The Maori - Volume II
X Social Customs—continued Customs Pertaining to Sickness, Death, Burial and Exhumation
X Social Customs—continued Customs Pertaining to Sickness, Death, Burial and Exhumation
Personified forms of sickness, disease and death—Maui and Hine—Origin of death—The ira atua knows not death—Spirits of the dead call to the living to join them—Fatalism a Maori characteristic—The Maori never taught to fear the hereafter—Lack of mental discipline favourable to melancholia—Superstition prevented medical research—Yet the Maori took readily to European medicines—Painkiller and the enquiring mind—Will power occasionally postpones death—The passing of Whakamoe—Treatment of the sick—Causes of sickness—Lizard that causes death represents Whiro—Sick people carried to their homes—Local demons foiled by removing a sick person—Survival of the fittest—Epidemics appeared on the arrival of Europeans—The ship of Rongotute—Introduced maladies—Changes in his mode of life has weakened the stamina of the Maori—A phase of melancholia has affected his vigour and health—The mauri ora of man is virtueless—The perplexed Maori—Diagnostic rites—Divination in illness—The Ngau paepae rite—The Kai ure rite—Gods appealed to in sickness—Experiences of early missionaries—Massage by trampling—Treatment by high-class tohunga—Lustral rite performed over sick—The Whakanoho manawa rite—Wounds and fractures—Leprosy—Goitre—The teeth of the Maori—Treatment of persons apparently drowned—Poison of the katipo—Worms—Vapour baths—The cold water cure—Insanity—Delirium—Suicide—Cure of headache—Herbal remedies are modern—Poisons—The dying greet the world of life—The death journey food—Sitting burial—Lying in state—Kopaki, or gifts—Laceration of the body in mourning—Secret burial—Desecration of graves—Flutes fashioned from bones of enemies—Corpses occasionally dried. Death of a tohunga—Hair cut by mourners—The Whare potae or house of mourning—Mourners take food at night only—Relatives of dead punished—Human sacrifice—Laments—Head preserving—Mortuary memorials—Cenotaphs—Burial places—Coffins—Tree burial—Swamp burial—Sandhill burial—Tombs—Bodies trussed for burial—Cave burial—The page 29 tuhi awarua—Articles placed with dead—Sitting burial—Cremation—The tapu of death—The Tira ora rite—Gifts to dead—Savage customs—Exhumation—Funeral feast—The Whakau rite—Teeth of dead extracted—The exhumed bones welcomed—Address to exhumed remains—The Tuku heru ceremony—The Weeds of Tura—Eschatological aphorisms—The dirge of Hinemoana.
We are now about to pass under the shadow of Maiki-nui and Whiro, the personified forms of sickness, disease and death in Maori myth, whose ceaseless attacks on mankind have already been explained. Hine-nui-te-po, the ex-Dawn Maid, is also connected with death in popular belief, and more is heard of her in that connection than of Whiro. The inner teachings concerning these things have already been explained. Maui the hero is said to have disputed with Hine on the subject of death, for he desired that death should be a temporary condition. Said Maui: “Even as the moon dies, and, having bathed in the Waiora a Tane, returns to this world once more young and beautiful, so let man die and revive.” But Hine of the Night said: “Not so. Rather shall man die and return to the Earth Mother for all time, even that he may be mourned and wept for.” Thus, when man dies, he is laid within the body of the primal mother, and in this world is seen never again. Nought is seen or heard save mourning parties wailing for the dead. For of old it was said: “By tears and lamentation only may a natural death be avenged.” The changing generations come and go, and ever, as of yore, dread Maiki-nui and Aitua assail the descendants of Tane and the Earth Formed Maid.
Concerning the origin of death, the Maori is not satisfied with having but one version to account for its entry into the world of life. The commonly accepted version is that of the contest between Maui and Hine, as representing Light and Darkness, Life and Death. Another version attributes it to the similar contest between Tane and Whiro. The latter introduced death into the world because he was not given his own way with regard to the qualities men should be endowed with, and because of his hostility towards Tane.
Another story tells us that death was made permanent when Hine descended to the underworld. Whiro and Hine page 30 are both connected with death, but the second death, that of the soul of man, is sought by Whiro alone; ever Hine is opposed to him in that matter. We have yet another quaint myth that tells us that the cause of death is woman. Tane took to wife a female being of the earth, hence their offspring are mortal; they know death. The beings possessed of the ira atua know not death. As an old native once said to me: “Observe the Whanau Marama, the Children of Light on the breast of the Sky Parent. They know not decay or death, they live for ever; they are unlike the people of this world; man is born but to be caught in the snare of Hine.” So it is that, when a person dies, an old saying of the Maori folk is quoted: “Me tangi, kāpā ko te mate i te marama” (Let us mourn and weep for him, for truly he dieth not as the moon dies).
All things of earth know death. All things possess a soul or life principle, hence all things must, sooner or later, perish. So says the Maori. All mankind must traverse the broad path of Tane, for death is universal. Character cannot ward off the attacks of Maiki-nui and Whiro, hence another saying that has come down the centuries: “He mata mahora no te ara whanui a Tane.”
The supernatural beings known as Te Kahui anu are said to represent both death and life. The right hand of such beings represents life, the left hand death. They are the origin of many omens and evil forces.
When a Maori is near his death he may be heard to say: “——is calling me,” mentioning the name of a defunct relative. The spirits of his forbears are calling to him to join them in the spirit world. When a native is in this frame of mind it would be a marvel were he to recover. For there is much of fatalism in the Polynesian character, and the Maori branch of the race has its full share of this peculiarity. Melancholia, nurtured by superstition, is often rapidly fatal among these people. Dr. W. H. Goldie has described clearly the effect of such mental depression on the organs.
The usual explanation has now to be made in connection with ceremonial performances pertaining to death, namely, that the higher-class ritual was practised only in connection page 31 with families of rank. The lower the social status of the person, the less ceremony entered into any rites connected with his illness, death and burial. So it is that, as in the case of marriage and birth, we have several different aspects of ceremonial performances to deal with: In connection with families of high rank we encounter the cult of Io the Supreme Being. Pertaining to what we will style middle-class folk, we deal with that of the departmental and tribal gods, and so on until we arrive at the hapless slave, whose body would be cast aside, like that of a dog.
Although the Maori is a fatalist, and so may allow his mind to destroy his body, yet his views on the subject of death are essentially Oriental. He has never passed, as we have, through long, weary centuries of teachings concerning dreadful suffering in the spirit world. Thrice fortunate is the barbaric Maori in that he has not been taught to fear the hereafter.
Of Maori fatalism and the condition of melancholia that hinges upon it, and is produced so easily, we have already seen something in our examination of the arts of black magic. Often have I noted how the will to live is lacking in the Maori when illness seizes him, how easily he resigns himself to think of death. The attitude and treatment of his friends serve to strengthen such a mental condition; they so often seem to make up their minds that he is on his death bed. Nor are they backward in letting him know their conclusions. The shamanistic humbugs on whom the Maori relies so much in sickness are past masters in the art of dispatching him to Rarohenga. Not only is this done by outrageous treatment and vile modern nostrums, but also often by plain intimation that the sick person cannot recover. Many such cases have I known; let a lone illustration suffice. A young girl, by no means seriously ill, apparently, was brought to one of these wretched impostors known to local fame as “The New Messiah.” His verdict was brief and effective; he just glanced at her and remarked: “In one week she will be dead,” which she assuredly was.
The late Dr. W. H. Goldie studied this Maori form of melancholia, and has left us some interesting remarks on the page 32 subject, concerning which I was able to supply him with some data. He attributed the proneness to such a condition largely to lack of mental discipline; the emotions of the Maori have too free a play, and age-old superstition clasps hands with the undisciplined mind. He considered that the absence of a pronounced fear of death expedited resignation and collapse; the life-preserving instinct is but feebly developed. The nervous shock to the patient renders the whole nervous system paretic; he offers no resistance to the stuporose condition which then supervenes; he is the helpless victim of delusional melancholia. The Dr. concluded: “He is submerged by one overmastering delusion; he has offended the gods, he must die. There is an abeyance of interest in things external; the morbid state is most acutely centralised; there is great nervous depression; there is a loss of physical energy, and this secondary depression spreads gradually to all the organs; the vital functions are all depressed, the heart becomes depressed, the involuntary muscles become dormant, and finally there is a complete anergia or death. The unbalanced mind succumbs without a struggle to the severe mental shock of overwhelming superstitious fear.”
The Maori terms a natural death mate aitu, and mate tara whare (death by the house wall). Mate atua and mate maori are both applied to death caused by the gods and evil spirits, either by direct action or through the medium of witch-craft. In native belief illness is a condition brought about by such supernormal powers, either as a punishment for wrong committed, such as a transgression of tapu, or such beings were the agents employed by a magician who wished to afflict or destroy him. It was this belief, firmly embedded in the native mind, that so effectually prevented anything like true medical research in Maoridom. On that account medicine was an unknown art, and so those hapless folk who were seized by illness were treated in the manner described in the following pages. These conditions much resembled those that obtained in ancient times in Babylonia, and have, at one time, so obtained in all other regions. It is gratifying to note that this deplorable condition is at last undergoing a change page 33 among our native folk, and the shamanistic quack is not so much in evidence now as he was.
