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The Maori Race

Chapter IX. Chiefs and Priests.—Slaves and Servitude.—Names of Places, Etc

Chapter IX. Chiefs and Priests.—Slaves and Servitude.—Names of Places, Etc.

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Chiefs and Priests.

At first sight it would appear that the highest offices of government among the Maori were carried out by men whose power descended to them in an hereditary and simple manner. Stated generally it was hereditary monarchy, for, although there was no king over the whole nation, it should be remembered that the greatest chiefs wielded power little short of regal, indeed sometimes passing the temporal sway of kings, for they united the office of monarch (under local limitations) with that of high priest. Eldest son of eldest son, down from the gods of Heaven and Earth, their ancestors; that was how the proud lineage of the mighty was counted. Yet not without interruption, perhaps, for few were the pedigrees into which some little flaw, some inferior marriage, or disputed succession did not obtrude itself, and the men of absolutely spotless descent in the land of the Maori could be counted on the fingers. page 147 On the territorial or temporal side great war-prowess or immense possessions might reinforce the pretensions of some mighty lord, but spiritually (one might almost say ecclesiastically) such a leader might be held as of less account than one to whom fate had denied the heritage of temporal power but whose authority (mana) as “god-descended” was enormous.

If a great chief's first-born son was by a slave wife, the boy had many privileges of primogeniture, but he could not be an ariki, unless his mother was a woman of rank. The different tribes and sub-tribes had ariki, but the greatest of them all, the “head of the Clan,” was the Upoko-ariki, the Pu, or Tumu-whakarae, the different names being bestowed in diverse localities. The Tumu-whakarae is stated to have been the title of one so sacred that, like the Japanese “Spiritual Emperor,” he was too exalted a personage to do anything at all. He therefore allowed his next younger brother to take the office of ariki and perform all the priestly part of his work. Hence the proverb, “The cockle may beget progeny where it likes, the High Chief sits quietly.” (Ka haere te Pipi-ai-he, ka noho te Tumu-whakarae.) It is probable that to this peerless sacerdotal rank belonged the great priest Taewa-a-Rangi of the Takitumu canoe, for although he was of far higher position than was the celebrated Ngatoro-i-rangi of the Arawa canoe, yet no record of an action or precept of his has been preserved in the traditions of his countrymen.

To descend, however, to the ordinary prince or ariki, we find that he was set apart from page 148 birth to his high office of priest-chief. He had great privileges, and being of higher birth than his parents (through uniting their two lines in him) considered himself almost a divine person, a Divus Cæsar. Taught all the knowledge of his ancestors in the University of the Whare-kura (shortly to be commented on), he emerged as a peculiar being, with rights and attributes all his own. He only might eat the meat of certain sacred offerings, and one variety of food, viz, the octopus (called for this purpose tapairu), was never eaten except by him. Almost the highest honour he could pay to any distinguished visitor was to send him some octopus, and the very highest honour was to ask him to eat some octopus from the same basket. He acted as judge in all tribal matters regarding land or property, he settled all ecclesiastical affairs such as those relating to tapu, he regulated the operations of agriculture, fishing, and burial ceremonies. He was the medium between the gods and his people, to him were brought the first fruits of the cultivation of the soil, of fishing expeditions, etc. If a certain part of the tribal lands was allowed to be cultivated by people of another tribe (probably a defeated or broken tribe) the first-fruits of the crops were taken to the Ariki by the chiefs of the cultivating tribe, and not till that Ariki had eaten and the chiefs returned to their own people did any of them dare to remove the rest of the crop from the ground.

To the care of the Ariki the sacred kura or charm-stones of the tribe were committed; with them went the power of making common page 149 objects into gods or of bestowing on them spiritual attributes. He also had the reverse faculty, viz, that of depriving things of their supernatural character (tapu) and making them common (noa). Generally this latter function was exercised by touching the sacred thing with cooked food or by putting it into the fire whereon food had been cooked. Then each member of the tribe who partook of that food would be outside the power of the god who had formerly made his abode in the now desecrated object, but such action was seldom undertaken unless it was found that the object in question was working evil instead of good to its clients.

