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The Coming of the Maori



Infant betrothal (taunaha, to bespeak) was sometimes requested by an old comrade in arms of the father, some other branch of the expanded family, or some other tribe which wished to form a friendly alliance. The family desiring the betrothal sent a messenger (toro) with valuable gifts (paremata), such as fine cloaks, to the village of the parents. The messenger's purpose was speedily known, and the family concerned usually held a private discussion, at which a decision was made. The forming of a decision was a touchy affair for a refusal would be regarded as an insult by the family or tribe requesting the alliance and remembered for future reprisal. At a public assemblage in the tribal meeting-house, the messenger made a formal request in an eloquent speech and ceremonially laid his gifts before the family. The representative of the family replied and, if the request was to be granted, recited a chant termed a hono (joining) and the gifts were accepted. It then became a point of honour to see that the marriage was made when the child grew up. A male child might have temporary love affairs before the time arrived, but a girl was tapu to her betrothed and she was carefully guarded during adolescence. This type of betrothal was not confined to infancy but could occur during later years.