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

The Tohi Rite or Baptismal Ceremony

The Tohi Rite or Baptismal Ceremony

No ceremonial feast was held on the day when the greeting speeches were made to the infant, the grandparents, and parents.* The food-supplies and all gifts were put aside until the time when, the pito of the child having fallen in the "nest house," it was conveyed to the water and baptised. (The proper name of the hut was whare puhi; the name whare kowhanga was the ordinary or popular name.) The woman in that hut would announce the coming away of the pito of the infant—that is, of the kahurangi, for it was a child of rank; the announcement would be made to the priestly expert. That expert would then say, "On the morrow, when Tama-nui-te-ra [the sun] has risen, the infant will be taken to the water and baptized."

After that, in the night as dawn approached, or at early dawn, the priestly expert would despatch two other priests to seek a suitable place for the baptism of that infant. The baptism of that child would be carried out at a place useless for the purposes of man, and one that would not be likely to be traversed by people. Such a place was sought, and, when found, then the seekers returned and informed the priest—that is, the chief tohunga—that it had been so found. Then the head priest would go to the male elder of the father's side, also to the male elder of the mother's side. Should one of these persons be dead, then he would have speech with a younger brother, who would take the place of the defunct one. Then this remark would be made: "On the morrow our grandchild will be baptized; seek a fine cloak as a couch for our grandchild." Subsequent to that notification those two persons appointed would proceed to the selected place, taking with them a mat and some cloaks. Should the infant be a male, then a paepaeroa (fine dress cloak) and a mahiti (cape adorned with dogs' hair) would be the sole garments so taken.

* This statement must be read as meaning that the principal ceremonial feast was held on the day of the baptismal rite, when the gift food-supplies formed part of the provender. What may be termed a minor feast was certainly held on the day of the maioha or koroingo, the ceremonial greeting of the infant.

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The two experts would conduct the people to the prearranged place. Then the mat would be spread at the edge of the water, quite close to it. The two fine cloaks would then be arranged on the mat, the upper parts being placed at the edge of the water. The fine dress cloak would be arranged first, then the mahiti would be spread over it, but in such a manner as to leave the decorated borders of the fine cloak exposed to view.

At this juncture the mother was being conducted to the place, together with one of the tapuhi or female attendants of the father's side, and one of the mother's side; these were to so conduct the woman with her child. One would be in front and one behind, with the mother of the child between them. After them came the husband—that is, the father of the child; the correct procedure was for him to carry the infant in his arms. The elders of both sides followed behind, whether female or male; no other persons were included.

The priestly experts would have arrived previously at the place selected for the baptism of the child. When the procession was seen approaching, then the garments of the two experts would be discarded, so that they had no garments on save a form of apron. One of them would enter the water and take his stand at a place whereat the water reached his navel. The other expert took his stand to the right of the seat of the wife—that is, of the paparoa—the spot whereon the fine cloaks had been spread.

When taking their positions the first female attendant advanced, skirting the rear of the paparoa, and took her stand behind the expert. Then the mother of the child came forward and stepped upon the spread garments, taking her stand in the centre thereof. Then the other attendant came and stood at the left of the paparoa. The father of the child then came; with the infant carried in his arms, and advancing by the rear to the right side, whence he stepped on to the paparoa. The mother was the only one who advanced in a direct manner to stand on it. The father then handed the infant to the mother head foremost, so that the face of the child would be facing the priest standing in the water. (All stood facing the priest in the water, who stood on the eastern side of the paparoa.) The head of the infant should rest against the breast of the mother; on account of the feebleness of the child's neck it was deemed advisable to so place it. All these persons faced the east. The infant would not be baptized at any place whereat the people would be facing the south or west, but only where they could face the east or north, no matter how distant such a stream might be.

Then the grandparent of the infant—that is, the father of the male parent of the child, he who bore the iho of the child, the pito that hadpage 30 come away—came forward and took his stand behind his son, the father of the infant. (The grandparents of the infant refrained from standing on the paparoa; they kept behind it; the parents alone stood on the spread cloaks. These punctilious observances were held to enhance or accentuate the importance of the child.) The father of the mother of the child then came and stood behind the puhi—that is, the female attendant on the left side of the cloak-covered spot. Their wives stood immediately behind the paparoa. Then the expert, standing at the right side of the paparoa, stretched forth his hand to receive the iho. That expert was known as the tohunga whakairi. The title of the expert in the water was tohunga tohiora. Such were their titles when they were performing the ceremony, apart from their ordinary names.

