The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 9 (December 2, 1935)
Pictures of New Zealand Life
His Giant Ancestor.
Moa bones confidently declared to be “millions of years old” have been found in Hawke's Bay. The exact degree of antiquity of such relics is very uncertain. However, I am not disputing the liberal scientific estimate, but merely recalling a story told me once upon a time by a veteran judge of the Native Land Court. He was holding a Court in which the ownership of a certain block of country in the rugged region between Taihape and Murimotu and the Ruahine Ranges was being investigated. An old chief named (say) Winiata was one of the leading claimants.
In his evidence this Maori citèd the deeds of a certain ancestor whose warrior prowess he described. The forefather was one of the conquerors of the country, and he and his descendants claimed by virtue of that conquest and continuous occupation. The warrior of old was a man of giant stature; he was two fathoms high; he used a taiaha ten feet Jong, and his stone club was enormous; it took two ordinary men to lift it; and so on. He was indeed a tremendous fellow that ancestor.
The Cave of the Dead.
After recounting the marvellous battle deeds of this hefty forefather, the witness offered, as a convincing proof of bona fides, to lead the Court to the burial cave in which the bones of the warrior lay. The Court was unable to do so at the time, and the further hearing was adjourned. When my friend returned to the township in which the Court was held, before hearing further evidence he consented to accompany Winiata to the ancestral cave and view the giant's bones.
After a long journey to the region of the limestone caves, they came to the steep side of a hill where a thick growth of manuka masked the entrance to Winiata's cave. A few yards inside the entrance the Judge, leading the way with a lighted candle, saw some age-yellowed bones scattered about the floor of the cave.
“Here you are,” said the Judge to Winiata, “plenty of bones here. Pick out your ancestor.”
The Bones of The Ngati-Moa.
“There he is, that's the big man, my ancestor!” cried the Maori. “Do not touch him, his bones are tapu. See how huge his arms and legs were! Did I not tell you truly he was a giant?”
The Judge disregarded the topu. He held up a huge bone; he shook it at Winiata. He said: “So your ancestor was a giant, was he! He was a giant right enough, but his tribe must have been called Ngati-Moa. This is the legbone of a moa! These are all moa bones.”
“E tama!” exclaimed the amazed Maori. “I thought those were the bones of a man! They were in my ancestral land, so when I found them I was sure they must be the bones of that famous warrior of our tribe.”
“And where is that mighty taiaha that your ancestor the moa used in battle?”
“My friend,” replied the disgusted Winiata, “I will explain it all to you. I was sure these were my great forefather's bones, and I thought he would be certain to have an enormous reach of arm, and therefore his fighting taiaha would be ten feet long or perhaps twelve, and his club would be large and heavy in proportion. That was only reasonable, was it not?”
The Judge agreed that it was, but suggested that Winiata would be wise to drop that ground of claim in his Court case.
“Yes,” said the Maori, “I shall say no more about it; I am angry and ashamed. But I must have revenge. I shall come in here with a packhorse next week and take all these bones and sell them to the Government. Humbug that fellow the Moa!”
The hybridising of the Maori tongue proceeds apace. There are ever so many new and fascinating pakeha words to be adopted into the language. “Tutepe” and “Whakitarata” (for two-step and foxtrot) are thoroughly established in the kainga. But for one of the old-timers in Maorified English I have a special fancy; it made a convenient pen-name long ago. The other night Mr. W. W. Bird, the retired Chief Inspector of Native Schools (his Maori name is “Te Manu-rere,” “The Flying Bird”), in one of his excellent radio talks on the native tongue, mentioned the deft manner in which the slang or near-slang “try fluke” is inflected. He heard a Maori, after a lucky stroke at billiards, exclaim, “Kua tarai-wherukutia ahau” (“I try-fluked it”). Quite a linguistic gem that!
“Try Fluke” goes back a long way. There have been Maori racehorses and pakeha gold-mines so named. I think it must have been introduced to the land with the first billiard table. But its applications are many and various. I heard of a bright young fellow from the (say) Ngati-noho-noa-iho tribe who announced jauntily to his admiring fellow lads of the kainga after he was acquitted—to his own amazement—on a charge of horse stealing: “Ha! Tarai-wheruku all right that time! I walk away easy!”