Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maori Race

The Dog and Other Animals

page 166

The Dog and Other Animals.

The dog occupies no unimportant part in Maori legend, and it doubtless had a considerable part to play in the economy of domestic life. It is evident that in the course of time its nature and breed altered under differing circumstances and under diverse influences. The dog that was in existence shortly before the advent of the Europeans was certainly of quite another breed to that of which we get shadowy glimpses in folk-lore and myth.

The Maori dog (Kuri ruarangi) has now entirely disappeared and it is highly improbable that even the very earliest of the white settlers ever saw the real animal, although doubtless some of its blood was running in the veins of the mongrels that roamed around the native villages. Those seen by Cook, Forster, and others, about the time New Zealand was discovered, were small dogs, something like degenerate sheep-dogs, with large heads, page 167 sharply-pricked ears, and a short flowing tail. It was considered a valuable article of food, being bred for its edible qualities rather than for any other purpose, and as such even appreciated as ekeing out the slender resources of the explorers with Captain Cook. Crozet described native dogs as looking like domesticated foxes, indeed they would destroy poultry just as foxes do, and he relates that they were fed on fish, and would not be domesticated among white men, whom they would bite on occasion. The skin was highly valued as an article of attire, and a mat of dogskins was a precious possession. The white hair (awe) of the dog's tail was also used as an ornament for the weapons of a chief; the tail of the living animal being kept regularly shaved, and the hair put away for this purpose. The flesh of the dog was not allowed to be eaten by women, and not by men except under certain restrictions.

The account given by old natives many years ago as to the real Maori dog is as follows. It was a small animal and did not bark like our dogs, their dogs cried au, au, while ours cry haru haru and pahu pahu; they howled a good deal. It would not bite men; the owner prized and petted them, giving each its proper name. They were sometimes castrated. Birds and rats were given to the dogs to eat; the animals were often trained to catch ground game such as the ground-parrot (kakapo), rails (weka), and apteryx (kiwi). This was done by the master squatting down, and holding his dog, at the same time giving a cry in imitation of that of page 168 the bird, who hearing the cry would come towards the hunter. The little dog was then let go and would catch the bird and hold it or bring it to his master. The dog might get lost through its stupidity, but never ran wild. Dogs with white hair were greatly prized, not only on account of the skins being valuable as mats, but because the long hair of the tail was so esteemed that a house with clean mats was provided for the owner of such a tail lest it should lose its whiteness and lustre. The skins were prepared by being stretched on a frame to dry where sun and rain could not get at them; only men attended to this duty and only men were allowed to make the mats by sewing the hides together and then to the lining of woven flax which always underlaid the furs, although the flax-cloth lining was made by women. Dogs played no inferior part among the incentives to war; the theft or killing of a favourite dog often leading to bloodshed involving many human lives. An anecdote which at once exhibits the intelligence of the ancient dog (as compared with the stupidity of the later breed) and an example of the animal becoming a cause of quarrel may be quoted in the case of the dog Marukukere. This chief had, or considered he had an “over-lordship” on another chief named Kahu and his people, so at the time of the harvesting of the sweet-potato (kumara) every year Maru would send his dog, with a wooden spade in its mouth, to Kahu, as a hint for the latter to organise a company to come and gather in the crop of the dog's master. For many years this was done page 168a A Little Kumara God.A. Hamilton, Photo page 169 and the mute order obeyed, but at last Kahu began to think that this conduct was rather insulting and was intended to degrade him. So he said to one of his men, “if that dog comes again kill it.” When the time of harvest arrived and the intelligent animal put in its usual appearance it was caught and killed. Maru waited some time and finding that neither his dog nor Kahu's workmen appeared he went to see what was the cause that his summons was neglected. But he himself was attacked and killed. Out of this war arose, in which the nephew of the murdered man led his forces to victory, killed Kahu, and extirpated Kahu's people.

