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Ko Nga Moteatea, Me Nga Hakirara O Nga Maori


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For eighteen centuries and a half a class of men have existed in the world, fertile in labors, rich in love, apostolic in character, who merging in a sense of duty all thought of self, and making a great part of their existence one continued series of self-sacrifices, have occupied themselves in preaching the doctrines of Christianity in barbarous and heathen lands, and have been always far in advance of those countries in which Christianity existed either in its full ripeness, or in that state of failing decrepitude which too often follows the warmth and intensity of the love with which first converts receive it.

Before these champions of the Christian faith, idolatry, human sacrifices, cannibalism, and the innumerable terrible sins born of idol worship, have, in all the lands which they converted, disappeared. Fierce and frightful have been the giant systems of vice which these men have fought against, and have overcome; yet how fierce and how dreadful they were we cannot now tell: they have generally vanished, leaving but few and faint traces behind them. In the classic works of Greece and Rome page ii a memorial of the Pagan systems of those countries has to a great extent been preserved; but there Paganism meets us under its most polished and perhaps least revolting aspect. No full memorial yet exists of the system and customs of any of the less polished forms of idolatry.

But although so few traces remain in now Christian lands of the terrible enemies which these meek Christian heroes destroyed, nevertheless, plentiful foot-prints, scattered throughout all those countries, attest that the feet of swift messengers, shod with the preparation of the Gospel, have been there. Whatever the race that these Christian heroes belonged to, whatever the tongue which they spoke, whatever were the language, the customs, the superstitious rites of the race they converted, they have every where left behind them certain common signs, certain peculiar and unmistakeable marks of mercy, which through all subsequent changes and revolutions have remained ineffaceably impressed upon the countries they have won to Christianity.

Throughout the lands in which these men taught, the institution of the holy Sabbath has through long centuries secured to countless millions of human beings rest from their toils upon the Lord's Day. The weak and young, the worn and aged, the slave, the overtasked poor, have in all those countries had their strength recruited, their existence brightened, their spiritual part improved, by one day's rest and contemplation being secured to them out of every seven.

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Wherever these Christian teachers appeared, women ceased to be slaves, men put away their multitude of wives, marriage sanctified the union of the two sexes, the wife became the husband's equal and companion, the marriage-ring, in addition to its symbolical meaning, gave to all eyes a readily distinguishable proof that a woman had undertaken the vows and duties of the married state.

Wherever these saintly men passed, churches with spires pointing heavenward arose, and bells were heard either summoning congregations to morning and evening prayer, or melodiously and merrily chiming as a Christian youth and maiden were being holily united in God's house; or which else with solemn knell warned all the members of the Christian congregation that a soul had departed to its Maker, that one of the flock had been removed, and that prayers and holy contemplation were the duty of its surviving members.

In all lands which those men traversed, infants were by baptism received into Christ's Church; children were sedulously taught to lisp divine truths; youths and maidens having attained to years of knowledge, confirmed the promises which in their infancy had been made in their names; adults of every age assembled to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; the dead were decently buried with fitting prayers, and heathen modes of sepulture were abandoned; alms were collected for the sick and needy; the duties of charity and mercy were inculcated; sponsors were provided for page iv children; a system of Church organisation established, now it may be in many instances fallen into ruin and neglect, yet never wholly effaced, and in every country leaving such broad and easily ascertainable marks, as to shew that it will at the appointed time spring again into existence fresh and vigorous as ever.

The same Christian men established every where the principle of the absolute and entire equality of the Christian rights of men in the sight of their Maker, so that the poorest of mankind and those of the most contemptible descent, might equally with the most wealthy and most noble, if not inferior to them in spiritual gifts and graces, look forward to possess the highest spiritual position, the most lofty temporal powers which the Church could bestow. Thus a new dignity was added to the character of man, the most haughty noble could no longer absolutely despise and spurn the churl who was regarded by the Church with so much of compassion and love, who it was so ready to instruct, to encourage, and if deserving to exalt: hence in most converted countries were broken down the barriers which shut out hopelessly the poor and lowly born from the highest rank and civil employment; and the State, won by the example of the Church, laid open to all her citizens alike the pathways which lead to preferments and honor.

Again, in such countries the natives often adopted a standard which bore in some form, as in the Union Jack of Great Britain, the sign of the Cross. In the institutions of chivalry, the knights abandoning the heathen page v signs of distinction, bore upon their breast a cross of a form peculiar to their order. The illiterate who could not write, but who were yet anxious to shew their worthiness of belief, placed a cross after their names written for them by some learned clerk. The descendants of those barbarous chiefs who had meekly submitted themselves to Christian baptism, and had assumed a Christian name, often abandoned their heathen and barbaric appellations, and bore through successive generations as their family name, the Christian name which their ancestor had originally assumed.

In other instances, these Christian teachers stamped vividly their impress upon the entire institutions of a nation, as in Great Britain, where the people who threw off barbarism and its customs, having no form of government suited to a Christian state, adopted in the Queen, Lords, and Commons, the model of the form of government of their primitive Church, and thus in addition to the innumerable other blessings they derived from their early Christian teachers, were indebted to them also for a constitution surpassing all the forms of government which man's ingenuity had previously devised, which has been the admiration of mankind, the source of strength and constant increase to a mighty Empire, and which has girdled the globe with her colonies and offshoots.

