Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maori - Volume I

VIII Social Customs—Continued Marriage Customs

page 442

VIII Social CustomsContinued Marriage Customs

Ritual pertained only to patrician marriage—Roman forms of marriage—Wife purchase unknown—Punctiliousness a Maori usage—Social organisation—Sub-divisions of tribe—The family group—Prohibited degrees—Incestuous marriages—Polyandry not practised—Polygamy—Nuptial nomenclature—Marriage with slave—Puberty—Youthful cohabiting—Marrying age—PuhiTohi rite—Duties of chiefs—Girl confined to hut—The whare motunau—Wife choosing—Betrothal—Advantages of inter-marriage with other clans—The toro or envoy—Betrothal gifts—Native etiquette at meetings—Ceremonial of betrothal—Courtship—Proposed marriages discussed by people—Ritual and laic marriages—Quipu love messages—Kai-tamahine—Disappointed lover resorts to magic—Girls demanded in marriage—Boy asks for girl—Atahu, a curious usage—White magic employed—Bird employed as mediumistic messenger—Left hand used in rites—Objects passed under left thigh—Baptism in ceremonial—Second sight—Temporary wives—Marriage feast—Ritualistic marriage—Girl adorned for marriage—Common form of marriage—Three forms of marriage—Pākūwhā—Special house built—Gifts to young couple—Return feast to husband's relatives—Wedding guests armed—Wife taken by force—Illegitimacy—Adultery—Muru or legal plundering—The taupa charm—Divorce—Origin of ritual—The levirate—Widows—The house of mourning—Suicide of widow—Unequal marriages—Duties of husband and wife—Filiation—Primogeniture—Inferiority of woman—Sexual act a sin—Anthropogeny—Two forms of myths—Origin of woman—The eel and the woman—The fall of man—Female element represents misfortune and death—Maori and Asiatic myths.

In describing the customs and ritual pertaining to marriage among the Maori folk, we are confronted with the same peculiarity as when dealing with similar observances regarding birth and burial, namely, that ritual performances pertained only to what may be termed the higher class. The more important the family, the more elaborate was the ceremonial pertaining to birth, marriage, death, burial and exhumation. page 443 Among the common people very little ceremonial was observed. Even among what might be styled the middle class, such as younger branches of a family of rank, the more elaborate ritual and customs described in this and other chapters, were not performed, or but merely abraded forms thereof. Hence the reader must ever bear in mind that any elaborate ritual described in connection with these subjects, was carried out among only a few families, those of the leading chiefs. Thus, among the Tuhoe tribe, a small tribe of about one thousand members, there were only about three families entitled to the observance of the higher forms of ritual in these matters. This is a matter that should not be lost sight of. Although the form of marriage that obtained among ordinary people is also explained, yet so small was the amount of ritual attached to it, that the more elaborate observances of the aristocratic marriage may attain greater prominence than they should.

This subject of the patrician marriage among the Maori is one of interest, as illustrating the advancement of a people and a gradual elevation of womanhood and marriage. In this process of evolution we note that the Maori had attained to the highest form of conjugal union, as marked by the ritualistic ceremony, although it was practised only among families of the first rank; that is to say, it was the aristocratic marriage.

In his work, “The Evolution of Marriage,” Letourneau mentions the three kinds of marriage that obtained among the Romans:—
  • 1. The usus, resulting from a simple continuous cohabitation, without contract or ceremony.
  • 2. The coemptio, or purchase; the legal regulation of the primitive marriage by purchase.
  • 3. The confarreatio, or aristocratic marriage. This was the ceremonial marriage, a function conducted by the high pontiff of Jupiter.
In all these forms of marriage the old usage of looking upon a wife as the “property” of the husband was retained, even in the confarreatio, and this was also the case among the Maori.
page 444
Toki pou-tangata, used as a weapon and also as a baton. Auckland Museum

Toki pou-tangata, used as a weapon and also as a baton.
Auckland Museum

page 445

It may be here remarked that it was not a Maori custom to purchase wives, and even the ordinary folk of lower rank seem to have advanced beyond the first type of marriage above mentioned. Although no ritual performance occurred in such marriages, yet they were matters of deliberate arrangement by relatives, conducted according to ancient usage, and accompanied by such functions as speech-making, formal presentation of gifts, and ceremonial visits. For ever it must be borne in mind that the Maori was a most punctilious people, a folk who laid much stress on conducting social, political and religious functions in the orthodox manner. To ignore or flout such usages would simply be to ignore public opinion, one of the strongest feelings among this communistic people. Acting contrary to tribal opinion was a course that no Maori could pursue for any length of time.

The unwritten rules pertaining to the arrangement of marriages were very generally recognised and followed. Occasionally they were infringed, as by the elopement of a young couple to whose union objection was made and upheld, but such a matter would be arranged by the clan, or sub-tribe, upon the discovery or return of the young folk.

As a rule the Maori people were endogamous as regards the tribe, and often in regard to the sub-tribe, while a person might even marry a member of the same family group, so long as he kept outside the line of prohibition which was drawn at the second generation from a common ancestor. The third generation from a common ancestor may intermarry.

In former times marriages with persons of another tribe were not common, on account of there not being much intercourse between the different tribes in pre-European times. When such did occur, they were often, perhaps usually, arranged for political reasons, as to cement a peace after war. Marriages with persons of another hapu of the same tribe were very much more common; in fact, such would probably constitute a large proportion of the marriages, except in the case of a large sub-tribe. As to marriages within the family group, such depended entirely on the descent of the members of that group from a common ancestor, as explained above.

In illustration of the boundary line below which the Maori is exogamous as with regard to the group, the following items page 446 are given. These cases came under the writer's notice some years ago:— In this case we see that Towai and Pepi are first cousins, being of the second generation from a common ancestor, Te Ngaro. Now this marriage was within the forbidden line; it was strongly condemned by the tribe, and termed incestuous, though the young couple persisted in living together. In this connection it may be noted that tribal custom is not so much respected nowadays as it formerly was.

The other case was that of Rangi-tere-mauri and Hapine, who, as will be seen, are of the third generation— from a common ancestor, namely Te Rangi. This marriage was objected to, but such objections were overborne when it was proclaimed and admitted that such an union was according to the ancient custom, and, moreover, the marriage had been duly and properly arranged by the relatives of the young couple. The Maori, ever punctilious and conservative, lays great stress on the deliberate and proper arrangement of any function. Reverting to the above genealogy we may observe that a marriage between Tangira and Te Akiu would be deemed incestuous, and hence it would be strongly condemned and probably forbidden.

In regard to the Maori view of the marriage of persons of a closer relationship to each other than that of second cousin, it may be said that the belief is that such unions are followed by degeneracy in the offspring, a belief expressed in one of their numerous apothegms:— E moe i to tuahine, he itiiti.

page 447

The terms used to denote incest are moe tuahine, irawaru, and ngau whiore. The first of these may be rendered as “sister marriage,” though the term tuahine also includes a man's female cousins. The other two expressions relate to dogs. Irawaru, in Maori myth, is the origin or personified form of dogs; he was a brother-in-law of Maui-tikitiki, the hero, and was turned into a dog by him. At the island of Niue incest is called tikitiki, or ti'iti'i, showing the dropped k. The third expression above given means simply “tail biting,” and a person who commits incest is compared with a dog that bites its own tail.

