The Maori: Yesterday and To-day
Chapter VIII. — The Poetry of the Maori
The Poetry of the Maori.
The Maori was not only a warrior and a farroving sailor, a skilled craftsman and an artist in decorative craft. He was a poet and a mystic. No other primitive race had evolved such a treasury of poetry and folk-song, revealing a soul and a mental culture that removed the Maori high above peoples still in the savage state. The poems, love-ditties, war-songs, dirges, canoe-chants, sacred charm-songs, constitute a field of native art which it would take a lifetime to record fully and interpret and elucidate. Much of the religion and mythology of the race is embodied in these long rhythmic recitals; much of history, and romance and social customs; and the elegiac chants form a very large section in which pakeha poets have found themes of great beauty and striking imagery. More and more the world's writers and singers are coming to recognise that some of the best sources of poetry are to be found among people who have lived and still live very close to nature, whose souls have absorbed the music and the mystery of the forest and the mountains and the sea, the song of primitive emotions. Maori songs are strongly tinged with sadness, like the sweetest songs of Scotland and Ireland; with melancholy “all noble things are touched.” Some great Old-World poets went to primitive folk for inspiration; in America Longfellow, Whittier and Joaquin Miller did the same.
“While I love the classic poets,” wrote an American modern-day poet—John Neihardt, author of “A Bundle of Myrrh”—“and am lifted by the page 92 wonderful tonal quality and metrical intricacies of the stylists, I find myself lifted much higher into the upper air by the ruder chants of the Hebrews and the rhythmic prose songs of my friends the Omaha Indians. I believe the greatest trouble with the modern writers of verse is that they perfect their vehicle without having anything to carry it in. They learn forms, and do not let their passions lead them enough. They have not the Rabelaisian spirit.… . The chant is the oldest form of verse. I think it was taken from the sounds of Nature. You can hear it in the ocean or in the prairie winds; and surely the movement of the first elegy was taken from the moaning of the gusty wind through primeval forests. Yea, verily, Poetry is a savage, and our moderns have tried to adapt it to evening dress!”
What that American poet wrote of the Indians, we can apply to our Maori. But we have a far richer field amongst the Maori than ever Neihardt or the author of “Hiawatha” opened in America. It is an inexhaustible field; only a part of it has been explored effectively. Old songs, old tales, are treasured among every tribe; and new poems, sometimes adapted from ancient sources, often find oral circulation among the people.
In many years of field work in all parts of New Zealand in the gathering of Maori folk-lore, history and the traditional word-of-mouth knowledge that is described by the all-embracing word whakapapa, I have collected some hundreds of songs and chants, besides notebooks-full of karakia or prayers and charm-songs and rhythmic recitatives. In this chapter, a few have been selected as typical of the various classes of waiata, the general term for songs.
“My Eyes are like the Flax-Flowers.”
This love-chant is a favourite among the poi-girls on the West Coast; it is sung to a haunting tune which may have been of pakeha origin but which has been adapted and altered as to time and intervals until it is thoroughly Maori:
Whakapukepuke ai au—e
Te roimata i aku kamo,
He rite ki te ngaru
Whati mai i waho—e!
Taku turanga ake
I te taha o te rata,
Ka titiro atu
Ki te akau roa—e!
Ko te rite i aku kamo
Ki te pua korari;
Ka pupuhi te hau,
Ka maringi te wai—e!
Ko te rite i ahau
Ki te rau o te wiwi,
E wiwiri nei
He nui no te aroha—e!
He aroha taku hoa
I huri ai ki te moe,
Hei hari atu
Ki raro Reinga e te tau—e!
Like a flood, ah me!
My tears stream down;
They burst like ocean-waves
Breaking yonder on the shore, Ah me!
Lonely I sit
Beneath my rata tree,
Gazing, ever gazing
On the long sea-strand, Ah me!
My weeping eyes
Are like the drooping flax-flowers;
When the wind rustles them
Down fall the honey showers Ah me!
I'm like the wind-blown rushes,
The wiwi bending in the gale,
Quivering, shaking, trembling
With the strength of my love Ah me!
Once love was my companion
When I turned me to slumber;
It was the spirit of my love
That joined me in the land of dreams.
The Deserted Girl's Lament.
