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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2



When the Maori wished to preserve the birds of forest or waters, fish or any natural product he would proceed to rahui the same. The word means to preserve or protect by such means, and a material token of such act was also termed rahui. Any post set up to mark such preserved products was called a rahui or pou rahui, the latter term being also applied to boundary marks, at least in some districts. In some cases the interdiction seemed to rest solely on the mana of the man who had imposed it, but in others it was backed up by the dread powers of makutu. In this connection was the term waro rahui or "rahui chasm" employed. A Maori speaks of a waro or pit being excavated whereby to destroy persons who had ignored the interdiction and had committed kairamua, that is had helped himself to the protected products. As a matter of fact no such pit was ever dug, the term waro rahui is purely a figurative expression, the magic spells that destroyed trespassers and poachers represented the pit of destruction.

A waro rahui might be represented by almost any object, or possibly by nothing material. A boulder at Ruatahuna known as Tumatawhero was formerly a waro rahui, i.e., it represented one. The warlocks of former times repeated their magical formulae over it in order to endow it with powers to preserve the products of the surrounding land. Ko Tumatawhero he waro rahui, he kohatu kei Ruatahuna, he mea karakia e nga tohunga o mua hai rahui mo taua whenua.

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The offence known as kairamua was a serious one in all cases wherein the instigator of the rahuiwas an influential person; it was more than serious when the rahuiwas supported by black magic. The act of poaching in areas not under rahuiwas known as kaihaumi, and this was sometimes punished by means of magic. If, for example, the poacher had been snaring birds, then a search would be made for an ohongaor medium to connect the punishing spells with the poacher; a loose feather from one of the birds he had handled would serve as such. It will be seen that the custom of rahuiwas one of the substitutes for civil law in the Maori commune.

One aspect of rahui, consisted of rendering tapucertain lands, or a path, or stream, or an area of the sea or a lake; this might be done in the case of the death of some person of influence, and this placing of tapuon paths, etc., has already been explained. Any kind of rahuimight be indicated by such a mark as a post set up, with sometimes a bunch of fern fronds tied to it; in some cases, however, no such sign was employed.

The form of rahuithat protected natural products might or might not be strengthened by makutu, and it might be extended to any product, thus we hear of forests, birds, fruit, fish, shell-fish, timber trees, crops, fern (bracken) roots, ochre springs being rahuitia. In some cases at least a pou rahuiserved the place of a material mauri, say of a forest, and possibly this was the origin of the burying of a kapuor whatuat the base of the pouor post.

Tutakangahau of Tuhoe gave the following explanation of instituting and utilising a rahui. The expert would probably set about the task of setting up a post at some suitable place; ere erecting it he would repeat the words: "He rokiroki, hepenapena, he rakai-whenua." These words carry the general meaning of conversation. He would then proceed to set the post up in the hole made to receive it, and to tamp the same, after which he attached some herbage, often a few fronds of the kiwikiwifern to the post; this was called a maw. He would then make a pass over the ground at the base of the post as though marking a line of it (katahi ia ka hahae i te kahu o te whenua), but no actual mark was made. This, Tutaka assured me, was the waro rahui, the imaginary pit in which poachers were to perish. The expert would then proceed to 'sharpen the teeth of the rahuithat it might destroy man', which he did by reciting the following spell:

Tangaroa i putia, Tangaroa i haea, Tangaroa i kungia
Kia koi o niho, to kai rakau kia pai, kia koi
Muimiu te ngaro, totoro te iro.

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Now the repetition of this spell endowed the pou rahui with the power to destroy human life, it did indeed "sharpen the teeth" of the rahui. But the actual repository of the said power was not really the post itself but the kapu. After the above formula had been repeated the expert took the maro or apron of leaves from the post and placed it with the stone that was known as the kapu or whatu of the rahui. The mana of the post was represented by the kapu which was really a mauri. The expert made a movement with his hand as though plucking something from the head or top of the post, and by this means he is said to have taken the semblance, the immaterial ahua or aria of the magic post, and this was represented by the kapu. The immaterial representation of an immaterial quality was transferred to or represented by a material body. These two objects, the stone and the maro, were not buried at the base of the post, or left anywhere near it, lest they be found by enemies and deprived by them of all virtue; they were taken away for some distance and carefully concealed. I am told that a false maro might be attached to the post in order to delude poachers, or other ill-disposed persons wishing to nullify the powers of the rahui. For no empowering spell has been uttered over the false maro, it has not been hoaina, it can neither protect the fruits of the earth nor destroy man; as my informant put it "it has no teeth".

