The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days
As is the case with most people of the barbaric culture stage, the Maori was much given to personal adornment, albeit it was confined in most cases to special occasions, as social meetings and functions of divers kinds. As a people our native folk cannot be said to have been a cleanly race; a colder climate doubtless had its effect in restricting bathing as compared with the Polynesian area. The practice of smearing the body and head with a mixture of ochre and oil was in itself an offensive one. The observation of tapu often made for dirtiness and a slovenly appearance. When about to adorn himself for some function, however, the Maori might indulge in a partial bath. He would then repair to the nearest creek, for, like our own folk of a few decades ago, he did not possess the luxury of a bathroom. Allowing that he did so wash himself, the next operation was the adornment of his head, and this process was often a lengthy one, probably performed by his wife.
In former times the Maori reversed our mode of tending the hair; as a rule the men wore their hair long, and the women cut theirs short, or comparatively so. Occasionally women seem to have worn their hair long, and to have arranged it on the head as men did. In such cases it would be difficult to distinguish between the sexes at a little distance. Men tied their long hair on the top of the head in a knob, and in this knot they might place feathers or a head-comb. These combs were made from bone or hard wood, and the bone ones were sometimes adorned with page 209 page 210 small counter-sunk pieces of Haliotis shell and carved designs. In many cases the long hair was drawn up on the top of the head and a tie secured round it; this clump was called a putiki. The loose ends were then brought down and again tied. In some cases the hair was passed through a small wooden hoop, then brought down outside the hoop so as to cover it, and secured under it with a tie. Again, the hair seems to have been plaited and tied up on the head. In other cases a man's hair was gathered and tied in several bunches. To cut the hair off close to the head, except a long lock on the side, was a token of mourning. Sharp-edged flakes of obsidian were employed wherewith to cut hair. Crozet tells us that natives of the page 211 Bay of Islands tied up their long hair on top of their heads and cut it off above the tie, leaving a brush-like top-knot. Parkinson states that a shark's tooth was used in cutting hair or shaving the head. Of the Maori mode of dressing hair he remarks, “Some of them had their hair most curiously brought up to their crowns, rolled round, and knotted.” Of others, seen near Palliser Bay, he tells us that their hair was knotted up on the crown in two bunches, one of which was plaited. Banks says that sometimes they had one knot on each side, and pointed forward, presenting a disagreeable appearance. He also remarks that the women seldom decorated their heads.
Prized ornaments, such as plumes and valuable greenstone pendants, were kept in small boxes called waka huia and waka kautuku. These boxes were often adorned with carved designs exceedingly well executed.
A tipare or pare (chaplet or fillet) was sometimes worn, as during functions of a social character. These often served to contain or retain plumes worn as a head-dress. Strips of tapa, of the inner bark of the ribbonwood-tree, and of leaves of Celmisia were used in hair-dressing as ties, &c. The white-tipped feathers of the huia were highly prized for head-decoration, as also were certain feathers of the white heron, the tropic-bird, and a few others in lesser degree. A very curious form of decoration was that termed by early voyagers the “spritsail-yard.” It consists of two long plumes (wing or tail feathers) thrust through the septum of the nose, and projecting horizontally on either side of the face—a truly grotesque sight. The writer has seen men so adorned, but Dr. Thomson tells us that the custom was also practised among women.
Yate, Taylor, and some other early writers have told us that native mothers were in the habit of pressing the noses of babes in order to flatten them. Presumably this custom was inherited from olden times, when the straight - nosed Polynesian immigrants mated with the flat-nosed aboriginal women.
Anklets, termed tauri komore, were occasionally worn by women. These were formed of a woven band of Phormium fibre, adorned with coloured patterns (taniko) in some cases. Others were of plaited grass, or strings of shells. Sometimes a young woman would have bands of tattooing to resemble anklets. There is some evidence to show that simple forms of bracelets were occasionally page 212 worn, but apparently not often. The hangaroa with which anklets and belts for young women were adorned were probably Dentalium shells.
