Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/189

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163
MATERNAL RANK.

—a very fine old lady, whose long native name I cannot tell you, but her ordinary signature is Ariitaimai. She was a cousin of the late queen, and is said greatly to resemble her.

Her three sons are Taati, Naarii, and Ariipaea—all tall and powerfully-built men.

The system of adopting children, which prevails here, is very confusing and very peculiar. Every family seems to have at least one belonging to some other family. A child is generally bespoken before it is born, and as soon as it is weaned it may be claimed by its adoptive parents, who give it a new name, by which it is thenceforth known, and who become responsible for it in every respect—for its feeding and its education. The child is at perfect liberty to pass unquestioned from one home to another; so if its second father or mother chance to annoy it, it goes and takes up its abode with its real parents till it feels inclined to return to the others. When these die, it inherits their property on equal terms with their real children. You can imagine that where relationships are very intricate to begin with, these additional blendings of families create a most bewildering interweaving.

Then all the intermarriages of the principal families add to the confusion. Every one on Tahiti, Eimeo, Bora Bora, and the Society Isles generally, seems to be related to every one else, at least among the high chiefs. In no corner of the earth is there a greater respect for good ancestry—nowhere is "a lang pedigree" more prized. The most singular point, however, is, that whereas in a proposed marriage between two persons, both having Tahitian blood (whether pure or partial does not matter), the greatest anxiety is manifested to prove that blood suffiently blue, and any suggestion on the part of a high chief of wishing to wed a maiden of low degree calls forth a storm of indignation from all his relations; yet if a Tahitian woman of the highest class chooses to marry a European of very dubious rank by birth, not a voice is raised in opposition. I believe the solution of this curious point lies in the fact that here, as in Fiji, a child takes rank from his mother, so that he is in many instances a much more important person than his father. It is the same peculiarity which I pointed