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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 49

The Wisdom of the Maori

A further series of whakatauki, the proverbial sayings embodying poetical thoughts, the traditions, wit and philosophy of the olden Maori.

E tangi ana te pipi-wharauroa: “Kui, kui, whitiwhiti-ora, tio-o!” (The shining cuckoo now is heard, it cries—“Kui, kui, shine, shine and live—tio-o!” The summer-time high whistling call of the migrant bird which Alfred Domett called “lackey of the golden summer, sunattendant.”)

E kata ana nga puriri o Taiamai. (The puriri trees of Taiamai are laughing joyfully. A Ngapuhi saying of felicitation. Taiamai is the beautiful heart of the north, the country about Ohaeawai and Lake Omapere. This expression, used to express congratulations and typify happiness and content, will be heard in poetical speeches at the large gathering of tribes at Waitangi, Bay of Islands, in the New Year.)

E mua, ata haere; e muri, whatiwhati waewae. (Those who make an early start on a journey may travel leisurely; those who delay and come after have to hurry up at the risk of breaking their legs.)

Ahakoa kaore he kai, ko te ahi e ka ana. (Though we may have no food, the fire is burning. A philosophical consolation; make the best of things.)

He rukuruku na Whakaotirangi. Also: Ko te putea iti a Whakaotirangi. (The little basket of Whakaotirangi. This refers to a chieftainess who on the voyage from Hawaiki to New Zealand saved only one small basket of kumara for seed, from which large crops were raised. Sometimes quoted by way of excuse when giving a guest only a small quantity of food.)

Origin of Art Designs.

Many students of the Maori have given it as their opinion that the Maori brought his wood-carving and painting patterns with him on his long migration from the older-peopled countries. No doubt there are certain likenesses between our New Zealand art designs and the carving and sculpture of Asia and Egypt and other lands. But I am inclined more and more to the belief that the chief inspiration for the Maori whakairo was derived from his study of natural objects during his many centuries of life in this country. It does not seem reasonable to deny originality of thought in artcraft to the Maori, and to overlook the probability that he found his principal source of ideas in these islands of ours, huge land masses after the tropic isles of the Pacific, with great trees for building and carving and canoe-hewing, an abundance of ferns and wild flowers, and in many ways great beauty in Nature which could not but impress the eye and soul of the artcraftsman. The period during which New Zealand has been occupied by Polynesians certainly would give sufficient time for the race to evolve arts and industries entirely indigenous.

In clothing, in buildings, in canoes and fortifications, the Maori displayed an originality and skill derived from long effort in adapting the natural resources of the country to his needs. Similarly, in art designs he may be conceded the credit of having evolved the most characeristic forms of decoration, and certainly his forms of tattooing, from his environment here after his arrival from the Eastern Pacific. Such art motives as the double page 50 spiral, or pitau, may have been derived from any one or all of several obvious sources here independently of the serpent forms of Asia and Europe and Egypt.

A Mutilated Tongue.

Not long since, listening to a talk over the radio in which many Maori names occurred, I was not surprised to hear the name of the barque “Manurewa” pronounced as “Man-you-ree-wer.” Most Wellington people put a “mew” into Muritai, a name of beauty if properly pronounced. Lack of knowledge of the elements of Maori is responsible for many ear-grating errors of tongue. The curious thing is that the residents of a place are often the greatest offenders in this matter of pronunciation. Patumahoe, you will hear called Patter-maho, with the “e” dropped and accent on the “ho.” The inhabitants of a place sometimes stare in a puzzled way when they hear, for once in a way, the correct pronunciation. Moera (“Sleeping in the Sun”) is a pretty Wellington City name—it belongs to the steep hill slope where Marama Crescent is, which has been transferred to the new suburb at the Lower Hutt. Out that way the populace call it “Mo-eerer.” I have heard a college lecturer call Te Heuheu “Tee-hew-hew” and Maketu “Ma-keetoo,” and Orakau was transformed inevitably into “Orra-kau.”

Taranaki's Poi Dancers.

The conservative spirit is still strong in Taranaki, particularly among the people who pay reverence to the memory of Te Whiti, the Prophet of Parihaka, and this adherence to the ways of old particularly distinguishes the performance of the poi action-song-and-dance by the women and girls. The delegation of people from Waitara and other parts of Taranaki who came down to Wellington to assist at the opening of a new meeting-hall at Lower Hutt recently—the Atiawa of Wellington, were from Taranaki originally—included a party of expert poi performers, and they gave a series of pois such as nowadays only can be seen and heard among these Te Whiti-ites.

The old prophet of the Mountain delighted in the poi, and he made it a part of his patriotic ritual. It was more than an amusement at Parihaka; it was linked up with religious worship.

The women wear the “raukura” in their hair, the white feathers which are the proud badge of the followers of Te Whiti—who being dead yet speaketh. Their only accompaniment to the poi-ball swinging and tapping is their own chant, which is sometimes an ancient tribal chant, sometimes a karakia or incantation, sometimes a well-remembered speech by Te Whiti done into rhythmic chanting. The raukura party need no ukuleles; and they do not borrow pakeha tunes. Their high, quick chant, the waving snowy plumes in their black hair, the black dabs of paint—the old war-paint of the Maori—on their cheeks, their bare feet, make the Taranaki artists’ poi something quite different from those seen in other native districts.

The “Lion-like” Maori.

There were some “braw lads” among the old-time Maoris. Here is an extract from a letter by the missionary Butler given in the lately published Letters of Samuel Marsden. The great pioneer missionary accompanied by Mr. Butler visited the Waitemata and the Kaipara in 1820, and on their arduous journey they saw at the Kaipara a wonderful specimen of the chieftain race. This was Tinana, the great chief whose people twenty years later sold the present site of Auckland City to the Government. Butler thus described him in a letter:

“Teenana [the missionary's spelling] is an aged man but of an amazing size and full of flesh. His head is extraordinarily large, and his beard very thick and long, which gives him a lion-like appearance. Mr. Marsden said he would give twenty guineas for his likeness if it was possible to obtain it. One would suppose he had sprung from a race of giants. His sons are all of them very fine large men.”

We don't build them that size nowadays. Tinana lived in a more spacious age.