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Samoa Marriages

Usually, marriage contracts are not entered into until the parties have reached maturity. Young women of rank are very well trained to serve in all village affairs. They are guarded and chaperoned by elderly women of the chief's house. The custom has evidently done much for the preservation of chastity among the unmarried women. Usually, other girls are selected from the village to live in a group in the high chief's guest house to assist the village maid (taupou) in the receiving of guests of the village. The group which is supervised by one or more elderly women is known as the Aualuma (women attendants). The elderly lady consultants or advisers are selected from the chief's family. This group, headed by the village maid, is responsible for keeping the guest house ready for receptions and all other village functions. The village maid, having been raised under the strict supervision of her parents and the chaperons, is very cultured and hospitable. The village shrine is her abode, as well as a place of refuge for all her race and for visitors from all parts of the world.

Most of the nightly guests in the high chief's guest house are youths who try to gain favour of the selected attendants living there with the Taupou. Often they are talking chiefs from other villages who come on proposing missions to the village maid. They propose in proxy for their high chief who usually does not see council. The nightly guests bring food with them to the guest house. After evening devotions, the village maid with her attendants dine together with their guests, after which they spend the rest of the night dancing and exchanging popular island love songs. None but the best manners and respect are expected at all times in the guest house. The villagers consider it a great honour to receive guests, but they will tolerate no disrespect from any of the gusts; it matters not who he is or where he is from.

Opposition to intra-family marriage and the mating of the commoners with the chief lines is so pronounced that a young woman of rank seldom, if ever, is consulted about her future husband. She considers it a great honour to leave per position as a Village Maid to marry the husband of her village council's choice. In this way the line of high-ranking families is kept intact.

Formal courting of the village maid is seldom done by her chieftain-fiance. Presents of food and many other goods are given sometimes for months preceding the date of marriage, by representatives of the chieftain-lover. During the final visit, if everything is favourable, arrangement is made in which the proposing chief, together with other chiefs of his village, are asked to meet the village maid in her village to receive the formal consent of her parents and village council. Immediately after this assurance in the chief's guest house, the leading talking chief among the visitors orders his people to join him in the chanting at the top of their voices the formal Tigi (marriage shout). This is the ancient way of pronouncing the couple man and wife. Tigis are, in reality, the exclamation of tribute to both the bride and bridegroom - as usual in all formal ceremonies - their heritage, titles and rights are carefully cited. Tigis are not allowed to be given in the marriage of a couple of commoners. The last nights of the village maid in her village are spent in feasting and riotous dancing. The obscenity to prove her virginity which preceded this burst of feeling among the villagers and their guests and expressed in fantastic dancing, will not bear description. Before the arrival of the missionaries in 1830 and long after, the last night spent by the village maid in her village this custom was observed all over Samoa. The governments and churches worked unitedly to suppress this barbarous act, and it is not heard of any more in the islands. If the guests return by foot with the newly married couple, it is customary that the Tigis be continued through the villages. The bride usually wears, on her first trip to her husband's village, the royal robe that was made specially for her by her family. This robe is specified as the Ie Avaga (wedding robe). In the bridegroom's village this ceremonial robe is presented to the chief's orator as a reward for his much appreciated task of representing the chief in the bride's village.

The climax of marriage ceremonies is the performance of the Nunu (dowry exchange), which is usually held after the birth of the first child. Relatives and villages of the bride and bridegroom are very well represented. They come from all over the islands to help with food, merchandise, money and labour. The bride's relatives include in their donations Ie-Togas. This ceremony is held in the open air at the malae (public ground) in front of the high chief's guest house. The scene is suggestive of bridegroom and his side all the Ie-Togas they can get, with a lot of tapa cloths. The bridegroom's side displays, for exchange and to match the bride's collection, money, merchandise, yardage goods, and roasted pigs. It is a strenuous day for the high talking chiefs of both sides, whose duty is to try to please all the contributors. In elaborate weddings in which large districts and islands are involved, the number of Ie-Togas displayed for exchange would easily amount to over a thousand. It takes several days to complete the distribution and exchange of these goods. The bridegroom's side does all they can do to outdo their rivals, by giving to the bride's side more value than they have received. Whichever side wins the honour, the rivalry ends there.  