It is a singular fact that, when the Maori was made acquainted with European medicines, he took to them in a manner most enthusiastic. He developed a marvellous appetite for medicine, no matter what the remedy might be, or whether he possessed any ailment or not. When camped in the byways of the land I have known natives enjoy themselves by sampling any rongoa (medicine) that might be accessible within my lowly 8 X 10 mansion. Thus when my worthy friend “The Rainy Day” came to apply for a bush-felling contract, his wife solaced herself by swallowing half a bottle of fluid cascara sagrada that she espied upon a shelf. This seductive beverage might not have seriously disturbed her accommodating interior had she not supplemented it with a dose of Mr. Davis' superfine painkiller! In the scene that ensued I did not take a hand; it is sufficient to say that things happened! This, however, is digression.
The Maori attitude of resignation to the strokes of Aituā (personified form of misfortune) has been made clear. Yet, in some cases, he can summon will power to fight the grim forces of Whiro and Maiki-nui in manner most surprising. It is now two decades since old Whakamoe lay sick unto death by the shores of the Lake of Rippling Waters, where giant Huiarau looks down on two seas. When believed to be near his end, the old man informed his clansmen that he would not die until he had welcomed to his plaza the Land Commissioners appointed to define native interests in the adjacent lands. Days ran into weeks, and both Commissioners and chieftain lingered. Then, one fair day, the white man's boat and native canoes were seen gliding out from the shadow of Huiarau and heading for the eastern shore of the mountain lake. When the visitors, European and native, marched on to the plaza, the world weary old man was waiting for them. He lay on his rude couch on the ground, and, in that position, uttered his speech of welcome. He then addressed his clansmen, commended the guests to their care, advised them on the conduct of affairs, and urged them to live in amity “for sympathy and good feeling are the most important page 34 things in the world.” And then, as we looked, the weary old neolith turned to the gleaming west, and fared out on the old, old Four Way Path that leads to the loved homeland and the spirit world.
Under the heading “Treatment of the Sick” we shall encounter some of the unpleasing characteristics of the Maori people, for their treatment of the sick bears often the aspect of callous indifference to the suffering of the patient. This is largely due to superstition. The peculiar prejudices of these natives caused them to remove a sick person from his dwellingplace and to convey him to a rude, temporary hut at the out skirts of the hamlet. In these times a tent is often utilised for the purpose. Also magic, superstitious practices, thaumaturgy, entered largely into the treatment of sick persons. The practices of high-class tohunga were the most free from such performance; low-class shamans revelled in them.
Offences against the innumerable rules of tapu were held to be a very common cause of illness, and in all such cases the illness was the punishment inflicted by the gods. Puhi-kai-naonao and Kai-uaua are two demons whose special province it is to punish persons guilty of the crime of kairamua, which is the appropriation of foods protected by a rahui. The result of such punishment is a wasting and fatal illness. In the Matatua district the bodies of persons dying of this complaint were, in some cases, formerly burned, lest the living be infected. A person perishing in a thunder storm in that district is said to have been slain by Tupai. The caco-dæmons called atua kahu are also frequent inflicters of illness; magic arts were often responsible for divers ailments. Stomach ache (kopito) was often attributed to active caco-dæmons. To interfere with such a symbol as the stone taumata placed among growing crops would inevitably result in illness.
I cannot agree with the late Dr. Goldie's statement that, among the Polynesians, disease was not frequently attributed to demoniac possession; he substitutes the expression “ghostly possession.” But it was an error to maintain that the lizard or other emissary of an affiicting atua that was believed to enter the body, is necessarily an incarnation of that being. The form of incarnation of an atua might be a bird, and yet the page 35 sufferer was supposed to harbour a lizard that was gnawing at his vitals. That lizard does represent Whiro, the personified form of death, and the atua or demon responsible for the presence of the lizard is the medium between it and Whiro. This belief as to illness being caused by a lizard was a very common one. One Moko-hiku-waru (eight-tailed lizard) is spoken of as a tutelary being of lizards and an evil being who dwells within the Tatau o te Po, or the underworld.
When a native is taken ill away from his home it is, or was, quite a common occurrence for him to be carried back to that home on a litter (amo), so that, if death comes, he may die on his own land. Again, a sick person was sometimes ordered what we would term a change of air. In such a case the idea is to get the sufferer away from the beings who are afflicting him, to another district to whose gods and demons he is a stranger. This act is termed whakahehe, a word meaning “to foil.” The affectionate care with which a sick relative is treated among us is not discernible among the Maori folk.
So far as we know the Maori seems to have been afflicted by comparatively few diseases in pre-European days. If he escaped the anger of the gods, the chances of war, and death by accident, he lived to a green old age; so say his descendants. It must have been a case of the survival of the fittest. Take, for example, my old friends of the Tuhoe tribe, who have dwelt for centuries in their rugged, forest-clad, highlying district. These folk possessed but a minimum of clothing, the Phormium plant did not flourish in their region. Children ran naked for the first six or eight years of life. Note Colenso's account of seeing naked children playing about in the snow. And these fierce bushmen were renowned for vigour and endurance, and a heavy hand in war; they were “Te Urewera haere po” (The night-travelling Urewera); they were “Tuhoe moumou kai, moumou taonga, moumou tangata ki te Po” (Tuhoe, wasters of food and property, consigners of men to the spirit world).
Now, it is a well-known fact that, during early days of European voyagers in the Pacific, including the earlier part of last century, a serious epidemic often followed the visit of a European vessel to an island. Just what these maladies were it is impossible to say. Maori tradition tells us of several serious devastating epidemics (mate uruta) that swept these isles since the days of Cook. No district seems to have escaped these visitations. Natives have told me that the high-lying, isolated forest district of the Tuhoe tribe was swept from end to end; its scattered bush hamlets were, in some cases, wiped out. So numerous were the dead in some instances that a few survivors left them lying in their huts and fled to seek another home. The hand of the white man, in the form of introduced diseases, lies heavy on such a race as the Polynesian. I sought the site of Te Neinei, one of these old hamlets of Tuhoe desolated and deserted a century ago. It was near my own camp, but even so it was difficult to locate; the forest had regained possession, and trees of six feet trunk girth stood on the hut sites of old.page 38
The arrival of the British ship Coromandel in 1820 was marked by another dread scourge known to the Maori as Te Ariki. Probably some of these epidemics were of a nature not very serious to Europeans, as I have known influenza to cause the death of many natives when but very few Europeans died. Isolated for centuries in these islands, the Maori seems to have become peculiarly liable to suffer from any introduced complaint. The ravages of syphilis, when first introduced, were shocking, but it seems to have now become very much less virulent. Since Europeans have settled here the Maori appears to have become very liable to what is generally termed consumption, and it is probable that the change in his clothing and mode of life was responsible for it. The Maori had become inured to his rough, harsh fibre capes, waterproof and easily cast off when he entered a hut. When, however, he obtained European garments, which are not waterproof, he kept his wet garments on until he went to his bed. The abandonment of his fortified villages, situated on hill tops, and the dwelling in low-lying, damp, or wet situations, also doubtless had its effect. Moreover, on acquiring the potato and other introduced food supplies, he was no longer obliged to spend most of his time in some form of labour. These changes have probably had some influence on the former robust health and vigour of the Maori. The present generation does not possess the stamina of its forbears.
Now there is one more cause, I maintain, for the decline of vigour in the Maori, though this is a matter in which many will not agree with me. The cause alluded to is a form of despondency, a phase of melancholia. The Maori of yore held that in order to retain his physical welfare, he must preserve his condition of tapu. It was this tapu that was the life force or vivifying power of his mauri, the mauri ora of man, which is his sacred life principle. If this tapu principle became polluted or vitiated in any way, then disaster at once threatened its physical basis, the human body. Examine the subject from any point of view, and, if you search deep enough, you will find that tapu, behind which loom the vivifying powers of the gods, is the basis of human welfare. Such is the old Maori belief. Europeans broke down the institution of tapu, page 39 and have never succeeded in replacing it by any other belief that has an equal hold on our native folk. I have discussed this matter with natives of my own and of the previous generation, and their view was that the vitality of their race departed with the loss of tapu, leaving the people in a defenceless and helpless condition. This view is essentially Maori. Let us hope that the present generation of natives will rise superior to this pessimistic outlook.
I have known several old natives who were in a pathetic condition of doubt as to which gods they should appeal to. When an epidemic of influenza swept off many of the children of the Tuhoe folk in the “nineties,” one tattooed old bushman prayed to the white man's God to spare his grandchildren, and also performed over them the Tohi ora rite of his fathers in order to retain them in the world of life. To put the matter briefly, physical welfare lay in the hands of the gods.
Another old friend of mine considered that his people had erred in abandoning their racial gods: “I tell you that the Maori is in fault. He has deserted his old gods, institutions, and beliefs; now they have turned against him and are destroying him. How is it possible for us to survive? I say to you that I am resolved to return to the beliefs of my fathers.” Even so the struggle goes on, and a world of pathos lay in the remarks, and doubts, and groping quest of the old barbarian. But his quest has long been over, for he has passed over the gleaming path of Tane that leads to Rarohenga. Surely when welcomed by the celestial maids of the realm of Io the Parent, he came to know the quest of all mankind. “Haere ra, e koro, e! Haere ki Te Hono i wairua! Mou te tai ata, moku te tai po.” (Farewell, O Sir! Fare on to the meeting place of spirits. Pass ye with the morning tide, as I shall pass with the evening tide).
