The Sunken Island. A Maori Legend: Occurring Ere the Time of Captain Cook.
Chapter II. A Great Feast and Post-Prandial Speeches
Chapter II. A Great Feast and Post-Prandial Speeches.
I Have heard it said by our old people, while I was yet but still an urchin, that, it was a sight which would do one's eyes good to witness one of these feasts held by the Taurangi. The big ones—of these eating concerns, I mean—were usually partaken of outside, on some well sheltered plain, and the outline of which was, in someway after the form of the web of the Pungawere-were, what you call the spider. The Maoris, at these big feeds squatted around in circles according to their several ranks. The highest in the centre, and the lowest the furthest away from the centre; these were the rings on the web, and the staying straight lines, were the passages where the waiting-slaves passed to and fro serving the food. It is a mistake to think that things were done in those far back times always in a rough, and in a haphazard slipshod sort of manner; when the truth is, that they were quite as orderly, if not more so, than they are in our own day; these waiters although nude, excepting a ruruku around their loins bustled themselves about, quite like the Pahekas do in one of your big hotels; carrying large mats of sweet kumaroes, reeking fish and fowl; kalabashes of sweettainted liquors prepared from the kouka—wild berries and page 9 drinking hakes, and looked every bit as important perhaps in their office, as any modern swell of a flunkey—that they did! It was no trifling spectacle to cast one's eyes upon—seven or eight of these circles of banqueting natives; perhaps, from thirty to seventy tangatas and wahines in each; shoveling with fingers and thumbs the savoury morsels down their capacious waiting throats; then, slaking their craving thirst by sipping out of cups produced from large sea-shells. On these occasions, the noise of voices roar higher than that of the raving winds of the devastating tupuhi: for, the Maori all over, and at all times greatly loves the talk. A good jest would run round from circle to circle, like a round ball on a flat-spinning wheel; then, the laughter would become uproarious, sometimes, too, even, as it is now, a humourously uttered piece of spicy scandal would exceedingly well go down, I don't think myself, that in many ways there is much difference in people, be they whatever they may, or wherever, or whenever they have lived since naturefirst tossed them out of her capacious lap. At any rate, this well I do know, that, the more I find out about the Pakeha, the less the difference appears between him and myself. It seems all a question of the varied ways we take to best reach the alluring substance, which each of us burn to obtain. Why! what is the use of your railways, your steam-ships, and big machines? but, only as it were to steal a march on those not so provided.
At this eating affair, which I am trying to describe, the mien of Matomato, if it were for nothing else, well entitled him to the name of Great! There, he squatted at the head of the inner-set, close to his matchless daughter, the very image of embodied dignity. He had then moved onward on the slippery path of life to a stage, which showed neither youth nor age. His head was so large as to become a common byword among the Maoris, in any vain undertaking—saying, “you'll never do that, though you had a head as big as Matomato!” His face was elegantly tattooed, round and flat, benign while pleased, when enraged most pitiless! Erect, while he stood, his shoulder bone was on a level with the crown of the tallest of most of his people; then, the arms and legs he had, O! what a marvel of size, and likewise of potency. The weight of his frame while moving about, seemed to cause the whenua to tremble. It would have taken no small stone thrown by no small force either to have on the forehead smote dead such a Goliath! Then at his right hand at the feast sat the pearl of his eye, and the solace of his heart, the glorious Runa! Conceive if you can, that, now you are regarding her delicate frame, and almost child-like face; page 10 the skin soft and smooth, with a tint like the bloom on the toitoi. Her hair in dark rippling rolls receding from the centre of the prettily arched forehead, and descending, as she now sits quite to the ground. A likeness of a small sprig of leaves is stained faintly under her round, red lips; and, as those lips open, curved rows of teeth peep forth, glistening with purity, as topazes. Runa's coal black eyes, were for beauty, such as no one could describe as they rolled and twinkled in their full round chambers; they read where there was no writing; they spoke where there came never a sound, and the wise and farseeing-ones of the hapu, would at whiles whisper guardedly among themselves, that she would yet perhaps have strange paths to tread!
