The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore/Chapter 14



In attempting to trace the course of a Melanesian life from birth to burial we soon meet with practices connected with the Couvade. A proper Couvade has perhaps been observed in San Cristoval alone, when the young father was found lying in after the birth of his child; and it should be observed that this was where the child follows the father's kindred. There is much however which approaches this. At Saa it is not only the expectant mother who is careful what she eats, the father also both before and after the child's birth refrains from some kinds of food which would hurt the child. He will not eat pig's flesh, and he abstains from movements which are believed to do harm, upon the principle that the father's movements affect those of the child. A man will not do hard work, lift heavy weights, or go out to sea; he keeps quiet lest the child should start, should over-strain itself, or should throw itself about as he paddles. In the Banks' Islands also, both parents are careful what they eat when the child is born, they take only what if taken by the infant would not make it ill; before the birth of her first child the mother must not eat fish caught by the hook, net, or trap. After the birth of the first child, the father does no heavy work for a month; after the birth of any of his children, he takes care not to go into those sacred places, tano rongo, into which the child could not go without risk. It is the same in the New Hebrides; the expectant Araga father keeps away from sacred places, ute sapuga, before the child's birth, and does not enter his house; after the birth, he does work in looking after his wife and child, but he must not eat shell-fish and other produce of the beach, for the infant would suffer from ulcers if he did. In Lepers' Island, the father is very careful for ten days; he does no work, will not climb a tree, or go far into the sea to bathe, for if he exerts himself the child will suffer. If during this time he goes to any distance, as to the beach, he brings back with him a little stone representing the infant's soul, which may have followed him; arrived at home, he cries, 'Come hither,' and puts down the stone in the house; then he waits till the child sneezes, and he cries, 'Here it is,' knowing then that the soul has not been lost.

Abortion and Infanticide were very common. If a woman did not want the trouble of bringing up a child, desired to appear young, was afraid her husband might think the birth before its time, or wished to spite her husband, she would find some one to procure abortion either by the juice of certain plants taken in drink or by twisting and squeezing the fœtus. Infanticide was more prevalent in some islands than others; since Christian teaching has been introduced a great change is visible in Maewo, Aurora Island, and at Wango in San Cristoval, where the birth of an infant was of late years indeed an unusual thing, and all the children in the villages had been bought from inland. In those parts the old women of the village generally determined whether a newborn child should live; if not promising in appearance, or likely to be troublesome, it was made away with, its mouth perhaps stuffed with leaves and the body cast into a hole and covered with a stone. In the Banks' Islands, if of the wrong sex or otherwise unwelcome, the infant was choked as soon as born. Male children were killed rather than female in that group; if there were female children already, another would not be desired; but the females were rather preserved, as it is important to observe, because of the family passing through the female side, as well as with the prospect of gain when the girl should be betrothed and married.

There is nowhere in the groups generally the practice of killing one of twins, nor is there anywhere any dislike to the birth of twins further than from the trouble they entail. In some places, as at Saa, twins are liked; at Motlav the people of a village are proud of their twins, and the parents and relations make much of them; no one would adopt one of them, because it would spoil the pleasure of seeing them together, and deprive them of their natural right to be together; the only sad thing about them is that they give much trouble, and that the parents will be so sorry if they die. In Florida alone there seems to be something of a suspicion that two fathers may be concerned; but they take it that the woman has trespassed on the sacred place, vunuha, of some ghost, tindalo, whose power lies that way. In Lepers' Island also it is thought that twins may be a gift of Tagaro. Women who want a child will go to a sacred place in hope that the spirit will give them one, and sometimes he gives them two. There is now in the island one Malavaiboe, Pigtwin, the survivor of twin sons of Arusese; the people believe he will turn out a great man, not so much because he is a twin, as because Tagaro gave the twins of which he is one to their mother when she went to ask a child.

