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Old New Zealand: Being Incidents of Native Customs and Character in the Old Times by A Pakeha Maori

Chapter XV

page 204

Chapter XV

Mana.—Young New Zealand.—The Law of England.—“Pop goes the Weasel.”—Right if we have Might.—God save the Queen.—Good Advice.

In the afternoon I went home musing on what I had heard and seen. “Surely,” thought I, “if one half of the world does not know how the other half live, neither do they know how they die.”

Some days after this a deputation arrived to deliver up my old friend's mere. It was a weapon of great mana, and was delivered with some little ceremony. I perceive now that I have written this word mana several times, and think I may as well explain what it means. This is the more necessary, as the word has been bandied about a good deal of late years, and meanings have been often attached to it by Europeans which are incorrect, but which the natives sometimes accept because it suits their purpose. This same word mana has several different meanings; the difference between these diverse meanings is sometimes very great, and sometimes only a mere shade of page 205 meaning, though one very necessary to observe; and it is, therefore, quite impossible to find any one single word in English, or in any other language that I have any acquaintance with, which will give the full and precise meaning of mana. Moreover, though I myself do know all the meanings and different shades of meaning, properly belonging to the word, I find a great difficulty in explaining them; but as I have begun, the thing must be done. It will also be a tough word disposed of to my hand, when I come to write my Maori dictionary, in a hundred volumes; which, if I begin soon, I hope to have finished before the Maori is a dead language.

Now then for mana. Virtus, prestige, authority, good fortune, influence, sanctity, luck, are all words which, under certain conditions, give something near the meaning of mana, though not one of them gives it exactly: but before I have done, the reader shall have a reasonable notion (for a pakeha) of what it is.

Mana sometimes means a more than natural virtue or power attaching to some person or thing, different from and independent of the ordinary natural conditions of either, and capable of either increase or diminution, both from known and unknown causes. The mana of a priest or tohunga is proved by the truth of his predictions, as well page 206 as the success of his incantations; which same incantations, performed by another person of inferior mana, would have no effect. Consequently, this description of mana is a virtue, or more than natural or ordinary condition attaching to the priest himself; and which he may become possessed of and also lose without any volition of his own. When

Apollo from his shrine,
No longer could divine,
The hollow steep of Delphos sadly leaving,—

then the oracle had lost its mana.

Then there is the doctors' mana. The Maori doctors in the old times did not deal much in “simples,” but they administered large doses of mana. Now when most of a doctor's patients recovered, his mana was supposed to be in full feather; but if, as will happen sometimes to the best practitioners, a number of patients should slip through his fingers seriatim, then his mana was suspected to be getting weak, and he would not be liable to be “knocked up” so frequently as formerly.

Mana in another sense is the accompaniment of power, but not the power itself: nor is it even in this sense exactly “authority,” according to the strict meaning of that word, though it comes very near it. This is the chief's mana. Let him lose page 207 the power, and the mana is gone. But mind you do not translate mana as power; that won't do: they are two different things entirely. Of this nature also is the mana of a tribe; but this is not considered to be the supernatural kind of mana.

Then comes the mana of a warrior. Uninterrupted success in war proves it. It has a slight touch of the supernatural, but not much. Good fortune comes near the meaning, but is just a little too weak. The warrior's mana is just a little something more than bare good fortune; a severe defeat would shake it terribly; two or three in succession would show that it was gone: but before leaving him, some supernaturally ominous occurrence might be expected to take place, such as are said to have happened before the deaths of Julius Cæsar, Marcus Antonius, or Brutus. Let not any one smile at my comparing, even in the most distant way, the old Maori warriors with these illustrious Romans; for if they do, I shall answer that some of the old Maori Toa were thought as much of in their world, as any Greek or Roman of old was in his: and, moreover, it is my private opinion, that if the best of them could only have met my friend “Lizard Skin,” in his best days, and would have taken off his armour and fought fair, that the aforesaid “Lizard Skin” page 208 would have tickled him to his heart's content with the point of his spear.

A fortress often assailed but never taken has a mana, and one of a high description too. The name of the fortress becomes a pepeha, a war boast or motto, and a war cry of encouragement or defiance; like the slogan of the ancient Highlanders in Scotland.

