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The Whare Kohanga (The "Nest House") and its Lore

The Whakato Tamariki Rite to Cause Conception

The Whakato Tamariki Rite to Cause Conception

When it was considered advisable to enlist the services of a tohunga, or priestly expert, in order to cause a woman to conceive, his first act was to inquire as to which sex was desired. Having obtained this information, he then provided himself with a leaf, and, with a sharp-edged stone flake, so cut it that in outline it resembled the human figure. On this leaf image he marked such features as the eyes, nose, and mouth, also the sexual organs. He then conducted the woman to some tapu or retired place, spread a mat for her, and on this mat she lay. He now recited over her a certain formula, the effect of which was to absolve her from the hampering effects of any wrong acts, indiscretions (hara), that she may have committed in the past. This absolutory rite pertained not only to offences against the laws of tapu, but also to what we term moral offences. This act of whakahoro left the subject in a condition of purity, considered highly necessary in cases wherein the gods were to be invoked for the benefit of the subject. This aspect was specially stressed when the name of Io, the Supreme Being of Maori belief, occurred in the ritual formulae recited.

Having concluded the absolutory formula, the expert then took the leaf image in his hand and repeated another formula directed to Io, asking that the woman be endowed with the powers of Hine-ahu-one, the first of all mortal women, the Earth-formed Maid—that is to say, the power of child-bearing—that she might be rendered fruitful, even as Hine was by, the mana of Io, and so bear a male or female child. (Kia homai te mana o Hine-ahu-one, kia tamatane, kia tama-wahine ranei.) He then drew aside the woman's cloak so as to expose her body down to the navel, took his stand at her feet, facing her, and, holding the leaf in his left hand, he recited:—

Tenei tama ka tu, he tauira nau, e Io . . e!
To manawa ko te manawa o Hine-ahu-one
Tenei ka tau.

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As he concluded the above formula the priestly expert laid the leaf on the woman's body below the lower extremity of the breast-bone, the morenga o te poho. The leaf image was deposited with the face-marked side downward and the head of the figure toward the woman's head. He then drew the cloak over the woman's body and so covering the leaf, whereupon he continued his recital of the charm. The balance of this formula the writer did not obtain.

The Maori held that the seed of life is with man, and that woman represents the sheltering and nurturing bed or receptacle for that seed, and so result conception and growth. The seed of human life emanated from Io, and man is the repository of the ira atua; a strain of divinity is inherited by mankind. Ever the Maori folk laid great stress upon this belief. (Kei te tane te purapura, kei te wahine te papa hei whakaahuru. Ko te kai whakaahuru ko te wahine, e tipu ai nga mea katoa; he tauira hoki te wahine na te tane. Ko te kakano o te atua kei te tane; na Io-matangaro te purapura.)

When the officiating expert had finished his recital the whakato rite was over, save the lifting of the tapu. Ere leaving the spot he secured the leaf used as a symbolic medium, and placed it within a piece of bark, after which he deposited it at the wahi tapu, or sacred place of the village. When, in after-days, the woman was about to be confined, he would recover the leaf, take it to the whare kohanga' or lying-in hut, and deposit it near her pae urunga (pillow). This is said to have been done without her knowledge. It might be shown to her after the birth of the child.

There were other methods and mediums employed in the whakato rite in some districts. At Kawhia is a famed stone named Uenukutuwhatu that possessed the strange powers of causing women to conceive. Similar powers were held by a hinau tree that stands, or stood, at Ohaua, in the Tuhoe district, a parallel to the famous cedar of Gilgit on the Indian frontier. The former tree was known as Te Iho o Kataka, and an account of the necessary procedure on the part of applicants has been published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 15, pp. 5, 6.

The term kunenga denotes conception, the assuming of form, the commencement of the acquirement of form. The Maori held that the eyes were the first parts of the embryo to so acquire form, hence the expression "Ka whakawhetu tama i a ia." Subsequently other parts acquired form. (Te kunenga mai o te tangata, ara te timatanga o tona whakaahua i a ia. E ki ana nga kaumatua ko nga whatu tonu te timatanga o te ahua, no muri nga wahi katoa.)

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The wairua (spirit or soul) is said by the Maori to be implanted in the embryo when the eyes assume form. The phrase "Ka karapinepinete pu toto i a ia" denotes the coalescing of clots to form the embryo, while "Ka riro mai a Rua-i-te-pukenga," &c., illustrates the implanting of the soul and the dawn of intelligence.

When a woman of the important ariki class was known to have conceived, then rejoicing would ensue among members of the village community, and her status would be enhanced. In special cases one or two female attendants might be assigned to her at this juncture, and these were termed tapuhi, but apparently this was a rare occurrence. These attendants would be woman nearly related to the wahine ariki; one further removed might possibly exercise some malign influence.

Another old Maori tikanga (usage) was the collection and presentation by the people of gifts to mark their pleasure and appreciation of the fact that the wahine ariki would carry on the aho ariki, or aristocratic family line. Such gifts would consist of superior garments and articles of personal decoration—whales' teeth, sharks' teeth, or other prized objects.

The following ritual is said to have been recited by Tane the Fertilizer (personified form of the sun) over his daughter Hine-titama (the Dawn Maid) in order to cause her to conceive, the result being the birth of her daughter Hine-rau-wharangi:—

Tenei au he awhi nuku, he awhi rangi nau, e hine ki au!
Koia takere rangi, koia takere nuku, koia takere wai
Takere wai uriuri ki te whai ao, ki e ao marama
He wai nui, he wai tinana, he wai kai, he wai oti rangi
Ka rukutia, ka tuhikitia, ka tu hapainga he uriuri
Ka tupu, ka toro, ka whakaiho tangata
Toro te akaaka, toro te iho nui, te iho roa
Ka whakaupoko, ka whakaringaringa,
Ka whakawaewae, ka whakatinana mai koe
Tu takawhaki nuku, tu takawhaki rangi, e tu whaitiri i paoa
Ka puta i tua, ka puta i tawhito ngawariwari
E tu takawhaki karihi, e paoa ki roto ki te pokopoko nui nau, e
Rangi . . e!
Tapiki tu, tapiki nuku ki te whai ao, ki te ao marama, e hine . . e!
He kauru nui, he kauru roa ki au nei, e hine . . e!
Whai ake, whai ake ki te putahi na karihi
Whakahoro ki roto te pu nui, te pu matua
Tapi tapae [?] auaha ki uta, auaha ki roto
Auaha ki te pae kura, ki te pae kapukapu, ki te pae nau, e Pauinuku
E puapua i taweke, e puapua, e hanahana
E werewere, e katitohe, e kamu to hanahana
Ki karihi ora, ki karihi auaha nui, auaha puru
Heke to pia, heke to ware, heke to nguha ki tenei aro, e hine . . e!

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Even so was Hine-rau-wharangi born during the Aonui branch (month) of the Orongonui season.

In cases where women desired to forgo the pains and pleasures of bringing children into the world, a peculiar rite known as taupa, whakapa, and kokoti-uru was performed over them. In this ceremony symbolism again appeared in the introduction of a stone; the trend of the meaning of the charm employed was that the woman should become as barren and unproductive as the stone.