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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

Relationship Terms

Relationship Terms

The enumeration of the names of individuals in pedigrees is sufficient record for the dead. For the living, who are in constant communication with each other, terms to indicate degrees of relationship are derived from the pedigrees.

As about five generations are all that are normally contemporary, it is for five generations that relationship terms have been provided. The terms denote the relationship of any member of the blood community to a person speaking or a person spoken to, and they give a key to social structure. An adult male of middle age may, in his lineal descent, have both parents and grandparents alive who have lineal pedigrees one and two generations respectively shorter than his. If he has children and grandchildren, their lines of descent are one and two generations respectively longer than his. The names of ancestors are checked off on the fingers as relationship is being determined. The person speaking or spoken to is placed in the middle stratum, regarded as o. His parents are on the — 1 and his grandparents page 30 on the − 2 stratum before him. His children are on the + 1 and his grand-children on the + 2 stratum after him. With him on the o stratum are his brothers and sisters. (See Table 4.) The −3 and + 3 strata are included in Table 4 to show terms used for extensions beyond five generations. Wissler (33, p. 160), in showing the same idea of genealogical strata in relationship, while treating the person speaking (self) as o, places the older brothers and sisters on the − 1 stratum above, and the younger brothers and sisters on the + 1 stratum below. This makes the parents − 2, the grandparents −3, the children + 2, and the grandchildren + 3. This numbering does not express the Polynesian system of counting, for brothers and sisters are collaterals and are not on the vertical line of descent. They must occupy the same horizontal on the o stratum but will fall into vertical collateral columns on the left or right of the speaker, according as they are older or younger than he. Both sex and seniority are given expression in relationship terms.

Table 4. Relationship Terms
Generation stratum Senior collateral Lineal Junior collateral Marriage Adoption
− 3 Great-grand-uncles and aunts tupuna Great-grandparents, tupuna Great-granduncles and aunts, tupuna
− 2 Granduncles and aunts tupuna Grandparents, tupuna Granduncles and aunts tupuna
− 1 Uncles, metua-tane; aunts, metua-wahine Father, metua-tane; mother, metua-wahine Uncles, metua-tane; aunts, metua-wahine Father-in-law and mother-in-law, metua-huangai Adoptive parents, metua-whangai
0 First and second cousins, tuakana Self older, younger, tuakana teina First and second cousins, teina
+ 1 Nephews and nieces, iramutu Son, tama; daughter, tamahine Nephews and nieces, iramutu Son-in-law and daughter-in-law, hunonga Adopted children, tamaiti-whangai
+ 2 Grandnephews and nieces, mokopuna Grandchildren mokopuna Grandnephews and nieces, mokopuna
+ 3 Great-grand-nephews and nieces, mokopuna Great-grand-children, mokopuna Great-grand-nephews and nieces, mokopuna

When two individuals wish to decide their collateral relationship, they count generations from a common ancestor. The two counts are compared and one subtracted, and as the difference is usually between −2 and +2, page 31 the collateral relationship terms can be determined. Most greater divergences that took place during the long period from remote ancestors have been closed by marriages in the pedigree line. It is from the nearest common ancestors that collateral relationship is decided; wider divergences from remote ancestors are matters of only academic interest. Thus the simple mathematical system in use could establish the relationship term between any two individuals so long as they could trace lineal descent from a common ancestor.

The following correlative terms denote sex: tane (male or husband), wahine (adult female or wife); tuangane (brother of sister), tuahine (sister of brother); ure (son), and hika (daughter). Tane and wahine may be used as qualifying terms to distinguish sex in relationship terms of common gender.

The position on the horizontal levels of the following terms, which distinguish lineal and collateral descent in generations and terms of relationship by marriage and adoption, depends on their vertical count from the nearest common ancestor:

Tupuna. Includes the grandparents in lineal descent and their brothers and sisters. Also applies to all collaterals who count two generations less from a common ancestor or to all who fall in the −2 stratum. Sex is indicated by adding qualifying terms as in tupunatane (grandfather) and tupunawahine (grandmother). Tupuna also applies to all generations beyond that of grandparents and is used as a general term to denote ancestors. Great-grandparents, however, may be designated as tupuna-tuarua (second grandparents) and great-great-grandparents as tupuna-tuateru (third grandparents).

Metua (a dialectical form of matua). Applies to parents, uncles, aunts, second cousins, and other collaterals on the −1 stratum. In some regions matua applies particularly to the male sex, and the female sex may be indicated by a different word, such as whaea or whaene in New Zealand. In Rakahanga, however, metua is common gender and sex is indicated by adding tane or wahine.

Metua-Huangai. Applies to fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law. Here metua indicates the −1 stratum, for marriage puts the husband and wife on the same stratum as regards relationship with the parents of both contracting parties. The husband and wife still retain the relationship to each other indicated by their respective generation strata. The marriage relationship is indicated by huangai, which corresponds to the English “in-law”.

