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

Miscellaneous Notes

page 57

Miscellaneous Notes

Ceremonial Ear-Piercing

This practice seems to have been viewed as a somewhat important one in India and Burma, as it was among the Maori folk, at least among the higher-class families. All my notes pertain, I find, to the ceremony as performed over female infants, although males also wore ear-pendants in former times. Pendants were sometimes suspended from a child's neck long before its ears were pieced. The operation was performed when a child was four or five years old. In the case of an infant of a high-class family the piercing might be done by a near relative or by some expert at such work—by the ubiquitous tohunga, perchance. Occasionally the piercing-instrument was fashioned from human bone, the bone of an enemy; but iwi toroa (albatross-bone) seems to have been more commonly used. In the former case the bodkin-like instrument would be known by the name of the hapless individual who had furnished the bone. The human-bone tools were prized for the purpose of piercing the ears of boys. So it might be asked, "Ko wai rawa te iwi i pokaia ai o taringa?" ("Whose bone was it by means of which your ears were pierced?"). The reply might be, "E! He toroa a ruru" ("Oh, it was an albatross-bone"). The operator would probably receive some form of gift from the near relatives of the child.

Female Children Occasionally Baptized

Female children seldom had the tohi rite performed over them; a few cases are known in which the first-born female was so honoured. Even in the case of male children only the first-born received this treatment. Our native informant proceeds as follows:—

"Some females of the East Coast were tohia, as were Hine-matioro, of Titirangi, at Uawa, and also Mahinarangi; those women had this tohi rite performed over them. Those were the only women whom I heard of as having been purea in this manner. The last person so tohia was Karauria, father of Airini Tonore, who had it performed over him at Tapu-te-ranga, a small islet at the Whanga-nui-a-Orotu (Inner Harbour at Napier); that was during my childhood, possibly about the year 1846… ."

Period of Labour

"O, friend! understand this: should the pains of labour extend beyond the seventh day, then serious trouble results. The applicationpage 58 of the term rauru nui ceases on the seventh day, after which commences the period known as rauru whiwhia, and when the trouble continues beyond the seventh day it is known that it is a case of twins; if it continues until the tenth day, or over, then such condition is a marua-aitu, and the child will be still-born.

"Now, should one of the arms of the child first appear, or one of its legs, then it is known that the child will be of a forward disposition. In these distressful cases the woman would be conveyed to the tapu place of rites, where the following formula would be recited over her:—

Haramai, e hine! I te Maruaroa
Whakaputa i a koe ki taioa
Ki te ara o to tipuna, o Hine-titama
I takahia ai tapuwae nuku, tapuwae rangi
Tapuwae ki Tiritiri o Matangi hauaroa
Whaia to tapuwae, ko te tapuwae o to tipuna o Hine-hauone
Ka takoto ai i roto i a Hui-te-rangiora
Whakaputa i a koe, e hine! ki te aoturoa.

"After the conclusion of the above another formula connected with the infant was recited:—

Tenei au te hoka nei i to tapuwae
Ko te hokai nuku, ko te hokai rangi
Ko te hokai whakaputa i a koe ki Tahuaroa, ki te aoturoa
Haramai, e tama! (e hine ranei)
Takahia mai to ara, ko te ara whanui a Tane
Whakakake i a koe i te ara o to tipuna, o Hine-titama
I whakaputa ai i a ia ki taio
Kia takawhake ia roto i Hui-te-ananui
Ka tau te mauri ki te whai ao, ki te ao marama
Ka tangi te mapu waiora ki te urutapu, e tama . . e!"

This charm is used in order to cause the infant to be born.

"When Moe-te-ao gave birth to twins, one of them, Mahanga-ti-karo, became awry and protruded a leg into the passage. Appeals to the god Maru were made from the eighth to the tenth day, when the leg was withdrawn. On that same day the right arm was thrust forward, and so the woman was conveyed to the tuahu or tapu place known as Toka-a-Hine-moko, and Maru caused the arm to be withdrawn. The other twin, named Mahanga-puhua, was then born, while the other remained in the womb. Moe-te-ao was then conveyed across the river to Te Wao-kairangi, where the second twin was born, and named Mahanga-tikaro, while that place was named Nga Mahanga [The Twins], or, in full, Nga Mahanga-a-Moeteao.