The most valuable royal robe in this exchange is given free, as a gift by the bride's side. It is designated as the Ie-faa-Tupu (village maid's robe). sometimes it is awarded during the dowry ceremony to the high chief, father of the bridegroom Because of several benefits received by the talking chief during marriage ceremonies, he is always active in representing the high chiefs on proposing missions. All of the marriages arranged by the talking chief are primarily for the purpose of getting for himself more dowries and awards. For many generations it was customary for the wife of the chief to live no more than a few months with her husband. She was honourably released and retu4rnded home to clear the way for another marriage. The village talking chiefs would take the matter in their own hands and look for another match in a well-to-do family. According to the ancient custom, the high chief might have a dozen or more wives and concubines at one time.

All marriages approved by the chief council were considered legal. All children born under this system were considered legitimate. In the selection of a chief to succeed the holder after his death, all children that are of age have equal rights to the position. Presupposing the possibility of disagreement in the family when he passes away, he calls a family assembly in which he nominates the son he favours for the position in case of his death.

Before the church and government took hold of the situation, a chief in his lifetime might be legally married fifty or more times. The high chiefs yielded to the wish of their fellow councilmen in order to be honoured and supported legally. In village function the high chief is greatly honoured when all his children from many villages with relatives from their mothers' side, come with voluntary contributions to defray the expenses of the occasion. Evidently, this is the reason why the more wives the high chief has the better they liked it in the village. All the chief's children are always loyal and they also consider it a great honour to them to be present in all the village functions, to serve and help their father.

The kings' love affairs are somewhat different. It was common practice among the nobility for the princess of high-ranking village maid to do the proposing, not the king. In the formal procedure, the princess or village maid would go to the king's palace, accompanied by one high talking chief. They would be carrying an Ie-Toga, some fine mats and tapa cloths. Before the king, she would bow and say "I was sent by my father to take care of Your Majesty's bedding." The talking chief then completes the proposing speech and announces the tribute as he presents the princess' token of love which she had brought to the king. This action is known as Faa-Manamea (ladies proposing). Should the proposal be given the king's consent, the high talking chief leaves the princess in the palace. Elaborate celebration of the king's wedding follows, in which his whole dominion participates in the feasting and awarding of dowries.

Manu's differs somewhat from this usual practice among the royalties of Samoa. Chief Maui, a plenipotentiary of King Tuimanu'a, is sent with a tip of coconut leaf to the house of the high chief whose daughter the king wishes to have for his wife. Maui leaves the symbolic leaf at the round end of the guest house above the main post. The meaning of the traditional symbol is clearly understood by the high chief. Immediately preparations are made for the formal delivery of the queen-to-be to the king. The usual ceremonies and feasting follow in the same pattern as other kings. Formerly, no king ever did any proposing in person. All marriages are considered legal which are approved by the district chief council for the king and by the village chief council for the high chief. The children from these marriages are recognized as legal heirs, and their rights are never disputed. Illegitimate children are never elected as kings or high chiefs.

Marriages of common people are quiet and insignificant. Usually the boy proposes to the girl's parents. When the parents give their consent, they are then united as man and wife and live in the parents' home of either the bride or bridegroom.

Elopement of the village maid with her suitor often happens when the village council disapprove the mating of the maid with an undesirable. Such marriage is considered illegal. The eloping couple are liable to pay for their action with their lives if they are caught. They are on dangerous ground all night until they have reached the youth's village. Because the action humiliates the village maid's family and the village, the wrong-doer is severely dealt with.

Polygamy is now made unpopular by both the church and the government. Common-law marriage is practised illegally by many as in other lands. But women as a whole prefer legal marriage for the sake of their children. Marriages are now performed as in other countries. After the couple receives a legal marriage certificate from their government, they exchange their vows in a church before a minister. 


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