To the Ariki belonged any wrecked canoe or “flotsam” generally, even if it were the property of some of his own relatives or friends. His also was any treasure-trove if it was ancient; things recently hidden could be claimed by the owner. He possessed royal rights in certain large fish, such as a whale (always a fish to the Maori, indeed “the” fish), dolphin or porpoise. If a white heron was seen fishing in a stream it was not disturbed, but the news had to be borne to the Ariki, who would take proper steps for its capture, that its feathers might adorn his regalia.

Strange to say, although the system was built on primogeniture, this was by no means universally adhered to. There are legendary instances where even the mana or spiritual power of the priest-chief did not descend to the eldest son. The great-great-grandson of the hero Tama-te-kapua of the Arawa canoe was named Rangitihi, and possessed all his ancestor's sacred power. When he died his youngest page 150 boy alone dared to rise up and bind his father's corpse with vines, the elder brothers who, each in turn should have done so, lacked the moral courage or confidence to utter the necessary incantations, any mistake in which would have been fatal to themselves. So, though the youngest brother, Apa-moana, considered that one of his elders should perform the rites, yet, since they dared not do so, he took upon himself the holy office, and the mana of his father passed to him, to the exclusion of his brothers. Sometimes the mana of a father was ceremonially transmitted before his death to his successor. The process was quaintly described by a native thus: “The father tells his son to bite the great toe of his (the father's) left foot, and then to fast. Neither father nor son touch food. Eight days do they fast, sleeping at night, while the father teaches his son what he has learnt in the spirit-world, until all the invocations have passed into the memory of the son. Then is the work finished.”1

If there was danger to a first-born prince that under extremely rare circumstances his priestly power might be lost, there was far greater probability that his temporal authority might be questioned and taken away. As a rule he was supposed to receive his spiritual appointment from heaven at birth, but his leadership and direction of the people in peace or war (especially in war) had to be confirmed by the popular opinion of his people. There was thus in the system a curious blending of theocratic and democratic ideas. The Ariki had to possess certain moral and mental attributes page 151 in addition to his “divine right;” he had to be brave, intelligent and generous. No coward, no fool, no niggard could lead the splendid, open-handed, clear-eyed warriors of the Maori. If in consequence of any glaring physical or intellectual defect he was incapable of being “dux et auctor,” he would be set aside by the unanimous consent of his tribe for another, generally an uncle or brother. This election or appointment was brought about by a kind of silent sympathy among the notables that a certain person was “their man.” It was considered a breach of etiquette to discuss among themselves the position or acquirements of the chief, but in some curious way (a barbaric “telepathy”) they seemed able to make each other feel that another leader was necessary, and who that person was to be. Then the chosen one became the war-chief, the director in council, and to him pertained the royal privilege of veto. There was quite enough energy among so warlike and turbulent a people to make sure that the leader had no sinecure and was no “roi faineant.” Cases have been known where the Ariki has lost his leadership through the dying words, “the last will and testament,” of his father, who, being hostile to him, passed him over for another.

If, however, the Ariki lost his temporal power, of his priestly position no one could deprive him, except under such rare circumstances as above mentioned in regard to the successors of Tama-te-kapua. He was essentially the holy one, necessary to his tribe as the medium of the gods. His was the task of page 152 preparing the war-parties before battle and freeing them from the tapu of blood thereafter, of blessing the crops, of serving at the altar, and his were the offerings at the altar. “Opener of the womb” was he, and through his children the line of the “god-born” was carried on. He was the greater if he united the spiritual and temporal powers, as he usually did, but no popular judgment affected his supernatural position; it was only in mundane affairs that the world could take away what the world had given.

