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Maoria: A Sketch of the Manners and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Zealand.

Chapter II

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Chapter II.

That division of labour between fishermen and their wives existed in Maoria which may still be seen in some parts of Scotland, where the moment the keel of the boat touches the strand or quay, the work of the men is over till the boat again goes to sea; even baiting the fishing lines being done by the women, who take charge of and dispose of the fish. As the canoes came abreast of the esplanade below the Pa, those which had taken large numbers of fish touched at the landing place, where women with baskets were ready to carry them away. Besides the women from the village, there were parties from the great Pa, and from the neighbouring settlements, waiting for their turn to fill the baskets which were fastened to their backs with two long straps joined by a moveable cross-piece, and which were capable of containing loads under which the brawniest criers of "Caller Ou" would have quickly staggered.

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It was noticeable that this heavy work fell to the share of the married women. The young girls were exempt. The language concisely tells the whole story—hine, a girl, wahine, a woman or carrier. Previous to marriage, girls were not required or expected to perform laborious work, under the impression that if they worked hard before their frames had attained full maturity, they would not become the mothers of offspring sufficiently vigorous to inherit the martial prowess of their fathers. Thus cared for, maidens were not impatient to enter the married state, and they were allowed a degree of freedom which might have been incompatible with strict morality, but for a custom or law, as it might be termed, which allowed no woman, married or single, to go any distance from her home without being accompanied by a companion of her own sex.

The fleet of fishing canoes were constructed of four varieties of wood, white and red pine, cedar (totara), and mangio, that incomparable timber for canoe or boat building. Light as cork, and tough and durable as oak, no timber floats like it. White pine was the wood usually employed, from the fact of its growing in such masses by the water-side and its being so easily worked; but of all the native woods it was the least durable when exposed to the weather. The red pine was also in general use, the durable and easily worked kawrie pine, so plentiful in the North, being almost an exotic in the centre of the island, where also the totara was less common than in the South. Any number of page 21boats may be built on the same model, but no two fishing canoes were ever exactly alike. They were made of one single piece of wood. In their construction the master builder was guided by the shape of the tree, and nature gave him a large field in which to display his skill. War canoes, being constructed of at least five pieces, for hull, stem, stern, and sides, presented a more uniform appearance than those carved out of a single tree.

In the whole fleet a finer model could not have been found than the mangio kopapa, a small canoe which now swiftly approached the landing-place. She was about eighteen feet long, twenty-eight inches wide near the stern, and twenty inches deep. Capable of carrying four or five persons in ordinary weather, with only one on board she would glide over the heaviest seas in safety, and in smooth water few canoes, propelled by an equal number of paddles, could come near her.

Its occupant satisfied with his morning's work, was one of the first to leave off fishing; he coiled up his fishing lines in a neat flexible basket made of ti tree leaves, carried on shore the stone anchor, and, paddle in hand, walked up the bank, leaving a large heap of kahawai in the centre of his canoe. Who can define the qualities which make a good fisherman? Quickness of eye and hand, and delicacy of feeling are required, but there is still a something which cannot be described. One fisherman will see or feel a fish rise, and strike it, while another, less piscatorially gifted, will not be aware that a fish has touched his bait until page 22it is yards away. Anatomists tell us that it is not until some seconds have elapsed that the nerves of a whale, harpooned in the centre of its body, convey the information to its brain; and so perhaps it is with some fishermen; their nerves do not act with sufficient velocity, hence their want of success when fish are shy and difficult to catch. The fisherman who had just landed, Ngawhare, the chief Tohunga of the Ngatiroa, had that morning fully maintained his reputation, a far more difficult task, by the bye, when fish are biting freely and hooking themselves, and any one can catch them, than when they are shy, and require to be made to take the bait. The Tohunga was a well-preserved man who did not look forty, though he must have numbered at least a lustre beyond that age. He had taken life easily. Not of high birth, he was a self-made man, who by sheer force of talent had raised himself till he was the most influential man, not only in his own tribe, but amongst all the tribes of the great river who were in alliance with the Ngatiroa. His appearance unmistakably showed a mixture of Papuan blood with that of Polynesia. He had the high broad forehead of the superior race, but the crisp curly hair, broad nose, and constant smile of the former; while in temperament he was unquestionably rather Negro than Maori, for he had more wives, selected for their handsome persons, than any other chief on the river.

