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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 3


page 55


The Rev. W. Colenso has made another valuable contribution to the history and traditions of the Maoris. His new book, entitled Tidal and Sea Lore, was originally read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, but has been greatly expanded for publication. It deals with the Maori sea-myths, and compares them with parallel stories current among the ancient peoples of Europe. The Maoris, we are told, believed the ebb and flow of the tides to be caused by the respiration of an enormous monster named Parata, dwelling in the depths beyond the horizon. « To fall into the throat of Parata » was a proverbial expression signifying sudden disaster; and the aid of this terrible creature was invoked in maledictory spells against enemies living on the sea-coast. The strange and weird phenomenon known in some parts of England as « the calling of the sea » is not uncommon on the New Zealand coasts, especially in the still hours of night, and was regarded by the Maoris with superstitious terror. A curious and interesting legend is that of Tinirau and the tragic end of his pet whale Tutunui—pets are proverbially unlucky—which used to bear its master safely and swiftly over the sea. The story of Paikea and Ruatapu (about 900 years old) is a very remarkable one, chiefly on account of the long magic spell used by Paikea, addressed to the ocean divinities from whom he claimed descent, and by virtue of which he swam safely ashore, when treacherously cast away out of sight of land. The poetic beauty and the unity of this ancient invocation are remarkable, especially when it is remembered that the Maori people had no literature, and that their poems, genealogies, and ritual were handed down for many centuries entirely by oral tradition. The Maoris had no difficulty in accounting for the poetic afflatus. According to the following passage, (p. 48), they believed the inspiration to come direct from the spirit-world:

The old Maoris even professed to have heard songs, of a highly curious character, sung by the spirits of the dead! and by fancied atuas, (supernatural beings,) while engaged in deep-sea-fishing far out at sea. These latter they responded to and sang their replies. I have seen some of these so-called supernatural songs, also their extemporaneous replies, and have been struck with the shrewdness and fitness of these latter. There is a singularity here which has frequently reminded me of what is recorded of the Greenlanders; who, however, did not meet their supernatural visitants so bravely as the Maoris.

Equally interesting, as showing an idea of a future life, are the parting words of Ruatapu, who was drowned at sea. In spirit he would revisit his favorite haunts:

Go thou on; let the crowded parties of the summer season ever remember me, that I am also there—I shall not he hidden.

When the squid and the jelly-fishes shall have reached the sandy beaches, then look out, I am but a little way behind them, going also towards the shore.

The fable of the pitched battle between the land-birds and the sea-birds is also a very interesting piece of Maori lore. In the appendix is a literary curiosity hitherto unpublished—a ballad version of the classic story of Arion and the dolphin, in the Scottish dialect.

We have received from Messrs Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch. copies of Nos. 1, 2, and 3 of their Standard Readers. No. 1 we noticed some months ago. The two more advanced books devote a greater proportion of space to « life and its surroundings in our own land » than No. 1; but at the same time they are largely composed of old matter and exotic subjects. We do not consider this any drawback; but it is the chief objection the publishers make to imported schoolbooks. As in No. 1, the engravings (mostly original) are admirable. The sketches of native birds, and a pretty sea-piece in No. 2 (p. 21) may be specially noted. Some of the pictures are somewhat jumbled, as for example, the very inartistic full-page engraving (p. 13) where an African, mounted on an ostrich, is apparently about to leap over a lady's hat of colossal size. A picture such as this is more puzzling to a child than instructive. There are several slips in the natural history. In the article on the spider, it is said to be a quite a mistake » to suppose that spiders will bite, and that they are all (except the katipo) « quite harmless » ! The children are further told that the bite of the katipo « sometimes causes people to die. » The latter is a vulgar error. Not one fatal case of katipo bite is on record, though the poison will cause very painful symptoms and occasionally severe illness; and as for the « harmlessness » of spiders generally, almost any of the tribe will bite when irritated—some very severely and venomously, especially those of large size. The weka is said to live « chiefly in the wild and sparsely-settled parts of the South Island. » As a matter of fact, this bird is quite as common in the North. The engraving of the « Karamu twig » (iii, p. 142) may be correct, but it is unlike any variety of the plant that we have seen in the North Island. The first article in the Second Reader gives a description of the Maori oven and process of cooking which, if carried out, would result in a badly « smoked » repast. The process described is somewhat clumsy, compared with the really scientific method in vogue among the old Maoris, who could cook a dinner in the earth in a more satisfactory, cleanly and wholesome manner than many modern cooks with all the appliances of civilization. In the poetical extracts the name of the poet is sometimes given, and sometimes arbitrarily omitted. No author's name is attached to several well-known poems, including « We are Seven, » and « The Child's First Grief, » and in the latter, the substitution of « summer » for « spring-time » in the fourth stanza, is no improvement. Minor defects such as these can be easily corrected in future editions. The work of compiling a good series of school reading-books is by no means easy, and in this instance has been well carried out. The absence of New Zealand literature is unavoidable, such being as yet in its infancy. In a more advanced book, however, appropriate Australian poems—Kendall's « Bell Birds, » for example, might be introduced with advantage. A good feature of these books is the excellent « word lessons » at the end of each volume.

To the reading public of Milan, the Bible appears to be a novelty. It is reported that a man in that city lately exposed a large-print Bible in his window, each day turning over a page. It became quite an institution for passers-by to stop and read a portion. One day he observed quite a commotion in the street, and on making inquiry, found it was occasioned by his having forgotten to turn the page as usual.

The Australian Journal for May is as usual filled with useful information and well-written fiction.

Captain Ashby, who has just returned to England, after a tour round the world, including New Zealand, is now engaged in publishing a work, entitled New Zealand in 1889, being notes made by him during his recent tour.

Referring to the new supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern, the Printer and Stationer says: « We are sorry to see that its musical editor, Dr. H. Monk, has not lived to see the crown of his life-work. Those who, like ourselves, had the honor of his personal acquaintance, will not soon forget his beautiful character and sterling worth. »

The Paris Morning News has discovered a « mistake » in the Revised Version of the Scriptures. In 2 Chron. xxii 1, Ahaziah is described as, at the age of 42, succeeding his father who died at the age of 40. According to 2 Kings vii 26, Ahaziah's age at his accession was 22, which is reconcilable with the rest of the history. Further investigation shows the News that the error is a « reproduction of a similar mistake » in the Authorized Version—and more wonderful still, that it is « reproduced » in the Douay version also! The mistake lies with the journalist, in supposing that it is the function of translators and revisers to alter the original text at their own discretion. Discrepancies of the kind are well known to exist—they do not escape the observation of translators and commentators; but however obvious the error may appear, they have no authority to tamper with the text itself.

A South Island contemporary a few days ago called attention to a supposed error in the Revised Version of the Scriptures in 1 Tim. ii, 9, where « shamefastness » is substituted for « shamefacedness » in the ordinary version. The error is really in the modern Bibles, the original edition of 1611 having the old English word « shamefastnesse, » of which « shamefacedness » is a later corruption based upon a misconception of the meaning of the word. The old termination « -fastness » was equivalent to the modern « -fulness, » and still survives in the fine word « steadfastness. » « Soothfastness » (Chaucer) is equivalent to the modern « truthfulness. » The revisers are to be commended for restoring the good old word, as used by Wiclif and Tyndale, to the text.