Old New Zealand: Being Incidents of Native Customs and Character in the Old Times by A Pakeha Maori
The Muru falling into Disuse.—Why.—Examples of the Tapu.—The Personal Tapu.—Evading the Tapu.—The Undertaker's Tapu.—How I got Tabooed.—Frightful Difficulties.—How I got out of them.—The War Tapu.—Maori War Customs.
The law of muru is now but little used, and only on a small scale. The degenerate men of the present day in general content themselves with asking “payment,” and, after some cavilling as to the amount, it is generally given; but if refused, the case is brought before a native magistrate: the pleadings on both sides are often such as would astound our barristers, and the decisions of a nature to throw those famous ones by Sancho Panza and Walter the Doubter for ever into the shade.
I think the reason that the muru is so much less practised than formerly, is the fact that the natives are now far better supplied with the necessaries and comforts of life than they were many years ago; especially iron tools and utensils, and in consequence the temptation to plunder is proportionately decreased. Money would still page 108 be a temptation; but it is so easily concealed, and in general they have so little of it, that other means are adopted for its acquisition. When I first saw the natives, the chance of getting an axe or a spade by the summary process of muru, or—at a still more remote period—a few wooden implements, or a canoe, was so great a temptation, that the lucky possessor was continually watched by many eager and observant eyes, in hopes to pick a hole in his coat, by which the muru might be legally brought to bear upon him. I say legally, for the natives always tried to have a sufficient excuse: and I absolutely declare, odd as it may seem, that actual, unauthorized, and inexcusable robbery or theft was less frequent than in any country I ever have been in, though the temptation to steal was a thousandfold greater.
The natives of the present day are, however, improving in this respect, and, amongst other arts of civilization, are beginning to have very pretty notions of housebreaking; they have even tried highway robbery, though in a bungling way. The fact is they are just now between two tides. The old institutions which, barbarous and rude as they were, were respected and in some degree useful, are wearing out, and have lost all beneficial effect, and at the same time the laws and usages of civilization have not acquired any page 109 sufficient force. This state of things is very unfavourable to the morale of Young New Zealand; but it is likely to change for the better, for it is a maxim of mine that “laws, if not made, will grow.”
I must now take some little notice of the other great institution, the tapu. The limits of these flying sketches of the good old times will not allow of more than a partial notice of the all-pervading tapu. Earth, air, fire, water, goods and chattels, growing crops, men, women, and children,—everything, absolutely, was subject to its influence; and a more perplexing puzzle to new pakehas, who were continually from ignorance infringing some of its rules, could not be well imagined. The natives, however, made considerable allowance for this ignorance; as well they might, seeing that they themselves, though from infancy to old age enveloped in a cloud of tapu, would sometimes fall into similar scrapes.
The original object of the ordinary tapu seems to have been the preservation of property. Of this nature in a great degree was the ordinary personal tapu. This form of the tapu was permanent, and consisted in a certain sacred character which attached to the person of a chief, and never left him. It was his birthright: a part, in fact, of himself, of which he could not be divested; and it was well understood and recognized at all times, as page 110 a matter of course. The fighting men and petty chiefs, and every one, indeed, who could by any means claim the title of rangatira—which, in the sense I now use it, means gentleman—were all in some degree more or less possessed of this mysterious quality. It extended or was communicated to all their movable property; especially to their clothes, weapons, ornaments, and tools, and to everything, in fact, which they touched. This prevented their chattels from being stolen or mislaid, or spoiled by children, or used or handled in any way by others. And as in the old times, as I have before stated, every kind of property of this kind was precious, in consequence of the great labour and time necessarily, for want of iron tools, expended in the manufacture, this form of the tapu was of great real service. An infringement of it subjected the offender to various dreadful imaginary punishments; of which deadly sickness was one, as well as to the operation of the law of muru already mentioned. If the transgression was involuntary, the chief, or a priest, or tohunga, could, by a certain mystical ceremony, prevent or remit the doleful and mysterious part of the punishment, if he chose; but the civil action, or the robbery by law of muru, would most likely have to take its course, though possibly in a mitigated form, according to the circumstances.page 111
I have stated that the worst part of the punishment of an offence against this form of the tapu was imaginary; but in truth, though imaginary, it was not the less a severe punishment. “Conscience makes cowards of us all,” and there was scarcely a man in a thousand, if one, who had sufficient resolution to dare the shadowy terrors of the tapu. I actually have seen an instance where the offender, though an involuntary one, was killed stone dead in six hours, by what I considered the effects of his own terrified imagination; but what all the natives at the time believed to be the work of the terrible avenger of the tapu. The case I may as well describe, as it was a strong one, and shows how, when falsehoods are once believed, they will meet with apparent proof from accidental circumstances.