"Now, concerning the nights [i.e., days or periods] during which the offspring of Papa and Rangi [Earth Mother and Sky Parent] were preparing to emerge into the world, these are represented inpage 59 this world by the following names: The Po tamaku, the Po aoaonui, the Po kerekere, the Po kakarauri, the Po uriuri, the Po tiwhatiwha. These names represent the first period of preparation among the offspring of Rangi and Papa to escape from the embrace of their parents.

"Now, if a child be born during this period, then it is looked upon as an easy, normal birth; it is a rauru nui birth—the child will be healthy and robust; but if the infant be not born until the seventh or eighth day, then trouble ensues during those two days. If the time chance to be the Rakaunui [seventeenth] or Whiro [the first] night of the moon, or the Tangaroa nights [twenty-third to twenty-sixth], then the woman will be in grievous plight: she should be conveyed to the tuahu and there treated by an expert, and so be saved. Should a woman give birth to a child during the early days of a branch of the season [i.e., lunar month] it were well that it occur not after the seventh or eighth day, for such is the rauru-nui period already mentioned. Should birth not take place until the ninth or tenth day—that is, the rauru whiwhia period—these two days betoken a forward child. In such cases an arm or leg will be thrust forward, or the body of the infant be somewhat awry, and, unless care be taken, the end will be a dead woman, a still-born child: such is termed a weu tapu, and, if the child survive, he will develop into a warrior.

"Should the time of birth be extended to the eleventh day, then the lunar month should be referred to, and, should it chance to be the Whiro phase of the moon, then the conditions are those of rauru matua, and the child will survive, and should be carefully nurtured. Should the child be born during the Orongonui season, then the moon should be observed as to whether it is pale-lined or has a halo round it, or is 'in the yellow.' If the infant selects the time when the moon is surrounded by a form of halo, the child will turn out to be wayward; should it choose either of the other aspects mentioned, then the child will be healthy, a desirable child. However, enough on that point.

"Now, the twelfth night is one of evil omen; though it fall in the early part of the lunar month it would be termed a po matohi (a Matohi phase) verging upon the Korekore phases, and so this night is consigned to Whiro; so is this period known as po taruaitu, and no infant survives."

Here is another recital of the Takitumu elders concerning the above subject. "The first six po periods, or nights [the Maori counted time by nights, hence where he used the term 'nights' in this connectionpage 60 we would say 'days'] were as follows: The Po, the Po nui, the Po roa, the Po uriuri, the Po kerekere, the Po tiwha. [Of the words here used in an adjectival manner the last three convey the meaning of 'darkness'; nui means 'great, extensive, numerous'; while roa means 'long'] These po represent the original periods that concerned the offspring of Rangi and Papa [the Sky Parent and Earth Mother]. To these were added the following: The Po te kitea, the Po tangotango, the Po whawha, the Po namunamu ki taiao, the Po tahuri atu, the Po tahuri mai ki taiao, thus, making twelve in all, as in the case of the lunar months, of which also there are twelve: these here enumerated are the divisions of the Po.

"Now, these twelve divisions of the po were divided; during six of them Papa the Earth Mother fostered the development of all her children, that they might acquire form, the breath of life and growth, including all things, whether man, fish, animals, insects, herbage, or birds. Some of the offspring of Papa were distributed throughout the divisions of the heavens, and these were placed under the care of Hine-te-ahuru, Hine-rurumai, and Hine-makohurangi: these were the guardians of such as were so distributed. [These 'children' distributed throughout space are the heavenly bodies, sometimes said to be the offspring of Hine-te-ahuru. Hine-makohurangi is the Mist Maid.]

"Now, the other six po represent the period during which the offspring of Rangi and Papa moved and prepared to seek the passage into this world, and this first activity of theirs is indicated by the expressions 'the Po tahuri atu' and 'the Po tahuri ki taiao.' Now, this condition of restless movement among the offspring of Papa is represented among our women. When the infant begins to move within the womb of the mother, should such efforts continue for over four nights, then a still-born child results; should they continue beyond the fifth or sixth, a dead mother, a dead child, result. Hence the expression hokai rauru nui, rauru whiwhia, and hokai rauru maruaitu. You now understand this matter; but these expressions, &c., must not be viewed as being connected with human lines of descent."

Baptism a Pre-Christian Rite, Etc.

