The Maori Race
Chapter XVII. Whare-Kura.—Genealogies.—Burial.—Heavenly Bodies
Chapter XVII. Whare-Kura.—Genealogies.—Burial.—Heavenly Bodies.
We have mentioned the “Holy House” of the Maori as being the place in which the sons of chiefs were taught. One of the most interesting studies in the history or custom-lore of any people, savage or civilised, is that which seeks to investigate the circumstances surrounding education. Ancient legends seem to establish the fact that in some far off country there was a great temple called Whare-kura, the “Holy House.” The locality is said to have been known as Uawa. It probably united the functions of Temple, Herald College, Council Chamber, and Hall of Justice. Here worship of the gods was carried on, the pedigrees of the chiefs recited, peace and war arbitrated. Tradition pretends to give the names of chiefs and tribes that assembled there, but the legends are so antique that most of the names are those of gods or deified men, and the matters touched upon are too confused to be of any historic value. In Samoa, the Fale-ula, as they call it, is the Ninth Heaven.
The account of the ancient proceedings in Whare-kura are fragmentary and shadowy, but they appear to show that parliaments or councils sat engaged in discussion on historical or page 375 political subjects. The wise men were arranged by leaders into parties according to the branch of knowledge in which each elder was proficient; this proceeding was called “putting into order” (ranga). As time went on dissensions arose, and the troubles became so serious that further meetings were impossible, and then the tribes were governed each by its Ariki, every tribe erecting its temple of learning on the model of the ancient structure.
The shape of the building has, however, been remembered and described and is represented by the following sketch.page 376
The name Whare-kura (or Whare-maire, or Whare-takiura as it is called by the Tuhoe tribes) was transferred on the arrival of the Maori in New Zealand to tribal buildings with something of the old attributes. That at Whanganui was sacred to the god Maru. The edifice erected by Toa-rangatira was named Maranga-puawai, (“Blossom raised up”). A college of this kind was used for the education of the sons of great chiefs in all the learning which helped to give power and privilege to the nobles of the Maori tribes. The building was carefully oriented, its front being eastward. On its erection a human sacrifice was slain and the blood used as an offering while a sacred fire was being kindled (by friction) and then the body of the victim was buried in the sacred place (mua). The Mua was the holy enclosure surrounding the Whare-kura and its most sacred centre was the place where stood an image of Kahukura, the rainbow god. The image was of totara wood, a cubit in height, representing a human figure without feet. The people of the tribe collected the material for the building, but only priests built the house; every part of it, even to the lining reeds, being set in place to charm and incantation.
The priest commenced his work by repeating the history of the tribe and then followed the religious teachings, etc. Only one priest spoke at a time, others taking it in turn. The mythology pertaining to the elder gods took the first month to learn, after that came lessons in incantations, witchcraft, etc. Study ended at midnight and the pupils slept during the day. The tuition lasted about four or five months, from autumn to spring. During the recess every effort was made by boy friends or girl sweethearts to coax from the neophyte some part of the knowledge gained in Wharekura. If he was so weak as to reveal the most minute particular he was expelled and entered Wharekura no more. Pupils attended from three to five years before they were considered as perfect. Each pupil brought a stalk of the cutting grass (toetoe) and chewed it in order to assist the memory. The priests and pupils ate food in the building, but no one else was allowed to do so, and no person was permitted to sleep in the sacred house itself. No pupil might go home nor near a place where food was being cooked, food was always brought to the school. Pupils were allowed to bathe and take exercise but not (during term time) to associate with people who were un-sacred. Great care was taken by the priests that no bad omens should be encountered by the pupil studying at Wharekura. If bad omens were encountered the knowledge gained by the young man would not remain in his memory.
Some of the most potent incantations could not be recited in Wharekura; these were so page 379 sacred that they might not be uttered under any roof, even that of the most holy temple, but had to be imparted only in the woods and mountains. When the time came near that the senior pupils were considered to have imbibed all the priests could impart to them of learning and magic the hour of the test approached, the time answering to our examination for a degree. The final incantation, the whaka-pou, was uttered, this was to fix firmly in the mind of the pupil the whole of the knowledge previously imparted. When this was fixed (poua) he was taken to an altar (a stone placed upright, or an ordinary tuahu, a shrine) and told to hurl a stone—small, flat, about an inch in diameter—at the stone or the tuahu poles. If the stone broke the pupil was supposed not to have learnt his lessons properly and he was rejected for a term. If the stone remained unbroken a further test was applied. A hard, smooth, round stone was placed in his hand and then by using a certain invocation (hoa) the stone had to shiver in his hand. This had to be done by a pure operation of the will, aided by the incantation which was here regarded as the medium or instrument through which the will-power was applied. If the stone tests succeeded then a flying bird or dog was made the next victim of experiment, and should this be also destroyed by an uttered spell, only one final and crowning trial of skill remained.