A tangi kupapa,
A tangi hurihuri
Te moenga ra-e!
Hua au, e hine,
He piné mau to piné.
Ko taku te mau roa-e!
Ko te paru i repo
Ko te ma i te wai,
Ko te paru o te aroha
Ka mau roa e-i!
With quivering limbs
And bowed head I weep,
And restlessly turn on
My lonely sleeping-mat
Once fondly I dreamed
Your love ne'er would wane.
Ah me! it is dead;
But mine ceaselessly burns.
Swamp-stains on the feet
Are washed clean in the stream,
But the heart-stains of love
For ever remain.
“Hokihoki Tonu Mai.”
A love song set to a pretty, plaintive air, which is chanted and crooned from one end of New Zealand to the other is the following; it is often used as a poi-chant and as a lullaby.
Hokihoki tonu mai te wairua o te tau
Ki te awhi-Reinga ki tenei kiri—ē!
I tawhiti te aroha e pai ana e te tau.
Te paanga ki te uma mamae ana, e te tau!
He moenga hurihuri te moenga i wharepuni,
Huri atu, huri mai, ko au anake, e te tau.
He pikinga tutonu te pikinga Hukarere;
Na te aroha ka eke ki runga—ē!
Aikiha ma e mau mai to uma,
Maku i here ka tino pai rawa—ē!
Ka pinea koe e au ki te pine o te aroha,
Ki te pine e kore nei e waikura—ē!
Oft doth the spirit of my love
Return to me
To clasp in Reinga-land*
This form of minepage 96
Ere yet love came to me
My heart roved careless, pang-free;
Now a sweet pain lies ever in
My bosom, O my love!
Restless my couch
Within the Wharepuni
I this way, that way, turn
I lonely lie,
Far, far above me rise
The heights of Hukarere
Yet will the power of love
Uplift me there,
For there art thou!
Ah! I see again the kerchief white
Upon thy breast
'Twas I who bound it there
To make thee look so fine.
I'll pin thee to me
With the pin of love, the pin
That never rusts!
The Flute Song for Hinemoa.
The Maori had not many musical instruments. The putatara and pukaea were shell and wooden trumpets which gave forth loud doleful calls, more of a bray than a bugle-call, but there also was a more musical trumpet of twisted flax-blades. There was the roria or twanging stick; the name was transferred to the Jew's-harp when the Maoris first acquired that instrument of plaintive music-making. There was the flute, of two kinds, the putorino and the koauau. The latter was a nose-flute, and with it the performer could speak, in a nasal way, thus saying to music the words of a waiata.
Many years ago an old rangatira dame on Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua, gave me this koauau song handed down through nine or ten generations as the waiata-koauau which Tutanekai, of Mokoia, composed as his love song for Hinemoa, the famous maid of Owhata. “On yon mound above us there,” she said, “the hill called Kaiweka, Tutanekai and his friend Tiki had their tree-balcony where they sat and played; Tutanekai sounded the putatara (wooden trumpet or horn) and Tiki played the page 97 koauau. Tutanekai also played the koauau, but it was Tiki who chiefly played it, and the song which Tutanekai composed for it in honour of my ancestress Hinemoa became celebrated in the land.” The venerable chieftainess wagged her close-cropped white head, and imitated the sound of the playing of the koauau with the breath of the nostrils, and at the same time the nasal long-drawn chant:
“Na-a te waka ra-a
Kai te Kopua-a
Hai-i wa-aka mai mo-ou
Kai rangi na koe-e
Kai rangikura-a te tau e-e!
Ko'ai ra-a i runga i-a-a Iri-iri-Kapua?
Ko Hinemoa pea-a
Ko te-e tamahine o-o Umukaria-a;
Hai tau naaku ki te whare ra-a.”
“In yon canoe at Te Kopua's shore
Thou'lt paddle to Mokoia's isle.
From heaven art thou,
From heaven's crimson light,
O darling of my heart!
See yonder lonely form
On Iri-iri-Kapua rock,
Perchance 'tis Hinemoa,
The maiden daughter of Umukaria—
A loving wife of mine thou'lt be.”
“And this,” said the tattooed descendant of Hinemoa, as she ceased the imitation of the nose-flute, and began a plaintive little low-pitched waiata, “this is the song which Hinemoa sang as she sat lonely on yon high rock at Owhata when she found that she could not launch a canoe to paddle to her Tutanekai”:
“E te tau, e te tau!
