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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day


The Maori did not march out on the war-path without careful observance of the ceremony and ritual pertaining to the service of Tu, the god of battle. The Niu, the sacred divining rods, had to be cast, the oracles consulted, and the warriors sprinkled and hardened for the path of strife and death. Old warriors of the cannibal era have described to me the priestly preliminaries to fighting expeditions, the reading of the omens, the ceremonies to weaken the enemy and draw their spirits into one's hands (kukume ai nga wairua).

“Sometimes,” said a venerable man of the Ngati-Whakaue, Rotorua. “when an expedition of blood was proposed, we would see on the horizon, in the direction of our enemy's country, a strange red glow as of a great fire. That was the ahi-papakura; it was a sign of success for us and of disaster for our foes. If a rainbow, which was the aria or visible form of the god Uenuku, appeared on high in the rear of our war-party, it was a good omen. But if it spanned the path by which we were to go, on our front, it was a warning, a portent of likely defeat, and we would not march away until a more favourable day came.”

As in the Iliad and in the great Hindu epics, warriors in battle could conceal themselves in magic mists to escape their foes. Charms to this end are called huna (literally “to hide”). The following is a specimen of such a spell, recited by an old

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Arawa warrior, who himself professed to have found it of service in bush-fighting aforetime:

Pungawerewere, heiheia mai aku mata,
Popokorua, heiheia mai aku mata.
E Moko e!
Tu mai ki waho
Moku to taua rua.
Titiro ki runga,
Titiro ki raro,
Titiro ki whenua noa atu.

Spiders, hide my face;
Ants, obscure me from the foe;
O 'Moko,
Come forth from out thy pit,
And let me enter it.
Search all around,
Gaze up and down,
See nothing but the empty land.

Here he appealed to the spiders to weave their webs across the path by which he had gone, and to the ants (“he iwi i roto i te whenua,” “a people of the earth”) to hide him in the ground with them. “Moko” is a contraction of the name Ruaimoko, the god of the Underworld.