The Maori - Volume II
XX Personal Adornment
XX Personal Adornment
Personal adornment pertained largely to men—Men wore hair long, women wore it short—Hair cutting—Hair dressing—Combs—Decorative plumes—Anklets—Bracelets—Nose ornament—Ear pendants—Greenstone pendants—Neck pendants—The tiki—Whale tooth neck pendant—Necklaces—Fragrant herbs, how used—Face painting—Paints—Ochre—Other pigments—Tattooing of men and women—Origin of tattooing art—Ancient designs—The world-wide kauae—Maori designs at Aitutaki—Polynesian tattooing—Age of subject—Object of tattooing—Abandonment of the art—Obsolete styles—Unusual designs—The uhi or tattooing instrument—The pigment and its manufacture—Mode of tattooing—A severe ordeal—Ceremonial and tapu—Payment of operator—Human sacrifice—Tattooing of women—Tattooing of the tongue, etc.—Europeans tattooed by Maori—Trade in tattooed heads—The scroll a tattooed design in Borneo.
Under the above heading the most important thing to be described is the native practice of tattooing. We will however, first deal with the native mode of dressing the hair, and the various ornaments worn in the hair and ears, and on neck and limbs. Also the use of paint on face and body finds a place here, for the Maori holds that the custom of painting devices on the human body preceded the art of tattooing.
It may, I think, be said that personal adornment was indulged in more by men than women in olden times. They tattooed themselves much more profusely than did women, and also devoted much more care to dressing and adorning their hair. Men are said to have worn their hair long, while women kept their hair cut short, but this usage was by no means a constant one. Apart from the hair-cutting ceremonial pertaining to mourning functions, men not infrequently had their hair cut for other reasons. With short hair a man might wear such head ornaments as plumes by confining them with a form of chaplet or fillet, often a plaited band made to fit the head.page 533
Cutting the hair was held to be an important function among the Maori folk, save in the case of persons of low rank. It was attended by all the tapu observances and ritual that marked the same functions among certain peoples of India. Hair-cutting was done with sharp-edged flakes of obsidian or other stone; occasionally it was singed with a firestick. The cut hair was carefully deposited at the tapu place of the village, or placed on a tree, or secreted in some way. The expressions waru mahunga and whakaiho denote the act of hair-cutting.
The long hair of men was dressed in various ways, and a man's wife often attended to this task. One mode, termed koukou, was to draw up the hair on top of the head, where it was tied with a strand of fibre (occasionally in the north a piece of aute was used for this purpose), the tie being described as a tauhere. The loose part of the hair was then doubled down, tucked in, and another tie put round it. These two ties served to confine such ornaments as plumes and ornamental combs that were thrust into the hair. In some cases a man's hair was divided into a number of bunches (putiki), each of which was tied. Thus we hear of a man having his hair tied in as many as eight bunches. Yet another mode was to draw the whole of the hair through a small wooden ring, after which it was brought down outside the ring and tied underneath it. We are also told that a man's long hair was sometimes plaited in one or more plaits, which plaits were then arranged on the top of his head. Hair arranged in a knot on the top of the head is described as a ngoungou, while tope and kotare denote a forelock of long hair, the rest being cut short.
Parkinson speaks of a native having his hair knotted on the crown of the head in two bunches. When a man's hair was carefully dressed it was combed and oiled ere being done up. The ornamental combs worn by men in their hair were also employed for combing purposes. They were not worn by women, or but very rarely. Some of these combs were fashioned from hardwood, the tines being secured by an ingenious lashing device. More highly prized ones were cut out of a piece of whale's bone in one piece. These were often page 534 adorned with carved designs and small inlaid pieces of Haliotis shell. They were called heru tuki and heru tu rae.