A chief of very high rank, standing, and mana, was on a war expedition; with him were about five hundred men. His own personal tapu was increased twofold, as was that of all the warriors who were with him, by the war tapu. The taua being on a very dangerous expedition, they were, over and above the ordinary personal tapu, made sacred in the highest degree, and were obliged to observe strictly several mysterious and sacred customs; some of which I may have to explain by-and-by. They were, in fact, as irreverent pakehas used to page 112 say, “tabooed an inch thick;” and as for the head chief, he was perfectly unapproachable. The expedition halted to dine. The portion of food set apart for the chief, in a neat paro or shallow basket of green flax leaves, was, of course, enough for two or three men, and consequently the greater part remained unconsumed. The party, having dined, moved on; and soon after a party of slaves and others, who had been some mile or two in the rear, came up, carrying ammunition and baggage. One of the slaves, a stout hungry fellow, seeing the chief's unfinished dinner, ate it up before asking any questions. He had hardly finished, when he was informed by a horrorstricken individual — another slave who had remained behind when the taua had moved on—of the fatal act he had committed. I knew the unfortunate delinquent well: he was remarkable for courage, and had signalized himself in the wars of the tribe. (The able-bodied slaves are always expected to fight in the quarrels of their masters; to do which they are nothing loth.) No sooner did he hear the fatal news than he was seized with the most extraordinary convulsions and cramps in the stomach, which never ceased till he died, about sundown the same day. He was a strong man, in the prime of life; and if any pakeha free thinker should have said he was not killed by the page 113 tapu of the chief, which had been communicated to the food by contact, he would have been listened to with feelings of contempt for his ignorance and inability to understand plain and direct evidence.
It will be seen at once that this form of the tapu was a great preserver of property. The most valuable articles might, in ordinary circumstances, be left to its protection, in the absence of the owners, for any length of time. It also prevented borrowing and lending in a very great degree; and though much laughed at and grumbled at by unthinking pakehas—who would be always trying to get the natives to give it up, without offering them anything equally effective in its place, or indeed knowing its real object or uses—it held its ground in full force for many years; and, in a certain but not so very observable a form, it exists still. This form of the tapu, though latent in young folks of rangatira rank, was not supposed to develope itself fully till they had arrived at mature age, and set up house on their own account. The lads and boys “knocked about” amongst the slaves and lower orders, carried fuel or provisions on their backs, and did all those duties which this personal tapu prevented the elders from doing; and which restraint was sometimes very troublesome and inconvenient.
A man of any standing could not carry provi- page 114 sions of any kind on his back; or if he did they were rendered tapu, and in consequence useless to any one but himself. If he went into the shed used as a kitchen (a thing, however, he would never think of doing except on some great emergency), all the pots, ovens, food, &c., would be at once rendered useless; none of the cooks or inferior people could make use of them, or partake of anything which had been cooked in them. He might certainly light a little fire in his own house; not for cooking, as that never by any chance could be done in his house, but for warmth: but that, or any other fire, if he should have blown upon it with his breath in lighting it, became at once tapu, and could be used for no common or culinary purpose. Even to light a pipe at it would subject any inferior person (and in many instances an equal) to a terrible attack of the tapu morbus: besides being a slight or affront to the dignity of the person himself.
I have seen two or three young men when on a journey fairly wearing themselves out on a wet day and with bad apparatus, trying to make fire to cook with, by rubbing two sticks together; when at the same time there was a roaring fire close at hand at which several rangatira and myself were warming ourselves: but it was tapu, sacred fire—one of the rangatira had made it from page 115 his own tinder box, and blown upon it in lighting it, and as there was not another tinder box amongst us, fast we must, though hungry as sharks, till common culinary fire could be obtained. A native whose personal tapu was perhaps of the strongest, might, when at the house of a pakeha, ask for a drink of water; and the pakeha, being green, would hand him some water in a glass, or, in those days, more probably in a tea-cup; the native would drink the water, and then gravely and quietly break the cup to pieces, or otherwise he would appropriate it by causing it to vanish under his mat. The new pakeha would immediately fly into a passion, to the great astonishment of the native; who considered as a matter of course, that the cup or glass was, in the estimation of the pakeha, a very worthless article, or he would not have given it into his hand and allowed him to put it to his head, the part most strongly infected by the tapu. Both parties would be surprised and displeased; the native wondering what could have put the pakeha into such a taking, and the pakeha “wondering at the rascal's impudence, and what he meant by it?”