It will be seen that Maori custom did not forbid intermarriage among a group of slightly related people, or even marriage within the family group, as is noted among some barbarous races; he simply demanded that a couple be at least three generations removed from a common ancestor. The writer has known a man to be expelled from his tribe for incestuous conduct, but such acts do not appear to have been common. Tribal opinion is strong among communistic folk, and acts as a powerful deterrent.

When two members of the same whanau or family group wished to marry, their elders often expressed their approval of the match by saying: “E pai ana kia moe korua ko to tuakana; kia kanga iho ano korua, kanga iho ki a korua ano,” meaning that should they, when irritated or engaged in a quarrel, insult each other, it would be no serious matter, but merely a family jar. The real or hidden meaning (to us) that lies behind this remark is the fact that, in former times, when a woman married into another tribe, or sub-tribe, and chanced to be insulted or ill-used by her husband, serious complications might arise. Many inter-tribal fights have so originated.

The Maori quite recognised the difference between real filiation and adoption. Any man was free to marry an adopted daughter of his parents, so long as she was not a nearer relative to him than a second cousin.

There is no evidence that polyandry was ever known among the Maori; their traditions and myths all point to monandrous conditions in past times.

As a rule monogamy was the ordinary condition of the people, but polygamy obtained to a certain extent, and apparently page 448 almost solely among the rangatira class. Such a man might have two wives; in fact, many men of rank are said to have had two free wives, and, in some cases, more, but not often. Also he might have one or more slave wives, who were usually allotted menial tasks, and may be better described as concubines. The children of these slave wives would be free persons and looked upon as members of the tribe.

After the arrival of the early missionaries polygamy became less common, the practice being condemned by that body; but occasionally one notes cases of it. A few years back the writer knew a member of the Tuhoe tribe who had three wives, all living together, and another who had two. In the latter case the wives lived at separate hamlets, the husband spending a portion of the time with each, for the two women were by no means friends. The latest case of polygamy is that of Rua Kenana, the so-called “New Messiah,” who had six or seven wives. Three famous chiefs of the Tuhoe tribe, Te Purewa, Te Ikapoto, and Tamarehe, who flourished in the middle of last century, had four wives each. Cases are know in which married natives having no children have taken a second wife in the hope of having a family.

Polygamous wives seem to be kind to each other's children, but practically all Maori mothers are indulgent, though perhaps such kindness may be said to be of a negative nature.

Consanguineous polygamy was practised. A man would sometimes marry two sisters. Two sisters would occasionally marry two brothers; then if one brother died, the other would take his widow to wife. The marriage of a widow to the deceased husband's brother was an old custom. A few cases are remembered wherein a man married mother and daughter.

One of the most curious marriages that have come under the notice of the writer is that in which one Kahungunu is said to have married the great granddaughter of his older brother, or half-brother Whaene.

page 449

In polygamous marriages the first wife taken always ranked above the others, and was known as the wahine matua on that account, the others being termed murimanu. The peculiar affinitative relationship between such wives is described by the expression hoahoa; they are hoahoa to each other. The term hoa is used to denote both wife and husband. A man will refer to his wife as “Taku hoa” (my hoa), though the word also means “friend, companion, mate.” Thus, when wishing to be precise, he will say: “Taku hoa wahine” (my female mate).

All children of polygamous marriages inherited a share of their parents' possessions, such as land, and any personal property they might possess. The offspring of slave wives also had an interest in such lands.

Wives were sometimes given to male slaves, and frequently to vassal peoples, such as a broken clan living under the protection of the tribe.

Chiefs often took more than one wife in a spirit of self-aggrandisement, to increase their own fame and importance, and so as to have extra helpers in the labour of procuring food supplies.

It is clear that polygamous wives did not always agree together, and Mr. John White has preserved an account of how the chief wife of the late chief Waka Nene disposed of a slave wife captured by her husband in a southern raid. She took the latter out sea fishing, and caused her to sit before her in the canoe, then seized the opportunity to kill her with a tomahawk. Having thrown the body overboard, the first wife returned home and told Waka what she had done, remarking that she would thus dispose of any more extra wives he might bring home. It is said that from that time the chief was strictly monogamous.

The condition of having two wives is described by the word punarua, while punatoru denotes the possession of three wives.

We have seen that slave wives were often mere menials, engaged in laborious drudgery, such as working in the cultivation grounds, collecting shellfish and other food supplies, as also firewood. When captured in war these hapless women were sometimes secured by having cords plaited into their hair, page 450 such cords being held by their captor, who drove his prisoners before him.

There was a certain amount of illicit intercourse among young unmarried folk, but when a girl married all such habits had to be dropped.

It would appear that girls often married young, but it must be remembered that they mature at a much earlier period than do our own folk. Colenso states that girls arrived at puberty at twelve, and even eleven years of age. Males seem to have awaited more mature age before marrying, and often took wives when middle-aged, as slave wives, or the widow of a brother.

An old Maori saying runs thus: “He iti kopua wai ka he to manawa,” meaning that a small pool of water will exhaust your breath. It is applied to cases where people marry too young, though the application is not quite clear to the writer.

Although a certain amount of youthful cohabiting took place, yet the Maori is certainly not libidinous, the men especially being remarkably free from lustfulness.

There is some evidence to show that, in pre-European times, the Maori did not marry so young as he has since our occupation of the land, the missionaries having encouraged early marriages among the natives with a view to putting a stop to youthful immorality. In writing on this subject Colonel Gudgeon remarks that, in former times, young men did not marry until they were 25 years of age, or even older. He concludes with the remark: “We must, then, conclude that a less number of years than 25 cannot safely be assigned to a generation, and 30 years might be nearer the truth.”

We will now glance at a peculiar custom that formerly obtained among the Maori by describing the condition of Puhi. Under this word “Williams' Maori Dictionary” gives—
1.A betrothed woman.
2.A much-courted unbetrothed young woman.
Among the Matatua tribes, however, this term is applied to a girl of good family who was elected or chosen as a person of consequence, and, in one sense of the word, made tapu, that is to say “prohibited.” She was not allowed to become page 451 intimate with any man prior to her marriage, and her elders and the clan generally were careful to select a fit and proper person to be her husband. Such a girl was usually the eldest daughter of a chief of high rank, and as such was termed a tapairu. Such a woman often took part in religious ceremonial functions, especially the ritual by means of which tapu was removed from persons, places, and new houses and forts. Having been made a puhi for the aggrandisment of her family and the clan generally, she was provided with several female attendants, some of whom would be girls about her own age. She was not allowed to perform any heavy labour, such as fell to the lot of women generally, but might employ herself in light work, such as weaving the finer class of garments. She performed no menial tasks, such as cooking, and, in some cases, a special house was assigned to her and her companions. Such young women were the patrician ladies of the clan, but there would be very few such in any tribe. They were highly respected and deferred to, and were sometimes long in marrying, so particular were the people about the selection of suitable husbands for them. When good-looking women they were much sought after, and young men, singly or in parties, came from distant parts in order to see them and endeavour to find favour in their eyes.

