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Cheerful Yesterdays


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page 353


A Celt at the Antipodes 1

"The whence of the Maori" is a fascinating riddle that continues to baffle the researches of the learned; and many are the theories constructed to solve the mystery. I hasten to explain that this paper is not an addition to the list of ingenious conjectures. I am not so daring as to attribute kinship with the ancient Irish nation to the swarthy aborigines of New Zealand. But readers of Maori poetry and legend must often have felt that there is a strong Celtic element in their imagination; and no one who has known them to live with them will call it merely fanciful to say that the Celtic vein runs also through their temperament and character.

The Maori is "of imagination all compact." His mood is ever changing from volatile mirth to pensive melancholy; he will be laughing his heart out one minute, and the

1 Most of the legends and anecdotes in this paper were told me by Maoris; and my impressions of their temperament and character are the result of personal experiences in the remote "King Country" before the tourist-corruption had invaded it. But I am also under occasional indebtedness to Sir George Grey's "Polynesian Mythology"; to papers by the Rev. Wm. Colenso; and to the fascinating account of the Maori in the earlier part of Mr. W. P. Reeve's "Long White Cloud." The Ven Archdeacon Williams, author of the fifth edition of the "Maori Dictionary" (of which his grandfather produced the first and second, and his father the third and fourth editions), has kindly read and revised the article for me, and I am indebted to him for corrections and valuable suggestions.

page 354next weeping copiously at a chance meeting with a long-absent friend; for the tears of a Maori are trained into perfect obedience to his inexorable laws of etiquette. Their instinct for the picturesque, their love of colour, their delight in oratory—all these are Celtic. The tangi they hold over the dead is but a "wake" at the Antipodes; the taniwhas with which their fancy peoples wood and lake and stream are but "banshees" in new guise; their irresistible "blarney" is pure Tipperary.

Enter a Maori village and live among them for a season, and you find them quaintly reminiscent of the Irish peasantry as you know them in the pages of Miss Barlow or Lady Wilde, of Yeats or Will Carleton. Their cheerful hospitality, their care-free gaiety, their reckless "happy-go-luckyism," make them perversely attractive. Incorrigibly improvident, it is either a feast or a famine with them—so far, at least, as money is concerned; for their staple food seldom runs short, as potato famines, happily, are here unknown.

Tribal communism and individual laziness combine to keep the larder bare; there are cows in every kainga; but it does not always occur to their communal owners to milk them. As frankly indifferent is their disregard of time. They are as provokingly unpunctual as a Dublin jarvey. They do not even know their age; ask a Maori how old he is, and you get the stereotyped answer: "Is a man like a horse that you can tell his age by his teeth?" If you bid them make haste, they reply imperturbably, with the word most often on their lips: "Taihoa!" ("By-and-by"). But one strong motive would break through their economic indifferentism: they clung to the land with the pathetic tenacity of a cottier. In these degenerate days, other desires have proved stronger than the primitive instinct; but formerly, the land was all in all. "The best death a man can die is for the land," so ran a Maori proverb. "Let us die for the land!" shouted a chieftain, haranguing his men before one of their first battles with the English. No war-trump could have stirred them more.

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A fine chivalry marks the best side of Maori, as of Irish, character. Illustrations of this abound in the stories of their wars; the best, perhaps, the well-known incident recorded by Manning in "Old New Zealand." A Maori chief, who had fought against us in the Waikato War, on being asked why, when he had command of a certain road, he did not attack the ammunition and provision wagons, replied in astonishment, "Why, you fool, if we had stolen their powder and food, how could they have fought?" Chivalrous, too, is their ideal conception, if not invariably their actual treatment, of woman. In the Maori Genesis, "Her sire was a noon-day sunbeam, her mother, a sylvan echo." In their Hero and Leander legend, it is the maiden, Hinemoa, who is the swimmer. In their nursery tales, even "the man in the moon "is a woman!