The spirits of dogs were supposed, like those of men, to pass to the World of Shadows (Te Reinga) but they travelled by a different path than that taken by the souls of human beings. If a dog barked in a certain way at a man it was supposed to denote the death of the person barked at; the god of evil and death (Te Nganahau) inspired the dog to give the warning. Dogs frequently became goblins (taniwha) and sometimes the guardian spirits of certain places. The sacred dog of Maahu lived under the waters of a lake named Te Rotonuiaha, and was a kind of banshee, its bark proceeding from under the water being a warning of the approaching death of a chief. Moe-kahu, a goddess, the daughter of Houmea the ogress, and a sister of the three Haere the rainbow-gods, was incarnate in the form of a dog, and her appearance to any of the Urewera tribe (their land was her habitat) was looked page 170 upon as an awful omen of evil and death. A chief of high descent and great powers had a dog that was killed by a falling tree, and thereon the chief commanded the spirit of the dog to pass into a large tree growing near, and in that tree the spirit dwelt for ages and spoke (in the dog language) to travellers who dared to address it. The tutelary deity of dogs was Irawaru or Owa, the husband of the sister of Maui the hero, but Irawaru offended Maui who changed him into a dog and then insulted his sister by telling her to call aloud for her husband with the cry “Moi moi!” the usual call to a dog, and which is even to-day an insult if used to a man. A certain chief of old times had a dog that innocently broke the laws of tapu, and for this it was killed and eaten. The chief's sons went about calling their dog at village after village, and coming at last at the right place they heard their dog answer them, “Au! Au! Au!” from the belly of the eater. A parallel has been drawn between this Maori story and the Irish legend of the stolen sheep bleating in the belly of a rogue, by whom it had been eaten, when St. Patrick called on the sheep to answer.1

In the accounts of the voyages of the ancestral canoes to New Zealand dogs are mentioned as part of the freight, but it is certain from the researches of geologists that the bones of the dog are to be found in old ovens and other places of a date far anterior to that of the Hawaiki immigration. Probably, however, if the new-comers brought their dogs with them they were of a species closely allied page 171 to that of the indigenous stock, and it was more of a replenishment than an innovation. Kupe, one of the legendary discoverers of these islands brought his dogs with him, and not only do the Hokianga natives show some curious markings in stone as being footprints of one of these dogs, but in another place they exhibit a stone into which another of the animals was transformed.

A tradition that tells of matters which occurred prior to the Hawaiki Maoris leaving their own country relates a description of a fight in which dogs took part. “Then Uenuku caused the fog (by his charms) to clear away, but, seeing many of Whena's people still alive, he made it settle down again and sent his dogs on shore to attack them. After some time he caused the fog to lift again and waited in the canoe to witness the battle of the dogs and the people of Whena.” This was called “The battle of the Food of the Dogs.” Such dogs must have been of a very different breed from the tame little Maori dog of more recent times. We are told of fierce hunting dogs used by the Kahui Tipua, the ogre-aborigines of the South Island, but these were two-headed dogs and belonged to the land of pure myth. A curious legend existed as to certain mysterious dogs named Mohorangi which had the power fabled in Greece as belonging to the head of Medusa, for they turned into stone any person (unstrengthened by magic charms) who dared to meet their petrifying glance. Two stone dogs are said to haunt the western bank of lake Taupo and their barking was listened for with fear, for if a stranger should hear them and page 172 make the usual call to a dog (moi! moi!) a terrible storm would arise in which the unwary traveller would be drowned.

The flesh of the dog was held to be a tapu food, only to be indulged in by certain persons and under certain restrictions. A dog was always killed at the great ceremonies connected with the children of chiefs and on other important and formal occasions, but the priest ate its flesh. A dog was also killed for the tattooer, when he was operating on a chief; but anciently they were kept for sacrifice. A legend relates that when the Aotea canoe and its consort were on their way to New Zealand the weary storm-beaten voyagers rested at a small island named Rangitahua, and there offered up a dog in sacrifice. “They cut it up raw as an offering to the gods, and laid it cut open in every part before them, and set up pillars for the spirits that they might entirely consume the sacrifice. … Then they rose up from prayer and roasted with fire the dog they were offering as a sacrifice, and holding the sacrifice aloft called over the names of the spirits to whom the offering was made, etc., etc.”2 It is said in another legend that when these canoes reached the well-forested island of Kotiwha the captain of the Ririno (the consort of the Aotea) ate a portion of a dog that was being sacrificed to the god Maru, and as a consequence the Ririno was shortly afterwards wrecked and all her people drowned.

There is a story told concerning a war-party that chased a dog and having caught it offered it as a propitiation to the spirit of a dead page 173 comrade, the heart being roasted and offered by the priest to the gods and afterwards devoured by the most aged member of the party.

There was much woodcraft to be learnt by an educated Maori before he became proficient in obtaining from forest and stream the food-producing creatures which formed a large and savoury part of his fare. He had not only to study the habits of the inhabitants of wood and river, but learn how to spear and net and hook and snare, and how to prepare the various tools he required. When these things had been fully learnt, however, he was well equipped to survive in desolate places where one less instructed and observant could easily have starved.