One often notices great reluctance in natives to consulting European doctors, one reason being the dread of operations, though they would probably be more stoical than white folk at such a time. Members of the modern Ringa-tu cult of the Matatua district show this reluctance very strongly. The tohunga, or Maori practitioner, did not perform any operations, or use any form of medicine, but had charms in his page 40 budget for curing all human ills, including blindness, burns, wounds, choking, etc., as also for expelling the demons or evil spirits that were afflicting the sufferer. They acted very much as Christian priests did in the Middle Ages, when they passed much of their time in casting out devils. In the last century small books, authorised by the Church, and containing prayers for the cure of different complaints, were sold in France. So near are we to barbaric man.
In order to ascertain the cause of a person's illness, a tohunga would conduct him to a stream, where both took off their garments and appeared with nought save some branchlets or herbage twisted round their waists. With a branchlet of karamu (Coprosma) in his hand the priest entered the stream, dipped the leafy branchlet in it, and sprinkled the water over his patient. At the same time he intoned an incantation called a ripa or parepare to avert the evil influence at work. He then repeated another formula, termed a hirihiri, in order to discover the cause of the patient's malady, that is the demon or magician who was afflicting him, or the particular hara (offence against tapu) that the sufferer had committed. In these formulæ appear the names of known warlocks and malignant beings, also names of tapu places, etc., as burial caves, houses, garments, beds, etc. Should the patient gasp, or shiver, or make some other movement at the repetition of one of these words, then that was taken as the cause of his illness. If, for example, at the word “bed,” then it was known that he had desecrated the sacredness of the tapu sleeping place of a tapu person. Such is the diagnostic rite.
In some cases, we are told, when a patient was far gone, he would gasp and expire at the mention of the name of the sorcerer who had bewitched him, or at the repetition of the name of whatever had caused his death.
“Tohungia te tohu o te mate Reveal the sign of death.
Tohungia te tohu o te ora.” Reveal the sign of life.
Here he pulls the shrub up by the roots. If those roots come away unbroken, then the patient will recover: should they break, then death lies before. On such trivial happenings do the lives of man hang.
“He unuhanga a nuku
He unuhanga a rangi
Ka unu i to peke mua
Ka unu i to peke roto
Ka unu i to peke waimarie.”
When a priest has performed the diagnostic rite over a patient, and discovers that a certain sorcerer is responsible for the person's illness, he will say: “So-and-so has bewitched you, I see his wairua (astral body) standing by your side. What shall be done with him?” Should the afflicted one reply “Destroy him,” then the priest will exercise his dread powers of black magic, and, ere long, news will arrive of the sorcerer's death. So sayeth the Maori. The patient would present a garment, or some other article, to the priest in payment for his services.
The worthy tohunga has still to find out whether or not his patient will recover. We have observed already several ways of doing so, and here is another. A tapu oven is prepared, and, among the articles of food cooked in it, the priest places a certain small portion. If, when the steam oven is opened, this latter portion is found to be well cooked, it is a sign that the patient will recover; also that, if the cause of the illness is black magic, the wizard will die. If, however, the article is found to be still uncooked, then the patient will die. page 42 One would naturally suppose that the patient would endeavour to leave the oven covered as long as possible, but no hint of such thoughts comes to us from barbaric man.
Yet another mode of divining the fate of the invalid: The shaman proceeds to a place where the Phormium plant is growing. He grasps one of the young inner leaves and repeats: “A seeking, a searching. To seek whither? To seek inland; to seek at the base; to seek at the root; to seek in the spirit world; to seek of the gods. Be thou effective.” He then pulls the leaf from the surrounding fan, and, if the severance causes a screeching sound (as it often does), then the sick person will recover. In a case where this is the first act performed by the shaman in connection with the invalid, he will use the above leaf as an ara atua (spirit path), by which the afflicting atua is compelled to leave the sufferer's body. He places one end of the leaf on the patient's body and recites an exorcising charm that brings about the desired result. The general tone of such incantations is: “Here is your path. Begone; cease afflicting this person; return to your place of origin, etc.” They also contain matter that seems to have no bearing on the subject.
If the cause of a person's illness is found to be an infringement of the laws of tapu, then a purificatory rite at the water side is necessary; this includes aspersion, as already described. At the conclusion of these ceremonies the tapu has to be lifted from the participants. Also, when a person has recovered from an illness, the peculiar tapu pertaining to that condition has to be removed. In this rite the oho rangi, already described, was sometimes performed, that is, a thunderstorm was brought about by the priest. As one of my informants put it: “When man was in the grasp of death, then tears for his plight were demanded from the heavens, and the men of old called on the thunder to sound.”
In some cases the final act performed by the officiating tohunga was to procure a piece of herb and a dead ember, and pass these round the left thigh of the invalid, from left to right. He would then wave the two articles toward the heavens. The belief seems to have been that the herb and page 43 ember absorbed the semblance of the patient's malady, and that, in the waving act, this semblance flew off into space.
Another peculiar rite connected with sickness was that known as Ngau paepae, surely one of the most extraordinary ceremonies encountered among this strange folk. It consisted of causing a sick person to bite, or go through the motion of biting, the horizontal beam of the village latrine. The expression given above means literally “beam biting,” the paepae being the beam or plank on which persons squatted during evacuation. The meaning of this amazing act I cannot satisfactorily explain. The latrine was viewed as a very tapu place, in one meaning of that term, and it was held to possess a considerable amount of mana; it gives force to any rite performed thereat. As one old man said to me: “It is the destroyer of man; it is the salvation of man.” In some cases the patient was told to eat some article of food at the place; if he could do so, then his recovery was assured. The priest would conduct the sick man to the latrine, and there command him to bite the beam. Meanwhile the priest would recite the Ngau paepae formula. This effusion is of an exorcistic nature, intended to expel the demon afflicting the sufferer. In some cases the priest is said to have seen the demon so leaving the patient's body. Persons suffering from the effect of having broken some law of tapu were also subjected to this rite.
Persons who had been bewitched were sometimes restored to a healthy condition by means of the Kai ure rite, already referred to, which consisted of reciting a certain formula while clasping the phallus in the hand. Kahukura, Maru and Tunuia-te-ika were gods appealed to in many cases of sickness, as also others. Rongomai was appealed to by any one in peril at sea, as also was Ruamano. We also find Tiki and Pani appealed to to restore a sick person to health. To so appeal to the former was quite natural when we consider the peculiar qualities the Maori endowed the phallus with. Why the Maori appealed to Pani in sickness is not clear, masmuch as she occupies the place of Ceres, and was probably originally connected with grain. The three poutiriao appointed as supervisors over the activities of the Maiki brethren are explained in a former chapter.page 44
The Rev. Mr. Wohlers, pioneer missionary in the far south, found that sick persons were often treated in a deplorable manner. He also found the natives of that region to be suffering a good deal from consumption of some form. This seems probable, when we remember that the Polynesian race has evidently always occupied warm climate lands, back to the days when they dwelt in their old homeland. Another matter to be noted in works of early sojourners in these isles is the fact that they were often prevented from giving food or medicine to a sick native on account of the tapu. The Rev. James Buller tells us that in one case he saved the life of a man who had resigned himself to die. He effected this marvel by putting a blistering plaster on him; that plaster did its work nobly, and convinced the patient of the amazing potency of the white man's magic.
Bathing in cold water was, and is, practised in a most unwise manner by persons suffering from illness. Pains in the back were sometimes treated by employing a Spartan-like remedy, the takahi mode of massage, a trampling process performed by a barefoot clansman. In such a case the weight of the trampler must have been a matter of solicitude to the patient. Some of the anecdotes related by early missionaries of death-bed scenes among the natives are very curious. A worthy barbarian told the Rev. Mr Yate that he was about to die and descend to the spirit world. The reverend gentleman renders this as: “ He told me that he was going to hell with fearful emphasis… I dare not pronounce what his state is now.” Truly the love and forbearance of the Master are oft forgotten.
I am now about to inflict upon the hapless reader certain relations obtained from Takitumu natives illustrating old customs pertaining to the subjects of this chapter. We are about to see what methods were adopted by high-class priests in connection with sickness.
Te Moana-nui (the Great Ocean), an important chief of the Napier district, was seized with illness at his home at Waipureku, near Taradale. His illness was of that form known as haurakiraki, that is he was delirious. “Possibly,” said my informant, “You would call it taipo piwa” (typhoid fever).page 45
Two experts, relatives of the sick man, were called in to attend him, and it was believed that the malady was a mate maori, that is the effect of witchcraft. This conclusion was arrived at on account of the ngutungutu ahi (ravings, delirium) of the sufferer. It was resolved to begin treatment on the following morning.
Before dawn the two priestly experts proceeded to the water, and immersed their bodies therein. They then proceeded to the house where the sick man was lying. As they approached the house, the famed tohunga named Tareahi chaunted a formula directed to the Sky Father and Earth Mother, also the wise ones of yore and the tuaiho (those beyond, i.e., the spirit gods). The twain then entered the house, and, as they did so, the two male attendants of the sick man raised his body into a sitting position. The second priest, by name Kawatini, now approached the patient, bearing in his hand a piece of water plant called retoreto, that he had brought from the stream. He so held this herb that it touched the head of the invalid, as he intoned a long formula in which the names of the gods Io-matua, Kahukura, Tunui-a-te-ika, Rongomai, Maru, and Hine-korako appear. This is the Whakahoro rite, and it is essentially a purificatory one, a form of absolution; it brought the subject into the state of moral purity and innocence that he had been in when, as an infant, the Tua and Tohi rites had been performed over him. Its effect was to cleanse the subject morally, spiritually and mentally, to eradicate or destroy all impurities brought about by indiscretions or wrong acts committed during his past life. When any ritual in which Io was appealed to entered into a rite, then the subject must be purified ere the ceremony was proceeded with, ere the Supreme Being (or any superior gods in some cases) could be asked to succour him. This interesting feature in Maori ritual shows us how morality had entered into the higher phases of Maori religion.