If, by evil chance, a girl appeared as the first-born in the sacred line, she too had many of the powers that a son would have inherited. She was called the Tapairu (a word now translated “Queen,” anciently the mystic name of the octopus) and became the High-Priestess of the tribe. She could eat the octopus and the sacred offerings; no person might eat with her or after her. She alone of all women might taste human flesh, which she did when a war-party returned with portions of the bodies of the slain. As not even her sacredness allowed her to break the law which prevented a woman entering the Wharekura (unless she was its presiding priestess, and then only for the opening ceremony), she could not learn all the incantations which a male could have done in her place, but there was, still, much of ancestral lore for her to acquire, and this was imparted to her by a priest specially told off to teach her outside the precincts of the Holy House. There she learnt her lessons and the spells necessary to counteract witchcraft and evil influences. It was her task to “make common” (whaka-noa) page 153 and to “cause to live” (whaka-ora). Before a grand house could be open to the crowd she must take away the tapu of its newness by stepping across its threshold (paepaepoto). If a man or woman was afflicted by the gods for having infringed some ceremonial rite, by her stepping over or passing between the legs of the afflicted one, that person could be healed and made safe once more.

There is yet another case in which the king-priest line might suffer, viz, by the heir who should be Ariki dying young. The next brother could not succeed to the position because he was not “the Opener of the Gate” of birth. The succession generally reverted to the grandfather (mother's father) so far as his being the medium of the gods and the eater of the sacred food of the offerings. As the grandfather was probably old and unable to carry on the active work of leadership a solemn meeting was held in Wharekura. In deep silence the brothers of the dead man or youth stood up one after another in their places, and when the right man arose a low cough ran across the assembly. This was the sign of approval. All was done with great solemnity and decorum; there was no canvassing or persuasion allowed, not even to the extent of mentioning the matter to each other.

Slaves and Servitude.

The position of a slave among the Maoris was a peculiar one and depended somewhat on the manner in which a man or woman entered page 154 into captivity. If only a member of an enslaved tribe such a person might continue to dwell among his or her people, and the condition of servitude was more that of a tributory than of personal service. A tribe was considered enslaved if by a crushing defeat it had lost all military prestige. Probably the majority of both men and women would be spared, only a few of the finest women being carried off to the homes of the victors. The rest of the tribe would be ordered to bring presents now and then of food to their conquerors as a token of inferiority, but saving this they would live much as they did before. The subject-tribes cultivated their lands as usual but sent their choicest products to the victors—even then these tributes often received acknowledgment by presents being made in return. The only fear was least the conquered might increase in numbers so much as to again become dangerous, but this danger was minimised by the masters carrying off every handsome girl as she grew up, so that the dominant tribe should keep its numbers increasing. Sometimes if two famous tribes had a war the vassals of the losing side would be killed and their wives and children carried off, thus leaving the aristocrats of the enemy without servants to do the rough work, a condition of great hardship. The fear of such action would make a dependent tribe throw in their lot with those who had enslaved them and forget former injuries in dread of a greater catastrophe. The vassal-tribes supplied the victims when slaves had to be sacrificed, as at the launching of a large war-canoe or at the page 155 opening of a great house. When one of these vassal-tribes thought that it was strong enough to rebel, its members showed their fierce and defiant temper by bringing their tribute of food, etc., carried on the points of their spears and laid it before their masters, who took the hint and said that they need not return.

The other class of slaves was obtained by taking prisoners of war individually, or in small groups or perhaps by reserving some persons from the ovens when the cannibal feast after a battle was in progress. Hence one of the most contemptuous of Maori insults was to call anyone “Remnant of the feast!” (toenga kainga) meaning “you are not even worth cooking.” In taking war-prisoners a curious custom was sometimes observed in cases where a chief was nearly related to both sides and when if likely to be taken he would assuredly become a slave. To obviate this, when a battle had taken place and one of the contending armies was evidently about to give way and be routed, it was permitted to the chief of the winning party to call out the name or names of certain warriors among the enemy. If one of those named immediately accepted the invitation and joined the number of his foemen he was then treated as a visitor and not as a prisoner, indeed being often kept as a highly-honoured guest.