Anklets were occasionally worn by young women, and the same may be said of bracelets; it was by no means a common practice. A favoured form in some parts was a woven band worked in different colours in the taniko style. These adornments were called tauri komore. In some cases shells were so used, but these were more commonly worn as necklaces; shells of Dentalium and Turritella were so employed. Tattooed bands were occasionally seen on the wrists or ankles of women, who also sometimes wore flowers as ornaments. A very singular form of ornament, if it may be so termed, was that called pongiangia, occasionally worn by men. It consisted of two feathers, long stiff plumes, thrust through the septum of the nose. It imparts a most grotesque appearance to the wearer, as I myself have seen.
Ear pendants were worn by both sexes, and were of many different forms and materials. Polack tells us that natives wore, not only many kinds of ear pendants, but also armlets, ringlets and necklets and anklets. He may possibly have meant bracelets or wristlets when he employed the term armlets. As to the ringlets it is doubtful as to what he meant. We do not know that the natives used finger rings, and their hair was not wont to assume the form of ringlets. When Cook was lying at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773 he obtained from the natives a well-made ear pendant of glass, fashioned from material acquired from the Endeavour. The expression whakakai, so often heard, is not a specific term for a particular kind of pendant, but is employed as a generic term for ear pendants, or at least for those fashioned from stone. In like manner the term hei denotes a neck pendant. Neck pendants are also denoted by the generic term mau kaki, and all ear pendants by that of mau taringa.
Birds often provided ear pendants of other forms, such as the heads, wings and beaks of various species, also strips of skin with feathers attached, and pieces of bone. Occasionally a person would suspend a small bird from his ear, and Yate tells us that he saw live birds so worn, birds of small species, the head being thrust through the hole in the ear. It would remain so suspended until it died, and for some time after. Flowers were also sometimes suspended from the ears. Human teeth, those of both friends and enemies, also dog's teeth and shark's teeth served as ear pendants, the last being very highly prized, though high value was placed on those of one species only, said to be Lamna cornubica. In late times the Maori has covered the fang end of these teeth with red sealing wax as an additional attraction. The shark that provided these tooth pendants was caught by means of a strong noose line. The form of these teeth was sometimes copied in greenstone and steatite.
Ear and neck pendants. The majority of greenstone. The straight object is a stone fish hook shank.
Dominion Museum photo
The turuki or kope seems to have been a strip or roll of aute bark worn in the ears; the filmy epidermis of the ti kumu, a Celmisia, was occasionally used for the same purpose. Early writers speak of dried specimens of hippocampus as having been worn as pendants. A number of bone pendants of odd forms were fashioned, the most interesting of which were certain finely carved objects showing very fine reticulated work. The few specimens found are much damaged owing to their fragile nature.
When the Maori came to obtain European articles from early voyagers and traders he employed coins, buttons, buckles, and many other articles as ear pendants. When given one of the prized old-fashioned square cut nails he at once thrust it into the hole in his ear for safe keeping. When he acquired the smoking habit he carried his clay pipe in the same place.
The most prized of neck pendants was the greenstone tiki, of which we have already spoken. The wry-necked form is sometimes called pitau. Less valued ones were fashioned from bone, and a few were made of a form of ivory, namely, whale's teeth; these latter ones took a high polish. The term tiki popohe was applied to badly-made specimens of tiki, and possibly also to some uncommon forms that are occasionally seen. Other neck pendants were those fashioned from teeth of the sperm whale. Banks described these as the “tooth of a sperm whale cut slantwise so as to resemble somewhat a tongue, and furnished with two eyes. These they wear about their necks and seem to value almost above everything else.” The peculiar form of these large rei paraoa pendants was owing to the cutting away of the basal end of the tooth so as to dispose of the hollow part.page 541 page 542 page 543
Necklaces of many different substances were worn, such as shells, spool-like objects fashioned from bone, human teeth, dog's teeth, shark's teeth, and short pieces of bone. Bones of the albatross were cut into short pieces called poro toroa, and worn both singly and strung into necklace form. Numbers of small stone, spool-like objects found seem to point to them having been formed into necklaces. Seeds of the tawa-a-pou (Sideroxylon costatum) were also formed into necklaces.
