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The First-born Son and the Taboo

OF THE ceremonies attending the birth of a chief's son who is the first-born of his mother, two accounts are available, one an unsigned text 'With translation by John Wise included in the Fornander Collection, the other a translation by Dr. Emerson from Malo's Hawaiian Antiquities.' The Fornander paper stresses the precautions taken to keep the highborn couple apart and virgin until the time for their first mating. This takes place in a kind of tent under guard, and thereafter the girl is closely watched in order to make sure of the parentage of her expected offspring. At the first sign of pregnancy she is placed under taboo lest evil befall the child through sorcery or inadvertently through offended deities. The people are meanwhile urged to "dance in honor of my child, all ye men, all ye chiefs." Name songs (na inoa) are composed and sung about the countryside. At the time of birth a priest is summoned, sacrifices are offered, "drums are beaten and prayers at intervals are offered from a separate place, in honor of the child." If a son is born, he is "taken before the deity in the presence of the priests," that is, to the heiau, or temple. There the priest ties the umbilical cord and cuts it with a bamboo knife.

David Malo's in some respects more specific account does not differ essentially from that given in the Fornander paper. The composition and chanting of songs before the birth of the young taboo chief is similarly described. Malo writes: if after this [the formal mating] it is found that the princess is with child there is great rejoicing among all the people that a chief

[1. Fornander, Collection ("Memoirs," No. 6), pp. 2-7; Malo, pp. 179-84.]

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of rank has been begotten. If the two parents are of the same family, the offspring will be of the highest possible rank.

Then those who composed the meles (haku mele) were sent for to compose a mele inoa that should eulogize and blazon the ancestry of the new chief-to-be, in order to add distinction to him when he should be born.

And when the bards had composed their meles satisfactorily (a holo na mele), they were imparted to the hula dancers to be committed to memory. It was also their business to decide upon the attitudes and gestures, and to teach the inoa to the men and women of the hula [i.e., the chorus].

After that the men and women of the hula company danced and recited the mele inoa of the unborn chief with great rejoicing, keeping it up until such time as the prince was born; then the hula ceased....

... and when the child was born if a boy, it was carried to the heiau, there to have the navel string cut in a ceremonious fashion. When the cord had first been tied with olona [fiber], the kahuna, having taken the bamboo [knife], offered prayer, supplicating the gods of heaven and earth and the king's kaai gods [bones of ancestors preserved in woven baskets] whose images were standing there....

The child Ka-'I-'i-mamao to whom the Kumulipo chant is said to have been "named," was undoubtedly born to the purple, as we say. The family name 'I means "supreme" and the epithet mamao expressed the further "remoteness" to which his rank entitled him as first-born of a daughter of the ruling 'I family of Hilo district to that Keawe who was called "foremost chief of the island," Keawe-i-kekahi-ali'i-o-ka-moku. The two families were closely related by blood; the child was the first-born of his mother, hence he was held to be a god among men, with from infancy the rank of a niaupi'o chief entitled to the strictest of taboo rights, the kapu moe or prostrating taboo, the kapu wela or burning taboo. Commoners must fall on their faces before him, chiefs of low rank must crouch in approaching him. If he went abroad by day he was preceded by the cry Tapu! moe! If an object connected with his person such as clothing or bath water

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was being carried by, the officer who bore it, a close relative with the title of wohi, warned with the cry Tapu! a noho! and all must drop to a squatting posture. To remain standing in either case was punishable by death. Even chiefs, if of lower rank, must uncover the upper part of the body in coming into his presence, as a token of reverence.

The length to which taboo was carried in Hawaii must have developed locally under the stress of competition among ruling houses. It was also a means of power to the priesthood. The prostration taboo with the penalty for its infraction of death by burning, the terrible Kapu wela o na Wi, tradition says was brought from the island of Kauai to Oahu whence it was introduced into Maui at the time of the ruling chief Kekaulike, who must have been a near contemporary of Ka-'I-'i-mamao, since his daughter Kalola became wife to that chief's son; Malo indeed calls its introduction "modern."[2] Only the uncovering of the upper part of the body in coming into the presence of a high chief is noticed by Ellis in Tahiti.[3] Firth speaks of the crouching position taken in Tikopia by one who brings a gift to appease a chief whose anger he has incurred, and Alexander reports from the Marshall Islands in the early seventies: "The people of ... Kusaie and Ponape are all serfs. The chiefs own all the land and when a common native approaches the chief, he comes crouching."[4] Certainly the idea of the divinity of ruling chiefs and the consequent sacredness attaching to their persons and effects is not unique in the Polynesian area. A position of humility as an acknowledgment of rank was, as we know, widespread throughout Asiatic courts. The custom served to increase among the commoners fear and awe for their rulers as representatives of the gods on earth, as well as to preserve, by means of a severe etiquette, respect for blood descent among the chief class itself.

[2. Fornander, Polynesian Race, II, 277; Malo, p. 83.

3. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, III, 105.

4. Alexander, p. 493.]

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