On the last night of the term priests and disciples had to sleep in the open air. On the following morning at dawn of day they went to a sacred spring of water and endured page 380 another baptismal immersion, with the rite of hair-cutting (wai-kotikoti) and the peculiar ceremony called “turning the mat” (huri-takapau), spoken of elsewhere. Then followed what for the chosen few who had passed their preliminary tests was the “honours pass.” They were taken to the mua of the temple and each had to kill a man by the utterance of a spell, and the proof of the proper mana or spiritual force having been acquired by the pupil was that the person against whom the deadly charm was pronounced dropped instantly dead. Generally the persons experimented upon were slaves, and this slave was led out and placed in front of his (psychical) assailant, but it was always some person named by the teacher. In case, however, of very distinguished people a relative might be named. The witchcraft incantation (karakia makutu) had to kill the particular person pointed out; to destroy anybody else would be a miss, and, moreover, would nullify all knowledge previously gained. If a relative was “named” it might be an uncle, aunt, or cousin, but might not be the pupil's own child nor his father or mother. The mental struggle and pain caused to the aspirant (tauira) were the reward of the teacher; he received no other payment; to do so would negative the power of the spells taught. Cases have been known where the teacher named himself as the victim. If the slain person was a relative the body was not eaten; the pupil would take out the heart and touch it with his lips, then he repeated an invocation (makaka karakia) that made the body tapu so that no one could eat it.page 381
After the “test” proceedings were over, the priests and pupils again performed the huritakapau ceremony, and the pupils went their way rejoicing. They were, however, not even then quite free from tapu, but had to reassemble on the third day after dispersal to go through a final ceremony. The head-priest prepared a mound of earth in the shape of a lizard, and standing astride it, he repeated a charm. He then trampled down the mound, and by doing so made the pupils entirely “common” (noa) so that they could perform all the usual and ordinary functions of daily life.
We have hitherto spoken of the true Wharekura or university for high chiefs. Apart from this there was a branch college in every village for the study of agriculture, etc. The sons of nobles attending the real Wharekura were not allowed to enter this place while under tuition. It was common to all other persons, but was only open during the winter season. The school was generally conducted in a large building able to accommodate a hundred persons, and when the people assembled therein, they had to remain within certain precincts, there to eat, sleep, etc. No other food than roasted fern-root was allowed. Lessons only went on at night. Everything connected with the art of procuring food was taught at this school; not only instruction in regard to growing crops of kumara, taro, hue, etc., but also concerning snaring birds, catching fish, etc. It was a sacred place on account of the incantations recited there, but women were allowed to enter to enquire and learn as to page 382 matters of their daily labour. In the summer time the school building was used as a guest-house, and sometimes as a place of amusement.
One or more schools of astronomy were to be found outside every important village. Such a school was open every night from twilight to dawn, but no one was allowed to enter it between sunrise and sunset, or to sleep therein. The priests and chiefs used it as a meeting place in which to speak of planting crops, hunting, fishing, and other matters connected with food-getting, but more especially as to the manner in which the stars governed these occupations and guided operations. Here also were arranged visits, feats, the reception of guests, etc. As in Wharekura, common persons were forbidden to come near this place. When food had been prepared it was brought to a certain distance from the house and a call given, then the youngest person present among the men of consequence would leave the building and go for the food. A female of high rank might be allowed to go up to the door, knock, and hand the food in, but if so the person receiving the food would have to recite a charm on receiving it. The only exception made in regard to women was that sometimes a few (never more than three) of them, after being specially prepared and sanctified, were admitted to learn incantations.
In villages where there was no proper school of astronomy, a house called Whare-mata was often to be found. In this was taught the art of snaring birds, with instruction in making the apparatus, traps, snares, etc.