At Saa, when a newborn infant is eight or ten days old a sacrifice, 'unu qo (page 137), is made to the family lio'a to provide against misfortune. In Lepers' Island when the infant is ten days old the mother is well again, and the father goes down to the beach to wash the things belonging to the child. As he goes he scatters along the path little toy bows, if it be a boy, a sign that he shall be a strong bowman; if it be a girl, he throws down bits of the pandanus fibre out of which mats are made, for the mats which count as money are to be her work. In case the child dies after eating for the first time the parents will not eat that food afterwards themselves. At Araga, Pentecost Island, a first-born son remains ten days in the house in which he was born, during which time the father's kinsmen take food to the mother. On the tenth day they bring nothing, but the father gives them food and mats, which count as money, in as great quantity as he can afford. They, the kin of the father and therefore not kin of the infant, on that day perform a certain ceremony called huhuni; they lay upon the infant's head mats and the strings with which pigs are tied, and the father tells them that he accepts this as a sign that hereafter they will feed and help his son. There is clearly in this a movement towards the patriarchal system, a recognition of the tie of blood through the father and of duties that follow from it. Another sign of the same advance of the father's right is to be seen in the very different custom that prevails in the Banks' Islands on the birth of a first-born son; there is raised upon that event, a noisy and playful fight, vagalo, after which the father buys off the assailants with payment of money to the other veve, to the kinsmen that is of the child and his mother. It is hardly possible to be mistaken in taking this fight to be a ceremonial, if playful, assertion of the claim of the mother's kinsfolk to the child as one of themselves, and the father's payment to be the quieting of their claim and the securing of his own position as head of his own family.

As children grow they remain in their tender years in the women's care within the house. They are commonly weaned when they can crawl. Their first advance in life when they are boys depends very much upon the custom of the place concerning clothing. In the Banks' Islands, where males of any age wore nothing, boys as they grew bigger were sent to sleep in the gamal, the public club-house; the parents said 'He is a boy, it is time to separate him from the girls.' They took their meals at home until sooner or later they had their place bought for them in the Suqe Club. In the Torres Islands the nose is bored on the third day for the future ornament. In Florida and its neighbourhood boys of six or seven put on the little wrapper worn by males, and are very particular about it. At Santa Cruz the boys go at first to the chief's mandai, canoe-house and public hall, in the daytime and go home to sleep; after a while they cease to return at night. Before dress in that island comes the indispensable nose-ring; the hole for this is made in infancy and a little ring inserted. When the ears are bored it is a great occasion and a pig is killed, and so always when an additional hole is made, and a Santa Cruz boy may be seen with more than thirty ear-rings. The Santa Cruz dress is ample, and is assumed with a feast and killing of a pig. The boy's assumption of a dress depends therefore on the ability and willingness of his friends to provide the feast, and some big boys go naked. The dress in the New Hebrides, at Lepers' Island, and Pentecost differs little from that of Santa Cruz. The boy puts on his malo dress when his parents think him big enough, and sooner or later as they can afford to make a feast. Before this he has lived at home, but now he eats and sleeps in the gamali club-house, and now begins his strange and strict reserve of intercourse with his sisters and his mother. This begins in full force towards his sisters; he must not use as a common noun the word which is the name or makes part of the name of any of them, and they avoid his name as carefully. He may go to his father's house to ask for food, but if his sister is within he has to go away before he eats; if no sister is there he can sit down near the door and eat. If by chance brother and sister meet in the path she runs away or hides. If a boy on the sands knows that certain footsteps are his sister's, he will not follow them, nor will she his. This mutual avoidance begins when the boy is clothed or the girl tattooed. The partition between boys and girls without which a school cannot be carried on is not there to divide the sexes generally, but to separate brothers and sisters. This avoidance continues through life. The reserve between son and mother increases as the boy grows up, and is much more on her side than his. He goes to the house and asks for food; his mother brings it out but does not give it him, she puts it down for him to take; if she calls him to come she speaks to him in the plural, in a more distant manner; 'Come ye,' she says, mim vanai, not 'Come thou.' If they talk together she sits at a little distance and turns away, for she is shy of her grown-up son. The meaning of all this is obvious. At Santa Cruz and the neighbouring islands the separation of the sexes in daily life is carried far, but has not this character. At Santa Cruz the men and women never work together promiscuously or assemble in one group; men with their wives and children only, and men with their mothers, work in the gardens; when a crowd assembles the women collect aloof. In Nufilole, one of the Swallow group, the separation is complete; men and women are never out together; in the morning the men go out first and come back, after that the women go and fetch water, when they return the men go out again.