The iho was enclosed in a receptacle fashioned from bulrush-leaves or rushes by means of a plaiting process. There was a recognized name for that receptacle, but I have forgotten it. That iho would be handed over to the expert; the grandparent who brought it would hand it to him. Should the child be a female, then the father of the mother of the child would be the bearer of the iho; were the child a male, then the male parent of the father of the infant would carry it, and also hand it to the priest. As that priest took it in his hand, then the voice of the tohiora priest in the water was heard chanting the following:—

Papa, papa te whatitiri i runga nei
Ko Takamaitu, ko Takamai-i-awea, ko Takamai-te-ahurangi
Tenei au he tama tu, he tama ora na Io matua te kore
Ki te pu, ki te weu, ki te akaaka matua, ki te akaaka rangi
Ki te akaaka no Papa matua te kore
Ko wai taua? Ko Tawhiri-rangi
Whakaiho nuku, whakaiho rangi ki tenei tama
He uri tipua nou, e Rangi!

Here the hand of the tohiora (baptismal expert) was plunged into the water so as to take some up in his hand, which water was sprinkled over the wife and her husband as they stood on the paparoa. Again the priest chanted—

Ko te iho nui, ko te iho roa, ko te iho matua ki a koe, E Io!
Io mata ngaro ki te pu, ki te weu ki Tiritiri o Matangi.

(The first of the above two formulae calls upon the thunder of heaven to resound, the names given being proper names of phases of thunder—a loud crashing peal, distant rumblings, and lastly several loud reports. The reciter then announces that he is a follower of Io and a proper person to perform such an important rite, and, if the thunder sounds at his demand, then the ceremony acquires manapage 31 therefrom. The second recital seems to be equivalent to dedicating the child to Io the Parentless in the uppermost heaven.)

At this juncture the thunder would resound, without fail (though I did not hear any thunder when Karauria was baptized*). The tohunga whakairi (assistant expert) then handed the iho to the chief priest, who, with his right hand, dipped it in the water and intoned the following words: "Whakaea, whakaea ki runga te iho nui, te iho roa, te iho matua o tenei tama, o [Child's name repeated] ki a koe, E Io te wananga o Tikitiki o Rangi." Here ended the formula pertaining to that action. The officiating expert would have previously been made acquainted with the name assigned to the infant.

The assistant on the bank then took the iho from his chief with his left hand, it being passed to him in the left hand of the superior; it was then handed to the male parent of the infant, who stood there with the receptacle in his hand. The assistant then took the infant, supporting its head with his left hand and its legs with his right hand, which hand represents strength and virility, and so is termed the male hand, the ringa tamatane. Should the infant be a female, then her head would be supported by his right hand and the legs by his left hand, and the left hand was called the female hand, the ringa tamawahine. He then faced the superior expert and recited—

Tenei tama he tupe, he tupe rangi nau, E Io matua te kore . . ! As he chanted these words he was advancing toward the superior expert; as he finished his chant he would have reached him. The infant was handed over so that its head rested on the left arm of the chief expert and its legs on his right hand—that is, if it chanced to be a male; if a female, then its legs rested on his left hand. Then the chief expert chanted this formula:—

Naumai, e tama! Whakaputa i a koe ki runga te turanga matua
Marama te ata i Ururangi, marama te ata i Taketake nui o Rangi
Ka whakawhenua nga hiringa i konei, e tama!
Naumai, e mau to ringa ki te kete tuauri, ki te kete tuatea, ki te kete aronui
I pikitia e Tane-nui-a-Rangi te ara tauwhaiti ki te pumotomoto o Tikitiki-o-Rangi
I karangatia e Tane ki a Huru-te-arangi, &c.

(Herein the infant is called upon to enter into the tapu sphere of influence of the Supreme Being, the realm of light and life, and

* Karauria, father of Airini, was baptized (tohia) about 1846 at Tapu-te-ranga (Watchman Isle) in the Inner Harbour at Napier.

page 32 therein acquire all high-class knowledge, as represented by the three kete, or receptacles of occult lore. He is called upon to grasp those receptacles, to gain which Tane ascended by the whirlwind path to the uppermost of the twelve heavens, when he called upon the parent of the winds, who sent the Wind Children to assist him. Then were heard the sounds of gentle winds and fierce, the rush of whirlwinds, by means of which the twelve heavens were scaled.)

Having finished his recital, the priestly expert immersed himself and the infant in the water until the water reached the neck of the child. He would clasp the infant's body with his left arm, and then, with his right hand, take up water and sprinkle it over the child's head, after which he would stand up. He would then recite the formula pertaining to the oho rangi rite, which causes thunder to resound. Should the roll of thunder be heard in the east or north, then such was viewed as a mauri ora, the welfare of the infant was assured. Should it sound in the south or west it was a bad omen for the infant's future: in all probability he would never attain manhood.

(In another version of this account of the baptismal rite we are told that as the expert sprinkled the child with water he repeated the following words: "Uhi rangi . . e! He tahatu no Rangi" The explanation of this was that, at this juncture, clouds would ascend from the horizon and render the sky overcast. Again the expert dipped his hand in the water and then drew his wetted hand lightly across the infant's face, at the same time repeating; "Maura hikitia, mauri hapainga, mauri ora ki te whai ao, ki te ao marama" This effusion entreats the infant to be diligent and exact in his higher duties, to follow lines of thought and ceremonial observances as approved by his elders, and asks for his continued welfare in the world of life. Such was the explanation given, though this must be taken on trust so far as the present writer can see.)

