CHAPTER VII. ADULT AND ADVANCED YEARS.
Passing from infancy and childhood we proceed to the ceremonies, superstitions, and customs connected with more advanced years.
Tattooing. - "Herodotus found among the Thracians that the barbarians could be exceedingly foppish after their fashion. The man who was not tattooed among them was not respected." It was the same in Samoa. Until a young man was tattooed, he was considered in his minority. He could not think of marriage, and he was constantly exposed to taunts and ridicule, as being poor and of low birth, and as having no right to speak in the society of men. But as soon as he was tattooed he passed into his majority, and considered himself entitled to the respect and privileges of mature years. When a youth, therefore, reached the age of sixteen, he and his friends were all anxiety that he should be tattooed. He was then on the outlook for the tattooing of some young chief with whom he might unite. On these occasions, six or a dozen young men would be tattooed at one time; and for these there might be four or five tattooers employed.
Tattooing is still kept up to some extent, and is a regular profession, just as house-building, and well paid. The custom is traced to Taema and Tilafainga (see p. 55); and they were worshipped by the tattooers as the presiding deities of their craft.
The instrument used in the operation is an oblong piece of human bone (os ilium), about an inch and a half broad and two inches long. A time of war and slaughter was a harvest for the tattooers to get a supply of instruments. The one end is cut like a small-toothed comb, and the other is fastened to a piece of cane, and looks like a little serrated adze. They dip it into a mixture of candle-nut ashes and water, and, tapping it with a little mallet, it sinks into the skin; and in this way they puncture the whole surface over which the tattooing extends. The greater part of the body from the waist down to the knee is covered with it, variegated here and there with neat regular stripes of the untattooed skin, which when they are well oiled, make them appear in the distance as if they had on black silk knee-breeches. Behrens, in describing these natives in his narrative of Roggewein's voyage of 1772, says: "They were clothed from the waist downwards with fringes and a kind of silken stuff artificially wrought." A nearer inspection would have shown that the "fringes" were a bunch of red ti leaves (Dracæna terminalis) glistening with cocoa-nut oil, and the "kind of silken stuff," the tattooing just described. As it extends over such a large surface the operation is a tedious and painful affair. After smarting and bleeding for a while under the hands of the tattooers, the patience of the youth is exhausted. They then let him rest and heal for a time, and, before returning to him again, do a little piece on each of the party. In two or three months the whole is completed. The friends of the young men are all the while in attendance with food. They also bring quantities of fine mats and native cloth, as the hire of the tattooers; connected with them, too, are many waiting on for a share in the food and property.
The waste of time, revelling, and immorality connected with the custom have led many to discountenance it; and it is, to a considerable extent, given up. But the gay youth still thinks it manly and respectable to be tattooed; parental pride says the same thing; and so the custom still obtains. It is not likely, however, to stand long before advancing civilisation. European clothing, and a sense of propriety they are daily acquiring, lead them to cover the tattooed part of the body entirely; and, when its display is considered a shame rather than a boast, it will probably be given up as painful, expensive, and useless; and then, too, instead of the tattooing, age, experience, common-sense, and education will determine whether or not the young man is entitled to the respect and privileges of mature years.
There was a custom observed by the other sex worth noticing, for the sake of comparison with other parts of the world. About the time of entering into womanhood, their parents and other relatives collected a quantity of fine mats and cloth, prepared a feast, and invited all the unmarried women of the settlement. After the feast the property was distributed among them, and they dispersed. None but females were present. It was considered mean and a mark of poverty if a family did not thus observe the occasion.
Chastity was ostensibly cultivated by both sexes; but it was more a name than a reality. From their childhood their ears were familiar with the most obscene conversation; and as a whole family, to some extent, herded together, immorality was the natural and prevalent consequence. There were exceptions, especially among the daughters of persons of rank; but they were the exceptions, not the rule.
Adultery, too, was sadly prevalent, although often severely punished by private revenge. If the injured husband sought revenge in the blood of the seducer no one thought he had done wrong. But the worst feature of the law of private revenge was that the brother, or any near relation of the culprit, was as liable to be killed as himself.