Courtship and Marriage

Adolescence is a time for courtship and this takes place during the night dances of the unmarried or in the picnic expeditions they arrange. The young men, tamaaroa, and young women, fafine taka, contribute to the work required by their households, but in their spare time they choose activities which take them away from the adult gaze. Interestingly, the name for the unmarried females means "wandering or mobile woman" and unmarried adolescent females have a surprising amount of freedom compared with their married sisters, of whom it is said Nofo te avanga, "the married woman sits/stays put." Because of migration from the island, often of men and their adolescent sons, there is a gender imbalance on the island. The boys who go away to other islands may marry women of those islands and they do not return to Tikopia. This has resulted in a shortage of potential husbands—only one in every three girls will find a husband, so the competition is fierce and girls marry in their early teens if possible.

The night dances reveal a degree of tension between the young people which has its foundation in the desire of girls to marry and the hope of boys that they will not have to, at least for some time. The girls dance in a group against the boys' group and they sing dance songs called tauangutu, "fighting mouth," songs. These are often insulting.

Beliefs about procreation impinge at this stage of life. It is believed that babies are made from the build up of sperm from one man. The sperm is molded into a child (there are metaphors of ovens and cooking used here) inside the woman, but the substance is male. Because it is believed that only the sperm from one man can make a baby, a contraceptive practice is to have sex with a different girl each night. There is a lot of sexual activity, with boys trying to avoid sleeping with the same girl too often and girls hoping that they will become pregnant which will precipitate marriage. While these practices are frowned on by the Church, most marriages begin with pregnancy and are not solemnized until after the child is born and the couple technically show repentance. Assignment of paternity is often done by the priest, and the discovery that some girl is pregnant often leads to young men who fear identification as the father disappearing to the other side of the island for a while.

Traditionally, marriage of higher-ranked young women was by capture. The potential husband's male kin would abduct the young woman, and her family would later be notified of her being taken through the gift of a basket of food. The new bride may have had no idea who the man was to whom she was being taken. Nowadays, this rarely happens, but highly ranked young people are more likely to have partners arranged for them. (See also the section on life stages for more on marriage.)

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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