It has been said in Chapters V and VI that there is not known in these Islands of Melanesia any initiation or 'making of young men'; there is only the entrance into the various societies. The nearest approach to such initiation seems to be found at Saa. A chief's son in that part of Malanta goes early to the oha, canoe-house and public hall, while common children still eat and sleep at home; he may go there when he is twelve years old. Before that they are very careful about him; he must not go under the women's bedplace, his mother must never use bad words in scolding him, he must not consort with big boys who will teach him bad ways; he is kept apart lest he Io'u, fall, be low[1]. At first he goes only in the daytime to the oha, and comes back to his mother to sleep. When the time comes he is put with boys of his own age to undergo a sort of noviciate. The custom is dying out; boys used to stay in the oha sometimes for years. First of all there was a toto sacrifice (page 137) to purify the boys. Afterwards they went out every morning early in a canoe to catch the bonito-fish, till each boy had caught one. Men paddled with the boys, a boy sitting behind a man; when the man had a bite the boy behind him came forward and helped to haul it in; the fish counted as the boy's, he had caught a fish which one must be saka, be possessed of a certain mysterious power, to catch; and he had reached a certain stage in life. A boy did not come out when he had caught his fish, he remained for the time fixed for him at his entrance, according to his father's rank, or that in which his father had aspired to set him; for the length of his stay depended very much upon the expense to which his father proposed to go. One might come out before his time, as Wateaado did when his brother died and he was wanted to take his place. At certain intervals during this seclusion feasts were made, and a great one when a boy came out. There was no secret initiation, nothing whatever was taught the boys, the only thing they learnt was how to fish for bonito. They came out young men and strangers to the people of the village, out of whose sight they had grown up. This custom has now ceased at Saa.

Circumcision is unknown in almost all the islands which are here in view; it has come up from Ambrym to the lower end of Pentecost, as a prevailing custom, and not very lately. It is done at any age, whenever the boy's friends choose to make the feast. It is not a mark of initiation and has no religious or superstitious character; it is a social distinction. It is known but not yet practised in Lepers' Island, but is said to have been already introduced into the southern part of Aurora. A sharp bamboo is used. There is no doubt that the custom, for it is not a rite, has come across from the eastwards to the Southern New Hebrides, and has been for some time in common use, the dress in some of those islands, if it may be so called, being adapted to it.