Ear-pendants.—The generic term for ear-pendants is mau taringa. It is not assured that whakakai is a precise synonym, but it certainly includes all ear-pendants of stone. The kope, or turuki, is an ear-ornament of aute. Pohoi are bunches of feathers suspended from the ears, often composed of soft, white down obtained from sea-birds, such as that of the albatross (awe toroa). Kahu raurekau, a thin, film-like white tissue stripped from leaves of Coprosma grandifolia, was also used as an ear-ornament.
Greenstone ear-pendants were the most highly prized ones; but that name, also the native term pounamu, includes several different kinds of stone, as nephrite, bowenite, serpentine, malachite, &c. The kuru mahora is a straight stone pendant; the kuru kapeu, or kapeu, or tautau, has a curve at its lower extremity; the kuru papa is a flattened form. Kuru tongarerewa simply implies a page 213 pendant fashioned from the kind of greenstone called tongarerewa. Koko has a similar meaning to that of kuru, apparently, as we see in koko tangiwai, a bowenite pendant. The tara pounamu is another form of greenstone pendant; the poria, whakarupe, pau, pirori, and motoi are yet others.
Another highly prized ear-pendant was the shark's tooth—the tooth of the porbeagle shark (Lamna cornubica), called mako by the Maori; it is also known as ngutukao. A few greenstone ear-pendants made in the form of these sharks' teeth have been seen. Human teeth—those of relatives—were sometimes worn as ear-pendants. Inasmuch as the garments of the Maori lacked pockets, it was quite a common practice to carry small implements suspended from the ears; thus small stone chisels were often so carried, and if that chisel were a greenstone one, then the pendant was viewed as a desirable decoration apart from its usefulness. A peculiar pendant, of which but few have been seen, is the koropepe, made in the form of a coiled page 214 page 215 snake; several specimens made from greenstone (nephrite) are known.
In modern times the Maori has been much in the habit of carrying his pipe in his ear, the stem thrust through its aperture. When early traders brought many articles unknown to the Maori, such items as were small were often carried by natives in their ears, apparently on account of their novelty. Thus, as Thomson says, gun-swivels, coins, and small bottles were used as ear-pendants; also buttons, buckles, and all sorts of odd things. Nicholas remarks that the hippocampus was dried and worn as an ear-pendant by natives. Banks tells us that when the voyagers gave them nails the natives often thrust them into their ears, and so carried them. Missionary Yate wrote: “I have frequently seen dead birds with the head squeezed through the hole made in a person's ear, where it has remained until it rotted off; and I have seen live birds served in the same way, and allowed to hang there and flap their wings and struggle till they were dead.”
Neck-pendants.—In neck-pendants we do not find so wide a range. The most highly prized of such decorations was the tiki, or heitiki. This odd-looking, grotesque object has been the subject of much speculation and some erroneous statements. It is a rudely fashioned figure intended to represent the human embryo, and it was viewed as a fertilizing agent, hence it was properly worn by women only. The tiki is a phallic symbol. In native myth we note that the first tiki (which is, properly speaking, the correct name of the pendant) was made for page 216 one Hine-te-iwaiwa, or Hina, who is the being presiding over women's handicrafts, and also childbirth. Hina is the personified form of the moon. The prefixed word hei simply denotes a neck-pendant, and tiki was a very old sacerdotal term for the phallus. Most tiki were fashioned from greenstone, but a few were of ivory and bone. The variety of greenstone called kahurangi was the most highly prized, inanga taking second place in native estimation. The fashioning of these figures from a stone somewhat harder than steel was an extremely slow task, and was effected principally by grinding processes.
The heitiki appearing on page 217 is said to have been obtained by one of Cook's officers. It is now (1915) in the possession of Mr. John Baillie. Its length is 6¾ in. (Photo supplied by Mr. A. T. Bates.)
