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Ethnology of Tongareva

Blood Relationship Terms

Blood Relationship Terms

The independent groups of people who occupied the small islands and land districts on the large islands of Tongareva were separated by the channels between the islands or by artificial boundaries created between the divisions. Though all claimed blood kinship from three lines of ancestors united by subsequent marriages, such general kinship was relegated to the background. The independent groups found their cementing bonds in their common descent from the more recent ancestors who had established the secondary centers on the land which the group occupied.

Blood kinship as revealed by pedigrees is viewed from two important angles, that of direct lineal descent and that of collateral relationship. When a person uses the terms grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren, he visualizes five genealogical strata of which he himself forms the middle stratum. The five generations are in direct lineal descent, and the family lines of the grandparents and parents are respectively two generations and one generation shorter, and the lines of his children and grandchildren are one and two generations longer than the line of the intermediate person.

A man applies to his collateral relations the same classificatory five strata into which they fall when measured from a common ancestor. Theoretically, it is immaterial how distant the common ancestor is. The counting of the page 27 generations from the common ancestor by both parties will reveal the same number, two or one shorter, or two or one longer. The collateral relationship term is indicated by the difference in the count. In Table 4 the individual in the middle stratum of the lineal column is regarded as a first born male.

Table 4. Relationship Terms
Genealogical Stratum Lineal Collateral Marriage
2 or more shorter Tupuna (grandparents) Tupuna
1 shorter Tahava (parent)
Tira (father) Taueka (uncle) Matua (father-in-law)
Papa (mother) Matua-wahine (aunt) Matua (mother-in-law)
Same number Tuakana (elder brother) Teina (younger brother)
Tuangane (brother of sister) Tuahine (sister of brother)
1 longer Tama (son) To ate (nephew) Hunonga (son-in-law)
Tamaiti (son)
Tamahine (daughter) Taukohera (niece) Hunonga (daughter-in-law)
2 longer Mokopuna (grandchildren) Mokopuna

Under the most favorable conditions five generations were about all that could have lived at one time, and the actual terms stop at the range of grandparents and grandchildren. The terms of tupuna and mokopuna, however, are extended in usage to include others beyond the range of two generations shorter and two longer. Thus, all ancestors are included under the general term of tupuna and great-grandchildren are termed mokopuna.

The Tongarevan terms are interesting in that the term tahava is used to include both parents and the special terms tira and papa are applied to father and mother. A distinction is thus made from the collateral terms of taueka (uncle) and matua-wahine (aunt) which apply to all collaterals on the father-mother stratum. The term matua-wahine is usually applied to mother in other areas, whereas the widespread term of matua-tane, which applies to both father and uncle, has been displaced by the special term taueka. The Tongarevans have thus departed from the usual Polynesian usage by using distinguishing terms for lineal and collateral descent in the father-mother stratum.

Marriage places the father-in-law and mother-in-law in the same stratum as the lineal father and mother, and the general term of matua as originally applied to parents and their collaterals is also applied to them, qualified no doubt by the sex designations of tane (male) and wahine (female). Thus, though the Tongarevans have distinguished between parents and collaterals, they have evidently lost the special “in-law” term of other areas as represented by huangai in Manihiki and hungawai in New Zealand.

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The terms, tuakana and taina, used to denote seniority of birth in the same sex, are widely spread, but the Tongarevans have the additional local term of tauhatu. Mr. J. A. Campbell writes me that the term is honorific (ingoa ngateitei), and that the word could be written taau hatu (your hatu) or taku hatu (my hatu). The honorific word is thus used to express the seniority embodying the hatu, or core of family rank. From its presence in Tongareva alone, it is evidently a local development meant to stress seniority in chiefly families. It was also used to indicate an uncle, but not an aunt, and hence it stressed the male seniority in patrilineal descent. The general seniority terms tuakana and taina, however, are used within the same sex by both males and females but cannot be applied to opposite sexes. The taina of a male is his younger brother and the taina of a female is her younger sister. The brother-sister relationship between opposite sexes is represented by the reciprocal terms, tuangane and tuahine. A person speaking of someone as a tuangane indicates that the speaker is a female referring to her brother; and so in speaking of a tuahine, the speaker is a male referring to his sister. Such terms refer solely to sex and there is no indication in the terms as to which is the older or younger. Both the sex terms and the seniority terms apply to collaterals on the same genealogical stratum. The seniority terms indicate seniority within collateral groups descended from common ancestors and help in the solving of problems connected with succession to rank and social status.