A spear, a club, or a mere, may have a mana; which in most cases means that it is a lucky weapon which good fortune attends, if the bearer minds what he is about: but some weapons of the old times had a stronger mana than this, like the mana of the enchanted weapons we read of in old romances or fairy tales. Let any one who likes give an English word for this kind of mana. I have done with it.

I had once a tame pig, which, before heavy rain, would always cut extraordinary capers and squeak like mad. Every pakeha said he was “weatherwise;” but all the Maori said it was a “poaka whai mana,” a pig possessed of mana; for it had more than natural powers, and could foretell rain.

If ever this talk about the good old times be printed and published, and every one should buy it, and read it, and quote it, and believe every word in it—as they ought, seeing that every word page 209 is true—then it will be a puka puka whai mana, a book of mana; and I shall have a high opinion of the good sense and good taste of the New Zealand public.

When the law of England is the law of New Zealand, and the Queen's writ will run, then both the Queen and the law will have great mana: but I don't think either will ever happen, and so neither will have any mana of consequence.

If the reader has not some faint notion of mana by this time, I can't help it: I can't do any better for him. I must confess I have not pleased myself. Any European language can be translated easily enough into any other; but to translate Maori into English is much harder to do than is supposed by those who do it every day with ease; but who do not know their own language, or any other but Maori, perfectly.

I am always blowing up “Young New Zealand,” and calling them “reading, riting, rethmatiking” vagabonds, who will never equal their fathers; but I mean it all for their good—(poor things!)—like a father scolding his children. But one does get vexed sometimes. Their grandfathers, if they had “no backs,” had at least good legs; but the grandsons can't walk a day's journey to save their lives: they must ride. The other day I saw a young page 210 Maori chap on a good horse; he wore a black hat and polished Wellingtons, his hat was cocked knowingly to one side, and he was jogging along with one hand jingling the money in his pocket; and may I never see another war dance, if the hardened villain was not whistling “Pop goes the weasel!” What will all this end in?

My only hope is in a handy way (to give them their due) which they have with a tupara; and this is why I don't think the law will have much mana here in my time: I mean the pakeha law; for, to say the worst of them, they are not yet so far demoralized as to stand any nonsense of that kind; which is a comfort to think of. I am a loyal subject to Queen Victoria, but I am also a member of a Maori tribe; and I hope I may never see this country so enslaved and tamed that a single rascally policeman, with nothing but a bit of paper in his hand, can come and take a rangatira away from the middle of his hapu, and have him hanged for something of no consequence at all, except that it is against the law. What would old “Lizard Skin” say to it? His grandson certainly is now a magistrate, and if anything is stolen from a pakeha, he will get it back, if he can, and won't stick to it, because he gets a salary in lieu thereof; but he has told me certain matters in confidence, and which I therefore cannot disclose. I can only page 211 hint there was something said about “the Law,” and “driving the pakeha into the sea.”

I must not trust myself to write on these matters. I get so confused, that I feel just as if I was two different persons at the same time. Sometimes I find myself thinking on the Maori side, and then just afterwards wondering if “we” can lick the Maori, and set the law upon its legs; which is the only way to do it. I therefore hope the reader will make allowance for any little apparent inconsistency in my ideas, as I really cannot help it.

I belong to both parties, and I don't care a straw which wins; but I am sure we shall have fighting. Men must fight; or else what are they made for? Twenty years ago, when I heard military men talking of “marching through New Zealand with fifty men,” I was called a fool because I said they could not do it with five hundred. Now I am also thought foolish by civilians, because I say we can conquer New Zealand with our present available means, if we set the right way about it (which we won't). So hurrah again for the Maori! We shall drive the pakeha into the sea, and send the Law after them! If we can do it, we are right; and if the pakeha beat us, they will be right too. God save the Queen!

So now, my Maori tribe, and also my pakeha page 212 countrymen, I shall conclude this book with good advice; and be sure you take notice: it is given to both parties. It is a sentence from the last speech of old “Lizard Skin.” It is to you both. “Be brave, that you may live.”