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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

“Great Pilgrims of Tu.”

“Great Pilgrims of Tu.”

The return of the warriors from an expedition was attended by much priestly ritual, for the tapu of blood must be removed before they could mingle with their people again. On Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua, the venerable Tamati Hapimana described to me on the sacred beach of Matariki the thrilling scenes of other days when the great war-canoes came dashing up to the shore from the Ohau or Lake Rotoiti, home from a campaign. The blanket-kilted sage, bare-footed and bare-headed, his long white locks floating in the breeze, stood on the pumice-sands, a twig of willow in his hand, and showed how the high priest Unuaho greeted the returning warriors.

“As the war-canoes drew near,” he said, “the tohunga stood on this spot, naked save for a girdle of leaves, and waved a leafy branch—as I wave this page 232 willow-bough—and cried in a loud chanting voice to the men of battle:

“‘I haere mai i whea?
Tē-ere, Tē-ere tēre-nui na Tu?’
(‘Whence come ye,
Great Company of Tu?’)

“And the war-priests standing amidships chanted in reply, while the canoes lay off the shore:

“‘I haere mai i uta,
I haere mai i tai,
I haere mai i te
Tu parekura
Tē-ere, tē-ere, tēre nui o Tu.’
(‘We come from the land,
We come from the sea,
We come from the battle-field of Tu—
Pilgrims, great pilgrims of Tu.’)

“Then the priest on the shore cried:

“‘Whence come ye,
Great travellers from Whiro?’*

and the warrior-priests answered:

“‘We come from above,
We come from below,
We come from the seeking-out,
The searching—
Pilgrims, great pilgrims of Whiro.”’

Then, said Tamati, the soldiers would leap naked into the shallow water and remain there until the high priest had performed the ceremonies to remove the tapu of blood which had been imposed on them when they went forth to fight. And the great tohunga, dandling to and fro a sacred offering from page 233 the field of battle, the emblem of the slain, to the Maori gods of war, would chant:

Hikitia mai taua kai,
Hapainga mai taua kai,
Ki runga rangi taua kai.
Kia kai mai Rongomai,
Heke iho i te rangi—taua kai.
(Raise up the food,
Lift up the food,
Raise up to the heavens that food.
Come and eat, Rongomai;
Descend from the heavens—that food.)

Then the warriors were free to greet their wives and children again, the tapu safely lifted.