Should such a young woman fall from grace, the custom was to reduce her to the ranks, as it were, when she would no longer be a puhi, though retaining her rank as chieftainess and a participator in ritual observances.

It appears that when it was decided to rear a female child as a puhi, the curious ritual performance known as tohi was performed over her. This ritual will be described when dealing with customs pertaining to birth. An old native explained to the writer thus: “A puhi is a child over whom the tohi has been performed, in order that she may preserve the mana * of the whole tribe, as also of the boundaries of the tribal lands. Hence the aphorism: ‘The totara tree stands not alone in open country, but only in the forest.’ In like manner a puhi, or chief, is ever surrounded and supported by the tribe. In this connection there is another such saying among our people: page 452
The late Kahotea Te Heuheu of Taupo.Dominion Museum collection

The late Kahotea Te Heuheu of Taupo.
Dominion Museum collection

page 453 ‘A house adorned with carvings standing by the cultivation fields is food for fire, but a carved house standing within a stockaded fort is a token of true chieftainship.’ Now you see that a chief who is one with his people is a proper chief, but he who does not ever consider his people, he is but a poor type of fellow.”

The explanation is that a person, male or female, occupying the high position of ariki or puhi, must be possessed of admired qualities in order to retain the respect and admiration of the people.

Traditions are extant of some famous puhi who became renowned chieftainesses in later life, and commanded the respect of their own and other tribes.

Occasionally a girl who wished to marry a man objected to by her people, was confined in a pataka or elevated hut until she became more amenable to reason. Dr. Savage, who visited the Bay of Islands during the first decade of the 19th century, tells us that a daughter of the chief Te Pehi was so confined for several years “in an edifice every way similar to a dovecote standing upon a single post. … The space allotted to the lady would neither allow of her standing up, or stretching at her length. She had a trough in which her food was deposited.” This treatment was on account of the girl wishing to marry a man of low rank. Another such case occurred on the East Coast many years ago, but they were evidently rare. In such cases elopement was more common, the young couple retiring to the forest.

The whare motunau, a highly curious institution of the island of Mangaia, in the Cook Group, was a widening of the puhi principle, but with perhaps less ceremonial attached to it. In a communication received from Colonel W. E. Gudgeon, late administrator of that group, he states that it was a place where young girls, but only those of good families, were received and cared for until they arrived at marriageable age, which would be not less than twenty years. When a number had attained that age they were ranged in a row along the wall of a house, and then a number of young men of rank were admitted to the house and seated in a row along the opposite wall; thus the two rows, young men and young women, faced each other. Each young man then selected a page 454 girl whose appearance pleased him, and if she was agreeable, then the young couple was, with much ceremony, conducted to the boy's house, and the two were looked upon as man and wife.

We have now to look at the custom of betrothal, termed taumau by the Maori; the variant taunaha being a modern expression for the same, not an old time usage. Tamau and tapui replace taumau in some districts.

In the first place is given some information on this subject obtained from natives of the East Coast of the North Island. Having described the tohi rite as performed over a newly-born male child in former times, a native friend of the writer went on to say that after the ceremonial feast which followed that function, it would sometimes occur that a person would rise and propose a betrothal between the male babe and some female child of suitable rank.

A chief of the people, or possibly of a more remote clan, would rise and say: “I claim our grandchild for—,” here mentioning the name of the female child. Now the parents of the child so claimed would be unable to refuse the request, nor would any of the child's elders, or the people generally be able to do so, simply because such a course would imply contempt for the asker and his people, a belittling of their whole clan. In the train of such an action all sorts of trouble would follow. For instance, in some future warfare that child might be captured by those folk formerly affronted, in which case he would certainly be enslaved. Then would be heard the dreadful words: “A slave of mine,” and the stigma would rest upon his descendants down changing generations.

If the parents of the child, or the family group generally, declined the proposal of betrothal, then he who made the request would reply, briefly and significantly, by uttering a well-known axiom: “Waiho ra, E hika! He toi tipu te tangata, he toi heke.” This is equivalent to saying: “Very well, but man grows and declines,” that is, he is strong and weak, fortunate and unfortunate. No further allusion was made to the refusal, but the memory of the affront was treasured, and, long years after, might lead to such an act as refusal of assistance at some critical time.

page 455

In some cases a child was betrothed to another of a distantly related clan, or even to one of a different tribe, in order that it might serve as a “cord” by which to draw the assistance of that tribe in war.

It was by no means necessary that the betrothal should take place in extreme infancy; it might occur years after the performance of the tohi, as also in connection with children over whom that rite had never been performed. A clan often appointed a person to visit the elders of a child in order to claim it for one of their own of equal rank. A man of good rank and address was selected for this office. He was known as a toro, and a small party of from five to a dozen persons would accompany him. Such a party sent no preliminary notice to the people to whom they were accredited; it was a form of surprise party.

When the party reached its destination, it would be welcomed and greeted in the usual manner, with speeches and probably a song, on the plaza of the village. Then the visitors would be given food, probably before a house set apart for their use. In some cases the leader of the visiting party then retired into the house and sent word to the local chief that he wished to see him. On the arrival of the latter, he would (if the toro waited for him to speak first) remark: “Inu tai,” equivalent to “Speak!” whereupon the visitor would make known his errand. Should the local man be desirous of having more detailed information, he would say: “Hokia,” an expression implying recapitulation.

As a rule, however, in former times, the toro or envoy would state the purport of his errand before the assembled people, probably on the evening of his arrival. When making known the objects of his visit, he would employ some such formula as the following: “The object of my coming hither is to visit our grandchild, whose fame is great in the ears of man; hence we are seen here.” In order to make known the young person selected by his own folk, he would say: “By A, who married B, is C,” the name represented by C was the child's name, the other two being those of its parents. This would be quite sufficient; his hearers would know the line of descent, and be enabled to judge if the proposed betrothal were a proper one.

page 456

Prior to making the object of his visit known, the envoy would lay down before him a present he had brought with him, probably a fine cloak, or a finely worked stone patu (a short hand weapon), possibly made from the highly prized nephrite. Should the meeting take place within a house, then the gift would be deposited under the window. Such a present is termed a paremata, and it would be alluded to as “The paremata of the child of So-and-so.”

As observed, the visitors were in no hurry to explain the object of their visit, and this is in accord with native custom. A party of visitors would be welcomed with much ceremonial speech-making, singing and posture dancing, after which a few of them would reply to the greetings, but probably without referring to the object of their visit. In the evening the party would be entertained in a large house by the village folk; thus it might even be the following day ere any explanation was made. The village folk might be in utter ignorance of the purport of the visit, but no one would think of asking for information on the subject.

