Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Games and Pastimes of the Maori

Part VII — Maori Songs and Maori Singing

page 185

Part VII
Maori Songs and Maori Singing

Love of song strong in Polynesian folk. Maori songs difficult to translate. Rhyme unknown but rhythm deeply appreciated. The hianga. Ritual chants intoned. Euphony ever sought. Quotations from old songs. Laments most numerous. The Puhirangi lament. Explanation of an old song. Lament composed for a defunct pig. Song composers. Causes of song making. Songs enter largely into formal speeches. Information conveyed by means of song. Peculiar use of vowel sounds. Value of vowels. Hell invented for Maori. Natural phenomena and objects mentioned in song. Tribal history embedded in songs. Widespread use of song. Remarks by early writers. Different classes of songs. Karakia or ritual formulae. Subjects of songs. The tau manu. War songs. Watch songs. Ngeri. Songs sung to children. Lament for Kekerengu. Tylor on poetic utterances of barbaric man.

The Maori folk of New Zealand resemble their brethren of Polynesia in their fondness for song, and this peculiarity is found in many peoples whom we view as uncultured. The Maori relied to a great extent on song for the purpose of expressing his feelings, and even utilised it in order to impart ordinary information such as would never tempt us to cross the bounds of prose. Possessing no form of script in which to conserve or impart his knowledge, our Maori had to rely on spoken language entirely, and a public statement was equivalent to our written declaration. Combined with the racial partiality for song was a keen appreciation of metaphor, of allegorical expression, of mystic and mythopoetic fancies. Into speech and song he loved to introduce sententious aphorisms and apt illustrations from racial myths, sacerdotal lore, and tribal traditions. He pointed and enriched his speech with quotations, and relied much on the teeming figures of universal personification. These peculiarities were not confined to orations, but also entered largely into song. Thus it is at all times difficult to translate a Maori song, often it is impossible, unless one can obtain explanations of the cryptic sayings, allusions to old myths, as also of the circumstances under which the song was composed. Again, owing to the peculiar construction of the native tongue, and the use of expressions for which we find no equivalent in English, we often find it necessary to fall back on a paraphrase. It appears to be a page 186fact that the more one studies Maori songs, the less one feels inclined to attempt a translation thereof. The reasons for this will be further explained as we proceed.

As an opening remark it may be said that the Maori was ignorant of rhyme, or at least did not practise it. It is doubtful if he would appreciate it were it brought to his notice, and his mode of singing is not such as would lend itself to illustrating the euphonious nature of rhyme. In his paper on Maori songs published in Sir G. Grey's Polynesian Mythology, Mr. J. A. Davis remarks:—"Though I have timed the airs I have given, I am free to confess there was neither metre nor rhythm of any marked character discernible in them; and even in the divisions of the lines or verses, the singer seemed to stop indifferently now at one, now at another word." It is a mistake to suppose that the Maori does not appreciate rhythm, it being the most essential feature of much of his singing, such as the many songs coming under the term haka, wherein the rhythmic swing of the song is combined with that of the posture dance. Rhythm is said to have been the first element in music. In laments, love songs, etc., such as were brought under Mr. Davis' notice, the noticeable feature to the ordinary English ear is a dreary monotone. This is a subject that can be properly handled only by an expert, hence the present writer has but little to say concerning it.

Mr Davis notes the fact that, in singing, a Maori will stop at any point, when he wishes to take breath. This is quite characteristic of Maori singing, but it should be explained that he never commits the error of dropping his voice at such a time; he stops abruptly, takes breath, then continues in the right key to the end of the line or stanza ere dropping his voice. This latter is known as hianga and consists of drawn out vowel sounds, as e . . e . . e or e . . e . . i, occasionally ha . . a . . a, and not infrequently na . . i . . i. In many cases the hianga at the end of a line may be represented simply by . . e, though the final line will conclude with a lengthened form, as . . e … e . . or . . e . . e . . i.

"Kia mihia ake taku hinenga i nga raro ra . . e
Ka rawe ra au i konei . . e . . e . . i."

The Maori priests always intoned their ritual, and, in the case of important and tapu utterances of that nature, when to allow a break would have been considered disastrous, not less than two tohunga took part in the proceedings. These took it in turns to chant the karakia or ritual; one would commence the chant and continue it until out of breath, when he would stop abruptly, and the other instantly continued it, picking up the next word in the same tone. page 187Even two persons could, in this manner, deliver a long ritual chant, and some of them were long, without any perceptible break in their continuity. The hianga is never introduced save at its proper place.

Maori singing has been said to resemble the Gregorian chant, and melody, to the native ear, seems to be produced by slight modulations of the voice, lengthened vowel sounds, and the hianga, or dropping of the voice. The English ear detects nothing to admire in this mode of singing, and we condemn it as monotonous and tuneless. The Maori, however, will tell you that each song has its proper tune, and he will decline to sing a song unless acquainted with that tune. Maori songs have won a meed of praise from some writers on account of their pathos or beauty of expression, but no one has bestowed praise on Maori singing; its, to them, changeless monotone falls flat on English ears. The Maori has a much keener ear than we have for modulations of the voice, much depends on attention to inflection. The same words, employed in the same order, may in Maori be either a question or a statement of fact, the difference is known only by the inflection of the voice. Vowel sounds undetected by us are distinctly noted by natives. "It would appear," says a modern writer, "that the Maori employs a form of enharmonic modulation, using quarter tones in his natural or vocal music."

Of the first Maori song heard by him, Captain Cook wrote:—"They sung a song with a degree of taste that surprised us; the tune was solemn and slow, like those of our Psalms, containing many notes and semitones."

Dr. Savage, who published a little work on New Zealand in 1807, wrote as follows:—"The music of the New Zealanders is superior to what might be expected. The tone of voice of the natives is, in a considerable degree, melodious; and their instruments such as afford a variety of pleasing simple notes, and serve to beguile the idle hours of the tedium that would otherwise attend them. The advantages of this great resource are very general; not confined, as in many other parts of the world, to a few performers, whose vocal powers, or musical acquirements…. enchant thousands; here every man is his own musician, and the instrument he plays upon being conveniently portable, he is never at a loss for the means of entertainment.

The music of their songs is generally well adapted to the theme; many of these are of a pathetic nature, others amatorial, and a great part of them humorous. Those of a pathetic nature are well suited to the subject…."

page 188

This writer was but a short time in contact with the natives of New Zealand, but made good use of his time. The only part of the above passage to which exception can be taken is the remark that a great part of them are humorous. The ordinary Maori waiata, or song, does not lend itself to humour. Some of their action songs, such as umere, may betoken joy or pleasure, and others of the haka class may cause merriment by the use of sarcasm or ridicule, but true humour seems to be rarely met with.

One of the most serious difficulties in the way of translating Maori songs is caused by the demand for euphony. In order to render a line euphonious, words are altered in form to the confusion of the translator. Thus vowels may be inserted or elided, thus producing word forms which render the translator helpless. Thus, in one song, we find the phrase te ahua o te kupu (the aspect or character of the remark) is altered to te ehu o te kupu, and ehu means 'turbid,' and to bale out water, and to exhume, as bones of the dead, thus the hapless translator is left in parlous plight. In this case the desire was to shorten vowel sounds. Kua is sometimes lengthened to koua, all for the sake of euphony. In other cases a single vowel sound is drawn out, as in the huatau. In the legend of Rata occurs a charm that commences:—

"Rata wărě, Rata wā . . a . . a . . re."

In the word ware both vowels are short, and it is so pronounced in its first occurrence; but in the second the a is drawn out as shown, otherwise the line would not be grateful to the Maori ear when intoned.
Apart from the reprehensible habit common among song composers of resurrecting obsolete words and archaic sacerdotal expressions, there exists yet another stumbling block for the translator of native songs. This consists of a deplorable habit of coining new words to express some action, emotion, or thought, such words never being met with again. Thus, a line in a Tuhoe song runs:—

"Ka whekawhekau te roa o te ara ka takoto mai."