Ka wehe koe i ahau.
Tu tonu ake nei toku aroha.
Nga tikapa kai te Houhi.
Ka hua au, e te tau,
Mau taua e kau mai
Kia rokohanga mai e hua,
Rurutu ana i taku moe,
Kia puripuri au nga takitaki
No Whitirere kai runga,
Kia rakuraku au to tuara nui
Puru ki te kauri.
E kore hoki au e tahuri,
Tata iho kia koutou
Koua kitea, e Wahiao,
Toku hawaretanga i taku itinga,
“Lover mine, lover mine,
I'm separated far from thee.
Alas, my well-beloved
Would that thou'd come for me!
Then searching, slowly paddling,
Thy willing wife thou'd find,
And both would flee together.
Would that I were in thy dear home
Within Whitirere's threshold there above!
I'd greet thee fondly and embrace
Thy lordly form, with chief's tattoo adorned—
O lover mine!”
* * * *page 98
It was then that Hinemoa, despairing of meeting her lover otherwise, swam the lake to Mokoia, where he found her in the warm spring Waikimihia. Some pakehas have imagined that it was the sound of the flute that guided Hinemoa to Mokoia in the darkness of the night. The faint and plaintive music of the koauau, however, could scarcely have been wafted to the ears of the maid of Owhata across two miles of water. It was the braying of Tutanekai's wooden trumpet, softened by distance, that cheered Hinemoa as she swam the sleeping lake.
Rangi-Topeora, often called “the Queen of the South,” a famous Ngati-Toa chieftainess and composer of chants. She was a niece of Te Rauparaha and sister of Te Rangihaeata. She took part with her tribe in the great migration from Kawhia to Cook Strait, and lived for many years on Kapiti Island and afterwards at Otaki.
[From a painting by G. Lindauer.
Rakapa's Love Songs.
There were some men and women renowned for their poetic compositions. A great poet in the South Island was Tira Morehu, of Moeraki. Tumakoha, the Arawa tohunga of two generations ago at Lake Okataina, was locally famous for his knowledge of ancient songs and his chanting of waiata of his own. A poetess of the past was Hine-i-turama, the great lady of the Arawa. In the Wellington district there was Rangi-Topeora, of Ngati-Toa. She gained celebrity for her masterful character and for the number of songs she composed and chanted, from affectionate addresses to her various lovers to virulent kai-oraora or cursing chants against her enemies. Her daughter Rakapa, of Otaki, who became the wife of the late Petera te Pukuatua, of the Arawa, inherited Topeora's poetic gifts, and her waiata are favourite songs among the old Rotorua people as well as those of the Ngati-Toa and Ngati-Raukawa villages.
The two songs which follow are waiata-aroha composed by Rakapa for her distant lover Petera before they became man and wife. Love-affairs among the Maori were often the concern of the whole community, and so Rakapa's love-sick ditties soon became public property. I translate from the originals as chanted to me by Tamarahi and others of the Arawa:
See yonder curling clouds ascendpage 100
From Hinemutu's springs—
Like those soft mists
Arise my loving sighs for thee!
My soul springs forth in tears
That dim my eyes
And rolling flood my cheeks;
Like gushing water-founts they come,
And in my lonely sleep
The choking sobs are loosed
And all my heart goes forth to thee.
What parts us twain?
Is it the tapu's spell?
'Tis but an empty name,
Light as the western breeze.
My love will pass all bounds,
Time, space and thought;
My heart flies forth to thee—
And yet 'tis all in vain!
We dwell apart!
“Ye Winds from Snowy Peaks Afar.”
One of Rakapa's waiata for her lover Petera. The original begins:
Hau no uta no te huka,
E kai ki taku kiri:
Ye winds from snowy peaks after,
That feed upon my cheek,
O take upon your icy wings
This message of my love
The burning tears spring to mine eyes.
And rushing fall
As falls the brook's cascade.
Ah! distant one,
Far vanished from my side,
To thee I'd gladly fly
On southern breeze
To Horohoro's rocky ridge,
Past Ruapeka's sleeping bay,
Where steam-clouds curl,
And onward northward float
To tides of Tokerau.
