To Polynesian Experts

Ross Clark DRC at
Fri Feb 5 02:28:19 UTC 1999

> Date sent:      Thu, 4 Feb 1999 11:51:03 -0700
> Send reply to:  ursula.hanly at
> From:           ursula.hanly at (Ursula Hanly)
> Subject:        To Polynesian Experts
> Originally to:  AN-LANG at

> Irwing Goldman in his book, "Ancient Polynesian Society" says:
> " In eastern Polynesia the senior sibling is tuakana constructed upon tua
> cognate with atua or deity (cf. Tregear 1891).  The reciprocal of tuakana
> is teina which Elbert (1957) has defined from the Hawaiian as "weak
> person," "trying to walk," "moving slowly."  The reciprocals thus oppose
> god-like power to human weakness" (Goldman p. 460).
> Is Goldman's interpretation of these Polynesian sibling terms legitimate?
> Any help gratefully appreciated.
> Per Hage
> Department of Anthropology
> University of Utah
> Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA

One-word synopsis: Nonsense

I'm not sure what work of Elbert's is being cited here -- surely not
the dictionary? I can't find any words with meanings like those
quoted that look even *remotely* like /kaikaina/, the Hawaiian form
for "younger-sibling-same-sex". Nor can I think of any associations
like that for Proto Polynesian *tahina.

PPN *tuakana "elder sibling same sex" and *qatua "god" are clearly
distinct words not derivationally related. Whether there is any
ultimate etymological relation between the identical parts of them, I
will leave to those adept at the higher levels of AN.

One always has to be careful when anthropologists and others tell
stories of this kind. They often give the impression they're telling
you something about the origins of words, whereas in fact they may
only be relating the musings of some learned elder who's been asked
to explain a word, and thinks "Hmm, what sounds like...?". Folk
etymology is a living force. And of course it can create real
associations in people's minds between words that sound alike, even
if we know they are of different origins.

Ross Clark

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