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The Coming of the Maori

Adolescence and Higher Education

Adolescence and Higher Education

When the child entered his teens, he had passed through the stage of primary education and, so far as language was concerned, he now came under the influence of the public speakers and orators of his family and his tribe. In an English or American community, the opportunities of hearing good speeches are somewhat infrequent and, even then, the audience is usually restricted to the members of some society, learned or otherwise. Public speakers are generally listened to for their theories and political or commercial propaganda and not for their English. In Maori society, however, the fixed etiquette of welcoming visitors with oratorical speeches, replying, open discussions of affairs of tribal or family interest, and orations connected with birth, marriage, and death, all led to the development of high standards of speech and oratory. The occasions calling for public orations were frequent and, furthermore, were open to all. Thus the children learned not only conversational speech but they also learned to admire and to memorize the higher forms of speech which contained references to mythology, traditions, and genealogies, which were enriched with figures of speech and appropriate chants and songs. To keep their own memories green, the old people in the evenings or early mornings sang through their repertoire of songs while reclining in the tribal meeting-house and the older children learned them so as to join in with the community singing. Speeches were always brightened with appropriate songs or historical dirges, and the speaker often called upon his people to give volume to the song. When the chorus stood up, it was a matter of pride to the younger people to be able to join in. Thus there were both opportunity and incentive for the adolescents to improve their knowledge of classical language and acquire an extensive repertoire of figures of speech, proverbs and sayings, and chants and songs which would be appropriate for various occasions.

The experts of the family were always ready to teach, and nothing pleased the old men more than to give instruction to the youth anxious to page 361learn. Particular attention was paid to the details of the military record of the tribe, so that if a disparaging remark were made about a defeat which had been suffered, it could be countered by drawing attention to the victory which had avenged the previous defeat. This instruction was part of the policy of arming a young man who might be drawn into verbal arguments abroad. Those who showed special interest or whose birth required it, were taught not only their tribal genealogies but also the marriage connections with other tribes so that inter-tribal relations could be referred to with the proper etiquette on future meetings. The orators always carried a club as they moved to and fro in making a speech, and they punctuated their remarks with appropriate gestures and inflexions of the voice. Thus, by precept and example, the adolescent entered manhood with the elements of oratory within him ready to burst forth when the occasion demanded.

During the teen years, the boys and girls were able to assist their parents in manual tasks. The boys assisted their fathers in obtaining material, house building, fishing, fowling, food cultivation, and other masculine activities. The girls were taught by their female relatives to plait mats and baskets, weave, and prepare food. The development of extra skill was a matter of individual aptitude.

To become a master craftsman in the more skilled crafts such as wood carving and tattooing, the adolescent had to be taught by an expert. His apprenticeship was preceded by an initiation ceremony, in which the ritual brought him under the favour of the tutelary god of the particular craft. The student's understanding was thereby quickened, his ears became receptive to instruction, his memory retentive, and his hands skilful. The arrangements were usually made by the elders but sometimes the keen desire of a boy was recognized by a craftsman. Hori Pukehika of Whanganui told me how he became a master builder and carver. When the carved house of the Takarangi family, named Te Pakū, was being built at Putiki, Hori, as a boy, watched the carvers at work. The head carver was working on the tekoteko human figure to surmount the front gable end when the call came for the midday meal. Hori had been watching with longing eyes, and as the carver had left his chisel and mallet beside the work, he picked them up and commenced to carve the tattoo lines on the unfinished side of the face. He became so engrossed that he did not hear the craftsman return. He was surprised by an exclamation, and raising his head, he saw the head carver gazing with interest and surprise at what he had done. Hori dropped the tools in fear, but the old man looked at him kindly and asked, "Would you really like to learn to carve?" "Yes," replied the boy. "Very well," said the kindly expert, "meet me over there on the bank of the river just before sunset." At the place and time appointed, the old man told Hori to strip and, removing his own clothes, they waded out into page 362the water to waist depth. Just as the sun was setting, the master carver recited a ritual chant, sprinkled the boy with water, and Hori became an entered apprentice in the exclusive guild of builders and carvers. Hori said, "If you look at the tekoteko on Te Pakū, you will notice that on one side of the face, the lines are not quite regular." Then with a deprecating smile, he added, "The crooked lines are mine."

The highest craft among women was weaving and, here again, some were initiated so as to attain the greatest skill. Tira, the wife of Hori Pukehika, was one of the best weavers in the Whanganui district After she learned the elements of the craft, the officiating priest told her to weave a rough sampler as an offering. This was laid by the priest on a tapu place termed a tuahu. He then lit a fire and warmed some puha leaves (Sonchus asper) over the embers. Then, with a ritual chant, he gave her the cooked leaves to eat. The ceremony fixed the knowledge she had already acquired and opened her mind and fingers to further skill. Her skill was unquestionable, for as Hori said with a proud smile, she had been "fed".

The children who had been dedicated to Tu, the war god, by the tohirite were given military instruction. After initial teaching such as that given by Paraire Tomoana's grand-uncle, they received graduated exercises according to their age and strength. They were first taught the strokes and guards with a dry flower stalk of the native flax, in lieu of the double-handed club. In adolescence, they were taught with real clubs and, when they had developed enough skill to satisfy the family, were sent to a tribal expert (toa) for a finishing-off course. The expert could exercise the right' to one real blow at the aspiring pupil as a test of admission. After preliminary sparring and a display of footwork, which were duly noted, the master-at-arms delivered the entrance blow at the candidate. If the candidate parried the stroke, he was admitted for further instruction; if he failed, he not only received a severe wound but was sent down as not up to the standard for training by the expert. The successful student received his final test in battle, and if success attended his arms, he graduated as a blooded warrior (toa taua). He became a specialist eager to gain laurels on fresh fields and refused to sully his honour by engaging in food cultivation. He was a leader in war but a drone in peace.

The youths who had been registered under "Rongo for the course in agriculture, did not have a severe entrance examination like those dedicated to war. They were apprenticed to the food experts and taught the correct ritual to Rongo in order to induce prolific crops. They were given practical instruction in meteorology, the seasons, the soil, and the methods of preparing the cultivations, planting, protecting, harvesting, and storing the crops. The food cultivator led a less spectacular life than the warrior, but the benefits he conferred upon his people were continuous throughout life.

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Hence it was said that the fame of the warrior was transient but the fame of the producer of food was enduring.

A high standard of education was given to the sons of chiefs and priests by selected members of the tribe, who, because of their knowledge, were regarded as repositories of tribal lore. They taught individual students on much the same pattern as do private teachers engaged in European society to teach the children of well-to-do parents. In addition to such finishing courses, some men famous for their learning gave courses in high education to a number of selected students whose admission was not by examination as to intellectual ability but by the qualification of birth. The courses were given in houses set apart for the purpose and termed whare wananga. They may be compared to universities, and the graduates were respected as much, if not more, in their day and generation as the graduate with the highest degrees in our universities of today.