To resume: The officiating priests called upon the gods mentioned above because, when the patient underwent the Tohi rite in infancy, he had been placed under the care of those gods, or some of them. Not knowing precisely which gods had entered into that Tohi rite, they introduced a number of names so as to be sure of including the right ones. Then was introduced the name of Great Io, the possessor of the greatest mana in the twelve heavens, on earth, and in all other realms. Then the formula proceeds to banish all evil influences affecting the patient, that they may be consigned to oblivion, the world of darkness, and possess no power to return to afflict the patient.
Tareahi then stepped forward, and, with his right hand, grasped the right hand of Te Moana-nui, while he intoned yet another invocation. This effusion advises the gods of the fact that the priests officiating are responsible experts in the matter of the ritual being conducted. Also it asks that health and strength be restored to the sufferer, that his blood, flesh, organs and breath regain their normal condition. After this the body of the patient was lowered to a recumbent position.
Then the two priests knelt down, one on either side of the subject, and facing him, while each placed his left hand on the head of the patient. Each priest then raised his right hand so that it and the forearm was in a vertical position, and here another sacred formula was intoned. This I was unable to collect, but its object, or one of them, was to tranquilise the mind of the sick man, and to give him confidence in the efficacy of the proceedings. It was directed to the poutiriao, to Kiwa, Tane, Rongomai, Tu and others, who were asked to help and succour the sufferer. It was recited by Te Apuroa over the well-known chief Te Puni, of Wellington, when he had been stricken down by Maiki-nui.page 48
Owing possibly to the exertions of the two priests, the Great Ocean recovered from his illness.
A peculiar rite, termed Whakanoho manawa, was sometimes performed over a sick person in order to restore him to health. A number of the incantations recited by a tohunga over the sufferer to bring about this result have been placed on record. Another such formula, known as titikura, was employed for a similar purpose. The only amulet worn for the purpose of warding off disease was, so far as I am aware, a piece of the edible rhizome of Pteris aquilina, called “fernroot” by us; it was termed a pitopito.
Affections of the throat were said to have been caused by the sufferer having eaten some tapu article of food. Charms were repeated over choking persons in order to relieve them, and the sufferer was slapped on the back while the charm was being recited. This latter act was an unusually sensible one for a tohunga or any native to perform. Charms to relieve choking, and those uttered in order to cure burns and wounds, all come under the generic term of Whai. The Maori may die readily under the influence of superstition, but he can endure very severe wounds with great equanimity. Superstition entered largely into the treatment of wounds, though natives showed to a little better advantage in these cases than they did when dealing with disease. If a workman cut himself with a stone adze, he would at once apply the tool to the wound, so as to just touch it, and recite a Whai charm to stop the flow of blood. In the case of a broken limb, splints of bark or other material were used and secured by ties. At the same time the Hono charm was repeated over it to cause it to knit (hono=to join). A priest would place his left foot on the body of the patient while reciting the formula, the manea or inherent powers of that foot would have a beneficial effect at such a time by giving force to the charm. Wounds were sometimes cauterised, a piece of dry supplejack being the medium employed. Leaves or herbs warmed at a fire were applied to feet rendered sore by walking over stones.
It seems probable that the Maori had some form of scrofulous complaint, such as that termed hura, in pre-Euro- page 49 pean days, but we cannot speak with any certainty as to that. He assuredly had a form of leprosy, termed ngerengere, tuhawaiki and tuwhenua, in olden times; it was introduced from Polynesia by a canoe since known as te waka tuwhenua—the leprosy vessel. This disease was spoken of as a malignant atua, and was viewed as a plebian complaint, unlike whewhe (boils) and hakihaki (skin disease, itch), which it is said, are aristocratic maladies. The distressng ngerengere caused the extremities to drop off joint by joint. The Maori had a curious belief that certain sorcerers possessed the power of inflicting this disease on others, the act of doing so being known as wero ngerengere.
Goitre certainly was known here in former times; it is called tenga in the Bay of Plenty district, a name also applied to the crop of birds. In the high-lying Tuhoe district a number of cases were seen, mostly women, a few girls, and only three men. Boils were opened by natives ere they had reached the proper stage for treatment. Skin diseases were common, induced by dirty habits and inferior foods. A kiritona (wart or sty) was, we are told, abolished by the simple process of pointing at it with a finger; doubtless a charm accompanied this act. Another plan is to hold a stick close to it and break it in that position. One of my informants remarked: “That will cause it to disappear, but it may re-appear after a time.” Eye complaints were sometimes caused by atua kahu, the caco-dæmons already explained.
Judging from the teeth seen in many hundreds of old skulls, the Maori should not have suffered much from tooth ache in olden times. Toothache was known as tunga, and was believed to be caused by a form of grub (tunga). It is said that, when a person suffered from this complaint, no other person was allowed to use his water gourd, or any vessel or other receptacle used for containing his food, lest such person be afflicted in a similar way. One way of curing toothache was to place one end of a small stick on the tooth, and then to strike the other end of the stick a smart blow endwise; surely a pleasing remedy! Another mode of treatment was to hold some urine in the mouth to kill the assailing grub; this act must be performed early in the morning. Also charms were page 50 repeated to assist these singular remedies. A modern cure is to place against the offending tooth a piece of the maki (chestnut) of a horse's leg, but the sufferer must not be allowed to see the article, or it will lose its virtue. A piece of the tough, leathery cocoon of a species of grub is used in a similar manner. To urinate on a cut or wound was a native practice.
To cure a swelling in the groin natives procured two of the stones used in the steam oven. One of these was held on the swelling and struck a sharp blow with the other; the remedy seems to be a simple one. To restore a person apparently drowned the treatment was that called whakapua. He was held over a fire so that the smoke entered his nostrils. Those suffering from the bite of the katipo, a poisonous spider, were subjected to the same treatment; some state that they were first immersed in water.
Natives tell me that they know of two kinds of worms that sometimes afflict them; they term them ngoiro and iro. When passed, some are cast into a fire, and, should they burn with a slight report, then the person will soon be free of the parasite. A steam or vapour bath was used by the Maori for some complaints; it was prepared much as is the steam cooking pit. Cook saw a woman undergoing this treatment at Queen Charlotte Sound. It was sometimes used by women after parturition. Immersion in cold water has been a favoured practice, employed in many cases. When the siege of the Matai pa at Waihora (Poverty Bay) was raised, the rescuers found the garrison in sore straits from starvation, so they carried the emaciated folk down to the creek and gave them a good soaking therein!
Insane persons (keka) are supposed to be possessed by a kikokiko, the ghost of a dead person, or to have been reduced to that condition by magic arts. Delirium is the aimless speech of the soul or spirit of a person; it is known as kuawa, kutukutu ahi, and ngutungutu ahi.
Suicide was not uncommon, as among widows when their husbands died. Ridicule and ill-treatment by a husband sometimes caused such an act of whakamomori, as it is termed.
An epidemic is alluded to as a papa reti; it is compared to a toboggan slide down which children slide in play.page 51
One way of curing a headache was to procure a piece of cooked food and wave it over the sufferer's head. As the malady is caused by an atua, that being will, of course, fly from the dread contact with cooked food.
Eye troubles were somewhat common, apparently, in olden times, especially in the case of old folk; caused, doubtless, by their smoky huts.
A hut erected for a sick person was often alluded to as a whare rauhi among the Takitumu folk, and a female attendant on a sick person was a wahine rauhi. The latter word means “to tend, to take care of.”
Of the great number of herbal remedies employed by the modern Maori I do not intend to give any list. They represent a post-European usage, and may well be omitted.
The Maori had several poisonous vegetable substances to beware of. The kernels of the karaka tree (Corynocarpus lavigata), if eaten uncooked, have the effect of causing distressing contraction of the limbs: It is said that a person so afflicted was buried up to his neck until the danger was over. A person who eats a certain poisonous fungus uncooked is also seriously affected, as also is one who eats the seeds of the tutu shrub (Coriaria). The poisonous waoriki, a Ranunculus, is dangerous only to stock, and that of the blossoms of the wharangi (Brachyglottis repanda) did not affect the Maori until the honey bee was introduced by us. Persons suffering from the effect of eating the poisonous berries of the tutu shrub were placed bodily in a stream for some time.
From the foregoing notes it will be readily seen that sick persons were treated in no gentle manner in the Maori commune in many cases. From our point of view there was often a lack of human sympathy shown. Superstition was largely responsible for this, as also surviving ideas from an ancient period of savagery when sick or decrepit persons were simply viewed as encumbrances, as witness old-time practices of the Wends of Germany, and modern ones of the Battaks of Sumatra.
When it is known that a person is near to death, then his relatives gather round to attend on him during his last moments, this act being described by the term whakahemo- page 52 hemo. At this time it was that the head of a family would make known his last wishes, his parting injunctions being known as oha, while his farewell speech would be described as a poroporoaki. Such a speech, in which the dying man would make known his wishes with regard to his property, the future actions of his family, and, if a man of commanding position, those of the community, was viewed much as we look upon a signed will.