Natives also wore certain objects that may be called sachets, small bags made of fragrant grasses such as karetu (Hierochloe redolens), in which certain odorous mosses, leaves, etc., were placed. The same grass was used in making fillets. Oil expressed from titoki berries was scented by placing therein fragrant leaves and gum. Bird skins, or pieces thereof, were dipped in this oil and then suspended round the neck. The hei toroa is said to have been a sort of feather tippet worn by women when in gala attire. It was made from feathers, probably of the down-like growth of the albatross (toroa). The fragrant sachets took their names from the materials composing them, as in hei raukawa, hei piripiri, hei tawhiri, hei mapuna, hei mokimoki, kati taramea, pona tarata, etc. The large stone spools, of which a number have been found, may or may not have been neck pendants, inasmuch as we know nothing of the use to which they were put.
In speaking of personal ornaments we must not omit the custom of using various forms of paint for adorning the face and body. The most commonly used was a form of red ochre obtained from streams and swamps wherein much mud or earth coloured by oxide of iron was obtained. Quantities of fern were laid down in such water and the coloured particles of matter in the waters were deposited on the fern. When a considerable quantity had so collected the fern fronds were removed, the mud collected, formed into balls and dried at a fire. When a red paint was wanted a portion of this hardbaked kokowai or horu was scraped off and mixed with oil. In some places a red ochreous earth was found and used instead of the mud collected in water.
Women did not use pigments so generally as men did, but they used the red ochre to some extent. Also young women were fond of colouring their cheeks with dabs of blue pukepoto, or any red substance. They used the ripe red berries of the kokaha, an Astelia, for this purpose, and several other berries. Colonel McDonnell and Angas both tell us that girls coloured their cheeks with pink colouring matter of the feet of the bush pigeon. Angas also tells us that he saw children smeared over with red ochre and oil from head to foot in order to protect them from sandflies.
The rancid oil used by natives for the preparation of their beloved red paint rendered the painted ones highly malodorous, and their appearance was grotesque in the extreme. Polack speaks of a man who painted his forehead, nose and chin a bright yellow, obtained from the bark of a tree (? Coprosma), every other part of his face being a fiery red. Another had a blue circle round each eye, a black stripe across the nose, and the rest of his face painted red.
The small, carefully made boxes in which plumes and other articles of adornment were kept were called waka huia, waka kautuku, and waka pare.
In the art of tattooing we encounter the grandest effort of the Maori in connection with adornment of the person, and in order to acquire this coveted decoration he was compelled to undergo an extremely severe operation. For tattooing in Maoriland was not a matter of being merely pricked by needles; it was a very painful ordeal. The instrument employed formed a marked channel wherever it cut.
Tattooing was not employed by the Maori as any form of tribal mark, nor was the embellishment confined to members of high-class families. Both sexes were so adorned when they attained maturity, but women were but little marked as in comparison with men. Hochstetter's statement that certain de- page 546 signs were peculiar to the tribe, others to the family, and yet others to the individual, are assuredly incorrect. Minor differences there were, as among the designs observed on different individuals, but such differences were not marked for the purposes of tribal, family, or individual identification. The matter of design was settled by the preference of the tattooed one, or the design sketched by the artist.
The native name for tattooing, as executed by means of the uhi (tattooing implement), is moko, the verb being ta, or ta moko, as it is usually employed. The straight lines that were formerly seen, principally on women, as on the legs below the knee, sometimes on the body, occasionally even the back, were known as haehae because they were not made by puncture but by scoring the skin with a flake of obsidian, and then inserting the kauri or pigment used by tattooers. The natives of Whanganui assert that mahuta was a name for tattooing generally in ancient times, but this statement has not been corroborated.
