The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79
Maori Marriage Customs
Maori Marriage Customs.
According to Maori traditions, when Rangi and Papa, the sky father and the earth mother, came into being, they embraced each other as husband and wife, and produced certain beings who were the origin of personification of trees, birds, fish, wilds, war, peace, etc., and these children, objecting to the page 12 state of darkness in which they lived, on account of the sky lying pressed down upon the earth, cast about for a plan wnere by they might enjoy light and space. This ended in their forcing their parents apart. Tane, tutelary deity of trees, forests, and birds, thrust the sky upwards and propped it up with poles (observe here the origin of divorce, and the name thereof) toko (noun), a pole, also a ray of light, toko (verb), to propel with a pole. Now, the Maori term for divorce is toko, and in the invocation repeated by the priest during the performance of the divorce rites it occurs. In mythology, the first marriages mentioned in Maori in which members of this world (te ao marama, the world of life, light, or being) were concerned, were those of Tiki and Tane. Tiki, who was of the Po (world of darkness or chaos), married Ea, who was of this world. They had Kurawaka, who married Tana-nui-a-rangi, one of the offspring of Rangi and Papa. Hence, the expression, te aitanga a Tiki (the offspring of Tiki) is applied to man by the Maori people. Tana sought long for woman ere he found her. He married many singular beings, and produced offspring of passing strangeness ere he came to Kurawaka. For instance, he married Hinetu-Maunga, and produced Para-whenua-Mea (personification, of flood waters). He married Hine-wao-riki, and had the kahika (a forest tree); he married Tukapua, and had the tamai (a tree which grows on high ranges); he married Mango-nui, and he had the tawa and hinau (both trees); he married Te Pu-whakahara (a star name), and had the maire (a tree), and so on, a long list of such unions, until he went to Rangi and asked where it, the uha (female, or female nature), was, and Rangi said, the whare aitua is below. Then Tana came and found the woman of this world. The expression whare o aitua appears to mean the origin of misfortune and death, and to be applied to the female sex or nature. Even so, Tana came to earth, and found woman, and the Maori people trace their descent from Tane, as they do from Tiki, thus, also, the trees of the forest are their distant relatives, fellow-descendants of Tane, and this is one reason why the Maori is so close in touch with nature. He speaks of the forest trees as if they were sentient beings. He fells a tree, and says, Tana has fallen. He performs strange rites in order to placate the Gods of the forest. He peoples the forest depths with singular beings.
I have noted that after a man marries he will, when he obtains something suitable, make a present to his parents-in-law, also that if a wife's parents see that she is badly off they often try to help her by giving her things. It sometimes occurs that page 13 the people of a family group or clan will resolve to demand a girl of another village community as a wife for one of their young men. A party of them proceed to the place and demand the girl for that purpose; if a single woman, she may be handed over without any trouble occurring, provided that she is agreeable to marry the young man. If not, she will be held and protected by her people. Sometimes a very stormy scene follows, as each party strives to gain possession of the girl, who is seized by the opposing parties, and sometimes suffers severely at their hands, Even fatal consequences at times attend these wild scenes, or, on arrival at the residence of the girl, the party may seize her at once, in which ease trouble is likely to quickly ensue, and the two parties be transformed into a seething mass of excited, yelling beings, resembling maniacs. Scenes of violent abduction were by no means rare in Maoriland. And yet woman occupies among the Maori people a much better postion than she occupies among Most of the barbarous races. She was usually upheld by her people when she objected to marry a certain man who had desired or been selected for her. She was to a considerable extent independent, and had a voice in matters affecting the tribe. It was perhaps, in connection with adultery that her status appeared lowest, for she was then regarded apparently as property, and anyone tampering with her must needs pay for meddling with another person's property.
As already observed, many statements have been made by writers that the Maori had no marriage rite, but that a couple smply agreed to live together, and that was all there was about [unclear: b] but if a marriage between two young people was not he mea ata whakarite (a matter deliberately arranged) by their elders, or by the [unclear: true] or sub-tribe, then such a union was much looked down upon, and condemned, if the recognised and established messages were not respected and followed. But, through the union, a mere may not, or random cohabiting, then a child lorn to such union would be termed a porire (bastard), a maenga hau, he mea kite ki te take rakau (a thing found under a tree).
In speaking or writing of the customs of other peoples, more especially those of the more primitive races, we are much too apt to set up as a standard of propriety, etc., our own rites and customs, and if those of the people under discussion do not coincide with our own, then they are condemned as improper, inadequale, or ridiculous, or statements are made that no such customs exist among the Maoris. These things are wearying beyond measure.
The Maori marriage system was a very good one for a people living in their state. It was considerably in advance of the page 14 systems of many peoples who in general culture occupy a higher plane. In the arranging of a marriage it is not only the families of the young couple who take part in such, but also the family group, or the hapu, or perhaps even the whole tribe, i.e., in a marriage of important persons, indeed, the parents often have little to say in regard to the marriages of their children The leading part in the arrangements is taken by the brothers and sisters of the parents. The Maoris like to obtain for a son-in-law an industrious man. Marriages are of more frequent occurrence now than they were in former times, before European settlement put an end to the inter-tribal warfare, and broke down to a certain extent the barriers which existed between the various tribes, for the Maori people, like so many other races, could never form themselves into a nation, but were ever split up into many tribes, who waged war against each other for long centuries.
The umu kotore was the marriage feast of the Maori—that is to say, of the aristocratic marriage before mentioned. It was at this function that certain invocations were repeated by the priest over the couple. In the first place, the priest repeats a prayer, or invocation, over the twain to preserve them in health and prosperity, to ward off from them evil, physical or otherwise. After this the pair enjoy the rights of married people.