The proper line of conduct for the pakeha in the above case made and provided, supposing him to be of a hospitable and obliging disposition, would be to lay hold of some vessel containing page 116 about two gallons of water (to allow for waste), and hold it up before the native's face; the native would then stoop down and put his hand, bent into the shape of a funnel or conductor for the water, to his mouth; then, from the height of a foot or so, the pakeha would send a cataract of water into the said funnel, and continue the shower till the native gave a slight upward nod of the head, which meant “enough:” by which time, from the awkwardness of the pakeha, the two gallons of water would be about expended, half, at least, on the top of the native's head; but he would not, however, appear to notice the circumstance, and would appreciate the civility of his pakeha friend. I have often drunk in this way in the old times: asking for a drink of water at a native village, a native would gravely approach with a calabash, and hold it up before me ready to pour forth its contents; when I, of course, cocked my hand and lip in the most knowing manner. If I had laid hold of the calabash and drunk in the ordinary way, as practised by pakehas, I should have at once fallen in the estimation of all by-standers, and been set down as a tutua, a nobody, who had no tapu or mana about him—a mere scrub of a pakeha, whom any one might eat or drink after without the slightest danger of being poisoned.
These things are all changed now; and though page 117 I have often, in the good old times, been tabooed in the most diabolical and dignified manner, there are only a few old men left now who, by little unmistakable signs, I perceive consider it would be very uncivil to act in any way which would suppose my tapu to have disappeared before the influx of new-fangled pakeha notions. Indeed I feel myself sometimes as if I had somehow insensibly become partially civilized. What it will all end in, I don't know.
This same personal tapu would even hold its own in some cases against the muru; though not in a sufficiently general manner to seriously affect the operation of that well-enforced law. Its inconveniences were, on the other hand, many, and the expedients resorted to to avoid them were sometimes comical enough. I was once going on an excursion with a number of natives; we had two canoes, and one of them started a little before the other. I was with the canoe which had been left behind, and just as we were setting off it was discovered that amongst twenty stout fellows my companions there was no one who had a back!—as they expressed it: consequently there was no one to carry our provisions into the canoe. All the lads, women, and slaves had gone off in the other canoe,—all those who had backs,—and so there we were left, a very disconsolate lot of page 118 rangatira, who could not carry their own provisions into the canoe, and who at the same time could not go without them. The provisions consisted of several heavy baskets of potatoes, some dried sharks, and a large pig baked whole. What was to be done? We were all brought to a full stop, though in a great hurry to go on. We were beginning to think we must give up the expedition altogether, and were very much disappointed accordingly, when a clever fellow—who, had he been bred a lawyer, would have made nothing of driving a mail coach through an act of parliament—set us all to rights in a moment. “I'll tell you what we must do,” said he, “we will not carry (pikau) the provisions, we will hiki them.” (Hiki is the word in Maori which describes the act of carrying an infant in the arms.) This was a great discovery! A huge handsome fellow seized on the baked pig and daudled it, or hiki'd it, in his arms like an infant; another laid hold of a shark, others took baskets of potatoes, and carrying them in this way deposited them in the canoe. And so, having thus evaded the law, we started on our expedition.
I remember another amusing instance in which the inconvenience arising from the tapu was evaded. I must, however, notice that these instances were only evasions of the ordinary kind page 119 of tapu,—what I have called the personal tapu; not the more dangerous and dreadful kind connected with the mystic doings of the tohunga, or that other form of tapu connected with the handling of the dead. Indeed, my companions in the instance I have mentioned, though all rangatira, were young men on whom the personal tapu had not arrived at the fullest perfection: it seemed, indeed, sometimes to sit very lightly on them, and I doubt very much if the play upon the words hiki and pikau would have reconciled any of the elders of the tribe to carrying a roasted pig in their arms; or, if they did do so, I feel quite certain that no amount of argument would have persuaded the younger men to eat it: as for slaves or women, to look at it would almost be dangerous to them.