Maori tradition seems to recognise a period in which tattooing by puncture was unknown to their ancestors. In that far past period we are told a mode of personal decoration consisted of painting various devices on the body. This adornment is described as whakairo tuhi and hopara makaurangi. Tattooing by puncture is sometimes referred to as whakairo tangata, the word whakairo carrying the meaning of “to embellish with a pattern.” Tuhi means “to delineate,” and this term is employed to describe the marking of designs on the skin, as done prior to tattooing by puncture.
The principal myth connected with the origin of tattooing by puncture is that in which a person of ancient times named Mataora is said to have visited the underworld of spirits, where he found the art practised. On his return to the upper world he brought with him the knowledge of the arts of tattooing and weaving. Possibly this story may be a perverted account of an old-time voyage to some isle or land whereat true tattooing was in vogue. It must here be borne in mind that tattoo is not a Maori expression; it is a word utterly foreign to the local native tongue.page 547
A well carved face. By Major General G. Robley.
Dr. A. S. Thomson held the view that the designs of Maori tattooing were obtained from the marks on the backs of fish, a very peculiar conclusion to arrive at, and one that scarcely calls for discussion. The Rev. R. Taylor stated that painting the face preceded tattooing, and was indulged in by men when engaged in warfare, also that tattooing came into use in order to render the designs permanent. This may be correct so far as it goes, but it is most improbable that the art of tattooing had a separate invention in New Zealand. The ancestors of the Maori, on both the Polynesian and Melanesian sides of the house, were given to tattooing, and doubtless the practice was an introduced one here. As to the origin of the local designs, that is quite another matter.
These local designs are, in most cases, peculiar to New Zealand, but at Aitutaki Island, in the Cook Group, we meet with a design closely resembling the Maori tiwhana, and also the Maori design called korowaha. If these designs were employed at Aitutaki in pre-European days the fact is a remarkable one, for they in no way resemble the other Polynesian designs we are acquainted with. Further information concerning their use at the above isle in olden times would be welcomed, otherwise the suspicion of post-European contact with the Maori is bound to arise. Many natives of New Zealand visited the isles of Polynesia in the whaling days of a century ago. Apart from the above instance I am not aware that the elaborate designs of Maori tattooing are found in any part of the Polynesian area. In certain decorative designs painted on house gables in New Guinea we note a somewhat close resemblance to the puhoro design of these isles. Other curvilinear designs of that region resemble Maori designs much more closely than do the rectilinear designs of Polynesia.
We find in various works on the Maori somewhat conflicting statements as to the age at which persons were tattooed. The remark of Dr. Savage as to children being tattooed at eight or ten years of age is a woeful error. The Maori knew page 549 nothing about the ages of persons, and even now his statements in this connection are often but wild guesses. The truth is that young folk were not tattooed until they were deemed to be matured, or, as the Maori put it: Kia pakari noa te kiri o te tangata mo te ta ki te moko—not until the skin of the person was hard or matured. Young women were often tattooed before marriage, but not so in all cases.
We are told that tattooing was practised in order to inspire terror and to obscure the advance of years, but it cannot be gainsaid that the Maori viewed it as a decoration, even as his kinsfolk of Polynesia did. Women have been the most conservative with regard to preserving the art, and we still see women with tattooed lips and chin. The men abandoned the custom of tattooing the face and body many years ago, but during the fighting against Europeans in the “sixties” of last century there was a partial revival of the custom. Some of these partially tattooed men are still living now (1921), but there no longer survives a thoroughly tattooed man so far as the writer is aware.
The observations of early voyagers show that in some districts tattooing was much more common than in others, as was the case with other arts, such as wood carving for example. It is also evident that there were certain differences in the designs employed, also the parts tattooed, owing to individual tastes. Apart from this there seem to have been, in past times, several modes of tattooing that were quite different from the scrolls and other curvilinear designs that are so well known to us. Thus Mr. White tells us of moko kuri, an ancient style of tattooing long abandoned. The face tattoo consisted of short, straight lines arranged in groups of three, some vertical, some horizontal, as shown in an illustration in Vol. 1 of White's “Ancient History of the Maori.”
