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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Mauri of the Forest

The Mauri of the Forest

We now come to a remarkably interesting institution that illustrates a peculiar phase of Maori mentality, and which is known as the mauri. We have already seen that the prosperity and fruitfulness of the forest, of trees, birds, etc., is represented by the life-principle or mauri of such forest, which is an immaterial quality, but a material symbol of that quality was also employed, and it was known by the same name. This material mauri was usually a stone, and it was carefully concealed in the forest. It acted really as a shrine or abiding place for the spirit-gods in whose care the forest was placed. In many cases the stone so used was a water-worn one of peculiar form, found in some stream-bed, or on a sea-beach. Apparently such stones were selected on account of their unusual and striking forms, just as the trees and rocks of abnormal form were often viewed as tipua, the uncanny spirit-shrines described in No. 11 of this series. We are told that, when a mauri was placed in a forest, possibly at the base of some famed bird-frequented tree, then the expert who so deposited it would obtain a lizard and liberate it at the spot, and this creature was supposed to act as a guardian or caretaker of the mauri. The popular belief seems to have been that such a page 8guardian never died, but remained at its post down the changing generations. The species of lizards so utilized as protectors of these symbols appear to have been the moko kakariki green tree gecko (Naultinus elegans) and the moko tapiri or tree lizard (Hoplodactylus pacificus).

Any ceremonial performance carried out in connection with the forest, its fruitfulness, and various useful products, was, as a rule, performed at the mauri of such forest. Charms recited in order to entice birds from other areas, and to prevent birds moving away to other places, were among such activities of forest-experts. For be it known that the mauri serves as a kaupapa (medium or symbol) of the forest, and represents its mana, its productive powers, etc.; also it serves as a medium between the charms recited and the forest they are meant to affect. The mauri is said to protect and preserve the mana of the forest, which means that the formulae repeated over it have endowed it with such powers, but such recitals have no intrinsic powers any more than the stone mauri. All karakia are empowered by the gods, and so the gods really vivify and empower the material mauri. Earnest sages of the Kahungunu, Porou, Tuhoe, Raukawa and Wanganui tribes have devoted much time to the explanation of these abstruse matters to the enquiring paleface.

A pundit of Ngati-porou informed me that, when the mauri calls for birds to become numerous in a forest, then assuredly they will become so; for, as he explained, that stone medium acts as a voice to the spirit beings (atua), who control all things. When such beings have been treated in a proper manner they will heed the voice, and so grant the desires of man. Unmistakably clear was that sage's explanation: "Ko te mauri o te ngaherehere hai taunga mo nga karakia kia nui ai nga manu, hai kaupapa mo te ngaherehere, hai mana. Ma taua mauri e tiaki i nga mana; ma taua mauri e karanga kia nui nga manu ka nui. Ko taua mauri hai reo ki nga atua, ko nga atua hai whakapumau, ara nga atua maori o mua."

The following charm was repeated over the mauri of a forest in order to endow it with the desired powers, that is the power to protect and retain the fertility of the forest, and of all denizens of the forest, also to attract game from extra-tribal lands:—

"E Papa e takoto nei! E Rangi e tu nei!
Homai te toto kai tangata kia rurukutia, kia herea;
Kia mau te mauri. Te mauri o wai? Te mauri o Tane,
Tane-tuturi, Tane-pepeke, whakamutua ki a Tumatauenga.
Whakamutua ki a Paia nana i toko te rangi;
Na Tumatauenga i here te kai."

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Herein the mauri of Tane is empowered by means of a direct appeal to Papa and Rangi, the Earth Mother and Sky Father, the parents of Tane of the forest, and ultimate parents of mankind.

A Raukawa woodsman explained the mauri of a forest as follows: "Ko te mauri he karakia i karakiatia e te tohunga ki tetehi mea, ki te kohatu, ki te rakau ranei, ki tetehi atu mea ranei i paingia e te tohunga hei piringa, hei maunga, hei nohoanga mo te mauri. Ka whakangawhatai ki tetehi o aua mea, ka waiho ki te wahi ngaro o te ngaherehere takoto ai." Herein we see that the karakia or formula repeated over the material mauri or talisman is also called a mauri, and it serves to locate as it were certain atua in that stone, etc., i.e., the protective powers of such beings.