The childhood of a girl can hardly be marked except by her advance towards matrimony, to which her being clothed and tattooed is in some places at least a necessary step. In Florida and the neighbouring parts, in Santa Cruz, in Pentecost Island, and most of the New Hebrides, the women's dress is a petticoat of strings of fibre or of leaves. In the southeastern Solomon Islands and the Banks' Islands the women wear a band with tufts or fringes, to which in Lepers' Island there is added out of doors a mat which envelopes the person. The moral character and training of the girls may well be noticed before their betrothal and marriage are taken in hand. Considerable laxity of intercourse between boys and girls undoubtedly existed, and unchastity was not very seriously regarded; yet it is certain that in these islands generally there was by no means that insensibility in regard to female virtue with which the natives are so commonly charged. There is but too good a cause generally for the natives to present at once their unchaste females to white visitors, and these then speak from experience little creditable to those of their colour who have preceded them. There is a considerable difference however to be observed between one island and another in this matter, an example of which appears in the presence or absence of a word signifying a harlot. In Florida such a woman is called rembi, and occupied not long ago a recognized place in native life; but it was in consequence generally of misconduct, such as adultery or fornication within the kema kin, that a woman was condemned by the chief of her place to such a life. She belonged to the chief, lived in one of his houses, and most of her earnings were his. When she had accumulated porpoise teeth and money she would be allowed to marry, being well worth having, and then reference to her former career would not be proper. While rembi she was not particularly despised; no one would step over her legs, go too near to her, or talk to her without cause. At Wango in San Cristoval and in the neighbourhood girls were very loose before marriage, getting money for themselves privately by prostitution; and besides, there are harlots, repi, there, some girls not yet married, and some widows. They considered themselves much stricter at Saa in Malanta; a girl of family found pregnant before marriage would be killed, unless the paramour could pay enough to save her and make her his wife. A girl of no family, that is, not of the chief's family, would not be killed, but might be allowed to become a harlot if not married by her lover. Sometimes a man allows his daughter to become a harlot to gain money; and a chief at Ulawa will buy a girl from her father and keep her to earn money for him as well as for herself; but such a repi in either island is not respected, is thought a low character, and will have but little given for her if she is married. The good families in Ulawa also are strict, and mothers look well after their girls. At Santa Cruz, where the separation of the sexes is so carefully maintained, there are certainly public courtesans. In the Banks' Islands there is no such thing known[2]; it was always in old times the duty of parents to look well after their children both boys and girls, and to scold and correct them if they should see them going wrong; girls were never allowed to go about alone without their mother or elder friend; however common irregular intercourse may have been it was never allowed, never respectable, public feeling was on the side of virtue. There were respectable families where the girls were known or presumed to conduct themselves perfectly well, to toga mantag, and a girl from such a family would as a rule be chaste up to the time of her marriage. Bastards were very rare in the Banks' Islands[3]. A woman living without a husband would indeed sometimes be seen with children; but then it was known in the place that she had been taken to wife by a man whose previous wife was jealous and had driven her from the house. In the Northern New Hebrides, as Pentecost and Lepers' Island, harlots are unknown, though there are unmarried girls and married women who are known to receive mats and ornaments in prostitution secretly. There is a story in Lepers' Island of a man with two wives who when he went from home hung a bag in his house which he expected to be filled with mats by the time he came home. In these islands also a reputation for chastity is valued for its own sake, and in respectable families care is taken of the girls. In every island it may be said that there are households in which it is understood that the family is generally well conducted, and which are respectable accordingly, and everywhere there are families which are not respectable. Bastards are generally very rare.

Betrothal comes very early in the life of many Melanesian girls; a man with a son born to him looks out for the birth of a suitable girl to be his son's wife. This is especially the case with persons of consequence and wealth, and upon this begins the long series of payments and negotiations which come to their end at the marriage. The general character of these transactions may be understood from the ways in which matrimonial affairs are managed in the various islands. The first marriage of the young man may be taken to be in view; wives are added to the first with less to do about it, but not without a good deal of bargaining on the part of the men concerned, and a great deal of business and talking on that of the women. In Florida the girl who has been engaged as an infant, and for whom some payment has been made on the engagement, is tattooed when she comes to the proper age for it. This, uhuuhu, is done by a man whose profession it is to do it, and who receives much money, pigs, and food in the exercise of his art; a feast is made for him and for the company assembled of friends and relations, who help to bear the expense. The pattern is first marked out in circles with a bamboo, and the skin is cut with the bone of a bat's wing. The amount of tattooing varies, but the pain and swelling is always considerable. No girl would be considered marriageable unless tattooed, and the operation performed is a sign that the time is come when the father of the young man to whom one is engaged should pay something down with a view to the marriage. Further advance, however, may be delayed for months or even years before the future father-in-law goes with his party to pay down the whole sum of money agreed upon. Then after staying two days at least, with endless difficulties interposed, the girl is given up, and an extra sum of money has to be paid, na rongo ni nggoti kekesa, the money to break the post near the door used to take hold of in going in and out of the house, to finish her going in and out of her old home. This is given to the women of the bride's party, who then take her by the hand and give her up. They lift her from the ground and carry her on the back of one of them out of the house to the other party, who then take her away. The bridegroom does not yet make his appearance. The bride then stays in her father-in-law's house two or three months waiting for her parents to bring their present of pigs and food. When they arrive with this they make a feast which is the wedding banquet, but neither they nor the young couple partake of it. This is the final ceremony; the young man takes his wife to his father's house or his own; he is married, taulagi[4]. The amount given by the bridegroom's party varies according to the wealth and position of the families; from fifty to a hundred rongo, coils of native money. When fifty is given, the bride's party give in return five pigs; and when a hundred, ten pigs; and they say that the money buys the pigs and not the damsel. It is the duty of the young man's relations to help him in this matter, and they are very willing to do it, if he on his part has been active and willing in garden-work and other duties.

