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Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Kite Flown in War as an Act of Divination and of Magic

Kite Flown in War as an Act of Divination and of Magic

This usage obtained in former times when a force was about to attack the pa (fortified village) of an enemy. A kite was made of the culms of the toetoe whatu manu, a sedge, and was made so as to measure pae tahi (a fathom) from wing to wing. It was made by the chief tohunga (priestly adept) and certain restrictions prevailed during its manufacture. No member of the force was allowed to partake of food during that time, for the task pertained to the department of Tu, whose tapu affected every act of a war party, and the object of flying it was to gain the aid of Tu (god of war). The string used to fly this kite was not the usual kite cord but merely strips of undressed flax tied together, inasmuch as the kite was not recovered, but liberated. The kite was set up and flown by the tohunga who was careful to slack out the line with his right hand, for that is the tapu. side of man. Were he so forgetful as to do so with his left hand, the act would be an omen of defeat for his party.

Should the kite chance to fly in a lopsided manner it was accepted as a presage of defeat for the party should it deliver an attack. If it ascended in an upright and orthodox position that fact was accepted as an omen of success. While the kite was ascending, the tohunga recited the kite flying charm termed a turn. After the recital of the charm the warriors were at liberty to partake of food and so leave the tohunga at his task. The next act of the latter was to send a karere (messenger) up the cord to the kite. He formed a ring of toetoe leaves round the line, so weaving it that it was about 4 in. in page 128diameter, so allowing plenty of space for the line. This ring was carried up the cord by the wind, and when it so arrived, the operator released the string and liberated the kite. This kite was always flown on the windward side of the pa, the object being to liberate it from such a point that, when drifting free, the cord thereof would be trailed across the pa of the enemy. Should any of the enemy chance to take hold of the trailing cord, which was more deadly than a 'live' wire, the act was an excellent omen for the attacking force, for it practically ensured the success of an attack on the fort; for that cord possessed magic properties with which it had been endowed by the incantations of the tohunga. When that cord was touched by one of the enemy it meant that their forces would be so affected by the magic rite that victory would assuredly follow an attack on them.

In many cases the inmates of a pa would have no suspicion of the approach of an enemy until they saw the magic kite soaring over their defences.

The toetoe whatu manu of which kites were often made is much like the upoko-tangata in appearance and has the same curious shape, triangular in section* The toetoe-kiwi grows in the forest and is not used in kite making. The bird kiwi is said to frequently nest under the leaves of this plant (Gahnia lacera).

Karakia pakaukau=Kite flying charm

"Piki mai, piki mai
Kake mai, kake mai
Ki tetahi taha o te hau nunui
Ka tu te ruperupe
Ka tu te kawakawa
Numia e koe ki te kawa tuatahi,
Ki te kawa tuarua
Ki te whatu a Rua
Ka whakakiki, ka whakakaka
Ahu mai, ahu mai."

Some of the native kites were triangular in form, but there were others of different shapes.

According to Tuta Nihoniho, the ordinary manu tukutuku of the Ngati-Porou district was of just the same bird-like form as that in the Auckland Museum, which was obtained in the Arawa district, except that the legs were longer. The body and head were so made as to resemble those of a man, but the legs were certainly grotesque, and did not resemble those of any known member of the human species. The body was provided with two long narrow wings in page 129place of arms. A piece of thin board formed the body and head of the kite, the head being flat but having the features of the human face carved thereon. The framework of the wings was lashed on to the body. Three long, horizontal and slim rods of manuka formed the basis of each wing, and short, thinner pieces were lashed across these at right angles about four inches apart. This framework was then covered with raupo, the only part of the leaf so used being that part between the roots and the place where the leaves separate, the upper parts being discarded. The outer parts of these leaf bases were stripped off and lashed on to the framework by the nati method of tying, that is as raupo is fastened on to the walls of a house. When flown, the wings of this kite flutter or flap in a manner said to resemble that of a bird's wings. The flying cord was secured to the middle of the body of the kite. This kite had no tail was sometimes ornamented with feathers. The head was sometimes covered with dog's hair.

Some of the kites are said to have measured as much as fifteen feet or more across the wings. Two men manipulated the cord, and two others started the kite by taking it some distance away from the cord holder, and casting it up into the air.

The manu aute had a head but was not provided with legs. The wings of a kite were called the paihau. Other materials of which kites were made on the East Coast were raupo and toetoe upoko tangata, the leaves of which were scraped and then laced on to the framework. Although small kites were made for children, yet the pastime of kite flying was indulged in principally by adults, whose kites were much larger and better constructed than those used by children. The stipes (kakaka) ofPteris aquiline, the common bracken, were sometimes employed for the frame work of kites.

When about to fly one of the large kites, the cord holder takes up his position at a suitable place and he has a companion whose duty it is to attend to the unwinding of the cord from its spool, as the kite rises and the cord is slacked out, an act described by the word whakahoro. The cord is twined round a stick in the same manner as a fishing line is, and not wound in a ball, or across a stick in a straight manner. This attendant sees to it that the cord does not get entangled, that it runs free to the hands of the kaiwhakahoro, or payer out. The latter has to use judgement in his task, as when to pay out line, when to hold it, or draw it in.

To release a large kite two men convey it to a suitable point at some distance from the cord holder, and there raise it into position, one man being stationed at each paihau or wing to raise and release it, which they do when the wind takes control of it. As the kite is page 130released the cord tender draws in the slack of the cord so as to render it taut. His companion watches and tends the takai, ox coiled cord. Some kite cords are said to have been of a great length, Tuta says 20 to 40 kumi (a measure of ten fathoms), but statements of natives regarding lengths and distances are extremely unreliable.