In the ceremonial baptism of infants as performed by the Maori in past times we see a close resemblance to a Christian usage. This peculiarity extends to other matters, as seen in the old Maori institutions of confession, immersion, and absolution, for example. E. B. Tylor, the anthropologist, expressed the opinion that such baptismal rites practised by barbaric folk might have been borrowed frompage 61 Christianity; but this surmise must be laid aside in the face of farreaching evidence to the contrary. It is clear that Christianity, like all other cults, was based upon preceding faiths, and that many of its rites and teachings, &c., can be traced far back into paganism. In like manner we can trace many Maori usages to far-off lands. The tapu pertaining to birth; the whare kohanga, or "nest hut," in which the mother was segregated; the planting of a branch at the birth of an infant; the performance of the baptismal and naming rite seven days after birth; the ceremonial piercing of the ears of children—all these usages were observed in far-off India as they were in the land of the Maori.

It must be borne in mind that the ceremonial described in this paper pertained to the first-born male children of high-class families only; this was owing to the respect the Maori ever had for the law of primogeniture.

In an account of the superior tohi rite collected by the late Colonel Gudgeon, a komako (bell-bird) is said to have been released during the performance. This ceremonial releasing of birds also appears in old-time lore of India and Babylonia.

Readers will note that in a number of cases the formulae or so-called charms recited by the Maori during such ceremonies as those described above seem to have no bearing whatever on the matter in hand. This peculiarity is said to pertain to such recitals of many peoples of a similar culture stage, and even to those of nations of antiquity that had attained a much higher level than that attained by the Polynesians.

Personal names in many cases owed their origin to incidents, and sometimes these were of quite a trivial nature. When the tua rite was performed over the child of Ruatapu, of the Toi line, a lizard was employed as a whakahere, or placatory offering, to the atua, or spirit god, under whose aegis the ceremony was conducted, hence to that infant was assigned the name of Rakaiora. This name is that of the personified form of lizards.

In a little-known work entitled Maori Mementos, by C. O. Davis, we find some unusual features assigned to the baptismal ceremony. He writes: "The mode of baptizing the Maori children was simply as follows: The mother and nurse accompanied the priest to a stream, the latter holding in his hand a small branch, which he dipped in the water, and, sprinkling the infant, uttered certain prayers. The mother of the child was not allowed to see the ceremony performed; she stood at a short distance with her back turned toward the priest, but at the conclusion of the rite the infant was delivered to the mother, who bore it in her arms to a sacred house, where the infant, herself,page 62 and nurse were obliged to remain in a state of tapu for one month. During this period no visitor was allowed to approach, and frequently the nurse was not even permitted to fondle the child until the expiration of the month. As to the father, he was treated as the veriest stranger. The extreme sacredness of this ceremony, however, was confined to the first-born, and took place three days after the child was born. Sometimes the rites were far more complex than the above."

The above notes were probably derived from a northern source, whereas the account I have given of baptismal ceremonies was obtained from the Ngati-Kahungunu folk.

Among the Tuhoe folk we hear of two huts as having been constructed for the accommodation of the expectant mother. The first one occupied by her was called the whare kahu and whare whakakahu, and in this she gave birth to her child. The word kahu denotes the membrane enveloping a foetus. The mother left this hut soon after delivery according to some natives, while others state that she remained therein until about the seventh day after delivery, when she took up her quarters in the second hut, the whare kohanga. This latter statement is not so credible as the first one. According to the Tuhoe folk the tua rite had the effect of removing the condition of tapu from infant and mother, and it endowed the child with health, vigour, and other desirable qualities.

How Youths were Trained

The following contribution from native sources includes an interesting formula recited by an expert in cases of difficult parturition, also a considerable amount of information pertaining to the training of male children in useful arts. In No. 3 of Addenda this matter appears in the original, while No. 4 consists of an old formula employed as late as the "forties" of last century, when the tua rite was performed over Karauria on Tapu-te-ranga, an islet in Napier Harbour. The No. 3 contribution explains the conditions under which the appeal to the gods was made. In this case only one is appealed to, that one being Rongomai. After the recital comes the account of the training of a young lad, which account runs as follows:—

"Now, when the lad was fairly grown, then the task of teaching him the use of weapons and tools commenced—such implements as were connected with Tumatauenga, Tane-matangi-nui, and Tama-akaaka-nui, as the taiaha, greenstone and bone striking-weapons, also spears, both weapons and bird-spears. Then the lad was taughtpage 63 the use of tools used in agriculture—the various forms of wooden spades employed in cultivating the sweet-potato and taro, and in digging fern-roots; the scuffle-hoe, and small forms of spade-like tools used in working among crops.