In this line the song maker expresses his fear that he will be unable to traverse the long road before him. He does not say so in plain language, but, with malice aforethought, casts about for a new word, and finds the germ thereof in whekau, the rock owl, which cannot move abroad in the day time. He constructs the somewhat involved reduplicate whekawhekau in order to express his feelings. The writer chanced to meet an old native who was able to explain the above procedure, otherwise he would still be puzzling over the meaning of the line.

page 189

It has been said by the wise that in order to explain many native songs, it would be necessary to write a book, owing to the many allusions made to old time legends, historical traditions, myths, customs and ritual. It may be of some interest to explain a few cases. When Wi Tapeka, father of Paitini of Rua-tahuna, died, his widow Pukaha, composed a lament for him in which occur the following lines:—

"Now lone am I, as, sitting here, I vainly strive my fleeting thoughts, to calm. O friends! What can be done to soothe the pain that racks me. Bear me to water side, there sever my love for the spouse to whom I clung as clings the vine to forest tree, when I was but a girl and he was but a lad. But now all lone am I, and restless is my sleep as that of mateless bird, etc."

Now in the words 'Bear me to water side, there sever my love, etc.,' we have a fair rendering of the line "Me kawe ki te wai wehe ai i te aroha ki te makau," but it conveys no sense to us unless we chance to know that it refers to an old rite of a very singular nature known as miri aroha. This peculiar ceremony was always performed in the water of a stream or pond, and its object was to abolish, or dull, affection for a member of the other sex; thus it was performed over widows, divorced persons, etc.

In a lament composed by Tamairangi, a famed chieftainess of the Wellington district in the early part of the 19th century, we encounter these lines:—

"Ko te ngaro pea i a Tuhirangi ki roto Kaikai-a-waro
I waiho ai koe e Kupe hei rahiri waka rere i Te Au-miti
I raru ai Potoru."

Take the first line—"Concealed perchance like Tuhirangi within Kaikai-a-waro.' This falls meaningless on our ears until we are told that Tuhirangi is the Maori name of Pelorus Jack, the famous dolphin of the French Pass, and that Kaikai-a-waro is the name of a cave or depth in which he is supposed to live. The next line—'Left by Kupe to welcome canoes sailing by way of Te Au-miti.' Te Au-miti is the Maori name of French Pass, and the reference to Kupe opens up a long story of old time Polynesian voyagers and their doings. The last line 'Where Potoru was baffled,' refers to another voyager from Polynesia, whose canoe, Te Rhino, was wrecked at French Pass.

In a fine lament composed centuries ago by one Hine-raumoa for her grand-daughter, the composer farewells the lost maid to the spirit world:—

"Haere atu ra, e hine!
page 190 I te ara whanui a to tipuna, a Tane nui a rangi
I takoto ai Taheke-roa, e hine!"

"Go forth, O maid, by the broad way of your ancestor, of great Tane, offspring of Rangi (the Sky Parent)." This broadway of Tane is an expression denoting the path by which spirits of the dead reach the spirit world. It is the way of the sun god, the golden path of the setting sun as seen on great waters. "Where lies Taheke-roa, O maid!" This is the name of the actual descent to the underworld of spirits—

"Attain and enter Hawaiki-rangi."

This is a place where all spirits of the dead assemble ere entering the spirit world.

"Ascend thou by the ara tiatia and toi huarewa."

Here we are introduced to another belief and to another spirit world, the one in the heavens, to which the maiden is supposed to ascend by the ara tiatia and toi huarewa, explained as being represented by the whirlwind.

"That you may ascend to the twelve heavens."

In Maori myth there are twelve heavens, separated by spaces.

"That you may enter Rangiatea, O maid!"

This is a place in the uppermost of the twelve heavens in which were preserved all forms of knowledge, of ritual, etc., pertaining to the various heavens.

"Whence came the occult knowledge and revered symbols of this world, O maid of mine."

An illusion to the procuring of these boons by Tane.

"So shalt thou enter the realm of peace, O maid!
Leaving me sighing alone in this world, O maid of mine."

Here we have an example of how difficult it is to render the meaning of a song without lengthy explanations. Even a paraphrase may fail to enlighten. He who seeks to study these effusions must spend much time in assimilating the folk lore, myths, etc., of the Maori, and unless he works devotedly to attain such knowledge, then your student imagines a vain thing.

The late Mr Colenso was well within the truth when he wrote: "Many of the so called translations of New Zealand poetry, which have been from time to time printed, are not really such (not even allowing the utmost latitude to the translator); they are mostly wild paraphrases, not infrequently lacking the ideas of the original."

This writer contributed a paper on the poetical genius of the Maori race to Vol. XIII. of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. page 191The paper is well worthy of perusal, the writer having been a Maori linguist and possessing much knowledge of old time Maori life.

A large proportion of Maori songs are laments for the dead; these are known as tangi and waiata tangi, and some of them are of considerable interest, either on account of expressed sentiments, beauty of verbal expression, or the inclusion of references to racial myths, historical traditions or beliefs, as in the one quoted above. In the lament of Te Rangi-uia, which covers seven pages of foolscap M.S., one verse begins:—"Alas! O little one, I recall your gambols on the plaza, and your running laughing to the door. These memories abide to gnaw at my heart as does the demon death, now that you have entered the portals of the spirit world. O child! Arise once more and speak with me." Another commences:—"O child! I vainly seek your spirit, that we again may rest together."

In many of these laments the stricken one is implored to awake from the sleep of death and rise once more to take part in the doings of this world. Thus, in the lament of Rum of Tuhoe for his child, he sings:—"O Hiku, sleeping there, cease thy slumbers. Bestir thyself and rise, ere sinks the westering sun."

In another such a mother beseeches her child to pause and turn back ere entering the spirit world, that she may weep over him once more:—"The mists float above Puke-hinau, where passed my beloved child. Turn back, O son! Return to me, that I may weep anew."

The following lament is an old one, and contains interesting allusions to old historical traditions and curious beliefs regarding the spirit world. It illustrates well a remark made by Mr. J. C. Andersen:—"Like Milton, the Maori is fond of proper names, packed full of allusion, and it is the names that make the great stumbling block. To Europeans they convey nothing, and it is the names that prevent Maori poetry being better appreciated." This is an apt remark, and we shall see that, even in cases where a song can be translated, a great deal of explanation has often to be added, ere the meaning of the composition can be made clear. The song is a lament for one Rangi, a girl, daughter of Tu-te-pewa-a-rangi and his wife Ihunui-o-Tonga, who flourished about seventeen generations ago at what is now known as Miramar peninsula, Wellington district. When composing this lament, the mother was sitting on a knoll in a hill fort called Puhirangi or Tuhirangi, situated on the ridge near Fort Gordon, and gazing out at the restless waves rolling across the entrance to the harbour, evidently leaning forward as her thoughts followed the spirit of her daughter across the vast ocean by the 'broad way of Tane' to the far distant motherland of the race, page 192and on to the spirit world. The following is the song in the original:—

1"Pa rawa i e te tahakura
2E homai tohu ki au
3Kia oho ake e te ngakau.
4Ko wai rawa koe e tahu nei i a au?
5Ka haramai e roto, ka kai kohau noa,
6Ka waitohu noa.
7Tenei tonu ia koe, e te kahurangi
8Ko wai rawa ka hua ko koe tonu, e Rangi . . e!
9Whatatai noa atu e te tinana
10I a au ki roto o Puhirangi,
11E rauwiri noa mai ra a Hine-moana i waho.
12Tena ia koe ka riro i te au kume
13Ki Tawhiti-nui, ki Tawhiti-pamamao,
14Ki te Hono-i-wairua i runga o Irihia.
15Kia tika to haere ki roto o Hawaiki-rangi;
16E mau to ringa ki te toi huarewa,
17I kake ai Tane ki Tikitiki-o-rangi.
18Kai urutomo koe ki roto o Te Rauroha;
19Kia powhiritia . . a mai koe e nga mareikura o roto o Rangiatea
20Ka whakaoti te mahara i kona ki taiao, E hine . . e!"