When very near his end cries of farewell might be heard from the assembled folk, farewelling the dying person to the spirit world ere the breath of life had passed from his world-weary body. In modern times a volley of gun fire (usually shot guns) is often a feature of this period of the death journey. On hearing the firing the people of the neighbouring hamlets at once proceed to the stricken home and join in the wailing. Near relatives salute the dying man with the hongi or nose-pressing salute of the Polynesian race.
If the dying man was a person of some standing, one of similar status would stand forth and farewell him after the manner Maori somewhat in this style: “Farewell! Go forth on your way to the place where mankind originated. Fare out on the broad path of your ancestor Tane-te-waiora, the path that has been trodden by man since the days of the Dawn Maid. Your ancestors and elders there await you that they may greet you. They will guide you by way of the Toi huarewa upward to the bespaced heavens by which Tane ascended to Io the Parent. That you may pass to the Rauroha and enter Rangiatea. There the celestial maids and male attendants of the Great One will welcome and care for you in the enduring spiritual welfare of Io the Parent. Farewell! Farewell, O sir! Farewell!” The speaker would then hongi the dying man. The above farewell merely contains some of what we may call the stock remarks of a superior form of farewell, but it would be much longer than the above. The dying were farewelled to the old homeland of the race, where the spirits of the dead are purified, and whence they proceed to one of the two spirit worlds. Hence the phrases so often heard in such addresses: “Farewell to Hawaiki. Fare on to the Po. Go thy way to Paerau.” The following remarks I page 53 heard addressed to a man who had just died: “My father, farewell! Go, go to the spirit world, to the spirit world, to the spirit world. Go to Hawaiki, to your ancestors, to your elders. Farewell the breastwork of the people, the shelterer from piercing winds, the shade-giving rātā tree. Farewell to Tawhiti-pamamao. My protector, farewell! Defenceless are we since you are caught in the snare of death; remains none to avert evil,” etc.
The spirits of the dead forebears of the defunct one will come from spirit land to guide his soul back to that far-off region, and after that to the realm that soul selects for its final abode, after it has undergone a purificatory rite in the great edifice Hawaiki-nui, the meeting place of the four way path.
We have seen that a Maori prefers to die out of doors, and not within the cheerless hut of his race, that he may look upon and greet the fair world he is leaving for ever. For this world, the fair earth, is the mother of his race, and ever he loves to greet the grey old Terra Mater who brought him into the world of life.
Much stress is laid upon the o matenga by the Maori, an expression that denotes “the death journey food,” the last food partaken of by a dying person. The last drink of water he takes is styled “the water of Tane-pi.” Anything that a dying person fancied would be procured for him, if possible, unless he were a person of no account, such as a slave. We have heard of cases in which dying men have expressed a wish to drink of the waters of a certain stream, perhaps many miles distant, and swift-footed runners would be despatched to procure it. Certain foods were much desired at such a time, and a favourite one was the flesh of the native dog, another was human flesh, another was that of the frugiverous native rat, and yet another was that esteemed delicacy—earthworms, the sweet flavour of which was much appreciated. Many a man has been slain to provide a last meal for persons of influence; slaves were useful for such purposes.
When the last words of a dying chief urged the people to avenge defeats or slights they had suffered, then at the taking of new names that often marked such a death, one of such page 54 names would probably be assigned with a view to keeping the memory of such words ever before the people.
The first task performed after the death of a person was the trussing of the body ere it became rigid, for trussed burial in a sitting position was the common mode of disposing of the dead. This ancient practice, that hails from Polynesia, and Asia, and Europe, and early Egypt, seems to have been one of the widest known methods of burial. The old Peruvian practice of drawing the knees of the corpse up to the breast, under the chin, and securing the arms across them over the breast, describes the Maori usage. Hewitt tells us that the practice of mummifying the dead commenced prior to 5,000 B.C., and that it “succeeded the earlier Egyptian custom of the Neolithic Age of burying corpses in the contracted position of an embryo fœtus.” This old Maori custom is occasionally brought to our notice when a coastal sand dune is removed through the agency of wind.
The body being trussed, a superior cloak was secured round it, the face was painted with a preparation of red ochre and oil, the hair was oiled, dressed, and adorned with plumes; ornaments, such as tufts of the white down of the albatross, were suspended from the ears, and so a gala-like aspect of the body was achieved. The body was then placed in a sitting position in the porch of the principal house of the village, which would be intensely tapu so long as the body remained there. A low platform was sometimes constructed on which the body was placed; it was known as an atamira. In some cases the body was not trussed, but laid at full length on the platform, the head of which was raised. Possibly this was in such cases as wherein it was to be disposed of by means of swamp burial, or cremation.
By the side of the body would be laid the weapons of the defunct, and any superior articles he might have possessed. Any person who wished to honour the dead would bring some prized heirloom and lay it by his side. We also hear of the bones of the forbears of the departed being brought from the cave in which they had been placed, and deposited by his side while he was “lying in state.” Articles brought by friends and laid down to honour the dead are called kopaki. In some page 55 cases formal presentation of gifts (hakari taonga) took place at the death of a person of superior rank. Slaves were sometimes sacrificed at the death of such a person. Suicide of widows was somewhat common.
The lying in state continued for days, often much too long. Eventually the body was taken away and buried, or otherwise disposed of. This act was often performed at night.
As soon as death took place the world-old custom of laceration commenced. This custom was practised all over the islands, a custom that has come down the ages. The cutting was done with flakes of obsidian, which are extremely sharpedged when struck off a core. Long cuts were inflicted on the body and limbs, even the face was sometimes scored. The old women were, it is said, the most enthusiastic exponents of this custom, and presented a very unpleasant appearance with the blood running down their bodies; the practice has been entirely given up. The act of laceration is termed haehae, and accounts of it as formerly practised at Tahiti, in conjunction with the lying in state or exposure of the corpse, agree exactly with Maori accounts. Early residents in New Zealand saw a good deal of these barbaric usages, and Nicholas tells us that it did not always seem to betoken intense grief. It was practised because it was an old custom, like the copious weeping one sees in native mourning ceremonies. Banks also tells us that, on Cook's first voyage, many natives at Queen Charlotte Sound carried these marks of mourning on their persons, adding: “Some were hideously large on their cheeks, arms, legs, etc.” This writer also remarks on the absence of graves, or rather states that he and his companions saw none. This was owing to the fact that, in pre-European days, the Maori always practised secret burial, lest enemies desecrate the graves. It was considered quite justifiable to take the bones of the dead of an enemy folk and fashion therefrom such implements as fishhooks, spear-points, and flutes. Such acts have been the cause of much inter-tribal fighting. Another act that sometimes marked bitter enmity was the appalling and ghoulish one known as kai pirau, which was nothing less than the exhuming and eating of the bodies of dead enemies. A number of cases of this usage are on record. Inter-tribal enmity sometimes led page 56 to terrible acts of savagery. It was for these reasons that graves were not marked in any way, though cenotaphs erected elsewhere were common.
Ere proceeding to review the mourning customs of the Maori we will scan an old usage that was occasionally practised, though apparently not often. This is the subjecting of the body of a dead person to a drying process, one that was also known at Tahiti, as described by Captain Cook. True mummification, the embalming of a corpse, was unknown, the process being one of drying. The drying of the head only was a common Maori custom.
Mr. Beattie tells us that the custom of drying and preserving bodies was followed to some extent in the South Island, where it was called whakataumiro. Oil was used in the process. A dried body seen by Angas in the North Island had apparently been trussed as for burial; the knees were drawn up and the head rested on them. A few others have been found in caves. Not only was oil rubbed on the drying body, but also gum of the tarata tree, a Pittosporum, was used to close the pores, as a kind of varnish. Another account speaks of a steam oven being made below the body, which was elevated. This would be a steaming process.
An account was given me of the trussing of a body that had been dried. It was done while the body was still warm from the drying process. The legs were bent so that the knees came up against the breast, and the feet against the buttocks. The trussing was done by attaching cords to the knees and ankles, and considerable exertion was required in order to effect it. If the process was delayed too long then it became necessary to fracture the bones of the limbs.
A passing friend called in, and the old man said: “Let us hongi.” “What for?” asked the caller, “Are you going away?” “No,” was the reply, “I am going to die.” Came to him one to whom he had imparted much of his store of knowledge, and the old man bade him perform the Whakaha ceremony. When this was done, the old man said: “Retain the knowledge I have given you, deviate not from my teachings, and death shall find you an aged man.” And so, having passed on his mana to his scholar, the old barbarian calmly awaited the end that was so near. For his ancestor Tane-te-waiora was already low down on the darkening bulk of Hine-maunga, and, as his last rays cast the Ara whanui across the pulsing bosom of his grand-daughter Hine-moana, the old priest passed through the thin barrier and fared on to his fathers.
The cutting of hair by near relatives of the dead was essentially a Maori custom. In some cases half the hair was cut short, in others the whole head was so treated. Another mode was to cut it all short save one long lock, termed a reureu, or taweu, left on the side of the head. I have known a mother so cut her hair at the death of her child. Sometimes the hair was singed with a firebrand. Such were the tokens of mourning of the kiri mate, or near relatives of the dead. In some districts a long lock was left on the crown of the head, and to this might be attached a dog's tail that dangled down and swung to and fro as the person moved.
Whare potae and whare taua are emblematical expressions denoting the state or condition of mourning, the “house of mourning.” Any sign of mourning is alluded to as tauā. The black mourning garb of Europeans is so termed. The near relatives of a dead person are said to be in the house of mourning during the period of mourning; it is no house built page 59 by human hands. The potae taua, or mourning cap, was an old institution. It was no true cap or hat, being crownless; it was composed of a fillet or band to encircle the head, from which were suspended strings of seaweed, or of some fibrous plant, or the tail feathers of a bird. These were worn by widows. Chaplets of leaves, as those of the kawakawa and parapara (Macropiper excelsum and Nothopanax arboreum) were also worn.
