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

Formula Employed in Case of Difficult Birth

Formula Employed in Case of Difficult Birth

He karakia whanautanga tamariki tenei. Ka uaua te puta mai o te tamaiti i te whaea, koia tenei:

Tane, Tane i te kaukau nui, Tane i te kaukau roa
Manawa mai hoki ki te awa rerenga ariki, e Tane!
Manawa mai hoki ki to aro, ki to pia, ki to puhi
Manawa mai hoki ki te putanga tauira nau, e Tane!
Hikihiki, e Tane! ki to aro
He aro nui, he aro ki te ao marama, ki te whai ao.
He manawa hoki, e Tane! nou ki te uru tira
Ki te uru tapu, ki te uru ora ki te ao marama
Ki te kaukau nui, ki te kaukau roa
Ka tau, ka tau ki te kauru ora
page 18 Tenei to uru tapu, tenei to uru ora
Waerea te paepae tapu, waerea te paepae tea, waerea te paepae whenua
Ka taka i Aromea, i aronui he puputanga parapara
He putanga wai maukuuku nou ki te whai ao
Ki te ao marama, ki te urn ora
Haruru te rangi ko to ara
Haruru te whenua ko to ara
Haruru te ahuru tapu nou
Ko to ara ki te whai ao, ki te ao marama
Ki te uru tipua, ki te uru tapu, ki te uru ora nou, e Puhi . . e . . i.
Ngatata te wawa, ngatata te uha
Ngatata to aro, ngatata to ara
Ngatata he uru ora nou, e Puhi! ki waho nei
Auaha ki maui, auahi matau . . e
Uea nuku, uea aro whenua he ara tapu nou
Huri ake, huri iho ki te aro i au, e Puhi-ariki!
Ki au ki to aro . . e.

Ka pakia te tipuaki o te whaea e te ringa maui o te tohunga i tenei wa; ka mea te tohunga. (At this juncture the crown of the head of the mother was touched by the left hand of the priestly expert, as he repeated the following)—

Matahiki to ara, to tapuwae ki te ao . . e . . i.

Ka whanau te tamaiti i konei. (Now the child would be born.)

With regard to the position assumed in labour, the Maroi woman diverges widely from European usage. She kneels down with her knees wide apart, while her female attendant squats down in front of and facing her. They clasp each other's bodies under the armpits and the attendant uses her knees whereby to assist expulsion, working from the morenga o te poho (see above) downward. Were our hapu overtaken away from home, as in the forest, then she might perchance construct a pae whakaruru (also termed pae whakairi) as a substitute for the knees of the nurse. This structure consisted simply of a pole lashed in a horizontal position to two vertical stakes or saplings, and at a convenient height above the ground line. With this help she would obtain the desired pressure; and herein we read another lesson of self-help and of the tempering of the wind.

The iho of the infant was severed by a female attendant, or tapuhi, or possibly by some other female relative of the mother who was an expert at the task. It was severed with a keen flake of stone, sometimes a form of rehu or korahi, these names being applied to such stones as chert and flint, or possibly of obsidian. In some cases a desirable flake was rendered keen-edged by being ground on sand-stone, and it might be preserved by the family and used by succeedingpage 19 generations. The two terms given above seemed to the writer to have been used as denoting a thin stone flake, though the first mentioned, rehu, is also employed as the name of a kind of stone.

Any articles required at such a juncture would be provided before-hand, and so be at hand when required. Several materials were used for tying the iho, and one of these consisted of a thin stem of a creeping-plant called makahakaha that is found growing on sandy areas, as near a sea-beach: it is not a climbing-plant. A piece of this was scraped and smoothed, then coiled up and placed in water in order to keep it soft and pliable. Prior to being used it might be soaked in oil for a while, possibly oil expressed from the seed of the titoki tree. A strip of "lacebark" (inner bark of the houhi tree) was used as a bandage to put round the infant's body. This inner bark is known as repehina. The measure employed when severing the iho is said to have been a konui (the length of the first or outer joint of the thumb). In some cases it was longer, even as much as a koiti (the length of the little finger), for an expert might remark, "He poto te konui, tukua ki te koiti" ("The konui is too short; make it a koiti").

The iho was tied by the female attendant, or another expert, close to the body of the child prior to its being cut, and it was then smeared with titoki oil. A short piece of "lacebark" was likewise oiled and placed over the pito, over which the belt-like bandage of bark was placed and secured. The nurse would examine the infant each day and attend to washing it, in which tow from Phormium fibre (hunga-hunga, kakunga whitau, or waninga whitau) was employed, obtained by scraping the dressed fibre, and not directly from the leaf; it served the purpose of a sponge.

The severed iho was often buried, in other cases it was placed in a cleft in a rock or tree, often on a boundary-line of land in which the infant would have rights of ownership. If buried, a wooden post or a stone might mark the spot, which would ever after be known as "The Iho of—" (whatever the child's name might be). We shall

see anon that it was sometimes buried at the place whereat the baptismal tohi or tua rite was performed over the infant.