Herein we have ten proper names that call for explanation, omitting Rangi (name of the dead girl), and Tane, one of the most important of the offspring of the Sky Parent and Earth Mother. In line 1, we note two peculiarities; the vowel i has here no meaning and may be viewed as an excresence, being introduced for the sake of euphony, to lengthen the smooth vowel sounds and so cause the line to seem in agreement with the air and the demands of the native ear, a peculiarity common in Maori song. The word tahakura, like io tahae, tamaki and some others, denotes a twitching of the muscles, an occurrence always viewed as an omen of either good luck or ill luck, according to circumstances. The mother had experienced such an evil omen prior to the death of her daughter, which fact unsettled her, made her uneasy and apprehensive of some approaching misfortune. Thus she asks who is so influencing her, little thinking that, subconsciously, her loved daughter is warning her of the coming separation. This is allied to another curious belief of the Maori: When a native is stricken with a serious illness, perhaps in a moribund condition, you may perchance hear a bystander say—"Ko Mea ma kai te karanga mai," meaning that dead relatives are calling to him from the spirit world.

page 193

Line 3, explains the mental uneasiness, the perturbed mind caused by the warning, hence the question in line four and the peculiar use of the word tahu, apprehension is kindled by the warning. In line five kohau implies vague apprehension, and line six illustrates undefined warning.

In line 7, we see how the warning was brought home to the mother—'and after all, O lady girl, it was you,' kahurangi being a term denoting the daughter of a family of rank. In line eight we read the wail of the mother heart—'Who indeed would have that it was you, O Rangi!' Now at last she knew what the vague warning meant.

Line 9, explains the position of the mother, as she sits on the hill top, with body inclined forward (whatatai) as she looks seaward, while in line 11 she tells us what she saw, Hinemoana surging restlessly without, the unrestrained rolling sweep of the waves across the harbour entrance at Para-ngarehu (Pencarrow Head). Hine-moana, the Ocean Maid, is the personified form of the ocean.

In line 12 the mother addresses her daughter as having, in spirit form, fared forth upon the currents of the great ocean to Tawhiti-nui, a land whereat her ancestors sojourned during their voyage eastward from the homeland in times long past away, and onward still to Tawhiti-pamamao, to the old homeland of the race, whither all spirits of the dead return. Onward to Te Hono-i-wairua, the sacred meeting place of all spirits, on the mountain of Irihia. At this place is situated Hawaiki-rangi, the ediface in which all souls of the dead congregate ere passing to spirit land. In this line (15) she speaks directly to her child, and tells her how to proceed. 'Grasp with your hand the toi huarewd' (the whirlwind path, a sacerdotal expression), 'by means of which (17) Tane ascended to Tikitiki-o-rangi' (the uppermost of the twelve heavens). Line 18; 'That you may enter the Rauroha' (a division of the uppermost heaven occupied by female attendants of Io, supernatural beings called mareikura). Line 19—'To be welcomed by the mareikura within Rangiatea,' (an edifice in the uppermost heavdn, the abiding place of the Supreme Being Io, in which was preserved all high class learning, occult knowledge, sacred symbols, etc.)

Line 20.—'There shall remembrance of this world fade away, Omaid!'

The lengthened a of powhiritia (19) is to satisfy the demand for euphony. The word taiao (20) denotes this world, as opposed to, or distinct from, the spirit world, the world of death, the Po, as seen in the old saying "Ko te Po tē hokia a Taiao" (The Po whence Taiao cannot be returned to). The word rauwiri (11) implies something undulating or sinuous, a wattled fence is called a rauwiri. page 194It here denotes the regular, ceaseless roll of the waves.

The following is a rendering of the above song:—

"Oppressed am I with omens and their signs,
Perturbing to my mind.
Who indeed are you who thus afflicts me?
Causing with warning vague and formless fear
This restlessness within me?
And was it you, indeed, O cherished one,—
Who would have thought that you would go, O Rangi!
Weariness my body bends, as I,
Here, in Puhirangi sit
Looking lornly forth on Hine-moana
Surging unrestrainedly beyond the headlands.
But you have gone, borne on the ocean stream
To distant Tawhiti-nui, to Tawhiti-pamamao,
To Te Hono-i-wairua on Irihia.
Fare safely on, and enter Hawaiki-rangi;
Seize as it passes that uplifting wind
Upon which Tane of old ascended
To Tikitiki-o-rangi.
That you too may enter Te Rauroha,
To be welcomed by spirit maids in Rangiatea
There shall remembrance of this world cease,
O maid,—Alas!"

Such is the song composed by Ihunui some four hundred years ago, when the tribe known as Ngai-Tara occupied the Wellington district.

All laments for the dead are termed tangi, as also are songs bewailing misfortune. A person might compose a song commiserating himself on account of some ill fortune, often for what we would consider a most trivial cause. For instance, one such has been recorded that was composed by a man bewailing the loss of an eel pot, and another records the grief of a man who had lost his fish hook, yet another, that of a person who had lost a pet bird. One expresses the self pity of a man whose wife had deserted him. The writer knew a case in which a man composed a lament for his own sad condition in suffering from skin disease. Many such instances might be given.

Perhaps the most peculiar and unusual lament known of, is one that was composed for a defunct pig. The first pig seen and acquired by the Ngati-Porou folk of Waiapu was highly prized and carefully tended. When it died a lament was composed for it as though it had been a member of the family, as indeed it may have been, for we are told that native women not infrequently suckled young pigs in former times, and Polack tells us that he saw a pig comfortably in bed between two girls.

The facility with which natives compose songs is quite remarkable, though nowadays such efforts as laments are mostly composed of fragments culled from old ones. In former times some specialists appear to have passed much of their time in song making; such were page 195Mihi-ki-te-kapua, a woman, and Piki, a man, both of theTuhoe district, who have a large number of songs to their credit. Topeora, a Ngati-Toa chieftainess, was another composer of many songs.

One of the most prolific causes of song making was the readiness of the Maori to take offence, combined with the custom of retaliating by means of song. Such songs were often of the incisive kind known as ngeri, betokening ridicule or contempt. Should a person consider himself belittled, or slighted, he would, in many cases, retaliate by means of composing and singing such a song, whereupon the subject of it would possibly endeavour to get satisfaction by composing another, perhaps a more virulent one. Such effusions as these were often of the haka type, and accompanied by posture dancing, in which insulting gestures were probably employed. All a man's relatives would rally round him at such a time, in obedience to the laws of communism. The rhythmic swing of song and action is very effective in such cases.

The Rev. R. Taylor tells us that, in Maori song 'the metre is difficult to describe, there being no regular measure of verse; the chief object is to make the lines suit their tunes.' The present writer is, unfortunately, unable to give any satisfactory description of native songs, but can merely make a few general remarks, being but a dull eared Ridsdaler. With regard to the measure of our waiata Maori; in recording these, we seldom show the true line limits, the line as it is sung even unto the hianga or dropping of the voice at its end. For instance we are apt to divide a native song thus:—

"Te rongo o te tuna
E hau mai ra
Kai Te Papuni, kai a Wharawhara."

Whereas it is sung:—

"Te rongo o te tuna e hau mai ra kai Te Papuni, kai a Wharawhara."

This is rendered throughout in a peculiarly even tone to our ears, though not without slight modulations of the voice, and the voice is dropped by lengthening the final vowel sound. As to whether this should be designated a line or a stanza, let those skilled in song craft decide. It is necessary, however, to show where a line ends with the hianga, and this is usually done by repeating the vowel, as a . . a or e . . e . . e. The above song proceeds:—

"Nau te whakatau, 'Te uri o Mahanga whakarere kai, whakarere waka … a . . a.'
'Te uri a Tuhoe moumou kai, moumou taonga, moumou tangata ki te po . . o . . o'
Hinga nui atu ra ki te aroaro o Hine-i-reireia . . a
To kiri wai kauri na Wero i patupatu . . u
Tarahau nga iwi, e, tarahau ki runga o Mohaka . . a . . a
Tarahau nga wheua, e, tarahau ki runga o Tangitu . . u
Kia kai mai te ika i Rangiriri . . i"

page 196

Observe herein the length of the first and second lines, as compared with the fourth and seventh. At each line end the voice drops as it prolongs the final vowel sound.