At Saa in Malanta when little children have been betrothed, the girl, still very young, comes bringing her food with her to spend a month or two in her future father-in-law's house, and to become acquainted with the family. The betrothed children converse and play together at their ease, knowing what is proposed; and this visit is repeated while the children are little from time to time, and part of the money, porpoise teeth, and dogs' teeth to be paid to the girl's father is handed over[5]. In consequence of this familiarity, when the girl is marriageable and all is arranged she goes willingly enough to take up her abode in her new family, without any real or affected reluctance on her part, or lifting and carrying by her friends. It is sometimes, however, a long time before the marriage is consummated, through the shyness of the bridegroom, though the parents encourage the young couple to be friendly, and give them opportunities of talking and working together. The virginity of a bride is a matter of much concern to her friends, not only because the boy's friends will not pay what they have promised if her character in questionable, but because they value propriety. This all refers to the good families in the main; among inferior people early betrothals are unusual; the young people have not always made friends, and the taking of the bride to her new home is a greater affair. At Santa Cruz in the same way engagements of marriage are often made in infancy. The father looks out a suitable girl sooner or later, and the boy is not told. Presents and feather-money are interchanged between the parents on both sides. In course of time the boy is told that a girl is engaged for him, but is not told who she is; he is warned only not to go near a certain house, and guesses who it is. The youth when the time comes is often very reluctant to marry, he cries and asks why they want him to go away. However, when he marries he brings his wife to his father's house, until he builds one for himself[6].

In the Banks' Islands arrangements are made by the friends, and the payment to be made agreed upon; the young man, or his friends for him, la goro o tavine, give money and pigs to secure the woman, and her friends again tango goro o nago lagia, 'lay hold on the face of the marriage,' by an answering present. When the matter is settled the bridegroom's friends make a feast, and the tail of the pig is given to the bride's father. After due payment of the money the girl is taken to wife without ceremony. If a girl were engaged to an old man or one she dislikes she might run off into the bush with the youth of her choice, and a pig given by his friends might settle the matter. The payments for a wife are not very heavy in this group, but vary in the different islands. A girl betrothed as a child is here often taken to her future home to be brought up there to know the people and, if she belongs to another island, the language of the place. Boys and girls, and young people generally, who are engaged are very shy about it, and will hardly look at one another; but as the time for marriage draws on it is correct for the youth to make little presents and otherwise shew attention.