My heart leaps forth;
Stained is my cheek with tears.
Oh! that those woods would fall
On Tairi's topmost peak
That hide thee from my sight!
Yet would the all-enfolding mist
Obscure thee from my loving eyes.
A Love-Charm. (Atahu)
This little karakia is a love-charm of the Waikato and Taranaki people (given by the old man Kerei Kaihau, at Otautu, Patea, 1904). It is a potent karakia to gain the affections of a girl. page 101 Should the lover be doubtful of his success with the young woman he would go out into the bush and by using a pépé or call-leaf, or by chirruping in imitation of bird-notes, would gather the birds around him. He would then kill one of the birds with a stick, and taking it in his hand (“a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”) would repeat the charm, likening the desired female to the captured bird. Straightway, says the Maori, should the lover have sufficient mana tangata (personal prestige and psychic force) the girl's heart would fill with love for him and she would be his “manu-tupu-tangata.” These are the words of the charm:—
He hara wa te manu?
He pitori te manu,
He hara wa te manu?
He karewa te manu,
I whano ki reira, “titi” ai—
I whano ki reira, “kete” ai,
I whano ki reira tutu mai ai;
Te manu atu tupu ra tangata,
Matua i a Tané.
Kia piri, kia tata.
What is this bird?
It is a wood-robin.
What is the bird?
Now, 'tis a sparrow-hawk.
It jumps hither and thither, chirping “Ti-ti!”
It jumping there, calling “ke-te!”
It skips, it flutters from bough to bough.
This is the bird that is to bring forth men,
The parent of mankind.
O wife of mine.
Approach and fly to my embrace.
“Haul up the Canoe.”
A popular song of welcome to visitors:
Tōia mai te waka,
Kūmea mai te waka,
Ki te urunga—te waka;
Ki te moenga—te waka,
Ki te takotorango
I takoto ai te waka.
Tōia mai te waka
Ki te urunga!
Oh haul away
Oh hither draw
Our great canoe,
To the resting-place,
To the sleeping-place,
To the abiding-place,
Oh haul away,
For home comes our canoe!
The following is my translation of a lively Arawa takitaki-hoe-waka or canoe-paddling chant that lends itself to rhyme. The canoe-name Te Riwaru is a famous one in mythology; this was the canoe built by Rata, whose exploits are the subject of traditions all over Polynesia:
My great canoe,
How speeds to shore my long canoe,
Light as the fleecy cloud above
That bears to Tauranga my love.
My carved canoe
O dear canoe!
That featly o'er the waters flew
From Arorangi, Island home
Far in old Kiwa's ocean foam;
The paddles in the toiling hands—
How plunge they at Hautu's commands!
My own canoe
Oh urge along
My brave canoe,
O viewless powers of earth and air,
O Uru, list, O Ngangana!
Drive on with lightning stroke and free,
O'erwhelm with storm our enemy;
Oh swiftly paddle, swift and true,
Our proud canoe
A Patriotic Song.
This ancient appeal to the Maori gods was chanted as a Kingite war-song in the Sixties, and it is still to be heard at political meetings in the Waikato:
Ka ngapu te whenua,
Ka haere nga tangata ki whea?
Kia mau, kia mau!
The land is slipping away;
Where shall man find an abiding-place?
(God of the under-world)
Hold fast our lands!
Bind, tightly bind!
Be firm, be firm,
Nor let them from our grasp be torn.
A Sentry Song.
This is a whakaaraara-pa, or night sentinel chant of the famous Rauparaha's Ngati-Toa warriors, a song composed on the west coast of the North Island, and bearing in its ringing words memories of the surf-beaten coasts of Mokau and the lofty cliffs of South Kawhia:—
E tenei pa!
E tera pa!
Kei apitia koe ki te toto.
Te tai ki Harihari.
Ka tangi tiere
Te tai ki Mokau.
Kaore ko au
E kimi ana,
E hahau ana,
I nga pari ra
Piri nga hakoakoa,
E kau oma tera.
Ka toa atu tera
Ka ao mai te ra
O soldiers of the fort!
Of this pa and of that,
Lest ye go down to death.
High up, high up, the thundering surf
On Harihari's cliffs resounds,
And loud the wailing sea
Beats on the Mokau coast.