During the first days of mourning near relatives of the dead are not supposed to partake of food apparently. They remain seated on either side of the corpse, and some at least will join in the constant wailing, crooning, and doleful chaunting that goes on. I have known these near relatives to so remain by the side of the body until it was taken away for burial, and all through the night one might hear the mournful wailing. This seems to have been the ancient custom. Only under cover of night would they seek food, retiring to some hut to eat in secret, as it were. This procedure has been observed by the writer. It was also observed that it ceased after the burial of the body. To offer food to one of the kirimate during the first days of mourning is “bad form.” If one were compelled to partake of food in day time, as might be the case when conveying a corpse to the home village, then he would pluck a branch, stick it in the ground, and sit under it while eating. The shadow cast by that branch represents the shades of night. Not until the abolition of the tapu of the “house of mourning” will its occupants take food during daylight. That function was formerly marked by a rite performed over the mourners at a stream, in which their grief and mournful longing for the dead were horoia atu, or effaced.
A very strange course of action was sometimes adopted at the death of a person. A party of tribesmen would proceed to the scene of mourning, and make an attack on the near relatives of the deceased. Nor was it a case of simulated anger, for broken heads often resulted. This act was a species of muru raid. Those relatives had allowed a useful member of the tribe to die, and so deserved punishment. This was quite clear to the Maori, whose mind works in very singular page 60 channels. If a man lost his wife by death he was liable to be murua, or plundered.
In some parts a human sacrifice sometimes marked the lifting of the tapu of death from the mourners. The victim was referred to as an ika koanga-umu. The real purport of this sacrifice was to add èclat to the function and provide a prized dish for the ceremonial feast. The rite of lifting tapu from mourners was marked by aspersion, and sometimes by ceremonial hair-cutting. Dirges (pihe) for the dead are numerous, and laments (waiata tangi) for the same were generally composed. The oldest of all dirges is the Tangi a Apakura, the ceaseless moaning of the restless, ever-grieving ocean. Hence we hear the old saying: “Wahine tangi haehae, he ngaru moana, e kore e mātākā” (Lacerating, mourning women and ocean waves know no rest). Another old saying connected with mourning is as follows: “Waiho kia tangi ahau ki taku tupapaku, āpā he uru ti e pihi ake” (Let me weep for my dead, it is not as though it were a Cordyline palm that springs up again). If you cut down this tree young shoots then spring up from the stump.
Weeping for the dead in private cannot be termed a Maori usage. He preferred to do so in public, and of a verity weeping at such functions comes easy to him. Some of the laments composed for the dead are highly interesting. The following lines are from one composed by a father for his child: “Alas! O child! Where art thou hidden from me? That I might see you as I did of yore, as you came running and laughing to the door. That thy spirit might appear to me as does Puaroa, and the lordly celestial beings of the Orongonui, your elders who adorn the Milky Way. May you pass to the supernal realm and join the sacred company of the Whatukura, leaving me consumed by grief and longing, O child of mine.”
Mr. White has left us a note to the effect that occasionally an image of wood was fashioned to represent a defunct relative, before which the living wept and mourned, while food was offered to the image. This certainly was not a common custom.page 61
Yet another old custom now claims our attention, and that is the process of drying and preserving human heads, known as pakipaki mahunga, the dried article being termed mokamokai. Unlike the drying of the whole body, this was a fairly common usage, and it included the heads of both friends and enemies. The Maori was not a head hunter, but he sometimes so preserved the heads of prominent enemies, not only because it would cause grief to his enemies, but also to enable him to revile an enemy after death. Such heads of enemies would be occasionally exposed, impaled on a stake, sometimes on the defensive stockade of the village, when they would be addressed in bitter terms.
In the case of friends, heads of men of standing were sometimes preserved and brought out occasionally to be greeted and wept over by their relatives. When the northern raiders lost a large number of men at Wellington by an epidemic in 1820, they burned the bodies of the dead so that the local natives might not obtain their bones. The heads of some of the more important men were dried and carried back by relatives to their northern homes. Dried heads of friends were exhibited at meetings of the people.
The process to which the heads were subjected was one of steaming. A steaming pit was made as it is for the cooking of food, but a small orifice was left for stream to escape by, and over this the head was placed. All interior matter softened by the hot steam was disposed of by a shaking and probing process. The skin was taken off below the line of decapitation to allow for contraction. The eyes were extracted and the eyelids sewn down. The loose flap of skin was tied underneath. The final process was one of smoke drying. Oil was rubbed on the head several times. The hair was retained, and was dressed and decorated when the head was exposed to the public. Numbers of these dried Maori heads are in museums in Europe and elsewhere. The last case of head drying known to the writer occurred in 1865.
Cenotaphs and other mortuary memorials represented a common custom in Maoriland. Inasmuch as it was unsafe to mark a grave, then the Maoriland. Inasmuch as it was unsafe to mark a grave, then the Maori indulged his penchant for symbols and tohu (signs) by erecting wooden cenotaphs adorned page 62 with carved or painted designs. The former style would include some grotesque representations of the human figure, but the latter never did. Painted designs were such curvilinear ones as are seen in the decorative work of house interiors. Cenotaphs are termed tiki, and those bearing no decorative carving are known as tiki mamore. In eastern Polynesia this name is applied, as it is in New Zealand, to wooden images fashioned in human form, evidently a memory of Tiki the first man, and the tiki that forms man.
Some form of mortuary memorial was often set up, or made, where a person had been killed, or at a spot where the bearers of a sick and dying man had rested as they bore him home to die on his tribal lands, or bearers of bones of the dead had done so. The memorial might be a carved post, or a plain one, or an unworked stone set up with its base in the earth, or merely a hole (pokapoka or umu) dug in the earth. Some rude stones so set near Atiamuri have been magnified into “megalithic remains” by enthusiastic writers. Such tohu were often painted with red ochre.
A favoured kind of memorial of this nature, one set up for persons of importance only, was the half of a canoe. When such a man died his canoe would be rendered tapu and would be cut in half. One of these halves would be decorated as described above and set up as is a post in a vertical position, the wide end embedded in the earth. These memorials, as also tombs and small elevated box-like huts containing exhumed bones of the dead, were erected within the limits of the fortified villages in olden days. In some cases they were very numerous. Some of the canoe cenotaphs were thirty feet in height. Old residents of Wellington will remember such a one that stood for many years on the hillside at Nga Uranga in memory of the chief Wharepouri.
Burial grounds are termed urupa. A cave or chasm where bodies or bones of the dead were placed is styled a toma, whara, and rua koiwi.
If the dead were buried, or otherwise disposed of outside the limits of the fortified village, then secret disposal was generally necessary. What is generally termed canoe burial was not a safe usage outside the village. This mode con- page 63 sisted of placing the corpse inside a form of coffin made by fastening together two sections of a canoe gunwale to gunwale; they might be six feet long. This coffin was erected in an upright position, and the body was placed inside in a sitting position on a kind of grating. These receptacles were painted red and sometimes adorned with feathers where the two lengths of canoe were joined together. They often had a fence round them, at least after the arrival of Europeans, and in some cases a protecting shed was erected over them. Bodies were sometimes put into such coffins, which were then placed up among the branches of a tree, or a canoe coffin so disposed of might contain the exhumed bones of the dead. Early voyagers saw canoe coffins containing bones of the dead, and remains of bodies lying on elevated platforms in native villages.
In the account of the voyage of the Venus we are told that the French voyagers saw bodies lying at full length and also trussed, on rude stages made of branches. Some of these bodies were covered, others were not. They also saw bodies placed up in trees, and others lying in canoes that had apparently been dragged to the site of the urupa. During Cook's first voyage a wooden cross like a crucifix was seen at Queen Charlotte Sound, which, in Banks'Journal, is said to have been a mortuary memorial. We have no further information, however, concerning this form. Tree burial was common in some wooded districts, as in that of the Tuhoe tribe. The most common form there was to place the exhumed bones of the dead in a hollow tree. Many such trees are known in that district. The writer discovered two close to one of his camps long years ago. The trees are often large, hollow pukatea (Laurelia). One such, near Opotiki, contained the bones of some hundreds of persons. Another form was stage burial, the bodies being placed on a platform constructed among the branches of a tree. We hear of these platforms having, in some cases, a form of roof put over them. Occasionally the body was concealed among the masses of epiphyte Astelia growing high up on huge rata (Metrosideros) trees. The Ngai-Tama clan of Tuhoe have followed the custom of tree burial since the days of their eponymic ancestor, who page 64 flourished thirteen generations ago. That ancestor considered it a wrong act to bury the dead in the earth, because the earth produced food for mankind. Tama was scarcely a consistent person, for the food supplies of his folk were obtained largely from trees.
Swamp burial was occasionally practised, the method being to tread the body down into a swamp. Sandhill burial was common in some parts where loose formations of sand were found on the coast. This was an easy task, the covering of the body in the face of a sand drift. Shifting sand dunes have exposed many human remains, and implements and ornaments of stone and bone that had been buried with the dead. A famed sand dune burial place for centuries was that known as Opihi, at Whakatane, known in full as “Opihi whanaunga kore” (Opihi the relationless), presumably because it had no regard for any person, none were spared, all came to it in the end. In these cases of swamp and sand burial the bones were not recovered. The former mode was favoured in the case of a tama-a-hara, or ito, that is a person possessed of deadly enemies who would be overjoyed at the discovery of his grave.
