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Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga

The Household

The Household

It is probably largely because of the nature of the Polynesian household that foreigners have been led to regard the Polynesian as overlooking the importance of the biological family as a unit of social structure. Western culture is individualistic, and from the Polynesian point of view, selfish. The European tendency is not to share dwellings, food, property, or children. Relatives are not encouraged to stay indefinitely with the European family, a procedure almost incomprehensible to the Polynesian. Europeans, except in families holding ancient titles or inherited social position, do not keep family pedigrees. Relationship terms are restricted to a few degrees, and collateral terms have no vital meaning. The idea of kinship obligation and coöperation has weakened. The unit of money has displaced community coöperation in supplying man power for tasks beyond the scope of the individual. Villages and towns are accumulations of individual family units, independent of each other and having no common blood tie to unite the whole community. When members of one family do establish their households in the same village or town, they become separate independent units. Although the separate households recognize close relationship and may coöperate more closely with one another than with unrelated households, they develop different occupations and interests, and one household cannot dictate the policy of another by right of kinship. In the course of time, when relationship becomes remote, the diluted blood tie assumes a merely historical interest. Migrations are frequent, and separation further weakens any influence that blood kinship might have exerted. Thus collateral relationship ceases to exercise an active influence in social structure.

The Polynesian household offers a marked contrast. Although the nucleus of the household is the puna, or single biological family, it is augmented in various ways. A son may elect to live with his parents after reaching adulthood. He marries and brings up his children in the same household, which thus comprises three generations. As the couple of the first generation grow old they relinquish the active management of the household to the couple of the second generation. The younger couple does the harder manual work in providing food and other necessities. The old people page 37 do the light tasks and take care of the grandchildren. Parental authority becomes divided, and the grandparents exercise an active share in the upbringing of the children of the third generation. Two brothers of the second generation or a sister with her husband may also remain with the parents. If the family is wealthy in land, some poor collateral may live in the household and assist in cultivating the land and procuring food supplies. Some of the children of the third generation may be adopted by other relatives and thus pass away from their own family. On the other hand, the family may adopt children of other relatives and bring them up in their own household. The household, through the recognition of the blood tie and the prevalence of adoption, is thus rarely confined to one biological family. The children come under the influence and instruction of grandparents, aunts, and uncles, so that the clean-cut parental control characteristic of Western culture is not sharply defined, though it is recognized. The composite household, comprising members of three and even four generations, is in a fluid state, affected by the ebb and flow of blood kin. Seniority of birth indicates the family head. The source of the complex household is the first biological family in occupation. The bilateral biological family is the unit on which family pedigrees are built up, and the position and relationship of each individual member is clearly defined by the family pedigree.

The household residence consists of separate buildings devoted to cooking and sleeping. The cooking house is shared by all. The food supplies are pooled, cooked in one earthen oven, and shared among the members of the household. The sleeping house accommodates all.