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The Coming of the Maori



Games and dances were readily learned. Quite young girls learned to copy the twirl of the poi ball the timing of various movements, and the swaying of the hips in accompaniment. When they were old enough to be included in the tribal dance team, they had merely to learn the sequence of movements which accompanied the songs used for the occasion. Boys learned to page 358stamp in unison, quiver the fingers, and protrude the tongue and eyeballs in juvenile imitation of the posture dances (haka) of their elders, and when their time arrived, they readily fitted in the movements they already knew with any new compositions which were rehearsed by the tribal team for special occasions. Thus from childhood were developed that grace of movement and perfect timing that the stiff-jointed members of other races find so impossible to attain.

Much, if not most, of the personal instruction in early years, was received from grandparents as a convenient result of three generations of the family living together in a common household. The able-bodied parents were freed to devote full time and attention to the work which needed physical energy. The grandparents, who were too old for hard work, attended to the lighter tasks and the care of the grandchildren. Many children were adopted by grand-uncles or collaterals on the tipuna stratum and brought up by them in their own homes. They told them stories and simple versions of various myths and legends. I believe that some of the local interpolations in old traditions were introduced by grandparents to make the stories more easily understood by their young charges. The elements of a classical education in family and tribal history, mythology, and folklore were thus imparted by male and female tipuna at an early age and continued on through adolescence.

Children were warned particularly against trespassing on places which were tapu and awesome tales were told of what happened to those who disregarded the warnings. At the end of a sandy beach in our territory, a clump of flax grew on a talus slope near the base of a cliff. The beach was a favourite place for fishermen, and some rocks a little way offshore provided a good supply of mussels. I was warned never to take any flax from the clump near the cliff because it was tapu. To reinforce the warning I was told the tale of a female visitor who accompanied a party of local women out to the rocks to collect mussels. She had a basket but had forgotten to bring a blade of flax for tying the basket to her waist so as to leave both hands free for detaching the shellfish. Being ignorant of local history, she took a blade from the tapu clump without anyone noticing her. She joined the others at the rocks, and suddenly a huge wave roared in towards them. The local women submerged and hung on to the rocks until the wave passed over. When the sea subsided, they were all there except the visitor who had tied her basket with a blade from the tapu clump. Thus did the gods, or whatever they were, punish those who broke the tapu sanctions even in ignorance. "But", I asked, "if no one saw her, how do you know that she took the flax?" My grandmother said patiently, "Was she not the only one taken? No one would have touched the flax but her." However, the tale served its purpose, for I carried a dual picture of the clump of flax and a huge tidal wave with a mysterious monster page 359beneath it whenever I viewed the clump from a respectful distance. We were also warned against certain deep holes in our river, for they were conveniently stocked with awesome water monsters termed taniwha which resented any intrusion on their watery domain. Probably this form of folklore technique reduced the risk of juvenile drowning and justified the stocking of dangerous places with supernatural guards. For Maori children, this form of prevention was probably more effective than threats of the birch rod. Thus the fear of tapu was inculcated early and remained late.

Other teaching was given in subjects in which the aged instructor was particularly adept. A friend of mine, little older than myself, was brought up by a grand-uncle who still thought that young chiefs should be trained to become successful military leaders. They slept in the same room in separate beds. In the early mornings, the old man went outside to satisfy certain needs. On his return, he slapped the still sleeping child and went back to his bed muttering his disappointment. This went on for some time, until one memorable morning the now apprehensive child heard the old man leave the room. When he returned to slap the sleeper, the child gazed up at him with wide open eyes. A pleased look came into the old man's eyes and he returned to his bed saying, "Now I have a grandchild who will be a bulwark of defence to his tribe." After that they played a game. Some mornings the old man got up earlier, others later, but always the child gazed up at him wide awake. The training had had its effect, and the child roused at the slightest sound. This was as it should be, for no warrior must be caught napping.

Another course of training was directed towards showing the danger of lying on the ground after a fall. Most children when they fall, remain on the ground crying, not because they are hurt physically but because they want to be picked up and fussed over. This child remembers when he fell forward on his face and lay there crying. What was his surprise, when instead of the expected succour, a stick descended sharply on the upturned part of his anatomy. He turned over and saw his grand-uncle raising his stick for another blow. He rolled out of immediate reach, regained his feet, and ran away to a safe distance. Another game was inaugurated. At first the boy tripped himself at a safe distance and scrambled to his feet as the old man moved towards him with his stick. Then he tried the experiment closer and closer. As he got quicker and bolder, he reached the acme of performance by falling so close that he could roll out of the way as the blow was falling. By these means, the old man taught his grandnephew the elements of becoming a warrior, to wake at the slightest sound, not to remain on the ground after a fall, to evade a falling blow, and to regain his feet in the shortest possible time.

The boy was Paraire (Friday) Tomoana of Hastings. He did not have to prove his prowess on Maori fields of battle but he distinguished himself page 360in the field of athletics. In spite of being born with a club foot, he became the best rugby half-back Te Aute College ever produced and he represented Hawkes Bay in rugby, cricket, hockey and tennis. Once a burglar entered his house in the middle of the night but Paraire woke instantly. The burglar realized his mistake when he was collared, bound hand and foot, and delivered to the police.

Another friend of mine was brought up by a grand-uncle who was perhaps the last survivor of those who could play the musical instrument known as the putorino. He learned not only to play that instrument, but he acquired a rich fund of information regarding Maori musical instruments and learned a large number of songs.