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Marriage Traditions around the world : South Pacific



There is little known about marriage traditions and customs in the South Pacific, let alone about Pacific Islanders. There is this image associated with the Pacific Islands as being exotic and more of a fantasy or the ideal place to go for a honeymoon. Very little is mentioned of the fact that, even today, these island nations still practice outdated marriage customs and traditions.


The Pacific Island nations consist of New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia. As a diaspora, there are three categories or ‘types’ of islanders; Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian. The biggest factor separating the 3 groups being their features. Polynesians and Micronesians have the softest features as compared to Melanesians. Some Polynesians can even be mistaken as Filipinos, Malaysians or Indonesians due to the similar facial features.  Melanesians on the other hand, have frizzy hair, darker skin and sharper facial features not to mention, have a greater collection of languages combined than Polynesians or Micronesians. Polynesians, and the Maori people in New Zealand in particular, can often be mistaken as Native Americans in North America. It is even the belief that the great Maori ancestors sailed all the way across the Pacific Ocean from North America to settle in the Pacific.


village people

Focusing solely on one country in the South Pacific, it will be clear to see that even today patriarchy reigns supreme in determining potential partners.
In Papua New Guinea, in terms of marriage, and meeting the parents, if a parent is not content with the match then that couple has no chance. A parent’s approval is paramount to the couple’s success. There are a plethora of different marriage traditions and customs throughout the country. The country consists of 24 different provinces, over 800 spoken languages and 1000 plus used dialects. Even in the capital city of Port Moresby, there are 3 official spoken languages; English, Tok Pisin (Creole pidgin) and Motu. Therefore, marriage customs and traditions differ depending on what province one originates from. Some of the traditional customs currently practised nationwide, is that of bride price whereby the groom pays an amount of money for his bride to the family (or most likely) the father of the bride.

Historically, the custom of paying a bride price was paid through land and livestock however has evolved to money when monetary value was introduced by the white explorers. Before the introduction of religion and colonialism, people lived very simply in their villages and believed in their customs and traditions. Many people today, like to refer to this as “before the arrival of the white men”, simply because many weren’t used to seeing people who didn’t have the same color skin.

There is very limited academic discussion on this subject as it has not been looked at in detail. Moreover, much of what current generations are aware of is passed down orally. Traditionally, it is said, that women in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea would be bartered to broker peace between warring tribes. As the times constituted people living in with tribes, tribal wars were abhorrent and common mostly over land and power. These women were daughters, sisters, and aunts, who would knowingly marry who they were told to for the sake of peace. The concept of Polygamy as well was well practiced and is still carried out today in the country.

Men would take different wives in the name of peace. These days, men take different wives as a symbol status, to demonstrate their wealth.  The society is such that, if you have several wives and several children you are “rich”. Not to mean, rich in the western understanding of the term, but rich in that that person has power and is not to be messed with.

Why was it like that? Much of the country had been unexposed to the world up until the 1900s when explorers from Europe and Australia entered the country to search for gold. Therefore, people live and continue to this day, believing and upholding these customs. The reason, many people still uphold these traditions today, is because it is an essential part of their identity and their culture and to loose it would be to lose a sense of themselves.

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