Throughout their elaborate code of manners runs a delicate sensibility. You cannot converse for long with a Maori rangatira without knowing you are in the company of a gentleman. His grave dignity of manner is in odd contrast, at times, with the native simplicity of his costume; but if his clothes are grotesquely modern, his "family" is often very ancient. He does not claim to be "descended from a line of kings"; but he can give you an unimpeachable pedigree that traces his back, perhaps, to one of "the first canoes" from Hawaiki; for your Maori aristocrat, like your English, "came over with the Conqueror." And he is often ludicrously conscious of it: a Maori of rank would resent having his child spanked by a pedagogue whose blood was less blue than the offending urchin's; and the Native Education Department hesitates in consequence to employ Maori teachers in Maori schools, for fear of reviving tribal animosities! But noblesse oblige; and if Maori gentlefolk have arrogant pretensions, they have also elegant manners. Their conception of the laws of hospitality is the perfection of courtesy. I was once, with others, the guest in a remote "King Country" pa of a rangatira of the old school. He always gave us of the best, but, page 356according to native usage, had too much delicacy to watch us eat; when we retired for the night, he invariably sent his old wife to the whare where we lay in our blankets on the flax-mats, with instructions to "tuck us in"; and "tuck us in" she did, with all the solicitude of a mother for her child. It is a fixed canon of Maori breeding that you must avoid in converse words or topics likely to be disagreeable to a guest. Our host in this instance carried the rule so far as to refuse to differ from us even in religion. With, 1 fear, less regard for good manners than the Maori standard, I one day asked him to which of the half-dozen sects represented in the little village he himself adhered. He answered my question with another, "What you?"; and on my saying:

"Church of England."

"Kapai te Ingirihi," said he ("Very good, the Church of England"). "I—Ingirihi."

It happened that one of my friends asked him the same question and received the same guarded reply, "What you?"

"Pikopo," answered my friend—i.e. Roman Catholic, "episcopal."

"Kapai te Pikopo," was the bland response. "I— Pikopo."

On comparing notes, we thought this contradiction somewhat strange, and suggested to the third member of the party that he, too, should draw our host apart and make the same inquiry; and if asked his own sect, profess something fanciful. Sure enough he got the stereotyped response, "What you?"

"Salvation Army," said our friend.

"Kapai te Hawatene Hame" (the Maori transliteration of Salvation Army); "I belong Hawatene Hame"; and then, with great gusto, "Kapai te Big Drum!"

Had there been ten in the party instead of three, and all of different creeds, I have no doubt our complacent host would have been fully equal to the demand upon his good manners. But the enthusiasm with which he made the page 357addition "Kapai te Big Drum" left us in no doubt as to his real sectarian leanings.

But although my host on this occasion was a member of the Salvation Army, it is a strange fact that that organisation has failed signally to get a hold on the Maori. The "big drum" and wind instruments, to say nothing of the red jerseys, would, one would have thought, make an irresistible appeal.1

But it is the poetry of the Maori that best reveals the Celtic vein: that sensitive quality that makes them singers of songs and orators capable of playing at will upon the feelings of their countrymen. Their language, even the speech of daily life, is rich in imagery; the very names they have given the features of their native land breathe a rude poetry: Wai-ata-rua, "Water of Twin Shadows"; Makotuku, "The Stream of the White Crane"; Waiorongo-mai,2 "Hear me, ye Waters!" Metaphor is the basis of all language; but the "poetry" of Maori is not yet become "fossil." His commonest phraseology is

1 Since writing the above I have come across an anecdote delightfully characteristic. It occurs in an interesting series of articles on New Zealand, contributed to the Frankfort Umschau by Dr. Hundausen, a Swiss scientist who visited the colony many years ago: As he was travelling by train from Wanganui to Wellington, some "farmer ladies" allowed themselves to smile at his stockings, which, he admits, were probably quite different from anything they had seen before. "Suddenly I noticed a stately Maori lady who was sitting next to me gather her skirts together and throw the folds over my legs, saying defiantly as she did so,'He is my brother!'" Dr. Hundausen thoroughly appreciated "this naïve expression of proper human sympathy, as opposed to the conduct of her civilised sisters."

