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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Marriage a La Mode

page 67

Marriage a La Mode.

If ever there could have been written a book that would have been very interesting—and for all I know it may have been written, though I have not seen it—it might have been entitled "Marriage in All Ages." It would, probably, have to go back to the days of primeval man (homo sapiens) when our ancestors roamed the forest in a nude state. The man simply knocked his bride-to-be on the head with a club, and dragging her by her long hair to his lair he kept her there till he became tired of her or till she escaped. Later the cave-man improved on the former conditions and he provided a habitable residence for her. It was then, most likely, that the "best man" came into the picture, and the cave-man had to get an assistant to help him capture the bride; later, the bride's right of choice was widened and she was given a chance to escape the ordeal of wifehood with a man she did not like, so she was placed on horseback and given a fair start, but here also the services of the "best man" were invoked, because there were often more than one aspirant for a single heart, and a fight might easily occur. The "giving away" in marriage came in later, and in feudal Germany, Austria and other countries the women were serfs, and at the nominal disposal of the dukes and barons, and they "gave away" the women to their retainers, exacting, in many cases, privileges from one of the parties which cannot be mentioned here. The duke then, was the "best man," with page 68a wide reservation on the word "best." In Maoriland marriage was simply a matter of taking or giving, and the ceremony even more simple than that of Gretna Green. If a chief, or even a commoner, in Maoriland saw a woman he desired he went and took her, and the tribe would back him up with every spear and taiaha they possessed. The reader will recall the romantic story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, and how the people of the pa noted the progress of the wooing, till one fine morning the whole pa was rejoiced to see an extra pair of feet, and shapely ones at that, peeping out from beneath the mat of Tutanekai.

Marriage by capture existed in Maoriland for years after the arrival of the missionaries, and even in the Wairoa district many a battle for a wahine, or, in the Maori language, many a "taua tango wahine" set out from the pas of Wairoa, and to judge by the tales told, the tussles were quite as exciting as modern rugby. The business of the taua was not always to secure a wife for a member of the tribe, but to recover possession of some dusky Helen who had left, or been taken beyond the ken of her lord and master. They were serious affairs occasionally, and if a death occurred in the contest it often led to a feud which could only be wiped out by war; but generally speaking the proceedings were farcial, especially when the maid had already made her choice, though sometimes she stood a real chance of being torn to pieces, or at least of losing much of her wedding finery. The late Bishop Henry Williams mentions a case that occurred on the borders of this district where the rival lovers agreed to give page 69the lady a specified start, but one of the parties of Maoris, skilled strategists, as they were, so posted the scouts that the tactical bridegroom won the day. A fight for a wife took place not so long ago in Czechoslovakia, one of the newly-created states bordering on the Adriatic, which resulted in the death of the bridegroom, the "best man," and several others. The fight was truly real, and much more so than ever it was in Maoriland.