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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Whare Mata

The Whare Mata

Another institution to be described is that known as the whare mata to the Matatua tribes, and as whare takaha to Horouta folk. In the Waiapu district the strips of fibrous leaf of which snares are formed were termed takaha, probably from kaha, a noose, with the causative prefix ta, which is paralleled by whakatohe, a term we will have to deal with anon.

The whare mata was a house built and used for the purpose of manufacturing therein all paraphernalia connected with the arts of the fowler and fisherman, and for the storage of the same. Thus snares, perches, traps, baskets, nets, cordage, and other articles were there made and kept. A certain amount of tapu pertained to this house, as explained by old bushmen of Whanganui, Raukawa, Matatua and Waiapu; no women were allowed to enter it, lest the implements be defiled, and, for the same reason, no cooked food could be taken into it. Baskets used in the storage of seed-tubers of the sweet-potato might be stored therein, for such could not be taken to the cooking sheds (kaore e tika kia heria ki muri). Crozet describes such an implement-house seen by him at the Bay of page 147Islands in 1772 in the following words: "The third storehouse contains the rope, fishing lines, the flax for making rope, thread and rushes for making string, an immense quantity of fish-hooks of every size from the smallest to the largest, stones cut to serve as lead weights, and pieces of wood cut to serve as floats. In this warehouse they keep all the paddles of their war canoes; it is there that they make their nets …" The other two storehouses seen by Crozet at that village were a repository for weapons and a foodstore.

About thirty-seven years ago (1893) I obtained some interesting notes on woodcraft from an elderly member of Ngati Raukawa, and he explained to me that the segregation of persons engaged in tasks wherein success lay with the gods was highly necessary. Thus it was that a house or hut was set aside for the accommodation of men engaged in making fowling and fishing gear, so that women might be prevented from intruding and so bringing failure, puhore, and such evils in their train. The tapu of the whare mata was of a mild form, but should a woman disregard it and pass among and over the implements and materials therein, then such an act meant pollution, and the help of the gods was withheld. To offend Tane and other atua of the forest and its denizens means that fowlers and others will meet with failure in their efforts.

The natives of the Waiapu district explained that, when fowlers were encamped in the forest and engaged in their snaring and trapping activities, a rude hut was erected hard by to serve as a temporary whare takaha. This shed consisted of a frame and roof only, the walls were not covered in any way. Men engaged in preparing snares at such a time would perform their task under this shelter. This would mean, not the making of such appliances as snaring-perches (mutu, peke), but the looping of snares and the securing of them to cords (tahu, takeke, kaha) from which they were suspended. Here again a certain amount of tapu pertained to the work, hence cooked food was banned in the shed and its vicinity. Again, men going to this place to engage in such work could not wear any garment that had been defiled by contact with cooked food, but must be clad in such as had not been in a cooking shed or in proximity to its unclean provender. As to the shed-roof dignified by the name of whare takaha, one can but refer the reader to certain parallels. As witness: A person in the whare potae or house of mourning cannot partake of food during the hours of daylight, but, if travelling, may need so to do, and so a tree branch is procured and its butt end is thrust into the ground, whereupon the mourner seats himself under that branch when eating a meal, and so saves himself from the anger of the gods. A weaver of garments will not page 148engage in the making of a superior garment in the open, but I have seen them doing so under a spread tent fly of surpassing flimsiness, one that should be transparent to any decent atua. If birds see feathers lying on the ground they become pawera and so desert that forest, for uneasy fears lie on them. So with the rude shed-roof described above, doubtless it prevents birds seeing the snares being prepared for their undoing, and so, care-free and unafraid, they remain in the forest.

The last survival of the whare mata seen by the writer was at Maungapohatu, and that was in the 'nineties. I happened to visit the hamlet of Torea-a-Tai just prior to the working of the tutu trees whereon the kaka parrots are taken. At that time some of the old methods were still in use among the bush-folk of the Rocky Mountain, and I found my worthy old friend Tutaka engaged in making a selection of snaringperches (mutukaka) for use in the surrounding forest; he had many such appliances stored away in an elevated store-house.