There were evidently many different ways of disposing of the severed iho, even in a single district. A stone at Matahiia, apparently a natural form, in shape something like a dumb-bell, like the stone forest mauri at Maunga-pohatu, has a plugged hole in it, and this part is termed by Natives the pito. It is highly probable that this served as a repository for the pito of an infant, inasmuch as this method of disposing of such things was evidently common in that district. It may be described as a takotoranga pito tamariki. A resident of the district tells me that it was a local custom to bore a holepage 20 in a post, plug it with a piece of wood, and term it a pito. Assuredly that plugged hole contained the pito of an infant. From this same district came a carved double wooden image (now in the Auckland Museum) representing two human figures back to back. On examining the image the late Mr. Cheeseman found in it several plugged auger-holes, and these contained a child's pito, a child's penis, and some hair, apparently that of an infant. Natives of the same district, Waiapu, told me that, in former times, an infant's pito was sometimes placed in a seed-pod of the rewarewa (native honeysuckle), which pod resembles a canoe in form; then a charm was repeated over it and it was placed on the surface of water, presumably a stream. Should the diminutive craft capsize, the fact was looked upon as ominous of evil; if it did not do so, then fortune would smile, presumably on the child. Evidently a divinatory performance, several forms of which pertained to the baptismal rite.

Similar methods of disposal of these objects were practised at the Hawaiian Isles, as seen in vol. 7 of Occasional Papers of the Bishop Museum of Honolulu, No. 2, p. 259. In the case of the Matahiia stone, my informant told me that certain rites of the miri aroha class, connected with divorce, were formerly performed at or over it. If this was so, then the stone was evidently deemed to possess mana.

Concerning the hair found in the plugged hole, I was once told that when an infant's pito was buried at the pou uekaha, close by the paparoa, or place of baptism, the same place might serve as a depository for the hair of its parents, when they had it cut. The Maori had very peculiar views as to the disposal of his shorn locks.

Maori myth provides several illustrations of the Caesarean operation, as in the story of Tura the Voyager, and in the singular folktale of Hinepoupou, for which see the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 3, pp. 100-104. In Chalmers's Pioneering in New Guinea, at p. 77, we find a reference to the same story as collected in that land.

An uncorroborated statement made by a Ngati-Kahungunu Native was to the effect that families of high standing were wont to have, at the tuahu, or tapu place of their village home, a special spot whereat the iho of all infants of such a family were deposited. The spot was marked with a stone, under which was a small rectangular pit lined with stones and covered over with a flat stone; it resembled the takuahi, or small stone-lined fire-pits used in dwelling-huts. This small cist was termed a waka taupu; occasionally the dried ewe of the mother was deposited in it. My informant claimed to have seen one of these stone cistellas. This item is doubtful until corroborated, but is here given in order to record it.

page 21

In the story of Ngarue and Uru-te-kakara (published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 34, pp. 297, 298-312) one can see how careful women of position were as regards cleaning themselves and newly born infants and how particular they would be as to the water used. The condition of tapu would be exaggerated in their cases.

With regard to twins: The Kahungunu folk told me that the first-born was deemed the most important, inasmuch as he was the first to enter the world of light. Hence this first-born infant would be marked in some way for identification purposes. At the same time the other, the later-born, infant is believed to be more virile and robust, and so the old saying "Te potiki whakahirahira" may be applied to it. But the Tuhoe people informed me that the firstborn of twins was viewed as an interloper hanging on to the outside of the "nest," and so in some cases it was slain.

The ewe, or whenua (afterbirth) was buried at some place where it would not be walked over by any person—often near the turuma (latrine). Such things possess harmful powers in Maori belief. See the above-mentioned paper in the Journal of the Polynesian Society for many strange beliefs and superstitions pertaining to birth.

After the mother, her infant, and attendants had abandoned the "nest house" that temporary hut was destroyed. Any such paraphernalia as mats used thereat would be collected by the tohunga, conveyed to the turuma, and there burned. His also was the duty of lifting the tapu from the site of the whare kohanga. The hut also was destroyed by fire. In the ceremonial removal of tapu, parents of the mother or her husband would consume the food utilized in such rites. It would not be seemly were another person able to say "Naku i kai tuatahi ki taua whare kohanga" ("It was I who first ate food at that nest house"). The hut was destroyed by fire lest the materials thereof be used in after-days in food-cooking operations—a serious calamity and insult. The removal of the tapu would allow persons to pass over the site of the hut without giving offence. In some cases, however, places remained tapu for quite a long period, even for many years. A place near my camp at Ruatahuna twenty years ago had then been in that condition for thirty or forty years.

An old saying of the Maori folk is as follows: "He puta taua ki te tane, he whanau tama ki te wahine." ("The battlefield with man, child-birth with woman"). These be the strenuous times, the ordeals of the two sexes. And again, "He wahine ki uta, he kahawai ki te moana" ("A woman on land, a kahawai [fish] at sea"). Both are ika toto nui, and, in times of stress, give the same evidence thereof.

The following remarks were sent to me by Hori Ropiha, of Waipawa, in 1893, in a written communication. They appear in thepage 22 original Maori in No. 1 of the Addenda:—

"Women of the Maori folk did not die in childbirth [formerly]; although a native woman might give birth to many children, yet she would not in any case die. Maori women were of a fine type, robust and healthy, and wise in matters pertaining to childbirth; they did not succumb. In these times many native women die [in childbirth]; the women who so die in a single year may perchance amount to one hundred, or even as much as two hundred.

"Now, this affliction that causes native women to so die emanates from the use of European medicines, also from European foods, also from European clothing; the complaints that afflict Europeans are more numerous than the famed tairo of Kupe. Another source of weakness is the fact that the mana of the Maori has been abandoned, and his ritual formulae, and his tapu and all its rules, his clothing and his foods. The Maori folk have become Europeanized, as also the foods, and clothing, and remedies, and so many complaints now afflict the native women."

My old correspondent spoke as a true Maori when he stressed the effect of the abandonment of old beliefs, institutions, and practices. This was a very common conviction among men of his generation.

Here commences a rendering of the main narrative as it appears in the original, with interpolations.