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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2



Inasmuch as we have touched upon the matter of dreams it were well to explain that the Maori had great faith in such phantasms, and ever some members of a community would pose as gifted interpreters of dreams. Should a man have a dream that foretold for him good luck on, say a fishing trip, he would be careful not to mention that dream to any person, lest that person filch from him his good luck. The filcher would effect his purpose by suddenly clasping the body of the dreamer in his arms.

When Kahu and his followers left Whakatane, in search of a new home they moved to Taupo, sojourned a while at Pouakani, and then came by way of Otairi to Te Houhou, Manwatu district, where they resolved to settle. They busied themselves in collecting timber wherewith to erect defensive works for a hamlet, when Tamauri, one of Kahu's young folk, chanced to have a dream that caused the party to continue its journey to the coast, to construct a vessel and sail forth on the ocean in search of an unknown land. In this dream our worthy Tama saw the timbers that had been so laboriously procured swept away on a flood to the great ocean, and across that ocean, to be stranded on a far and unknown land. When he awoke Tama related his dream to one Tamanoho, an expert in the reading of riddles, and he said: "O Kahu! This dream betokens an abandoned home, and a new home awaiting us afar off." Kahu replied: "Well, after all it may be as well, we are a small party, and we know not who may be dwelling in these parts." Even so the party moved on to the coast, constructed a craft and set forth in search of the new home page 602seen by the wairua of Tamauri in far ocean wastes. After wandering across the ocean of Kiwa these home-seekers came to a far land, the land we know as Wharekauri, where they settled. In later times some of the descendants of these migrants returned to Aotearoa, and so the Maori folk came to know of the settlement of the Chatham Islands.

Some centuries ago one Kauhika, an elderly woman living at the Uruhau village that looked down on Tapu-te-ranga, the islet as Island Bay, Wellington, chanced to dream that she saw an enemy raiding force camped on the Wharau range above Kaiwharawhara. Said Te Rangikaikore, chief of the village: "Let a man be despatched as a scout to examine the hills, lest the marua-a-po of the old woman be fulfilled." The scout detected raiding party advancing to the attack, but the various villages were forewarned, they combined forces, drove the raiders from Uruhau and Motukairangi island, and the end was not well for the raiders of Muaupoko.

The expression miti aitua was explained to me as meaning a dryness of the throat and mouth produced by intense fear, but in some Polynesian dialects miti means a dream (as at Tikopia), and a miti aitua would presumably be an unlucky dream. I know of no other hint that this meaning of miti may have been known to the Maori.

Upon a time I was collecting some old-time lore from an elder of the Ngati-Porou folk, and found that he had forgotten certain charms used by fowlers and rat snarers that I wished to obtain. These formulae had been imparted to him by his grandfather long years before. A few days later he came to me and said. "O friend! I have got those charms. My grandfather came to me last night and recited them to me, and when I awoke I began to repeat them, so that I might retain them, much to the amusement of my wife. Let us hasten to write them down so that our descendants may know them." Here the old man believed that his long-dead grandfather had come to his assistance, and such beliefs are common among the Maori.

If a person dreams of some impending danger, or that a person is threatening him, or is desirous of injuring him, it is well known that it is his wairua or spirit that really detects such signs, for ever does the wairua of man seek to protect its physical basis.

An interpreter of dreams, on having an unlucky one explained to him would remark to the dreamer: "Be wary, remain in the rear." He thus warned that person that his life was in jeopardy page 603and that he must be very careful not to expose himself to danger, to refrain from taking part in any dangerous task. After such a dream, for example … a fighting man would be qute justified in falling back to the rear during a fight, nor would he be blamed for doing so. An excellent illustration of this strange fact is given at p. 139 of Reminiscences of the War in New Zealand (T. W. Gudgeon) wherein we see how Winiata of Ngati-Hau dreamed of being shot, and "felt himself die"—he saved his life by marching in the rear on the ensuing raid, and so the man who took his place at the head of the detachment was shot instead, while Winiata escaped many other such dangers, until the day when he fell from the rampart of Pourere near unto Roto-a-Ira.

It is held unlucky to dream that you see a house having a doorway in the rear wall (a Maori house or hut has but the front entrance), to sleep out without covering the face, to dream that you are having your hair cut, that your garment has been burned. When a meal is in progress it is most unlucky not to invite a passerby to join therein. The Kuku or nightmare is looked upon as quite a serious matter, or at least it was by former generations.