2 My friend Archdeacon Williams flatly refuses his approval to this poetical translation, and says: "Wai-orongo-mai" means nothing more than "The stream of Orongo." Lexicographers were ever iconoclasts. If I am compelled to accept his scientific etymology, I shall insist on spelling the name "O'Rongo."

page 358imbued with the poetry of the woods. "I sit like the children of the forest bowed with grief, aye bending low even as the long lithe fronds of the black fern tree." "The month when the pohutukawa flowers," "The season when the Kowhai is in bloom"—so he punctuates time. And the years that are gone he softly names "dead leaves"!

The Maoris were a nation of singers; so highly did they prize the gifts of poetry and eloquence that at the birth of a son they cooked a Korimako—the sweet-throated bell-bird—in the Maori oven, and ate of it at the naming-feast of the child in order that he might have a fine voice and be an admired orator! Their mythology and legends, their history and genealogies—all were handed down in rhythmical recitals. They paddled their canoes to the musical cadences of waiatas. They took up arms and went to war with songs; with songs they taunted their foes; with songs they made alliances of peace and friendship. They sang choruses as they broke up their Kumara plantations, or felled the trees to build their whares and canoes. Their griefs and consolations were expressed in chants; their children sang to cause the rain to cease or the wind to blow; the tattoo-artist, as he deftly wrought the chiselled pattern on face of chief or chieftainness, soothed his victim's pain with thought-diverting melody. Nor were these but the rude rhymes of a barbarous people. "Their dithyrambic chants," says the Rev. Wm. Colenso, "were full of beautiful imagery; as forcible and convincing, as impassioned and affecting, as the poems of Ossian."

In their songs of sentiment, sung, as they always were, in a minor key, is heard the note of Celtic sadness; expressive of abandonment, loneliness, and despair, there sounds through them—

I know not what ground-tone
Of human agony.

At the tangi over the dead, the friends assembled round the body, and with chaplets of green leaves on their heads page 359intoned the dirge-like wail "Aue! aue!" while the orator of the tribe recited the funeral chant. Here is the "Lament of a Widow" as given by Colenso, robbed of the liquid Maori vowel-sounds, but preserving the Biblical simplicity of the similes that recall the Psalmist:

Go on setting, thou sun,
Descend into thy cave,
To carry tidings thither,
Alas! alas!

The tears fall from my eyes,
Welling like a flowing tide,
But thou repliest not—
Alas! alas!

The flowering plume of toë1 Gracefully glancing in the sun, In the seventh moon, Alas! alas!

In the eighth moon is blown away,
Alas! alas!

If there is Celtic sadness in the poetry of the Maori, these is Celtic tenderness in their attitude to the spirit-world. They conceived of their gods, says an experienced student, "as something more than embodiments of power— as beings interested in human affairs and able to see and hear from the highest of the heavens what took place on earth." The land of Nirgensdwo was peopled for them with innumerable beneficent beings. To their trained eyes and ears the woods teem with elf-children and the air is full of shrill voices. They profess to have heard songs of a highly mysterious character sung by spirits of the dead or by fancied Atuas, while engaged in fishing out at sea.

The fairies of the Maori are a merry, lightsome, kindly folk: they are for ever singing, like a cricket; they will

1 Toëtoë (four syllables)—the Maori name for the New Zealand congener of pampas-grass.

page 360have their pranks, to be sure; but they can be useful too: they taught the Maoris net-making, for example. They are beautiful creatures, these fairies; not grotesque or ugly like gnomes and goblins, but lithe and graceful like human children; they have long fair hair and clear fair skin. The pakehas, perhaps, when first they came, owed something of their friendly welcome to the likeness they bore to the fairies as the Maoris for generations before had thought of them and sung of them.

