The Coming of the Maori
Death and Burial
Death and Burial
Among the doings of Maui, the fisherman who fished up New Zealand, was his unsuccessful attempt to procure immortality for man by slaying Hinenuitepo, the mythical goddess of death. Accompanied by a retinue page 415of birds of different species, Maui proceeded to the Underworld (Po), where the goddess dwelt. His plan was to enter her body by the vagina, while she was asleep, and emerge by her mouth after cutting out her heart on the way through. The ancients must have had a better knowledge of anatomy than that indicated by the proposed route, but myth is not trammelled by scientific inhibitions. Before commencing his journey, Maui cautioned his feathered companions not to make any noise which would waken the sleeping goddess. However, when his head disappeared in the initial part of the journey, the irrepressible fantail, overcome by the ludicrous sight, laughed. The goddess awoke with a start, brought her thighs together, and Maui was strangled. Thus a poet sang:
|I mate mai te rangi||Death came to the mighty|
|la Maui i komia||When Maui was strangled|
|e Hinenuitepo,||by the Great-lady-of-the-night,|
|Waiho ki te ao, na i —||And so it remained in the world.|
Death is personified in the term Aitua and a literary composition states that Aitua came in his own canoe to these islands. The canoe bore the name of Karamurauriki (Small-leaved Coprosma) and that of the bailer was Tatataeore. The bow-piece was fastened and the stern-piece decked with streamers of white albatross feathers. So decorated, the canoe of Death sails through space to the various villages to embark the souls of the dead for the bourne from whence their ancestors came.
When a chief lay seriously ill, his people gathered at his dwelling to express their sympathy by their presence and to hear any farewell message he might give. When the patient felt that his end was near, he sometimes asked for some special article of food or for water from some well-known spring. Whether food or water, it formed the o matenga (o, provisions; matenga, death) which figuratively sustained him on his long journey after death. In some parts of Polynesia, food was placed with the corpse for a similar purpose.
The farewell message delivered before death was expected to contain some instructions to his successor or to his people. It was termed the ohaki (oha, greeting; ki, speech) or koha (remembrance). They were usually short as in the following example, "Hei konei ra! I muri i au, atawhaitia te iwi" ("Farewell! After I have gone, cherish the tribe"). Any such utterance gave the assembled people satisfaction, in that their chief had observed the traditions of his rank. In World War I, Lieutenant Henare Kohere commanded a platoon composed entirely of men from his own tribe of Ngati Porou. His cousin, Lieutenant Pekama Ka, commanded a mixed platoon of other tribes. After Kohere was mortally wounded near Fricourt in France, he sent for me and said, "When I am gone, give the command of my Ngati Porou platoon to Pekama Ka." This request page 416stemmed back to the ohaki or koha of his ancestors, and our Commanding Officer granted the farewell wish. Disappointment, when no farewell was made, is voiced in the following lines of a lament:
|I haere koha kpre
ko te hoa,
|The friend left
without a guiding word,
|Kaore i muna iho.||Without speech of farewell.|
The act of dying was termed whakahemohemo and when the dying person drew his last breath, the female relatives around his couch raised the long wailing cry announcing death. At the sound, the people throughout the village gathered in groups to pay their respects to the dead.
A death imposed a death tapu over the building in which the death occurred. Though various forms of tapu can be removed by the appropriate ceremony, there was something sinister and lingering about a death tapu. No one cared to sleep on the same spot where someone had died. A former objection to European hospitals was mat beds in which patients had died were continued in use. The proper treatment for the removal of a death tapu over a house was the same as for the tapu house of childbirth, namely to burn it down. An ordinary house could be burned down or abandoned without much loss but meeting houses were too valuable to allow of being destroyed. The only possible way of saving valuable houses was by not allowing anyone to the in them. Thus when patients became seriously ill, they were removed to a temporary shelter quickly made or, in later times, to a tent. For people of note, the temporary shelter or tent was erected near the meeting house and facing out onto the marae. If they died there, no further arrangements were necessary for the next stage in the proceedings.
If death occurred elsewhere in the village or out in the country, the corpse was conveyed immediately to a shelter or tent near the meeting house so as to face out on the village marae. This was necessary because all public demonstrations of grief by visiting tribes had to take place on the marae. The shelter for the corpse also accommodated the widow or widower and some of the closest relatives who remained with the body until burial took place. The term whare mate (house of the dead) was applied to the shelter and the people within it. The terms whare potae and whare taua both mean house of mourning, but they are used figuratively to apply to the period and state of mourning and not to an actual house.