There are few natives who cannot sing, and time keeping seems to be a natural gift with them. Formal speeches (whai korerd) were much indulged in, and all who strove to appear as good speakers frequently broke into song, and interspersed their narratives with aphorism, simile, and proverb. Indeed most important communications were not seldom made in song, as the following incident shows:—

When Governor King returned Huru and Tuki to their homes in the far north in 1793, these natives asked of the first Maoris seen the news from their native district—"This was complied with by the four strangers, who began a song, in which each of them took a part, sometimes using fierce and savage gestures; and, at other times, sinking their voices according to the different passages or events that they were relating. Huru, who was paying great attention to the subject of their song, suddenly burst into tears, occasioned by an account which they were giving of a tribe having made an irruption on Hum's district and killed the chief's son with thirty warriors."

In many cases there seems to be no division into whiti (verses, divisions), but in some cases the longer effusions are so divided. This applies not only to songs but also to ritual chants. These whiti, or upoko, differ considerably as to length.

It should be here explained that the hianga is not always expressed by a lengthening of the final syllable of the line, in many cases other vowel sounds are so employed:—

"Ka taketake taua ki te ao marama . . e . . i."

Also in:—

"Waiho ra, ē, me ata kaupehi iho . . e . . e
Kia ata tukutuku ra ē, i te aho rangi . . e . . e."

In these last lines we note another peculiarity, the introduction of a meaningless ē in the middle of a line. This is solely for the sake of euphony, and appears again in the following—

"No te matenga, ē, o te whanau a Tato . . e
No te matenga, ē, o te whanau a Paikea . . e
To ratau matenga, ē, i te Whiri-purei . . e."

This ē does not represent a dropping of the voice, but is employed as a euphonious glide between the short a and o or i. Thus the sound a-e-o was more grateful to the composer's ear than the more abrupt a-o. It may be as well to give the Maori vowel sounds here, as they page 197are misrepresented in some publications:—

a The English păpā illustrates both the short and long sounds. This Maori vowel has never the flat 'a' of mat. It is the 'a' of 'father', but may be short or long.
e As in egg, enter, end, in sound, but may be short or long.
i The sound of 'i' in piano, but may be short or long.
o As in English pose, note, but may be short or long.
u The sound of oo in boot, short or long.

A lullaby composed for Niniwa of Wai-rarapa long years ago, is reduced to writing in this manner:—

"Torikiriki ana te tangi mai i tawhiti,
Ko Niniwa-ki-te-rangi… e
E tangi, e nine, kia whakarongo mai
Reikura, Reiaro, Reimaru . . e."

Here again one line is written as two, the hianga . . e denotes the true line end and fall of the voice. There is no vocal change at the words tawhiti and mai.

Another peculiarity noted in some songs is the lengthening of vowel sounds in other positions than at the end of a line:—

"Nga roro whare i Pa . . aki . . ipa . . aki . . i (Pakipaki)
Moana i takahia e Ku . . upe . . e (Kupe)
Te hau ki Ka . . ati . . ika . . ati . . i (Katikati)."

This lengthened vowel sound is occasionally heard in ordinary speech, and seems to emphasise or stress the importance of the word so distorted. Thus in the word pakupaku (small) all vowels are short, but the writer has often heard natives, mostly women, pronounce it pa . . a . . akŭpăkŭ, followed by noa iho, to denote exceeding smallness.

The most peculiar arrangement of a Maori song on record is probably that of the famous ritual chant composed by Tuhoto-ariki for the child Tutere-moana, of the Wellington district, as it appears in Vol. XVI of the Journal of the Polynesian Society. This shows blank verse style with a vengeance; the punctuation is eccentric and misleading, and even personal names are ruthlessly dismembered, while there is no indication of where a line concludes in many cases.

"Ka riro mai a Rua-i-te-pukenga, a Rua
I-te horahora, ka hokai tama i a i a"

is a sample. But what specially rouses the present writer's ire in connection with this fine poem is the introduction into the paraphrase of absurd myths concerning which not one single word appears in the original, viz, the description of the Christian hell at page 198page 50. These so called translations tell us of the 'realm infernal', where—

"No light appears, no single gleam,
An awful gloom for ever reigns."

Also that Whiro—

"With horrid reptiles rules this dismal hell!"

Again, of those who have slain men, they tell us—

"These go to hell, the vilest spirits there ….
The place of sighs and groans."

The whole of this horrible description is pure invention and illustrates no form of Maori belief. The poem is a remarkably fine one, couched in an obsolete mode of diction of great interest, only seen in ritual chants. Why spoil it by deliberate mis-statement? Myths and quaint beliefs it contains in abundance, but nothing dreadful, as are the Christian teachings of ghastly agonies of the human soul after death. The Maori had no such beliefs. If allowed to pass unchallenged, this rendering quoted will be accepted in the days that lie before.

In some cases a difficulty is experienced in reducing native songs to writing, with regard to arrangement of lines, as when one copies a native M.S. and does not hear the song sung, but such line division and punctuation as the following it is hard to excuse:—

"Ka waiho nei hei papa mo te kakano
Korau, a Iranui."*

In this passage korau assumes the function of an adjective qualifying kakano, and the line should end with Iranui. Also the comma after korau destroys completely the sense of the passage, and transforms the name of a person into a proper name for certain seeds.

To continue the quotation after Iranui:—

"….hei papa mo te kurnara
I maua mai e Tiunga-rangi, e Haronga
Rangi, ka waiho nei hei mana mo Mahu
Ki Marae-atea, tenei e Tama te whakarongo
Ake nei, etc."

Maori poetry may possibly be described as blank verse, but the above is chaos with a vengeance. The first line should end with Iranui, the second with Haronga-rangi, the third with Marae-atea, where a full stop should be. Tenei certainly commences a new subject and a new line, which is emphasised with a vocative of which no notice is taken, but which is of importance, inasmuch as it calls for certain vocal

* See Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. XVI., p. 46.

page 199inflections. The line should be recorded thus:—

"Tenei, e tama! te whakarongo ake nei."

It might be considered advisable to capitalise the vocative e, as E tama! (O son! or O lad!). If written as e and followed by no note of exclamation, it assumes the form of the preposition e (by). Tama is not a proper name here.

Punctuation of these songs is of great importance and calls for much care. For example a passage in the above stanza reads thus:— "Te tiaki whenua ko te kuranui te manu a Rua-kapanga i tahuna e to tipuna e Tamatea ki te ahi tawhito." This, by the omission of the comma after kuranui and again after Rua-kapanga, presents the following jumble: The land guardian was the kuranui the bird of Rua-kapanga burned by your ancestor Tamatea with supernatural fire.

But enough of this carping at the shortcomings of others, for we are all careless in the writing and rendering of waiata maori (native songs). The truly wise man is he who makes no attempt to translate them.

There are several favoured modes of commencing a song. One of these is the allusion to stars and planets, as in the following:—

"Tera Tawera ka mahuta i te pae."
(Yonder is Tawera rising from the horizon)
"Tera Tariao ka moid ki runga."
(There is Tariao suspended above)
"Tera Whanui tauriporipo o te rangi."
(Yonder is Vega encircler of the heavens)

Often the moon is mentioned:—

"Tera te marama ka mahuta ake i te pae."

