The Maori Race
The Battle of the Birds
The Battle of the Birds.
“In ancient days two shags (Cormorant; Kawau; Phalacrocorax, N.Z.) met at the sea-side. One was a salt-water bird, and the other was a fresh-water bird; nevertheless they were both shags, living alike on fish which they caught in the water, although they differed a little in the colour of their feathers. The river-bird, seeing the sea-bird go into the sea for the purpose of fishing food for itself, did the same. They both dived repeatedly, seeking food for themselves, for they were hungry; indeed the river-bird dived ten times and caught nothing. Then the river-bird said to his companion, “If it were but my own home, I should just pop under water and find food directly; there never could be a single diving there without finding food”—To which remark his companion simply said, “Just so.” Then the river-bird said to the other, “Yes, thy home here in the sea is one without any food”—To this insulting observation the sea-bird made no reply. Then the river-bird said to the other, “Come along with me to my home; you and I will fly together”—On this both birds flew off and kept flying till they got to a river where they dropped. Both dived and both rose, having each a fish in its bill; page 82 then they dived together ten times, and every time they rose together with a fish in their bills. This done, the sea-bird flew back to its own home. Arriving there it immediately sent heralds in all directions to all the birds of the ocean to lose no time but to assemble and kill all the fresh-water birds and all the birds of the dry land and the forests. The sea-birds hearing this assented, and were soon gathered together for the fray. In the mean-while the river-birds and the land- and forest-birds were not idle; they also assembled from all quarters, and were preparing to repel their foes.
Ere long the immense army of the sea-birds appeared, sweeping along grandly from one side of the heavens to the other, making a terrible noise with their wings and cries. On their first appearing, the Fantail (piwakawaka; Rhipidura flabellifera) got into a towering passion, being desirous of spearing the foe, and danced about presenting his spear on all sides, crying Ti! Ti! * Then the furious charge of the sea-birds was made. In the first rank came, swooping down with their mighty wings, the albatross, the gannet, and the big brown gull (ngoiro) with many others closely following, indeed all the birds of the sea. Then they charged at close quarters, and fought bird with bird. How the blood flowed and the feathers flew! The river-birds came on in close phalanx and dashed bravely right into their foes. They all stood to it for a long time, fighting desperately, Such a sight! At last, the sea-birds gave way, and fled in confusion. Then it was that the hawk (kahu, Circus gouldii) soared down upon them, pursuing and killing; and the fleet sparrow-hawk (karearea; Hieracidea, N.Z.) darted in and out among the fugitives, tearing and ripping, while the owl (ruru, Spiloglaux, N.Z.), who could not fly by day, encouraged by hooting derisively “Thou art brave! Thou art victor! (Toa Koe! toa Koe!) and the big parrot (kaka; Nestor meridionalis) screamed “Remember! Remember! Be you ever remembering your thrashing!” (Kia iro! kia iro!)
In that great battle the two birds, the petrel (ti-ti; puffinus tenuirostris) and the black petrel (taiko; Majaqueus parkinsoni) were made prisoners by the river-birds; and hence it is that these two birds always lay page 83 their eggs and rear their young in the woods among the land-birds. The petrel (titi) goes to sea and stays there for a whole moon, and, when she is full of oil for the young in the forests, she returns to feed them, which is once every moon. From this circumstance arose with our ancestors the old adage which has come down to us, “A titi of one feeding”—(He titi whangainga tahi), meaning “Even as a petrel gets fat though only fed now and then.”2