Remark has been already made several times in this volume as to the absolute faithfulness with which legends, incantations, etc., had to be recited. This applies also to genealogies, for several reasons. The recital of a pedigree was a part of many different ceremonials, such as the naming or baptism of a child, or in a difficult case of parturition, etc. It had, however, also its intensely practical side. Not only in regard to succession to family honours and possessions, but in matters of precedence and social custom it was very necessary that the superiority or inferiority of certain persons should have public acknowledgment. Among a people so punctilious and so jealous of personal honour as the Maori gentleman or lady it was imperative that no mistake should be made in the recital of lines of descent. From the remotest ancestors all the offshoots and scions of the family tree had to be carefully memorized, even to the far-away growths of the most distant branches. Uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins to the twentieth remove, all had to be retained on the family register, with their battles, deeds, possessions, etc., noted, lest some unwary remark, some wrongly placed position in the order of calling out names at the distribution of food or allotment of seats, might imply a slight and provoke retaliation. The knowledge of these delicate historical or legendary archives (if the term may be permitted) was not confined entirely to any one class, although priests were often page 384 specially trained as genealogists. Each chief and free man was supposed to know his own lines of descent at least, and such an accomplishment was as necessary to his safety as it was a finish to his education. On victorious combats and on approved occupations of lands by his ancestors and his relatives his title to his own possessions rested. The enumeration of successful expeditions and the recital of boundaries in a land where every hill and beach and river-bend was named required thorough genealogical study before personal connection with such events or delimitations could be publicly proven. Such a task might generally be left for the council-chamber of the tribe, but now and then imminent peril might demand that a chief should know every individual of his clan. This was in case of a sudden call to war, and then the most distant relative to whom kinship could be traced might have to be summoned in haste to swell the numbers of the tribal gathering. Of course, inter - marriage and tracing pedigree down through a hundred different lines, diverging, interlacing, and diverging again, complicated matters sometimes so greatly that it was difficult for a chief to decide hurriedly to which party his allegiance belonged, but the practice (spoken of at length elsewhere) which frowned on all marriage across the tribal boundary, except under rare conditions, simplified much the intricate and involved position.
The recital of genealogies (whaka papa) was sometimes assisted by the use of a notched or carved piece of wood (rakau whakapapa), each page 385 notch representing a generation, and so helping the memory of the speaker. Some of these genealogical staves were elaborately carved and ornamented.1
There are many published genealogies in existence, and they are fully available for the students of the subject.2 As a single specimen, a pedigree, that of the late Major Kemp—Te Rangi hiwi nui—a distinguished soldier, is subjoined.
- Rangi and Papa (Heaven and Earth)
- Tane tuturi
- Tane pepeke
- Tane ua tika
- 5. Tane ueha
- Tane te waiora
- Tane nui a rangi
- Mahina i te ata
- Tiki nui
- 10. Tiki roa
- Tiki whatai
- Tiki whaoa
- Tiki mumura
- Tiki hahana
- 15. Tiki ahua
- Whakarau matangi
- 20. Tohua
- Ngei nuku
- Ngei rangi
- Ngei peha
- Ngei taha
- 25. Ngei ariki
- Hine kau ataata
- Hine haro nuku
- Hine haro rangi
- Hine kau ataata II.
- 30. Hina rei
- Toi te huatahi
- 35. Apaapa
- Ru ata pu nui
- Rakai ora
- Tama ki te ra
- 40. Hikurangi
- Rongo maru a whatu
- 45. Kahukura Kotare
- Hine te raraku
- 50. Rangi mata koha
- Rakai moari
- Tu tere moana
- Tu whare moa
- 55. Tamakere
- Rangi mahuki
- Rangi araia
- Whako rea o te rangipage 386
- 60. Rangi whaka arahia
- Noho kino
- Kura tuauru
- 65. Ruhina
- Tanguru o te rangi
- 67. Rangi hiwi nui (or Major Kemp).
The Maori would not pronounce certain sacred names, such as those of great gods, except in some hallowed place. Similarly, he considered it offensive if one of his ancestor's names was pronounced when eating was going on.
If a Maori was so unfortunate as to die in peace and not to meet his fate “fighting, like a shark” he generally faced the inevitable fearlessly and well. It was more trying than for the ordinary European who may be upborne by the belief in brighter realms beyond, for there were only grey shadows in the land of the future for the native soul, and that he should die at all was a sign that he had displeased the gods. Often a sick man was removed to some shed when death drew near, lest his decease should spoil a comfortable dwelling by making it tapu. In the case of a chief, however, his dwelling was tapu even while he lived, and when he died his house was shut up and painted with red ochre, so that a village that had been long inhabited sometimes contained more houses of the dead than of the living. In some tribes indeed a chief might be buried in a corner of the verandah of his page 387 own house, and his wife would spread her mat over his grave every night to assure him of her fidelity.