Another old style of facial tattoo was seen in the northern part of the North Island by early voyagers, and this is illustrated in Parkinson's work. Colenso appears to have seen a few men so adorned in the “thirties” of last century. This design is a peculiar one and is composed of a major device resembling the puhoro pattern that seems to be super- page 550 imposed upon a cross-hatched design of double lines arranged vertically and horizontally.
Tattooing of women.
Major General Robley
Unusual forms of tattoo among men were the straight, horizontal bars across the face seen in the South Island. Dr. Thomson mentions moko papa and moko kuri as two obsolete styles of tattoo. The Tuhoe folk speak of a four-pointed star having been sometimes tattooed in the middle of the forehead, the peculiar name of tore being applied to it. Nuku, a chief of Wai-rarapa, had a circle tattooed round each eye.
The tattooing of Tikopia Island (a Polynesian community in Melanesia) consisted of a number of short, straight lines, and this reminds us of the hatching of the old-time moko kuri of the Maori. But the origin of Maori tattooing on the whole is as yet unexplained. This question is a parallel one to that concerning the origin of the curvilinear designs met with in other branches of Maori art.
Maori tattooing was no light operation. It did not consist of a mere pricking process, a light puncturation, for the lines were deeply engraved on the subject. Tattooing as known to us leaves the skin smooth, but the native process left deep channels wherever the uhi or tattooing implement marched. This implement resembles an adze in form, that is in its style of hafting, a small blade about a quarter of an inch in width being secured to a short wooden handle in the same relative position to the handle as an adze blade is fixed. An operator employed several of these tools of varying widths, each of which had its special name. The uhi matarau had a serrated edge, while that of the uhi kohiti was plain; the latter was used for fine work. The wooden handles of these tools were often adorned with carved designs, sometimes supplemented with small pieces of Haliotis shell.
The tattooing implement is sometimes alluded to as the uhi a (of) Mataora, and as the uhi a toroa. A much-favoured page 553 material for the blade was the wing bone of the albatross (toroa). They were also fashioned from human bone. Certain writers have told us that wood, stone and shell were also used in making them, but I am not aware that any specimens of such materials have been preserved. Iron was occasionally used in late times. Colenso states that the spines of Discaria were sometimes employed for the purpose.
As to the pigment employed it was made from soot obtained by burning certain substances—the gum of the kauri pine in the far north, the hard resinous heart wood of white pine in many districts, in some the dried body of what is termed the vegetable caterpillar. As these substances were burned the soot was carefully collected and preserved, and this awe or soot is usually called kauri.
The fire for burning the material was known as the ahi kauri, and in many cases it was kindled in what was termed page 554 a rua ngarehu. This was a hole excavated in sloping ground, and a vertical hole or shaft at the inner end of the excavation served as a chimney and induced draught. In this shaft were suspended panicles of toetoe, a species of Pampas grass, on which the soot was deposited. In some cases a mat or other article was used in place of the panicles. The collected soot was wetted with some plant sap, or water in which hinau bark had been steeped, then formed into balls and preserved for future use. Some buried these balls to prevent them becoming too dry. They would be wrapped in the skin of a rat or bird. When required for use a portion would be pulverised and rendered fluid with sap of some plant or berry, as of the mahoe or Cordyline. The Tuhoe folk say that a gummy substance that exudes from the hinau tree was put in the pigment in order to prevent any fading of the tattoo; possibly it deepened the colour.
Accounts left by early writers do not agree as to the native method of tattooing, and it is quite possible that more than one mode of procedure was employed, as in different districts. As explained to the writer, and as seen by him, the practice was to first mark the design on the skin with a black pigment, such as charcoal and water, and then came the puncturing process. The operator had his pigment contained in a shell. Into this he dipped the blade of the uhi or tattooing chisel, which he then placed on the line to be marked and struck the back of the wooden handle near its outer end a smart tap with a small stick, or a piece of fernstalk. The effect was to cut right through the skin into the flesh, and at once blood commenced to flow freely. This the operator was constantly wiping away with some flax tow. It was this shedding of the blood that made the operation such a tapu one, and hence both operator and subject were under many restrictions during the performance of the task.
