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The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.

Domestic Life

Domestic Life.

The old order has changed to such an extent that it is difficult to gain information upon the former social system. The elder natives are averse to discussing what they now regard as the shameful and deplorable past, From tales and odd remarks I was however able to glean a little.

As usual among the Polynesians, sexual morality on Funafuti was of the laxest before the introduction of Christianity, and chastity was unknown. A wife belonged to her husband in so far as she shared his home, he supported her and he was entitled to the produce of her labour in cooking, weaving, fishing, gardening, and so forth, but he did not claim the exclusive right to her person. If a man desired the society of another's wife, he might throw a pebble into the hut as he walked past; the complaisant husband, accepting the signal, would then leave and allow the visitor to enter unmolested.

A marriage was celebrated by the presentation of coconuts and other trifling gifts. Where friends or relatives opposed a union, the couple would sleep in the bush, and stay away from the village till they were forgiven, much in the way that Pritchard describes runaway matches in Samoa. Matriarchal rule prevailed over patriarchal; a bridegroom left his father's house to join his wife's family, sometimes two sisters and their husbands shared a hut. Dr. Gill writes of Nanomana:" Women here though married are common; but the children belong to the legal husband." §

Pritchard—Polynesian. Reminiscences, 1866, p. 136.

§ Dr. Gill's MS. Diary.

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The usual sequence of such unrestricted intercourse, infanticide, was generally practised upon Funafuti. Indeed it was once obligatory to destroy each alternate child. Mr. O'Brien tells me that thirty or forty years ago, he knew women to enter the lagoon before the occurrence of birth, that the child might be immediately drowned. On Niutao, "the ancient rule was to rear only two children in each family. The life of the third might be redeemed; the rest were put to death as soon as born."* "On Nukufetau, as elsewhere, infanticide or foeticide was the law of the land. Only one—some say two—were allowed to live in each family, the rest were strangled. But it was possible for parents to ransom their offspring by giving a present to the chiefs."

At times, to allow the coconuts to grow up and to give the fishing grounds a rest, the permanent village is temporarily abandoned, and the whole tribe move to another locality. Several duplicate villages are built about the lagoon, perfect sometimes even to the chapel and court house, wherein each family owns a residence, and to which they periodically move to enjoy a change of air and scene. Probably it was one of these temporary settlements which Moresby saw at Funafuti, and mistook for a deserted village.

The permanent village consists of a score of huts arranged in a long straggling street parallel to the beach. This street has a hard beaten floor, which is kept swept and weeded with great care by the women, who devote fixed hours to this work. From the main street branch roads, which are metalled with shingle and curbed with blocks of coral. Wrong doers are punished, under the modern system, in imitation of colonial justice, by being set to repair these roads. An avenue of breadfruit trees casts a pleasant shade along the street, while around and above all tower the loftier coconut palms. Each hut is at least a dozen yards from its next door neighbour, and has its own kitchen situated some little distance away. Two or more married couples sometimes live together in a hut of about twelve by twenty feet. The floor is usually carpeted with large pandanus mats, but in the more pretentious stone dwellings the ground is covered with fine shingle. § The roof, pitched in European style with

* Gill—Jottings from the Pacific, 1885, p. 27.

Newell—Proc. Austr. Assoc. Adv. Sci., 1895 (1896), p. 609.

Moresby—New Guinea, 1876, p. 74.

§ Until lately the caverns of Atiu and Mangaiia were despoiled of the finest stalactite columns, in order to adorn the premises of the chiefs by keeping the snow white sea peebles in their place, much as at home we use ornamental tiles for gravelled walks. Anciently the maraes of their gods were thus adorned."—Gill—foe. cit., p. 86. The graves in Funafuti were likewise gravelled.

page 55ridge pole and rafters, is covered by an excellent thatch of pandanus leaves. Sometimes the walls are protected by the same, but more often are enclosed by palm mats swung on cords, which may be raised, lowered, or pushed aside at discretion, and doors or windows are thus formed anywhere caprice directs.

All small articles, tools, garments, or fishing utensils are usually suspended from the roof or stuck in the thatch. By day the only furniture visible is the usual locked trade box in the corner, but by night the hut is partitioned off into numerous small chambers by the calico mosquito curtain of each single individual or married couple.

"A house after the usual Samoan fashion just described has but one apartment. It is the common parlour, dining room, &c, by day, and the bedroom of the whole family by night. They do not, however, altogether herd indiscriminately. If you peep into a Samoan house at midnight, you will see five or six low oblong tents pitched (or rather strung up) here and there throughout the house. They are made of native cloth, five feet high, and close all round down to the mat. They shut out the mosquitoes, and enclose a place some eight feet by five; and these said tent-looking places may be called the bedrooms of the family. Four or five mats laid loosely, the one on the top of the other, form the bed."*

The Papuan custom of avoiding mosquitoes by sleeping in the smoke seems unknown here. For further particulars about the mosquitoes, the reader is referred to Mr. Rainbow's article on the Entomology of Funafuti.

