Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

Polynesian Childhood

Polynesian Resource Center

It is my belief that Polynesia has much to teach us if we are prepared to open our eyes along with our minds. In traditional Polynesia Society children enjoy the sort of happy, carefree childhoods Western children could barely imagine. Firstly the environment is a tropical paradise of lagoon, sea, reef, beach and luxurious vegetation. Children are free range with little constraint, because as with most indigenous societies in Polynesia children are regarded as independent individuals with Free Will, not the property of parents. That is not to say that children do not help with chores around the house or in the growing of food, on the contrary most children learn to be helpful and useful members of society from a very young age. Families are exactly that multi-intergenerational, with grandparents playing active roles in rearing children, as do older children parent their younger siblings. Seeing girls of thirteen with a child carried on their hip is a normal sight in Polynesia, but the child is not her own rather her youngest sister. Again there is something very Asian about traditional Polynesian culture.

When visiting Polynesia children are often the most striking and obvious human presence and your first inkling of the difference between Western Society and that of Polynesia. Firstly they are so obviously open and friendly and it would require a very hardened heart indeed not to take delight when driving around rural Samoa where almost every child will smile and wave. These are unspoilt examples of humanity living within Nature and a painful reminder of the cloistered and confined and fearful lives of children in the West. It is the unrestrained nature of childhood in Polynesia that produces such beautiful examples of human children and if we visit Polynesia with an open and enquiring mind as well as discovering the unexpected pleasure in something as simple as a child's smile, we find ourselves drawing an unhappy comparison to the lack of innocence in the lives of the children in our own society.

Polynesian Resource Center

I would not wish to suggest that this idyllic version of Polynesian childhood is universal. I only intend to discuss my own country, but I suspect that urban Hawaii would be a parallel. In New Zealand we have appalling levels of child abuse in all its many repellent forms, and unfortunately the Polynesian sections of our community are over represented in these statistics. But rather than disproving my version of Polynesian childhood these statistics prove my point, as it is I suggest the influence of the European on Maori and Pacific communities that produced this calamity. This poison was introduced to Polynesian societies by, you guessed it, the same people who sailed from England, America and France in the 19th Century with the express purpose of destroying every other vestige of Polynesian Culture; the missionaries. The killing of children of a defeated race is and always has been the sign of a barbaric invader. That Polynesian childhood was also the target of Christian missionaries goes without saying. What else could be expected of these black clad, self hating, sexually repressed, narrow minded vultures? Spare the rod and spoil the child would have been their mantra. What joy must have sprung from their savage hearts at the thought of laying the strap of those little brown bodies. What hidden sexual pleasures and fantasies they must have harboured on the long journey across oceans of frustration only to fall upon the innocents children of the Pacific. So far from England, so isolated, and safe from discovery, what a perfect paradise for the pedophile latent or otherwise. So they taught Polynesians to beat their children something unknown in traditional Polynesian society. Just how much this caught on depended on the extent to which Polynesians clung to their own culture. Across Polynesia this would vary to an enormous degree, but in New Zealand where dislocation is common, where the people were robbed of their land, by State violence, by greed, by folly, by persuasion, by the thousand ways a people can be disposed or dispossess themselves, there the innocents paid the price. Of course once this poison enters the body of a people it replicates itself generation after generation a, and if we add alcohol then we are on our way to an endemic of child torture and abuse.

Now every year within our Maori population the sad statistics of death by fathers, step fathers and sadder still by mothers continues. Infanticide always had a role in traditional Polynesian societies, but it always had a reason within that society and was sanctioned because of that. It was not however and never was the result of passion or viciousness or drunken violence. Tribal societies often had to make hard decisions on the subject of life and death. Generally a child born with a deformity was not allowed to live. To our eyes this may seem cruel, but was the reality of the all of humanity until very recently. However, these acts were acts protected by custom, and behind the custom was generally reason. Our own cruelty is also protected by custom. Not physical child abuse, but that also only recently lost its dispensation, but there are other more subtle forms of torture and other ways of denying childhood happiness.

But in traditional Polynesian society, the idyllic version of childhood is alive and is the reality of the Polynesian World. And further is there for us to study and emulate, there alive and free to be exported to our own countries, we who are so myopic to our own particular version of ritualised cruelty to children. Of course to do so we must be prepared to ask ourselves questions that are very likely to produce bitter answers. Are Modern Western women prepared to accept their role in the fact that fifty percent of children grow up in a household without their biological father? I see no evidence of this. Are we as a people prepared to examine our personal behaviour and our own values and find them wanting? I see little evidence of this either. Are men in Western Society prepared to live their lives primarily as good role models to their children, to their nieces and nephews, to the kids next door? I doubt it based on the evidence of my own eyes. Yet if we a not surely we must ever give up the notion of a happy childhood becoming the norm. The result will be overflowing jails, crime, suicide, mental illness, unproductive members in our society and huge amount of self perpetuating human unhappiness. Which is just exactly what we have now.

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