When a prisoner became a slave his lot was not one of intense misery; he was often well treated, had plenty of food and much liberty of speech and action. It was useless for him to try to escape to his own people, for they would not have received him; he was an unlucky page 156 man whose gods had forsaken him, the proof being that they had allowed him to be captured. He was to his own tribe as one dead, or worse, his presence would be a living insult to them. They wanted neither him nor his bad luck again in their fort or war-party; it was misfortune enough that one of their number should be “a morsel spared from the oven” but the offence could not be wiped out by the return of the captive; only the blood of his captors could avenge the degradation. Slaves had one great consolation for the misfortune that had taken away their rank or position as freemen; it had delivered them from the discomforts of the tapu. A slave was nobody spiritually; his gods had forsaken and forgotten him; therefore he was essentially non-existent. Of course he had to refrain from breaking the personal tapu of a chief; death was probably his portion in such a case, but what he had to dread was the vengeance of the offended person, not the wrath of deities. The celestial penalty of the breach would fall upon the chief whose tapu had been broken, not on the slave, who was below divine notice. Such pleasant absolution from individual holiness allowed the slave to execute many tasks which it was impossible for more exalted persons to perform, such as cooking food, carrying burdens and other menial duties which it was to the advantage of the community should be executed, and which he was therefore valued for being able to do. The warrior whose person was so holy that it would be contaminated by going near a cooking-oven and whose back was too sacred to bear a burden page 157 had a good friend in “the outcast of the gods.” So, often he bore his lot with equanimity; he forgot his old condition, put up with violent language if it was applied to him (it was considered “bad form” to abuse an inferior) and consoled himself with thinking that his lot to-day might be that of his master on the morrow. Sometimes a slave would be allowed to work for a person other than his master and would be paid for his labour by a present, part of which he would usually offer to his own master, who, however, seldom demanded it as a right. Slaves were at times transferred from one owner to another in return for an equivalent, and the first master had then no further claim. In most cases a strong bond of friendship or family loyalty sprung up between master and slave. It is related of Paoa, a great chief in old days, that he made love to a slave-girl of bewitching beauty and, making her his slave-wife, deserted his high-born wife and children for her sake. A male slave of Paoa resented this conduct and returned to the service of his mistress, continuing to live with her as her slave. He and his mistress worked the kumara plantations together; Paoa and his slave-wife worked theirs together.

Of course there were very considerable drawbacks to life in slavery, the least, perhaps, the contempt of the free men of the tribe, the greatest the uncertainty of life. It was humiliating for a slave not to be able to approach a kumara store for fear that he should defile it, nor to be able to enter a burial ground (wahitapu) or other prohibited place without page 158 leaving all his clothes outside. When he died there was no ceremony of wailing, nor rites connected with the scraping of his bones: he was buried in a hole, without fuss or lament. But these were trifles compared with the “sword always hanging by a hair” above him, of instant death should the anger or pique of his master prompt such a deed, or religious objects require a sacrifice, such as at a chief's funeral or other great event. There are countless instances of the light regard paid to humanity when a slave man or woman was in question. As example we may note that on one occasion a chief had suffered the insult of having his dog-skin mat worn by the saucy wife of one of his friends, his anger was only to be assuaged by the murder of one of the offender's slave-girls.2 Another chief who had been away on a long journey asked his sister on his return why he found her cooking food. She replied that her maids had deserted, whereupon her indignant brother went to the houses of the runaways and killed them both.3 A robber chieftain in the South Island made it his work to lay in wait for parties of travellers on a trade route and kill the wayfarers. For a very long time no notice was taken of the bandit's action because he had only killed slaves; when at last a free-man was slain the tribes instantly set about the robber's capture.4

