land upon which, to bring up her family. She was awarded a share of land "to feed her husband," but the land was hers; she could not transfer it to a person of another tribe, even her husband. The family then, besides being matrilocal, was also matripotestal.


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.

Relationship Terms

The relationship terms in Mangaia are similar to those in general use in Polynesia. Relations are classified into five strata which cover the range of generations from the grandparent to the grandchild of the speaker (Table 17).

Table 17—Relationship Terms
—2 Tupuna: Grandparents, granduncles, grandaunts; collateral granduncles and grandaunts.
—1 Metua: Parents, uncles, aunts, collaterals.
0 Tuakana, teina: Elder, younger, denotes seniority in the same sex, whether of one biological family, cousins, or distant collaterals.
Tungane, tua'ine: Brother of sister, sister of brother; also sex distinction between cousins or collaterals of same generation.
+1 Tamaiti: General term for child, nephews, nieces and collaterals.
Tamaroa: Son.
Tama'ine: Daughter.
Tama: Eldest son.
Ine: Eldest daughter.
+2 Mokopuna: Grandchildren, grandnephews, grandnieces, or grand-collaterals.

Relations are addressed by their personal names and not by the relationship terms, except occasionally. The five generations named cover all who are likely to be living at the same time, but the range may be increased by adding numerals to the limiting terms tupuna and mokopuna: the grandfather may be termed the tupuna mua (mua, "first"), the great-grandfather the tupuna rua (rua, "two"), the great-great-grandfather the tupuna toru (toru, "three"), and the great-great-great-grandfather the tupuna 'a ('a, "four"). This may be carried on indefinitely to indicate a relationship to some ancestor. Similarly, grandchildren may be mokopuna mua, great-grandchildren mokopuna rua, great-great grandchildren mokopuna toru., The terms include all collaterals of the same generation stratum.

All members of the Ngati-Vara are related to each other through the eponymous ancestor Vara; but to decide the relationship term to be used, the descent would be traced through Mautara or the most recent common ancestor. If one person was six generations removed from Mautara and page 100another was seven, the difference of one generation would indicate their relationship. The person who was one generation less removed would be metua to the other and the other correspondingly tamaiti to him. A difference of two generations would constitute the relationship of tupuna and mokopuna. The genealogical count may differ on different lines of descent. Usually the relationship from the nearer common ancestor of two is selected, whereas relationship from more remote ancestors is of academic interest. Each term covers a number of relations of varying degrees of consanguinity, but the exact degree of consanguinity is made clear by the family pedigree which is taught to all concerned. The classifying terms stress blood kinship and the unity of the tribe. (25, pp. 26-30).

The terms tupuna, metua, and mokopuna apply to both sexes, but sex may be indicated by adding the qualifying terms tane (male) and va'ine (female). The term tamaiti is common gender and refers merely to a child. Son and daughter are distinguished by the terms tamaroa and tama'ine. Brother and sister are distinguished in their relationship to each other. Thus tungane means the brother of a female but cannot apply to the brother of a male. Similarly, tua'ine is the sister of a male but not of a female.

The first-born is alluded to as the kiko mua (first flesh) and his descendants enjoy priority over the families of the younger brothers. The term tama means a son; but in Mangaia, it has become restricted to the first-born son, while 'ine is applied to a first-born daughter. Tama may be used as a term of respect to visitors, as it implies that the person spoken to has the prestige of a first-born son. Within the family, the terms tuakana and teina are used to denote seniority of birth, but their use is confined to members of the same sex. Thus the tama is tuakana to all his brothers, and they are all teina to him. His sisters, however, are not teina to him, but tua'ine. Any one of the other brothers is called tuakana to the brothers younger than himself and teina to those who are older. Similarly, the 'ine is tuakana to all her sisters and they are all teina to her. Her brothers, however, are tungane to her, irrespective of whether they are younger or older. The seniority terms, therefore, are not used between opposite sexes. The seniority terms tuakana and teina apply to cousins and more remote collaterals according to their descent from the older or younger children of the common ancestor.

Though seniority counted for much, junior lines could rise above their seniors in actual power within the tribe through the exercise of greater ability and leadership. When Mautara conquered the Ngariki tribe, he gave the office of Temporal Lord to his eldest son, Te Uanuku, who was the kiko mua. The descendants of Te Uanuku are still regarded as the kiko mua of Ngati-Vara, but the family of the third son, Ikoke, rose to greater prestige in the subsequent development of the tribe.

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The terms indicating relationship through marriage covered three generation levels:

—1 Purunga: Father-or mother-in-law.
0 Taokete: Brother-or sister-in-law.
+ 1 'Unonga: Son-or daughter-in-law.

In addressing a brother-in-law the term taokete may be shortened to tao, as in Te Uanuku's historical greeting to his brother-in-law, Akatara.

The Household

The household of a patrilocal family enjoying social status and affluence in food lands might include adopted children, sons' children, and collateral as well as lineal descendants. Members comprising three and even four generations might be present. Retainers and subjugated people who sought protection might further increase the household of a chief. The one dwelling might be increased to two or more, all served by a common cooking house. The composite household of an influential chief spread out into a group of houses which, though forming a center, did not develop into a village. The family and their menials developed the food lands and obtained food from the sea. Through it all, the authority of the head of the household was supreme. As the father of the first family grew old, he relinquished his authority to his eldest son. Matters of family interest were discussed and decisions arrived at.