Respecting the gifts made at such meetings of the people, it may be explained that presents are never put into the hands of recipients, but laid on the ground before them. Also there is a certain etiquette observed in depositing such items. Thus, if the gift of a cloak or cape is made within a house, the garment is laid down with its lower end towards the window, and the upper, or neck end, towards the rear of the house. The rule is to lay such items with the ua, or upper end, towards the recipient. Then the latter knows and reads the meaning of the act, viz., that the items are a gift to him. The cloak was placed with the ua, or collar, toward the rear of the house, where the principal people of the village would be seated at such a time, it being a custom always to vacate the place of honour near the window in favour of visitors. A gift patu (a short weapon) is deposited with the butt end, the hand hold, toward the recipient. In the case of a taiaha, the tongue end is laid toward the person receiving it.

The presents so made at a betrothal may remain in the family for generations.

Not more than two of the visiting party would rise to make formal speeches, after which a person selected by the page 457 people of the village would rise to reply thereto. In the event of the offer of betrothal being accepted, as was usually the case, the speaker for the village community would, in the course of his speech, recite the karahia hono, or “joining together” ritual. The chaunting of this ritual by the adept orator was the token that the offer of betrothal was accepted, and its object was to “join” or betroth the two children.

After the recital of the above ritual another curious ceremony was performer in the case of a child who had undergone the tohi rite. The fine dress cloaks used in that ceremony as a carpet for the parents to stand on, as also the weapons (patu) placed under the child's head, were procured and deposited beside the gifts brought by the envoy. The collars of the cloaks were put against or next the collar of that, or those, brought by the visitors, and, in like manner, the butt ends of the weapons were placed together.

Then arose an adept of the village party and recited, or rather chaunted, the ritual that had been repeated in the tohi ceremony over the child. The repetition of this extremely tapu matter had a most binding effect on the agreement, so much so that neither side would ever think of breaking it, for an additional security lay in the fact that the cloaks and weapons used in the sacred rite of tohi were handed over to the envoy and his party. Now, albeit in later times quarrels might arise between the two clans, or even active war, yet that betrothal would stand good, and, on attaining maturity, the young folk would marry.

The ceremonial performances were now over, though the visitors would remain for a few days and be entertained by the village folk ere returning to their homes.

After the envoy and his party had retired, the village folk would hold a meeting, to which the people of neighbouring hamlets were invited. At that meeting the gifts received in connection with the betrothal were exhibited, and it was arranged as to what persons should have the custody of them. In after days it might be asked: “What became of the cloaks of the tohi rite over—?” And one would reply: “They were handed over to—.”

When the children attained marrying age, the gifts in possession of both sides were brought together and exhibited page 458 on the marae, or plaza, of the village, where the people were assembled in order to witness the function. It was at this time that such gifts were handed over into the possession of the young couple. In after days they might part with such gift items as garments, utilising them as presents on ceremonial occasions, but not so any “hard goods,” such as weapons; these were not parted with.

In connection with such a conventional betrothal and marriage the following aphorism was often employed: “He hono tangata e kore e motu; kāpā he taura waka, e motu”—literally, a human coupling (or joining) will not be severed, unlike a canoe rope or cable, which may break.

This custom of taumau, or betrothal, has been continued into modern times. Years ago a daughter was born to a chief of Wai-rarapa. On hearing of this occurrence a chief named Te Hou-ka-mau, of the East Cape district, sent a toro or envoy in order to ask that the infant girl be betrothed to his own infant son, Te Mana. The gift borne by the messenger was a fine cloak of native manufacture. Upon handing this over to him, the chief said: “Go and convey this garment as a whariki (mat) for the daughter of Te Whatahoro. When the bearer handed over the cloak to the latter, he remarked: “The name is Te Mana.” This was quite sufficient explanation in regard to the infant boy.

In some cases no particular child was indicated, but the sender of the messenger would say to him: “Say to—that I wish one of his girls to be selected for me.” The expression “for me” would mean for his son or grandson. This act meant that he who despatched the messenger had a desire for an alliance with the other clan or family group.

The word taumau bears the fundamental meaning “to bespeak.” Another term to express betrothal is whakapakuwha. It must be observed that ceremonial betrothals occurred only among the higher class families.

An infant girl so betrothed might remain at home until married, or might be taken to live with the family she was to marry into, or she might live alternately with both families.

It is clear that betrothals were often brought about for political reasons, and the higher the rank of the parties page 459
Rameka Te Amai of the Atiawa tribe of Taranaki. He is clad in a garment composed of several dog skins and has a taiaha (weapon) in his hand.Dominion Museum collection

Rameka Te Amai of the Atiawa tribe of Taranaki. He is clad in a garment composed of several dog skins and has a taiaha (weapon) in his hand.
Dominion Museum collection

page 460 concerned the more dangerous was it to disregard such acts. Men have been slain for interfering with betrothed girls.

Among some tribes, should a bespoken girl marry another man than the one she was promised to, the deserted one would proceed to the tuahu (spot where rites were performed) of the village, or the village midden, where he would seat himself in a nude condition, and recite a charm to cause the girl to become barren, thus bringing upon her the contempt of gods and man.

It would appear that few natives remained unmarried in former times, a condition that still prevails.

When a man desired a certain girl, the more correct mode of conduct for him was to approach her parents, prior to mentioning his desire to her. They would then ask their daughter if she was agreeable, in such words as: “O maid!—is a person who would be a proper husband for you. What is your opinion of the matter?” For a man to speak first to the girl herself would imply a certain disregard of parental authority. This procedure was by no means universal, but it was considered the correct thing among the higher social ranks.

As a rule, proposed marriages were discussed by a meeting of the family group, and were by no means arranged by the parents alone; indeed, the uncles and grandparents of the girl often had most to say in the matter. It must ever be remembered that all such actions were fully discussed and arranged by the family group, not by the girl's family alone. A communistic social condition is responsible for such a mode of procedure. At these meetings any person who desired to speak, male or female, would rise and address the meeting. The girl would be asked before the assembled people if she was willing to marry the man. The higher the rank of the young couple the more talking resulted, and the wider the circle of those arranging the matter. A study of matters pertaining to marriage among the Maori is of interest, inasmuch as we may note the more primitive style of marriage as a social custom or arrangement being trespassed upon and partially displaced by ritual marriage. Originally a civil institution, the priesthood was just beginning to take over the page 461 conduct of marriage when our European civilisation broke the chain of evolution.

Even in cases wherein no formal ceremony was performed, the Maori ever upheld properly arranged marriages conducted in a deliberate and orthodox manner.

Among the matter collected by the late Mr. John White is an interesting description of a curious form of communication between young folk that reminds us of the quipu system of mnemonics.

This contrivance was used to convey a love message or proposal among young folk. Thus in Figure 1, Nos. 1 and 2 are slip knots, i.e., each cord is passed through a loop in the end of the other cord, so that when the cords 3 and 4 are pulled in opposite directions, then 1 and 2 are drawn together. Nos. 5 and 6 are two short pieces of cord looped on to cords 3 and 4. No. 5 represents the woman and No. 6 the man. If a young woman received such a cord from a young man, and looked with approval upon his offer, she pulled the cords 3 and 4, so as to cause Nos. 5 and 6 to be drawn together, when the projecting end of the cord marked 8 was inserted into a loop on a loose end of that marked 7. This betokened acceptance. But if she decided to refuse the offer, she removed the string (No. 5) representing herself, and returned the apparatus to the sender.

