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Ethnology of Tongareva

General Observances

page 119

General Observances


A forenoon meal and an evening meal are the routine of everyday life. The evening meal is the more important, the social event of the day. Fish that have been caught during the day are cooked, and if the catch has been large the quantity cooked is correspondingly lavish. Fish or shellfish are the flesh complement to the coconut preparations. The men have returned from the labors of the day and are in the proper frame of mind to enjoy themselves. The food cooked by the women is placed before the men, who seat themselves on mats spread on the gravelled space before the huts. The heat of the day is over, and during the meal the gossip of the day is recounted. Laughter and enjoyment prevail, and the members of the family are united in social intercourse, with no immediate worries.

The morning meal is of necessity not as elaborate as the evening meal, and little time is spent over it, as the activities of the day have to be faced. It is usually a cold meal of uncooked preparations of coconut. If food has been left over from the evening meal, the remains furnish the early breakfast. The men are anxious to get out to finish their activities before the time of midday heat. If the breakfast has been scanty, a forenoon meal is cooked after the return from the plantation with the day's supply of nuts, at about the hour of eleven. The children are often sent out into the food plantations (kainga) to get the supply of nuts while the men go fishing or busy themselves with other activities.

The flesh of the drinking nuts used in the plantations is never wasted, but eaten on the spot. Such irregular snacks take the place of the third midday meal of higher cultures. On my expeditions to the various islands both young and old men scooped out and ate the flesh of the drinking nuts, even though we had brought food with us for a midday meal. It had become a habit not to waste the flesh of the nuts. When we came upon a hala tree with ripe fruit the use of the fruit as food was always practically demonstrated to me.

Feast for Visitors (Warusanga)

The Tongarevan feast prepared for visitors derives its name, warusanga, from the verb waru (to grate), referring to the grating of coconuts to make roro, the most important item in the menu. The command by the chief host, “Ka waru te warusanga,” literally means “Grate the grating,” but it has come to mean “Prepare the guest meal.” After such a command the guest meal must be preceded by a bowl of roro. (See p. 114). The roro page 120 liquid is expressed into the round wooden bowls until the froth rises high. A brimming bowl is placed before each guest of distinction, who is then supposed to quaff it without pausing to take breath. By such a display the guest indicates his appreciation of the honor conferred upon him. The preliminary bowl of roro is the highest form of hospitality a host can pay to his guest.

After the draught of roro the meal proper is served. Preparations of cooked coconut in their shell containers, with the caps in position, are placed in food baskets and heaped up with cooked fish. The baskets are placed before the guests, who help themselves. Drinking nuts are also provided. The food receptacle for visitors is the raurau basket, which is termed the hariki o te kai. In arranging coconuts in the basket the more mature nuts and the sweet husk (mangaro) are placed below, and the drinking nuts above. It takes as many as four persons to carry some of the large baskets filled with food.

The more the baskets are heaped with food, the greater the display. The greater the display, the more the guests are honored, and the greater the prestige that occurs to the hosts. Such feasts are recounted in detail by visitors on their return, gossip carries the tale around the islands, and reputations are established. On the other hand, lavish hospitality creates an obligation on the part of the recipients, and they in turn endeavor to equal if not to excel the hospitality they have received when opportunity occurs through a reciprocal visit. Some displays of hospitality are competitive, and though food supplies may suffer a severe drain, the mutual visits help to even matters up. Food as a basis of friendly intercourse plays a most important part in Tongareva, as it does in all parts of Polynesia.

The use of the roro as a beverage must be stressed. In Samoa and Tonga kava is the ceremonial beverage which precedes social meals and functions. In Tongareva, where the kava plant does not grow, the desire for a beverage to express a similar, ingrained sentiment has resulted in the use of the unfailing coconut. Thus, a flavoring agent for food was elevated to the high status of a beverage. The demand for the beverage caused the women to develop a new technique; the long, steady straining movements used in expressing the ordinary coconut cream were altered to the short, sharp movements that made the liquid froth. Just as in Western custom ale may be poured from a height to cause froth to rise at the top of the glass, so in Tongareva the excellence of the roro is judged by the height of its froth.

The social function of roro has undoubtedly affected the form of the bowl. The round bowl (kumete tatau), which has a projecting lug on one side perforated for a cord loop by which the bowl may be hung up, was page 121 quite satisfactory for ordinary use. To fit the bowl for use as a drinking flagon a low unperforated lug was made on the side opposite the suspensory lug. In clasping the bowl with both hands the forefingers obtain support on either side of the bowl from the two projections as the bowl is raised to drink. The second projection is not essential, but the craftsmen have added it for the accommodation of drinkers at the social ceremonies. (See pl. 8.)

The following song, composed by Umutoru, is sung while some one is wringing out the roro. (Such songs are termed tauranga, putuki, pesepese, and parapore.)

The Roro Song of Umutoru
E roro au e
Kia inu i te roro,
Kia ora hoki au,
I tupu aniania,
Toku hausanga ia ko te roro.
Kia nui taku roro
Kia makona au, kia taea,
Toku kava ia ko te roro
Kia matakivikivi te ipo wahine
Te rima tumoa i te tatau.
Hana mai ma te riri ma te kava
Ma te ongatia.
Po kowai te tatau o te roro?
Viaha toku mea
Kia inu atu au
E hano ki ko
Kia mamaru ko te ra
E hano mai ai,
Maku tahi e, mau tahi.