In olden days, chiefly corpses were carefully prepared to look their best. The hair was oiled and decked with feathers, the face was painted with the red ochre denoting chiefly rank, and the ears were decorated with ornaments of jade or albatross down. Sometimes the corpse was trussed in the sitting position with a fine dress cloak around the shoulders as in page 417life. Best (16, vol. 2, p. 54) states that the body was then seated in the front porch of the principal house which remained intensely tapu as long as the body remained there. It is evident that placing a corpse in the porch did not create such a virulent tapu as did dying in the house, hence the tapu could be removed without destroying the house. Sometimes a low platform termed an atamira was erected and the body laid out at full length with the head raised. The trussing of bodies in the sitting position with the hands around the flexed knees seems to have gone out of fashion fairly early and the extended position replaced it entirely. In the temporary houses, the extended body was laid on a superior plaited mat and covered to the neck with a fine cloak. Valuable jade ornaments or clubs belonging to the deceased or his family were usually laid on the breast of the corpse. In later times, framed enlarged photographs of the deceased and some of the next of kin were displayed near the corpse. Nowadays, the coffins may be placed in the meeting house. With other visitors, I have slept in the meeting house with the coffin sharing our dormitory.
The principal mourners in attendance on the deceased kept up an almost continuous wailing, interspersed with vocal lamentations and the singing of dirges. Some dirges were composed on such occasions. Dirges accompanied by quivering fingers and movements expressive of the deepest grief were termed apakura in commemoration of a Polynesian ancestress named Apakura who, by her weeping, induced the warrior Whakataupotiki to avenge the murder of her son. The widow and near female relatives cut all or part of their hair short. In olden times, the chief mourners cut the skin over the chest and even the face with an obsidian flake to let the blood flow as a relief to the intensity of their grief. My grandmother had innumerable short tattoo lines on her chest which resulted from charcoal rubbed into the cuts to make an indelible record of the many for whom she had mourned. Widows fasted during the period of attendance on the corpse, but they were persuaded to take nourishment under the cover of night.
The symbol of death is green leaves, particularly those of the kawakawa which, made into a wreath for the head, are termed pare kawakawa. In modern times wreaths of weeping willow or other convenient plants are substituted. Women still wear green wreaths, but men are usually content with a sprig of green stuck in their hatbands. Formerly, widows wore a cap of dry seaweed or other material, termed a potae taua, during their period of mourning, which continued for an indefinite time after their husband's death.
Sometimes a widow committed suicide on the death of her chiefly husband. In the north Auckland area, it was considered the right thing to do. Judge Maning told of attending a high chief's funeral and, on a morning walk, he discovered the widow of the deceased chief hanging.page 418
His first impulse was to cut her down and apply artificial respiration. However, an elderly Maori who was present, said, "Don't touch her. She may not be dead yet."
The first to pay their respects were the local villagers who came in family groups with their women who raised the long wailing cry for the dead. An elder marched at the head uttering words of farewell such as, "Haere, e pa! Haere ki te po, oti atu" ("Farewell, O Sir! Depart to the other world, never to return"). The party came to a stand before the house of the dead and [unclear: wept] loudly with tears (roimata) running down their cheeks and mucus (hupe) dripping from their noses. The correct etiquette is indicated by the following saying:
|Te roimata i hehe,||The tears which fall|
|Te hupe i whiua
ki te marae,
|The mucus which is
cast on the marae,
|Ke ea Aitua.||Avenge Death.|
Death cannot be avenged but the physiological secretions stimulated by deep emotion give physical relief to the pain which gnaws within. It is difficult for a foreign observer to understand how such a copious flow of tears can be produced and sustained. I have wondered at times; but on the numerous occasions in which I have participated, I have been caught up in a flood of emotion which has resulted in an overflow of tears, much to my inward satisfaction at being able to share in a racial tribute to the dead.
The relatives of the deceased joined in the wailing and weeping and it always seemed to me as if the women on both sides indulged in a competition as to who could contribute the greatest vocal demonstration of grief. The men were much less emotional, and when the wailing lessened, one of them delivered a short speech of farewell to the deceased. The visiting party in single file then entered the death house and pressed noses with the chief mourners. The nose pressing (hongi) process sometimes occupied much time, for relatives expressed the depth of their grief by the extra length of time they took and long dirges were often chanted I during the period the noses remained in contact. Progress was often slow, as I know from experience. After the hongi, the villagers were free to make preparations for feeding the visiting tribes who would arrive later to pay their respects to the deceased, his family, and his tribe.