And here am I, on guard,
Seeking, searching, peering,
As on those rocky crags
The sea-hawk sits
And watches for his prey,
Oh! dauntless be.
Soon will the sun
Rise flaming o'er the world!
Full of striking metaphors and often of poetical conceptions of great beauty, are the lyric laments and dirges which form by far the larger portion of the Maori poetry. The mourners as they gather on the marae at the wailing-place liken the dead chief to a lofty forest-tree overthrown—kua hinga te totara—to a carved war-canoe shattered by the waves. An orator or singer is likened to a tui or a bellbird—“my sweetest singing bird is hushed, page 104 that waked with melody the morn.” At these funeral gatherings the leading men of the assembled tribes will pace to and fro, fine flax or feather mats thrown across their shoulders, over their European clothes, and greenstone, whalebone or wooden weapons, cherished family heirlooms, in their hands, and thus address the dead:
“Go, O Sir! Go to the last resting place, the black pit of death! Go to the Reinga, the leaping-off place of departed spirits! Depart to that other world, to the home of Hine-nui-te-Po (the Great Lady of Night), for that is the great abode of us all.”
And again: “Who is this person, Death? [Ko wai tenei tangata, Aitua?] Had he but taken the form of a man, I could fight him with this taiaha of mine! But he is intangible, and he cannot be conquered.”
Sometimes ancient karakia to the departing soul are chanted: “Depart, O loved one, may your path be straight for the higher world [te Rangi]. Climb to that abode as Tawhaki climbed the divine vine to the first heaven to the second heaven”—and so to the tenth heaven. [Piki ake Tawhaki ki te Rangi].
The spirits of the dead take the long viewless trail for the land's end in the north:
“Pass thou along the far sands of Haumu, following the great path trodden bare by the feet of the innumerable dead, ever going the one way, and none returning.”
Touching indeed and couched in noble language are the expressions of grief at the death of a great man. When a Prime Minister of New Zealand died, the chiefs of Waikato sent an address which contained these lines:
“O mighty totara tree, you have fallen to the page 105 Axe of Death—Death the swallower of greenstone jewels [Aitua-horo-pounamu]…. The people lament and mourn. The heavens also made lament, the storms arose, the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled along the sky. Then too was heard the soft wind of the crying of the earth. The great storm-wind has passed through the forest. The trees are stricken with grief, they cry with pain, they groan for the fall of the tall totara tree. Afterward the people know of the death, and there is nothing greater than death.”
The Path of the Maori Souls, near Te Reinga, northern end of New Zealand.
Miru, of the Reinga.
In this funeral chant, collected from the Ngati-Toa and Ngati-Raukawa people, Miru is the legend- page 106 ary deity of the underworld, through which all souls must pass:
E tomo, e Pa,
Ko te whare tena
O Miru ra-e!
Nana koe i maka
Ki te kopae o te whare—i!
Enter, O Sire,
The Gates of that Dark Land
The Door of the Endless Night,
For that is the dwelling
Of the goddess Miru;
The Ever-Greedy One.
'Tis she who hurleth thee
To the corners of her gloomy house.!
A Song of Praise.
This chant is sung by the East Coast tribes (Ngati-Kahungunu and others) in welcoming a distinguished guest. It is also chanted over the dead:
Pinépiné te kura,
Hau te kura,
Whanake te kura,
I raro i Awarua.
Ko te kura nui,
Ko te kura roa,
Ko te kura na Tuhoe-po.
Tenei te tira hou,
Tenei hara mai nei
Na Te Umurangi
Na Te Whatu-i-apiti.
Nau mai, e Tama,
Ki te tai ao nei.
Kia whakangungua koe
Ki te kahikatoa.
Ki te tumatakuru.
Ki te tara-ongaonga;
Na tairo rawa
Nahau e Kupe
I waiho i te ao nei.
Oh, bind thy noble brows
With the lordly red feathers,
Waving bravely in the wind;
The plumes brought hither
From Awarua, our distant home;
The great plumes, the lofty plumes,
The treasured plumes of our ancestor Tuhoe-po.
Thou art the traveller brought hitherward
By Te Umurangi and Te Whatu-i-Apiti.
