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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Maori Oratory and Humour

page 110

Maori Oratory and Humour.

Famed among the coloured races of the earth must surely be the Maori people. The Maori has the gift of speech to a remarkable degree, and had he the education that the western people have even "the silver-tongued Sexton" of Irish Home Rule fame would not be in it with the late Sir James Carroll or many of the dead and gone rangatiras of Old Wairoa. Their imagery at most times is diversified, and poetic in the extreme. A distinguished visitor from afar is likened to "the travelling kuaka," which makes nothing of a flight to Siberia! When an outstanding man of either race is claimed by death his decease is described as the fall of a giant totara, and so on. Poetical, too, to a great degree they are, and hyperbole and metaphor run through their speeches as they draw illustrations from Nature and Nature's ways; nor will they confess to ignorance if asked to explain some marvellous geological feature in Maoriland; rather will they invent on the spot some story that will fit as an answer to seekers after knowledge, and thus it is that historians of the Maori must be very careful in weighing evidence. They were humorous also, but in their humour sought to convey, perhaps, a life history in a five-minute speech. On the occasion of the Wairoa County Jubilee, Mr. Davie. Thompson, speaking in Maori, said:

"Greetings to all present. Commencing from my youth, the first settlers were the Lockwoods, the Spooners and the Coopers, who traded with the Maoris and sold them moleskin trousers, monkey coats, and page 111American shirts. There were no matches in those days but we used tow and flint. I used to grow wheat and I dug the ground, and when the crop was ripe I used a sickle, carried it in, and threshed it with a flail. Mr. Hamlin took the produce by boat to Auckland in 1865. The Hauhaus were troublesome that year and I was a soldier then. We had a battle in December at Maru Maru, and I was wounded in the shoulder. I was promoted a corporal. Majors Lambert and Fraser and Colonel Herrick were our officers in 1870—the war ended in 1877. I went to get sleepers for the Napier-Wellington railway line. We started to breed pigs before many white people came to Wairoa. It then took three months to send a hundred pigs to Wellington. The roads were extremely bad, and we camped on the road and allowed the pigs to feed on fern-root."

The marvel is how they ever got the pigs to Wellington, for "the pig, the craythur," is not a good swimmer. So "Davie" told his life history in a few sentences, hut he never told of his conversion to Christianity through a dream he had one night of a visit to Heaven. Only a few more instances can be given here. In early days there was great rivalry between the Maoris and the "whites," and when the late George Mayo imported the first dray, "Hori," of Waihirere, determined to get one also. After due mortgage arrangements he got one, and on a day never to be forgotten in the pa, he took his tandem team to the river side; swam the horses and ferried the dray on two canoes, landing near the old bridge site. After rubbing down the horses he harnessed them into the brand new dray, and proudly drove tandem down what is now Marine page 112Parade. On reaching a sandy stretch near the present Bank of New Zealand (once the kumara ground of pa Manukanui) the leading horse suddenly dropped dead. A crowd soon gathered, and the Maori, dismounting, went to the head of the defunct animal and exclaimed in all soberness, "By korry, he never do that before!"

Not long after, at Waikokopu, a "Digger" was looking at a list of unused army stores for sale when a young Maori entered, and the following dialogue resulted: "I want some clobber," said Hori (clobber being army slang for clothes). On being asked what he wanted, Hori said, "I want the trouser." The "Digger": "One pair, Hori?" "No, by korry, just the one trouser I want, I been to school—I know the pair you talk, he mean two." It was explained by the "Digger" that the trousers having two legs constituted a pair. Whereupon, after a little pondering, Hori replied: "What about the coat? He got two arms, him not a pair, by korry."

A Wairoa lad named Te Uri was being examined as to his knowledge of first-aid. Said the teacher, "Suppose one of the girls was to faint, what would you do?" Promptly Te Uri replied, "Lay her down on her back, put a cushion under her shoulders." "Quite right," said the teacher, "and what next?" "I would open the windows to give her plenty of fresh air and unloose the clothing at her neck." "Right," said the teacher, "and then …" "Oh, I would dash some cold water in her face, or get a wet towel, and slap her face and chest." "Very good," said the teacher, "and if that did not bring her round page 113what would you do?" "Then," said Te Uri, "I would order a coffin!"