Should a person be desirous of finding the kapu of a rahui, so that he might nullify its destructive powers, he would endeavour to whakaoho (awaken, or rouse) it and so he would wander about seeking the stone and repeating the following formula:

"Whakaarahia ki te papa tuatahi he kari maranga hake
Whakaarahia ki te papa tuarua he kari maranga hake"

and so on to the tenth—

"Whakaarahia ki te papa tuangahuru he kari maranga hake"

after which he repeated-—

"E oho, e oho Rua! E oho te pu! E oho te more! E oho te take", etc.

By means of the repetition of these demands he hoped to influence the stone, kapu, the very kernel of the rahui to disclose its presence, its hiding place.

It would appear that the destructive and protective powers of a kapu were wont to weaken after a time, and so steps would be taken to rouse it, to cause it to become efficient. When its destructive powers so needed rousing the term turiuki was page 188employed to denote the process, and this would be deemed necessary when a person who had been known to commit kairamui (break prohibition) had not been automatically destroyed by the magic powers of the kapu of the rahui. The kapu had evidently gone to sleep and must be roused or awakened, and so the expert would proceed to turiuki it, that is to repeat an incantation over it to reinforce its powers.

A similar act would be relied on when it was seen that the productiveness of lands, forest, waters had waned, that food products were deteriorating. In such a case, explained Tutaki, the expert would proceed to generate a tapu fire termed the ahi taitai, to which he took the kapu and there repeated over it a form of whakaoho charm to cause it, or the gods behind it, to restore the productiveness of local forests. Having kindled the fire the tohunga stood by it, hand in hand, and repeated the following formula that rendered the fire tapu and located the gods therein to render effective the rites performed at it:

"Taitai! Taitai! Taitai! Te kau nunui, te kau roroa
Te rupe tu, te rupe pae, pekepeke hauaitu
Te manu awero rua, te hau e tu nei, taitai
Mai ra a tu, mai ra a pae, pekepeke hauaitu te hau e tu nei"

In some cases rahui posts had designs carved upon them, usually grotesque human heads showing distorted features, of these I have seen a number. We must note that the term pou rahui was also, in at least some districts, applied to boundary marks that might be either wooden posts or stones. In an account of inter-tribal quarrels among the Ngati-Kahungunu folk we are told that two pou rahui were effected at Marukaretu and Whakatau apparently to make a boundary of certain land claimed. (I te haerenga atu o te Rehunga, o Te Mana-a-kawa, o Te Rangikoiamaka ma ra, ka toe ki te ngutuawa o Marukaretu ka poua te pou rahui whenua a nga tangata nei, he pirangi whenua; ka tapaia te ingoa ko Numia. Kapoua tetahipou ki Whakatau, ka kiia te ingoa ko Kau te awha tena pou.) The post erectors seem to have been taking possession of land. It may be noted that both posts were assigned special names. In the following case also rahui posts appear to have been erected by persons endeavouring to take possession of land belonging to others, hence men were despatched to burn the posts. (Ka rongo a Te Nahu rua tu nga pou a Te Wanikau, a Ngati-Te Upokoiri hei rahui i te whenua. Ke tonoa mai e Te Nahu a Te Mautahi, a Whakahoki, a Parapara, a Kauanga kei turaki, hei tahutahu i aua rahui.)

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In another recital we are told that Wanikau set up the rahui to preserve the fish and birds of the lakes of Roto-a-Tara, Roto-a-Kiwa and Poukawa. When Mautahi burned the posts he said: "These burned posts are the bones of Wanikau." This caused the burning to be viewed as a direct insult, hence Wanikau went to Taupo and persuaded Te Heuheu to march a force to Roto-a-Tara and attack the fortified village on the small isle of Awarua-a-Porirua therein (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 9, p. 157).

When Koroua was slain at Otaketake, Paeora, by Ngati-Whaoa he was decapitated and his head was set up on a pou rahui that preserved certain tawaha aruhe a place where fern roots, the edible rhizomes of bracken, were obtained. When Tionga of the Arawa was slain by Tuhoe the head of that warrior was cut off, smoke-dried and set up on a famous tutu or tree on which birds were snared, in order to protect it. A stone called Tumatawhero, that lies in the bed of the Ruatahuna stream, a tributary of the upper Whakatane, served as a pou rahui and waro rahui to protect the products of the surrounding lands. Streams were rahuitia in order to prevent fish being taken out of season, as well as for the purpose of punishing poachers from other clan areas. The person who instituted a rahui over stream or lake could do so only over such portions thereof as were under his control, and the matter would be discussed and agreed to by all owners of such lands or waters. Thus it might be made known that a certain river was under rahui within certain limits, the extent of the interdict being mentioned. I was told of a case in which a spring of water, a wai manawa whenua, was placed under rahui, lest some person pollute the water thereof, and a stone was the tohu or token of the ban. In this case either the spring was kept for the special use of a person of importance, or it was used as a wai tapu, as explained thereto fore.