Metua-Whangai. An adoptive parent; metua shows the generation stratum and whangai (to feed) refers to the outstanding feature in adoption. Polynesians in speaking English often refer to their “feeding father” or “feeding mother,” which conveys the meaning of metua-whangai better from a Polynesian angle than “adoptive parent”.

Tama. Son.

Tamahine. Daughter, tama with the female suffix hine. Also used to denote female first cousins once removed, female second cousins once removed, and other more distant collaterals who are on the + 1 stratum.

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Iramutu. A special term to denote nephews and nieces, fairly widespread. Applies to the sons and daughters of brothers and sisters, whether they are older or younger than the speaker.

Hunonga. Son-in-law or daughter-in-law, expresses both the generation level and the marriage relationship.

Tamaiti-Whangai. Literally, “feeding child”. Applies to an adopted son or daughter.

Tamaiti. Used in tamaiti-whangai to denote the generation level. Also denotes collaterals beyond the degree of consanguinity of nephews and nieces. May be used as the male correlative to tamahine, and thus includes first and second cousins once removed and other collaterals on the + 1 level.

Mokopuna. Denotes grandchildren in lineal descent and extends laterally to include grandnephews, grandnieces, first and second cousins twice removed, and all collaterals on the + 2 level. The term also applies to great-grandchildren and relatives on the + 3 level. It may extend further to great-great-grandchildren and relatives on the + 4 level. The general term may be qualified by a number to denote the degree or removal as follows: + 2. Grandchildren−mokopuna. + 3. Great-grandchildren−mokopuna-tuarua (second). + 4. Great-great-grandchildren− mokopuna-tuateru (third).

The method of deciding relationship terms which denote seniority within a family works horizontally instead of vertically. Though only two terms are used, they have a far-reaching application. Their first application is shown on the o stratum in Table 4. The seniority terms are:

Tuakana. Elder brother of a male; elder sister of a female; a relative of the same sex, who is an equal number of generations removed from a common ancestor but who is descended from an older brother or sister in the common ancestor's biological family.

Teina. Younger brother of a male; younger sister of a female; a relative of the same sex who is an equal number of generations removed from a common ancestor, but who is descended from a younger brother or sister of the common ancestor's own children.

Seniority terms are correlative as regards age within the same sex. They are not applied in ordinary speech to brother and sister, though they may be referred to theoretically to denote priority in date of birth of individuals of opposite sexes. Seniority was all-important in the old social structure in deciding rank and title and relative degrees of influence in family and community gatherings. Certain terms were applied to the first-born son of a family, but such terms were restricted to one person. Dates of birth could not be recorded, but as children were born the terms used automatically placed them in their order of seniority. Thus when the eldest son died seniority within his generation naturally passed to the next brother, who was tuakana to all the others.

The seniority inherited through order of birth was transmitted through the individual members of the family to their descendants. Seniority as page 33 expressed by the tuakana and teina terms was horizontal in one biological family but was traced vertically in collaterals back to the family of the common ancestor. Thus in Table 4 the terms have been arranged in senior and junior collateral columns on either side of the lineal column. The senior collaterals are tuakana to those in both the other columns and the junior collaterals are teina to the other two. The descendants of the senior collaterals will always be on the left of the lineal column in the senior position, and similarly the descendants of the junior collaterals will always be on the right in the junior position. As they pass down through the generation levels they receive the relationship term of the particular level, but their senior or junior relationship will always be recognized. Order of birth in each biological family places individuals and their families in senior or junior positions with regard to other individuals and families.

On the o level the truly collateral terms, tuakana and teina, are applied to brothers and sisters. The nearest of kin on this level are first cousins who are 2 generations removed from the common grandparents in both the lineal and collateral columns. Their relative position is merely an extension of the principle governing the individual members of one biological family. The children of the uncles and aunts who are older than the lineal father are classed as tuakana, and the children of the younger uncles and aunts are teina. The next nearest of kin are second cousins who are 3 generations removed from the common great-grandparents on both the lineal and collateral lines. They are divided into tuakana and teina according to whether their grandparents were senior or junior to the grandparents in the lineal line. In a similar way the classification extends to the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth cousins, and so on, as long as two lineal lines have the same number of generations. Theoretically, it could extend back to the first family of occupation, in which circumstance the seniority would be derived from the children of that family. What happens in practice, however, is that more recent marriages lead to a readjustment of relationship strata from a more convenient point of calculation. When members of a junior line marry into a senior line, it is natural for their descendants to trace descent through the senior line if they gain extra advantages by doing so. A person was often tuakana to a relative on one line of descent and teina to him on another. In some Polynesian areas, for example, New Zealand, a special term was used to designate such a double relationship, but no specific term seems to have been used in Rakahanga. Though the ariki title went by seniority, an ariki might have several tuakana in the community, owing to the marriages of his ancestors. His father might have married a younger sister, and thus all the children of his mother's older brothers and sisters would be tuakana to page 34 him. As the title came from his father's side, this seniority would not affect him except in courtesy toward them. Similarly, the children of his father's elder sister would be tuakana to him, but again seniority through a female line would not affect him as regards his office. Thus the tuakana-teina relationship permeated the whole of society, and the respect and deference paid to seniority was indicated by its wide application not only to individuals on the same generation level but to families and groups. Its power, however, varied with the degree of consanguinity and its derivation through a male or female line.