When it was known that a great man was about to die hundreds of relatives and connections gathered to his village and waited in solemn silence for the “last words” (poroaki or ohaki) he should utter to his tribe. This was equivalent to a man making his will, and was awaited with great attention. Any request made by a dying chief was solemnly recognised. Often it was a reminder of revenge for some unpaid-for wrong, and his children and tribe were requested to pay the debt of vengeance. Sometimes the person who should devote his life to this purpose was named. Just at the moment of death a man's children and near relatives arranged themselves in two lines, the girls on one side, men on the other, each person with a little line of flax fastened to a tag of the dead man's mat. The moribund chief was laid north and south, the head towards Hawaiki (north) and the feet south. At a certain stage in the ceremonial proceedings all would give a tug northwards as a sign that the spirit should start off in that direction. The thin lines of flax were pulled till they broke, as if they remained entire the same sickness or other cause of death would overtake the mourner.
If the spirit did not start off it became unclean (poke), and this would probably arise in case the deceased had no legitimate offspring to offer the funeral sacrifices for him. The spirit would remain unclean until the proper rites had been performed.page 388
When the death was announced there was much wild lamentation indulged in; the by-standers crying aloud and gashing their faces, or more generally their bodies, with flint knives; this was especially the case with the women, as the men did not wish to spoil their tattooing. Sometimes a woman would become a mass of congealed blood from her wounds. The sharp page 389 stone was held with the finger-nails regulating the depth to which the cutting was allowed to pass. The holder would draw the razor-edged fragment of obsidian up her left arm from waist to shoulder, and then from the left shoulder to the ribs on the right side. The flint was shifted across to the other hand and the process repeated till a cross of blood appeared on the breast, the blood spirting after the passage of the knife. It was a hideous spectacle. The wailing (tangi) was uttered with a peculiar vibrating sound, far-reaching and mournful; this was kept up sometimes for many days, till exhaustion set in and cases in which even death resulted have been recorded. Parties of friends would arrive from afar, some not till long after the death, but weeping was renewed with each arrival, the new-comers lacerating themselves and crying with their faces turned towards the corpse or the grave and wailing, “Go thou, depart, depart, we also will follow.” The badge of mourning was a wreath of green leaves or of lycopodium, or of the kidney fern (Trichomanes reniforme) twisted in the hair. Sometimes one of the women acting as chief mourner wore a circlet of dog's hair, or of a kind of black dried seaweed. Deeds of valour or generosity performed by the dead man were recited and proclaimed to the world.
At a death-scene the wife, as soon as her husband's last breath was drawn, slew the most distinguished of her slaves, generally a prisoner of war. He, of course, though a man of high descent, only ranked at that moment as a slave, and the burial of a chief demanded at least one page 390 human sacrifice, but there were generally more than one. This was done in order that the spirit might as an attendant accompany that of his master to the Under World. Men of rank were never sacrificed at obsequies, thus making it plain that the victims were to be attendants. Female slaves were killed when a chief's favourite wife died. The principal wives of a great lord (ariki) strangled themselves. In our own days the two wives of the old chief Patuone strangled themselves at his death, and were laid out by the side of their dead husband. They did this from affection, so as to prepare his food while his spirit was on its journey to Te Reinga. Sometimes even before death, when a chief was lying very ill, any of his relatives travelling from a distance to be present would kill some person on the road, not because he was an enemy but as a propitiatory victim. The slayer had to pass between the legs of the person killed, so as to avert the anger of the gods.
The corpse was wrapped in a large plain mat covering the whole body and tucked in at the sides. A small mat of Apteryx (Kiwi) feathers was laid on the breast, with a half dog-skin mat slightly underlapping the lower-edge of the Kiwi mat. There was folded round the legs a full dog-skin mat with a border of dogs' tails. All the weapons of the deceased laid beside him were placed in “reverse” position, that is, with their heads or points towards the feet of the corpse. Visiting mourners from other tribes brought mats and other offerings which were placed at the feet of the dead chief. page 391 After the body was buried these mats were displayed in the pa, and traditions connected with them expounded by the elders.
The points of the chorus were marked by the simultaneous lowering and uplifting of the fern stalks, and in the middle of the chant the square of men divided into two parties, forming a north and south line on each side of the body. Again, to the accompaniment of the rising and falling hands the pihe was sung to its conclusion, after which the old men stepped back and crouched down in their places.
“Tu is enraged and Rongomai descends”
(Tu ka riri, Rongomai ka heke.)