In his youth he had displayed great quickness of eye and hand; no young man of his years had equal skill in page 23designing a canoe, or in carving a handsome paddle, a task in which no Islanders have equalled the Maoris. He thus early acquired the name of "Tohunga," an untranslatable word, the nearest approach to which is "artist;" but it means all sorts of artists, from a soothsayer, or as some would say prophet, to the architect of a cottage. Ngawhare, as soon as his years permitted, became a tohunga, such as there were in all large settlements. He could plan a fortification to the approval of the most veteran engineers, design a war canoe, or superintend the shaping of the hull, and the carving of the head, side, and stern pieces. He also grew into request as a physician or wizard, a better word by which to designate the practiser of incantations than the sacred name of priest. He had a good memory, and early learned from the old people many of their ancient karakia, or incantations.

His most intimate friend was the young chief Tomo, who was a few years younger than himself, and to whom he was attached as much as he was capable of loving anyone except himself. Their friendship was all the closer inasmuch as they pursued different courses in life, which never clashed. Tomo was a mere warrior; his friend was a sage who desired to enjoy in peace the good things of this life. The Romans supposed that no man could be capable of the crime of parricide, so they made no law against that unnatural crime. The Maoris believed that no person was capable of being guilty of cowardice; there is, therefore, no word in their language which expresses page 24poltroonery, the nearest being equivalent to "a lazy fellow." They supposed that all men were born brave; some more so than others, and that the same man would upon some days be far braver than upon other days; surprise, dreams, omens, twenty things, might make a brave man occasionally disinclined to fight. Ngawhare, who often took long solitary rambles with his eel spear for a pretext, and who had certainly shown no alacrity in putting himself forward when obliged to go on warlike expeditions, was once called "a lazy fellow" by a young warrior who had recently distinguished himself; he laughed at the joke, but took an early opportunity "to make faces" at the wife of his traducer, knowing that, whether or no the lady returned his glances, the, ultimate result must be an invitation from the aggrieved husband to practice the spear exercise in the presence of the tribe. When his foresight proved correct, and the duel took place, good manners forced Ngawhare to allow the injured husband to make a few thrusts without returning them. Having received and successfully parried these, he astonished the spectators by the rapidity and skill with which he speared his antagonist through the side and shoulder; carefully avoiding the infliction of a mortal wound, the consequences of which would have been disagreeable. From that day it was acknowledged that he knew how to use a spear, the greatest of all weapons, whenever he saw good reason. We may cite one instance of the means by which he maintained the influence obtained by the soothsaying or prophetic side of his character. page 25Upon the death of Riwihutia, the wife of his friend Tomo, that chief took her loss so greatly to heart that it was thought he would follow her to Te Reigna, the land of spirits. In vain they brought him his infant daughter, he would not notice her; he mourned as those who will not be comforted, and was evidently passing away, when Ngawhare announced to him that Riwihutia had appeared to him the previous night, and had requested Tomo to meet her that evening at his, Ngawhare's, house.

That night some of the principal chiefs, with a few of their wives, met at the rendezvous. The first watch of the night passed in anxious expectation; the small puriri fire (a wood that burns like charcoal) had all but burned itself out, and the second watch had about half gone by; the visitors were grouped round the embers, some sitting, others, overpowered by sleep, dozing upon mats; the master of the house was lying at the end of the apartment, but some distance from the wall, when a slight noise was heard like a hand breaking through the rushes, of which the walls were built, from the outside of the house. "Did you hear that?" whispered the awestruck visitors to one another, while one of them aroused the Tohunga by taking hold of his foot. The noise increased until it resembled the sound of a person forcing his way through the rushes into the house.

