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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1

Ritual Pertaining to War

Ritual Pertaining to War

There were a number of ceremonial functions connected with war, but many of these have already been explained under other headings. In some cases a people who had been defeated in a fight would endeavour to avenge themselves by means of a rite termed koangaumu, which was an illustration of sympathetic magic. A garment belonging to one of the survivors was employed as a medium, and the wizard spells were repeated over it. These spells were intended to injure or cause the death of their enemies in either a direct or indirect manner. Here my informant made use of a very singular expression—"Ka taona nga wairua o nga hoariri ki te umu karakia" ("The spirits of enemies were cooked by means of the ritual umu"), alluding to the magic rites explained elsewhere.

A form of charm termed a hoa rakau (also called ki tao, mata rakau, and reo tao) was recited over weapons in order to render them effective. The term wani seems to have denoted the same thing in the Wai-rarapa district. These charms were believed to have a very important effect. The word hoa is a peculiar one, and seems to mean "to affect by means of a charm." The hoa tapuwae is a charm repeated to render oneself fleet of foot, and was commonly employed in war, both by pursued and pursuer. Yet another charm, the punga, was repeated in order to weaken the running-powers of a person whom the reciter was pursuing. The tuaimu or tuaumu was a spell employed to weaken an adversary, and so employed in warfare, as also by wrestlers.

One account of the hoa rakau has it that the operator lifted his weapon to his mouth and ka whakaha i tana rakau ki tona waha—that is, he put the weapon close to his mouth and inhaled a breath, a somewhat common performance in native ritual. One Uemutu was the atua presiding over weapons (rakau, patu), at least in the Matatua district. The hoa rakau charm is said to locate Uemutu on the point or edge of the weapon, which renders it highly effective in disposing of enemies. When a fighting-force returned to its home village the members thereof were extremely tapu, and none might go page 380to his home or partake of food until the tapu had been lifted, kei kai ratan i te mata o te rakau ("lest they eat the points of the weapons"), as the Maori puts it; in plain language, lest they pollute or defile the tapu of the weapons.

The following is a specimen of a tuaumu charm that consigns the human objective to the pit of darkness and calls upon unclean creatures to consume his condemned body:—

Ha te ruhi, ha te ngenge, ha te umu
Ha te ruhi, ha te ngenge, ha te umu
Mui te ngaro, totoro te iro;
E mate ki te Po,
E huri ki tua, ki wai, oti atu.

The maro taua was a charm recited by a warrior when engaged in putting on his war-girdle. A specimen of this class of ritual is given at p. 221 of Sir G. Grey's Nga Moteatea.

Te Wheawheau was the name of some form of rite or charm employed in war to render an enemy weak and nerveless. The operating priest procured a green branchlet and repeated a certain charm over it, then advanced to meet an attacking enemy force, and as he faced it he waved the branchlet to and fro. At the same time he repeated a spell that was supposed to unnerve the enemy, to render them irresolute and timid—an act described by the term rotu.

It was a native practice to endeavour to destroy or unnerve an approaching enemy force by means of burying some object under the path by which such force was expected to advance. The buried article was, of course, a medium; over it certain magic spells had been uttered that endowed it with power to destroy human life. Thus it was that a marching force sometimes avoided all paths as they approached its objective, lest such paths may have been "mined" by fearsome warlocks of dread powers. Or the tohunga of an advancing force might march at its head and, by his superior mana, clear the path of all dangerous obstructions emanating from wizardry. As he so marched he might be carrying the amorangi or emblem of his own god with him. Again, when travelling in hostile territory it is an excellant plan to walk as much as possible in water, as by traversing streams, so as to leave no footprints whatever. For, mark you, an enemy can take a portion of the earth where that footprint is and work grievous harm to the person who impressed it! The manea or hau of the person is adhering to that earth, and it serves as a medium in sympathetic magic.

