CHAPTER VI. THE PEOPLE - INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD.
At the birth of her child, the mother had a liberal share in the kind attentions of her friends. Her own mother was almost invariably la sage-femme; but, failing her, some other female friend. Her father was generally present on the occasion, and either he or her husband prayed to the household god, and promised to give any offering he might require, if he would only preserve mother and child in safety. A prayer was thus expressed: "O Moso, be propitious; let this my daughter be preserved alive! Be compassionate to us; save my daughter, and we will do anything you wish as our redemption price." Offerings to the god, as we have already seen, were regulated by the caprice and covetousness of the cunning priest. Sometimes a canoe was demanded; at other times a house was to be built; and often fine mats or other valuable property was required. The household god of the family of the father was generally prayed to first; but, if the case was tedious or difficult, the god of the family of the mother was then invoked; and when the child was born, the mother would call out: "Who were you praying to?" and the god prayed to just before was carefully remembered and its incarnation duly acknowledged throughout the future life of the child. By way of respect to him the child was called his merda; and was actually named during infancy and childhood "merda of Tongo," or "Satia," or whatever other deity it might be. If the little stranger was a boy, the umbilical cord was cut on a club, that he might grow up to be brave in war. If of the other sex, it was done on the board on which they beat out the bark of which they make their native cloth. Cloth-making is the work of women; and their wish was that the little girl should grow up and prove useful to the family in her proper occupation.
Infanticide, as it prevailed in Eastern Polynesia and elsewhere, was unknown in Samoa. Nor were children ever exposed. After they were born they were affectionately cared for. But the custom of destroying them before that prevailed to a melancholy extent. Shame, fear of punishment, lazy unwillingness to nurse, and a dread of soon being old-looking, were the prevailing causes. Pressure was the means employed, and in some cases proved the death of the unnatural parent.
As to nursing, during the first two or three days the nurse bestowed great attention to the head of the child, that it might be modified and shaped after notions of propriety and beauty. The child was laid on its back, and the head surrounded with three flat stones. One was placed close to the crown of the head, and one on either side. The forehead was then pressed with the hand, that it might be flattened. The nose, too, was carefully flattened. Our "canoe noses," as they call them, are blemishes in their estimation. For the first three days the infant was fed with the juice of the chewed kernel of the cocoa-nut, pressed through a piece of native cloth, and dropped into the mouth. On the third day a woman of the sacred craft was sent for to examine the milk. A little was put into a cup, with water and two heated stones, and then examined. If it had the slightest curdled appearance she pronounced it bitter and poisonous. This process she repeated two or three times a day for several days, until it was drawn off free from coagulation, and then she pronounced it sweet and wholesome, and the child was forthwith permitted to partake of its proper nourishment. Of course she was well paid for her services, and had every inducement to prolong them for several days. During this time the infant was fed with the juice of the cocoa-nut or the sugar-cane. Many fell victims to this improper treatment. At a very early period the child was fed, and sometimes weaned altogether at four months. This was another fruitful source of mortality among children. Occasionally the father, or some member of the family, through whom it was supposed the god of the family spoke, expressly ordered that the child have nothing but the breast for an indefinite time. This was a mark of respect to the god, and called his "banana." In these cases the child grew amazingly, and was soon, literally, as plump as a banana.
A modified form of circumcision prevailed. About the eighth or tenth year two or three boys would unite and go of their own accord to some one in the village, who would make the customary incision, and give him some trifling reward for his trouble. There was no further ceremony on the occasion, as at other periods of life.
Names. - Out of respect to the household god, as we have already remarked, the child was named after him, during the time of infancy and childhood; after that, a name was given. The animal and vegetable kingdoms, places, occupations, actions, and passing events, furnished them with the principal names. The primitive rule, "one man, one word," invariably prevailed. Occasionally a chief bore the name of one of the gods superior.