Slaves sometimes married slaves and so perpetuated slave offspring, but as a general rule they would become by inter-marriage incorporated into the tribe. There were generally several female slaves or concubines about page 159 a great chief's house, and these did the menial work as well as enjoyed the patronage of their master. The poorer free-men of a tribe, those constituting “the common herd,” the “poor relations” of the more powerful families, were not very particular if they took a slave-woman or a free-woman to wife, and the children soon merged into the free section, but always with the possibility of having their ignoble origin thrown up in their teeth. So too even a well-born woman might sometimes choose a handsome slave youth for a husband, generally when she had a strong desire to be the dominant partner in the establishment, for it was a rule of Maori life that when a husband went and lived with the wife's family the wife was master, and vice-versa. It was possible that men having slave-blood in their veins might by daring courage and military genius rise to the position of leaders and war-chiefs, but the instances were few indeed, and such a leader could never obtain the reverential respect paid to men of noble birth. There would be still with this conservative people such an impression of the successful upstart as there was in the ordinary European mind when comparing some rude victorious General of Napoleon with a Prince of the Blood Royal. It is true that the lineage of such a war-chief's slave parent might itself be of the noblest, and the blood of both parents of the purest, but captivity had tainted the name of the slave and made its possessor a mere chattel without human personality—therefore as an ancestor he was not to be counted.

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One of the most common troubles of a person supposed to be acquainted with the Maori language is that of being asked the meaning of Maori names. Very often an attempt is made to supply the meaning, and in most cases only by guess work. Of course there are certain names whose meanings are plain and unmistakable, such as Wairarapa “flashing water,” Awaroa “the long river,” etc., but in most cases it is safer to decline to answer. There is one rule of comparative security. It is that if there is a well established legend containing an account of the name being bestowed, that meaning may be fairly taken as legitimate.

Places were named sometimes from actions of celebrated persons, even from very unimportant actions. The traditional occount of the wanderings of a celebrated lady of ancient times thus recites how certain localities were named. “Where she hung up her apron (maro) to dry was called Te Horohanga-maro (“the apron hung up to dry”). Where she rubbed her neck ornament (hei) they called it Te Miringa-a-hei (“the rubbing of the neck ornament”); where she had built a temporary hut or screen they called it Hokahoka (“stick bushes up”). Where the impression of her foot was seen on the path they called it Tapuwae-roa (“Long-foot”) etc.5

Sometimes places were named from some observation on the animals found there, as a place frequented by the cormorant or shag page 161 (Kawau phalacrocorax, N.Z.) was called “the flock of shags” (kahui-kawau). At other times the appearance of the land or sea would cause a name to be applied, such as “Big Mountain” (Maunga-nui) or “red earth” (Whenua-kura). At yet others a circumstance would decide what designation should be applied. Thus, a war-party was passing through a plantation, and, coming by chance upon a man at work, killed him, as was the custom of such war-parties. An oven was prepared, and the body placed therein, but the slaying had been seen by a boy who hastened to tell the news to the victim's friends. They turned out and attacked the war-party before the food in the oven was half ready, but the visitors gallantly held their own till the meal was ready, and then carried it off with them. The place was always called thenceforward Tunu-haere, “Cook as you go.” The longest place-name I have yet encountered is that of a locality near Whanganui. It is called Putiki-whara-nui-a-Tamatea-pokai-whenua.6

Maori names are hideously travestied by the colonists in many cases, not only in speaking but in writing. Te Umuakaha became Temuka; Wairarapa, Wydrop, Ngaru-a-wahia, Naggery-Waggery; Eketahuna, Jacky-town; Te Urukapana, The Woolly Carpenters. Even names of persons suffered terribly, the great chief Te Rauparaha being designated “The Robuller.”7

Names of tribes (iwi) were generally denoted by the prefix Ngati, meaning “descendants of, “as Ngati-Raukawa the descendants of Raukawa. Sometimes sub-tribes (hapu) or page 162 small remnants of tribes used Ngati before their names. The prefix varied into Ati and Ngai as Te Ati-awa, Ngai-tahu. All tribal names did not bear the prefix, the Arawa, Muaupoko, Rangitane, and others are in this class, but variations of the prefix with a similar meaning are to be found; Nga Whanau-a-Mahu “the children of Mahu,” Te Uri o Hau, “the posterity of Hau,” Te Aitanga a Whare “The Begotten of Whare,” are instances in point.