The large and handsome wood-pigeon (kukupa or kereru: Carpophaga novæ - zealandiæ) was through its abundance and its large size considered a prize worth obtaining. There were three methods employed in catching them. In the first (tūtū) a platform was erected in the branches of a growing tree with inwardly inclined branches, and on this platform the hunter was seated, at a time of year when the forest was full of fruit and berries in which the pigeon delighted. Artificial perches (tumu) were placed on the ends of short poles (pouaka) which were lashed into position among the branches. A noose was carefully spread on the perch, and the cord of the noose passed through the perch and alongside the pole to the hand of the snarer, who, as soon as the pigeon alighted, pulled the noose and caught the bird. Pigeons were very plentiful, and gathered in page 174 favourite trees like swarms of bees. A snarer has captured as many as two hundred a day in like manner. The second method (ahere or mahanga) was by setting snares. Wooden troughs (waka) were made, and being filled with water, were set among the branches of the miro (Podocarpus ferruginea) trees when the berries were ripe. The birds became accustomed to seeing them and to drinking the water. Then, snares were arranged all along the edges of the troughs. The snares consisted of running nooses placed so closely side by side that the pigeons could not drink without putting their heads through the snares, and in drawing back their heads the ruffling of the feathers drew the cord tight. Sometimes the snares were set around natural drinking-pools of the pigeon. It was the custom never to take the dead birds away the first day of snaring: they had to be left till the next morning, for some unknown reason. The third way of taking the pigeons was by spearing (tahere or here). The bird-spear was a long flexible shaft of over thirty feet in length, having a bone head barbed on one side. The spear was used in the customary way, working it up through the branches so as not to startle the quarry. It was not (except in very plentiful years) so efficient a method as the snare.3

The parrot (kaka; Nestor meridionalis) was taken in one way just as the pigeon was snared, viz, by the noosed perch (tūtū) but with the assistance of a decoy bird (timori) a tame kaka. The parrots swarmed on the rata trees (Metrosideros robusta) when the flowers were in bloom page 175 and full of honey, so in the rata the platforms were built. Here the man sat with his decoy parrot on its perch, and a little basket (kori) of parrot's food hanging from the perch (turuturu). The bird was made to cry out, and soon its wild brethren would alight on the noosed perch and the cord was pulled. Parrots were also caught in the honeysuckle (Rewarewa: Knightia excelsa) tree in its flowering time by the same method. Another mode of catching parrots was by the pole (taki). This pole was a rod about two inches in diameter and about twenty-five feet long. A small hut of tree-fern leaves was built in a likely place, and the pole was set firmly in the ground with its foot in the hut but protruding through the fern-leaves upwards in a slanting direction. In the hut sat the man, with his decoy-parrot outside, fastened to a cord by a bone ring (poria) fixed on one of its legs. The decoy was made to cry out and to bite things on the ground till the wild parrots gathered, thinking from the biting and excitement of the other bird that there must be good food down there. They would begin walking down the sloping pole to join the other at its feast, as they thought. The birds turned from side to side as they descended, and the man watching his opportunity when a bird was near the ground slipped his hands through the fern-leaves and, placing one hand over one wing and the other hand over the other wing, drew it into the hut and trod on its head. A procession of birds passed down the pole to the decoy. Sometimes a man had no decoy and had to delude the birds by imitating their cry, page 176 but it was very difficult to do, and as soon as he caught one he would keep it alive and train it as a decoy. This took much patience and skill, as a well-trained bird had to be able to stamp about and scratch and break sticks as well as cry, so that the birds would think that it was having a very good time down there.

The Parson-Bird (tui or koko: Prosthemadera N.Z.) was taken in many ways, by nooses (when the kowhai—Sophora tetraptera—was in flower), by spearing, and by two or three other methods only used for this bird. One of these was the mode of capture by striking. A perch (pae) about seven feet long and one inch thick was set up in the branches between two adjacent trees, one end of the perch being higher than the other. At the lower end of the perch was built a fern-tree hut, to hide the striker who imitated the birds' call to each other by means of the leaf of a tree (patete: Schefflera digitata) held between his lips. When a bird settled on the perch it was knocked off with a long flexible stick. Another mode of capture was by means of a movable baited perch (wheke) with noose held in the hand and the cord tightened. The whole of this apparatus—noose, pole, bait (kohukohu), perch, etc.—was called pewa. The tui was also taken in frosty weather by men marking its roosting place at evening and then climbing the trees just before dawn by the light of burning torches. The birds' feet at that hour were numbed (uhu) and contracted with cold so that they could not open their claws to let go the branches they sat on.