Visitors came in tribal groups and massed together to advance to the marae led by their chiefs. All wore the chaplets or green sprigs of mourning. When sighted, the home people gathered on the marae; and if they were not quite ready, a messenger was sent to hold back the party until the reception line was formed. When the march began, the home women with the best voices raised the shrill cry of welcome tinged with sadness, "Haere mai ki o tatou mate e—" ("Come to our dead"). The page 419ceremony termed tangi (to weep) was a repetition of the village procedure on a larger scale. The visiting chiefs repeated short farewell phrases and the visiting women sought to equal, at least, the shrill wails of the welcoming women. The visitors spread out into line on the edge of the marae leaving a clear space between themselves and the line of home people. The weeping on both sides rose in a crescendo of sound and continued until the visitors considered that they had adequately displayed their feelings and began to slacken off. In modern times, the weeping period has been considerably shortened. The young men after a perfunctory stand, sit down at the back on the ground or on forms provided and leave the older men and the women to comply with the necessary etiquette. The home people usually take pity on the others and an elder arises with the word "Kati" ("Enough"), preparatory to the next stage of speech making. Then all the visitors sit down with a certain amount of relief.
The home speaker welcomed the visitors by their tribal name and prominent chiefs by their personal names. He welcomed them for coming to weep for the deceased. He referred to tribal or family affinities, eulogized the dead, quoted from myth and tradition, and brightened his speech with poetical laments or chants. He concluded with the orthodox welcoming phrase, "Haere mai, haere mai, haere mai" (Welcome, welcome, welcome"). He was followed by other local speakers until all who wished to speak had had their say. Nowadays, the last speaker usually looks around and announces, "This side has finished."
The visiting chiefs replied and the pattern of speech differed in that the first remarks were addressed directly to the deceased in farewell as follows:
|Haere! Haere ki te po!||Go! Go to the other world!|
|Haere ki o tup una!||Go to your ancestors!|
|Haere ki te iwi!||Go to your tribe!|
Quotations from myths, traditions, and laments concerning death were used. A fine example similar to Shakespeare's "free and undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns" is the following:
|Haere i te ara takimano,||Proceed along the path of the thousands,|
|Haere i te ara takitini.||Proceed along the path of the myriads,|
Haere i te ara
karere kore ki muri!
|Proceed along the path
from which no messenger returns!
Flowery metaphors were used to magnify the importance of the deceased:
The horn of the crescent moon has broken off,
The sheltering totara of the Great-forest-of-Tane has fallen,
The lofty mountain has been levelled to the ground
Classic laments composed for other dead chiefs were equally appropriate for later deaths. The opening lines of a fine lament give some indication of the feeling which inspired composition:
|Kaore te aroha ngau kino
i roto ra,
|Alas, the bitter pain
which gnaws within,
|Ki te waka i pakaru,||For the canoe which was wrecked,|
|Ki te hoa ka riro.||For the friend who has gone.|
After eulogizing the deceased, the speaker turned his attention to the living with the introductory words, "Karanga, karanga, karanga." The word karanga means to call, in the sense of welcoming and it was used in reply to the haere mai call of welcome given by the home people in their speeches. The speaker condoled with the family and tribe, referred to tribal affinities, stressed friendship, and sang some appropriate lament. He was followed by other speakers who spoke along similar lines. The pause after the final speaker indicated that the speech-making stage was over.
The nose-pressing ceremony formed the third and last stage of the reception of visitors. A line of the home people stretched along in front of the meeting house to the house of the dead. The visitors came forward, automatically falling into single file, and commencing at one end of the home line, they worked slowly along giving each person the requisite nasal pressure as they passed. Now it is the custom to hold hands at the same time. The chief mourners beside the corpse were also saluted, a little extra pressure and time being given to them out of respect to their nearness in relationship to the deceased. By pressing noses, the two parties not only expressed sympathy with each other but they were introduced individually. The visitors were now free to mix with the local people and to unite with them in welcoming later arrivals.
Death presents termed kopaki (wrapping, shroud) were sometimes made by visiting tribes. An appropriate gift was a jade or a whalebone club accompanied by a fine dress cloak. The etiquette of presentation was for the visiting chief and his wife to advance with the presents to the house of death during the weeping stage of the ceremony. If the kopaki was a free gift, the chief's wife spread the cloak at the foot of the bier with the neck border towards the corpse. The chief then laid the club on the cloak with its grip towards the corpse. If the gift was a loan gift which had to be returned, the neck border of the cloak and the grip of the club were turned away from the corpse. The term kopaki carried the figurative meaning of a shroud to wrap around the deceased but the material gifts were never buried with the corpse. The kopaki conferred a high honour on the deceased, his family, and his tribe but it also involved the serious obligation of making an adequate return when the page 421occasion occurred of a chief's death in the donating tribe. A kopaki that went unpaid brought loss of prestige to the forgetful tribe. A kopaki made by my people to a neighbouring tribe went unpaid for some reason or other. When I visited that tribe as an inexperienced Medical Officer of Health, an aged relative instructed me that if I met with any recriminatory opposition, I could shame the speakers by saying, "Naku koe i kopaki" ("You were enshrouded by me"). It gives confidence to be armed but the need did not arise.