When, however, the sun is alluded to in an opening line, it is usually in connection with its setting:—

"E to, e te ra, to atu ki te rua."
(Descend, O sun, sink into the abyss)

Clouds are also frequently alluded to:—

"E rere, e te ao, e kume i runga ra."
(Rise, O cloud, and stretch upward)
"Tera te ao pango ka hikitia ake."
(Yon dark cloud raised on high)

Such celestial phenomena as lightning, thunder, rain, meteors, etc., are not infrequently introduced:—

"Tera te uira e hiko i te rangi."
(Yonder is the lightning flashing in the heavens)

page 200

A much favoured mode is an allusion to the shades of evening:—

"E muri ahiahi takoto ki te moenga."
(As shades of evening fall I recline on my couch.)

Of which there are slight variations, such as:—

"E muri ahiahi takoto iho ki toku moenga."

Also at such a time affection for absent friends or deceased relatives is more keenly felt:—

"E muri ahiahi ka totoko te aroha."

Which same is a peculiar and most expressive sentiment. As shades of evening fall one's thoughts turn to loved friends; emotions are aroused. Mountains, hills, and other natural features of the land often serve to introduce some subject:—

"Tera nga matamata ki Poronui."
(Yonder are the headlands at Poronui).

Omens often caused a person to express apprehension of some approaching misfortune in song, and so are mentioned, as in the following:—

"He aha kai taku ihu? He whiti tamaki nei."

An allusion to a certain sensation of twitching or prickling in the nose, believed to portend some trouble.

Bird song or cries are alluded to, but very seldom imitated or represented, as in the following:—

"E tangi mai a te manu nei a te piopio
(The thrush bird sings, etc.)

One of the most common modes of commencing an initial line is with the negative kaore (not, none) though, curiously enough, it does not seem to be employed in a negative sense, but rather to emphasise a remark, as in:—

"Kaore te aroha ki te tau ra."
"Kaore te aroha i a au."
"Kaore hoki koia te mamae."
"Kaore te matao te timo mai ki te kiri."
"Kaore te roimata hua noa i aku kamo."

A number of songs commence with the expression 'Nei ka noho,' in which nei seems to be but a shortened form of tenei, hence it equals 'Tenei ka noho'—Here I sit. Also in ra we apparently see an abbreviated form of tera, as in 'Ra te haeata hapai ana mai' (Yonder the dawn appears).

page 201

It is a noteworthy fact that much of tribal history, myths, and other prized knowledge was embodied in song. This is specially noticeable in two classes of songs, laments for the dead, and oriori, songs composed at the birth of a child, and which may perhaps be called lullabies. Take for example the long oriori composed for Tutere-moana referred to above, eight long verses and each one of them packed with references to ancient myths and even brief recitals of the same. The same peculiarity is noted in the song of Ihunui given above.

Laments for the dead were very numerous in former times, and these are still composed, though not so generally as of yore. Another very numerous class was composed of what may be termed time songs, such as tewha or working songs, boat songs, songs accompanying log hauling, war dances, etc., while a host of others pertained to various exercises and games. Many of these songs had choruses; in such as were employed to emphasise or call for strenuous united action, as the to waka, or canoe hauling songs, every alternate line was often rendered as a chorus. Thus in many songs the fugleman was a necessity and a prominent figure, persons of both sexes acting as such, according to the nature of the song and the accompanying performance.

Song was employed by the Maori to an extent unheard of in civilised communities, he broke into song when making a speech, relating information, asking for assistance, and on countless other occasions. He also set to work and composed songs for what we would deem to be the most trivial causes, or subjects. As no explanation is given in these songs of a letterless folk, it follows that most of them are difficult to understand, and to translate. To do so, it is often necessary to understand the circumstances under which the song was composed, and the application of proper names employed therein. The native appreciation of personifications, allegory and metaphor, and the introduction of these elements into song, are confusing to the stolid mind of civilised man.

Colenso remarked that Maori poetry, while generally destitute of what a European would call rhyme and metre, wonderfully abounded in strong natural sentiment, in pleasing and suitable utterances, and in fit, often beautiful, imagery. He also draws attention to the native use of simile, and references to natural phenomena.

It has been observed that the finest specimens of native songs are all old compositions, and that modern songs are largely based on old ones. The writer once had an opportunity to observe the composition of a song by a man and wife who wished to lament the death of a page 202neighbor's child. The task of composing a short song occupied them about three quarters of an hour, but an examination of it showed that it was largely the result of plagiarism.

Thomson, in his Story of New Zealand, remarks:—"Much care was taken to preserve uncontaminated the airs of ancient songs, for although ignorant of complicated music, many New Zealanders have correct ears for time and tunes." He might have said that practically all the Maori people possess that faculty.

Nicholas makes the following curious statement:—"It is somewhat remarkable that almost all the songs that are sung in New Zealand are composed by some tribes living in one part of the island, called by Europeans the East Cape, the inhabitants of which seem alone to have engrossed the favour of the muses, and may be exclusively considered as the bards of their country." In this matter Nicholas was undoubtedly in error; all the Maori folk were gifted with powers of poetic expression, and all communities contained individuals to whom song making was a pleasing task.

Cook, in his account of the Maori, remarks:—"They sing with some degree of melody the traditions of their forefathers, their actions in war, and other indifferent subjects; of all which they are immoderately fond, and spend much of their time in these amusements, and in playing on a sort of flute."

Polack wrote as follows:—"The voices of the females are pleasing and flexible, and in young persons are clear and musical, capable of and fitted for cultivation."

At page 169 of Maori Mementoes may be seen one of the curious songs with superfluous syllables added to many words therein. When such extraneous syllables are cut out, the meaning is clear, as:— 'Ki (wi) te hau (wu) raro e (we) ata pu (wu) puhi mai (wi) '. These puzzling songs were a form of amusement indulged in by young folks. Te and some other syllables were introduced in a similar manner. A specimen is given in Sir G. Grey's Nga Moteatea. An element of interest in many of the older songs consists of the archaic, sacerdotal, and obsolete expressions employed, as also allusions to old customs and half forgotten legends. In some we note references to the moa, a creature that must have been extinct for centuries past. Song often entered into narrative and tradition, and thus a number of songs and ritual chants of olden times have been preserved in oral traditions.

It was perhaps owing to widespread ability in songcraft and in singing that there was no special class of bards among Polynesian peoples, but it is doubtful if they would have tolerated such a system in New Zealand, with their communism and peculiar customs. page 203Universal service in industries and war was the rule, no exemptions were made of artisan, aristocrat or poet.

Maori songs may be lacking in rhyme and metre, but the rhythmical epics of the Maori conserved much sacerdotal, historical and mytho-poetic matter, while the intoning of such production in sonorous tones by adepts is eminently euphonious and pleasing.

Forster, who accompanied Cook on his second voyage, has not much to say on the subject of Maori singing, but closes with the remark:—"I shall now dismiss this subject with the following observation, that the taste for music of the New Zealanders, and their superiority in this respect to other nations in the South Seas, are to me stronger proof in favour of their heart than all the idle eloquence of philosophers in their cabinets can invalidate."

In his account of Tahiti this writer says:—"One of the youngmen had a flute made of a bamboo, which had but three holes; he blew it with his nostrils, whilst another accompanied him with the voice. The whole music, both vocal and instrumental, consisted of three or four notes, which were between half and quarter notes, being neither whole tones nor semi-tones. The effect of these notes, without variety or order, was only a kind of drowsy hum, which could not indeed hurt the ear by its discordant sounds, but made no pleasing impression on our minds."

Wilkes tells us that in his time (1839-40) the native music of Tahiti had been forgotten, adding the remark that 'Social amusements are prohibited by severe penalties.'

It is not considered worth while to give a list of all names of native songs of different classes. Some of such names are merely local, and others are synonyms. The following short list will illustrate to some extent methods of song nomenclature:—

Waiata.—A generic term; the common term for all songs. Waiata tangi—a lament. Waiata aroha—a love song. Waiata whaiwhaia—a sorcerous chant possessing powers of black magic. Waiata mate kanehe—a song expressing affectionate desire. Waiata whaiaipo— literally a sweetheart song. Waiata karakia—charms, incantations. Waiata popo—lullabies. Waiata whakamdnawa taonga—songs sung when receiving a formal present. Many other such sub-titles might be added.