In the Northern New Hebrides a girl betrothed in childhood is taken to her future father-in-law's house and brought up there; the boy often thinks she is his sister, and is much ashamed when he comes to know the relation in which he stands. This however is not the common way, for it is only the children of great people who are betrothed as infants. When the girl is old enough to be married in Araga she is sometimes tattooed, and always assumes her petticoat. There is some ceremony there when the marriage day arrives; people assemble in the middle of the village, and the father of the bride or some friend of consequence makes a speech. The bridegroom sticks a branch of a dracæna into the ground and brings up the pigs, food, and mats given for the bride. Then the orator exhorts him to feed his wife properly and treat her kindly, and not to be sulky with her, and he hands over the young woman, who is attired in a new petticoat and wrapped in a new mat. There follows a feast, and the bridegroom goes round about his father-in-law or the orator, stroking him, to thank him. A sort of sham-fight takes place on the occasion, in which sometimes men are hurt, the two sides being the kinsmen of the bridegroom and of the bride; if one of the bridegroom's brethren is hurt, it is his business to make it up with him by a present. Whether this can be called capture is very doubtful; but no doubt it represents the feelings with which the bride's kinsmen regard the loss of her services; it cannot be the loss of any rights of intercourse, since she was unapproachable by any of them. The bride is taken by female friends to the bridegroom's house or his father's, sometimes crying, and dragged along if she dislikes the match. An unwilling bride will refuse intercourse with her husband, or run away to some one she likes better; in that case, if her return seems hopeless, a pig is given and she stays. Sometimes, again, the young couple are so shy of one another that they will not speak after marriage, as it has not been proper to speak before; the friends and neighbours do not approve of this, and it is on this account that it is thought wise to ensure mutual acquaintance and liking by bringing the engaged couple together as children. At Lepers' Island among people of consequence infant betrothals are the proper thing; when a chief has a girl born to him another will come and secure her for his boy, giving a present and making a feast. If the boy is old enough at the time of the feast he is made to take a young drinking cocoa-nut, put a dracæna leaf into the eye of it, and give it to the infant's mother for the child to drink. This is called huhu vuhe goroe, to give her suck with a drinking cocoa-nut and secure her[7]. When the betrothed girl is about ten years old, the boy's mother takes her to her own house to teach her household ways, and the children are for the time brought up together. When she is growing big her parents take her back for her tattooing, which is done in lines all over her body, with nothing on her face. Hitherto she has worn nothing except on great occasions; now she is always clothed; in the house she wears only the para, a fringed band, and out of doors she is wrapped in mats. At this time the women on both sides are very busy talking over the price to be paid by the bridegroom's friends, which varies much; if the youth is the son of a great man, a tusked pig and a hundred mats are not too much, for common people two or three ordinary pigs and fifty mats will do. These arrangements often take a long time, for the women delight in them; and while they go on the young couple are encouraged to converse and not be shy. At last the wedding day arrives; the young man's friends take the pigs, mats, and uncooked food, and set them down in the middle of the bride's village. The bride's friends have already prepared cooked food, and the two parties eat together; the marriage is thus complete. The bride is carried on someone's back to her new home, wrapped in many mats, and with palm-fans held about her face, because she is supposed to be modest and shy. Formerly there was always a house built beforehand, and food prepared for the young couple, who ate together as a sign of union. Here, as elsewhere, a girl will run away to one she loves, and he may keep her if he can satisfy her friends; but sometimes he is afraid of the disappointed bridegroom's friends, sometimes he is too poor to make it up with hers; he is obliged then to decline to receive her, and she must go back, unless indeed she had rather strangle or hang herself.

The reserve exercised between those who have been brought near by marriage, and the mutual avoidance of some, has been already mentioned, and must be understood to begin as soon as the engagement of the young couple is complete. There is a singular example of this kind of reserve at Florida, where there is no difficulty in meeting or using the names of persons connected by marriage. In case of a woman having had a lover before her marriage she will never after marriage mention his name, calling him a hanu, that person, and she will never meet him in the path. Her husband looks out for this, and observing who it is demands money of the former lover, and when that is paid no more notice is taken of the matter; but if satisfaction were refused a quarrel would ensue. A newly-married husband, without waiting for observations, would often beat his bride to make her confess who her paramour had been.