Not infrequently a single tree was placed under rahui, one specially suitable for a particular purpose, such as canoe making, and in such a case a stone might be placed at the base of the tree as a tohu or sign of the prohibition. Occasionally magic was employed when so preserving trees, but in many cases it was not considered necessary.

A man of influence would sometimes commandeer and reserve for his own use some object, to which he would attach maybe a fragment of his garment. Five generations ago Tahu and Ruamoko of Ngati-Patumoana named two rocks in the Waioeka river after themselves to serve as pou rahui. In 1895, when page 190camped at Whirinaki, I was told that a rahui post erected by Tukuha at Te Rautawhiri was still standing, though Tukuha had long been camped in shadowland. This rahui was instituted for the purpose of preserving the eels in the Rangitaiki river. This post was a permanent fixture, and, when eel taking was banned, Tukuha would suspend an old garment on the post. At one time he placed a ban on those eels on account of an offensive remark made by some person. At the Wheao stream he set up another rahui post that he named after his own daughter Kiritapoa. At Ruatoki was a grave of tutu bushes that was formerly put under rahui during the fruiting season, lest the ripe berries thereof be taken by unauthorised persons. The Ngati-Pou folk of Pokohu used to obtain their ochre for making red paint from a place at Otutauira, and that place was under rahui.

Groves of flax (Phormium) often came under rahui so useful a plant was it. Trees, such as totara and kohikatoa, from which bark was obtained for roofing purposes were protected in like manner. Unauthorised taking of products under rahui not infrequently led to fighting. A shaggery named Whakatangihau at Okarika was put under rahui during the bird-taking season.

There was some form of rahui connected with the ceremonial destruction of pests that attacked sweet potato crops into which a form of magic entered. The field would be under tapu while the ceremony was being performed. To disregard such a rahui was dangerous to the trespasser, and his act would render the function a futile one. (Te rahui i te mara he mahi na nga pakeke hai patu i nga ngarara kai kumara. Ki te takahia e te tangata taua rahui ka mate tonu te tangata, engari kaore horei e mate te ngarara.)

On one occasion I heard the term rahui hakari applied to a post set up to commemorate a social function, a ceremonial feast of hakari. On rare occasions, said a Ngati-Kahungunu informant, such a post might be erected, as in connection with such functions pertaining to sessions of the whare wananga, house of learning, also to birth and marriage in high class families. Such a post would be adorned with carved designs, and it would add to the prestige of the particular family concerned.

The institution of rahui was introduced here from Polynesia by the ancestors of the Maori, it is still known by the same name or its dialectical equivalent in many of the northern isles.

Pio of Te Teko used the term kairamua to denote the act of eating tapu food reserved for the first born member of a high class family. This hara would be detected by the seer when he recited the hirihiri charm over the sufferer because naturally, the gods page 191would afflict him. On his repeating the line "Kotahi koe ki reira, kotahi ki nga matamua"—some sign would be inadvertently given by the sufferer, and so the seer would know the cause of his ailment, and would proceed to relieve him.

When a person bestowed a gift upon another, and no return gift was made as time rolled on, then the giver would say: "My gift has been kaihautia" whereupon he might bewitch the negligent recipient. It appeared to be sufficient for him to call upon heaven and earth to witness the offensive neglect and repeat the following: "E Rangi e! Titiro ihol E Papa el Titiro ake!" Followed by: "Te taonga, e te taonga, nau ra e te taonga, e kai ra koe i au, e te taonga."

A somewhat rambling communication from Hori Ropiha contributed in the "nineties" contains the following remarks.

"Now some of the atua of the Maori are visible to man as reptiles, stones, cuttlefish or owls, for the Maori had many gods. These were the beings that destroyed man, but it would always be ascertained as to which being it was that so afflicted a person. When an expert ascertained what particular demon was afflicting a man he would proceed to expel it, using a ceremonial wand and reciting charms to influence it, and so that demon would leave the body of the man, who would then recover. In those days the formulae employed by the Maori to influence his gods were very effective. If an expert demanded that thunder should resound, then it would do so, should he ask for wind, then that wind would rise, should he proceed to lay in wind, then it would cease. Should a person be bewitched he would die; should eels, fishing grounds, lamprey, grayling, birds, or kahawai, be bewitched, then they perished. The Maori possessed great powers in former times, as also did his gods and his charms, and the gods would heed the demands of man. In these times those gods and charms have been abandoned by the Maori, as when Europeans and their gods arrived. It was said by Europeans that the Maori folk must wash their heads in cooking pots, which they did not decline to do, they at once consented to the deceitful behest. They washed their heads in cooking pots, but afterwards found that Europeans used special basins in their rooms for washing purposes, while their cooking pots were kept in the kitchen and used merely for cooking. Europeans played many deceitful and treacherous acts on the Maori; the only good thing they did was to introduce Christianity, that was a worthy act, but their conduct towards the Maori was quite wrong."