The History of Melanesian Society


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The custom varies, but on the island of Mota, the child becomes the child of the man who pays the chief helper or midwife at the birth. The father has protection in the fact that his sister chooses the midwife and that he is on the spot, but if he is absent or has not the necessary money another may step in before him and become the "father" of the child.

The real father has the right to redeem the child but the adoptive family and its relatives make this difficult by assigning property to it, making gifts to it, and giving feasts for it, and the value of these must be paid also. Moreover, while the child stays with its parents until weaned, the adopter has paid for the food of the mother and the child during the period of nursing and for the weaning feast, and if there is question of the resumption of the child by the real parents they must repay this.

Another payment is made, called "the money of the hand of the child," when the father takes the next step in the sukwe society, and unless the child has been redeemed before this point it is almost impossible to do so, because this sum must be repaid double, and the adopter makes the payment high with a view to making repayment impossible.

A third payment is paid called "name concealment," which obliges the father never to reveal the state of affairs to his son. This payment should properly be made when the child is grown up, but it is sometimes made when he is quite young, to prevent the father from revealing the facts. Sometimes the parentage of a child is revealed by some third person, usually in a quarrel, and it is said that no Mota man is ever wholly free from doubt as to his real parentage.

The adopting father is very jealous and if the real father insists on the return of the child (which he may do if the youngster shows good qualities and is a worthy representative) the adopter may fear magical practices on the part of the real father and he will kill his supposed child rather than allow him to return to his real father. If this is attempted it is by rubbing the boy’s face with a magical mixture, which may be poisonous, but this is doubtful.1

1Rivers, W.H. R.n/an/an/an/a, , 1: 50–53 (summarized; Cambridge University Press. By permission).


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Chicago: "The History of Melanesian Society," The History of Melanesian Society in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: . "The History of Melanesian Society." The History of Melanesian Society, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: , 'The History of Melanesian Society' in The History of Melanesian Society. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from