The bent staff (hara) which signified a chief's death was set up as a sign by the roadside. The final ceremony consisted in a priest thrusting into the ground the Wand of Death by the side of a running stream, reciting an incantation, thrusting in the Wand of Life, and then repeating another charm. Returning to the corpse the priest placed the end of his staff (he holding the other end) on the breast of the deceased, while the “Tawhaki” incantation was recited. Guests and friends at the burial feast brought valuable presents of mats, ornaments, etc., which were spread out around the corpse; these were called coverings (kopaki) for the dead. When the tapu had afterwards been removed from these articles they were distributed among the relatives of the deceased. Sometimes the body was beaten on the day after death with fresh flax leaves, in order to drive away any evil spirits that might be lingering about. The legs of the corpse were then bent into a sitting position and drawn up till the knees touched the neck, being fastened in that position with a plaited girdle. This was a war-girdle if the deceased had died in war, and in such case a spear was also placed in the dead hand. This crouching position given to the corpse was almost universally adopted if of a man, but women were often “laid out” at full length, as if asleep. In some cases immediately the breathing ceased the body was bound in a sitting posture to a stake, so as to keep it firm, the face turned eastward. After the wives had strangled themselves their bodies were placed alongside the page 393 corpse of the husband. Often the dead body was rolled up in a mass of the climbing-fern (mange-mange) after being lashed to a pole. Men carried a dead man, feet first, and women bore a dead woman, head first, to a place prepared among the branches of a tree (thus made sacred), and there the corpse was left to its aerial sepulture. Generally the corpse, after lying in state, was placed with its weapons upon a stage or small canoe set up in the forest, or in the sacred place (wahitapu) and was there left to decompose, or was set in a highly ornamented tomb prepared for it.3 Incantations were being continually repeated; one when the corpse was bound up, one when it was being carried to the burial stage, another when it was deposited on the stage. When the bearers had bathed they came and stood naked in a row, bearing green branches, while the charms (Karakia auriuri) to free them from tapu were being said. A chest of carved wood ornamented with feathers was made to hold the garments of deceased, these were preserved by his family. The canoe-coffin or tomb was painted red, and the corpse seated on a grating to allow the putridity to escape.
Slaves or common people were put into a hole and buried quietly. A new spade was made for digging the grave, and this was consecrated with much ceremony and a special long incantation. If there was any other rite it consisted in the cooking of taro, etc., as an offering, to take the place of the human victim offered at a chief's obsequies. Cooked food placed upon the mats or property left by the page 394 deceased inferior person made such property “common” (noa) and removed the tapu. As a sign of mourning the men usually cut their hair off on one side and let the other locks hang long.
After a man had buried his father or a near relative his hair was cut as part of the purification (pure) ceremony, and the hair tied to a stone representing (i.e. named for) an ancestor, and deposited in the sacred place (wahitapu). On the morning following incantations were chanted while a sacred oven was opened and the cooked food brought forth; the sweet-potatoes were held in the hand of the person to be cleansed, while the priest recited the heavenly and earthly pedigree. The food was then offered to stones named for gods, then both priest and laymen ate the food from the sacred oven. This ceremony was again repeated at evening, and then 20 days had to be passed still in a tapu state, for every person and thing that had anything to do with the dead were sacred. At the end of this period two ovens were prepared, the priests and their disciples attended. The priests, standing on the right hand, fed each other by hand; the learners ate their food as they pleased. After this all tapu was removed.
After a man of rank died his sons and near relations often dwelt in the House of Mourning (Whare potae or Whare taua). This place could not be emerged from for a while, and food could only be cooked therein at night. For these dwellers the tapu was lifted by a human sacrifice. The women and children of deceased page 395 remained in the House of Mourning for a longer time, and when the required period was completed the tapu was taken off their “head-dress of sorrow” by a priest beside a running stream. Sometimes when a favourite child died his father would cut off the hair on one side of his head and never allow the long tresses on the other side to be cut or touched. Very often, too, everything that had belonged to the departed would be either buried or destroyed, except some little thing to be kept to be wept over in secret. At times extreme grief would make a man or woman forsake home, and set out wandering like a demented creature.
In the South Island there was an exhumation (rukutanga tupapaku) about a month after burial (nehunga) and a feast provided. The ceremony consisted in preparing two ovens, one for the priests and one for the guests. The priests extracted two teeth from the skull of the corpse, and tying these to a fern-stalk with them touched the food and repeated a charm. This set free from tapu the weapons and ornaments which had been buried with deceased: the teeth were bored and worn as ear-pendants by the nearest relatives of the dead man. The corpse was then re-buried, till, two years afterwards, it was again exhumed for the “bone scraping.”
