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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Dirges, Laments. — (Tangi, Apakura)

Dirges, Laments.
(Tangi, Apakura)

Full of striking metaphors and often of poetical conceptions of great beauty, are the lyric laments and dirges which form by far the larger portion of the Maori poetry. The mourners as they gather on the marae at the wailing-place liken the dead chief to a lofty forest-tree overthrown—kua hinga te totara—to a carved war-canoe shattered by the waves. An orator or singer is likened to a tui or a bellbird—“my sweetest singing bird is hushed, page 104 that waked with melody the morn.” At these funeral gatherings the leading men of the assembled tribes will pace to and fro, fine flax or feather mats thrown across their shoulders, over their European clothes, and greenstone, whalebone or wooden weapons, cherished family heirlooms, in their hands, and thus address the dead:

“Go, O Sir! Go to the last resting place, the black pit of death! Go to the Reinga, the leaping-off place of departed spirits! Depart to that other world, to the home of Hine-nui-te-Po (the Great Lady of Night), for that is the great abode of us all.”

And again: “Who is this person, Death? [Ko wai tenei tangata, Aitua?] Had he but taken the form of a man, I could fight him with this taiaha of mine! But he is intangible, and he cannot be conquered.”

Sometimes ancient karakia to the departing soul are chanted: “Depart, O loved one, may your path be straight for the higher world [te Rangi]. Climb to that abode as Tawhaki climbed the divine vine to the first heaven to the second heaven”—and so to the tenth heaven. [Piki ake Tawhaki ki te Rangi].

The spirits of the dead take the long viewless trail for the land's end in the north:

“Pass thou along the far sands of Haumu, following the great path trodden bare by the feet of the innumerable dead, ever going the one way, and none returning.”

Touching indeed and couched in noble language are the expressions of grief at the death of a great man. When a Prime Minister of New Zealand died, the chiefs of Waikato sent an address which contained these lines:

“O mighty totara tree, you have fallen to the page 105 Axe of Death—Death the swallower of greenstone jewels [Aitua-horo-pounamu]…. The people lament and mourn. The heavens also made lament, the storms arose, the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled along the sky. Then too was heard the soft wind of the crying of the earth. The great storm-wind has passed through the forest. The trees are stricken with grief, they cry with pain, they groan for the fall of the tall totara tree. Afterward the people know of the death, and there is nothing greater than death.”

The Path of the Maori Souls, near Te Reinga, northern end of New Zealand.

The Path of the Maori Souls, near Te Reinga, northern end of New Zealand.

Miru, of the Reinga.

In this funeral chant, collected from the Ngati-Toa and Ngati-Raukawa people, Miru is the legend- page 106 ary deity of the underworld, through which all souls must pass:

E tomo, e Pa,
Ki Murimuri-te-Po,
Te Tatau-o-te-Po.
Ko te whare tena
O Rua-kumea,
O Rua-toia
O Miru ra-e!
O Tuhouropunga
O Kaiponu-kino.
Nana koe i maka
Ki te kopae o te whare—i!

Enter, O Sire,
The Gates of that Dark Land
The Door of the Endless Night,
For that is the dwelling
Of Rua-kumea,
Of Rua-toia
Of the goddess Miru;
Of Tuhouropunga,
The Ever-Greedy One.
'Tis she who hurleth thee
To the corners of her gloomy house.!

A Song of Praise.

This chant is sung by the East Coast tribes (Ngati-Kahungunu and others) in welcoming a distinguished guest. It is also chanted over the dead:

Pinépiné te kura,
Hau te kura,
Whanake te kura,
I raro i Awarua.
Ko te kura nui,
Ko te kura roa,
Ko te kura na Tuhoe-po.
Tenei te tira hou,
Tenei hara mai nei
Na Te Umurangi
Na Te Whatu-i-apiti.
Nau mai, e Tama,
Ki te tai ao nei.
Kia whakangungua koe
Ki te kahikatoa.
Ki te tumatakuru.
Ki te tara-ongaonga;
Na tairo rawa
Nahau e Kupe
I waiho i te ao nei.

Oh, bind thy noble brows
With the lordly red feathers,
Waving bravely in the wind;
The plumes brought hither
From Awarua, our distant home;
The great plumes, the lofty plumes,
The treasured plumes of our ancestor Tuhoe-po.
Thou art the traveller brought hitherward
By Te Umurangi and Te Whatu-i-Apiti.
Thou'lt be a powerful shield against
The weapons of the world;
The sharp and deadly spears,
The pricking darts and stings
That fill the foeman's armoury;
Thou'lt conquer e'en the barriers
Which Kupe the explorer raise
To guard this new-found land.

page 107

For Those Killed in Battle: A Lament for Mahoetahi.