The custom of muru (raiding) was sometimes employed by visitors if a death was due to accident. The relatives were judged guilty of negligence in allowing the accident to take place, and the visiting party expressed their wrath by beating them with sticks or with their hands and perhaps by demanding compensation in goods. Such action served to demonstrate the high esteem in which the deceased was held by outside tribes, and the family suffered complacently in the knowledge that the clouds settle only on the peaks of the mountains. Similar action was sometimes taken against the leader of a war party on his return by relatives of those killed. The relatives obtained relief by this further expression of grief, and the beaten leader calmly accepted the physical violence as an honour due his position. Such physical expressions have been abandoned and violence now is confined to speech.
The length of time a corpse was kept before burial was indefinite, because it was never definitely known when the last party of mourners would arrive. Time after time, burial was postponed because of messages that distant parties were on their way. Every postponement caused extra expense to the home people, for they had to keep feeding the other guests who could not, in courtesy, leave until burial had taken place. The Maori Council's bylaw limiting the time to four days in winter and three in summer came as a great relief. I used to receive urgent telegrams asking the Health Department for an extension of time to allow later arrivals to view the corpse. However, our policy was to remain firm, and the men who had sent telegrams afterwards confessed to me that they had been glad to produce the Department's telegrams of refusal and so settle the matter without incurring blame themselves.
During the period the corpse lay in state, the visitors, who sometimes ran into the hundreds, were lodged, fed, and entertained by the home tribe. Each meal was in the nature of a feast, for tribal honour required that the standard of living should be raised above normal for the occasion. Sometimes to raise the family prestige, a slave was killed to provide an extra delicacy for the funeral feast. Visiting tribes were fully aware of the great strain on the local food resources, and in olden days, they brought contributions of food for presentation to the marae. If seasons permitted, they brought some special food for which their territory was noted. I once page 422saw a party of Ngati Ruanui present a contribution of preserved karaka berries. The party of men and women, each carrying baskets of the food, was led by a tall chief of dignified aspect. As he marched towards the marae, he recited the solo part of an appropriate chant in a high key, and his party took up the chorus with a shout that brought everyone running to the marae. The local people took up their station in front of the meeting house and their women raised the long drawn cry of "Haere mat". The leader and his party continued their stately advance, keeping time with the repeated chorus. The chant was characteristic and from it, the spectators knew what was in the baskets. The baskets were neatly deposited in rows on the marae, the chief presented them, and the whole party broke into an energetic haka as a grand finale. A local chief rose and accepted the contribution. The gathering dispersed and the baskets of preserved karaka berries (kopi) were added to the local store house for distribution among the guests at some later meals. The Ngati Ruanui had done honour to their hosts and incidentally had acquired credit themselves, not only from the food itself, but from their manner of presenting it.
Each visiting party by shedding tears, farewelling the dead, and pressing noses with the near of kin and the local people, had discharged its obligation to the dead and was free to enjoy associating with the living. The corpse and the house of mourning were detached from the social happenings. The chief mourners in attendance on the corpse maintained the atmosphere of sorrow and their tears were on tap, so to speak, to greet new arrivals with a fresh outpouring of grief. But even in the house of mourning, the tension of sorrow slackened and after the first day or so, the wailing and chanting of dirges ceased to be continuous. The local people, in addition to preparing meals, devoted their attention to entertaining their guests with speeches, dances, and songs; and the visitors made similar contributions. The older men mingled, sat in groups, and discussed matters of interest ranging from ancient traditions to the latest atrocities of the Government. The young men sought an adjacent field and played football or competed in some athletic event. I once distinguished myself at an east coast tangi by winning a hop, step, and jump open to all comers.