The other instance of dodging the law was as follows. I was the first pakeha who had ever arrived at a certain populous inland village. The whole of the inhabitants were in a great state of commotion and curiosity, for many of them had never seen a pakeha before. As I advanced, the whole juvenile population ran before me at a safe distance of about a hundred yards, eyeing me, as I perceived, with great terror and distrust. At last I suddenly made a charge at them, rolling my eyes and showing my teeth; and to see the small savages tumbling over one another and run- page 120 ning for their lives was something curious: and though my “demonstration” did not continue more than twenty yards, I am sure some of the little villains ran a mile before looking behind to see whether the ferocious monster called a pakeha was gaining on them. They did run! I arrived at the centre of the village and was conducted to a large house or shed, which had been constructed as a place of reception for visitors, and as a general lounging place for all the inhabitants. It was a whare noa, a house to which, from its general and temporary uses, the tapu was not supposed to attach: I mean, of course, the ordinary personal tapu or tapu rangatira. Any person, however, infected with any of the more serious or extraordinary forms of the tapu entering it, would at once render it uninhabitable. I took my seat. The house was full, and nearly the whole of the rest of the population were blocking up the open front of the large shed; all striving to see the pakeha, and passing to the rear from man to man every word he happened to speak. I could hear them say to the people behind, “The pakeha has stood up!” “Now he has sat down again!” “He has said, how do you all do?” “He has said, this is a nice place of yours!” &c. &c.
Now there happened to be at a distance, an old gentleman engaged in clearing the weeds from page 121 a kumera or sweet potato field, and as the kumera in the old times was the crop on which the natives depended chiefly for support, like all valuable things it was tapu, and the parties who entered the field to remove the weeds were tapu pro tem. also. One of the effects of this temporary extra tapu was that the parties could not enter any regular dwelling-house, or, indeed, any house used by others. The breach of this rule would not be dangerous in a personal sense, but the effect would be that the crop of sweet potatoes would fail. The industrious individual I have alluded to, hearing the cry of “A pakeha! a pakeha!” from many voices, and having never had an opportunity to examine that variety of the species, or genus homo, flung down his wooden kaheru or weed exterminator, and rushed towards the town house before mentioned. What could he do? The tapu forbade his entrance, and the front was so completely blocked up by his admiring neighbours that he could not get sight of the wonderful guest. In these desperate circumstances a bright thought struck him: he would, by a bold and ingenious device, give the tapu the slip. He ran to the back of the house, made with some difficulty a hole in the padded raupo wall, and squeezed his head through it. The elastic wall of raupo closed again around his neck; and the tapu was fairly beaten! page 122 No one could say he was in the house. He was certainly more out than in; and there, seemingly hanging from, or stuck against the wall, remained for hours, with open mouth and wondering eyes, this brazen head; till at last, the shades of night obstructing its vision, a rustling noise in the wall of flags and reeds announced the departure of my ingenious admirer.
Some of the forms of the tapu, however, were not to be trifled with, and were of a most virulent kind. Of this kind was the tapu of those who handled the dead, or conveyed the body to its last resting-place. This tapu was, in fact, the uncleanness of the old Jewish law; it lasted about the same time, and was removed in almost the same way. It was a most serious affair. The person who came under this form of the tapu was cut off from all contact, and almost all communication, with the human race. He could not enter any house, or come in contact with any person or thing, without utterly defiling them. He could not even touch food with his hands; which had become so frightfully tapu, or unclean, as to be quite useless. Food would be placed for him on the ground, and he would then sit or kneel down, and, with his hands carefully held behind his back, would gnaw it in the best way he could. In some cases he would be fed by another person, who, with out- page 123 stretched arm, would manage to do it without touching the tapu'd individual; but this feeder was subjected to many and severe restrictions, not much less onerous than those to which the other was subject.