As in the matter of the fruitfulness of trees, it was occasionally necessary to whakaoho or 'rouse' a mauri to a sense of its duty. Should the birds of a forest decrease in numbers, as when moving away to other feeding grounds, then it seemed to the Maori that the mauri was becoming slack in its performance of duties. In such a dilemma an expert would be called upon to arouse the mauri and so make it attend to its task, as it were; this was effected by means of reciting a charm over the medium, and such act was really a stimulating of the atua empowering the stone. This charm is termed by some a Whakaara, it rouses or wakens a sluggish mauri.

It should here be explained that the life-principle of a forest, etc., termed mauri is also defined by the word hau. So far as I have grasped the matter the hau and mauri of a forest are one and the same thing, but we must certainly distinguish between the hau and mauri of man (see Monograph No. 2 of the Dominion Museum series for further information concerning these concepts).

A forest, says the Maori, will continue to be productive, and birds will be numerous, so long as the mauri be not vitiated or nullified in any way. Should it be found by any person who wished to so nullify its powers he might effect his object, and he would do so by means of repeating a certain form of charm over it, after which the productiveness of the forest would wane. A person might institute a close search for a mauri, and when so seeking it he would keep repeating the following brief recital: "Ka hau ki uta, ka hau ki waho"—equivalent to saying: "May this be heard far and wide." Having repeated this seemingly mild remark the seeker of mauri would listen a space, and, should there be a lizard guardian of the stone, then it page 10would probably make a chattering sound, and so betray the position of the stone, where-upon the seeker would repeat the balance of his fell charm:—

"Tohi mauri, tohi tiaki;
Wetekia te hau e here nei i te mauri
Ki te toa, ki te ruahine."

This apparently simple utterance had the effect of weakening the protective and attractive powers of the talisman. The Tuhoe folk state that some of the long feathers (kira) of the wing of a kaka or brown parrot (Nestor meridionalis), that is those of the right wing only, were deposited with the stone medium, that bird being the most important of such food-supplies of their district. These people speak of the hau of the forest when referring to the vitality, fruitfulness, etc., thereof, and the stone talisman representing it as the mauri. Should an expert hostile to the local folk be unable to find the mauri, then he would be powerless, I have been told, to banish the birds or to injure the productiveness of the forest in any way; although, on the other hand, we are told that some warlocks could blast trees by means of potent spells of destructive magic. Occasionally a stone talisman consisted of a hollow stone in which was placed a tapu article, such as a lock of hair. A considerable amount of tapu pertained the place whereat such talismans were concealed.

The Raukawa people informed me that the charm recited over one of these talismans in order to empower it is also called a mauri, and this was corroborated by experts of several tribes; that the first bird caught at the opening of the fowling season, was deposited at the mauri, really as an offering to the gods, or it was simply cast away in the forest, with the remark: "That is for the mauri" This act was performed in order to ensure good luck, to avert puhore or nonsuccess. When such an offering was made, the prohibiting tapu was lifted from the forest, although it did not become absolutely noa, or free from tapu, other prohibitions and restrictions still remained in force.

The peculiar ceremony called uruuru whenua, described in No. 11 of this series, is said to have been sometimes performed at a mauri. Such offering made by passers-by usually consisted of a branchlet, but this simple luck-bringing act was usually performed, not at a mauri, but at some tipua rock or tree concerning which there was no concealment. Such a tree, or other object, would probably have the term 'enchanted' applied to it by our own writers of nursery folk tales.

The trivial offering made in the uruuru whenua ceremony was accompanied by the recital of a brief and simple formula; the act page 11was one of a propitiatory and honorific nature, and it was supposed to placate all local demons and spirits that might resent intrusion of their domains by persons other than local residents. We are told that it was necessary to perform this ceremony only on the occasion of one's first visit to a place, and that any stranger neglecting to so perform it would be punished by encountering deplorable weather during his journey. The common form of words repeated amounted to the offering by the reciter of his heart as food for the local spirits. As an old native of the Waiapu district explained the matter to me: "Ko te uruuru whenua he whakamānawa ki nga atua mo te tangata tuatahiki te takahi i aua maunga, ngaherehere ranei; anei nga kupu:— 'Hai kai mau te manawa o tauhou; he tauhou!' E hoatu ana te tangata i tona manawa hai kai ma nga atua o te ngaherehere, o te wai ranei, o nga maunga ranei, Ki te kore koe e pena ka whiua koe ki te ua" In the ejaculation herein given the reciter offers the heart of a stranger as food for the genius loci.

It was a customary act to utilize the first bird taken when the season opened as an offering to the mauri of the forest. At Whangaimanuhiri in the Ruatoki Block is a rata tree at the base of which is a hollow place; this, I was informed, was a mauri in former days, and the first-bird offering was placed in the hole, while a certain charm was being recited. This act would remove the excess of tapu lying on the forest, and also tend to ward off or nullify any evil influences or ill fortune that might threaten the land or the people thereof.