A European on entering is always requested to seat himself on a bunk or trade box, and is at once welcomed with a drinking coconut, opened and handed to him by a daughter of the house.

Artificial light was quite unknown upon Funafuti before the advent of the whites. Mr. O'Brien told me that to bring fire into a dwelling house was most strictly tabued; he described to me the astonishment of the natives when an early visitor improvised a rough lamp from a coconut shell bowl filled with coconut oil. On Niutao, "No fire was kindled at night lest it should prevent the gods from coming in a shadowy form with a message." And on Fakaafu, in the Tokelau Group, Dr. Turner likewise tells us "No fire was allowed to be kindled at night in the houses of the people all the year round. It was sacred to the gods, and so, after sundown they sat and chatted in the dark."

* Turner—Samoa, 1884, p. 155.

Turner—loc. cit., p. 288.

Id.—Op. cit., p. 269.

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No cooking is ever done in the house, but each family has a separate kitchen, a roughly built hut, some distance away from the dwelling. No native pottery exists, nor do the islanders seem to appreciate European earthenware, but iron pots are valued. Coconut shells are used to heat fluids. The usual Polynesian method of cooking with hot stones in a hole in the ground still prevails, it has been well described by the Rev. S. Ella,* as well as by numerous other writers. For lack of better stones the cooks are obliged to use coral, of which they select the hardest kinds, such as Montipora and Millepora, even these soon crumble in the fire. If any volcanic rock was brought as ship's ballast from Fiji or elsewhere, it was eagerly seized upon for cooking-stones. The roots of trees drifted ashore were also carefully searched for hard stones.

A missionary says: "Missionaries are by some charged with too great strictness in their dealings with the failings and weaknesses of recent converts, if those who make the charges took the trouble to enquire, they would find that missionaries generally take the opposite side, and endeavour to modify the severity of the converts themselves towards their erring brethren." The severity of the Native Teacher towards the gentle, submissive Islanders, remarked upon by all the members of the Expedition, is probably, as indicated by the foregoing quotation, contrary to the wishes of his superiors. He seemed as anxious to obliterate native manners, and to substitute the habits and customs of the European, as he understood them, as to preach the European's creed. One instance of this that came under my notice was where children were scolded for indulging in the pretty native custom of wearing wreaths of flowers in their hair. In their progress towards civilisation the natives have lost most of their old amusements. The elders often look back with regret to the merry old days of heathendom, when the village was not so dull. Foot racing, lance throwing, quarterstaff fencing, wrestling, and dancing have died out under the Native Teacher's disapproval. Singing is still keenly enjoyed, but is only permitted under the supervision of the Native Teacher or Deacon, and in a subdued tone. Attention is directed rather to singing passages from the Scriptures, or the multiplication table set to verse than to the stirring native chants. A public meeting for singing takes place twice or thrice a week. The sexes sit apart, usually facing each other from opposite sides of the house; they both sit cross legged or tailor-wise. A leader on one side or the other usually strikes up, and the rest at once fall in. The old Funafuti airs which were danced to wild

* Aust. Assoc. Adv. Sci., 1892 (1893), p. 636.

Whitmee—loc. cit., p. 13.

page 57and stirring music are now, I am told, entirely forgotten except by a few of the oldest inhabitants, yet Mr. O'Brien tells me they survive on Vaitupu still. On asking the interpreter for a translation of the song, I am answered that such a one is the story of Lot's wife being turned to salt, another is in praise of the Bible or composed of passages from the Scriptures, another subject is a battle between England and France; Captain Webb's feat of swimming across the Straits of Dover forms, oddly enough, the theme of yet another. All these songs are sung squatting on the ground, anyone attempting to rise is promptly suppressed by the Native Teacher. Appropriate gesticulation is given with hands and arms, paddles are swung, axes are lifted, guns are aimed, and strokes are swum in unison. Time is marked by incessant clapping of the hands, for variety the palm is occasionally slapped against the arm, the thigh, or upon the ground. As the fervour grows the music sinks and swells, time beats grow faster and faster till the words and notes cannot be more quickly repeated, and in a paroxysm of clapping a dead stop is reached by the breathless and perspiring chorus. Watching in the lamplight the soft, brown arms tossing with the cadence of the song, the waving hair, the gleaming teeth and glistening eyes of a score of handsome women, one can imagine to what a pitch of excitement the dances, the real dances of the olden time, roused this impressionable people. The music is simple, yet thrilling, and to most Europeans though attractive is singularly evanescent. I, for one, could never afterwards recall a tune however much I had enjoyed it. Hickson has noted a similar impression of savage music* The natives on the other hand seem to find as much difficulty in catching European tunes as we do in recollecting theirs. An exception, however, I noted in "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay," which was a favourite and correctly repeated air on Funafuti.

A popular song on Funafuti, an importation I believe from Samoa, runs as follows:—

E piu i se sevi' lou manamea,
E i ai i le maunga o Peteri,
Ina ta tuu ia Lepanona,
La'u ava ina ta tuu.