Those who are well acquainted with the recently converted islands of the Pacific Ocean will with pleasure trace how through long succeeding centuries the same page vi causes produce the same effects, and how the people of many of these islands have adopted as their form of government the system of committees, which was that form of institution introduced by the early Missionary bodies into those islands, for regulating the affairs of their own clergy and churches.

The men who accomplished, or are accomplishing these mighty things, are generally unknown. Silently and noiselessly they have moved along their Christian course, a few alone of their names have come down to us from our forefathers, or have been during our own lifetime cherished in our memory; but it is more than probable that the most worthy of this band of Christian heroes have fallen asleep, unheard of by the great mass of their fellow men. Such men have however long existed, such men still exist, and must continue to do so, for there are yet great triumphs for Christianity to achieve.

Hitherto, with the exception of a few instances, such as in the case of Greece and Rome, the works of whose principal Pagan writers are still extant, nothing has been done in any country which Christian teachers have converted, to show the full extent of the work which they accomplished. It is true that imperishable traces of what they taught and established are always left behind them; but it is rarely that any thing remains to shew what they overthrew, and what consequently were the real nature and greatness of the dangers and difficulties against which they were forced to contend. It page vii may be said that whilst one part of the work they accomplished still remains visible, the greatest and most difficult part is now lost to our knowledge and view. Hence men are too apt to undervalue their labours, and losing sight of what the world was without Christianity, altogether to misconceive the advantages that Christianity has secured to the human race. It is to be feared that there are too many who think that the world without Christianity was very much like what the world is with it.*

It therefore appeared desirable that in New Zealand a monument should be raised to shew in some measure what that country was before its natives were converted to the Christian faith, and no more fitting means of accomplishing such an object appeared attainable than that of letting the people themselves testify of their page viii former state, by collecting their traditional poetry, and their heathen prayers and incantations, composed and sung for centuries before the light of Christianity had broken upon their country. It was also clear that to those persons who study the history of the human race as developed in the history, customs, and languages of different nations, such a work would possess a high degree of interest, and it seemed probable that there would be many persons who would study with pleasure the poetry of a savage race, whose songs and chaunts, whilst they contain so much that is wild and terrible, yet at the same time present many passages of the most singularly original poetic beauty.

At the present time it appeared possible to make such a collection of the ancient poems of the New Zealanders, because they still lingered in the memories of a large portion of the population, although they were fast passing out of use, and so ancient and highly figurative was the language in which they were composed, that already, large portions of them are nearly or quite unintelligible to many of their best instructed young men.

Portions of more than seven years have been passed in collecting these poems, and in arranging them in their proper metre. Sometimes long intervals of time have elapsed between the period when one portion of a poem was obtained, and the periods when natives could be found who knew the other portions of it. Nearly all parts of the islands of New Zealand have been visited by the compiler of this work whilst he was page ix engaged in collecting and completing these poems and traditions, although several of them are yet imperfect. They have all been subjected to the criticism and review of several good native judges of poetry, and in most instances three or four natives in different parts of the Islands, who had no communication upon the subject with each other, have actually written out the whole or such portions of the poem as they were acquainted with.

The written copies which they furnished were very unintelligible, for they could not arrange them in metre, and the words were generally run into one another in the way in which they chaunted the poems, so that the task of deciphering these numerous copies, and of compiling the whole poem from the incomplete portions furnished, was one of great difficulty, and which occupied much time. The metre in which the poems were to be arranged was always obtained by hearing it chaunted by several natives at different times.

The most favorable times for collecting these poems, and those at which most of them were in the first instance obtained, was at the great meetings of the people upon public affairs, when their chiefs and most eloquent orators addressed them. On those occasions, according to the custom of the nation, the most effective speeches were invariably principally made up from recitations of portions of ancient poems. In this case, the art of the orator was shewn by his selecting a quotation from an ancient poem which figuratively but dimly sha- page x dowed forth his intentions and opinions; as he spoke the people were pleased at the beauty of the poetry, and at his knowledge of their ancient poets, whilst their ingenuity was excited to endeavour to detect from his figurative language what were his intentions and designs, quotation after quotation as they were rapidly and forcibly chaunted forth made his meaning clearer and clearer, curiosity and attention were by degrees riveted upon the speaker, and if his sentiments were in unison with the great mass of the assembly, and he was a man of influence, as each succeeding quotation gradually removed the doubts which hung upon the minds of the attentive group who were seated upon the ground around him, murmur of applause rose after murmur of applause, until at some closing quotation which left no doubt as to his real meaning, the whole assembly gave way to tumults of delight, and applauded equally the determination which he had formed, his poetic knowledge, and his oratorical art, by which under images beautiful to them, he had for so long a time veiled, and at last so perfectly manifested his real intentions.