At night the people gathered in the meeting house, and nowadays a clergyman conducts a short evening service. After it was over, the young people slipped out quietly to dance at some other building and to flirt and make love if the opportunity occurred. In the meeting house a long night session was held by the older people, for the building was both assembly hall and dormitory. The guests sat on their sleeping places and, when they grew weary, slid down into a recumbent position and went off to sleep, often to wake later with renewed energy for continuing the proceedings. The programme was opened by local chiefs, who made further page 423speeches of welcome and enlivened the meeting with songs in which their people joined. Posture dances were also introduced, and the contributions were often in the nature of a challenge to the visitors to do likewise or better if they could. The chiefs of the visiting tribes replied, there being no order of precedence, the first to rise having the floor. Brief references to the deceased were made as a matter of form, and speakers vied to entertain the house. Songs were the order of the night, and if a tribal group could produce a haka, so much the better. Serious discussions sometimes took place concerning subjects of racial importance, such as land matters, legislation before the Government, and schemes for improving health and finance. Sometimes matters took a humorous turn, for the Maori has a considerable fund of humour which can be expressed in suitable language. At the tangi for the Honourable Heuheu Tukino of Tokaanu, a discussion arose one evening on the various ways of making money. A Ngati Porou sheep farmer described the east coast co-operative sheep stations and a Ngati Ruanui dairy farmer told of the money to be made from milking cows. A Ngapuhi from the north spoke on the kauri gum industry and a Ngati Maniapoto from Te Kuiti extolled poultry breeding. A Ngati Raukawa from Levin pointed out that sheep farming and dairying were all very well for those who had sufficient land but a man with even half an acre could make a good living by growing violets for the Wellington flower market. All the speakers gave details showing that they had a practical knowledge of their subject. However, the session was capped by a stout chief from Whanganui who advocated growing cabbages as a lucrative source of income. He gave the price per hundred of cabbage plants, the planting space between individual plants and rows, the number that could be planted to the acre, the cost of labour, the average price per mature cabbage, and the actual amount of profit to be derived from an acre of cabbages. His details and figures were so convincing that we gazed at him with respect until a seeker after truth asked him how much he had actually made in the past cabbage season. The cabbage expert smiled a sickly smile, cleared his throat with an embarrassed cough, and said, "I would have made a lot of money but the Chinaman I had working for me on shares, cheated me out of the profits." Thus the days and nights of the period of lying in state passed pleasantly enough in social intercourse that maintained friendships between tribes and led to the dissemination of much useful information.
Before final disposal, the corpse was wrapped up in the cloak and mat which had been in contact with the body. I was told at Te Puke in the Arawa territory that long, closely plaited baskets of flax were formerly made as containers for corpses. They were decorated with a lozenge motif plaited in twill. Later when baskets with different designs were made page 424for sale to Europeans, the use of the lozenge motif was strongly condemned by the elders as likely to produce untimely results.
Sections of a canoe hull containing bones have been found in caves. Smaller wooden troughs containing bones and termed waka tupapaku have also been found in caves. The most remarkable receptacles for the bones of the dead are the carved wooden bone chests found in a cave at Waimamaku in the Hokianga district and now in the Auckland Museum. They are shaped to represent conventional human figures with a large hollow body, a small head, and small limbs. The hollow body for the bones is closed by a lid at the back. Some smaller specimens consist of a large head, grotesquely carved, and with a lower pointed peg for insertion in the ground. The carving patterns are characteristic evidently of some northern school of art. Such bone chests must have been used after exhumation.
Some bodies were trussed in the sitting position with the knees flexed against the chest and it was probably done before the rigidity of rigor mortis set in. A similar position was produced in Hawaii by passing a rope around the bent knees and the back of the neck. The sitting position and the extended position in burial have been regarded as distinguishing two different waves of people who passed through Melanesia into Polynesia. However, both forms of burial appear to overlap as alternative methods in Polynesia and New Zealand, hence their being due to different waves of people is open to doubt.
A definite process for preserving bodies was present in the Society, Marquesas, and Mangareva Islands. In Hawaii, some corpses were preserved for the extra days of the death tapu period by the process of opening the abdomen, removing the contents, and filling the cavity with salt. For New Zealand, Beattie (16, vol. 2, p. 56) states that drying and preserving bodies was followed to some extent in the South Island, where it was termed whakataumiro. Oil was rubbed on the drying body and, according to Best, the gum of the tarata tree was used as a varnish. In spite of the above statements, an effective method of preserving the whole body was apparently not generally known, if known at all. Some dried bodies, including two in the Vienna Museum, have been found in dry caves and the condition appears to have been due to natural dessication rather than to any artificial process.
A technique for preserving the head did exist, however, and may be regarded as a local development, as it has not been recorded in Polynesia. The process termed pakipaki has been described (p. 299). The preserving of heads was dictated by two opposite emotions, love and hate. The heads of some noted chiefs were preserved by the family so that they could be produced on certain occasions, when the relatives showed their affection by weeping. The preserved head of a chief slain in battle in enemy page 425territory was brought back to allow the widow and people to hold a tangi over it. But the heads of enemy chiefs slain in battle were taken home and publicly exhibited for the people to revile, insult, and even spit upon. In this way, the people who had been made widows and orphans by the owner of the head on some previous occasion, vented their spite and so obtained some vengeful compensation for their pain.
The disposal of the corpse varied, some methods being influenced by the natural features of the country. In olden days, it was removed secretly at night to prevent its final resting place from becoming known to outsiders. Concealment prevented enemies from stealing the bones to make fishhooks, a procedure which would degrade the family of the deceased.