Oneiromancy might be said to be composed of two aspects among the Maori folk, both of which were firmly believed in. In the first place dreams were accepted as conveying forwarnings of coming events, in some cases as being in response to divinatory ceremonies, in the second place all sudden movements of the limbs and nervous twitchings during sleep were believed to carry similar messages, all were ominous, of good or evil portent. There is perchance yet another condition to be referred to. We know that the terms rekanga kanohi, rehu, and marua-a-po or maruapo were applied by the Maori to certain aspects of sleep, and I am not convinced that they conveyed the same meaning as does the word moemoea (dream); perhaps "vision" would be a safer rendering. I have heard a native describe rekanga kanohi as what seemed to me to be that singular condition that one occasionally finds oneself in when half-awake. An account of the doings of one Riwai shows the difference between dreams and rehu. When Riwai was sent by a dream expert to carry out certain injunctions he was specially warned to touch no food or drink until he returned, but when he forgot himself and smoked Pirika's pipe the gods were belittled, and so death smote him hip and thigh. The seer knew that Riwai had borrowed a pipe and had a smoke, which is equivalent to taking food; he had seen a vision of Riwai smoking the forbidden pipe and so calling down the anger of the gods; he had seen Tunui the Atua flaming above page 604him, and knew that calamity was toward. Dream warnings, manifestations and revelations naturally entered into and effected all activities of the denizens of Maoriland.

Concerning the nervous twitching and sudden movements of sleepers from which omens were derived, these are known by many different names, of which takiri may be viewed as a more or less generic term. The dividing line between good and evil was the centre of the human body as a rule, such manifestations experienced on the right side were usually accepted as good omens, while those felt on the left side were unlucky. An exception to this was the case of two movements known as kohera and ruru. The latter word denotes the sudden inward movement of the sleeper's arm, i.e., toward or across his body, this is a marie, a lucky sign, a protective movement, ruru carrying the meaning of "sheltered". The expression ruru te takiri ("to throw out the arms in sleep, an omen for good") as given in Williams's Maori Dictionary, does not agree with explanations given me by divers natives. Apparently ruru in the above phrase (Williams, ibid., p. 412) is the ruru of p. 407. All such outward movements of the arms have been explained to me as being aitua unlucky signs, bad omens, while inward movements of the arms are marie. The outward flung arm is described as a kohera, which agrees with Williams's definition, though the example given scarcely seems to bear out the meaning of evil omen. The sudden outward movement of an arm was presumably seen as a defensive act, danger must be threatening the sleeper, hence the kohera came to be looked upon as an aitua, ominous of danger. The inward movement of the arm in the ruru was taken as being a protective one. In like manner the takiri may affect the legs. Long years agone I bestrode a long saddle to reach, as day declined, a small hamlet below the old, old ramparts of Puketapu. Here I tarried a space in order to see an old friend who was a survival from the era of tribal warfare. As soon as I entered his hut, he said: "I was just waiting for you. As I lay here some time back both my legs jerked outward, and so I knew that a visitor was coming, hence I was just awaiting you." I did not ascertain the nature of the omen, whether it was good or bad, but the outward movements one would take to be an aitua and so I may have been an unwelcome visitor.

The kohera or outward movements is also known as kauwhera, and the ruru or inward one as hui, while the maka is a movement made with one arm as though the person were throwing something, hence the name (maka = to throw). These three page 605terms were employed among the Ngati-Porou folk, Hui taumanu is said to denote a movement whereby both arms are placed across the breast.

Another expression, commonly used among the Matatua people, is that of tamaki. One assured me that the term is applied only to the left side, in which case all tamaki would be aitua, ominous of evil, but others have referred to right and left tamaki as betokening good and evil omens, which leave tamaki as a synonym for takiri. Some seem to take no notice of outward or inward movements, but reliance only on the right or left aspect. There are a number of names that are applied to various kinds of these tamaki or takiri.