It was a fearsome thing to come among fairies alone; yet none but the really wicked ever suffered at their hands. Te Kanawa, when he went kiwi-hunting in the hills, was benighted once within the borders of the Fairy Kingdom. While his fire burnt bright, he felt brave enough; but when it flickered low, then out of the shadows trooped the fairies to peep at the intruder. What might they not do to him? He would give his jewels to appease them—his green-stone ear-drop—even the green-stone tiki at his neck! They took the shadows of the ear-drop and the tiki and handed them about and played with them; and then they ran away. But they knew that Te Kanawa was a kind, honest fellow; so the jewels themselves they left; for the hearts of the fairies are quite content if they get but the shadows of things.

In Maoriland, as in Ireland, there was something of timid affection between men and spirits. They made conciliatory offerings to Naiads and Dryads and Nereids. Rather than grieve the gentle wood-nymphs, the old Maoris would trudge long distances in quest of dead timber and drift-wood for fuel, so as not to break or destroy the graceful shrubs by river-side or estuary shore. So tenderly considerate was their love for sylvan deities that they never felled a tree without first chanting a pleasing song of deprecation to the genius loci. After death, the parting soul took its final leave of earth at Rerenga Wairua, the Spirits' Leap—the verge of a tall cliff at the extreme north of New Zealand—and so the Maori dead were always laid with page 361their feet pointing north. Even Taipo 1 himself, the Maori devil, had his sociable virtues; he would sit astride the ridge-pole of the house and hold friendly converse with the male inmates, but at the sound of a woman's voice he fled, startled, away! I believe that the Maoris, like Robert Burns, would refuse to despair of the ultimate salvation even of the de'il himsel'.

Close observers of nature, the Maoris weave round the lakes and volcanoes, the geysers and cataracts, of their picturesque islands, stories of romantic fancy, much like the tales of ghouls and fairies, of Carolan and Clooth-na-bare, we read in Yeats's charming book "The Celtic Twilight." To the south of Lake Taupo stand two volcanoes: the rugged peak of Ruapehu, blue and snow-capped; close by, Tongariro, with its graceful cinder-cone still sending out clouds of sulphurous vapour, wind-borne towards the west. Far away westwards, close to the Pacific shore, the sentinel volcano Taranaki, gleaming with snow or wrapped in fleecy mists, rears its lonely summit. Between them flows the most beautiful of our rivers, the Whanganui, winding westward first from the foothills of Tongariro.

Hear the Maori tale of the mountain lovers! Of old, Tongariro, a beautiful maiden, was beloved of two youths, Ruapehu and Taranaki, who had their dwelling near. Both paid her homage, and she liked both passing well. But the gentle Taranaki pleased her more than the stern and masterful Ruapehu, and to him she gave her heart. Under cover of the clouds they told their tale of love, for they feared the anger of the vengeful rival. But a wicked little mountain Karangahape learned their secret and treacherously bore the tale to Ruapehu. Fierce was his wrath; from his crater he plucked the largest rock and hurled it

1 The etymology of this word is obscure. "it is used by the Maoris believing it to be English and by the English believing it Maori; it being apparently neither." (Williams's "Maori Dictionary.")

page 362at his rival. It hit its mark, but bounded off into the lake, where it lies to this day—the island of Motutaiki. The gentle Taranaki trembled in fear, and, drawing his mantle of snow around him, fled from the scene of his love to the far west. And as he fled, he wept; and his tears are the waters of the broad Whanganui. But when he came to the western shore, the mighty ocean stayed his flight, and there he stands to-day, in solitary grandeur. But Ruapehu's vengeance brought him no good fortune; his love prospered not; and he still frowns coldly in sullen wrath, while the tender Tongariro sends her warm sighs towards the west in token that her heart still burns with love for the banished Taranaki.

Thus romantically does the Maori imagination account for the presence of an extinct volcano on the coast of Taranaki, out of the line of volcanic activity.

This line runs across the middle of the North Island; its most northerly bent is the sulphur crater on Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty; the most southerly outlet for its pent-up fires is Ngauruhoe, the cinder cone of Tongariro; between these extreme points lie the hot lakes surrounded by hundreds of springs and geysers, solfataras and fumaroles, the whole region a series of caldrons kept at boiling-point by immense furnaces below the surface. But all these phenomena are comprised within a belt of some hundred miles in width.