She also had another way of manipulating such an item in order to inform the young man of the attitude of her relatives towards the match.

page 462

Thus in Figure 2 we can see how she explained matters. Nos. 1 and 2 represent the lovers on this occasion. Nos. 3, 5 and 7 are short pieces of cord tied on to the main cord to represent the male relatives of the girl, while 4, 6 and 8 are similar pieces to represent the female relatives. The position of 3 denotes a male cousin, that of 5 an uncle, and 7 a grandfather. No. 4 represents a female cousin, No. 6 an aunt, No. 8 a grandmother. Thus a piece of string was tied on to one of the main cords to denote each of her near relatives, the position of the attached string explaining the degree of relationship. The cords representing persons who objected to the match had each a knot formed on them, as in Nos. 6 and 7, in Fig. 2. Strings representing those agreeable to the proposed match were left free of knots. All males are represented on the right hand side, and females on the left, because the right side is invariably deemed male and the left female.

The custom known as kai tamahine was one in which a party of young men would visit a village whereat a girl noted for her good looks or other attractions resided. Such a procedure often occurred in connection with a girl who was a puhi, as described above. The object of the young men was to exhibit themselves and their accomplishments, in the hope that the girl would accept one of them as a husband. Such a visit would be made during a season when no special work was in hand, and it was marked by a round of festivities and social entertainments. The villagers would do their utmost to entertain the visitors, while the latter would perform their best in exhibitions of dancing, singing, story telling, athletics and games of skill, in order to please their entertainers and to find favour in the eyes of the young woman.

The expression ringa hoea, or “rejected hand,” implies a rejected suitor, and, in former times, such a misfortune sometimes caused a man to resort to magic in order to punish a woman for refusing him. The repetition of the magic charm, termed a papaki, is said to have had the desired effect of grievously afflicting the woman; indeed, my native friends inform me that such a procedure often caused her death. In other cases the rejected one would carry his grievance to his own people and organise a party to take the girl by force. page 463 Or his elders might arrange the matter satisfactorily for him by means of making gifts to the girl's elders, and by persuasive talk.

Whenever a meeting of folk from different villages, or of different divisions of a tribe, took place, whatever might be the primary object of such meeting, it was always taken advantage of to discuss public affairs, and most affairs were public among the Maori. Thus matters affecting a family group, sub-tribe, or the whole tribe, might be so discussed. At any such meeting any young man who desired to marry a certain girl might rise and say: “Werohia ki au; maku a Mea.’ Literally: “Assail me; So-and-so for me,” meaning: “I want such a girl (naming her); if you object, say so.” Any person who agreed to such marriage would rise and say: “Werohia; e pai ana” (Assail me; I am willing). Those who objected to the match would remark: “Assail me; I am not agreeable.”

At a meeting held anent the exhumation of the bones of Papahi, a young man rose and said: “Assail me;—for me.” Now the brother of the girl so named had, a few years before, been refused the sister of the present asker, hence he rose and said: “Assail me; the sister of—was refused me.” Such was his explanation of his refusal to consent to the proposal.

At the same meeting a little boy rose and called out: “Werohia ki au; maku a Mea.” His elders, as also those of the little girl he mentioned, were agreeable that the children should be betrothed, and so it was arranged.

A man of rank rose and remarked: “Assail me; I have no wife, for the people of this place will not give me one. The brothers object to me. Maybe I can obtain one from another clan.” These remarks much amused the assembled people, because, on account of his rank, he could have had any girl he chose to select.

The curious expression preceding these demands: “Assail me” (or “Thrust at me”) was a challenge to those who might not be agreeable. The above incidents were recorded by Mr. John White, though not published, and appear to be a northern usage. He also describes a custom that was evidently the origin of the singular phrase given above, but page 464 unfortunately does not give the name of the tribe from whom he got the account. He states that after the main business of a meeting was over, some of the most expert spearsmen stationed themselves in a single rank to the west of the assembly, each man armed with a spear (tao). Then any person who wished to make a complaint, or to ask a favour, such as asking for a certain girl for a wife, would, after repeating a charm to protect himself, walk up to the spearsmen as they stood with their weapons at the present, and cry out: “Thrust at me.” The spearsmen would lunge at him in feint thrust, but would not wound him. The man was then free to make any complaint or request to the assembly that he chose to.

Some explanation must now be given of the curious usage known as atahu and iri. This was the employing of white magic in order to cause a woman to feel affection for a man, or vice versa. A deserted husband or wife would use such means in order to cause the return of the errant spouse. A man would adopt such means to implant affection and desire for himself in the breast of a woman he admired.

We will suppose the case of a man endeavouring to influence the affections of a woman. In the first place he would procure a garment she had worn, or a lock of her hair (these were the most potent mediums). He at once carried such object to the tohunga atahu, or atahu adept. In doing so, however, he had to be very careful to refrain from taking any food, or even a drink of water, from the time he grasped the article until he handed it over to the adept. In late times he has not been allowed to smoke during such period. He must proceed direct to the hut of the adept and not stop or turn aside to any place. Even though he sees the adept at another hamlet, or working in the fields, or travelling, or even meets him on his path, he must take no notice of him, nor even greet him. Were he so to greet him, or stop to give him the article, or even to enquire for him, then his quest would be fruitless, and his errand come to nought. He must proceed directly and silently to the dwelling of the adept. On his arrival there, he must lay his item brought as a medium on the barge board of the house, or suspend it therefrom. page 465 Carefully must he do this thing, for, if the object fall to the ground, then he will certainly not attain his desire.

The adept will then ask him: “What have you brought?” He will reply: “I desire that my wife be returned to me by the company of winds,” if his wife had left him. Or it might be a girl's affections that he wished to capture. The adept will then procure a mussel or cockle shell, and say to the applicant: “Expectorate into the shell.” The adept takes the shell in his right hand and, proceeding to a stream, enters it so that the waters reach to his navel. He stands facing the east and chaunts his ritual in rhythmic tones:—

“Tenei au he tipua, he tawhito
He ukiuki ki a koe, e Te Ihorangi . . e
Tenei au he pia, he uriuri no tenei tama, no …
Tenei te hau, ko taku hau
Tenei te hau, ko te hau o …
Tenei to hau, ko te hau Pārāwera-nui
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki tai kainga
Tenei to hau, ko Tahu-makaka-nui
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki tai kainga
Tenei to hau, ko Huru-mawake
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki tai kainga
Tenei to hau, ko Huru-nuku
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki tai kainga
Ko to manawa, ko te manawa o …
Tenei to manawa ko taku manawa
Tu hikitia, tu hapainga.
To ara ko te ara o Tane-matua
Tu hikitia, tu hapainga.
To ara ko te ara o Tiunga-rangi
Tu hikitia, tu hapainga.
To ara ko te ara o Haronga-rangi
Ka tau ana koe Mahora-nui-atea
Ka tau ana koe ko to whare ko te ahuru mowai
Ki tenei tahu nau . . e . . i.”