Thou'lt be a powerful shield against
The weapons of the world;
The sharp and deadly spears,
The pricking darts and stings
That fill the foeman's armoury;
Thou'lt conquer e'en the barriers
Which Kupe the explorer raise
To guard this new-found land.
For Those Killed in Battle: A Lament for Mahoetahi.
Kaore taku huhi taku raru
Ki a koutou e pa ma
E haupu mai ra!
Ka huua hoki au ki a Epiha ma
E hui nei ki te runanga—
He kawe pai i te tika.
Kaore he mahi nui
I nga maunga a Whiro kua wareware.
Hare ra, e Tima
I te riri kaihoro a Ngati-Haua;
Kaore i whakaaro ko te kupu pai a Haapurona.
Ko te aha e Rau [Raureti], e Rewi, ma korua nei?
Heoi ano ra ma koutou he kawe tangata ki te Po.
Aue i te mamae ra-i!
Anea kau ana te whenua,page 108
Tangi kotokoto ai te tai o Puniu.
E whakahakiri ana nga tohu o te rangi e—e,
Kanapa kau ana te uira
I runga o Tautari, te hiwi ki Rangitoto;
Ko te tohu o te maté ra-i!
Ka riro Paetai, Mokau, Tainui Te Arawa, Raukawa, Motai-i!
E koa ra e rau tangata ka takoto kau to moni!
Tenei taku poho e tuwhera kau nei
He wai kokiringa mo Kirikumara,
Te tangata whakanoho i te riri—i,
Te kino, e—c—i!
Alas! my grief, my woe! Alas for my chieftains!
Confusedly heaped in yonder mound of Death!
Ah, once I listened to Epiha and his chiefs in council;
Then I thought their word were laden
With goodness and with truth.
On the dark hills of Death their plans were brought to nought.
Farewell O Tima,
Overwhelmed in the flood of battle!
'Twas the impetuous deed of Ngati-Haua,
They who heeded not the wise counsel of Hapurona.
What of your words, O Raureti, O Rewi?
'Tis enough that you have borne warriors down
To the black night of Death.
Ah me! the sorrow of it!
The land is swept by war's red tide.
Mournfully roll the waters of Puniu.
The waters sob as they flow.
I heard the thunder's distant mutter,
The rumbling omen of the sky.
I saw the lightning's downward flash.
The fire of portent, on 'Tautari's peak,
On Rangitoto's mountain height.
The flashing hand of death!
Thou'rt gone, O Paetai! Thou'rt gone, O Mokau!
Swept away are the heroes of Tainui, Te Arawa, Raukawa, Motai.
Our foes in multitudes rejoice,
Your treasure is laid bare and desolate.
See now my unprotected breast
Bared to the spear of Kirikumara.
'Twas he who raised this storm of war.
Alas, the evil of it!
“Pass On along the Quiet Ways.”
A lament for a high chief and leader:
Hare ra, e Pa, i te ara haukore,
Taku ate hoki ra, taku pa kairiri
Ki te ao o te tonga;
Taku manu-korero ki te nohoanga pahii,
Taku manu hakahaka ki runga ki nga iwi.
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Tahu-whenua;
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Taharangi.
Marewa e te iwi
Nana i whitiki taku motoi-kahurangi,
Ka mau ki te taringa;
Ka mau ki te kaki;
Taku pou-mataaho e tu i te whare.
Kia tu mai koe i te ponaihu o te waka,
Kia whakarongo koe te wawara tangi wai hoe.
Waiho i muri nei to pukai-kura—i!
Pass on, O Sire, along the quiet ways;
The beloved one of my heart, my shelter and defence
Against the bleak south wind.
My speaking-bird that charmed the assembled tribes,
That swayed the people's councils.
Clothe him, the Father, with the stately garments,
The very fine mats Tahu-whenua and Taharangi,
Place in his ear the precious jewel-stone,
The greenstone kahurangi,
Hang on his breast the koko-tangiwai,
Of glistening lucid jade.
O thou wert a prop within the house:
At the prow of the canoe thou wert,
Ears bent to the splashing sound
Of many paddles.
Our prized kaka-bird has gone,
The plumes alone remain.
* Reinga, the place of departed spirits. Here it means the land of dreams. The wairua or soul is supposed to wander abroad during sleep, and visions in dreams are believed to have been seen in the Reinga.