The religious poems and traditions were generally furnished by their former priests; probably to no other person but the compiler of these poems would many of them have been imparted. Amongst the most curious of this class of poems are those termed Mata, or visions, in which the priest in a trance saw moving round him busy groups of spirits, eagerly engaged in pursuits which were figurative of events which were afterwards to happen upon earth. As the page xi spirits moved to and fro immersed in their occupations, they chaunted wild choruses which prophetically figured forth the coming event—one or more of these were remembered by the priest, who on awaking from his trance, taught them to the tribe, by whom they were sung as prophecies, and who by means of these revelations from the spirit world were often moved to peace or war at the pleasure of the priest. Two striking poems of this character, handed down by a seer of the name of Kukurarangi, will be found at page 111.

Amongst the tribes of New Zealand many beautiful romances relating to actions of their ancestors are traditionally preserved; a few of these have been embodied in this volume; two striking ones will be found at pages 52 and lxxv. It is hoped that it may hereafter be found practicable to publish a separate work containing the most interesting romances, which are preserved by the natives of the different districts of the Islands.

Lest this selection of poems should be regarded as placing the character of the natives in too favorable a light, it is right to state that one very numerous class of poems has been altogether omitted as unfit for publication. Indeed the poems now published should perhaps be regarded as a selection embodying the best Maori poetry, which has been chosen from a very large mass of materials, the poems which have been rejected far exceeding in number those which it has been thought necessary to publish.

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The two first portions of the Appendix contain a summary of the fabulous native history of the world, from the creation to a considerable period of time after the Maori race had discovered and occupied these Islands. This has been read to old natives in several parts of the Islands, and has been admitted by them to correctly state a portion, although only a portion of the traditions handed down to them from their ancestors. The remaining portions of these traditions have been furnished by the natives; but in order to print the whole of them, it would be necessary to devote at least one large volume to that subject alone.

Great care has been taken to render the poems contained in this volume as accurate as possible; where errors are detected, some excuse should be made upon account of the novelty of the subject, the highly figurative, and hitherto almost entirely unexplored nature of the language in which they are composed, and also upon account of the many occupations of the compiler of this volume, who could only attend occasionally, and in the intervals of important business, to the subject, and who was often unavoidably absent as the work was going through the press, whilst there was no other person sufficiently acquainted with the subject to give effectual aid to Mr. Sutherland, the printer, who, although unacquainted with the native language, yet rendered very important assistance in correcting the press.

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Translations of the greater portion of the poems and traditions contained in this volume have already been prepared, with the intention of publishing them at some future date. In the mean time, that the student of the Maori language as it is spoken may understand the manner in which he should apply that language in interpreting the poetry of New Zealand, the following notes upon Maori poetry are extracted from unpublished remarks upon this subject by the Rev. R. Maunsell, one of our most learned Maori scholars:—

In observing the construction of Maori poetry, we shall see that it was not only abrupt and elliptical to an excess not allowed in English poetry, but that it also carries its license so far as to disregard rules of grammar that are strictly observed in prose; alters words so as to make them sound more poetically; deals most arbitrarily with the length of syllables, and sometimes even inverts their order, or adds other syllables.
It is true that these irregularities help much to invest Maori poetry with that deep shade which none can penetrate without close study of each particular piece. But it must be remembered that by far the largest measure of the difficulty arises from the peculiarly local circumstances, and from the remote and vague allusions so wrought into the piece, that even one tribe will often be unable to understand the song of another, especially if it be one of any antiquity.
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Those who have paid attention to the nature of Maori songs, forms of prayer, and proverbs, will have it is hoped little difficulty in verifying the preceding remarks by examples within their own knowledge. To follow the Maori poet through all the wild irregularities of his flight would be far from the intention of these notes; we would only now direct attention to those peculiarities which it is believed will be found useful for our purpose.
They will be found for the most part to consist chiefly in omissions of the articles ‘ko’ and ‘te,’ omissions of ‘ai,’ of the pronouns, of such particles as ‘nei,’ and of other complementary words, omis sions of the nominative case, of the objective, often of the verb, and verbal particles, omissions of the prepositions, changes of one preposition into another, unusual words introduced, and words sometimes inverted—exceedingly wild and abrupt metaphors, and transitions unexpected and rapid.”


July 1853.

* On this point in relation to New Zealand, the following note is added:-

“I cannot but think that the benevolent of future times would, with astonishment and joy, search eagerly the records which will shew that even centuries of idolatry and crime had not wholly obliterated, in the minds of such a race, a knowledge of their Maker, and a desire for His divine laws, and had not left them less prepared for the introduction of Christianity than the most polished Pagans of antiquity were. That, on the contrary, so intolerable was the burden imposed upon them, that we have seen whole races, in all these islands, in a few years, throw off the yoke of idolatry, and eagerly embrace the Christian faith:—that powerful chiefs, to gain the benefits of the truth, sacrificed worldly rank and power;—without compensation of any kind, manumitted their slaves, whose labour constituted their chief source of wealth,—and established in their territory Christianity in its simplest and most primitive form,—although such a proceeding was alike opposed to their power, their prejudices, passions, and apparent worldly interests.”—Sir G. Grey to New Zealand Society, Sept. 16, 1851.