The old habits of the people in all the islands were very strict in regard to adultery. The punishment of the man was death; but the punishment was very generally mitigated on payment of a fine. Thus in Florida an injured husband would give money to the chief to have the adulterer killed, and he, if he could, would make satisfaction in money to both chief and husband, and so save his life. The woman, however, would probably be made a rembi, harlot, for the profit of the chief. At Saa an adulterous wife is dismissed, and the adulterer is punished with death, exile, or fines. In case of adultery in a chief's family he will have the adulterer killed, or receiving a large fine will let him go to Ulawa and live; a man's friends will sometimes hide him for a time, hoping that the chief will consent to take a fine, and if they find him implacable, will kill the man themselves or give him up. When the wrong has been done among lesser men, the friends of the husband and of the adulterer will often fight about the damages to be exacted; and from this cause indeed most of the fighting throughout all the groups proceeds. A chief of Saa, Ulawa, Ugi, or San Cristoval, who has had the adulterer killed, makes a bea, a stage from which speeches are made, and rewards those who have killed him; and for himself at Saa he makes the sacrifice toto 'akalo (page 137), to clear away any danger that may happen to him as the cause of death. In the Banks' Islands and Northern New Hebrides the treatment of adultery is very simple; the man is shot or clubbed by the husband or his friends in their first indignation, and the woman is beaten, scolded, and threatened with death, but the matter is compromised very generally by payment of money and pigs. A wife jealous of her husband, or in any way incensed at him, would in former times throw herself from a cliff or tree, swim out to sea, hang or strangle herself, stab herself with an arrow, or thrust one down her throat; and a man jealous or quarrelling with his wife would do the like; but now it is easy to go off with another's wife or husband in a labour vessel to Queensland or Fiji.

Divorce is easy and common, and may be said to be effected at the will of either party, though it is naturally more easy for a man to dismiss his wife than for a woman to leave her husband. The great difficulty is the property given for the wife; a man does not wish to lose this, and will try many times to get back a runaway wife before he gives her up, giving presents to her relations. If the separation is amicable, the father of the woman will give back what he has received, having in view another son-in-law. After some time spent in wedlock the woman has worked out a good deal of what was given for her, and a pig or two on one side or the other settles all claims. It may be said that generally man and wife get on well together, and are united by their great fondness for their children.

The Levirate obtains as a matter of course. The wife has been obtained for one member of a family by the contributions of the whole, and if that member fails by death, some other is ready to take his place, so that the property shall not be lost; it is a matter of arrangement for convenience and economy whether a brother, cousin or uncle of the deceased shall take his widow. The brother naturally comes first; if a more distant relation takes the woman he probably has to give a pig. In Lepers' Island if a man who is a somewhat distant cousin of the deceased wishes to take the widow, he adds a pig to the death-feast of the tenth or fiftieth day to signify and support his pretensions, and he probably gives another pig to the widow's sisters to obtain their good-will. If two men contend for the widow she selects one, and the fortunate suitor gives a pig to the disappointed. In fact a woman, when once the proper payment has been made for her, belongs to those who have paid, the family generally; hence a man, as in the story of Ganviviris, will set up his sister's son in life by handing over to him one of his own wives; not because the young man has a right to his uncle's wives, but because the woman is already in the family. It is a rare thing that a woman should remain a widow long, but there is a period and sign of mourning. In San Cristoval men and women wear large tassels of grey shells as ear-rings for a mark of widowhood; to cut the hair short and daub the person with soot and ashes is very common. In the Banks' Islands the widow or widower refrains from some article of food, such as yam, for a year or lesser time, and wears a rope round the neck, a ganaro, as a sign of it. To val or naro in this way is a sign of mourning for any loss.