Having finished the chaunting of his charm, the adept places the shell on the surface of the water and causes it to float away up stream until lost to view. He then says to the applicant: “Go; return. She will come back to you,” if it is an errant wife to be returned. Prior to his departure the adept will say to him: “When you reach your home, lie down in your hut. Do not pine; she is coming, and will not be long. When she arrives, do not cajole or revile her, for the whole matter is being performed for you by the gods. When you page 466
A decendant of the sea kings.Dominion Museum collection

A decendant of the sea kings.
Dominion Museum collection

page 467 have been together two nights, then bring to me some item, whatever you like, as a recompense for my services.”

Enough! The applicant returns to his home.

The native who gave the above notes many years ago, concluded thus: “Such was the higher form of atahu, as conducted by adepts of the higher schools of learning of these parts (east coast of North Island). Other tribes conduct such matters in various ways. Some indulge in evil magic and use charms pertaining to the lower school of learning. Such a procedure is objectionable, for trouble, even death, may ensue. I have said enough on this subject. Son! never indulge in black magic. If your wife runs away from you, let her go. Who knows what her end will be? My explantion of these matters is now finished.”

A curious and interesting episode in the atahu ceremony, as performed by some tribes, e.g., those of the Bay of Plenty district, was the despatch of a bird, usually the miromiro (Petroeca toitoi) to act as a mediumistic messenger of love to the desired girl or runaway wife, or husband, as the case might be. No matter how distant the desired woman or man, may be, we are told that the little bird would fly direct to such person, and alight on him, or her, usually on the head. Instantly such person would be seized with a desire for the individual on behalf of whom the bird was sent. In most cases the person would at once rise and commence the journey, however long. Is it not on record that the chief Tamatea, of the children of Awa, obtained his wife Manawa in this manner?

An old octogenarian of the Awa tribe, of the Bay of Plenty, informed the writer that the adept would sometimes proceed as follows:—“He carefully notes the wind. When blowing towards the home of the desired woman, he takes a feather in his left hand, passes it under his left thigh, and then, holding it upright in his cut-thrust left hand, he recites his charm, which concludes with an appeal to the winds to waft hitherwards the desired woman.”

In this connection it is interesting to note a smiliar practice concerning the left thigh that obtained in southern Asia in days of yore. In Hewitt's “Primitive Traditional History,” Vol. 2, at p. 620, we read: “They gave him the page 468 dog's shoulder with the left hand, and he held it in his left hand as he ate it, and he put the bone under his left thigh.” There is much virtue in the left side according to Maori belief.

Among the Tuhoe tribe an atahu charm was repeated over a young man when he was undergoing the painful operation of being tattooed. This was done to cause women to admire him. The charms employed have been preserved by the narrator, but one needs the assistance of an adept to translate them, so archaic are many of the expressions employed.

This ceremony of atahu was often performed in the evening, and, in some cases at least, the applicant had to enter water in a nude condition and be sprinkled with a little water by the adept during the ceremony. In one case that came under the writer's notice, the adept, a female, said to the applicant while they were in the water: “I can see the wairua [spirit] of your absent husband standing by your side. Return now to your home; in a week your husband will be with you.” In this case the bird is said to have had a long flight to the Gisborne district, over 100 miles away, where it found the erring husband living with a new wife. However, nothing daunted, the bird entered their hut and settled upon the man's head, whereupon he was seized with a desire for his first wife, and at once started to return to her, a journey of some days. Our native friends firmly believe in these stories.

An interesting story concerning this ceremonial and its effect, as related by a native chief, together with some comments thereon, may be found in Vol. XIV. of the Journal of the Polynesian Society, p. 100.

Another method employed in some districts was as follows:—A man who desired to gain a woman's affection would obtain possession of some article that she had handled, or had been in contact with her body, over which he would repeat the necessary charm, and then place it under her sleeping mat secretly, or bury it at a place where she would step over it. Such means were usually adopted in cases where the supplicant was not viewed with favour.

We have seen native women married to men considerably younger than themselves, and it is known that, in former times, middle-aged and elderly men in a good many cases married women much younger than themselves.

page 469

The custom of providing a temporary wife for a visitor was recognised here, though not to any great extent apparently, probably because women were very apt to accompany travellers, and even parties on war expeditions. An amusing tale is told of one of our early bishops being offered this accommodation when travelling in the Taupo district. The bishop's companion exclaimed in scandalised amazement at the offer: “What? A wife for the bishop!” And the chief said: “O well, give him two!”

In his work on the manners and customs of the Maori, Polack states that “marriages are blessed by the priesthood, who invoke the sun, moon, stars and the winds to be propitious to the bridal pair.” It was not the case that the priestly adept was employed on all such occasions, however, but only when the parties were members of the higher class families; nor have we so far any proof that all those heavenly bodies and elements were called upon.

Among the Tuhoe tribe the marriage feast was known as the Umu kotore, and, when the couple were of the chieftain class, prolonged preparations were made in the way of preparing food supplies. Two forms of ritual were chaunted by the priest over the couple. One, termed Whakapiri, was, as the word implies, “a causing to cleave.” Its import was to unite the man and woman. The other was called Ohaoha, and was equivalent to a blessing, that the twain might preserve their physical and spiritual welfare, that the wife might prove fruitful, and so on. There was also repeated the genealogy of the bridegroom, commencing with the beginning of things in the very night of time, from chaos downward through gods and heroes to their human descendants, and so to the husband. The first part of such lines are entirely mythical, and, indeed, cosmographical. It included the Sky Parent and Earth Mother, with their supernatural offspring, and so on until genuine ancestors are reached about thirty generations back. The repetition of this item was believed to be beneficial in some way, and to impart force or prestige to the ceremony.

At the ceremonial marriage feast a special oven of food was cooked for the young couple and their near relatives, and these ate apart from the general company. In some cases the wife's sisters would decline to partake of this special food, page 470 from a superstitious dread that to do so might cause them to become barren.

In one form of marriage ritual collected among the Kahungunu tribe occur the significant words: “Let your love mingle with my love to express our joy.” The bulk of this chaunt, however, remains untranslated, so archaic and cryptic is the language in which it is couched.

A native of the northern tribes contributes the following: “The elders of the girl prepare her carefully for the marriage function. She is clad in fine garments, possibly a fine feather cloak is the outer covering. Her hair is combed and anointed, she is adorned with plumes of the white heron and feathers of the albatross, as also ear and neck pendants of nephrite or other materials. Her face is rubbed with scented oil, and touched with red ochre. A scent sachet was common on such occasions, suspended from the neck.

“The young man was also carefully adorned, and, if of good family, ornaments such as chiefs wear were assigned to him; also a fine nephrite weapon [mere] was placed in his hand.

“A great feast is prepared. The people assemble on the plaza of the village, where they partake of that feast provided by the girl's parents and her relatives generally. [The parents and other relatives of the husband would entertain his wife's folk at a similar feast when the first child was born, upon which occasion also the latter folk would make a considerable present of food supplies to the husband's relatives.]

