The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1, 1933)
The Wisdom of the Maori
From the rich store of Maori whakatauki, or proverbs, which tersely embody so much of the wit and philosophy of the race, some further examples of such sayings are selected as typical of the expressions that crystallise experience and shrewd knowledge of human nature.
This figure of speech was applied to a forceful character in action:
“E ko te matakahi maire.” (“He separates his foes as a wedge of the hardwood maire splits the log.“)
The Maori well appreciated the use of irony. These are three examples of such sayings:
“E noho, tena te au o Rangitaiki, hei kawe i a koe.” (“Rest you there, do not exert yourself, the swift current of the Rangitaiki will carry you along.” Said to a lazy person, a non-paddler in a canoe.)
“I taia to moko ki te aha?” (“To what purpose was your face so finely tooed?” Why are you so adorned when you are really a nobody?)
“E haere ana koe ki Hurakia?” (“Are you going to the mountain of Hurakia?” Meaning, “So you can afford to waste food in this way, can you? Perhaps you are going to the bird-abounding forests of Hurakia mountain, where food is so plentiful.“)
In praise of fine or beautiful work, such as intricate wood-carving:
“Ano me he whare pungawerewere.” (“Behold, it is like a spider's web.“)
Worldly wisdom; go where the good pickings are:
“Haere i muri i te tuara o Te Whapuku, kia kai ai koe i te kai whakairo o te rangi.” (“When you travel, follow closely after the great chief Te Whapuku, then shall you taste all the greatest delicacies under the sun.”)
In reference to slanderous gossip that impairs reputations:
“He pata ua ki runga; he ngutu tangata ki raro.” (“Pattering raindrops from above; the talk that comes from man's lips below.” Dropping water wears away a stone, so slanders destroy a good name.)
The Maori had, and has, a genius for selecting just the right place for his kainga. Like the true pioneer of the Pakeha race, he exhibited in his home-making a perfect eye for country. He made his clearings and built his whares in the sunniest and most sheltered places, and he invariably discovered the most fertile parts of a district. He would not be so easily satisfied as some of the Pakeha settlers who followed. True, in the olden days there was land and to spare; and he could rove widely before making a selection.
I always admired, and envied, the village home of the few Maoris who lived on Mokoia Island, in Lake Rotorua. What more sunny, more fruitful spot can there be in all Lakeland, set at the foot of its rich volcanic island-hill, its face set to the rising sun?
Another scene, less well known, the large village called by a great and historic name, Aotearoa, in the King Country, a few hours ride beyond Orakau and the Puniu River. It is the headquarters of the northern section of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe. The country is high-set; it is on the verge of the Upper Waikato page 42 volcanic land, and many parts are bleak and wind-swept. But Aotearoa lies in the lee of a tall belt of totara forest, which extends in a crescent form about its rear. It faces the direction of greatest sunshine; its fruit gardens and cultivations slope gently to the north. On the easy slope-top, immediately backed by the bush, is the village carved hall; around it are the cottages and whares of the people, with their little orchards.
A rather dilapidated kainga this, and run to seed nowadays; yet it is a place of much beauty, in its way, and certainly the site is the pick of the district.
One of our Maori place names carrying a military and historical significance is Taumaihi, which means a sentry-tower, such as were built in the war-stockades of old. The wooded peninsula which runs out into that pretty lake of the bush, Okareka, between Rotorua and Tarawera, was called Taumaihi. The name applied particularly to the rounded knoll in which the peninsula terminates; in former days this was inhabited; a palisaded village stood there.
A Pakeha old-timer of my acquaintance, the late Major Benjamin Harris, gave the name Taumaihi to his home in Epsom, Auckland, many year ago. He did not know of the old pa at Okareka, but he drew the name from his Maori knowledge; and it fitted the home quite well, for he had a cosy little glassed look-out tower on the house top.
The Pataka, Maori and Alaskan.
There are some curious resemblances between two far-severed races, the Maori and the Indians of the coast of Alaska, in respect of certain branches of material culture. The dug-out canoe, carved from a single log, is common to both peoples; there is a close likeness between the two. The Alaskan totem pole, with its carved figures, is much the same as the tall tiki post seen in olden Maori villages, though the style of carving is different. Most of these carved posts in both countries have been gathered into museums.
Another close likeness between the structures of these races separated by the whole breadth of the Pacific Ocean is seen in the pataka or food storehouse of the Maori and the high-legged food cache seen on the Alaskan coast and along the great Yukon River. Both are built on exactly the same principle, a stilt platform-house, high above the ground, for protection from marauding animals. There is just now before me an American geographical magazine with an article on the Yukon containing a photograph of a log food cache which but for the niched-log manner of construction might stand for the Maori pataka or whata. The illustration shows a structure raised above the ground about seven feet on round posts, on the upper parts of which tin is nailed to prevent wild animals from climbing up and gnawing through the floor to get at the dried fish and other supplies stored in the small house. Exactly the same precaution is taken by the Maori and the Pakeha bushman and surveyor against rats. The backblocks settler in New Zealand found the pataka of the Maori and excellent means of keeping his food supplies dry and safe from the rats; and so do the white traders and settlers along the Yukon. The Maori often expended a great deal of artistic decoration on his pataka. There is a particularly large and beautifully carved specimen of this store-house in the Auckland Memorial Museum, old Major Pokiha's pataka, which once stood at Taheka, Lake Rotoiti. In some of the out-back small villages I have noticed that the most carefully built structure in the kainga was the all-important pataka.
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