Graves were but shallow excavations, for the bones were usually exhumed, and a deep pit would retard decomposition. In sitting or crouched burial (tapuke whakanoho) the trussed body was but a little way from the surface.
Tombs erected at a village were sometimes of a rectangular form. Many of these were seen by early European residents in these isles. They were built of hewn slabs of wood, and were in some cases most elaborately adorned with carved designs. We are told that they often resembled sentry boxes or watch-houses in appearance, and were covered with the single slope roof known as a shed roof. The corpse was placed inside in a sitting position. After some time the bones would be taken out of such places and disposed of. They might be concealed in a tree, or cave, or possibly put into a small box-like, hut-shaped receptacle perched on a tall post erected within the village, and called a pouraka and pouwaka. One would suppose that bodies of the dead within the limits page 65 of a village would compel the villagers to seek a new home, but apparently the Maori did not worry about such matters.
House burial seems to have been occasionally practised by the Maori. The Rev. Wohlers speaks of it as occurring in the South Island. Presumably the house would become tapu and have to be deserted.
The singular coffins found in caves north of Auckland seem to have been peculiar to that district. The carved designs on them are often dissimilar to those employed in other parts and in later times. These receptacles were made to contain exhumed bones, not bodies, and are fine examples of old stone tool work. Curiously enough they have only come to light of late years, though in the late Mr. John White's papers is a note, made many years ago, of the existence of one in a cave at Te Kopuru, Kaipara district. The coffins of the Moriori folk, called hakana, we have no description of.
In a few cases trussed bodies of the dead, occasionally a dried body, were conveyed to a cave and placed in a sitting position on a block of stone therein. Such bodies would be enveloped in a cloak of Phormium fibre. In at least some cases a formula was recited by the officiating tohunga that had the effect of placing the tapu cave under the care of an atua. He was, as the Maori puts it, “located at the entrance.” This was to prevent trespass and desecration by unauthorised persons. If any person did so trespass he would be seriously afflicted by the guardian spirit god. The priest would place a mokopeke (lizard) at the place, and this creature was called the guardian, but it really represented the spirit atua that was the real power of the embargo, as also the punishing force.
With regard to such cases as the above, whenever it was desired to consign another corpse, or bones of the dead, to that cave, it would be necessary for a priest of established mana to precede the bearers of the body and, by means of certain ritual formulæ, “clear the way,” that is, avert the anger of the guardian spirit. Otherwise it would be quite impossible for those persons to enter the cave. My informant was very emphatic on this point, as also in maintaining that only persons of the chieftain class would be placed in toma page 66 tupapaku (caves of the dead). Common persons would be buried in a sand dune or elsewhere.
A statement was once made to me of which I have never noted any proof. We know that occasionally certain devices were painted with red ochre on the exhumed skulls placed in a cave. Thus the tuhi korae or tuhi marei kura consisted of horizontal bands across the forehead, and the tuhi kohuru was a series of bands running diagonally across the face. The word tuhi means “to mark.” Now one old warrior told me that tuhi awarua was a device marked on a stone in a cave on which a trussed body was placed. This term was applied to the mark whatever the device might be. Also that, in some instances, the device so painted on the stone was that of the imprint of the hand of the defunct. I have heard of but one case in which the form of a human hand has been found marked in a cave. The object of the tuhi awarua was to assist in identification should it be necessary to remove the bones at some future time, either for disposal elsewhere, or to be used in some religious ceremony. Again, we are told that some device of the tattooing of the defunct might be utilised as an identification mark, such as the tiwhana or brow lines.
Supposing that a superior house was being built, and that one of the carved figures thereof was named after a forbear whose last resting place bore such a mark as described above, then such mark would probably be carved on the image in the house. It might be carved in the space between the legs of the figure.
Again, children were taught many things in a manner truly Maori. We will suppose that a child's father has died and that he sits in the cave of the dead with his identification mark on his stone seat. That child must be taught that his father's remains are so marked. If the child chances to be unruly, or in the way, an elder will cry out in manner testy: “Ha! Go away! Stand off! The mark of your father is a tuhi awarua.” That child will enquire as to the meaning of the expression, thinking that it conveys a sense of blame. And so knowledge is acquired.
When placing remains of the dead in caves or elsewhere, prized articles were sometimes placed with them, such as imple- page 67 ments, weapons, or ornaments such as pendants, etc. Highlyvalued articles, such as greenstone weapons and pendants, are sometimes found in burial places. In other cases such objects were buried with the dead and reclaimed when exhumation of the bones took place some years later. These offerings were made in honour of the dead. Some ceremony was performed over reclaimed articles ere they were handed back to the owners. This was to remove any harmful influence, such as pertains to the tapu of the dead. I could never ascertain that there was any idea concerning spirits of the dead utilising such objects.
We have known cases in which, when a child died, its toys were placed with the body in the grave or elsewhere. Memory recalls a case in which a young girl died, and, when buried, her prized possession, a brooch formed of a crown piece, was placed on her body. Her sister then abandoned her name, and took that of Karauna, the Maori rendering of “crown.” When the grandfather of this child died, he left a manuscript book in which was written much old tribal lore; this book was placed in the grave by his son. Rude litters (amo, kauamo, kauhoa) were used for carrying bodies of the dead, or sick persons. It was not a Maori custom to place food with the dead, though a few such cases are mentioned.
The cave on Kapiti Island, known as Wharekohu, was a famed burial cave, and the remains of many persons of rank were deposited there, including those of Tara, the eponymic ancestor of the Ngai-Tara tribe of the Wellington district. Some famous old greenstone weapons were deposited in that cave.
Sir John Evans tells us that cases of sitting burial have been noted in foundations of Babylon, and that it was practised in Europe, Africa and America. The Assyrians and Guanches are credited with the custom in “Man Before Metals.”
Sea burial was apparently but little practised by the Maori. Banks mentions it as noted at Queen Charlotte Sound during Cook's first voyage.
Persons who handled bodies of the dead were extremely tapu, hence that tapu had to be lifted from that burial party on its return to the village home. This rite was performed in water, in which the tapu persons had to immerse their bodies; they would be absolutely nude at such a time. The officiating priest intoned the necessary ritual formulæ to remove all restrictions. A funeral feast followed this performance, and some special and tapu food, termed popoa, was consumed by the ariki and tohunga of the community. A brief note states that food was sometimes offered to a dead person prior to the burial. A priest would put it to the mouth of the corpse, and withdraw it, or simply wave it towards his mouth. The ahua, or semblance, of the food was supposed to be consumed by the defunct one. A part of the tapu lifting ceremony described above was the ceremonial cutting of the hair of the chief mourner.
A form of the Tira ora rite seems to have been sometimes performed after the burial of a person. The tohunga ariki would set up the tira mate, or wand of death, and recite the following over it: “Thou wand of the Po, the great Po, the long Po, the dark Po, the unseen Po, the unsought Po; stand there, ye wand, wand of Tane, wand of the Po. Begone for ever to the Po.” This act was a form of tuku wairua; it despatched the soul of the dead to the Po (the unknown world, the spirit world), to join the myriads who had preceded it, lest it should remain in the world of life and plague the page 70 living. The priest then erected the tira ora or wand of life, both tira being set up in water, the purest of elements in Maori belief. This wand represented life and welfare, the world of life, and the denizens thereof, as the first represented the realm of death. The priest now recited over the secon rod or wand: “Thou wand of this world, the great world, the long world, the dark world; stand there, ye wand, the wand of Hikurangi, the wand of this world, of the world of light. Remain in this world.” This formula was supposed to preserve the welfare of the living. The gifts to the dead, termed kopaki, or “wrappers,” such as fine cloaks, etc., were retained by relatives. Prior to the commencement of the ceremonial feast the Taumaha ritual, already explained, was repeated over the food supplies provided. It may be explained that Hikurangi, a common hill and mountain name in Polynesia and New Zealand, is the name of a famed sacred mountain in the old homeland of the race. On that mountain the light of eternal life rests; death is unknown. So says the Maori.
The student of old-time Maori life marvels at the excesses committed by natives in the past days of the mana maori. He recognises the superior mentality of the people, the highly pitched concepts, the mythopoetic nature of these barbaric folk. Then he encounters some characteristic, or custom, or occasional happening that seems to sink the Maori into the pit of savagery. Of this nature was the ghoulish act termed kai pirau, alluded to above. Another such procedure was the manner in which captives were sometimes put to death. Cases are on record in which enemy prisoners were cooked alive, made to lie down in a prepared, heated, steaming pit and covered over and cooked for the cannibal feast. Such an incident occurred at the Keke-paraoa pa at Waikohu.
We must now review the subject of exhumation. The hahunga or exhumation of bones of the dead was accompanied by much more ceremonial than was inhumation. In the first place burial in such cases was but a temporary affair; in the second place secrecy was considered desirable. In the exhumation of the bones of his dead, however, and the final disposal thereof, the Maori gratified his penchant for ceremonial performances.page 71
An average of many periods given by natives places the time of exhumation at about four years after burial. These disinterring functions were held periodically, and so the duration of the period of burial would differ considerably. As the function took place at irregular intervals some bodies might have been buried for seven or eight years, and others for but one or two. Men who were employed to disentomb the remains were, of course, under heavy tapu, and had to undergo an important lustral rite at the completion of their task. This remark applies also to all who assisted in cleansing and preparing the bones for final disposal, also to the experts who scrutinised and checked the bones of each body. These men possessed no mean knowledge of human anatomy, and had named most of the bones of the human body.