A system which includes the lineal and collateral descendants of the same generation under a common relationship term has been called “classificatory” to distinguish it from a “descriptive” system, the terminology of which is supposed to distinguish degrees of consanguinity more definitely. The Tongarevan classification is based on the numerical relationship two genealogical strata bear to each other through the link provided by a common ancestor. The present relationship of collaterals may depend on a past ancestor who may be remote from the five living generations, but their position with regard to each other is made clear by the preservation of pedigrees. The purpose of the pedigrees was to record collateral as well as lineal descent in order to preserve the structural framework of social organization.

The working of the system cannot be understood fully without considering the system of naming individuals. Each individual was given a personal name, corresponding with the European Christian name, by which he or she was addressed by all, including children. The individual had no surname in the European sense. The place of the surname was taken by the group appellation, whether derived from an eponymous ancestor or from the territory occupied, but the group name was used in referring to the group only. When two persons of the same name had to be distinguished page 29 the name of the father with the particle a (of or belonging to) was used. This is often done in reciting pedigrees. Thus, in the ninth generation through Matakunui and his son Takatu the name of Rangisani appears.

Rangisani had a daughter, Tinonui, who married Rangisani. To avoid confusion the pedigree reciter says, “Tinonui married Rangisani of Pohatu.” Rangisani, the father of Tinonui, has already been shown in the pedigree to be Rangisani of Hakatapuria, and any confusion as to whether or not Rangisani married his own daughter is avoided.

There is no need for the appellations of “father” and “mother” or for relationship terms to be used in addressing blood uncles and collateral uncles. The degree of consanguinity was not rendered unimportant by the use of common classificatory terms for collaterals of various degrees of removal through a common ancestor. The children were brought up to know who were their own parents and who were their paternal and maternal uncles and aunts. The same usage applied to collateral relations of more distant kinship, and the child learned the exact degree of consanguinity from parents and relatives, and through the family pedigree. Thus, degrees of consanguinity were clearly recognized and appreciated in spite of the common terms used. The use of personal names combined with the exact knowledge of degrees of consanguinity through the pedigrees supplied the descriptive element that students find lacking in the bare terms of a so-called “classificatory” system.

In Tongareva lineal descent from the group ancestor formed the tie that united families in the area occupied by the social group. The use of collateral terms indicated the relationships between the members of the group through that lineal descent. The greater the number of collaterals, the stronger the group. A descriptive system would have emphasized the degrees of remoteness in the distant relationships, whereas the collateral use of direct lineal terms such as were applied to grandparents, parents, sons and daughters, and grandchildren emphasized the blood tie and stressed the basic idea that in the community the individuals composing it should render close cooperation and mutual assistance. Distant relatives were thus drawn together by the use of relationship terms which exaggerated the closeness of blood kinship, and in thus stressing blood kinship the system served a purpose in the mechanism of the social structure.

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An early theory concerning the classificatory system was that the use of one term to describe father, uncles, and collateral uncles implied that all persons so designated were putative fathers, and that society was originally promiscuous, with family life as a later development. In other words, it was thought that the collateral use of relationship terms preceded the lineal use. From a Polynesian point of view, however, the biological family with lineal relationship terms comes first. The use of lineal terms in a collateral sense followed the desire to keep families together in groups for mutual cooperation. The isolation of relationship terms from their background of home experience, personal naming, teaching of pedigrees, and function in their own society forms a study approach which has been responsible for the artificial arrangement of relationship terms into “classificatory” and “descriptive” systems. Though the Polynesian system has generally been termed classificatory, a number of the Tongarevan terms are descriptive, and the exceedingly wide classificatory usage of “cousin” in the English descriptive system is represented by a number of terms which indicate genealogical strata, seniority, and sex. The relationship term should be studied in its human background and the word “classificatory” abandoned lest it convey to students the errors made through its use.

To a people placing such emphasis on descent from a group ancestor it seems natural that a convenient form of group name should be the name of the common ancestor. Such a name unites the group under one heading and serves to distinguish it from other groups descended from different ancestors. The name of an eponymous ancestor, usually with the prefix Ngati, was used in New Zealand to distinguish the group of descendants. When the group became large it divided into smaller groups by taking the names of more recent ancestors. The smaller groups became subtribes under their own names, but they joined together for cooperative effort under the original group name, which became a tribal name. A somewhat similar system was employed in the Cook Islands. To the general system there were exceptions in both areas.

In Tongareva it was stated that in the very early period the different parties were named after their chiefs, such as Ngati-Mahuta and Ngati-Taruia. Later, however, when secondary centers were established on the various islets, the group was designated by the name of the land division it occupied, and the group naming, instead of being eponymous, became territorial. Thus, when a Mahuta was chief of Te Puka, Opaka, who had conquered Hakasusa, was chief of both Mangarongaro and Hakasusa. The two sections were not united in name. The adjustment of blood group and territory was alike in New Zealand and Tongareva, but the systems of naming were directly opposite.

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