page 177

The paroquet (kakariki: Platycercus sp.) was snared by means of a pole six feet long having a snare (mahanga or tari) on the end. The fowler made his hut of tree-fern leaves and sat therein. As soon as he could noose one of these rather tame birds, it was used as a decoy for the others, being fastened to a perch by the leg, then when the others came to its cry they were knocked over with the pole. Wild ducks of different kinds were caught in snares, a line (kaha) of which was stretched right across a river or narrow lake and fastened to a stake at each side. The loops of the snares were suspended just above the water. When a flock of ducks passed under the line perhaps every loop would take a duck. Sometimes the combined strength of so many struggling birds would pull up the stakes unless they were very firmly fastened, and the ducks would fly away till they became entangled in some tree. Sometimes when the birds were moulting they were hunted with dogs. Ducks are fat when moulting (turuki maunu) and they cannot fly well at that time. The dogs were taken to the place in canoes which quietly approached the ducks as near as possible without frightening them, and then the dogs were sent overboard. The ducks were preserved (huahua) in their own fat rendered into calabashes.

The mutton-bird called titi, includes Buona-parte's Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) and Cook's Petrel (Œstrelata cookii). It was taken on foggy nights by means of a large net set a little way back from the edge of a cliff, the ends being fixed by poles arranged in the page 178 shape of an X, and a fire being lighted on the extreme edge of the cliff. Behind the fire and in front of the net the natives sat, each armed with a stout stick, one man standing at each end near the outer pole. When the dazzled birds flew at the fire they struck the net and were killed by the hunters. If the first bird struck the supporting poles it was a bad omen; no birds would be taken, but if it struck the net the hunt would be successful.

Advantage was taken of the sense of hearing in the kiwi (Apertyx sp.) to capture it with the aid of dogs. The kiwi goes along looking for worms or rather listening for the rustle of the earth-worm under ground. When the bird hears the worm creeping below the soil the long beak is prodded down and finds its prey. The kiwi hunter fastened little pieces (patete) of wood to his dogs' neck, so that they would rattle or rustle, and the kiwi would stop to listen, thinking that it heard the worms creeping. Then the dogs would rush in, and the men came forward with torches which they had hitherto concealed. The bird was astounded at the sudden dazzling light, it being a nocturnal bird and not used to the light, so that it was easily killed. The kiwi sometimes goes about in a stupid way by daylight, but was only hunted at night. Sometimes kiwi were caught by lighting a fire and breaking small sticks when the birds would be attracted by the glare and snapping of the twigs. The Woodhen (weka: Ocydromus sp.) was easily caught, as being a very pugnacious bird, one had only to hold out a piece of red rag on a stick and it page 179 would attack the stick till the latter knocked it over. The Ground Parrot (kakapo: Stringops habroptilus) is fond of the roots of the fern. Sentinel birds are posted while the others feed but, if after wasting some time no danger approaches, the sentries come in and feed with the others. The Maoris would carefully watch these feeding places of the birds, and would hold their dogs in hand until the kakapo sentinels no longer called their “All's Well”; then the dogs were loosed. Efforts were always made, if possible, to catch the sentinel-birds, then the others were easily caught as they seemed confused by their loss.

The frugivorous native rat (kiore: Musrattus) has now been almost entirely exterminated or succeeded by the grey Norway rat. The small black native rat was considered a choice article of food, and its hunt was accompanied with ceremonial and much preparation. Long narrow tracks were cut through the forest for miles; generally two parallel tracks near together. Along these lines traps (tawhiti) were set with snares or springs, these being baited (poa) with berries beloved of the little quadrupeds. If a rat was taken in the first (tamatane) trap baited then it was an omen of success for the others; the animals running along the straight prepared lines. Rat-hunting parties were often out for days at a time, and would capture several hundreds of the little creatures. Incantations were chanted before the hunt commenced, and ceremonial ovens had to be prepared and the contents eaten by priests before the hunters were allowed to touch the cooked bodies of the animals.