All material for bird-taking contrivances were prepared and worked up at the whare mata, and when the snares were first spread then the first birds taken were used in a ceremony that marked the opening of the fowling-season. They were cooked in a special steam-oven termed the umu rau huka, or ahi rau huka, and were eaten by the tohunga or experts whose task it was to arrange and conduct all ceremonial matters connected with the fowling-season. No pursuit, industry, or serious task could be carried on without reliance being placed on ceremonial placation, etc., that is to say, without relying on the gods. The rau huka ceremony lifted the tapu from the whare mata and from the men who had worked therein; the snaring season was now open. A charm repeated over the material used in making snares was also known as rau huka. Certain birds of a first catch were employed as an offering to the gods; those eaten by the officiating experts in the ceremonial meal were looked upon as being almost equal to such an offering. In some districts a feather was plucked from the first bird taken, and utilized in a ceremony of a propitiatory nature so as to ensure good luck during the fowling season, this feather was alluded to as a weu.

Another old fowler remarked: "Work in the whare mata consisted of the making of snares [He ta mahanga te mahi o te whare mata], the first snares were made in it; these were then arranged on trees [Ka taia ki te rakau] and the first birds taken were taken home, cooked at the ahi ka huka and eaten by the tohunga. That act lifted the tapu, after which restrictions were removed from the snare-makers, and all could return to their own homes." Here we see that, should any more page 149snares be needed later on, then they might be made at the temporary forest-encampment. Also, while the fowlers were busy at the whare mata they were apparently segregated and so could not return to their homes each night, in whieh case their meals would be conveyed to some place away from the scene of their work, so as to avoid contamination. Observe above the double use of the verb ta.

Tamarau Waiari, a Tuhoe Veteran, termed the whare mata a whare whapiko rau huka, a place where bird-snares were formed; the word whapiko is a contracted form of whakapiko. Women and food were not allowed inside the hut; when the rau huka ceremony had been performed, then that hut became noa, common, void of tapu, that is to say the men who worked therein did, and the proceedings generally; then the men might return to their own homes and wives. The whare mata was a place wherein such tasks only were performed, and nought eise. Then the prepared snares were taken away and set on various trees, and the first birds taken were cooked in the hapi rau huka or rau huka oven (hapī = umu) and eaten by the experts who conducted the ceremonial, and even so was the tapu lifted. A formula termed a karakia rau huka was repeated over the ti (Cordyline) leaves prepared for snares, that is the rau huka. See No. 26 of the Addenda.

In some places the rau huka fire mentioned above as a ceremonial fire is termed ahi taitai, and after the first few birds had been ceremonially eaten, and the tapu removed, then other people, including women, might eat of the catch. A taumaha charm was repeated over the cooked birds ere any one ate of them; the Maori is fond of comparing this formula to our grace before meat, but the purport of the two really differed. Waiapu folk explain that the first bird taken was, in that district, set aside as an offering to the gods (atua); as it was being taken from the snare the operator recited the following:—

Uia, Uia, uia; tangi kotokoto ana ki runga o Ruahine
Whakarongo iho ana ko te wai o Tane te utuutu ana
Ko te wai mal whea ? Ko te wai i tangi pohutu ai manu
Ki te pua a korihitanga, ki te pua a uta
Rau tuhi, rou ana te tapau e nga ru . . e . . i (?)
He aha ta taua manu i tangi ki tai ne ?
He titi, he tata, he karoro uri, he karoro tea, he karoro tangi arua
I puta i tai kawa inu tiu taku manu, koia taku rua . . i.

