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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Grey Warbier and the Fantail:

The Grey Warbier and the Fantail:

The riroriro or grey warbler (Pseudogerygone igata) was, according to the Maori, another manu tohu tau or wise, season-fore-telling bird. When this cheerful little creature is heard warbling in the spring it is said to be calling upon the maori folk to bestir themselves for their seasonal tasks, the preparation of ground, and the planting of crops. So it is that, when a man's food-supplies run short, and perchance he has to apply to neighbours for assistance, then of a surety some person will quote the following old saying: whea koe i te tangihanga o te riroriro (Where were you when the grey-warbler was singing?), often followed by ka mahi kai mau-that you did not set to and provide food for yourself. The Maori asserts that he can always teil what a coming season will be by noting the way in which this bird builds its roofed hanging nest; according to the direction in which the nest faces, the point to which its side-opening is directed, then it is known that the coming season will be dry or wet, also the prevailing wind will be foretold in the same way. If the nests are so built that the entrance hole faces the east, then westerly winds will prevail during the coming season, an inclement season is coming; ke upoko māro; as the Maori puts it. Should the opening face the north then it betokens a tau kuraraki, a fair and pleasant season. As an old Bushman explained it to me: "Ko te koriroriro he manu iti tenei manu, a he manu mohio hoki. Ka mahi ia i tana whare kohanga kaore e rite ki te kohanga o te tini manu nei, ngari he taupoki ano kei runga o tana kohanga, a ka hangaa e ia tana kohanga ka huri te matapihi ki te tonga he tohu tenei he tau kino te tau. Ka huri te matapihi ki te muri, ara ki te hau raro, he page 331tohu tau kuraraki, ara he tau pai, ara he tau ataahua, kaore e nui te hau me te ua, a ka nui hoki te hua o te kai; e hara tenei i te tau kotipu, ara te tau e kotia ana te kai e te huka ina ka tupu ake."

The fantail (Rhipidura flabellifera) with its twenty-odd names we have already encountered in Maori myth: as an item of food-supply in former days it was insignificant. A restless person is sometimes described as he tou tirairaka, he reminds one of the ever-flitting fantail, which seems unable to remain still for half a minute. Another old saying connected with this bird is: Tiwaiwaka takamiri turuma, he tangata kaikino, which means that a person of evil habits is wont to resemble a fantail, to be nervous, restless, uneasy.