In one explanation of tamaki given by Ngati-Porou I was told that when such a thing occurred to a member of a raiding party, then careful note was taken as to the direction in which the movement was made, whereupon it was known that enemies would be encountered in that direction. In such a situation an imminent attack from an enemy is often made known by means of some form of tamaki. The man who gave this information also explained another form of twitching known as taha kapakapa or hure, which is a twitching sensation felt in the side, shoulder or leg, but he maintained that persons differed as to their lucky and unlucky sides. In some cases the right side is the lucky one, but not always so, for with some persons it is the left side, only experience can enable one to know his lucky and unlucky sides. Also those taking part in raiding expeditions must be doubly careful, it behoves them to pay strict attention to all tamaki or takiri, simply because such manifestations are not random and hapless movements, they are really messages from the gods, from Tu-ka-riri and Tu-ka-nguka when connected with war. Now it is well known that the posting of watchmen in fortified villages was a desultory procedure. When they were so posted it was not infrequently due to some absurd omen, a dream, or perchance, a takiri. Thus it was explained to me by a Waiapu native that a man might say: "E kai ana taku taha, he tamaki me whakaara i tenei po." (My side is twitching, there is danger, let us be wakeful this night), whereupon a watchman would be appointed. Also one of a party of travellers might remark: "My side tells me that there is trouble toward, it will probably rain, let us hurry." An old native came to my tent one evening, and said: "We are going to have a storm, my tamaki told me so."

The kamu sign or ominous movement is the same as the kapo, a convulsive closing of the hand. I have been informed that it page 606betokens acquisition, ere long that clutcher will receive a present, probably of food. Another explains that the omen is a good one when it is the right hand that is so clenched, if the left hand then it betokens some ill fortune. Tahae is another term applied to these ominous motions, apparently to evil omens only, though a remark in White (Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 2, p. 2) does not bear this out, for it states that an io tahae may be of good or evil omen (te io tahae he rohu aitua, mate ranei, ora ranei). I base my own rendering on statements made by old natives and the general application of the word tahae.These io are often useful, in the case of travellers by sea and land, in foretelling weather conditions, as seen in White's Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 2, p. 2, where a great many such manifestations are explained.

In koromaki or kai koromaki we have another expression employed to denote these extremely ominous twitchings, as noted in a song line: "Engari take taha e kai koromaki ara."

In hukihuki we have yet another such term sometimes used in the form of huki. It is said by one of my informants to denote a prickling sensation and he also stated that, if a sick man felt such a sensation anywhere on his right side, he would expect to recover, if on the left side he would give himself up for lost.

This brings us to a curious use of the word tangi, as seen in the remark "Kua tangi taku tamaki", made by a person who has just experienced such a visitation. Our dictionaries scarcely help us here, for, viewed as a verb, we are told that tangi means "to sound, give forth a sound, cry, resound, mourn"—but no sound is made by the various twitching omens. It is frequently used in connection with the nose—"Kua tangi toku ihu" to describe a slight throbbing or prickling feeling. As our Maori poet expresses it: "E tangi ra, e toku ihu, e pa tamaki nei" To him that peculiar sensation of titillation was ominous, something was going to happen ere long. A twitching feeling in the eyelid was held to be equally ominous.

The more violent of the involuntary movements that come under the heading of takiri are usually said to be experienced while the subject is asleep, but the condition of sleep is by no means necessary. One may be lying down, but quite wakeful, and yet experience such a movement.

In Maori belief it was held to be unlucky to even see certain things, for example any person who found a pigeon's nest, who saw a lizard, or the stones called hinetauira and tahakura would page 607know that ill luck in some form loomed before him. We have already seen how certain tapu places, such as Nga Whatu islet, might not be looked upon. In olden times natives were wont to cover their heads when travelling past Mt Tongariro, the upper part of which mountain was exceedingly tapu. In some parts we hear that it was unlucky to see a large eel in daytime.

Odd numbers were disliked in connection with certain things, and activities, thus in making a flax (Phormium) plantation the roots must be planted in pairs—me he mea ka kehe he aitua—it is unlucky to plant them in an odd number manner. It is equally unlucky to fit an odd number of rafters to the side of a roof. Fowlers, when counting a 'take' of birds, disliked an odd number in the tally, and would at least in some cases endeavour to make an even number of it. I have also been told that if the tally of birds was, say 105, they would endeavour to take a few more, and so make up to tally to 108 or 110, a comfortable round number.

In some cases to neglect a duty was viewed as a most unlucky thing, as also was the neglect to obey any injunction of a leader when a party was under tapu. When Nuku of Wairarapa was leading a party of his tribesmen during the guerilla warfare carried on against the Atiawa raiders from Taranaki that party reached the Maungarake range, marching by way of Pukengaki to Aotea, and there camping a space. From there the forest rangers proceeded to the Motu-o-Toi at Otauira, near unto Pae-o-Turuokai. While camping at that place Nuku sent some of the party on a rat-trapping expedition and told them to be careful to preserve the first rat taken and carry it to him. He seems to have wanted it in connection with some divinatory rite. His commands were not obeyed, for one Kokohi took that first rat, cooked and ate it, and Nuka then told the members of his party that ill luck would pursue them, that they would be unable to capture any important personage among their enemies. And so it came to pass, for when they succeeded in surrounding an Atiawa camp whereat Te Wharepouri, a leading chief of Taranaki, was living, that highly desirable quarry succeeded in escaping when his capture seemed certain.