The pekapeka, or kapakapa, was another peculiar form of neck-pendant; some fine greenstone ones have been preserved, but it was not so common as the tiki. Early voyagers tell us of necklaces of shark's teeth, of bones cut into lengths, and of shell. Forster tells us that green and red ornaments, such as beads, were preferred in page 217 page 218 New Zealand, black ones at Tonga, and white at Tahiti. The same writer saw necklaces of human teeth among the Maoris. Fossil shells of Dentalium were used for necklaces, and imitation teeth fashioned from shell, found in middens, &c., were probably used in the same manner. The triangular teeth of the great blue shark were possibly formed into necklaces, as they are found in a perforated condition, and trimmed as though for being placed side by side.
An article of unknown use is a cylindrical object of black stone with projecting rims. These outstanding rims are from two to five in number, and are usually serracted. One side of the spool-like object is usually flattened, as though intended to lie on or against a flat surface, and all are pierced longitudinally by a hole that has cost much time to bore. Such boring was done from both ends. They are most carefully made, extremely symmetrical, and have been found from the North Cape to Invercargill. Some curiously unlikely theories as to their use have been evolved by enthusiasts. One that sees in it a form of drill-control is one of the most improbable. Some well-fashioned bone objects of somewhat similar form, but without the high rims and flattened side, have probably been strung together; they were found all together at an old village site.
Flowers were not often employed as personal decorations in former times. A number of odd articles were occasionally used as ornaments, but the above-mentioned articles give a fair idea of native objects of adornment.
Clear pools of water were utilized as mirrors by persons engaged in decorating themselves in the manner Maori. Such pools were called wai whakaata and wai rakaia. Rakai and rakei mean “to adorn”; and the word hakari has a similar meaning.
A kind of sachet containing fragrant leaves was sometimes worn suspended from the neck, also occasionally a bird-skin that had been saturated in scented oil and rolled up. Oil obtained from the seeds of the titoki was made fragrant by means of various herbs, &c., and used for oiling the hair. Leaves of koareare (Panax Edgerleyi), of heketara (Olearia Cunninghamii), of tarata (Pittosporum eugenioides), &c., and a moss called kopuru were so used; also the gum of tarata and of taramea (Aciphylla) were so employed.
Oil obtained from the livers of certain species of sharks was used in mixing paints for personal use, or for painting canoes, houses, &c. It usually possessed a highly objectionable odour—at least, to Europeans; natives did page 219 not mind the smell. The Maori was much given to bedaubing himself with red ochre (kokowai, horu) mixed with oil. Occasionally a blue paint was made from pukepoto, a blue earth; also black, or which charcoal formed the basis, and white made from taioma, a white clay. If sufficient paint were available a man would smear himself all over with it. The Rev. R. Taylor remarks that the oil and ochre served as a protection against mosquitoes, and also against cold. The different designs painted on a person's face were known as tuhi kohuru, tuhi mareikura, &c. The mythical origin of the red ochreous earth is that it is the result of the blood of the Sky Parent Rangi that soaked into the body of the Earth Mother. When their unruly offspring separated the primal parents, Rangi clung so fast to the Earth Mother that it was found necessary to cut off his arms, hence the flow of blood.
Tattooing.—The art of tattooing, so widely practised throughout the world, was universally known in these isles, where it was practised by both sexes. Women invariably had the lips and chin tattooed, sometimes a small design on the forehead, and, rarely, the ngu or nose design. Some had short straight lines marked on the legs. Shortland mentions a woman of the South Island who had one half of her face (only) tatooed all over as that of a man. D'Urville saw, in the same region, a woman with her face wholly tattooed. Bidwill saw a woman with her buttocks tattooed like those of a man. Of natives seen in the vicinity of Bream Head, Parkinson says they lacked spiral designs on their faces, the style being different to anything seen before. This unusual form is probably that illustrated in his work.