Tau.—This is not so general a term for songs as waiata, and as a rule the name seems to be confined to ceremonial songs, songs sung on ceremonial occasions. A song so introduced into a formal speech to visitors, or to a clan meeting, is called a tau marae (marae=the plaza of a village, where meetings are held and visitors page 204received). Another is the tau manu, a peculiar ceremonial and semisacerdotal chant rendered by a party of fowlers when entering the village on returning from the forest. The tau waka appears to be the same as the to waka, or canoe hauling time song.

Puha. Peruperu.—These names are applied to vigorous war songs of the ngeri type, sung to accompany equally vigorous dances.

Whakaaraara pa. Mataara pa.—Watch songs sung by sentinels on watch at night in fortified villages.

Mata. Matakite. Kite.—Songs of an oracular nature composed and sung by seers who thus disclose the result of divinatory rites.

Whakatea.—A song jeering or upbraiding members of a defeated war party. A similar song, called manawa wera was sung on like occasions, rendered by relatives of the slain, who arrayed themselves in old ragged, dirty garments for this function.

Pioi.—A song of exultation sung by successful warriors, as they brandished heads of slain enemies. One is given at page 144 of Nga Moteatea.

Pihe.—A song sung over bodies of the slain.

Apakura.—A dirge or lament. Te Tangi a Apakura=The wailing of Apakura, is an expression denoting the moaning sound of the ocean, a sound coupled with ideas of sadness and death. Apakura is a personage in Maori mythology.

Ngeri.—This name includes many songs of the haka type, possessing a peculiar measure appreciated by natives. They are rhythmical and are delivered with fierce energy and most energetic posture dancing. They often express derision, contempt, etc., and are sung in order to avenge insults, etc. Milder specimens denote ridicule, or even good natured raillery. The air of such effusions differs widely from that of the ordinary song, such as a lament. A song composed for the purpose of putting a person to shame for some slight or wrong committed, was sometimes called a hahani. The tutara seems to be such a song composed by a deserted or insulted husband, and directed against his erring wife. The tumoto is an incisive style of ngeri, while the kai oraora expresses savage and deadly hatred, a desire to slay, cook and eat enemies against whom it is directed. These fierce compositions were, in some cases, the product of women, widows of men slain in battle, or possibly in some treacherous manner.

Tangi or Waiata Tangi.—Laments. All laments and dirges come under this head, not only such as mourned the dead, but also such as were composed in order to bewail any misfortune, however trivial. Owing to the word aroha having several meanings, such as page 205love, sympathy, pity, etc., a waiata aroha may be a true love song, or a lament, or one expressing commiseration. The tangi taukuri seems to express self pity, while the tangi tikapa, or tangi whaka kurepe is a wordless wailing accompanied by peculiar swayings of the body, quivering hands, etc.; it is much practised in mourning rites. Tangi whakahoro and tangi maru seem to imply two modes of wailing. These mournful scenes are practised, not only when mourning the dead, but also when long parted friends meet. The meeting of families who have not seen each other for some years is a most peculiar scene, not to say distressing. The Maori much appreciates these ceremonial functions, and is ever ready to shed crocodile tears galore on the least provocation. The Rev. R. Taylor wrote as follows:—"But the chief amusement of the females was, and still is, the tangi, or crying; the women pride themselves on doing this in the most affecting way, so that a stranger would be deceived, and not think it possible that it could be a mere mockery of woe, and yet it is nothing more."

Umere.—This name is applied to short songs rendered in haka like measure and which serve as a poean, or expression of pleasure on making a good haul of fish, or of satisfaction anent some other good fortune. The expression 'Ka tangi te umere' is equivalent to our word of applause.

Oriori. Whakaoriori. Waiata popo. Whakatakiri.—All these names are applied to songs sung to infants; these are sometimes what we would call lullabies, others were not sung with any intention of putting a child to sleep.

Ruri.—Songs often accompanied by gestures.

Rangi.—A word meaning air, or tune, and also applied to songs accompanying flute playing (rangi koauau), and the tapping of the pakuru (rangi pakurii), also the poi posture dance (rangi poi). A transposed form of this word, ngari, is sometimes employed in a similar way, as in ngari tititouretua, a song sung while playing with the touretua sticks. The song sung to the movements of the karetao, or jumping jack, are by some styled oriori karetao.

Hautu waka. Tuki waka.—Both these names are applied to boat songs, or rather canoe songs of the time song order, and in the rendering of which a fugleman, termed kaihautu, or kaituki, was employed.

To.—Any hauling song is termed a to, thus to waka is a time song used when hauling a canoe. The same kind of songs were employed for procuring concerted action when a heavy ridgepole or stockade post had to be hauled from the forest.

page 206

Tewha.—All working songs appear to be included in this term, but perhaps more particularly those pertaining to agricultural work.

Ko kumara. Whakatapatapa kumara.—These names are applied to planting songs chanted or intoned by those engaged in preparing the ground for the planting of the kumara (sweet potato) crop. These chants are sometimes described as karakia by natives.

Atahu. Iri.—These names refer to a peculiar class of songs or chants that may be described as love charms, hence they are properly included as karakia.

Keka. Tukeka.—A dirge or lament. Also sometimes applied to songs of the haka type.

Whakawai.—Songs sung while a person is being tattooed, as being helpful to him, or her, in enduring the pain of the operation, are known as whakawai tanga moko or 'tattooing beguiling.'

There are other song names, and classes of song of minor importance, as the patere, hari, maire, ruriruri, etc., but some of these names are apparently synonyms for others. Peculiar songs were taught to captive tui birds, others appear in fable as being sung by spirits, fairies, birds, insects, and even by things inanimate, as mountains. The range of Maori song is certainly far reaching.

Karakia.—This is a class of Maori chants that does not properly belong to our subject, save in some of its minor illustrations. The term karakia is somewhat loosely applied to many different forms, its use is most comprehensive. It includes every form of invocation, incantation, charm, spell, and similar compositions, from the most tapu chants addressed to the Supreme Being down to simple charms and even puerile jingles repeated by children over their toys. Karakia entered into every department of life, at all ages of the individual, into all industries, and in fact pertained to almost every act it was possible to perform. There were karakia repeated over the newly born child, as the tohi or tua; a special one, the tuku, to enable him to be born, another when the umbilical cord was severed, another to lift the tapu from mother and child, another when they were received by the people on their arrival from the 'nest house.' Others pertained to marriage, divorce, sickness, death, burial, exhumation and reburial. Each form of affliction, of illness, wounds, burns, toothache, headache, fractured bones, blindness, etc., etc., required its special charm. The cutting of a person's hair called for two charms, the acceptance of a present demanded another, a journey required several. Some hundreds pertained to sorcery, witchcraft, and their nullification. Fishing, snaring, trapping, cultivation of food products, tree felling, canoe making, house building, sea voyaging, war, etc., called for a multitude of charms and incantations. These compositions were page 207used on the most trivial occasions, also in connection with the most important and serious matters. They ranged from ancient ritual charms of considerable merit, couched in archaic language, down to rude couplets and apparently meaningless nonsense. A few rose to the level of invocations, none were true prayers from our point of view, the great bulk were recitals that embody no form of request or supplication. Many are largely composed of what seems to be utterly irrelevant matter. Inasmuch as these sacerdotal chants do not come within the scope of this paper the subject, albeit one of considerable interest, will not be pursued any further.

Any collection of Maori songs must necessarily contain a number of laments for the dead, as also others that are simply dubbed 'songs' (He waiata), in which the object of the composer is sometimes not apparent. Apart from these two classes, a list of song subjects at hand reads as follows:—

  • By an old woman bemoaning her lone life, her children having married and left her.
  • By a person accused of theft.
  • By a woman accused of loose conduct.
  • By a woman accused of inhospitality.
  • By a man vilifying his wife, who had deserted him.
  • A lullaby sung by a woman to a doll carried by her because she had no child.
  • By a man reviling a person who had stolen his pig.
  • A song sung at a peace making ceremony.
  • By a man, because his wife had laughed at him.
  • By a person suffering from illness.
  • A love song.
  • By the mist goddess when she abandoned her earth born child.
  • By a woman because some one had slapped her.
  • A prophetic vision regarding the issue of a fight.
  • A song complaining of a scarcity of food.
  • A song welcoming visitors.
  • A song attributed to the mosquitoe.
  • A song sung by a captive bird.