Turner tells us that in Samoa when in former times a party went forth to catch pigeons, the members thereof would lay offerings of cooked fish and taro on two stones named Fonge and Toafa. The Maori would not deposit cooked food at such places.

Te Iwikino Hairuha of Tuhoe described a mauri situated at Tauwhare-manuka on the Tauranga river (called Waimana by us). It consists, or consisted of two short rows of unworked stones partially embedded in the ground. This account seems to describe a tuahu, as described in Bulletin No. 10, but possibly it served both purposes. The forest mauri at Maungapohatu was a water-worn stone resembling a dumb-bell in form. This talisman was lost sight of for many years after the old ceremonial was abandoned, but was recovered by certain natives when excavating a hut-site at the new village established above Tore-a-tai by my worthy friend Rua Kenana, the self-styled New Messiah. That magic object, as I was informed by old Tutakangahau, had been deposited at the base of a famed tutu or bird-snaring tree some ten generations ago.

In the Waiapu district is a small hill named Taupanui, until lately a forest area, on which, among the dense forest-growth, stood a page 12mapau tree (Myrsine Urvillei) that seems to have been looked upon as the most important thing on that famed hill. The said hill is described as resembling a bird in form, but, judging from my own experience, such statements as this it were well to receive with some caution. The hill was looked upon as the forest-mauri of the district, and recognised as such by all birds of that district, the result being that birds were very numerous in the surrounding bush lands. All forest-birds were attracted by the far-famed Taupanui, and it was a common thing to see flocks of birds flying to it, circling round and over it, and, after a sojourn thereat, retire to the surrounding forest. Ceremonial performances pertaining to mauri were performed on this hill, and offerings of branchlets were placed thereon. This hill is sometimes coupled with the famous hill-mauri of whales situated at Te Mahia, which is said to resemble a whale in form, and the mana or innate powers of both hills are said to have been brought hither from Hawaiki, the former home of the Maori folk. The bird-shaped hill Taupanui is sometimes alluded to as a manu tipua a supernatural or supernormal bird, an uncanny object.

On the Okauia Block, Rotorua district, there stands, or formerly stood, a clump of totara (Podocarpus totara) known collectively as Nga Hokowhitu a Te Rangitawhia. This grove of trees was looked upon as a mauri in former times, and some of the trees had designs carved upon them.

In some cases at least a tree selected as a desirable place whereon to set bird-snares would be protected by means of a certain rite performed by an expert. That expert would repeat a charm over the tree, then take the hau of the same, that is something material to represent the vital essence and fruitfulness of such tree. This object would serve as a material mauri or talisman, and it would be concealed in the vicinity. Now, when a tree was so protected, no wizard or other mischievous prowler would have power to destroy the fruitfulness of the tree or to cause birds to avoid it; the mauri could be trusted to protect such. Not only would the despicable tamperer fail to effect his fell purpose, but he might also be seriously afflicted, or even slain, by the innate powers of the mauri, or, in short, by the gods. One cannot interfere with tapu objects with impunity.

A Tuhoe account of the above procedure states that, in some cases, the wing (kīra) of the first bird caught on such tree, or perchance the whole bird, was utilized as a talisman and so hidden; others say that certain wing-feathers were placed with the talisman, as already explained.

The Maori had a firm belief in the power of his charms and other practices born of superstition. Thus he possessed certain formulae, page 13the repetition of which would cause birds to abandon forests far off and flock to those of the charmer's clan. This act is described by the term tiepa, a word practically equivalent to whakaepa (to conciliate). As one grey-haird old Ngati-porou fowler explained it: "The birds would be tiepatia to cause them to come to our lands, that is to say they would be charmed so as to be compelled to come, so would they come at night. The people of the land would hear the resounding noise of their flight at night, and an expert would go forth and call on them to settle down and remain, and beseech Tane, the tutelary being of birds to restrain and hold them, in the following words: "Tane e! Puritia! Tawhia!"

Another old forester stated that when birds were heard in flight during the night, then it was known that they were being lured away by expert fowlers of other parts; thereon a local expert would procure a feather, place it under his left foot, and call upon the birds to remain. This latter charm, as well as that termed tiepa, are given in No. 1 of our Addenda.