Oh roro for me
That I may drink
And so be satisfied.
I grow fatigued,
But my strength will return through the roro.
Let my measure of roro be full
That my thirst be quenched, and desire gratified,
For my kava is roro.
She may turn her face aside, the woman,
Whose hands are skilled in raising the froth with the wringer.
She may come with wrath and bitterness
And disgust with having to labor.
Ah, who then will prepare the roro?
Ah, wring gently to bring up the froth
That I may drink.
Retire to yonder place
Until the sun is shaded,
Then return to me.
I will give something you must reciprocate.

In explaining this song Pa stated that Umutoru supposes that the lady whom he wishes to prepare the beverage may be unwilling to go to the trouble. He urges her to comply and promises that if she does so and returns in the afternoon he will give her something. The gift is not a material one, but “tetahi tika i roto i te hare vananga” (something of benefit from the house of learning). From his store of knowledge he will entertain her, and she in return must receive his attentions with favor. The eighth line in the song, “For my kava is roro,” is significant, indicating that a memory of kava was retained and that roro was a substitute.

An unexpected guest may cause his host a good deal of embarrassment and shame when the larder is low. The following song expresses the apologies of a host, who makes his physical infirmity the reason for the lack of food.

page 122

Apology for Lack of Food
Ka kore aku tukunga i raua ai,
Kua ngaro otioti te hai o taku hangota,
I reira taku tino paipai,
Pau ai oku ivi,
Pokia iho au, te peka o te atua.

Toku tuaro pakinga,
Ki te niho o te toka, i tai nei,
E atua ko Manini,
E atua ko Tokona,
E atua ko Tahora
I puke maua ki te tara o Pakurakura

Ki te tau o Saupewa
Pau ai oku ivi,
Pokia iho ai au, te peka o te atua.

Te ngako o te tukoro
Te ngako o te marau
Te ngako o te veve,
Pau ai oku ivi,
Pokia iho ai au, te peka o te atua.

My store of goods is not sufficient,
Lost completely is my skill in fishing,
By reason of my weakness in body,
My bones are consumed,
I am overwhelmed, I, the companion of the god.
I look in apprehension,
Toward the reef edge of the adjacent sea.
A god is Manini,
A god is Tokona,
A god is Tahora,
We two tried to obtain (food) from the rocks of Pakurakura
From the land point of Saupewa
My bones are consumed,
I am overwhelmed, I, the companion of the god.
Ah, the fat of the tukoro,
The fat of the marau,
The fat of the veve,
My bones are consumed,
I am overwhelmed, I, the companion of the god.

The song may be sung also when, although there is no lack of food, the host assumes a ceremonial humility which draws attention to the quantity of food provided, and thus adds to his own prestige.

Angling for Visitors

A custom called “Te tukau o Tautai-tini” was demonstrated at the Omoka village. Judge Ayson and I, with others, were invited to a feast and given seats outside the village meeting house. Our hosts, armed with fishing rods to which cooked uto was attached as bait, but without hooks, gathered a little distance away. They also carried baskets containing cooked uto to serve as ground bait. The visitors were regarded as a shoal (papa) of bonito. The leader of the fishermen, who acted as observer, pretended to see us for the first time. He called, “Teia ua papa e” (Here is the shoal). The party then replied in unison, “Teia ua kake e” (Here they have arrived). The fishermen then advanced in our direction, and when they were close enough they swung the rods toward us to bring the bait in front of our faces. We were supposed to seize the bait with our mouths and pull vigorously as if we were fish—a performance that created a good deal of merriment. Meanwhile, the fishermen were chewing the cooked uto which, when sufficiently soft, they drew out of their mouths and started throwing at us as ground bait. This they enjoyed exceedingly. A lady angler who was paying particular attention page 123 to a member of our party struck him on the bridge of the nose with a handful of the soft mush which splashed laterally and filled both his eyes, to the intense enjoyment of the skilled angler and her friends. While the general marksmanship was not so expert, it was accurate enough at the short distance to prevent any of us from escaping hits. What may have been enjoyed by a man in a maro girdle was awkward for one in a white suit. However, the demonstration was counted a success, and after scraping off the adhering ground bait we were entertained with the feast. At the feast, which contained a lavish assortment of coconut preparations and fish, the apology for poverty was sung.

Sex Differentiation

Women usually prepare the food and cook it, but the men sometimes scrape the mature coconut with a kasi shell. Men hold the mature nut between their knees while scraping the flesh. Women, however, have to adopt a special position. Sitting on the ground, a woman's left leg is bent toward the body and the right leg crossed over the left thigh. This forms a small triangle bounded by the bent left knee and the right leg. The mature nut is held firmly in the triangle and the scraping proceeds. Pa said it was not right for a woman with food so close to have her thighs apart. When she crosses her right leg over the left thigh with the food to the far side the intervening right leg forms a barrier between the female sex organ and the food, which satisfies Tongarevan psychology.