The following is Hokepera's tangi chant (recited to me by Te Huia Raureti, 1920) for the chiefs and warriors of Waikato killed in the battle of Mahoetahi, Taranaki, on November 6, 1860:

Kaore taku huhi taku raru
Ki a koutou e pa ma
E haupu mai ra!
Ka huua hoki au ki a Epiha ma
E hui nei ki te runanga
He kawe pai i te tika.
Kaore he mahi nui
I nga maunga a Whiro kua wareware.

Hare ra, e Tima
I te riri kaihoro a Ngati-Haua;
Kaore i whakaaro ko te kupu pai a Haapurona.
Ko te aha e Rau [Raureti], e Rewi, ma korua nei?
Heoi ano ra ma koutou he kawe tangata ki te Po.
Aue i te mamae ra-i!

Anea kau ana te whenua,
Tangi kotokoto ai te tai o Puniu.
E whakahakiri ana nga tohu o te rangi e—e,
Kanapa kau ana te uira
I runga o Tautari, te hiwi ki Rangitoto;
Ko te tohu o te maté ra-i!

page 108

Ka riro Paetai, Mokau, Tainui Te Arawa, Raukawa, Motai-i!
E koa ra e rau tangata ka takoto kau to moni!
Tenei taku poho e tuwhera kau nei
He wai kokiringa mo Kirikumara,
Te tangata whakanoho i te riri—i,
Te kino, e—c—i!

Alas! my grief, my woe! Alas for my chieftains!
Confusedly heaped in yonder mound of Death!
Ah, once I listened to Epiha and his chiefs in council;
Then I thought their word were laden
With goodness and with truth.
On the dark hills of Death their plans were brought to nought.

Farewell O Tima,
Overwhelmed in the flood of battle!
'Twas the impetuous deed of Ngati-Haua,
They who heeded not the wise counsel of Hapurona.
What of your words, O Raureti, O Rewi?
'Tis enough that you have borne warriors down
To the black night of Death.
Ah me! the sorrow of it!

The land is swept by war's red tide.
Mournfully roll the waters of Puniu.
The waters sob as they flow.
I heard the thunder's distant mutter,
The rumbling omen of the sky.
I saw the lightning's downward flash.
The fire of portent, on 'Tautari's peak,
On Rangitoto's mountain height.
The flashing hand of death!

Thou'rt gone, O Paetai! Thou'rt gone, O Mokau!
Swept away are the heroes of Tainui, Te Arawa, Raukawa, Motai.
Our foes in multitudes rejoice,
Your treasure is laid bare and desolate.
See now my unprotected breast
Bared to the spear of Kirikumara.
'Twas he who raised this storm of war.
Alas, the evil of it!

“Pass On along the Quiet Ways.”

A lament for a high chief and leader:

Hare ra, e Pa, i te ara haukore,
Taku ate hoki ra, taku pa kairiri
Ki te ao o te tonga;
Taku manu-korero ki te nohoanga pahii,
Taku manu hakahaka ki runga ki nga iwi.
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Tahu-whenua;
Houhia mai ra te matua
Ki te kahu Taharangi.
Marewa e te iwi
Nana i whitiki taku motoi-kahurangi,
Ka mau ki te taringa;
Taku koko-tangiwai
Ka mau ki te kaki;
Taku pou-mataaho e tu i te whare.
Kia tu mai koe i te ponaihu o te waka,
Kia whakarongo koe te wawara tangi wai hoe.
Waiho i muri nei to pukai-kura—i!

Pass on, O Sire, along the quiet ways;
The beloved one of my heart, my shelter and defence
Against the bleak south wind.
My speaking-bird that charmed the assembled tribes,
That swayed the people's councils.
Clothe him, the Father, with the stately garments,
The very fine mats Tahu-whenua and Taharangi,
Place in his ear the precious jewel-stone,
The greenstone kahurangi,
Hang on his breast the koko-tangiwai,
Of glistening lucid jade.
O thou wert a prop within the house:

page 109

At the prow of the canoe thou wert,
Ears bent to the splashing sound
Of many paddles.
Our prized kaka-bird has gone,
The plumes alone remain.

A chieftainess of Taupo and the King Country: the late Te Rerehau, wife of Te Heuheu Tukino.

A chieftainess of Taupo and the King Country: the late Te Rerehau, wife of Te Heuheu Tukino.