“Now the assembled people would feast, dance and rejoice. The young couple sit together, and are addressed by their elders, who say to the husband: ‘Young man, here is your wife; cleave to her; do not abandon her.’ He replies: ‘I will not forsake her; she shall be mine unto death.’ They say to the young woman: “O maiden! Here is your husband; cleave to him; desert him not,’ and she answers: ‘I will not forsake him, even unto death.’ Then they pass the night together in the big house with the people, and are considered permanently coupled.

“Should the pair chance to quarrel after a time, then the wife's relatives take her away from her husband for a while, and then return her to him.”

page 471

Male slaves were sometimes taken as husbands by free women, but no ceremony was performed in such cases. Such a man would improve his lot, but would not be deemed equal to free members of the tribe.

Anything in the way of a slipshod mating is known as a moe parae. Such a connection is always looked down upon.

We have seen that the higher form of marriage was confined to members of the high-class families, hence, in the majority of cases, marriage was an arrangement unaccompanied by any religious function, though, in many cases, a good deal of ceremonial pertained to it. Thus there were really three forms of marriage among the Maori folk—
  • 1. The patrician marriage, accompanied by a form of religious ceremony.
  • 2. The ordinary marriage of commoners and the lesser chieftain class, accompanied by ceremonial but no religious function; the social marriage; a laic institution.
  • 3. The “bush marriage,” or mating without any ceremonial observances.

We have now to say something in explanation of the second-grade marriage. This function is termed Pakuwha, and it was a formal handing over of the bride to her husband. As to the amount of ceremonial pertaining to this function, it would depend upon the social status of the parties, their desires or social aspirations, and their command of food supplies. A marriage feast was the occasion of many speeches and general enjoyment. The two principal characters took little part in the proceedings; they were talked at, but said little themselves.

In some cases the feast, reception and speech-making did not take place until after the young couple had been living together a while. The feast was given by the man's relatives, and the woman was escorted to it by her relatives. After a time the wife's relatives would give a return feast, to which the husband's relatives were invited.

Occasionally a special house was built in order to accommodate the bride and her relatives. This house would be known as a pakuwha house, though it would be given a special name, possibly that of an ancestor. No person could occupy it before the visitors arrived, for it would be tapu, and the page 472 priestly adept accompanying the visitors would remove such restriction from the house ere his party entered it. The mode of receiving such a party of visitors has already been explained. On their arrival the guests would be installed in the house set aside for their use.

After the visitors have partaken of their first meal those of the village folk who have articles to present to the young couple come forward and lay them on the ground before them, usually with but a brief remark such as “Here is an article for you.” Presents are not placed in the hands of the recipients. Such gifts would consist of cloaks, capes, ornaments, etc., the most highly-prized items being weapons or ornaments of greenstone (nephrite). When all these are deposited before the young pair, the man would rise and present them to the relatives of his wife, who are the guests of his people, retaining none for self or wife; “kati ki a raua ko te mana”—the prestige of the act is enough for them. Such was the mode of procedure among the Tuhoe tribe.

The visiting party would stay for some days and be entertained by their hosts; also their own young folk would give exhibitions of dancing, singing, games of skill, etc., after which they returned home. When the young wife's relatives gave the return feast (Whakahoki pakuwha) the young couple would, of course, accompany their party to the scene. This feast and meeting were conducted in much the same style as the first.

A house built for a pakuwha function in the Gisborne district was a gift to the wedding guests, and a valuable one, for it was a very long house, the walls of which were composed of calico and the roof of new blankets.

As a general rule a married couple lived with the husband's folk, but not always.

Such parties of visitors always carried weapons, for, in olden times, no man might say when such things would be required.

The above was the usual mode of procedure, but circumstances sometimes changed it. For instance, a woman was sometimes taken by force. In some cases a party of the would-be husband's folk formed themselves into a party, termed a taua muru wahine, and proceeded to the woman's page 473
Tuta Nihoniho of Ngati-Porou. Formerly an officer in the Ngati-Porou Native Contingent.Dominion Museum collection

Tuta Nihoniho of Ngati-Porou. Formerly an officer in the Ngati-Porou Native Contingent.
Dominion Museum collection

page 474 house and demanded her from her people. If the demand was not acceded to the party would endeavour to seize the woman and carry her off by force. Her relatives would grasp her and try to prevent the abduction. Thus the two parties would struggle for her, and, occasionally, the woman was fatally injured in the furious mêlée.

The expression takapau wharanui denotes the marital couch, a marriage conducted on orthodox lines and with due observance of tribal custom in such matters. Great stress was laid on such matters, for the term poriro (denoting an illegitimate person) was a serious reproach, and the fruit of a temporary or haphazard union was placed under disabilities and subjected to annoyances.

Although incontinence in an unmarried girl was, in many cases, looked lightly upon, yet adultery in a married woman was a serious offence, and often led to violent scénes. It seems to be more common among women than men. A wife guilty of this sin was, in some case, slain by her own husband. In some cases the latter killed the offending man. Were a husband guilty of adultery he would be punished by his own wife's relatives, who would march in a body to his home and muru or plunder him. After some violent denunciation of the offending one, the cry of “Murua!” (plunder!) would be heard, and the party would make a wild rush and seize and carry off all the man's portable property it could lay hands on. Few things were too hot or too heavy for a plundering party. Nowadays these scenes are not violent; some payment is demanded, and such items as money and horses handed over. Abduction and other offences were punished in a similar manner. The writer has known a piece of land to be made over to a husband's folk by his wife's relatives, on account of his wife having been guilty of a lapse from virtue. Sometimes an aggrieved husband would challenge the offender to fight a duel, but these affairs seldom ended in a death. In former times, when a married man misbehaved with a married woman, both sides were plundered. Even a single woman so offending might suffer in like manner, that is to say, her relatives would do the suffering. Occasionally a man would discard an adulterous wife, or expose her on a public path in spread eagle fashion, her limbs tied to page 475 pegs driven into the earth, or compose and sing a song reviling her. Cases are known in which wives have committed suicide owing to the conduct of their husbands.

When a man was about to leave his wife for a time, as when going on a journey, he would, in some cases, recite over her a charm, termed a taupa, which was believed to have had the effect of preventing any person tampering with her. If a man is absent from his wife on a fishing expedition, and chances to hook a fish by the tail, he knows that his wife has been unfaithful to him.

There was a certain ritual pertaining to divorce, but perhaps this was used principally as a means of separating a wife and husband who had no desire to part, that is as a magic charm. Such an act would be brought about by persons who wished to separate the pair, and they would employ a tohunga or priestly expert to perform the ceremony. In polygamy a jealous wife sometimes had resource to this ceremony of white magic, which is termed toko. When the act is a voluntary one, say on the part of a woman, she goes to the adept in order that her affection for her husband or lover be “separated” from her (kia miria tona aroha). The adept takes her to the water side and there sprinkles her with water and takes from her the ahua, semblance or personality, of her affections. He does so by just touching her body with his fingers as though picking or plucking something off it. This “semblance” he washes off, as it were, and so her real affection is miria, effaced or separated from her. At the same time the adept recites a charm (preserved in the original), which may be thus rendered: “Ye two are separated, as were the Sky Father and Earth Mother. May the trees of the forest render your skins sensitive and fearsome. May the plants or the forest, etc. May the nettles of the forest, etc.” This is to cause in the woman a feeling of repulsion towards her husband, to cause her skin to “goose flesh” and to be “like quills upon the fretful porcupine!” Your Maori is nothing if not metaphorical.