It is unlucky to hear spirit folk singing at night, the weird tupaoe chant, and indeed it is well for persons to avoid singing out of doors at night, though the Maori is given to it when he fears to encounter ghosts. To hear the puwawau, a weird spirit voice heard in the vicinity of running waters, the babbling of brooks, is ominous of coming trouble. To encounter a current of warm air page 608when travelling at night means that kehua or ghosts are about, and such an experience renders a Maori uneasy, he fears that it portends the death of a relative. It is unlucky to pass a person without saluting him, to build a hut facing the south, to hear the death watch in a house, when you do hear this sound then leave the hut at once, ere some disaster overtake you, delay not. It is unlucky for a wayfarer not to halt and partake of food when you are asked to do so, at the same time ill luck might be averted if such person tarried and partook of a mere morsel of the proffered food.

To break off branches of tutu or monoao means that rain will fall ere long, a fact that should be carefully noted by travellers. If a man with any trace of tapu about him so far forgets himself as to use a female's garment as a pillow, then assuredly trouble lies before him, for he will become bald-headed, a condition much disliked by the Maori, being very seldom seen it excited ridicule. If such a man reclined on a woman's couch he would suffer a severe deprivation, inasmuch as he would become spiritually blind (kahupo and hinapo), and so be unable to see the warning and signs sent by the gods; at such a time his wairua would lose much of its protective power. Yawning is occasionally deemed unlucky, as, for example, when indulged in at a time when strenuous exertion is required. One tells me that, when a person gnashes his teeth during sleep, then a present of food will shortly be received by him, indeed it is already on its way. If you chance to have a poor appetite then know that ere long you will lose a relative by death, or someone will run off with your wife. It is unlucky to interfere with a tipua, to prepare a hut site and then abandon it, to misrender any form of charm, to omit a person when distributing food, to find two squid together, to launch a new canoe stern first, to burn the chips when one is making a new canoe or house, or carving, or to make any error in carving. If a woman steps over a male child that child's growth will be stunted. Landslides are ominous of death, embers popping from a fire foretell the advent of visitors, an unauthorised trespassing on a burial place is highly dangerous to life.

There are many signs, omens, pertaining to all forms of work, house building, canoe making, agricultural work, etc., etc., indeed they may be said to be multitudinous, and many have been noted in other publications in this series. The Maori tells us that to say it is a fine day is to ask for rain, and, when travelling with natives, they have commented on the folly of my erecting a tent in fine weather wherein to pass the night.

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It is unlucky to pound fern roots (an everyday food) in the night time, the result will be that the pounders head will be pounded by an enemy's club ere long. It is not only unlucky but also extremely dangerous for a tapu person to enter a cooking shed, or to have any cooked food kept in his dwelling hut. Natives have looked upon me as being amazingly careless, not to say idiotic, when I have suspended rations from the ridgepole of my tent. I once sent a native visitor to sleep in a spare tent in my camp, but unhappily forgot that a bag of flour was suspended from the ridgepole. The celerity with which that man bustled out of that tent was highly remarkable, no man of his status could take such frightful risks. When receiving presents of food it was ever necessary to perform a certain rite over them, to repeat a certain charm, in order to make them safe to handle and utilise. This act was a kopare, it would ward off possible danger or disaster, and is expressed in the saying "Ko Tahu kia roria." When cooking food it was held to be a bad omen if one of the heated stones burst with a loud report. If food products decay in a storehouse then such a condition has probably been brought about by spirits of the dead. When travelling it is unlucky to kindle a fire on a track; and, when food has been cooked, the lining of the oven must be scattered. To sneeze while eating is a dread experience, for it foretells the fact that, ere long, the sneezer will be slain, cooked, and eaten together with the same kind of food that he was partaking of when he sneezed.