The cord used for flying the large kites was a tamatoru or three strand one, but not made by the whiri or plaiting process, I.e. by plaiting the three strands as we would. It was he mea miro, or rolled cord, and the process was as follows: Two twisted strands (kanoi) were twisted together by the well known rolling process termed miro. A third twisted strand was then prepared and placed ready for use. The two strand rolled cord (known as a tamarua) was then opened out by rolling it in the opposite direction to that employed when twisting it together. This process separated the two strands, and in between them was laid the third prepared strand, and the cord re-laid by the rolling process, the third strand occupying the space between the two original strands. This process of laying was also employed in making fishing lines and other small cords, as the result was a better, neater, closer laid cord than could be produced by the whirl or plaiting methods. Two twisted strands can be rolled into a neat, well laid cord, but the rolling process does not work well with three strands, hence the above described method of introducing the third strand.

The following is one of the many charms repeated in former times when a kite was being flown:—

"Pikipiki Tawhaki, kakekake Tawhaki
Kia rere mai he tini, kia rere mai he rangi
He rangi mata ki te ururangi
Whaitiri takataka whangaia te marama
Papa mai kawa te angiangi pu
Ko tawa te rangj ki te kohukohu … e
Ko tawa te rangi i te hapainga … e
Titi wai Tangaroa, takina te kawau tahi
Whaitiri takataka whangaiate marama
Papa mai kawa te angiangi pu."

I have obtained no satisfactory explanation of certain phrases in this charm, and decline to guess at their meaning.

In some cases strings of cockle shells (tuangi) or Turritella were fastened to the head or neck of a kite, and these things made a rattling sound as the kite was agitated by the wind. Should a kite be seen to sag over sideways in its flight, adepts would call out— "Turuki! Turuki!" whereupon the cord tender would slack out the cord (aho) and enable the kite to ascend and regain its steadiness. A downward swooping movement of a kite is described by the term ko (ki te ko te manu, he aitua), and a kite sometimes so dives earthward page 131and is shattered. Such an occurrence was viewed as being unlucky, and this would mean not only that it was unlucky with regard to the act of kite flying at that particular time, but it also denoted that ill-luck or misfortune was hovering over the kite flyers. Thus should a kite flyer whose kite had so misbehaved chance to meet with some mishap, say on the following day, he would probably remark that he had been forewarned by the action of his kite. Behind this singular mental process lay the belief that the gods, familiar spirits, warn man of coming trouble by means of the most trivial occurrences.

When a kite is far up on a long cord, it is unwise to haul in the cord in order to retrieve it, such a method often causes the kite to ripi and ko, to dart to and fro and swoop down. To avoid this dangerous movement, the cord is tamia or pressed down to earth, that is one person remains to hold the cord, while the other, walking along under the cord, runs his hand along the same and so keeps pressing it down as he advances, until, in this manner, the kite is brought to earth. He then unties the cord and carries the kite home, while the cord holder hauls in and winds the released cord.

The better forms of kites were given special names, in many cases the names of ancestors of the owners. It would also appear that, at least in some cases, special names were assigned to the cords by which such kites were flown. Many such names of kites and their cords, of former generations, have been preserved by oral tradition on the East Coast. Thus Te Matorohanga, of Wai-rarapa, repeated a list of forty such names that had been preserved by the tribal whare wananga or school of learning and house of knowledge. Some of these names were those of kites (manu pakau) made at Hawaiki, prior to the settlement of the Maori in New Zealand. There were charms, or portions of such, to prevent kites from becoming entangled with each other, and also to cause them to descend gently to earth, so as not to be broken.

Tuta states that the aute plant became lost to his tribe in the time of his grandparents. The bark of this plant was prepared in strips for fastening on to the frame of a kite, and kites covered with this material were termed manu aute. It was laced on much as raupo (bulrush) leaves are. The bark was stripped off the shrub from the base upwards. Then the inner layer of the bark seems to have been stripped off. This inner bark somewhat resembled a sponge in its texture and was so used by mothers who left their children for a while. They utilised it as apaepae waiu, that is to retain a quantity of milk, which, when the child cried during the absence of its mother, was squeezed into its mouth from the bark as from a sponge, by its page 132attendant. In former times the aute was grown at the Pou-tiriao pa in the Waiapu district.

When a manu aute was flown, its actions were narrowly watched (It seems to have been sometimes flown as an act of divination, i.e. auguries were drawn from its movements). If it preserved its balance well, and was steady in its flight, that was accepted as a token of success or good fortune, but if it darted about and swooped, the reverse was predicted. As our informant put it in his picturesque phraseology: "He manu tohu aitua te manu aute; mehemea ka ko, he aitua; mehememea ka ata tu, a whiti ana te ra ki tua." (The manu aute foretells ill-luck; if it swoops, it is bad luck, ominous; if it is steady, then truly the sun shines before.)

The karere or messenger sent up on a kite string was a small, flat wooden disc, ornamented with feathers, and with a hole in the middle through which the cord was passed. The wind caught the feathers and carried the karere up the line to the kite.

In some cases special huts were built as places in which to keep the large kites, and these would be known as kite sheds (tawharau manu tukutuku). The kite was placed on a platform or rack made of poles in such sheds. If it was intended to fly the kite, it would be taken out of the shed the previous evening and placed somewhere so that the dew would descend upon it. This dampening process would render the covering of the kite tougher and less liable to injury than it would be in a dry state.

There are a number of references to kites and kite flying in Maori songs. In the following line the poet compares himself, or herself, to a kite:—

"He manu aute au e taea te whakahoro ki te aho tamairo." Here tamairo stands for tamiro, an illustration of the curious native method of rendering a word or line euphonious by inserting extra syllables.

* The toetoe whatu manu is Mariscus ustulatus The stems are found as much as 5 ft. in length where the plant grows in sheltered places, as among raupo, etc., in swamps.