1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Areoi
AREOI, or Areoiti, a secret society which originated in Tahiti and later extended its influence to other South Pacific islands. To its ranks both sexes were admitted. The society was primarily of a religious character. Members styled themselves descendants of Oro-Tetifa, the Polynesian god, and were divided into seven or more grades, each having its characteristic tattooing. Chiefs were at once qualified for the highest grade, but ordinary members attained promotion only through initiatory rites. The Areois enjoyed great privileges, and were considered as depositaries of knowledge and as mediators between God and man. They were feared, too, as ministers of the taboo and were entitled to pronounce a kind of excommunication for offences against its rules. The chief religious purpose of the society was the worship of the generative powers of nature, and the ritual and ceremonies of initiation were grossly licentious. But the Areois were also a social force. They aimed at communism in all things. The women members were common property; the period of cohabitation was limited to three days, and the female Areois were bound by oath at initiation to strangle at birth any child born to them. If, however, the infant was allowed to survive half an hour only, it was spared; but to have the right of keeping it the mother must find a male Areoi willing to adopt it. The Areois travelled about, devoting their whole time to feasting, dancing (the chief dance of the women being the grossly indecent Timorodee mentioned by Captain Cook), and debauchery, varied by elaborate realistic stage presentments of the lives and loves of gods and legendary heroes.