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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 4 (July 2, 1934.)

The Wisdom of the Maori — The Flock of Motherless Birds

page 46

The Wisdom of the Maori
The Flock of Motherless Birds.

There is a touching reference to an orphaned family of children in an old North New Zealand lament, in which a woman voices her grief at the death of her friend Ngahuia, a young chieftainess, renowned for her beauty and her virtues of industry and hospitality. Ngahuia had several small children, and when she was dying she wept as she thought how young and helpless they were whom she was leaving motherless.

On her death her friend composed and chanted a song in which she tried to reassure the spirit of Ngahuia that all would be right with the little ones left behind her. This, translated, is a part of the lament:

“See over Tangikura's peak
The sacred morning breaks.
Arise, O' Huia! Look out upon the day.
The beating of the ocean surge is heard
On Hukanui's ocean beach,
The river rushes swiftly by and bears
The warriors' canoe. Our friend has gone,
She who gave us land, who brought us
The sweet fruits of the forest and the earth.
Depart, O' Huia; thy spirit takes the flight
To the far north land.
Thy children—leave them here
The tribe will care for them with love;
Leave them to Wharo, she will gather in
The fruits of Maui for the assembled chiefs
And place those foods before the flock of birds
Left lonely in the world.”

The lonely birds—in the Maori “kahui tara,” literally a flock of terns—were the orphaned children. They would never want so long as there was a tribe to sustain them with the fruits of Maui, that is the kumara and other products of the gardens. No Maori community allowed any of its members to suffer for lack of food.


Bits of history are wrapped up even in horse names, among pakeha and Maori alike. Many a page could be written about the lore of racehorsenaming. There were whimsical names such as that given by a Wanganui sporting settler to his steeplechaser long ago, “Johnny-come-through-theraupo.”

A Maori war veteran, the ancient Te Huia Raureti, who is still living on what was once the frontier of the Upper Waikato, told me this incident of the war of 1863, when a Maori force unsuccessfully attacked the Pukekohe East stockade, a fortified church.

“On the retreat from Pukekohe to the Waikato River, we spent a night in the bush. Our party kindled a small fire. Early in the morning there was an alarm that the soldiers were upon us, and the quick command was given —“Haha te paoa! meaning to extinguish the blaze and cover up the embers lest the smoke [paoa] should be seen rising through the trees. We captured a settler's horse that day, a piebald. We took it with us right up the Waikato, in fact we brought it to Te Kopua, on the Waipa, and we named it 'Haha-te-Paoa,' in memory of that incident.