O loo silasila i faamalama
O loo pupula mai lona tino
Ina ta tuu, &c.

Internal evidence, reference to Lebanon, &c, show the words to be a modern composition, the tune is however probably older. I am indebted to the kindness and musical talent of my friend,

* Hickson—A Naturalist in North Celebes, 1889, p. 79.

page 58Mr. H. Foden, R.N., Acting Paymaster of H.M.S. "Penguin," for the following air current on Funafuti:*

The narrow bounds of habitable land has restricted the introduction of domestic animals. Pigs are owned by every family,

* But few of the native chants of Polynesia appear to have been reduced to writing. A Tongan tune is given by Mariner—Tonga, 1817, ii., p. 338; Samoan by Wilkes—loc. cit., ii., pp. 152-3; and Melanesian by Guppy—loc. cit., p. 140.

page 59they are usually confined in sties and fed upon waste coconuts. No other Ungulates have been brought to the atoll.

Dogs were at one time domesticated, the manner of their extermination, told me upon Funafuti, is thus related by Moss: "At Funafuti the Turimen march round the village during the night, and quietly steal into the houses to see if all is right. It was found that the house dogs barked and gave notice of their approach, so they forthwith decreed the destruction of all dogs on the island and again became masters of the situation."* This little episode illustrates the severity of the Inquisition which the rule of converts imposes on Polynesia.

Cats have long been introduced, they are known to the natives by the name of "pussy," and have proved of service in destroying the brown rat, formerly a great pest to the Islands. The European rat and mouse have effected an uninvited entrance to the village, and have multiplied fast.

The Frigate-bird is tamed in the Ellice Group, and is said to have been used like carrier pigeons {vide Ornithology). None were kept at Funafuti during the visit of the Expedition, but I saw one in captivity at Nukulailai. On Niutao, "They are fond of taming the frigate-bird (Atagen aquila) or man-of-war bird. A high perch is built near the sea, and the bird secured to it by a long string. The native pastors on most of the islands—lying about sixty miles apart—of the Ellice Group, correspond with each other by means of the frigate-bird. The note is concealed in a bit of reed and tied to one of the wings. In the olden time pearl fish hooks were in this way sent from one island to another. Its long black feathers were formerly in great request for head dresses." That this system of taming Frigate-birds prevailed beyond the Ellice and the Gilberts, where Woodford has remarked it, is suggested by an incident related by Webster. Landing in 1851 on Ocean Island or Paanopa, he says, "I was well nigh making an unlucky mistake; observing a number of large birds at a short distance, I raised my gun to fire at them, but was suddenly checked by my companions, who motioned me not to fire. They turned out to be tame fish hawks belonging to the king; but for what purpose I am at a loss to determine." Moss also noticed these birds tamed on Pleasant Island. § Probably the habit was a Micronesian custom received with the art of toddy making from the North. The natives of the Solomons delight in portraying this bird in their carvings.

* Through Atolls and Islands in the Great South Sea., 1889, p. 118.

Gill—Jottings from the Pacific, 1885., p. 17.

Webster—The last Cruise of the Wanderer, Sydney, n.d., p. 43.

§ Moss—loc. cit., p. 187.

See Brencbley—Cruise of the Curacoa, 1873, p. 260.

page 60

Fowls, of which there are abundance, complete the list of domesticated animals.

During the last ten years the Islanders have abandoned their native names, and call each other by Samoan forms of Scriptural names, as Salamona, Solomon; Paulo, Paul; Yakoba, Jacob, &c.

In former days incorrigible criminals were drowned by throwing them into the lagoon with a stone tied round the neck. A story was told me of a woman convicted of theft, who was exposed with her infant upon a distant, small islet, and allowed to slowly perish there. On Nanomana, "It is reported by the traders that if any one breaks their laws, he is sunk in the mud of the lagoon shore, out of which it is impossible to get, and there is miserably suffocated."* On Funafuti, and probably throughout the group, Mr. O'Brien told me that any condemned could claim sanctuary who could escape to the king's house. A similar practise prevailed in Samoa Upon Nukulailai, "Stealing was punished by restoring double, adultery and murder by sending off the culprit to sea alone in a canoe, there to die or take his chance of drifting to some other island." Mariner describes such an execution in Tonga, by drowning in a leaking canoe.§

Near the village, a quarter of a mile apart, were two small ponds about four feet deep, twenty or thirty long, and half as wide, containing foul green water. These were the public bathing places, one was reserved for men, the other for women. Clothes were also washed here. There were also several small circular wells with stone walls about six feet deep, above ground they were carefully fenced round with sticks. A pole to which an empty coconut shell was attached was always kept handy to bail water out with. Dr. Gill records a case where two Europeans so exasperated the inhabitants of Niutao by bathing in one such well that they were put to death.

* Dr. Gill's MS. Diary.

Wilkes—loc. cit., ii., p. 158.

Turner—loc. cit., p. 281.

§ Mariner—Tonga, i., 1817, p. 295.