The pain caused by this severe method of tattooing is intense as the work proceeds, and so also is the inflammation produced by it. Hence the tattooing of a man was a lengthy process, often extending over years. A considerable number were fully tattooed, a few indulged in but a few designs. To fully tattoo a man's face was a serious undertaking, so covered page 555 was it with lines, so often had the operator to desist from his task and wait until the serious inflammation had subsided. With regard to women the task was a much briefer one, inasmuch as they had, as a rule, only the chin and lips so marked.
The act of tattooing was not performed in a dwelling house, but outside, or in a temporary hut on the outskirts of the village. The person operated upon lay down, and the artist sat down to his work. As the work proceeded the relatives of the sufferer assembled and sang songs that were supposed to soothe him and enable him to bear the pain with equanimity. Such songs are alluded to as whakawai tānga moko. When the expert commenced his task he recited a charm when he struck the first blow on the tattooing implement. At the conclusion of the adorning of a young man a priestly expert would recite a charm called atahu over him, and this was supposed to have the effect of causing women to admire him. The spot where a person of rank was tattooed might be held tapu for generations.
When the operator had completed his task then a priestly expert would lift the tapu from the proceedings and persons. A part of this ritual consisted of the kindling of a sacred fire, termed the ahi parapara, and the cooking of food for a ceremonial feast.
A tattooing artist was paid for his services in kind. He received presents such as finely-woven garments, prized ornaments, etc. Occasionally a person was slain to add eclat to the tattooing of a young woman of rank; probably a slave would be slain, and the flesh of the hapless victim would be the principal dish of the ritual feast. Among the east coast folk such a sacrifice was alluded to as a toro ngarehu, while the Tuhoe people bluntly termed it a putu kai (i.e., to be used as food). I cannot see that there was any religious significance in this sacrifice of a human being; the body was not used as an offering to the gods, nor yet any portion thereof, so far as I could ascertain.
The tattooing of the lips of a young woman of rank, or tānga ngutu as it was termed, was viewed as quite an important ceremony. In some cases the piercing of the ears (pokanga taringa) of such a girl was also made much of in a ceremonial page 556 manner. When such a female was tattooed she might be said to emerge from girlhood and to be prepared to assume the serious duties of life. We are told that, when a Burmese girl's ears are pierced, she has to turn her attention to acquiring a number of accomplishments, one of which is the ability to walk with a swaying movement. We have already seen that girls of Maoriland were taught this peculiar swaying gait.
The Maori woman did not tattoo the tongue as some Hawaiian women did, but we are told that the men occasionally did so, though it was evidently a very rare occurrence. Women were occasionally tattooed on the private parts, and this was a custom among Fijian women. It was alluded to as a tara whakairo.
A few Europeans have been tattooed by the natives after their own fashion, but such cases occurred early in last century. The first case of a European being so treated occurred at Queen Charlotte Sound during Cook's third voyage, when a sailor underwent a partial adornment.
Tattooed heads of enemies were sometimes carefully dried and preserved by the Maori, who rejoiced in having such objects to jeer at. When early European voyagers began to touch at New Zealand ports these gruesome objects commanded a ready sale. When supplies ran out the fertile mind of the Maori was at no loss to meet the demand, for he simply fell back on his supply of slaves, and sold their heads. If any chanced to be papatea, white or clear faced, i.e. not tattooed, that matter was soon attended to, and the head put on the market with marvellous despatch. These heads are yet to be seen in museums the world over.
Occasionally a native would have his tattooed designs renewed in later life, a freshening process termed tarua and purua.
The development and use of the scroll or loop coil in Maori tattooing and wood carving is very remarkable, and it was certainly not introduced from Polynesia. It was a device employed in New Guinea, and also in Borneo, where it was used as a tattooed design.