In almost every populous native village there was a person who—probably for the sake of immunity from labour, or from being good for nothing else—took up the undertaking business as a regular profession, and, in consequence, was never for a moment, for years together, clear of the horrid inconveniences of the tapu, as well as its dangers. One of these people might be easily recognized, after a little experience, even by a pakeha. Old, withered, haggard, clothed in the most miserable rags, and daubed all over from head to foot with red paint (the native funereal colour), made of stinking shark oil and red ochre mixed, keeping always at a distance, silent and solitary, often half insane, he might be seen sitting motionless all day at forty or fifty yards distance from the common path or thoroughfare of the village. There, under the “lee” of a bush, or tuft of flax, he gazed silently, and with “lacklustre eye,” on the busy doings of the Maori world, of which he was hardly to be called a member. Twice a day some food would be thrown on the ground before him, to gnaw as page 124 best he might, without the use of hands; and at night, tightening his greasy rags around him, he would crawl into some miserable lair of leaves and rubbish; there, cold, half starved, miserable, and dirty, to pass, in fitful ghost-haunted slumbers, a wretched night, as prelude to another wretched day. It requires, they say, all sorts of people to make a world; and I have often thought, in observing one of these miserable objects, that his, or hers, was the very lowest ebb to which a human being's prospects in life could be brought by adverse fate. When I met, or rather saw, a female practitioner, I fairly ran for it; and, believing my readers to be equally tender-hearted, I shall not venture on any more description, but merely say that the male undertaker, such as I have described him, would be an Apollo, in comparison with one of these hags.
What will my kind reader say when I tell him that I myself once got tapu'd with this same horrible, most horrible, style of tapu? I hold it to be fact that there is not one man in New Zealand but myself who has a clear understanding of what the word “excommunication” means: indeed I did not understand what it meant till I got tapu'd. I was returning with about sixty men from a journey along the west coast, and was a short distance in advance of the party, when I page 125 came to where the side of a hill had fallen down on to the beach and exposed a number of human bones. There was a large skull rolling about in the water, and I took up this skull without consideration, carried it to the side of the hill, scraped a hole, and covered it up. Just as I had finished burying it up came my friends, and I saw at once, by the astonishment and dismay depicted on their countenances, that I had committed some most unfortunate act. They soon let me know that the hill had been a burial-place of their tribe, and jumped at once to the conclusion that the skull was the skull of one of their most famous chiefs; whose name they told me. They informed me also that I was no longer fit company for human beings, and begged me to fall to the rear and keep my distance. They told me all this from a very respectful distance, and if I made a step towards them, they all ran as if I had been infected by the plague. This was an awkward state of things, but as it could not be helped, I voted myself tapu, and kept clear of my friends till night.
At night when they camped, I was obliged to take my solitary abode at a distance unde shelter of a rock. When the evening meal was cooked, they brought me a fair allowance, and set it down at a respectful distance from where I sat; fully expecting, I suppose, that I should bob at it as page 126 Maori kai tango atua, or undertakers, are wont to do. I had, however, no idea of any such proceeding; and, pulling out my knife, proceeded to operate in the usual manner. I was checked by an exclamation of horror and surprise from the whole band—“Oh, what are you about? You are not going to touch food with your hands!” “Indeed, but I am,” said I, and stretched out my hand. Here another scream—“You must not do that: it's the worst of all things. One of us will feed you: it's wrong, wrong, very wrong!” “Oh, bother,” said I, and fell too at once. I declare, positively, I had no sooner done so than I felt sorry. The expression of horror, contempt, and pity, observable in their faces, convinced me that I had not only offended and hurt their feelings, but that I had lowered myself greatly in their estimation. Certainly I was a pakeha, and pakehas will do most unaccountable things, and may be, in ordinary cases, excused; but this, I saw at once, was an act which, to my friends, seemed the ne plus ultra of abomination. I now can well understand that, while sitting there eating my potatoes, I must have appeared to them a ghoul, a vampire; worse than even one of their own dreadful atua, who, at the command of a witch, or to avenge some breach of the tapu, enters into a man's body and slowly eats away his vitals. page 127 I can see it now, and understand what a frightful object I must have appeared.
My friends broke up their camp at once, not feeling sure, after what I had done, but I might walk in amongst them, in the night, when they were asleep, and bedevil them all. They marched all night, and in the morning came to my house, where they spread consternation and dismay amongst my household by telling them in what a condition I was coming home. The whole of my establishment at this time being natives, ran off at once; and when I got home next evening, hungry and vexed, there was not a soul to be seen. The house and kitchen were shut up, fires out, and, as I fancied, everything looked dreary and uncomfortable. If only a dog had come and wagged his tail in welcome, it would have been something; but even my dog was gone. Certainly there was an old tom cat; but I hate cats: there is no sincerity in them, and so I had kicked this old tom, on principle, whenever he came in my way, and now, when he saw me, he ran for his life into the bush.
