Monday, February 14, 2011

Episode 12 - The youngest daughters

Manihinihi (Cheeky) Salmon
The last two children of Alexander and Ariitaimai Salmon were daughters, Beretania and the youngest (born after Alexander’s death) Manihinihi – known to the family as Pri and Cheeky.
Henry Adams described Pri as having “great charm of both face and manner” but unfortunately no photograph of her seems to have survived. The quietest of the siblings, she had a passion for music. In the 1880s she studied music in Hamburg where she lived with her niece Margaret Brander (who was six years older than Pri) and Margaret’s rich German husband. But the cold northern climate proved disastrous to Pri’s delicate constitution. She developed tuberculosis, and the doctors ordered her home. She lived at the family’s Papara house with Tati and took charge of the many children of the household. When Henry Adams was visiting the family in 1891, he wrote anxiously about Pri, “She coughs incessantly, and is bored besides.” She died in 1894 at the age of 31 from a massive pulmonary haemorrhage and was mourned by the whole family, especially Ariitaimai, her elderly mother.    
Cheeky’s life was also ill-fated, though in a less obvious way. As she was growing up, her contemporaries were her own nephews (the sons of her older sister Titaua), and in her early 20s, she fell deeply in love with her nephew by blood, Norman Brander. Norman loved her in return, but he was already married to a granddaughter of Queen Pomare. In 1889, a scandal erupted in Papeete when Norman’s pregnant wife came upon Norman and Cheeky in bed together, and Cheeky had to flee to San Francisco with her sister Moetia Atwater to escape the wagging tongues.
Four years later, Norman was able to divorce his wife in the hope of marrying his aunt, but the Protestant church authorities would not allow the marriage because of the couple's close blood relationship. Compounding this was the fact that, in the Tahitian tradition, such a relationship was considered to be utterly taboo and unthinkable. Refusing to abandon the precepts of the religion in which she believed, Cheeky refused to live with Norman until such time as the church would allow them to marry.

Instead for the next 26 years, she lived quietly in the house on Broom Road with her mother, forced to suppress her feelings, even though she and Norman moved in the same small social and family circles. At long last, in July 1915, the church gave them a dispensation that allowed them to marry. But tragically they had only three and a half years of married life together before Cheeky died in the devastating Spanish flu epidemic in December 1918 at the age of 52.

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