Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/129

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105
MARRIAGE SPECULATIONS.

by Dr Turner.[1] There are many more, such as the occasional custom of embalming the dead, the compulsory observance of the rite of circumcision, contempt for nations who neglect it, marriage customs, the punishment of death for adultery, the law of divorce; the singularly patriarchal law which obliged each bride to be accompanied by one or more handmaids, taken from among her near relations, and who filled the place of secondary wives—so that a chief who owned three or four wives, possessed such a large and troublesome harem, that the majority were generally allowed to return to their parents; and lastly, the custom that a widow must become the wife of her deceased husband's brother, or, failing him, of his nearest male relative.

The plurality of wives appears, singularly enough, to have been little more than a business transaction, in which the principal had very small interest. The marriages of a high chief were simply so many speculations in fine mats, which the bride brought as her dower, and which the bridegroom was expected to hand over to his principal supporters, or head-men, who had arranged the match, and provided the feast. These men were the bankers of the tribe in whose hands its property accumulated; and of course they lost no means of adding to it, as well as of strengthening clan connections by multiplying marriages. Hence this question formed one of the chief difficulties of the early missionaries.

This very practical reason for polygamy also accounted in a great measure for the curious custom of adopting the children of living parents, which prevailed to so extraordinary an extent. It appears that the child was really little more than an excuse for a constant exchange of property, its true parents constantly sending gifts of tonga—that is, native property—to the adoptive parents; while these as often sent back goodwill-offerings of oloai.e., foreign goods.

When the students are considered sufficiently advanced, they are occasionally sent to help the teacher of one of the neighbouring villages, and practise the art of preaching, ere being appointed

  1. Nineteen Years in Polynesia. By the Rev. George Turner, London Missionary Society.