The most important rite connected with the despatch of a fighting-force was that known as the wai taua, a very peculiar form of baptism performed over men who were about to pass page 381under the rigorous tapu of the war-god. This ceremony was conducted at the tapu waters of a hamlet, an institution already explained in these pages. Prior to the departure of a war-party on a raid, all members thereof assembled at the wai tapu, and all, including the officiating priest, were entirely naked save some green leafy branchlets twisted round the waist. This discarding of garments was the common usage in all ceremonies of a very tapu nature. The rite is apparently the same as that termed tohi taua.

The warriors ranged themselves in a rank along the margin of the water, and facing it. The priest entered the water, having in his hand a slight green branch of Coprosma from which all leaves have been stripped save a few at the extreme end. Commencing at one end of the rank, he dipped the leafy end of the branchlet in the water, and then tapped the first man on the right shoulder with it. As he did so he began to intone his charm. This act was repeated for every man, as the priest proceeded down the long row of men. This was the tohi taua or tohi a Tu. It brought the warriors under the tapu of Tu and endowed them with courage. As in all cases of ceremonial functions, certain differences are noted in different tribal accounts. One collected by Mr. White is as follows: "In the morning we separated into our various clans, and each went to a separate place. We all sat in ranks, each clan by itself, apart from the others. Then came the tohunga of each clan with a branch of karamu in his hand, which he dipped in the water, and, reciting his charm, he tapped the right shoulder of each man with it. If a leaf fell from the branch as he struck the man, then that man would be slain in the coming fight."

In some cases divinatory ceremonies were performed during this wai taua rite, in order to ascertain what fate held in store for the party. Colonel Gudgeon has the following account: "The formal invocation used to obtain the favour of the gods for a war-party is called an iho or iho taua, and on such occasions it is Tu-matauenga and the tribal gods who are invoked…. The ceremony by which a war-party is rendered sacred and dedicated to the purpose which they have in hand is as follows: At the earliest dawn the warriors assemble by the side of some water (a running stream is preferred) for the purpose of the tohi, or rite of purification. When all the warriors are drawn up in line, standing with one foot on the land and the other in the water, the tohunga takes in his right hand a branch of the karamu shrub and dips it into the water. He then waves the branch over the page 382naked warriors so that not only every man but every weapon is sprinkled. At the same time he raises the chant 'Wetea ki te wai, kia wetea,' which may be translated 'Unloose [the sins] with water that they may be unloosed.' In this chant the whole war-party joins, and then, if the oracles and omens are favourable, they start at once on their destroying career." An important formula connected with these preliminary ceremonies was that termed the kawa taua.

It often occurred that two performances of the wai taua marked these warlike activities: the one, as we have seen, took place prior to the departure of the force from the home village, and the other was performed just before an attack was delivered, possibly many miles away. A priestly seer accompanied such forces on their forays as its most useful member, and all wills were subservient to his. The seer practically held command of the force, and often decided as to when, where, and how an attack should be made. In some cases he was attended by a young man who was a kind of understudy, and assisted in ceremonial functions; also, he was the bearer of any paraphernalia, such as the kete pure, a form of basket in which tapu objects were carried.

One of the most peculiar customs pertaining to war was the ceremonial cutting of the hair of the warriors at the wai taua, the tapu waters of a hamlet. We have never ascertained why hair-cutting entered so widely into what we may call religious ceremonies.

The rite known as whangai hau was connected with an offering to the gods, in which sense the term whangai is employed. The heart, or some other part, of the first enemy slain was taken as representing the hau of the enemy—that is, his vital power—and was offered to the gods. This is a placatory offering, that the gods may be induced to favour the supplicants, to assist them in their endeavours, to enable them to achieve success, and to retain an ascendancy over their foes. A lock of hair from the first slain was sometimes taken as representing the hau. This rite has nothing to do with the ordinary meaning of the word hau (wind, air). When the priest has extracted the heart of the slain one he offers it to the gods by waving it toward the heavens (ka poia ki te rangi), at the same time chanting an appropriate formula.