A thin small voice then addressed them from the roof—"Greetings to you all! to you my husband, to you my father-in-law, to all of you, men and women, page 26salutations,!" None replied, while the panting of the unhappy husband could be distinctly heard.

The voice continued, "Speak to me; oh, speak to me, my husband! Where art thou, dearest?"

With one bound the husband sprang from the ground, and striking himself heavily against the low ridge pole of the roof, fell to the ground.

The Tohunga then spoke. "He cannot speak to you; tell him what are your wishes."

The voice replied—"He must live that he may cherish my child; it is my wish that he take another wife." No one had courage for further question, and after a short interval the voice said, "Farewell my relations!" and again, as if high in the air, "Farewell!" then as if higher still and almost lost in the distance, "Farewell!"

This séance saved the life of Tomo. He consented to live, and the wishes of the departed were complied with sooner than was agreeable to the bereaved husband, for the tribe speedily married him to a blooming young girl of whom he took not the slightest notice. His affections were concentrated upon his daughter Ora, and he remained a silent reserved man, over whom the Tohunga alone possessed any influence. From the date of the mystic interview between Tomo and his lost wife, Ngawhare became a person of the greatest importance; for only the very oldest persons in the tribe could remember the days when it had possessed a tohunga of sufficient mana (power) to summon the dead or to call spirits into council. He was at once page 27initiated into the secret Council of the Elders, and his fame spread beyond the river to the most distant parts of the Island.

Forthwith a considerable change took place in his mode of carrying on his profession of tohunga. He persistently refused to continue the practice of surgery or medicines, saying that his atna (spirit) did not care a rush how many of them lived or died; and hair cutting and tattooing, arts he had formerly successfully practised, he now utterly abjured and devoted himself to the highest karakia and soothsaying, summoning, upon very great occasions, his atna into council. Only once did he depart from his rule of not practising surgery. Having accompanied the tribe upon a war party at not too dangerous a distance for a man of his habits, he was engaged in incantations for the success of his comrades when he heard that his friend Tomo had been struck down by a blow from a toroai, or wooden sword. The toroai is an exceedingly ingeniously constructed weapon made of hard heavy wood, in shape something like the letter P; battle-axe at one end and spear at the other, it is adapted for either stroke or thrust, its broad sharp circular edge inflicting most unsightly wounds. It was well that the ascetic Tomo had received the blow, and not his uxorious friend, for the sharp blade had cut through his nose and broken the left side of his lower jaw. When the Tohunga found his friend he removed the clumsy bandages which hands less skilful than his own had fastened, and proceeded to do the best he could to raise the page 28broken nose and reset the jaw. Tomo soon found reason to congratulate himself on his friend's relapse into surgery, for his features on convalescence presented a much less unfavourable appearance than they would have done but for the interference of the skilful Ngawhare.

The presence of so valuable a personage was greatly sought after, and he possessed houses at the great eel Pa upon Rotorua lake, and at the settlement upon the upper Waitebuna where dwelt an offshoot of the tribe which had intermarried with the tribes of the upper basin of the river. If happiness consisted in a plurality of wives, houses and canoes, the Tohunga ought to have been a happy man, for he was nominally the owner of more canoes (his assistance and co-partnership as a skilful designer being eagerly sought after), and actually the owner of more wives and houses than any other man upon the river. Yet it is not improbable, that many were more successful in the pursuit in which we are all engaged, and in which success never lasts long, the pursuit of happiness. Even the day and night dreams of his melancholy friend Tomo of re-union with his lost wife, may, in the bare anticipation, have afforded a greater foretaste of happiness than that actually experienced by the omnipotent Tohunga in the fruition of all his wishes.