Earth burial (nehu), or inhumation, was the commonest mode of disposal. In the north Auckland area, earth burial was a temporary measure for two years or so to promote the decomposition of the body. The bones (koiwi) were then exhumed (hahu), scraped to remove any adhering skin or flesh, oiled, and painted with red ochre. Usually, a number were exhumed at one time and the bones of each individual were arranged separately on mats on the village marae. The people who had gathered for the hahunga ceremony welcomed the arrival of the bones with wailing and tears, for the name of each individual parcel was made known. The hahunga excited more grief than the original tangi ceremony, for several remains were on exhibition at the same time and each had its group of closely related mourners. In the north, the pihe dirge was performed by a number of men standing in a circle, facing inwards, and stabbing the ground with spears in time with the dirge. At intervals, one would cry out, "Werohia mai ki au" ("Thrust at me!"), whereupon the others did so. The speaker had to display agility in avoiding the thrusts. Special ovens of food were cooked, a tapu one being reserved for the firstborn ariki of the district. When the ceremony ended, the bones were removed secretly to a cave where they were deposited, sometimes with family clubs and ornaments of jade.
In connection with exhumation, the Hawaiians used a method for speeding decomposition. The body was wrapped in leaves, buried in the extended position about one foot underground, and fires kept going over the length of the grave for 10 days. The body was exhumed, the bones dissected out, and the soft parts (pela) cast into the ocean.
Caves (ana) formed convenient vaults, and, when used as such, they were termed toma and rua koiwi. In addition to housing dressed bones in bundles or in wooden receptacles, they were also used as a primary repository for corpses. The two desiccated bodies now in the Vienna Museum were stolen from a cave in Kawhia. Clefts in a cliff were also used when available. I have seen quantities of human bones scattered at the base of an inland cliff without any apparent order. Probably they were page 426the bones of commoners which were not deemed worthy of concealment.
Sand burial in sandy areas well beyond high-tide mark was practised by some coastal tribes. It was easier to scrape away the sand for a grave than to displace the same quantity of earth with the primitive tools of those days. However, the wind sometimes uncovered the bones and the articles buried with them. To prevent people succumbing to temptation, a very strong tapu was imposed over the burial grounds. A well-known sand burial place on the western side of the Whakatane River was named Opihi whanaunga kore (Opihi without relatives) because anyone seen near the cemetery was killed.
Swamp burial was used in some districts where a suitable swamp offered a rather easy mode of disposal. The body was wrapped up in plaited mats and then pushed down into the mud at the bottom. A number of bundles were revealed when a drain was being dug through a swamp near Maketu, but on exposure to the air, the wrappings and bones crumbled to dust.
Tree burial was resorted to in the thickly forested Urewera country. Natural hollow trees such as the pukatea were utilized when available or platforms for holding the bodies or the bones were constructed up among the branches.
Cremation was resorted to by war parties in enemy territory as an effective method for preventing the body or bones being used by the enemy. It was also adopted as an ordinary method by the Ngati Mutunga tribe of north Taranaki, and it may have been used by others. I was told that the seaward end of some promontories were used regularly. The funeral pyre was built up and the corpse placed upon it, but the fire was not lit unless the wind was blowing off the land to carry the smoke out to sea. If lighted when a breeze was blowing in from the sea, the smoke was liable to be inhaled by the people and they would thus metaphorically eat their own dead.