Turning to the subject of personal names, some prefixes appear often repeated on particular lines of descent. Rakei and Ngai are thus used in the Urewera pedigrees of “the people of the land.” Pare, as a prefix to female names, is common in Ngaiwi genealogies, while Hine is similarly frequent among the descendants of the Great Migration from Hawaiki. Names commencing Tu or Tama were generally male. “The” (Te) before a name was an aristocratic symbol, as Te Morehu, Te Hapuku, etc., and held position as among the Irish Celts a chief was called “The O'Donoghue,” “The O'Connor Don.” The sign of the vocative case, E, was used before a name in addressing a person as we should use O, the Maoris saying E hoa, as we would “O friend.” This word e was often mistaken by Europeans as part of the name and so spoken or written, causing the name of Te Puni, for instance, to be written Epuni, because the chief was addressed “E Puni.”

The names of chiefs are generally selected from those of ancestors, bestowed at the “baptism” of the child. If the baby sneezed page 163 or moved peculiarly while the names of its forefathers were being recited at the ceremony, the name being uttered at the time was given to the infant. A child was generally known by some pet-name or nick-name given by its mother, but as it grew up its proper baptismal name was used. Afterwards other names were assumed. Such a name might be “in memoriam” of some loved relative, or it might take its rise in some incident of the life-history. As an example we may take that of a man who, on account of his father being murdered in his own house, assumed the name of “The House of Murder” (Te Whare Kohuru). A warrior who was renowned for stealthily approaching an enemy's fort was called Mawhai, the name of a creeping plant. Some names were very fine and resonant “The Sounding Sea” (Tai-haruru), “The Great Ocean” (Te Moana-nui), “The Shady Heavens” (Rangi-maru), etc., but others commonplace or even ridiculous in our notions: “Eight-warts” (Ira-waru), “Stiff-beard” (Kumikumi-maro), “Long-sob” (Hoturoa), etc. Some names, especially girls' names, were pretty and poetical, “Plume of the precious bird” (Puhi-huia), “White heron” (kotuku), “The young lady in love” (Hinemoa). The last name has a rather round-about explanation. The moa (dinornis) was supposed to stand on a mountain with its beak wide open “eating the wind” (te moa kai-hau). The idea of “eating the wind” or “feeding on air” became a metaphor applied to lovers who lost their appetite through excess of sentiment, so that to say one was a moa feeding on air page 164 implied that the person spoken of was in love. Hence Hine-moa, “Lady Moa,” meant a girl lover.

Maoris disliked (especially if chiefs) being asked their names straight out. To do so implied that the person asked was personally not known, and therefore undistinguished. A story is told that a stranger went to a village at Ohinemuri to visit the chief Taipari. On entering the settlement he asked for Taipari, but unfortunately addressed his enquiry to that person himself. “That is he” answered Taipari, pointing to his slave Netana. The visitor went up to the slave, saluted him and then began a confidential chat; all to the intense delight of the crafty chief, who, when he thought the game had lasted long enough, said “Netana, let food be cooked for my guest.” The visitor was naturally disconcerted, but had sufficient command of himself not to express his annoyance, knowing that he had put himself in the wrong by his own breach of etiquette.

Allusion has been made (under “Tapu”) to the custom of the use of a word being reliquished if it was the name, or part of the name of a chief. If a chief was named Te Mango, “the shark,” for example, the word mango would drop out of common use, and some word such as waha-nui, “Big Mouth,” be given to the fish instead. On account of the name of the chief Tai, “the tide,” the word “tai” was changed to ngaehe, “Ripple.” Sometimes a chief would alter his name as a memorial that some curse or insult was still unavenged; page 165 indeed the whole of a tribe, or sub-tribe, would adopt a new name for such a reason, and until revenge had been obtained.

Words were altered or dropped altogether for certain reasons, just as names were. Thus, when out bird-snaring, it was wrong to say “I am going to look (titiro) at my snares.” The birds not being dead might escape if this word were used, so the word examine (matai) was spoken instead. So also in discussing the taking or unfastening (wetewete) the birds from the snares, wetewete had to be avoided and the rare word wherawhera used instead.8 When on a rat-hunt it was indiscreet to speak of a rat by its proper name (kiore), it became koroke, “the fellow.”