Although early marriages were, as we have seen, discouraged by the Maori polity, a life of celibacy for either sex was entirely beyond their philosophy. The mission of woman was to increase and multiply; that page 29of man was to defend his home. In a state in which perfect peace was unknown, in which its frequent war parties would be either utterly defeated and annihilated, or return as victors followed by a train of captive women and children, it unavoidably resulted that the females out-numbered the males very considerably. Polygamy thus became inevitable, and, though most indulged in by chiefs, whose alliance was sought after, was confined to no rank of life. A polygamist might be a great chief or a poor old slave; either might without reproach possess a plurality of wives. It was their private business, and did not concern the commonwealth, though the great body of the people were monogamists, and were of opinion that more than one wife did not add to a man's happiness. Old couples, who had passed through life faithfully, might be seen sleeping as closely locked in one another's arms as when, half a century earlier, they had represented love and beauty. Upon the death of the husband the wife frequently insisted upon following him to Te Reigna; and this, if closely watched, she would effect without outward violence. Sometimes, but less frequently, a man would follow his departed wife. There existed, however, no law or custom obliging husband or wife to die with one another, so Maoria was not the island visited by Sinbad the sailor upon his fourth voyage; nor did it practice either the one-sided Indian sacrifice of Suttee. The utmost that custom demanded was that the wife or wives of a great chief should remain widows for the remainder of their lives. Strange as it may appear, the Tohunga had un-page 30doubted faith in his own incantations, and that morning when he caught "the mataika," the first fish, as the first fruit of the line or net, or the first man slain or taken prisoner in battle was called; he had carefully taken it off the hook, plucked a hair from his head, which he placed in the mouth of the fish, and, having repeated an old incantation over it enjoining it to send its companions to his lines, he returned it to the water, preferring to attribute his success to the power of his incantation than to the skill of his hands. Now his superstition demanded a second offering; and as he turned the stem of his canoe towards the shore, he cast his eye over his haul of fishes, and selecting the one showing the strongest signs of life, he replaced it in the river.

As he landed the soothsayer looked round with an eye which saw, and an instinct which comprehended, everything. The gay attire of Tui caught his eye, and recognising the shawl which he knew she had for months been engaged in weaving for her grandfather, he advanced towards the girls.

"The Tohunga is coming," said Hira to Tui. "His appearance is distasteful to me," replied Tui, "but I must speak to him to give him my grandfather's message."

"What is there bad about the Tohunga, Tui?" said Ora, "to me he seems a kind, good-natured man."

Tui made no reply, for Ngawhare was close upon them.

"Salutations to you all," said the soothsayer, ap-page 31proaching the girls. "Salutations to you, Hira," he repeated, catching the eye of the girl who he saw wished to address him.

Hira rejoined, "The Elder Father ('Te Kan matua,' the name usually given to the Chief of the Tribe) would speak with you."

"That is well," replied Ngawhare. "What is his appearance?"

"He is as usual, but he fasted yesterday."

Having exchanged these few words, Ngawhare, first carefully depositing his fishing lines and paddles in his house, entered the neighbouring "guest house," and seated himself among some old men who were feasting upon fresh fish and sweet potatoes, and who gladly made way for him.

In a meal partaken of in public, by men living in a state of communism, all do not share and share equally, like a shipwrecked crew tossing in a long boat or drifting helplessly upon a raft. The finest fish and the best vegetables were reserved for those who held the first places in the community; a fair share was given to the people; and the poor, here represented by slaves, received the refuse and the scraps. As quickly as it was possible to open another oven, and place its contents in newly-made baskets of flax leaves, a relay of food was placed before the most influential man of the tribe; who, with great deliberation, enjoyed an ample breakfast.