page 180

Maoris often tamed the wild denizens of the bush and made pets of them. The tui was perhaps the favourite bird to keep as a caged companion. They learnt to talk well and were a great source of amusement and pride. If a tui could say “Lo, here is the welcome visitor,” or “Come hither, come hither”; guests would be delighted. A great fight took place at Tahoraite (Hawke's Bay) over the theft of a tame tui, and it resulted in the loss of their land by a whole tribe. The white crane or heron (kotuku: Ardea egretta) was kept for the sake of its feathers, which were plucked every five or six months. The bird was kept in a miserable way, in a rude low cage, too small for its size. It was fed with small freshwater fish, but it seldom lived long. Another bird kept for the sake of its feathers was the huia (Heteralocha acutirostris); this for its tail feathers, the ornament reserved for the head-dress of a chief. The parrot (kaka) was tamed not only as a pet but as a decoy-bird for catching others; it was tethered by a bone ring (poria) round its leg fastened to a cord which was attached to a perch or spear of wood too hard to be nibbled. The large sea-gull (karoro: Larus dominicanus) and another gull, the Oyster-catcher (torea: Hæmatopus sp.), were domesticated, but merely as pets or companions; they served no useful purpose. They were caught young and fed by hand. The Paradise Duck (putangitangi: Casarca variegata) was also kept as a domesticated fowl. Names of dead relatives were often given to pets so as to make them sacred and to insure their safety.

page 181

Pet lizards were sometimes carried about, being fed on berries of the tawa (Beilschmiedia tawa).4 This is a traditional statement, and it is said that lizards were often tamed and kept as pets by chiefs in olden days. The legends, however, generally relate to very celebrated persons, and the assertion may be a pure invention, so as to add to the mysterious grandeur of the individual described as possessing a reptile pet. The ordinary Maori certainly regarded the whole of the lizard tribe with dread and repugnance.

Legends declare that many of the living creatures found in New Zealand were brought in the canoes from Hawaiki. Thus Turi brought the Swamp-hen (pukeko: Porphyrio melanotus), the green paroquets, and the Maori rat in the Aotea canoe. Whiro-nui landed insects and lizards from the Nukutere canoe. The native rat is also said to have come with Nukutawhiti in the Mamari canoe. The centipede (were), the caterpillar (whe), the Maori-bug (kekerengu), the birds torea (above mentioned) and the ground lark (hioi: Anthus N.Z.), a sacred bird, were all supposed to have been brought in the canoes. The birds and lizards, however, are in almost all cases of species indigenous to these islands and (so far as at present known) to no other part of the world; so such traditions are little more than inventions, and are unworthy of credence. The Samoan Great Pigeon or “Red Bird” (manumea) is known in old Maori story, and the turtle was probably also once known by its Polynesian name (honu).

page 182

A mottled and speckled lizard (moko tapiri) was supposed to bring forth the New Zealand cuckoo (koekoea), or else it is believed the bird loses its feathers at the approach of winter, retires to a hole in the ground, and becomes a lizard (ngaha). As spring returns its tail drops off, feathers grow, and it becomes a bird again. The cuckoo is, of course, a migrating bird. When the eggs of the paroquet (kakariki) were hatched, the shells were supposed to turn into green lizards (moko kakariki).

A small bird, the Pied Tit (miromiro: Myiomoira toitoi) was the “little bird” that, as in our nurseries, was supposed to carry messages, especially love messages. It also acted as messenger between a separated husband and wife. If a man went to a sorcerer and asked for his wife to be sent back to him, the miromiro was despatched, however far away she might be. The tiny messenger would settle on her head and then, whether she wished it or not, an overmastering desire came to her to return to her husband. She would rush back, a wind blowing behind her and lifting her feet, the sacred breeze (Hau-o-Pua-nui) that only a magician could raise. Hence the proverb “The wind of Puanui will bring her.”

Birds often had miraculous or supernatural powers attributed to them. In some Polynesian dialects (as in that of Rarotonga) the word for bird (manu) is sometimes used for “soul.” Although in New Zealand particular birds were not regarded as incarnations of deities, as at Samoa, nevertheless gods at times assumed bird-shapes and others were tutelary protectors page 183 of certain species. Maui assumed the form of a dove or pigeon when visiting Spirit-land, and that of a hawk when procuring fire for men.5 The Saddleback (tieke: Creadion sp.) was supposed to guard the mythical treasures of the Maori. As tutelary deities, Pahiko was the protector of the kaka parrot, Haere-awa-awa of the wood-hen (weka) and the kiwi, Parauri of the tui bird, etc.

The Moriori used figures of birds neatly carved from hard wood as part of the ceremonial when their priests were paying honour to Tiki, the first-created man. Twenty or more of these wooden birds were placed in parallel rows on the altar, a carved figure of the god Rongomai being set at the end. This ceremony took place every year when possible, but sometimes one or two years would lapse.