We know that, when an expedition of blood vengeance lifted the war trail, it was absolutely necessary to slay the first person met with, be that person friend or foe, otherwise disaster loomed before. It was unlucky in war to omit the usual rites, such as whangai hau, also for a young warrior to omit making a present to the tohunga of a raiding party when he slew his first man. Also it was unlucky for members of the force to eat standing; however hurried they must lay aside their weapons and seat themselves. No cooked food may.be taken near their weapons, or those weapons will be rendered useless by the pollution, as the Maori puts it "Ka tamaoatia te mata o te rakau". To hear the cry of an owl near the junction of two tracks means that an enemy force is at hand. To remain camping at a place where a fight has been won is most unlucky, to find cooked food underdone when an oven is opened by a war party is unlucky. When an offering of a bird was made by fighters to Tunui-a-te-ika, then, if that offering was taken from the hand that offered it the party would be victorious; if it was not so accepted then the force would be defeated. Many page 610omens were derived from performances of the war dance, and any errors made by performers therein were held to be very serious portents. If a performer made a wrong movement, if any irregularity occurred, any lack of precision in chant or action, a stumble or fall, all these meant that disaster might overwhelm the whole party. For a challenger to turn to the left instead of the right when retiring is extremely unlucky. A child born with a caul (noho kahu) will assuredly develop into a famed warrior, so says the Maori. Tamorau of Ngati-Koura informed me that his grandson was born already provided with teeth, hence he was called Niho (tooth); he took this as a sign that the child would develop into a stalwart, virile man who would achieve fame as a fighter, were it not for the distressing activities of the ture pakeha or white man's laws.

A hau mihi kainga (home greeting wind) is a curious term applied to certain winds that are said to blow at places whereat people will ere long be slain by raiders, that wind comes to condole with the foredoomed people. I could never obtain any clear explanation of any difference between this and any other wind, save that it is of brief duration. In another way wind often influenced the Maori in his conduct of warlike operations in his divination by means of smoke, auguries were derived from the direction in which the smoke of a fire was carried by wind.

Maru is a famed war god of Maoriland, and is the personified form of some celestial phenomenon, a glowing appearance of the heavens apparently. If this celestial glow was seen in front of an advancing war party then the same was a shockingly bad omen, those raiders would return home or await the disappearance of Maru. Should Maru however appear in the heavens behind the marching party the omen was a good one and the freebooters advanced with light hearts, for was not Maru favouring them. All these remarks concerning Maru may be confirmed as pertaining to rainbows, as represented by Uenuku and Kahukura, and in addition a raiding force would discern all sorts of signs, omens in the appearance of the bow, its vividness or paleness, and other peculiarities concerning the various coloured arches.

Imurangi and papakura are two other expressions employed to denote a red or gleaming appearance, and omens were read in all these phenomena; ahi manawa is yet another such term. If seen low down then the fact betokened some serious disaster impending. However no native ever succeeded in showing me that these names denoted different aspects of the heavens, they all seem to be applied to the same sort of thing. Tuhirangi and page 611Imurangi are spoken of as personified forms of these gleaming phenomena, and rainbows were the offspring of that twain. A curious superstition prevailed at Tonga, where children were taught not to point at a rainbow, as such an act would cause painfull swellings in the limbs; our own forbears taught children that it is wicked to point at the sun. When a rainbow appeared at night it was a sign the some of one's tribesmen had been slain.

Omens pertaining to war were derived from the moon and stars, often from the relative positions of star and moon. The appearance of a comet was looked upon with dread, some serious disaster was imminent. The comet and the point toward which its tail extended had their meaning to the men of yore. A sparkling appearance was a bad sign, as also was an upward extended tail, a horizontal tail was a good sign, and one extending downward told that the adverse omen concerned distant places only. Of the comet of 1843 a Wellington newspaper remarked: "The Maoris hailed it as an evil omen and commenced howling very pathetically." Owing to the beliefs and superstitions connected with comets, and to Maori ignorance of natural laws and phenomena, the natives held that such celestial visitors as comets were but local experience, sometimes sent by tribal enemies in order to afflict honest folk. Thus Meade tells us that, during the fighting in the "sixties" the Taupo natives were much disturbed over the appearance of a comet. Meade remarks that "the suggestion which we ventured to hazard to the effect that the self-same comet, seen from Taranaki, would appear to be far away over the sea, is treated as downright heresy." (Meade, Lieut. H., A Ride Through the Disturbed Districts of New Zealand, pp. 104-5). It may be noted that, in this case, the Taupo natives could not make up their minds as to what the appearance of the comet portended.