Many other subjects might be mentioned, for the Maori would compose a song for any trivial matter.

When, in the days that lie before, some enthusiast decides to devote time and study to Maori poetry, he will make the discovery that it does not explain itself in many cases, that a great number of such songs cannot be satisfactorily translated without assistance from natives acquainted with them. Quite apart from the use of archaic and obsolete expressions, there is much to puzzle one. page 208Abrupt changes of theme, cryptic utterances, lack of explanations are but a part of one's troubles. Words and brief phrases are repeated, often in an alliterative manner, possibly for the sake of effect, as imparting a rhythmical swing to the singing or intoning of the ritual or song. The following is an example; it is a tau manu, chanted on the return of a party of fowlers from the forest, laden with vessels containing potted birds:—

"Tena taku manu he manu hua, he manu punga
He manu nui na Tane nui a rangi
I makaia ki waho, i makaia ki tai, i makaia ki uta.
Huri atu ki tua o nga paepae maunga, o nga paepae moana,
He ara taurite, he ara tau rawa
He ara haere i raro, he ara haere i runga
Maiangi, maiangi ki taha tu, maiangi ki taha to,
Maiangi ki taha uru, maiangi mai ki te waotu a Tane.
He puhi tapu, he puhi wareware, he puhi taka mai ki taku aro
He aro ka nguha ki au—E Punaweko . . e . . i."

With the exception of the proper name Punaweko (personified form of land birds) the above does not contain more than one word not found in dictionaries of the native tongue. Yet how many students of that tongue could translate it correctly, or even be reasonably near its true meaning? No one but a beginner would do so without assistance from a native acquainted with the idioms employed.

Of the peruperu type, the following is probably the best known example:—

"Kia kutia
Au! Au!
Kia wherahia
Au! Au!
Kia rere atu te Kawana ki tawhiti
Titiro mai ai
A ….e! A ….e! Ha!"

The words here amount to nothing. Kia kutia—to be closed, as the right arm of every man, brandishing gun or spear, was swung into his breast, accompanied by the deep grunting sound Au! Au! Kia wherahia—be opened out, as the arm swung out again, with the gun gripped by the muzzle, but high in air. 'May the Governor fly afar off, and gaze at us.' What made the function effective was the roar of the well timed voices, the wild brandishing of hundreds of weapons in perfect time, and the rhythmic thud of the stamping feet.

Watch songs seem to have been brief compositions in all cases. The following is a fair sample:—

"Be watchful
O be wakeful
Be watchful this division
Be watchful that division
page 209 The enemy shall be caught
Outside the fortress walls
Fighting and struggling
Be watchful."

There are many songs of the matakite class on record in Nga Moteatea and the Journal of the Polynesian Society. These were composed by priestly mediums of what are termed war gods, spirit gods consulted by their human mediums with regard to the result of a proposed attack. The answer of such a god was received by the medium, who often disclosed it to the people in the form of song.

In the style of delivery employed in the ngeri type of song the lines are as it were chopped into short lengths, with which the rhythmic motions agree:—

  • "E hiakai ana ahau ki Kai-mokopuna;
  • a, ki te okiokinga o te upoko-kohua nei a Te Urewera.
  • Such is the mode of delivery of the lines:—
    • "E hiakai ana ahau ki Kai-mokopuna;
    • A, ki te okiokinga o te upokohua nei, a Te Urewera."

In the better specimens of oriori, songs specially composed at the birth of children, and sung to them by parents or attendants, are often contained many references to incidents in tribal history and mythology. The following example is given as a specimen; it is so packed with such allusions that a translation of it into English would carry but little meaning, so numerous are the proper names employed and the explanations that would have to be made. This song was composed by one Tiwha, of the Wairarapa district, for Niniwa-ki-te-rangi, female infant of Hine-hoaia:—

"Torikiriki ana te tangi mai i tawhiti
Ko Niniwa-ki-te-rangi …. e.
E tangi, E hine! Kia whakarongo mai Reikura, Reiaro, Reimaru …. e.
Nga tangata tena nana i kai to ratau taina, te kumara;
Te tama, e, a te tane murimanu a Pani, a Tainui-a-rangi …. e.
E tangi, E hine! He morehu ra hoki taua
No te matenga, e, o te whanau a Tato
No te matenga, e, o te whanau a Paikea …. e
To ratau matenga, e, i te Whiri-purei …. e.
No te hokinga mai o Paikea i waho ra …. e
Ka noho i a Mahamaua, ko Ue-te-koroheke
Ko Tahunui, nana ko Iranui, ko taua …. e
E tangi, E hine! He morehu ra hoki taua
No te puta ra i Rawhitiroa;
No te puta kakari, e, i mate ai Purupuru;
I whati mai taua i a Pae, i a Kahu-tauranga,
I a Kahu-tapere, i a Rakai-pāka;
I mahue ai to taua kainga, Turanga-nui-a-Rua.
page 210 Haramai taua, ka haere i te ara,
Ka whai i a Kahu-paroro kia puru Kahu-paroro ano,
Ka whai Hauhau, ko Hauhau ano;
Ka ora te ngakau o te iwi mate.
Ka haka a Hinekura i tona haka i Te Wairoa, koia Tieketia.
E haramai taua, ka haere ki Ara-paoanui …. e
E whai ana hoki Taranga-kahutai;
Ka rere Hinepare ki runga ki a koutou tangi taukuri ai.
Akuanei te hanga kino o tenei wahine ka matakitakitia e era tangata.
Ka tahuri atu ona tungane tete mai ano, pahore mai ano;
Ko tana puta kakari ko Waikoau;
Ka mate i reira a Rakai-weriweri.
Haramai taua, tae mai ki Herepuka;
Ka whaihanga Taraia i tona whare,
Ka maka i tahana potiki hei whatu mo te pou tuarongo;
Ko Te Rangi-akiaki …. e.
Nou anake, E hine! Nga putake i riri ai nehe ra
Ka pai ai e nga tangata ko Te Raupare, ko Hinekiri a Kaipaoe;
Ka riro i a Ngaoko-i-te-rangi, tapapa noa a Te Hauapu …. e
Whai taua ki Tiunga ra, kore noa iho;
Ka whakatika ki runga, he rau te moenga o Ngai Te Ao.
Haramai, a hopukia taua i Raukawa ra e noho ana;
Katahi ka hoatu ko Uetokitoki, ko Wai-kekeno, he pa horo;
No te hokinga mai ki muri ra, ko te puta kakari,
Ko Opiango, ko Kaitahi …. e
Tau rawa mai ki te kainga nei, ka pāha ki Whaitiri-nui
Ko Kaiwai ano ki Mangotai, ko pipitini o te manu;
Ka kukume te tangata ki te po
Katahi ka hoatu ko Rakai-te-taha, ko Te Koau,
Ko Manga-hinahina, ko Nga-hape.
Whakaawatea ake ko te puta kakari ko Ue
Ka kitea i reira to te tane tona ahuatanga.
Noho mai, E hine! I hutokia ai te ure o tipuna
I to ratau nohoanga i Wai-o-pakarea;
Mo Waere, mo Tupai, mo Te Atinuku
Ka atea nga tataramoa ki tahaki;
Ka waiho te kainga ki a taua.
Haramai, E hine! Ma runga i te hiwi ki Te Ahirara nei
Whakatekateka mai ai he whenua
Ka moai noa hoki i o tipuna,
I a Te Whare-mako, e, i a Whakahemo;
Te tangata i a te mango i roto o Whare-ngaki …. e …. i."