With the cessation of active inter-tribal antagonisms, the fishhook industry no longer offered a menace to the peaceful repose of the bones of the dead and the necessity for secret burial disappeared. Earth burial in recognized burial places has superseded all other forms of corpse disposal. In many districts, the deserted hill forts were used as the tribal or subtribal burial places or urupa, as a matter of sentiment. When the deceased belonged to two subtribes, heated arguments sometimes arose as to which subtribal urupa had the greater claim to the burial. The decision usually went to the paternal side, but the losing side always put up a vigorous fight to indicate their affection for the deceased. As an illustration of the complications, my mother belonged to the Ngati Aurutu subtribe on her father's side and to the Ngati Okiokinga subtribe on her mother's side. When she died, she was buried in the Ngati Aurutu burial page 427place on the old fort of Okoki. When her mother died, the Ngati Okiokinga burial place on the old fort of Whakarewa had the just claim to her body; but the subtribal claims, after being duly aired, were withdrawn in order that she might rest beside her daughter on Okoki. Modern cemeteries are associated with the Maori Christian churches, and coffins, church burial services, and tombstones now follow the European pattern. An important ceremony which formerly took place after the disposal of the corpse was a distribution of food or other gifts to the visiting tribes by the family of the deceased. The food arranged in a long line was termed the tahuaroa (tahua, a heap of food; roa, long), and it formed a climax to the hospitality extended to visitors throughout the funeral ceremonies. Though providing a tahuaroa made serious inroads into the resources of the family and the tribe, it was a matter of maintaining prestige to give the deceased chief a farewell in keeping with his rank and reputation. The custom has been abandoned in modern times because of expense, but I have been fortunate in seeing the custom carried out at the funerals of Te Kakakura of the Parata family of Waikanae and of Te Heuheu Tukino of Tokaanu. At the tangi for Te Kakakura, the tahuaroa consisted of sacks of flour and bags of sugar arranged in a long row, with two ounce tins of tobacco, packets of cigarettes and other minor articles evenly distributed. The most spectacular item consisted of cleft sticks holding pound notes which formed little flags stuck upright in the topmost layer of bags of sugar. The visitors sat in tribal groups facing the imposing array, and I sat in with the representatives of Te Atiawa who had come to the funeral. A chief representing the family opened the proceedings by walking up to the tahuaroa and turning to face the assembled tribes. In a loud voice, he called, "Kanohi titiro, taringa whakarongo" ("Eyes look, ears listen"). We looked and we listened. He struck one of the bags with a walking stick and called, "Te kai net kia …" ("This food to …"). He named a tribe which I have forgotten and retired to his group. The tribe, to whom the pile of food and notes had been presented as a matter of form, held a brief consultation to decide what tribe should be the next recipient. Their senior chief then walked over to the pile and called upon the assembled eyes and ears to pay attention. He struck the bags a sharp blow with a walking stick and passed the food on to another tribe. And so, without any haste, the pile of food was passed from tribe to tribe of those present, each representative using the same phrases and striking the nearest bag with a walking stick. In olden days, the food would have consisted of baskets of sweet potatoes and taro, topped with dried fish or preserved pigeons and the speaker would have struck the pile with a double-handed club. When every tribe present had been honoured, the pile was passed on to individual well-known chiefs, and after those worthy of being honoured had been honoured, the tahuaroa was passed back to the family of the deceased. page 428A local chief then stepped out with some assistants and the long row of bags was divided into sections corresponding to the number of tribes present. The distributor then commenced at one end and, using the same preliminary call, he allocated each subdivision in turn to individual tribes until all were served. Nothing then remained but for each tribal group to collect its subdivision and divide it among themselves, perhaps reserving a share for those at home. It was a beautiful sunny day for sitting on the grass and no group showed any avaricious haste in gathering in the bank notes. I had run out of tobacco so I said to one of the older men in our group, "I have to go soon. Go over to our share and bring me one of those small tins of tobacco." He did so and I left for Wellington contentedly puffing my pipe loaded from a two-ounce tin of Havelock tobacco which I had accepted as my share of the great tahuaroa.
The Honourable Te Heuheu Tukino was a Member of the Legislative Council and when he died in a hospital at Auckland, Sir James Carroll, on behalf of the Government, wired me at Auckland to make the arrangements for returning the dead statesman to his home at Waihi on the shores of Lake Taupo. The body was embalmed and sealed in a lead coffin. On the way home by train, the mortuary van was stopped at Huntly, Te Kuiti, and Taumarunui to enable the related tribes to weep for their distinguished kinsman. It was the middle of winter and the high Taupo country is very cold in that season. The temporary stops at three centres enabled three large tribes to hold local tangi and so obviate the necessity for large numbers travelling to Taupo as they would otherwise have done. Instead, a few representative chiefs from each village accompanied the son and daughter who had been with their father in Auckland, and they formed a select cortege of honour to take the dead chief home to his sorrowing tribe of Ngati Tuwharetoa. The home tangi was held at Waihi; and at the end, the tahuaroa consisted entirely of Maori cloaks of various kinds. The local tribe was noted, not only for skill in weaving, but for having retained the craft for a longer period than most tribes. The feather and tag cloaks forming the tahuaroa were hung over a line stretched between stout stakes on the marae. They made a goodly show and both custom and material linked the changing present with the receding past. The procedure was similar to that observed at Te Kakakura's tahuaroa. The whole collection was presented in turn to the various tribes present and finally divided into heaps which went to each tribe for keeps. I received an individual share in recognition of my co-operation. However, I was further honoured by the Ngati Maniapoto group, who ceremoniously presented me with a cloak out of their tribal share for allowing the body to rest at their home marae at Te Kuiti. I mention this to stress the point that the recipient, while appreciating the material value of the gifts, is more gratified by the social recognition, of which the cloak is but a material symbol.page 429
A deceased high chief was sometimes honoured by the killing of a slave that his spirit might accompany that of his master to serve him on his last journey. The death companion was not eaten nor were any religious rites conducted. In the north Auckland area, slaves were killed, cooked, and placed on a stage near the tomb of the dead chief. They provided the o matenga, or provisions for the journey to the Underworld.