Two terms which did not fit into the collateral system based on seniority were used to denote brother and sister, tuangane (brother of a sister or the male relaitve of a female, both an equal number of generations removed from a common ancestor), and tuahine (sister of a brother or the female relative of a male, both an equal number of generations removed from a common ancestor). These have not been included in the table of relationship terms. Personally, I feel that there is an implied sex superiority in the term tuangane and an implied inferiority in tuahine. These terms fill in the gap left by the restrictions applied to tuakana and teina, which are fundamentally correlatives to denote superiority of birth. The restriction of tuakana and teina to members of the same sex is to prevent their use between opposite sexes. A logical reason for this usage would be to prevent some danger. The danger, as I see it, was to the male succession to rank and title through seniority of birth. No danger could arise from the use of terms among sisters to denote their relative positions in the female sphere of activity. If, however, a sister were termed tuakana to a younger brother, her seniority to him in the family would be admitted, regardless of sex. A first-born female would be tuakana to the rest of the family, and her claims would be hard to combat. It seems plausible, therefore, that those who guided the evolution of social structure provided against such a contingency.

In most Polynesian dialects proper names as applied to the different sexes have been in use so long that masculine and feminine names have become differentiated by usage. Masculine names have, however, been given to females, and feminine names to males. In Rakahanga the naming of either sex by the same name is so prevalent that there are very few names which are not common to both sexes. Of the few which are not common, a male name is Atua, as in Te-atua-a-tupou, Te-atua-a-maheanga, and others. Though tane is used to distinguish the male sex in relationship terms, in proper names the male suffixes are matua and tangata. The term matua is a common term applying to the −1 generation, and when used as a relationship term it has to be qualified by tane or wahine to distinguish sex. In proper names, however, such as Temu-matua, it invariably indicates the male page 35 sex. Similarly, tangata refers primarily to human beings as distinguished from other animals or the gods, but in proper names it is restricted to the male sex, as in Munokoa-tangata. In feminine names the general sex suffix is wahine, as in Temu-wahine, but the senior daughters of chiefly families have the special suffix tapairu, as in Haumata-tapairu and Takai-tapairu.

The word ure (boy) and hika (girl), formerly used to indicate the sex of children in pedigree recitations or conversation, indicate the male and female organs of generation. There was no diffidence in using them to denote sex until prurient ideas of Western culture had affected the natives. The people are now ashamed to use these terms.

It is reasonable to think that the terms tupuna, metua, tama, tamahitie, and mokopuna were originally used descriptively in lineal descent and that the collateral terms tuakana, teina, tuangane, and tuahine were confined to members of the same biological family. The collateral extension of the parent term metua to include uncles and aunts is natural, when the conditions under which the families developed are considered. The people lived in composite households or in households close together. The uncles and aunts extended to nephews and nieces the care and affection they gave to their own children. Uncle and nephew had mutual obligations toward each other, and the extension of the parent term toward the uncle stressed the closeness of relationship. As the child grew up he knew which of his matua was his actual father and he learned that other matua were brothers of his parents. The learning of degrees of consanguinity was part of the cultural education, knowledge that opened out gradually before the child with the learning of his pedigree. It evidently did not occur to the ancestors that there was a need for a descriptive term to distinguish between uncle and father to avoid confusion, for there was no confusion in their minds. Further extension of relationship terms to group all relatives on certain levels was a continuation of the principle of binding the people together through a common blood tie. The relationship terms were used to express blood obligations inherited through mutual ancestors. Social structure was based upon cooperation and support of institutions by as many of the blood-kinsmen as possible.

The derivation of relationship terms from pedigrees which stratify relatives in generation levels, called by ethnological writers a “classificatory” system in contrast with the European “descriptive” system, is typical of Polynesia. It is true that the classificatory system lacks the exactness of the descriptive system. The classificatory system contains a few terms which apply to many relatives, whereas the descriptive system contains more terms and brings out remoteness of relationships more carefully than does the classificatory system. The contention of Kroeber (17) that relationship page 36 terms are influenced by psychology is upheld in explanations of the usefulness to the Polynesians of their system. It was to the desire to maintain touch between collaterals no matter how far distant that the Polynesian relationship terms gave expression, and there was no need for exactness inherent in the terms themselves.