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Forest Lore of the Maori

The Pipiwharauroa or Shining-cuckoo:

The Pipiwharauroa or Shining-cuckoo:

As to the origin of the pipiwharauroa or shining-cuckoo (Chalcococcyx lucidus) I was gravely informed by a worthy pundit that He ngarara pāpā te matua o taua manu-The parent of that bird was a tree-lizard, and who am I that I should deny it! This bird is also known as nakonako, and whenakonako, and when it first appears in spring its cry is said to be Tioro! Tioro! Tioro! In another of its cries these three sounds are preceded by those of Kui! Kui!; when summer is quite near at hand its cry is Kui! Kui! Kui! Whitiwhiti ora! The Maori tells us that when the bird but repeats its kui cry the fruits of the earth have not yet appeared, but when it begins its whitiwhiti ora cry in December it is because it knows that all is well, that food-supplies are assured, that Rehua has returned to the heavens. The following brief recital, favoured by young folks in former times, refers to the cry of the 'wharauroa: Inu koe ki whea? Inu au ki Waipuna Rokohanga atu e au te tupu o te kumara e waihora ana. Tioro! Tioro! Herein one asks 'Where did you drink?' and receives reply 'I drank at the place of Springs, and found the shoots of the sweet potato plants out-spread.' When camped at Ruatahuna in the 'nineties I heard the children chanting the following greeting to the cuckoo, when it first appeared in spring: E manu! Tenakoe! Kua tae tenei ki te mahanatanga, kua puawai nga rakau katoa, kua pa te kakara ki te ihu o te tangata. Kua puta ano koe ki runga tioro ai, tioro i te whitu, tioro i te waru; me tioro haere ano e koe tenei kupu e whai ake ki te marae o tama ma, o hine ma. Kui! Kui! Kui! Whitiwhiti ora. (O bird! I greet you. The season of warmth has now arrived; all trees have blossomed, and their fragrance has reached the nostrils of man. Again you appear trilling on high, trilling in the seventh [month], trilling in the eighth [month]; now go you forth trilling the following message at the homes of lads and lasses—Kui! Kui! Kui! Whitiwhiti ora!)

An old saying concerning this bird is Ka tangi te 'wharauroa, ko nga karere a Mahuru, which tells us that the cuckoo is looked upon as the messenger of Mahuru, and Mahuru personifies spring. About the fourth month of the Maori year Mahuru despatches his messengers from the realm of warmth to seek this land of Aotearoa, here to call upon the husbandmen to bestir himself and prepare the soil for the Coming season's crops. So it is that 'Wharauroa the Cuckoo roams the land far and wide, ever calling Koia! Koia! (Dig! Dig!) to the sons of man. We are told that, in the South Island, this bird is sometimes alluded to as 'the bird of Maui,' as one of its cries is supposed to resemble a song sung by Maui, when, in bird-form, page 340he perched on the crescent-shaped (whakamarama) upper end of a digging-stick.

The name borne by this bird, 'wharauroa, carries a marked element of interest, and this hinges upon the signification of the word wharau. In our local dialect of the Polynesian language this word is employed to denote a canoe-shed, one built to shelter such a vessel, also it is applied to a rude shelter, such as are erected by travellers to serve as a shelter for the night. In traditional recitals we occasionally encounter the word wharaunga, as denoting a voyage; also, possibly, a land journey; but this is no longer a living expression here. In several Polynesian dialects we find the word folau, meaning 'to voyage, to travel,' and this is a variant form of our Maori term wharau. The Tahitian farau and Hawaiian halau denote a canoe-shed, while the Tahitian tafarau and Maori tawharau are verbal forms meaning to shelter a canoe by means of placing it in a shed. Folau, to voyage, is also encountered within the bounds of Melanesia. Evidently the Maori applied the name wharauroa to the cuckoo because he was acquainted with its migratory habits, the word roa means 'long,' and so we have here a name peculiarly applicable to this far-travelling or far-voyaging bird.

The prefixed pipi of the longer name is a word meaning the young of birds; and one of my Maori experts, when in a humorous mood, gave me a novel interpretation of the name pipiwharauroa, which, he assures me, means the 'far-shed-chick,' and adds: "How appropriate are those Maori names. Far-shed-chick! A name in which is storied the fact that over the vasty ocean it flies to this far distant country to 'shed' its eggs, and to have its chicks raised." This happy confusion of two widely differing meanings of the word 'shed' is entrancing, and worthy of all praise!

As an illustration of the rambling habits acquired by words and the difficulty of tracing them when they have roamed far afield, I may explain that the bird name wharauroa has been applied to a tree and a stone. A certain aspect of the grain of white manuka (Leptospermum ericoides) is said by the Maori to resemble the plumage of the wharauroa bird in appearance, and so the name has been applied to the timber having that appearance. As a Waikato native explained it: Ko te manuka pipiwharuaroa e rite tonu ana ki te manu pipiwharauroa te kakano, āna wahia taua manuka hei hoe waka. And again: Ko te manuka pipiwharauroa e rite tonu ana ki te huruhuru pipiwharauroa. The stone called pipiwharauroa by the Maori is one that comes under the generous generic term of 'greenstone'; it is very dark-coloured but is flecked with patches or streaks of white; a piece of this stone submitted to an expert turned out to be a form page 341of Serpentine with talc inclusions. It was utilized by the Maori in the manufacture of pendants, also a ceremonial form of mere carried by leaders, generally female, of posture dances. I have never seen an adze of that material. The other cuckoo name, koekoea, has also been applied to a form of stone, but this I have no further notes on.

I have several notes on record to the effect that the excrement of the cuckoo was eaten by natives. The Tuhoe folk call it mimi koekoea, and State that they find it deposited on leaves; the past generation seemed to appreciate it. In Bates' Naturalist on the Amazon we find a peculiar Statement to the effect that bees of the Amazon forests 'are more frequently seen feeding on the sweet sap which exudes from the trees, or on the excrement of birds on leaves, than on flowers." The Tuhoe natives informed nie that the excrement of the cuckoo has a sweet taste.

Some natives claim to foretell seasons by relying on the cry of the 'wharauroa; if that cry consists of a repetition of the Kui! note, then the Coming season will not be a prolific one. If that cry is followed by the well known Whitiwhiti ora then a fair and plentiful season lies before. Both of our cuckoos, as well as the riroriro and pipitori, grey warbler and tit, were looked upon as manu tohu tau, birds from which were derived such seasonal signs; the latter bird seems to be known as kikitori in the Whanganui district.