Generally, especially in the North Island, there were only the two occasions of ceremonies at burial, namely the inhumation at death and the exhumation (hahunga) for “bone scraping” and complete burial. The ceremony of scraping the bones usually occurred a year or so after page 396 death. A gathering of relatives, even of very distant relatives, took places, and therefore large supplies of food had to be prepared. When the chiefs arrived at the stage where the corpse rested, they touched the stage or canoe with a small rod or wand, and then the remains were carried to an appointed place on the back of a highly-decorated bearer. Placed on a pile of leaves, any remaining putrid flesh was scraped from the bones and buried. The skull was set in the lap of a priestess while the funeral song (pihe) was being sung if the deceased had died in war, if not, an incantation (karakia) was chanted.4 All who participated would be so tapu that they could only be fed with long fern-stalks or drink with the hand below the mouth, water being poured from above. The hahunga of several persons might be held at one time, then each bundle of bones was carefully tied up by itself and hidden in caves or chasms. Charms were repeated at every stage of the exhumation, one whilst walking to the place, another when the bones were placed in a basket. The bearers bathed and other bearers took the bones while more recitations were chanted. The basket was opened (incantation), the bundle of bones untied (incantation), the bones were then anointed with red ochre and oil, the skull was decorated with precious feathers and exposed for some time to public gaze. Food was cooked in sacred ovens and offered to the gods. A portion was also offered to the deceased person. Of course the dead man could not eat the substance of the food but its soul (aria) or the spirit of the food was page 397 supposed to be devoured. Then the bones were bound with mats, and by a single bearer taken to some ancient burial place, generally a secret cave, lest the bones might be stolen by an enemy and desecrated by being used as fish-hooks, etc. Wailing and cutting with flints were indulged in by the assembled crowd, all of whom were painted and adorned in their most glaring toilettes. After this, feasting began and lasted several days, the guests finally departing loads with presents of food.
The above description applies only to one and the most common mode of burial. There were several other methods.
Sometimes the dead remained bound in their sitting positions in the canoe or cave. Instances may be found of a carved coffin being provided for the corpse, and a legend relates how a chieftainess directed her son to put her body in a carved coffin on the stage and to have a little house erected over the stage. In the South a curious upright coffin (atamiro), with a door at the back, was erected on a pole or post. This form of coffin was really more like a mummy-case, for the body was first dried or embalmed—sometimes only the head was dried and put in the queer box. Similar embalmed bodies arranged in a sitting posture have been found in caves in the North but generally the resident Maoris disclaim any knowledge of them and state that they are the remains of strangers. Probably this was an ancient mode of sepulture. An enquirer who once visited a mortuary cave described that it page 398 was on the shore of an inland lake, only to be reached by a canal, and the entrance to the cave was so inconspicuous as to escape ordinary notice. Piles of bones were carefully packed together, each parcel with the skull resting on the top of the bones, which were painted red. In the North, the mountains in whose caves the sacred dead were deposited were known as the “Mountains of Prayer” (Maunga Hirihiri), and these hills were invoked to send strength and succour from the spirits of the dead to warriors of the tribe going out to battle. Ramaroa is the name of a celebrated burial-cave in the perpendicular cliffs on the south side of Hokianga Heads, and this cave was invoked (hirihiri) by name when war-parties set out. It is now “common” (noa), because the bones were removed at the time when part of the place was sold as a pilot-station. (See under “War.”)
There is one instance on record of men who had fallen in battle (at Kihikihi, in Waikato) being buried in a circle, feet towards the centre. This is very interesting, as it has been lately found that the tribes which in prehistoric times inhabited Egypt buried their dead in this remarkable manner.
Like the Moriori of the Chatham Islands, the Maori sometimes buried their dead in trees, or more probably deposited the bones in the hollow tree if no caves were to be found in the locality. A few years ago a very large pukatea tree, named Te Ahoroa, growing near Opotiki, fell to the ground, rotten with age, and bursting, disclosed some 500 skeletons. page 399 An old woman of the tribe living near explained that her people had been in the habit of depositing their dead there for a long time, pushing their bones through a hole in the trunk 50 feet from the ground. Capt. Mair counted 397 skulls some time afterwards, but many were broken up.
A person made tapu for the purpose was sometimes to be seen carrying a piece of stick (rakau) on a spear, a ceremony known as “The Stick of the Dead” (Te rakau o te mate). It was carried for a year or so after the death of any chief of consideration. The bearer would, on occasion, be sent to the village of a hated neighbour, if he met anyone of an alien tribe that person was killed and then war ensued, but if when he arrived the pa was empty the stick would be left there and the messenger would return to his own village to fetch a war-party to occupy the pa.
