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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Marriage, Etc

Marriage, Etc.

Like all Polynesians the women married at an early age. I cannot say if any ceremony took place beyond the feast (taonaga). The brothers had a large share in determining on a husband for the sister. A young man desiring to obtain a certain girl for a wife used to proceed to the home of the girl's parents accompanied by his father and mother, but more often by his brothers and friends or relatives (magafaoa) to arrange the marriage,—such a visit is termed uturagahau. If the offer was not accepted, the proposer was said to be tulia, or rejected; and this was generally the action of the lady's brothers. At other times the brothers arranged a marriage for their sister very often against the girl's will.

It often occurred in former times that families who were not sufficiently powerful to protect themselves in times of war, sought the protection of the more powerful Patus, rendering them services in exchange, and some such cases are in existence still. The chiefs' daughters often married these dependants, for the reason that they had more freedom, and could order their husbands about. No husband taken from one of the dependant families would dare to take action against his wife in the case of her laches, as she was of superior rank. Fairao, or adultery appears to have been not uncommon. Fakamau, is the name given to marriage, it means ‘to fasten.’ Large families were quite common formerly, but not so much so now; no doubt the abolition of Polygamy accounts for this in a measure.

Death: Mate is to die, as in all other dialects; Mate-popo, death to rotteness equally means death, and distinguishes it from mate, also used for sickness, though Niuē people have a special word for the latter, i.e. gagao. Mate-teia is sudden death, as is also mate-mogo, As far as I can gather the people did not fear death any more than other branches of the race. Possibly this may have had something to do with a belief in the soul (agāga) going to Ahohololoa, or the Heaven of the good. There was a tagi, or lamenting held as soon as breath had ceased, and the body was often kept so long that all unpleasantness had ceased, to allow of distant friends to wail over it. It was placed in some open spot on a mat. Soon after death a mat was spread on the ground near the body, and the first thing that page 57 alighted on it—insect, lizard, etc.—was believed to be the spirit of the departed. This was wrapped up and taken away and buried. The Samoans have a similar custom, but no other branch of the race that I can remember. For ten days, in former times, the family and friends of deceased built coco-nut sheds. fale-tulu, and there dwelt in a state of mourning, termed api-larā. After some time the body was wrapped in mats and taken away to a cave or chasm, where the family bones were deposited, which place was very sacred. In some cases the bodies were thrown into the sea. The bones of the dead are termed hui-atua, an expression which is also found in Tongareva Island, but no where else I think. Somtimes the bodies were placed in canoes and sent adrift; evidently with the idea that they would somehow reach the ancestral Father-land. This is a Moriori custom also, but I never heard of it being in force with any other branch of the race, though it seems probable it was practised by some branches of the Fijians, (with whom Polynesians have been so closely connected) for Dumont D'Urville mentions that when off the south coast of Fiji, he found a canoe far out at sea with a dead body in it, dressed up etc. with the owners weapons by it—evidently sent adrift puposely. This is termed fakafolau in Niuē, and they often also adopted this means of getting rid of a thief.

It often occurred that the immediate relatives of the deceased were beaten by those from a distance. This is a well-known Maori custom, tke idea being that such relations had no business to allow the deceased to die—a good warrior might be lost to the tribe through their carelessness. The people had, and still have, much dread of the spirits of deceased persons, and believed they returned and caused all kinds of trouble to the relatives. In modern times large stones are placed in the graves (tukuaga) to prevent the escape of the spirit or ghost. It is still the custom to place some of the favourite property of the deceased termed tuki-ofa or mai-ofa (cf., Maori maioha), on the graves, the belief being that the spirit of these things is used by the deceased in his spirit life. The modern graves of the people are built up very solidly of coral, and are generally to be found in the strip of sloping land between the main road and the tops of the cliffs,* but graves are found everywhere along the roads and paths,—if at all recent, with the remains of the personal property of the deceased. In the case of women, even their sewing machines are thus placed on the graves.

Like Maoris, the Niuē people often change their names at the death of a relative, indeed, judging from such cases that came under my notice during my short stay on the island, it would seem that the custom is very common. In the case of death, the name adopted page 58 generally has some reference to the event, to the cause of death, circumstances attending it—all of which is pure Maori. Those who had come into contact with the dead appear not to have been tapu (unclean) to the same extent as prevailed in New Zealand.

In very old age, it was not infrequent that the old people requested their younger relatives to strangle them to cause death. Suicide was not uncommon, and was generally performed by jumping off a cliff into the sea (? faka-folau).

* Some of these graves will be seen in foreground of Plate No. 1.