Returning to his house, he selected a favourite weapon, a small spear made of manuka, dark and heavy page 32as rosewood, with the grain so true that it ran perpendicularly through the spear with mathematical precision from the point to the butt. Passing out at the gate of the Pa, he proceeded along the broad road leading to Ngutukaka, affectionately regarding his weapon with the eye of a proficient. The pieren was, in Maori opinion, a priceless weapon to which a man might with safety trust his life. The spear of an antagonist might well shiver in parrying the thrust of a weapon hard as stone, and a blow from a then unknown substance—iron—would have been required to break the arm which had accomplished so many great deeds in so many battles.

Thoughtfully Ngawhare proceeded along the wide road which separated the fishing village from the fortress, few of those who passed troubling him with salutations, when they noticed how absorbed he appeared to be. Although it was a time of peace, at least as much peace as there ever was in Maoria, almost every man he met, like himself, carried arms; even if he carried a spade or some other tool in his other hand; for when he arose in the morning no man in Maoria could say that the day before him might not prove to be a day of battle. Even when at peace with his nearest neighbours, and when dreading nothing from enemies at a distance, every freeman, in a land where war was believed to be the normal stat of things, habitually carried arms.

His road lay along the bank of the Mohaka: stream, which, deep and sluggish until it reached Ngutukaka, page 33served for the arsenal and dockyard of the Tribe. The canoes, mostly hauled up on the banks, and protected from the weather by long narrow sheds, appeared to increase in size as he approached the fortress, under the immediate protection of which was drawn up the fleet of dismantled war canoes. Not yet launched for the season, their ornamented stem and stern-posts, their streamers of feathers, and all their other bravery, were carefully deposited in stores built upon piles to preserve their contents from the damp.

Large canoes were fashioned in the forest where grew the trees from which the hulls were formed; but the little less laborious work of carving the immense slabs, which formed the top sides, could be done at home; so great stores of timber were collected, and might here be seen in all states of preparation.

As he approached the Pa, the sound of the busily-plied stone adzes increased; the result of the labour of industrious workmen with these primitive tools, the blades of which were formed of stone, being shown in the stupendous works in wood, which, now that he had arrived at "The Great Mouth" or gate of the Pa, were displayed on either side of the road.

The huge figures carved upon the tops of the posts of the outer defence that guarded the portal, if grotesque, had in them something awful and unreal. These gigantic figures did not represent evil spirits, as might have been supposed from their hideous appearance, but enemies, male and female, by whose names they were called. There they stood, forming the half page 34segment of a circle, guarding the entrance of the renowned Hill Fort, which no enemy had ever yet successfully attacked.

A few yards from the high palisade commenced the natural staircase, which led to the next defence. For want of a better term we have called it a staircase, but it was part of a basalt rock, whose rib-like formation twisted spirally round from the ground to where the solid stone terminated, some seven hundred feet above, and a cliff of boulders and earth commenced. This had been scarped, terraced, and palisaded; and outside the first palisade were stored boulders and trunks of trees, ready to be rolled down upon an enemy. This terrace was succeeded by a second terrace and palisade, but it was the stone staircase which bade defiance to the ordinary modes of attack by sap or fire. Had it been considered necessary the hill might have been further scarped and terraced, like the works on the numerous volcanic hills in the centre of the Island in the neighbourhood of Waitemata; and which, minus the palisading, will remain till the end of time, memorials of the industry of the Maori race. For those immense hills were terraced and fortified by men whose sole tool was a wooden spade.

The natural staircase, which had led some Maori engineer to conceive the idea of fortifying the hill, was formed of what may be called a double rib; it was the only one of the formation which was of sufficient width or regularity for a man to walk up. It had perhaps occurred from "a flaw in nature's casting," or more page 35probably, in a country which shows so many traces ot the shakes it has undergone, was the effect of an earthquake. The second gate was in the palisade of the first terrace, which extended more than a sufficient distanee to cover the staircase; this alone would have made the fortress impregnable. The third gate and second palisade and terrace, were therefore a compliment to custom. But before Ngawhare enters the fortress, another natural advantage which it possessed may be mentioned. On the northern face of the hill, from the base of the boulder formation to its summit, a belt of natural forest was still standing, protected by the mysterious law of tapu; the reason being, that, on that side, a spring of water, accessible by a path from the top, issued from the rocky cliff. This was always a convenience, and in time of war saved the labour of filling calabashes or of catching rain to refill the vessels in which water was stored. The staircase was on the eastern and lowest part of the hill, and the High Street of this gigantic Edinburgh Castle was absolutely inaccessible at any other point of this citadel of nature.