Should a warlock wish to destroy the food-products of land, forest, or water, to desolate a district and render lands, trees, birds, etc., infertile, he would resort to a rite of black magic known as the Tipi a Houmea, sometimes as Papa-hāro; tipi means to destroy or exterminate, as by employing magic spells, while papa-hāro denotes a clean sweep. The wizard would recite his destructive spell over a stone, and then cast that stone over the water or land that he wished to desolate. It was not explained how he confined the effect of his destructive magic within the desired limits; should I ask for such explanations as this, my Maori friends were, as a rule, by no means ready with a reply, it seemed to be a new point of view to them. In place of the stone-throwing act our worthy magician might simply take a stick and score a mark on the earth, or merely make a pass with his hand. The pipi shellfish of Whakatane were once destroyed by means of this magic rite, and Koura is said to have rendered the lands of Nga Putahi non-productive in the same way. Residents of places so afflicted would assume that the mauri of such places had 'gone to sleep,' and so would take earnest steps to remedy matters. Ancestral spirits were often relied on in cases of magic, including retaliatory magic; as an old sage of the Awa folk put it to me in long past years: "O son! Ever call, day and night, upon your ancestors, that you may be protected and preserved by them."

The Ngati-Porou folk employ the expression tarake manu to denote an area of forest land famed as being a favoured haunt of birds, and hence an area prized by fowlers, but the ordinary term for such a fruitful forest is whenua pua, sometimes abbreviated to a page 14simple pua, or it may be styled a pua manu. This word pua means 'seed' and 'flower', and a whenua pua must necessarily have many trees of species that provide much food for birds. These lands are termed uruora and include tracts whereon berry-producing trees such as the rniro, kahikatea, ntaire, etc., are found in numbers, and such prized bird-preserves include valleys, flats, and hills, but not very high-lying country. The higher ranges are described by such terms as hunua and whenua hahore, or barren lands, although such lands may be covered with forest or scrub and also places where the kiwi and titi birds were taken, yet they did not furnish anything like the supplies of food that the lower-lying and more prolific lands did.

Returning to the Waiapu district, the fruitful forest-lands adjacent to the famed Taupanui hill were known as 'Te Pua a Te Roku' and that wrecked and lost forest was always referred to as one of the best bird-preserves on the East Coast. Old fowlers have explained that the forest contained many species of fruit-bearing trees, and that in some cases certain species grew in stands or blocks including no other species. Te Wai-a-te-roku is the name of a brook the waters of which apparently emerge from the base of a cliff or hill, and that stream was a favoured drinking place of birds in former times when the land was forest-clad. Moreover, in the bed of that creek, and on the hill slope above it, are seen certain small, red stones that resemble the ripe berries of the toromiro (Podocarpus ferrugineus) in appearance, so much so indeed that poor, deluded pigeons were wont to swallow them under the impression that they were consuming their favourite berries. When such stones were found in the crops of pigeons taken in other places then it was known that they had been to the pua or feeding grounds at Te Wai-a-te-roku. 'Twere a painful thing to reflect upon or question the veracity of the descendants of Porourangi, and so we will charitably accept the red-stone banquets of the witless pigeons of Te Pua a Te Roku. And now that famous pua has passed away, the forest of Tane has been torn from fair lands by encroaching civilization, and sheep have replaced the bird-flocks of yore.

Near the above-mentioned stream stood a large toromiro, a famous rakau taeke, or tree on which birds were snared, and that tree was named Te Ikikaha; its far reaching branches provided sufficient space for ten men to set their snares on. To that spot also, we are informed, pertains the well-known story of Pukoro-auahi. On adjacent lands there are seen, according to report, remains of old-time fortified villages and capacious pit-stores for food-supplies,. while sixty years ago stockade-posts were still in evidence.

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Hori Ropiha, of Waipawa, Hawkes Bay, referred to an old saying that runs as follows: Ko te pua a Hine-mahanga. The meaning or application of this saying is by no means clear; this Hine-mahanga may be connected with snares (mahanga), she is said to have been skilled in attracting birds, and the kopara (korimdko or bell-bird) was the first one to go to her, after which many birds were attracted by the enticing pua of Hine-mahanga. "All birds ever remembered the hillock on which stood the abode of Hine, and to this day they remember the waters whereat the nooses of Hine-mahanga were set, nor do they forget the trees set apart by Hine as suitable ones to be frequented by birds. We folk have observed the result of the arts of Hine-mahanga, how proficient she was in enticing birds, after which she proceeded to cook and preserve them. When her husband, Patea, returned home he was downcast at her success and his own inferior work, even so he felt the pangs of shame, hence he slew her." See No. 10 of Addenda for a dissertation in the original.