It was from a Maori coach-driver, on the road from Taupo to Tokaanu, that I first heard the tale they tell to explain the origin of the Taupo volcanic zone. He was as droll as any jarvey, and the story, to be sure, lost nothing in the telling. But stripped of all his fanciful embroidery the tale he told is briefly this:

Once upon a time there came to this country from Hawaiki the hero Ngatoro-i-rangi, "Great Runner from another world." In the company with him were his wife, the witch who guarded the sacred firebrand, and the youth Ngauruhoe, his favourite slave. After sailing for many page 363weeks, they came to White Island, and there landed; as the firebrand was burning dim, they gathered logs and brushwood to rekindle it, but when they left, they forgot to put the fire out. This set the island alight, and it is a sulphur volcano to this day—which proves the story true. Soon they landed in the Bay of Plenty at a place called Maketu; and leaving his company there, Ngatoro with his slave Ngauruhoe set his face southwards and journeyed inland to explore the country. In time they came to the mountain Tongariro; they were curious to know what was the white, mantle that draped it—for they had come from a land where no snow falls nor any wind blows coldly; so they climbed to the mountain-top. The hero was strong to endure; but the cruel frost gripped the tender Ngauruhoe and he was like to die. Then making a trumpet of his hands the master called, "Haeremai ! Haeremai ! Homai te ahi !" (" Come hither ! Come hither ! Bring hither the fire ! ") Though more than a hundred miles away, his witch-wife heard him; and the sound of the hero's voice thus calling from afar filled her with apprehensions of calamity. In anxious haste she seized the firebrand and set out to run, straight to where her husband was, her steps guided by the sound of his calling. And the faster she ran, the more anxious she became; she cared not what she did but dashed over lake and stream, through fern and bracken, scattering the sparks of the brand to right and left and setting the countryside ablaze. And that, says the legend, is why so many springs and steam-holes, hot lakes and burning hills, are between Maketu and the mountain. But she came too late; in vain she built the fire around Ngauruhoe and chafed his icy hands and limbs; the favourite slave was dead. And when she saw that he was indeed passed away, a great wrath came upon her; she cursed the inhospitable mountain whose chill heights had bereft the gentle Ngauruhoe of life; and swinging aloft the firebrand, she hurled it into a hollow on the summit, where it lies to this day, now smouldering, now blazing; while ever and again the page 364mountain quakes with fear and belches forth the flames of terror.

One more story, and I have done. In Caxton's "Golden Legend" we read how St. Patrick rid the country of Ireland of the pest of pig-stealing. When he had exhorted the thief in vain to stand forth and admit his guilt, he smote the ground with his staff and called on the pig to grunt in the belly of him that had eaten it. The pig, responsive, grunted; the wicked thief stood confessed; and thereafter, every man in Ireland kept his own pig in safety. Mutato nomine, dog for pig, the story is told in Maori, and Sir George Grey vouches for the antiquity of the legend. Whakaturia, the chief, had a dog stolen, and all in the tribe denied the theft. At length Whakaturia, accompanied by his brother Tama-te-kapua, a tohunga (priest) of great renown, entered the village where the thief dwelt. The tohunga, in presence of all the people, called on the dog, commanding it to howl in the belly of him that had eaten it. The dog accordingly howled in the belly of a chief named Toi. In vain did Toi hold his mouth close shut, pressing his hands over it. The dog continued to howl away till Toi cursed it, saying, "Oh hush ! hush ! I thought I had you safe in the big body of Toi and there you are, you dog accursed, still howling." Thus the theft was discovered, the thief was punished, and an end put to dog-stealing ever after.

Rationalists may explain the coincidence by suggesting that St. Patrick and the tohunga, like all priests in the youth of the world, were expert ventriloquists. But for me—it almost persuades me boldly to declare the natives of New Zealand are Irish ! But I call to mind in time the attempt of the Shakespeare critic to prove Prince Hamlet a Dublin man, because he swears by St. Patrick. Forewarned by his example, I forbear.

O. T. J. Alpers.

Wellington, New Zealand.