The spirit (wairua) of a high chief left his mortal remains and set out on his journey to the Spirit-land (Reinga) accompanied by a servitor and provided with ample provisions. Spirits of lesser degree, though not so well equipped, travelled the same route to the vague region situated somewhere near the original home of their remote ancestors. The story of the spirit's return prevails throughout Polynesia and the place of departure is usually some definite spot on the most westerly part of the island, thus indicating that the spirit travelled west to return along the route by which its ancestors made their way into Polynesia. New Zealand being away to the south, it seems natural that the Maori myth makers should have selected a northerly point of departure to enable the local spirits to take a northerly course to connect with the main route to the west. Thus the path of the Maori spirit led north to Te Rerengawairua (The Spirit's leap), a rocky promontory near the North Cape. According to northern myths, the spirit took with it some plant emblem of its earthly home; seaweed from the coast, a sprig of nikau or tree fern from inland, a frond of bracken from the fern lands of Taranaki. Half way along the ninety-mile beach north of Ahipara, the spirit deposited its leaf emblem on the lone hill of Te Arai. At the end of the beach, the spirit ascended a ridge to reach the summit mentioned in the dirges as the Taumataihaumu, the highest hill in the neighbourhood. The spirit turned to farewell the land which would be lost to view when it descended on the other side. Beyond the slope, the path crossed a small stream named Te Waioraropo (The Water-of-the-underworld). A northern myth states that the spirit of a sick person may wander north, cross the stream, and yet return to its body if it does not drink of this Maori parallel of the Waters of Lethe. If it drinks, there is no return and the sick man dies. However, the spirit of the dead had no alternative, so it drank before passing on to the beach named Te Oneirehia, which may be appropriately, if freely, interpreted as the Twilight Sands. The beach is short, and the spirit ascended rising ground to cross another stream, which from its steep course made a gurgling sound amid its rocks and bends. The sound and the setting gave it the name of Te Waingunguru, the Waters-of-lamentation. Down the northern slope, the trail led out to the final promontory jutting out into the waters of the Great-ocean-of-Kiwa.
In life, I made a reconnaissance. I traversed the ninety-mile beach, ascended the Summit-of-Haumu, looked back at the vista to the south, page 430crossed the Waters-of-the-underworld without drinking, trod the Twilight Sands, and passed over the Waters-of-lamentation; but as night was drawing near, my guides advised going back, so I did not complete the journey. We sat on a ridge and my informants completed the tale.
Before reaching the end of the promontory, the spirit crossed a stream named Te Waiorata, said to have reddish, rusty water, hence the appelation of rata from its red flowers. Passing over the stream, the spirit came to the end of the promontory, bounded by a cliff, at the edge of which grew the famous pohutukawa tree with an exposed root extending down to the flat platform below. The promontory was the renowned Rerengawairua, to which the spirits of the dead of all the tribes came as the spiritual port of departure on the last sea voyage. The spirit did not leap off the cliff as the name Rerengawairua might imply but it passed down on the exposed root of the pohutukawa, which was named Akakitereinga (Root-to-the-underworld). A similar myth is present in the Cook Islands, in which the spirits gathered on a tree at a specific place on the west coast and the tree went down direct to the Underworld, like a mechanical lift. The tree myths are based on a common concept, and it is evident that the pohutukawa, growing on the coast, often with exposed roots extending down steep declivities, could readily lead to a local variation in New Zealand.
The spirit descended the root and arrived at a rocky platform on the edge of the sea. In the sea, a deep hole appeared, fringed with long lengths of floating seaweed referred to in laments as the Rimuimotau (Seaweed-at-motau). As the waves flowed in, the seaweed swept over the hole; as they receded, the temporary cover swept back to clear the entrance to the spirit's sea journey. The spirit dived in and proceeded on its way.
We sat on the ridge beyond the Waters-of-lamentation, and away to the north, we could see the Three Kings with the island of Ohau showing up prominently. "The spirit", said my informant, "after diving in, came up at Ohau, where it ascended the highest hill and looked back on the land it would never see again. It had bade farewell at the Summit-of-Haumu, but it made its final farewell at Ohau. Hence the lines of the lament:
|Ohau i waho ra e—||Ohau in the distance—|
|E puke whakamutunga!||Last hill of farewell!|
From Ohau, the spirit set its course to join the western trail of the setting sun which would lead it to the far off spirit land. There it was welcomed by the spirits of those who had gone before, as foreshadowed in the orator's speech: "Farewell! Go to join the multitude of your people who await you in the other world." Thus, in the poetic fancy of the old-time Maori, the age-long cycle which extended from the birth of the race to the return of the spirits of the dead, was completed.