The upper gate opened upon a clear space; an oblong, round which, clear of the fortifications, stood the public buildings and the houses of the principal chiefs. There stood the guest house, the wrestling ground, the largest building in the place (the favourite resort in rainy weather), and the public sleeping houses; and at one of its extremities was placed the platform from which the Chiefs addressed the people.

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The régime of communism under which the people lived tolerated no drones; all were "busy bees" employed "on works of labour or of skill." It was a state of universal industry. From the ruling Chief to the most abject slave, all had their occupation; woman pursued the never-ending task all ages and countries have alloted to her, the preparation of food. The noise of "woman at the mill" was unheard; but the sound of her mallet engaged on the no less laborious work of preparing fern root, the staple bread of the Maoris, was the most familiar sound in the place. Fern root carefully dried in the sun and placed in store houses will keep sound as long as it is kept dry. When required for use it was roasted in the embers, and having been pounded bit by bit upon a block by a hand mallet, it became fit for consumption, and formed a not unpalatable food, resembling toasted bread in taste. This work of roasting and pounding fern root was chiefly performed by female slaves, their mistresses generally perferring to pass their time in weaving. The rule for all, however, men and women, was work during the hours between the morning and evening meals. During the rest of the day those who chose pursued a favourite indoor task, or joined in some amusement. At times, chiefly on occasions of ceremony or of display, there was an entire cessation of work, when all were supposed to assist at the festival.

The Tohunga, during his short walk, felt the vague uneasiness, that goes by the name of presentiment, respecting the old Chief who had summoned him. He page 37remembered that it was just a year since his old friend had told him that he was about to have an attack of "weariness," that disease so fatal to old people; and that he had then had much difficulty in persuading him that he was mistaken in his precognition of his symptoms. He had great influence over the old man, and he had no wish that the sceptre of the Tribe should pass into younger hands.

Passing up the staircase on the right and inner side, among the throng, mostly carrying loads of fish, firewood, or bundles of flax leaves, scarce a man of whom passed without wishing to greet him, though they respected his obvious wish to be uninterrupted, he reached the upper gate, avoiding the broad road through the open ground, on the opposite side of which stood the house of the Ariki, and, turning to the right, proceeded along the Northern and wooded face of the hill. After the path which led to the springs had been crossed, the track became so overgrown and indistinct that no one, not in the habit of often making use of it, could without hesitation have followed it to its termination in a grove of gloomy totara trees, which stood upon the edge of a precipice many hundred feet in depth. The Tohunga was now in his own peculiar domain, the tapued grove, the secrets of which were in his own keeping. Glancing round a gnarled and bushy tree, stunted in height, but of luxurious though gloomy foliage, he perceived a decayed branch within reach of his hand; slowly chanting an incantation, he grasped two withered twigs of nearly similar appearance, one page 38in either hand, and with a sudden jerk broke off both from the tree. The piece he held in his right hand broke short off where he held it, while a long dry twig remained in his left. With an air of disappointment he exclaimed, "He will die! Last year I saved him with difficulty, now my art is powerless to alter what Fate has irrevocably decreed."

In outward appearance, however, he soon rose superior to the disappointment caused by the unfavourable reply of the auspices he had consulted.

Regaining with his weapon his usual mien, his habitual smile, and his searching glance, he left the grove, taking a circuitous road back to the chief's house by completing the circuit of the Fort to its entrance; but the varied views of sea, river, and mountain, which unfolded themselves to his unheeding gaze, offered no attraction to this great hunter whose prey was man.