Hours after the feasting was over, these swelled-out carousers still kept their position-wonderful tales were told by pretentious doughty chiefs, one after the other standing-up, of what were, and what did, their ancestors. One would, with a far reaching voice proclaim that the trunk whereof he was a branch was and Atua ! and came with his hapu in a great canoe from an island in a north-west direction, more than twenty thousand furlongs away, impelled hitherto by the force of a great towering wave, which had arisen in this way, from all the fish in every sea crowding together into one great shoal; and finally he came to land at a place Kawa Kawa ! Another, that he head of his line had been dropped into the sea at Hauraki, by a tremendous waterspout, and became Rangitoto, and that Waiheke bore him many children. Another, that, his ancient sire had reached this island, borne on the back of a great bird, five hundred times as large as the Moa, which had wings, that the shadow of them extended even from Matakana to Taurangi; when the feet of the bird touched the land, bit by bit it lessened and lessened, and at last it took the form of a pai wahine And another, that, his original progenitor in this Motu, had come from beyond a land with a name nearly like Mindanao; and when one day his canoe was foundering with him far away out at sea; what did he do? but seized hold of the foot of a rainbow, which day after day dragged and dragged him, until one morning, he let go his hold-the fall, insensibly stunned him, and on recovering from which he found himself lying on the broad of his back, when the tide was out, on Ahuriri flat beach ! One more, told how his ancient relatives hitherward had come, by being borne on the crest of a huge iceberg, which had dissolved while drawing on towards a land that scarcely then could be discerned. This land was by and by discovered to be Taranaki, and took seven page 11 days and seven nights swimming to reach. While yet but a little while on shore, and as he was hunting for food, he espied a small mountain moving, which he coo-eed to; with the coo-ee returned. The mountain threw from its body a loose and deep white garment, and lo! thereby revealed the graceful form of a Tamahine of an Atua! and through his union with this tapu-Tamahine, now here, I, myself before you stand, and for a proof of the truth of the words, I have now here spoken, to this very same hour the cast-off garment is to be seen on the top of Taranaki! Yet, again in turn one more announced himself to be a direct descendant of the Atua, which rose from the sea for breath, and vomited from out of his korokoro what in the fulness of time became this land.—“Stop! stop! at this point,” thundered out Matomato, I must not keep my ears any longer open to drink in such shamefully lying speeches! Know this, listen! all you people, now around. That those to whom we all owe our present footing to in this Uta of plentifulness, we know but little, or almost nothing about. But, the light which directs the thoughts within me; makes them only men and women as we this day are ourselves, who, perhaps, likewise as ourselves, too in barren seasons, had to seek for their food far out to sea, when the heavens darkened, and sent forth with great force, fierce baffling winds—drifting their canoes afar off from any mark or sign which formerly instructed them. There, then, they would be living upon but what the waters provided, and moving blindly at the control of winds and unknown currents. Such desperate straits too, might have prevailed for moons, and few of them alive to behold the finish. Just likely, as all their whakapona in the workings of the Great Spirit of Atua had become gradually reduced to almost nothing, chance the sight of some land-bird suddenly uplifted them with joy—watching for a time the steady direction that the good augury went, at once strength, as not of their own came instantly into their arms, and off darted their canoes over the then asleep sea, as rapid as are seen stars changing places in the sky. Such, O, people is how Matomato accounts to himself for the first peopling of this Uta! Certainly, the will of Atua has yielded me at this day great power. But, I have never felt so arrogant as to connect myself with gods! But, this much, I own to have felt, that those who do so have commonly the least like a god about them. Why should the Maori trouble, about raking up all sorts of impossibilities to account for how he does exist? Is it not sufficient to know that, he has an existence? without labouring in vain to get at its uncertain beginning!”page 12