"Then the lad was taught the construction of houses, huts, cooking-sheds, storehouses, also elevated platforms or stages on which certain food-supplies and other things were stored. He was also taught the construction of fence-like breakwinds, such as were erected to protect crops and shelter huts and hamlets. Also was he taught the art of dressing timber with stone adzes of two kinds, the toki tata and the toki aronui, used in various ways. Again, he was taught to use the wooden beetle and wedges in splitting timber as material for dwelling-houses, storehouses, defensive stockades, &c. The use of stone chisels and drill were also taught, also the arts of woodcarving and of painting designs. Yet another course of instruction was that connected with the making of canoes and their numerous appurtenances, and likewise the manufacture of fish-hooks."

The account of these training operations concludes with a somewhat lengthly formula that was recited by an expert instructor, and which is said to have enabled lads to acquire and retain desirable knowledge. In this recital the beings Tane, Tupai, Te Akaaka-matua, Rauru-matua, Rongomai-waho, Tanga-i-waho, and Tiwhaia are appealed to. In the baptismal chant given in No. 4 of Addenda the gods Rongo, Kahukura, Tumutauenga, Rongomai, Tane, Maru, Tunui-a-te-ika, Tangaroa, Rehua, and Korako are appealed to; certainly such a combination should have some effect.

The Mating Problem at Irihia and Mangaia

In No. 5 of Addenda is given a remarkable tradition preserved by the Maori. This recital describes a peculiar custom said to have been practised in olden times by certain folk of Irihia, the original homeland of the Maori. This custom was one of taunaha wahine, the claiming or selection of women as wives; though the women were also allowed to choose their husbands, hence there must have been, as with us, cases of disappointed hopes. Te Matorohanga explained in his recital that Irihia was a very hot country, so much so that the people thereof went naked, or nearly so. Men wore a very scant form of maro, or loincloth; girls and lads were practically naked, but when a girl married she took to wearing a taupaki, a very abbreviated form of kilt that just covered the posteriors.

When the time arrived for young people to mate they assembled at a certain place and there arranged themselves in two ranks accordingpage 64 to sex. The young men had first choice, and each selected the young women of the opposing rank who appealed most strongly to him, after which the girls made their choice. We are not given any details as to adjustment of matters in cases wherein the views of young folk did not coincide. Young men selected girls whom they deemed good-looking as to the face, who had shapely legs with a well-poised body, a comely junction of the trunk with the buttocks, a straight legged, erect carriage. Girls selected young men of a stalwart, matured aspect, with well-shaped body, handsome face not too wide, large eyes that looked with a mild expression upon mankind, with shapely loins and lacking any excessive protruberance of the buttocks or stooping-forward of the body; lacking also restless eyes, overhanging eyebrows, upturned nose, and gaping mouth. Such would be the choice of these young folks. Another matter was with regard to the mouth—that the cutting-teeth might be well set and sightly, as also the double teeth. And so were marriages arranged. When all was arranged, then male and female elders would give their consent. Then the women donned a taupaki and the man a loin-cloth.

Now, this particular institution described above was also known in Polynesia, but we know not how far the custom was spread. It was a feature of the social life of the island of Mangaia, as explained to me by the late Colonel Gudgeon in 1912. The whare motunau was an old institution at Mangaia. It was a place where young girls of good family were received and cared for until they were of marriageable age, which would be when they were well matured—say, twenty years of age. When a number of these girls had arrived at that period of life they were conducted to a house and formed a rank along one of the walls thereof. A number of young men of equal rank were then admitted and seated in a row along the opposite wall; thus the rows of young folk faced each other. Each young man then selected the girl whose appearance pleased him most, and, if she agreed, then the two were, with much ceremony, conducted to the young man's house and were looked upon as man and wife. Presumably the young men took it in turns to make a selection, otherwise some confusion would probably arise.

It seems quite possible that the whare motunau institution had been introduced into Polynesia from elsewhere, and equally possible that our local pundits have credited to the ultimate homeland what pertained to the immediate homeland. The Maori of New Zealand is unfortunate in having two homelands to deal with—namely, the isles of Polynesia, and the remote land from which he came to Polynesia in the mist-laden past. Both are known as Hawaiki, and the two have probably been confused to some extent.