#15 Cliff Suicide: The Privilege of Women
     (Te Rangi Hiroa [Sir Peter H. Buck], 1938)

Suicide took place among both sexes through jealousy, anger, and sometimes loss of power and prestige. Men took their own lives in preference to being killed by the enemy. In the coral atolls of the Tuamotus, both men and women committed suicide by jumping off coconut trees. In Mangareva, another method was provided by cliffs.

In the time of Te Oa, some of his daughters as well as those of Te Ma-tetama committed suicide by jumping off a cliff on Mount Duff. This form of suicide became known as rere maga (to jump off a mountain) and the particular cliff used by these women of high rank was termed Te Rerega-o-te-ahine (The Jumping-off-place-of-the-women). Commoners jumped off another part of the cliff. From the precedent set, the cliff form of suicide was supposed to be the special privilege of women, and men had to content themselves with jumping from coconut trees (rere eréi). There were exceptions, as when a party of old men jumped off a cliff in Akamaru to escape being killed by Apeiti. A fugitive chief also jumped off a cliff in Taravai because his son had been killed before his eyes.

A suicide that took place on Akamaru is recorded in the following song.

I will jump off, I will jump off,
Into the shadows of Korotutu
Where the sprinkling rain will
fall on my body.
I will jump off.

O rain forming flowers in the sky
Float away to the land of my
Husband [Maku-ariki].

I will go to join Mahine
For the sacred person of
Toa-te-etua was violated.


Mahine was probably a relative or a female ancestress who had passed to the other world. Toa-te-etua was the princess of Taravai who was violated and killed by Turia. In the song she is taken as the most illustrious member of the female sex who had been wronged.

[#15] Te Rangi Hiroa (Peter H. Buck), “Cliff Suicide: The Privilege of Women”, Ethnology of Mangareva (Honolulu, HI: Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1938).

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