The Maoris generally had a great dislike to allow fire to touch the body of one of their own relatives—probably from the idea of “cooking” attached thereto and reserved for the foe. They did not scruple, however, when on a war party and in desperate circumstances, from disposing of the corpses of their friends by fire lest they should fall into the enemy's hands. Some tribes, moreover, were in the regular habit of cremating their dead. This especially in the north part of the South Island (Marlborough province) and to a less extent at Whanganui, Rangitikei, and Waimate Plains, Taranaki. A quantity of fuel was collected in some solitary place and after the body had page 400 been laid on it the pyre was lighted by the nearest relative; if no near relative was present then by the priest. Generally this was done after nightfall. The fire was anointed with fat, if possible with porpoise fat. A calm night was usually selected, for it was regarded as a deadly omen to some one present related to the deceased if instead of the smoke going straight up it was scattered or hung low. If the smoke ascended straight up the relatives would cry, “Gentle Smoke! Placid Smoke!” (Mahaki paoa! Mahaki Paoa!) and piled on fuel. It was regarded as important that every portion of the deceased, even the smallest fragment of bone or of the wood of the pyre should be consumed. It is probable that the fish-fat was not put on to increase the heat of the fire but as votive offerings, for it is believed that such oily substances were not applied till the fire was nearly extinguished. The ashes were carefully collected by the priests and buried in a pit which was filled up level with the ground and another fire made thereon, the embers and remains of this fire, however, were left in their natural position, so as to deceive anyone who wished to desecrate the ashes.
It is probable that cremation in natural volcanic fires was an ancient custom of the Maori, especially in regard to the bodies of important leaders. It is said that the natives intended to dispose of the bones of the great chief of Taupo, Te Heuheu, by throwing them down the active crater of Ngauruhoe (Tongariro) but were frightened by subterranean page 401 rumblings, and fled, leaving the body on the mountain. This idea may account for even extinct volcanoes being favourite places of sepulture; Putahi, an old crater between Ohaeawai and Kawakawa near Bay of Islands is a notable example.
Many of the constellations and stars were named. Concerning their identification, especially that of single stars, there seems to be much doubt. The trouble arose from no sufficient knowledge of the heavens having lingered among the few old men from whom the information has been sought. Some of the uncertainty may arise from the European investigators themselves not being sure of the astronomical names of the stars pointed out.
The Milky Way was known as the “Long Fish” (Ika-roa) or the “Long Shark” (Mangoroa), or “The Fish of Maui” (Te Ika a Maui). The Pleiades were called Matariki or Aokai; Orion's Belt Tautoru or Te Kakau; Magellan's Clouds, Tuputuputa and Ti-oreore. Close to Antares in the Scorpion was “the Canoe of Tamarereti” (Te waka a Tamarereti) and near Orion was “the net” (Te hao o Rua).
Canopus is the star generally referred to as Makahea, Autahi or Atutahi, but the name Autahi is sometimes given to α Centauri. Rigel in Orion was Puanga; Venus as Morning page 402 Starwas Kopu or Tawera, as Evening Star Meremere. Vega was Whanui; Antares, Rehua; Sirius, Takurua and Te Kokota; Altair, Pou-ta-te-rangi. I repeat that the verification is unsatisfactory.*
The Maoris considered that the brighter stars such as Whanui and Autahi were nobles, and by these were the seasons announced; the little stars were the common people. Rehua was a great chief among the stars, and in speaking of the death of one of their own aristocracy they would use the metaphor “Rehua is dead.” Rehua was some times spoken of as “Rehua, eater of men,” because at the time of year he was seen the crops had been gathered and the war-parties were out. The stars are often alluded to in Maori songs. “Behold the Pleiades gathered here.” “Behold Whanui, the whirler of the sky.” Rehua is always spoken of as a bird with a broken wing, and beneath this wing is “the canoe of Tamarereti.” Matariki was called “the flock or company of Matariki” (Te Huihui Matariki) “because he gathers the stars as he goes” (“The sweet influences of the Pleiades”). Matariki was also called Hoko, because at his rising the seed-kumara were planted. The word matariki was also used as a name for a gentle wind. When Autahi was born, that monster “the long shark” tried to devour him, but his foster-parent the Sky (Rangi) thrust the page 403 creature aside and protected the baby star. Autahi rises in the evening to escape the monster.