The first case of toko, or divorce, known was that of Rangi the Sky Parent and Papa the Earth Mother, when they were forcibly separated by their rebellious offspring, hence the allusion to that act in the above charm.

page 476

In these crude rites that we have scanned, in the old-time Maori ceremonial pertaining to birth, marriage, divorce, death, burial, and exhumation, we note the prototypes of our own sacred ritual, forms evolved by primitive man, adapted and developed by old civilisations, and then borrowed by Christianity. Away back in the night of time, ere history began, primitive man began to build up social fabrics by means of tapu, caste, and other restrictions, to render the tribe cohesive and manageable; long forgotten priesthoods grasped at power as our more modern ones have done; they instituted restrictions and mysteries, evolved cults and ceremonial, in order to gain power. The men of the wonderful valleys broke out the trail by which the ancestors of the Maori were to travel in the years that lay before. Ever groping in the gloom of ignorance, ever striving for power, for tribal unity, for knowledge of things hidden, the men of yore evolved rites and laws, crude, necromantic, often puerile, occasionally noble, that impinged upon many myths and were riddled with superstition, but were the forerunners of our own.

The ancient law of the levirate has been followed by the Maori. The brother of the dead man took the widow to wife. If the surviving brother was younger than the defunct he sometimes dropped his own name at such a time and assumed that of the dead, just as we see the eldest son assume the name of his dead father at the present time. The relative ages of the widow and surviving brother did not enter into the question; the latter would take the tapu off the widow and her marital couch. Should the widow, by any chance, refuse the brother, and marry some other man, then the latter might be plundered and his house burned. If, however after having married her brother-in-law, she took a dislike to him, she might get a separation and re-marry.

After her husband's death the widow would remain for some months, possibly a year, in the “house of mourning” (whare potae), which is purely a figurative expression. A widow might commit suicide on the death of her husband, but this seldom occurred in cases where there were young children.

In Maoriland a man does not avoid his wife's parents, as among some peoples. In a marriage wherein the pair are of equal rank, the authority of the husband is greatest, but page 477 when a woman marries a man of lower status than herself, then she retains superior mana, or authority.

In one case that came under the writer's notice in Native Land Court procedure, a woman of rank married a man of low birth; hence satisfaction was demanded by her offended clan and the husband's people made over a parcel of land to settle the matter.

Filiation by the male line was most highly esteemed, though kinship is claimed through both parents, and rank of chieftainship is transmitted through both male and female lines. A person inherits property, such as an interest in lands, etc., from both parents, and a woman of rank was, and is, respected and esteemed, so long as her conduct is circumspect. Such women often took part in the conduct of tribal affairs. Primogeniture was universally upheld. Property always had a tendency to revert to the eldest son, who was ever recognised as the one possessing most prestige and authority. A line of descent through the eldest son of successive generations of a family, known as aho ariki, was the most highly prized, though the eldest daughter of a high-class family, who was known as a tapairu or kahurangi, was much locked up to also, and a line of descent through such was held only second to that through eldest sons. Uterine filiation was of undoubted importance, and must not be lost sight of, though the statement made by Letourneau that the Maori adopted agnatic filiation under European influence is quite wrong; it was an old usage. A Maori claims property, such as land, through both parents.

In the peculiar beliefs of the more primitive races we catch glimpses at times of a curious belief that the sexual connection is wrong, is, in fact some form of offence against the gods. We also note that woman is often deemed inferior to man, and her presence to some extent has a polluting effect. Both of these strange phases of mentality may be seen in Maori myth and belief.

We are enabled to give two different accounts of the origin of woman. The more precise form, the sacerdotal version, is given elsewhere in its proper place among the anthropogenic myths of the Maori, but the folk lore or “fireside” version is here inserted. This latter version, or incidents page 478 belonging to it, are often referred to in Maori song and story, but the full story was collected by the Rev. T. G. Hammond, a past-master in knowledge of the Maori tongue and Maori customs, from the Taranaki natives:—
“Tiki-te-po-mua was the first man created, but he dwelt without a companion. He reviewed all the species of lower

Description: Tattooed Maori head in Major-General Robley's collection.

This image is not available for public viewing as it depicts either mokamokai (preserved heads) or human remains. The reasons for non-display are detailed in the “Moko” project discussion paper. If you would like to comment on this decision you can contact NZETC.

animals, but could find no companion suitable for himself among them. Hence he felt much his lonely condition.
“Now one fine day Tiki found himself beside a calm, clear pool of water, and, looking into it, he saw therein his own reflection. He was delighted with the discovery of what he believed to be another person of the same form as himself, and plunged into the pool to secure a companion for page 479 himself. The image eluded him and he went away unsuccessful. Some time afterwards he awoke from sleep and felt a desire to urinate, but he first made a basin-like hole in the earth, which was filled. Here again he saw the image in the pool, which he covered with earth so as to secure it, and there the image developed and came forth a living companion for him. “The couple lived together for some time without any knowledge of sex until one day the woman entered a stream to bathe. While doing so an eel came to her and so excited her with his tail that she became aware of sexual desire; hence she, in her turn, excited the man, and so came about the fall of man. The woman became with child, and the affair was looked upon as a sin. Then Tiki the man, feeling that the eel had led him astray through the woman, slew it and cut it into six pieces, from which sprang the six kinds of eels.”

This singular myth is apparently a genuine Maori folk story, and is supported by many allusions to the act of the eel in native songs and traditions. In some of these Maui takes the place of Tiki. It is interesting to compare this story with the myth of Eve and the serpent, as given in the Old Testament. It is the same story, though the latter has been glossed over. The snake or eel (there are no snakes in New Zealand) tempted the woman, the latter tempted man, and both fell. This was the sin in Maori myth as in far-away Babylonia. The act itself was the sin. The twain now knew themselves.

Curiously enough, a parallel myth has been noted as preserved by certain folk of India, in which the first woman developed from a reflection.

Had we not so many allusions to this myth in old Maori lore, one would suspect missionary influence, but it seems to be genuine. Here we have an origin for the old-time Maori belief that woman represents misfortune, sin, uncleanness, death; that the whare o aitua (abode or place of misfortune, i.e., the female organ) represents death and holds the power to slay man. It was thus that Maui, he who strove to gain eternal life for man, perished, done to death by the goddess of the realm of death.

page 480

Hence is woman unclean during and after childbirth; hence is she employed to destroy tapu; hence is she destructive to man. Thus did man acquire the knowledge, thus did he know death.

Pare or lintel piece, as set over the doorway of superior houses.

Pare or lintel piece, as set over the doorway of superior houses.


* Mana=power, prestige, authority.