A Maori pupil at a native school produced the following as an essay on "The sheep": "Springtime is the time in the every year when all the stuffs that animals and mens eat are growed on the farms; when the animals think that the stuffs is big enough to eat they has the baby animals; the cow he lay down and he have the calf, and the shepp he lay down and he have the baby too. Sometimes the she shepp and sometimes the bull shepp, but the bull shepp he lay down and get up without anythink!"

Can any European beat this for a soliloquy? The scene is a lofty cliff facing Lake Waikaremoana, and the man is a patriarch of the "Children of the Mist," lamenting the dead past:

"Hail ye lands of the rippling waters; all hail, ye lands of our ancestors of Tuhoe and Nga-Potiki. Hail to ye! Children of the Mountains, whose bones lie beneath the dark waters, in the burial caves of old on many a hard-fought parekura (battle-ground). It is you, O ancient Hatiti, who fell at Te Maire there below, in lonely Whanganui. Arid you, O Toko! of the strong arm, who died as man should die—in battle with up-raised weapon. O helpless women and little children! whose bodies choked the cave of Tikitiki—whose blood reddened the waters of Wai-kotero—your bones have long since been dust, but the hearts of Tuhoe still remember you—rest you in peace, in your chamber of death, beneath the silent waters of Waikare, for the forest holds the crumbling walls of Nga-Whakarara, and from Te-Ana-o-Tawa, which darkens yon cliff at Ahi-titi, methinks I yet hear across the waters the wail of Ruapani as we drove them page 114through the gates of death as utu (revenge) for your lives. Greetings to you, O Children of the Mist, for your villages are silent and deserted and your lands trodden by a strange race. No smoke arises around the silent sea, even from Te Mara-o-te-atua to Te Korokoro-o-Tawhaki,, and I alone of your generation am left—I alone remain of the fighting men of old. Remain in peace, O Children! for the strength I held to avenge you in days gone by has now passed away, and the thought grows that this is the last time I shall climb this great ika whenua, (backbone of Maire ridge) to greet you. E noho-ra (farewell)."

Or these laments, one by a Maori mother for her lost child:

"The mists are floating above Puke-hinau, where passed my beloved child. Turn back, O son! that tears may from my eyes be poured forth."

Or this lament of Kuril over her child:

"O Hiku, sleeping there, cease thy slumbers. Bestir thyself and rise, ere sinks the western sun."

"When Puaka of Tuhoeland lost her husband, Wi Tapeka of Te Wairoa, she bewailed her loss in impromptu song:

"Now lone am I, as sitting here I vainly strive my thoughts to gather. O friends! What can be done to lessen the pain that racks me? Bear me to the waterside and there sever my love for him to whom I clung, as clings the creeper to the forest tree, when I was but a girl and he was but a lad. But now, all lone am I, and restless is my sleep, as that of a mateless bird."

The reference to "taking to the water" was a very ancient Maori rite called Miri Aroha, performed at some sacred spring over a divorced page 115couple, or one who wanted his or her love ended. There were professional song-writers in Tuhoeland, two of whom I may mention, Piki and Mihi-ki-te-Kapu. One of their efforts ran like this:

"Alas! O little one. I think of your gambols on the marae and you running laughing to the door. These thoughts remain to gnaw at my heart as does the demon death, now that you have entered the gates of the world of darkness … O child! arise once more and speak to me."

Another story connected with a coronial enquiry arose when a fire engaged the attention of the denizens of Wairoa—as very often occurred. A small tailor's shop in the Parade took fire in the middle of the day, but it was subdued by a Wairoa bucket brigade operating from the river. As the shop was very small and the insurance very big the insuring company demanded an enquiry. The owner took his stand in the box and the Coroner said, "Now Mr.——, suppose this fire went on to its logical conclusion how would you come out of it?" "By the back door," was the reply—he was neither Irish nor Scotch, but a colonial.