The spell termed taumata was employed by an attacking force in order to lull the mind of an enemy with a feeling of security; it would produce unpleasant weather conditions that had that effect. Several such charms were used, and these have already been de-page 383scribed. The priest then took the tapu basket called the kete pure, which contained a portion of the sacred food that had been utilized in the horokaka rite. He generated a sacred fire styled ahi taumata, exposed the basket before it, then opened the basket and held it so that the opening faced the direction in which the enemy lived. He then recited a spell called haruru, one of several that come under the generic term of kete. This spell was to cause the spirits or souls of the enemy to enter the basket. The basket was then closed, and another spell repeated in order to destroy the entrapped souls. This latter spell seems to have been known as kopani harua. Another account states that the souls of the enemy were lured into the tapu fire by means of spells, and therein destroyed. The umu tamoe rite is a similar function. As to the tapu food carried in the basket, a fragment of this was given to each warrior of the force, who placed it in his belt. It had a desirable effect on his mentality; it rendered him clear-minded, resourceful, &c. The tamoe rite was extremely useful; it was employed not only to weaken an enemy prior to an attack being delivered, but also to prevent an enemy avenging a defeat.

When a young warrior killed his first man he took a lock of hair from his head and conveyed it to the priest, who repeated a formula over him in order that he might retain his ability, luck, &c. Ahi manawa was the name of a rite performed over the heart of a slain enemy; it might be the same as the whangai hau, or practised for a different purpose. In the case of a bitter blood feud the heart might be eaten. If a slain person chanced to be a relative his body would not be eaten, and a spell termed makaka might be repeated in order to render the body tapu—that is, prohibited. When a force had been victors in a fight some object was taken to represent the field and victory: it might be a tuft of hair from the head of a slain enemy, or merely some herbage from the spot. Such an item is known as the mawe or ahua of the battle or battlefield—that is to say, the semblance. Over this object a priest recited an incantation that enabled the party to retain its position as victor, its ascendancy over the enemy, and each member of it to preserve his courage, &c. Also it aimed at destroying or sapping the courage and determination of the enemy. At the same time some of the intense tapu of the war-god was lifted from the warriors—not that they were rendered noa, or common, but the stringency of that condition was lessened.

The return of a war-party to the village home was quite a solemn affair. The party marched in in column formation, though the Maori page 384never kept step in such movements. At the head walked the priest who had accompanied the force, bearing the mawe. The party would proceed to the sacred place of the village, where the home-staying priests would be assembled to receive the warriors. These men would have discarded all clothing, and would wear merely a rude girdle of leafy twigs, or some such covering. A strip of green Phormium leaf tied round the waist, and having some branchlets of karamu inserted under it, was the usual mode of covering nakedness during these functions. As the column neared the tuahu, a priest there stationed called out, "Whence comes Tu?" The priest of the war-party replied, "Tu comes from seeking, Tu comes from searching." The bearer of the mawe then came forward and deposited it at the tuahu, whereupon the assembled priestly experts clapped their hands and proceeded to intone certain ritual formulae. The next performance was the whakahoro rite, which rendered the warriors free from tapu, and, in the Matatua district, this took place at a stream, the wai tapu of the community. This function, also known as the hurihanga takapau, included the kindling of two fires, termed the ahi horokaka and ahi ruahine. At each of these the priestly expert roasted a single sweet potato, and he himself ate the tuber cooked at the former fire, and handed that of the latter to a woman selected to act with him in this tapu-removing rite. These acts were accompanied by the recital of the ever-necessary incantations. At the conclusion of this ceremony the men of the war-party were free to retire to their homes and mingle with the people. Neither these men nor yet the non-combatants were allowed to partake of food until the conclusion of this rite.

There was a good deal of ceremony pertaining to a formal peacemaking in olden times. The proceedings included formal speeches, posture dances, songs, and karakia.

Many other ritual performances and formulae pertained to war, but most of them are mentioned under other headings.