Every act of exhumation, every stage of the process of recovery, seems to have called for its own special ritual formula, and the officiating tohunga was assuredly an important person at these functions. The hahunga was ever an occasion for a meeting of the clan or tribe, and considerable numbers of people would assemble at the village. While the exhumers were busy at their work the rest of the assembly, of both sexes and all ages, would be enjoying the re-union. For a year prior to the meeting preparations would have been going on in the way of cultivating and collecting food supplies. The clansmen enjoyed the social side of such meetings as only a Maori can.
In one of these functions that came under my own observation five men were engaged in disinterring the bones, under the supervision of an expert. As the delvers took out the bones they were wiped with bunches of grass, and the expert arranged the remains of each body in separate heaps. The expert certainly knew his work, and would occasionally remark that such a bone of a particular body was lacking, and he would bid the digger seek it. The task was a lengthy one, for many remains had to be recovered. The work continued for some days. Hence, when the delvers ceased work in the evening, or to partake of a meal, they had to strip and immerse their bodies in the adjacent river, while the expert recited the tapu removing ritual.page 72
The bones of each body were enveloped in a cloth. In former times a Phormium cloak or cape was used as a covering, and placed on an elevated platform termed the whata puaroa, or atamira. Here they remained until all had been so deposited, when relatives of the dead conveyed them to their resting place. This final act the writer made no attempt to witness. The proceedings in this case continued for two weeks, being delayed by mourning ceremonial connected with two persons who died at the village during that period. Presents were brought by visitors, as in the case of a burial.
At another exhumation witnessed the bodies had been buried within the limits of the village. The people assembled to view the proceedings, but remained at some distance from the graves. As each skull was taken out, the exhumer held it up to the view of the onlookers, when a wailing cry would be heard as they greeted the remains of their dead relative.
In the ceremonial feast that pertained to the task of exhumation the food was, as usual in such cases, cooked in different lots, as for persons of different standing and different degrees or phases of tapu. These different ovens and their names have already been explained. Should any ordinary person eat or touch food from the more tapu ovens anything might happen. It was a most serious offence. Should such a person eat a portion of the sacred food in ignorance, be it ever so small, then he would be punished by the gods. That punishment would probably be in the form of illness, and, when a tohunga performed a diagnostic rite over him, he would say: “He popoa to mate; nau i kai i te popoa” (Your malady is due to sacred food that you have eaten). Then he would proceed to perform the Whakaepa rite to placate and conciliate the gods. Popoa and popoki are terms applied to specially tapu food provided for such functions. In some cases when persons set out to procure food for a religious function, as the baptismal rite over an infant, etc., the first item obtained, perhaps a bird, is offered to the gods—ka kawea ki mua ma te atua—as the Maori puts it. This is a singular usage in regard to the word mua, as we have seen. It is applied to a tapu place, as a tuahu. Its antithesis is muri (meaning behind, the rear), a term em- page 73 ployed to denote a place void of tapu, as a cooking place, hence a kitchen, a cooking shed.
Ere the feast opens the priest performs the Whakau rite. He takes a small portion of the food and offers it to the gods, so that they may give force to his ritual formulæ. He then takes another small portion and holds it over the collected supplies of food, and recites the Whakau formula, or charm. He then lifts the fragment of food to his mouth and intones another such karakia. Some parts of these effusions are decidedly obscure, and even where they admit of translation, the inner, sacerdotal meaning is often hidden from us. I shall not weary readers with these innumerable karakia referred to. By means of this rite the restrictive tapu was lifted from the food, and so the feast commenced. It also removed excessive tapu from such persons as needed such relaxation of the spiritual bonds. Should the people eat of the food prior to this function being performed, then it would turn upon them and destroy them, as the Maori phrases it.
Caves in which the bones of the dead were deposited were often situated in rough forest-clad country, on high ranges, or on rugged cliffs. Often such places were concealed by brush or tree growth. In some cases men gained access to them from the head of a cliff by the aid of a rope. Such a cave at Rua-tahuna was gained only by ascending a tree and laying poles from its branches to the mouth of the cave. Many such caves of the dead have been found by bush-fellers and others. In tree burial a large hollow tree, showing no external opening in its lower part, but an aperture high up, was preferred, through which the bones could be thrust, to fall down the hollow interior of the trunk.
The bearers carried the remains wrapped up in separate parcels. A tohunga preceded them, and he recited certain formulæ at different stages of progress of the task, one such as they approached the tapu cave. The bundles of bones were deposited in the cave, often with the skull placed on top of the other bones, and the bearers then returned home, where the Whakanoa rite to remove tapu would be performed over them. Some of these whara or rua koiwi are not true caves, but what may be termed rock shelters. The writer has seen page 74 such places where many of such bundles of bones were arranged under overhanging rocks.
In some cases some of the teeth were extracted from the skull and worn by relatives as pendants, sometimes formed into a necklace. A brief note reminds me that when a tohunga removed the teeth he tied them to a stick, then held the stick up and recited some formula, probably to remove all harmful influences.
An account of exhumation given by an east coast native presents a few features of interest. It refers to exhumers immersing their bodies in water prior to commencing their task, while some form of ritual was recited over them. The exhumers discarded their garments while disinterring the bones, and the wooden spade used for the purpose was called a peru. Certain ritual recitations pertained to this part of the task, the recovery of the remains. In returning to the village the bearers of the remains preceded the priest, and all would wear a kind of chaplet made of leafy branchlets, and termed a parepare. On reaching the village the bones would be deposited in the porch of the principal house, below the window space, and on mats spread for the purpose. Relatives of the dead would be there assembled. The majority of the people would be assembled on either side of the open space before the house. As the exhumation party approached, these assembled folk would cry a welcome to the dead. The following is such a chaunted address as was employed at such a time. It also contains a warning to the living to look to their own welfare, to be ready to avert evil influences: “Aotea e takoto nei whakatangatanga ki runga, whakatangatanga ki runga. Koi pehia koe e te rehu ta kohuru e noho mai nei. Rongotakawhiu kumea mai, toia mai ki te urunga takoto ai. Aue!” Even so were the dead called back to the village home they had known in the world of life. As the bearers reached the porch of the house the call ceased, and the mournful wailing for the dead commenced.
At such a time gifts (kopaki) were made in honour of the dead; these were retained by relatives. For the time being they were placed before the remains of the dead.page 75
The following is a portion of an address to the remains of a man who had been buried in the territory of another tribe or clan, delivered by a member of that tribe. He had exhumed the remains and had escorted them back to the home of the defunct one: “Farewell, O sir! I have returned you to your people, to your very home. Farewell. Go to your ancestors, to your elders, who will welcome you. Fare on your way, the way by which your ancestor ascended to the bespaced heavens. Pass through the entrance to the supernal heaven. Enter within the Rauroha, where the Whatukura and the celestial maids will welcome you within Rangiatea, that you may attain everlasting spiritual welfare, that you may attain peace.”
The relatives of the dead, in a series of flowery speeches, then thanked the late speaker for his care of their dead, for his conveying the remains to the village home, for gifts he had brought in honour of the dead. Gifts were then presented to the visiting chief, and he and his party returned to their home. When the bones were finally disposed of in a cave they might be placed on a flat stone, which was called a papa takere or papa rau. Imperishable objects of value might be placed with the remains. In some cases climbing or other plants were planted so that they would eventually conceal the entrance to the burial cave. When the party that deposited the bones in the cave returned to the village a ceremonial feast was held, and that feast was alluded to as a tuku heru; in modern times it has been termed a pure. The former term denotes that the dead chief has no further use for his heru tu rae or decorative bone comb that he had worn in his hair, and which would now pass to his son, or at least the chieftainship would.
The expression ahi mate (extinct fire) is equivalent to our “cold hearthstone,” and much the same as that of whare ngaro, which denotes a family that has died out. Nga taru o Tura (the weeds of Tura) is a term applied to grey hair, the token of decay and death. When a decrepit old man is asked to take part in some enterprise demanding vigour and strength, he will quote an old aphorism: “Na wai te kokumuka tu tara whare i kiia kia haere” (Who said that the Veronica growing on the house wall should move abroad?). The following are other old sayings pertaining to death:—page 76
“Matua pou whare rokohia ana, matua tangata e kore e rokohia” (A house post parent can always be found, not so a human parent). Death may claim the latter at any time.
“Kei mate a tarakihi koe, engari kia mate a ururoa” (Die not as does the fish tarakihi, but rather as does the shark). The former makes no struggle, but the ururoa fights desperately to the last.
“Ehara i te ti e wana ake” signifies that man dies and is seen no more, unlike the Cordyline palm, which, when cut down, grows again from the stump.
“Ka mate tino tangata, tena e rewa mai” signifies that when an important person dies many mourning parties will take the road.
The thought grows that we have tarried full long in the shadow of death. We have seen man the neolith struck down by Maiki-nui, and fall to the dread arts of Whiro. We have trussed his soulless body, and laid him in the breast of the Earth Mother whose affection for her stricken offspring never wanes. We have recovered his remains, and, with solemn ritual, have laid them to rest for ever. As the men of old said: “Cease wailing; to-morrow shall we mourn again; it is not the mourning of the ocean, which ever moans.” For of a verity that is the Tangi a Apakura, the oldest of all dirges—the ceaseless moaning of the restless ocean.