Polygamy is the rule, though a considerable number of wives is found only with rich and elder men. One wife is commonly enough for a Florida man, who says that he can neither manage nor afford more than one. When a great man like Takua had seven it was thought a great many. At Visale in Guadalcanar Tekaunga has, or had, sixty wives; in Florida a wife costs much, in Guadalcanar but little. At Saa ordinary men have two wives, great men eight or ten. In the Banks' Islands a well-to-do man has ordinarily two wives, and may have three. A Vanua Lava man was not long ago believed to have thirty. As a man advances in life and survives his maternal uncles, his brothers, and his cousins, the widows of these tend to accumulate around him; they are called his wives, live in houses round him and work for him, but he lives practically with two or three younger women whom he has taken for himself. In Lepers' Island, where men generally have two wives, a singular arrangement is approved of, whereby a man who has a young wife takes an elder woman, a widow, for a second, to look after the first. Some men there have three or four wives; a great man lately had fifty wives, and his son and successor has already thirty; a chief inland is credited with a hundred. Polygamy in all the islands is a fruitful cause of quarrels and bloodshed.

Anything properly called Polyandry is unknown, nor is it easy for natives to conceive of it as a possible marriage state. Still cases are known in the Banks' Islands where two widowers live with one widow, and she is called wife to both, any child she may have being called the child of both. Such cohabitation, however, is not so much marriage as a convenient arrangement for people who find themselves alone in later life. In Lepers' Island, also, there has been a case lately in which two young men, brothers, returned from Queensland, have taken a young woman as a wife for both. The two men have their gamali, and she has a house; there are two children. This is a new and unheard-of thing, brought, as the natives say, from Queensland[8]; the young men could only get one woman to marry, and in their absence had lost all care for propriety. In the Banks' Islands also cases occur where a husband connives at his wife's connexion with another man; this is not counted adultery because it is allowed; it is not polyandry, for the second man is not a husband; the thing is thought discreditable.

  1. It is curious that the word lotu, commonly used for the profession of Christianity in Polynesia and in Fiji, should occur in this sense in the Solomon Islands. The meaning from which its use to describe the new religion came was that of bowing down as in prayer. To go where women may be above his head is degrading to a chief; hence the refusal to go below on board a vessel.
  2. To translate the word harlot in Mota, it has been necessary to use the phrase tavine vilevile som, a woman who gives money, with a singular inversion of meaning. In fact the women of bad character are those married women who give secretly money to youths by way of invitation. The youth gives back food by way of pledge.
  3. A bastard was called nat gaegae, a child of the thicket, and was said to be wota vanameag, born without belongings, as a desert place is vanua vanameag.
  4. 'During the morning of the feast, whilst the bride's relations are waiting about for the acknowledgment of their contributions to the wedding breakfast, it is the custom of the boys of the village to take their bows and arrows and prowl amongst these watchers, and so to irritate or alarm them by shooting amongst them, that they are glad to buy immunity from this dangerous amusement by paying a fish's tooth. They shot over their heads and past their ears, and between their feet, and through their hair, till one heard exclamations of disgust and annoyance on all sides.'—Rev. J. H. Plant. It should be observed that this is in the bridegroom's village, and that the boys' object is to get bought off.
  5. On one occasion, when Bishop Selwyn was present, eighteen porpoise teeth, fifty strings of money, twenty pigs.
  6. I have been told by a Loyalty Island teacher living on the island that a young married couple do not cohabit, but meet secretly for a time. This however was not allowed to be correct by Santa Cruz boys of whom I enquired.
  7. 'When a female child is born, the father or mother of some male child brings him into the house with a bamboo of water, and the male child proceeds to wash the female, who henceforth becomes his betrothed, and they grow up together recognizing each other as man and wife.'—Rev. C. Bice; at Maewo, Aurora Island.
  8. 'Polyandry is to be seen under our eyes here in Fiji among the "imported labourers."'—Rev. L. Fison. The women being very few in proportion to the men become something like communal wives to those of their island, or group, one of whom they could have married at home.