A Matatua sage contributed the following: "All first fruits were cooked at a fire called the ahi taitai, and a ruruku charm repeated thereat had the effect of retaining birds in the tribal forest." A page 150member of the Raukawa tribe spoke as follows: "A mauri would be placed in a forest by an expert in such ceremonial matters, and that talisman would cause birds to be numerous in that area. Now some of the birds cooked at the tapu fire would be set apart for the officiating experts to eat. Now this act of theirs was a whangai i te hau o te ngahere, an offering to the hau of the forest, which hau is represented by the material mauri. The birds taken pertain to, are connected with, the forest and the mauri, and the ceremonial performance causes the hau of the birds to return to the forest, that is to the mauri." It may here be remarked that it is sometimes difficult to follow the involved reasoning of the Maori; the hau of a forest, of which hau the mauri is the material representation, is the vitality, the productiveness, the fruitfulness of the forest, and its guardians are the gods connected with the forest, the gods whose protecting and fostering powers are represented by the mauri. A certain modicum of the hau pertains to the birds taken, and so that moiety of the welfare, vitality, of the forest must be returned to the forest, that is to the mauri; the birds taken are dead, and have no further use for it. For the hau is a detachable quality; when a person rises from a seat he leaves a certain amount of this aura-like quality adhering to that seat, hence, if suspicious of his companions, he will scoop up that modicum of his hau from the seat, and so carry it off with him; an enemy might have taken that hau, and, by means of magic spells, have worked him grievous harm.

The first bird taken and used as an offering in these preliminary rites need not necessarily be of a species taken for food purposes; it may be a most diminutive creature, but it serveth the purpose. In one case I was told that, after the experts had eaten the first bird or birds of the ceremonial feast, then the women were served before the men, this as a mark of esteem. This sounds doubtful, it is improbable that all women were so served prior to men of standing. My informant was probably thinking of the small special oven for women that marked many such ceremonial feasts, the contents of which were eaten by one or at most a few women. The charms known as taumaha and whakau were repeated over food that was tapu so that it might be harmless when consumed. All these ahi tapu or tapu fires used in rites and ceremonial feasts were ahipahikahika or generated fire; this latter term describes any such fire, its use is not confined to a fire used for one particular purpose. No common fire could serve the purpose in ritual activities. The rau huka or taitai fire alluded to above was often generated by n assistant, whereupon the expert proceeded to repeat over it a page 151formula that rendered it tapu. The expert took his stand near the fire, with a rod or wand in his hand, and intoned the following formula:—

  • Taitai, taitai, taitai te kau nunui, te kau roroa, te rupe tu, te rupe pae.
  • Pekepeke hauaitu te manu waero rua, te hau e tu nei taitai
  • Mai ra a tu, mai ra a pae, pekepeke hauaitu te hau e tu nei.

Here my informant, Tutakangahau, remarked: "This is the taitai formula, these are the expressions that rendered the fire tapu; all the gods [pertaining to these matters] were located in that fire, so that they might exercise their powers in any way desired." This means that, after such recital, any particular god-like powers invoked would be at the disposal of the priestly expert. As for the formula, it is quite beyond my powers to translate it, so archaic and obscure is it, nor can I see that it has any bearing on the proposed activities, though this is a common feature of Maori charms. The expression kau nunui, kau roroa, re rupe tu, te rupe pae, pekepeke hauraitu and te manu waero rua were given at another time by the same authority as the names of certain beings, powers, or personifications born to Rangi and Papa, the Sky Parent and Earth Mother, ere they were separated, before light was known, and prior to the birth of Tane and his many brethren; manu-waero-rua is also a wind name.

Our friends of Matatua dealt with the first birds of the season at this exceedingly tapu fire, to approach which would bring disaster to any save the officiating expert, or experts. Our expert would take the first bird taken by snare, spear, or trap, and pluck some feathers therefrom; he suspended the body of the bird over the fire, then touched his mouth with the feathers and laid them, together with edible herbage, probably puha, before the fire. Those feathers were looked upon as the ahua, or semblance, of the bird. These things were, after a space, taken from the fire, and the expert recited over them the following taumaha charm:—

  • Taumaha kai te, motumotu, kai te ngarehu, kai te kapekape
  • I aua kia mate, i aua kia irohia.
  • Ka ma Tūpākākā, ka ma Rakaihika, ka ma te kapiti, te kapiti ki tamaoa.
  • Tena taumaha, taumaha ka eke
  • Ka mama nga pukenga, ka mama nga wananga, ka mama hoki ahau, tenei tauira.