Dr. Savage speaks of a semicircular figure over each eyebrow as a part of a woman's tattoo, but this has not come down to our time; it may have been a merely local usage. Crozet says that the Bay of Islands natives had the figure S tattooed on their hands—again probably a local practice. Taylor speaks of women having a little curl at the corner of the eye.
A fully tattooed man had his face covered with designs of varied form; also his buttocks and thighs were so adorned. Curiously enough, the breasts and arms were not tattooed. Occasionally, perhaps, some man might have a design marked on his breast; early writers seem to have seen such things. Mr. John White speaks of men having a large design of a fern-leaf tattooed on the back; but corroboration seems to be lacking. The Maori did not, so far as we know, copy such natural objects in his artistic work.page 220
Many brief accounts of Maori tattooing have been published, and these do not agree as to the method employed. Some say that the instrument was dipped into prepared pigment for each insertion; others that the pigment was rubbed into the cut, or that a wisp of tow saturated in the pigment was drawn across the incision when made. The first-mentioned method is the one I have seen employed by natives, though possibly details differed in page 221 page 222 different districts. The pigment was made from soot obtained from the burning of resinous wood or the gum of the kauri pine. The Tuhoe folk burned the curious object known as vegetating or vegetable caterpillar in order to use the residue for black pigment. Such soot was mixed with water or the juice of berries of the mahoe tree, formed into lumps and so kept for years. In this condition it was called kauri. The design was first traced, and then the operator dipped his little uhi, or adze-shaped implement, into the pigment, placed it on the traced line, and struck it a sharp tap with a piece of wood held in his right hand. This process was continued, but, being very severe, little could be done at one time.
[Note added by NZETC as annotator:]
Description: Fig. 105.—Maori tattooing
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The instrument used, the uhi, was usually made from a piece of albatross-bone, ground flat, thin and pointed, and with a cutting-edge of varying width, up to a quarter of an inch. It was hafted as is an adze—i.e., at a right angle to the handle—and the cutting-edge of the blade also at a page 223 right angle to the same. A few men made a profession of this art of tattooing, and were paid for their services in such articles as garments, objects of adornment, and implements. In order to be well adorned with finely-executed designs we are told that it was necessary to pay the artist a good price, otherwise the work would be performed in a hasty and careless manner.
The art of tattooing is said in native myth to have been introduced by one Mataora, previous to which man was adorned with painted patterns only. Mataora is said to have visited Rarohenga, the subterranean spirit-world, and to have acquired there the art of ta moko, which he brought back to this world. Some see in this myth a perverted remembrance of a voyage made by some old-time Polynesian ancestor to a land where tattooing was practised.
We are told that, originally, the only designs tattooed on women were a cross on each cheek, and one on the forehead. As a matter of fact, we do not find these Maori tattoo designs in Polynesia.
The act of tattooing a person of importance had a considerable amount of tapu pertaining to it, inasmuch as the process meant the shedding of blood. It was thus performed out-of-doors, perhaps under a rude temporary shelter. The conclusion of the ordeal was often marked by a social function, a meeting of the neighbouring peoples, and a ceremonial feast. When a girl of position had her lips tattooed the function was sometimes marked by a form of human sacrifice. Such person, however, was not slain as an offering to the gods, or for any truly ritual purpose, but simply to add éclat to the occasion, and to provide a prized dish at the feast. When such a girl had passed through the ordeal, she was adorned with fine garments, with pendants, albatross plumes (kaiwharawhara), and other decorations, then exhibited to the people.
Some unusual forms of tattoo occurred in the South Island, but, unfortunately, intelligent and interested observers were lacking in that district, and so no ethnographical data were there collected. Colenso was of the opinion that the curious face designs illustrated by Parkinson represented a southern practice. He himself had seen a few persons so tattooed, but does not tell us in what district he saw them. Tattooing on the tongue, practised by the Hawaiians, does not seem to have been favoured here, though an east coast tradition makes some reference to it. Men occasionally had the penis tattooed; among women the tara whakairo was rare.