The mother then took the child; she and her husband stepped off the spread cloaks and mat, which were then turned back as so to expose the ground they had covered. The chief expert then grasped a stout pole, sharpened to a point, that had previously been prepared, and proceeded to punch a deep round hole in the ground after the manner Maori. This was effected by punching the sharp end into the earth, moving it to and fro in order to enlarge the hole, then deepening the hole by means of another vigorous downward thrust, until the hole was deemed to be deep enough. This hole was formed in the centre of the paparoa site. The expert then took the iho from the father of the child with his right hand and deposited it in the hole.page 33 He then reversed his implement, and, with its blunt end, tamped some earth down on the iho. He then placed a number of stones, say six, in the hole, and tamped more earth down on the top of the stones. As he did so he repeated the following:—

Tukia i Wharerangi ko te ngaruru mai rangi
Te mata a tohi kura ko Apa i te ihonga.

This recital is said to refer to the buried stones in the hole: they are "tamped at Wharerangi," which was the abode of Tane. Ngaruru mai rangi is an expression applied to thunder on the East Coast; tohi kura is a form of the baptismal ceremony; while Apa-i-te-ihonga is one of the whatukura, or denizens of the uppermost heaven.

As to the buried stones, the method followed was to so bury one stone for each night (read "day," as the Maori counted time by nights) during which the mother had experienced the trials of childbirth. If that period should last for ten nights, then no stones were buried, because the child would be a wayward and perverse person. Neither would experts consent to the depositing of stones in cases of miscarriage. The iho or pito was buried as a tohu (a sign or proof), and the spot would be ever after known as "The Iho of—." In any subsequent disputes over land boundaries, or mana over surrounding land, the buried stones served as proof that the child's elders had mana over the land whereon the stones had been buried. Their knowledge of the number of stones so buried might also be useful at such a crisis, and so it might be asked, "E hia nga po o taua tamaiti?" in inquiring the number of stones buried. One would reply "He mea" (so-many). Then the spot would be visited and the stones examined. (Ka tikina ka tirohia aua kohatu, mehemea e hia ranei.)

In his account of Uenuku-titi, the semi-human daughter of Ihu-parapara by Uenuku-rangi, Te Matorohanga seems to show that the pure rite was sometimes performed prior to the tohi or tua rite, the former being carried out at the tuahu, or tapu place of the village, and the latter, of course, at the wai matua or wai tohi (baptismal waters). Uenuka-titi was subjected to the pure, and it was then proposed that she be tohia (baptized); but Tamatea, husband of Ihu-parapara, said, "No! Her name has been tohia by her father in the realm of Hine-moana." (Ka purea a Uenuku-titi, ka oti, katahi ka kiia kia kawea ki te wai tohi ai. Ka ki atu a Tamatea ; "Kaore,) kua oti tona ingoa to tohi e tona matua ki Tuahiwi nui o Hine-moana.") This performance of the pure was probably owing to the fact that the girl Uenuku-titi was by that time well grown, but had never previouslypage 34 been seen by her mother or by Tamatea. Celestial visitors and marvellous conception form a feature of Maori myth.

Now, the iho of the infant having been disposed of, the expert took up the fine paepaeroa cloak and placed it across the shoulders of the child's father, and then arranged the mahiti cape so as to cover the upper part of it. The husband would then take the infant from his wife and carry it clasped in his right arm; with his left hand he would arrange the mahiti cape so as to cover the infant. The party now started to return to the village, where the pure rite was to be performed at the principal whare whakanoho (superior framed house) of the place. The "nest house" was now done with and would be destroyed.

When preparing to depart the husband would be in front, and he would be followed by his wife, after whom came their mothers, then their fathers, then the nurses—that is, the two female caretakers. The principal priestly expert would then move forward and precede the father, while his assistant brought up the rear. So they proceeded, and as they neared the village the principal expert would chant the whakaaraara formula as he walked (see p. 26 for this recital). The voice of the expert chanting as he proceeded would be heard by the folk of the village, and they would know that the ceremony was over.

Should the peal of thunder heard have been ominous of evil—that is, should it have so sounded to the south—then the whakaaraara formula would not be chanted by the expert, but the following would be substituted:—

Nei ka noho ka hihiri ngakau
0 tangata ki te mahi e takoto ake nei
I kona te rahurahu tipu noa mai ai
Kia piki ake au ki runga te kiritai
Nga manu e wheko i raro Rangiahua
Homai ano koe kia hurihia iho
E tapu ana au, e ihi ana au i a Rongomai-matua
He tane pani karariri
E kore koe e whakamanaa e te tamaiti niho koi
Nana i noho te pu o te rangi.

This recital is a form of charm to avert the evil fortune fore-shadowed by the ominous thunder-peal, and expresses the determination of the expert to disregard the evil omen, or to overcome it.