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The Maoris in the Great War

“Tangata puhuruhuru” and “Poilu.”

page 181

“Tangata puhuruhuru” and “Poilu.”

There is an interesting similarity of meaning between the Maori term “tangata puhuruhuru”—literally “hairy man”—in the famous haka song “Ka maté, ka maté, ka ora, ka ora,” and the popular French word for the soldier in the Great War, “poilu.” The original diversion of “poilu,” bearing the same significance as “puhuruhuru,” to its war use was curious. In an article in the “National Review” (January, 1922), Mr. Edgar Preston said that the word was used by Balzac in his “Medicin de Campagne,” when describing Napoleon's crossing of the Beresina: “General Eble, under whose orders were the pontonniers, could find only forty-two sufficiently intrepid (assez poilus) to undertake the work.” The idea behind the word seemed to be an association of hairiness with manliness, and Mr. Preston quoted the French proverb, “Il n'a pas de poils sur le ventre,” used as a term of reproach.

“Ka mate, ka mate,” etc., is only a portion of a very ancient Maori chant. The original song begins, “Kikiki, kakaka, kikiki, kakaka, Kei waniwania taku aro.”.