The visible likeness of a deified ancestor sometimes announced itself as a star; of such was Tama-i-waho. A beautiful woman was probably flattered by being told she was “like the star Venus flashing along the horizon.”
Comets have been known and named; such as Rongomai, Tu-nui-te-ika, and Te Whetu Puhihi. When a comet was seen in ancient days it had to be warded off with a powerful incantation. Tamarau, “the star that gives off sparks as it flies,” was probably a meteor.
Many of the legends of the Maori refer to the moon. This may well be expected, as a heavenly object of such beauty and mystery would naturally engage the attention of all observant persons, while the strange influences to be recognised by every student of the material world would centre in the weird and wondrous “Queen of Night.”
The moon's waxing and waning is associated in the native mind with illness. After 14 nights she is seized with disease and becomes steadily more and more weakened until she is nearly consumed. Then she goes to bathe in “The Waters of Life” (Te Wai-Ora-a-Tane: “The living waters of Tane”) and this gives her strength until she resumes all her former brightness.page 404
Perhaps the best known of all Maori legends is that of “the woman in the moon.” One bright moonlight night a woman named Rona, having to cook food for her family, had no water wherewith to wet the mats of the oven, so she took a calabash and went down to the stream. As she walked along the narrow path the moon suddenly disappeared behind a cloud and the woman kicked her foot against a root, and hurt herself. She cursed the moon for withdrawing its light, and the moon was much displeased, so it came down to the earth and seizing Rona tried to carry her off. Rona caught hold of a tree to prevent herself being spirited away, but the moon tore up the tree by the roots and carried off the woman, the tree, and the gourd up to the lunar lands. On a clear night one can see Rona, her tree and her calabash up in the moon. There are several variants of the story. The spring to which Rona was going to draw water when she cursed the moon is shown at the base of the Otakanini Pa at Kaipara. This is a good instance of the localisation of an immeasurably old legend.
In a lament composed by Papahia, a great North Island chief, a phrase occurs relating to death in these curious words. “The intelligent one (i.e. the spirit) is being drawn up to Rona” (Ka hutia te tohunga ki runga ki a Rona). A curious superstitious belief was known among the Maoris to the effect that the moon is the real husband of all women. This infers that the moon is a god, not a goddess. “The marriage of men and women,” said an old page 405 Maori sage, “is temporary and of no moment; the moon is the real husband.” Proverbs say, “When the moon dies many women are affected thereby,” and, “Because of the death of the moon women are ill” allusions probably to periodicity, and these are less of mythological than of physiological origin.
A singular story relating to the moon is told of a mighty chief named Rongomai of ancient days. He decided to start for a long excursion through the country; with his brother and a select company of warriors he set out. They were met by a hostile force headed by the demigod Maea, and the whole of Rongomai's party was killed, with the exception of the leader and his brother who were reserved for the fate of being roasted alive in a food-oven. When Rongomai was about to be thrown in he recited a powerful spell which had the effect of raising him in the air and taking him up to the moon. Rongomai became the Lord of the Moon, and ordered a large oven to be prepared in the lunar regions. In the confusion caused by Rongomai's ascension, his brother escaped, and getting safely back to his tribe roused his people, and with a vast war-party set out to chastise Maea and his men. The avengers discovered their foes in a long narrow valley between two mountains, and utterly defeated the captors of their chief. Maea was taken, and almost all his followers slain. The eyes of Maea were gouged out and an oven was prepared in which it was intended that he should be cooked, but Rongomai was not page 406 satisfied with an earthly revenge, so caught the body up to the heavens and cast it into the vast lunar oven he had prepared.
In the realm of pure mythology it is related that Heaven (Rangi) took a wife and begot the moon and then took another wife and begot the sun. These two were thrown up into the skies as “the eyes of Heaven.” Before that time all was darkness and with these “Eyes” came the first germ of life. Another legend states that the sun and moon were grand-children of Heaven and the stars were born to give light to Marama, the moon, on her marriage with the sun. It is also stated that the hero-god Maui had difficulty in making the sun travel at a reasonable pace so he tied a line from the sun to the moon, and the sun has now to drag the moon along after him as a check on his impetuosity.
The full of the moon was the auspicious time to plant seeds if a plenteous crop was to result. When the crescent moon was seen “lying on her back” it was supposed to presage bad weather. If it was standing upright or “leaning” it denoted fine weather.
* There are many stars not yet identified, of such are Poutini, Naha, Te Puwhakapara, Kauanga, Whaka-ongekai Pipiri, Tariao, Poanaana, Tahumata, Puahou, etc., etc.