The two beings mentioned in the third line of the formula are said to have been ancestors of a very remote period with whom originated the taumaha rite.

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The body of the bird was placed upon a sort of stage; a portion of it might be eaten by the officiating expert, were he of sufficiently high standing; if not then it was deposited on or in a tree for Tane to consume. That bird might afterward be used as an ika purapura or mauri; with it was associated the hau of the chief person of the community, and the hau of the land, both of which would probably be represented by a material symbol, then the whole would be buried to serve as a kind of talisman to preserve the health, welfare, productivity of the people, birds and land. It serves as a mauri, a manea, and so preserves the above desirable qualities and, moreover, it protects the people, land, etc., from evil influences, as emanating from man or hostile spirits.

After this ceremonial was over then an oven that contained many birds was opened, and upon these the fowlers and other craftsmen were regaled, after which the largest oven, known as the tukupara, was opened, and on its contents, consisting of game and vegetables, the balance of the people feasted. After this feast was over then the season was declared open, prohibitive tapu was removed, nought save a form of restrictive tapu remained; all people now set to work, some engaged in snaring, spearing, and trapping birds, while others prepared appliances to commence the task of cooking and potting the game. In most cases the people would abandon their villages at such a time and camp near the scene of operations, in or near the forest; the Maori liked to so take his hunuku or family encumbrances, human and otherwise, with him when engaged in such tasks, and so, with families and dogs they made a picnic of work.

The various taitai rites of major importance, of which the above was one, were marked by the preparation of different ovens of food, for certain people could not, at such a time, touch food prepared for certain other participants in the ceremonial feast. Thus a very small oven and heating-fire sufficed to cook food for the priestly expert officiating, for him alone, and this was known as the umu tūākaha, also as ahi tuakaha (umu, steam-oven; ahi, fire). The next oven was called the ahi for umu) marae, and in this was cooked food for the fowlers and all active young men who carried on the tribal activities. In the umu ruahine was cooked food for any woman or women who had taken part in the ceremony, as they did in tapu- removing rites, also for first-born females of superior families. Fourthly came the tukupara oven mentioned above. A ceremonial meal was the concluding act of many Maori ceremonial performances. In the one here described Tane and other mythical beings, atua, pertaining to the forest were placated, and so fowlers might enter the forest of Tane and ply their trade; the more intense aspect of page 153the tapu had been removed, but it was necessary to be circumspect in their actions and behaviour, for certain restrictions had still to be observed. At a time when such functions as the above were being held travellers made a point of avoiding a village.

Tutaka also informed me that ahi matini was the name of a tapu ceremonial fire and rite pertaining to the temporary camps of fowlers in the forest; it might also be termed an ahi taitai. One of the first birds taken was cooked and eaten by the expert when he lifted the tapu from the forest; others were cooked separately and consumed by the fowlers. This seems to be the same as the ceremony described above, save that there were fewer participants; nor is it quite clear that both were performed by one party; I think not. At Samoa matini denotes an offering of food made to spirits.

Another old bushman of the Matatua district explained that, over the first bird taken, a charm was repeated that caused birds to assemble and frequent the forest, or part of the forest, being dealt with, as my informant put it: "The first bird assembles birds in the fruitful woods." The charm alluded to runs as follows:—

  • Te manu ruru mai, ruru mai, neneke mal ki te pae runga, ki te pae raro
  • Te manu te ruru pae, te noho pae, te manu kai te whio
  • Kai te taki, kai te kowiri, kai te ioio nui nonga [?]
  • Te manu kai toroti, kai torota, kai toro atu rama ki a Tone
  • Te manu te ruru pae, te noho pae, te manu kai te whia
  • Kai te taki, kai te kowiri, kai te ioio no nga [?]

Herein birds are directly requested to assemble in the tribal or family woods, which plainness of speech is not commonly met with in Maori charms.