Here we have a composition that differs widely from what we would deem a suitable song to sing to an infant. The matters referred to in it could not be learned by the subject for many years, and would not be understood by her until she was well grown. We must conclude that this was a method employed in the preservation of tribal lore, also it would familiarise a child with names mentioned in traditions and myths which such child would be required to learn in later years.

We will now see how this matter reads when rendered into English:—"Faintly from afar sounds the wail of Niniwa-ki-te-rangi. Wail, O maid! That Reikura, Reiaro and Reimaru may listen to thee. They are the persons who consumed their young relative, the page 211kumara, the child of the second husband of Pani (named) Tainui-a-rangi." Here we have references to personages and occurrences in Maori myth that need much explanation, which is not given. It may be that one purpose was to cause a child, as he, or she, grew up, to make inquiries as to the meanings of such names or allusions. The song proceeds:—"Wail, O maid! We are but survivors of the defeat of the offspring of Tato, of the defeat of the offspring of Paikea; their overthrow at the Wbiri-purei. When Paikea returned from seaward, he took Mahamaua (from whom sprang) Ue-te-koroheke, and Tahunui, who had Iranui, and us. Wail, O maid! We are but survivors of the battlefield at Rawhitiroa, of the field of combat where perished Purupuru, when fled we from Pae, from Kahu-tauranga, from Kahu-tapere, from Rakai-paka; abandoned was our home at Turanga-nui-a-Rua."

So it proceeds to refer to old time wars, defeats, movements of tribes, and other troubles that make Maori history, almost every line calling for long explanations. Some passages are especially suggestive, one refers to the ancient custom of human sacrifice at the building of a new house—"So came we on and arrived at Here-puka. Taraia constructed his house, and placed his child, Te Rangi-akiaki, as a whatu for the rear ridgepost." The whatu of a house is some object buried at the base of the rearmost pillar supporting the ridgepole, and which acts as a mauri, a shrine or resting place for the gods in whose care the house has been placed.

The following song is worth recording. It is a lament for Te Kekerengu, son of Whanake and Tamairangi, of Porirua. These were the principal chieftains of the Wellington district early in last century. In the twenties these folk were expelled from the district, and Te Kekerengu was slain in the South Island, at a place since known by his name:—

"He aha rawa te hau e tokihi mai nei ki taku kiri . . e . . i
He hau taua pea no te whenua . . e . . i
Waiho me kake ake pea e au ki runga o Te Whetu-kairangi
Taumata materetanga ki roto o Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara
Aue ki au! E koro ma . . e . . i
Ko Matiu, ko Makaro anake e kauhora noa mai ra
Nga whakaruru hau taua i etahi rangi ra
Naia koutou ka ngaro i a au . . e . . i
Kai aku mata ki nga one ka takoto ki Waitaha raia
Ka ngaro whakaaitu i a koutou.
E koro ma! E kui ma . . e!
Tera pea koutou kei o takanga i roto o Porirua ra
Ko wai au kite atu i a koutou
E koro ma . . e . . i! Aue . . i!
Me kai arohi noa e aku mata
Ki o titahatanga i Arapaoa ra . . e . . i.
Te ata kitea atu koutou
E koro ma! E kui ma! . . e . . i
page 212 I te rehu moana e takoto mai ra . . e . . i
Tena rawa pea koe kei tapuae tahi o Tuhirangi
E taki ra i te ihu waka, koi he koe i te ara ki Te Aumiti
Kei whea rawa koutou e ngaro nei i a au.
E koro ma! . . e . . i
Tena rawa pea koutou ki roto o Taitawaro e ngaro nei . . e . . i
Ko te waro hunanga tena o Tuhirangi
Nana i taki mai te waka o Kupe, o Ngake, ki Aotearoa
Ka mate Wheke a Muturangi i taupa o Raukawa
Koia Whatu kaiponu, Whatu tipare
Ka hai (?)* atu ki Te Aumiti e whakaumu noa mai ra
Tauranga matai o Te Koau a Toru paihau tahi
E kai mai ra ki te hau
Ka ngaro raja koutou i a au, e koro ma! . . e . . i
Tena pea kei roto o Wharerau i Waipuna
Kei roto o Tiritiri te moana, i roto o Pukerua
Ka wehe nei koutou i a au . . e . . i

Here we have another composition containing many proper names pertaining to places, persons, traditions and myths. The following is a rude rendering of the song:—"What truly is the wind that strikes upon my skin? Haply the breeze of war from distant lands. Let me ascend Te Whetu-kairangi, the vantage point to view Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara. Ah me! O Sirs! Matiu and Makaro alone lie spread before me, that sheltered us from war's alarms in other days, but now you all are lost to me. My eyes rest on the strand that lies yonder at Waitaha, lost unto you by hapless chance. O Sirs! O Dames! Perchance you yet frequent your old resorts in Porirua; but who indeed may see you. O Sirs! Alas! Let my lack lustre eyes scan your wanderings at Arapaoa. But dimly seen are ye, O Sirs! O Dames! Through sea haze spread before me. Haply ye haunt the lone way of Tuhirangi, he who guides the canoe prow, lest ye estray upon your way to Te Aumiti, Where indeed are ye hidden from me, O Sirs? Perchance ye are hidden within Tai-tawaro, the chasm wherein Tuhirangi lies, he who guided the canoe of Kupe and Ngake to Aotearoa, when Wheke a Muturangi perished at bounds of Raukawa, hence Whatu kaiponu and Whatu tipare. On to Te Aumiti that yawns afar, the vantage perch of one winged Koau a 'Toru, that assaults the raging winds. Lost unto me are ye all, O Sirs! Perchance within Whare-rau at Waipuna, in Tiritiri o te moana within Pukerua; thus are ye separated from me."

  • Te Whetu-kairangi.—A hill fort on Miramar peninsular.
  • Te Whanga nui a Tara.—Wellington Harbour.
  • Matiu and Makaro.—Somes and Ward Islands in Wellington Harbour.
  • Waitaha.—A place at Lyall Bay, western side.
  • Arapaoa.—Same as Arapawa Island.

    * Hai, possibly for whai.

    page 213
  • Tuhirangi.—The Maori name for Pelorus Jack.
  • Te Aumiti.—French Pass at D'Urville Island.
  • Tai-tawaro.—The hole, abyss, or depth in which Pelorus Jack is said to live.
  • Kupe and Ngake.—Two early voyagers to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesia.
  • Aotearoa.—New Zealand. North Island. Said to have been so named by Kupe, the voyager.
  • Wheke a Muturangi.—A huge octopus said to have been killed by Kupe at Nga Whatu, the Brothers rocks in Cook Straits.
  • Raukawa.—Maori name of Cook Straits.
  • Whatu kaiponu.—Same as Nga Whatu above.
  • Whatu tipare.—Same as Nga Whatu above. So called because strangers, when passing those rocks, had to cover their eyes, lest disaster overtake them.
  • Te Koau a Toru.—Also Te Kawau a Toru. The Cormorant of Toru. See Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 2, p. 147, for a singular myth concerning this creature. Toru is said to stand for Potoru, an early voyager to these isles.
  • Tiritiri o te moana.—An expression applied to far flung ocean spaces, the ocean waste. It is possibly a place or house name in the above song.

Tylor, in his Anthropology has drawn attention to the fact that prose, poetry, and song shade into one another, and are not three clearly distinct things. This is particularly noticeable among such a people as the Maori, among whom prose and poetry coalesce much more than they do with us, song and ordinary speech being more interchangeable. In many cases where we would only employ prosaic speech, the Maori intoned his utterances in a very remarkable way, as when asking a stranger who he might be. Tylor makes a very apt remark, as follows:—"Much of poetic art lies in imitating the expressions of earlier stages, when poetry was the natural utterance of any strong emotion, the natural means to convey any solemn address or ancestral tradition." He shows that early man talked in metaphors taken from nature, not for poetic affectation, but simply to find the plainest words to convey his thoughts; that the purpose of poetry was to be chanted, and not recited or read, as with us.