The instinct of a hungry man sent me into the kitchen; there was nothing eatable to be seen but a raw leg of pork, and the fire was out. I now began to suspect that this attempt of mine to look down the tapu would fail, and that I should page 128 remain excommunicated for some frightfully indefinite period. I began to think of Robinson Crusoe, and to wonder if I could hold out as well as he did. Then I looked hard at the leg of pork. The idea that I must cook it for myself, brought home to me the fact more forcibly than anything else how I had “fallen from my high estate”—cooking being the very last thing a rangatira can turn his hand to. But why should I have anything more to do with cooking?—was I not cast off and repudiated by the human race? (A horrible misanthropy was fast taking hold of me.) Why should I not tear my leg of pork raw, like a wolf? “I will run a-muck!”—suddenly said I. “I wonder how many I can kill before they ‘bag’ me? But—I must have some supper.”
I soon made a fire, and, after a little rummaging, found the matériel for a good meal. My cooking was not so bad either, I thought; but certainly hunger is not hard to please in this respect, and I had eaten nothing since the diabolical meal of the preceding evening, and had travelled more than twenty miles. I washed my hands six or seven times, scrubbing away and muttering with an intonation that would have been a fortune to a tragic actor, “Out, damned spot;” and so, after having washed and dried my hands, looked at page 129 them, returned, and washed again, again washed, and so on, several times, I sat down and demolished two days' allowance. After which, reclining before the fire with my pipe, and a blanket over my shoulders, a more kindly feeling towards my fellow-men stole gradually upon me. “I wonder,” said I to myself, “how long this devilish tapu will last! I wonder if there is to be any end at all to it! I won't run a-muck for a week, at all events, till I see what may turn up. Confounded plague though to have to cook!” Having resolved as above, not to take any one's life for a week, I felt more patient.
Four days passed, somehow or another, and on the morning of the fifth, to my extreme delight, I saw a small canoe, pulled by one man, landing on the beach before the house. He fastened his canoe and advanced towards the kitchen, which was detached from the house, and, in the late deplorable state of affairs, had become my regular residence. I sat in the doorway, and soon perceived that my visitor was a famous tohunga, or priest, and who also had the reputation of being a witch of no ordinary dimensions. He was an old, grave, stolid-looking savage, with one eye; the other had been knocked out long ago in a fight, before he turned parson. On he came, with a slow, measured step, slightly gesticulating with page 130 one hand, and holding in the other a very small basket, not more than nine or ten inches long. He came on, mumbling and grumbling a perfectly unitelligible karakia or incantation. I guessed at once he was coming to disenchant me, and prepared my mind to submit to any conditions or ceremonial he should think fit to impose. My old friend came gravely up, and putting his hand into the little basket pulled out a baked kumera, saying, “He kai mau.” I of course accepted the offered food, took a bite, and as I ate he mumbled his incantation over me.
I remember I felt a curious sensation at the time, like what I fancied a man must feel who had just sold himself, body and bones, to the devil. For a moment I asked myself the question whether I was not actually being then and there handed over to the powers of darkness. The thought startled me. There was I, an unworthy but believing member of the Church of England as by Parliament established, “knuckling down” abjectly to the ministration of a ferocious old cannibal, wizard, sorcerer, high priest,—or, as it appeared very probable,—to Satan himself. “Blacken his remaining eye! knock him over and run the country!” whispered quite plainly in my ear my guardian angel, or else a little impulsive sprite who often made suggestions to page 131 me in those days. For a couple of seconds the sorcerer's eye was in desperate danger; but just in those moments the ceremony, or at least this most objectionable part of it, came to an end.
The tohunga stood back and said, “Have you been in the house?” Fortunately I had presence of mind enough to forget that I had, and said, “No.” “Throw out all those pots and kettles.” I saw it was no use to resist, so out they went. “Fling out those dishes” was the next command. “The dishes?—they will break.” “I am going to break them all.” Capital fun this. Out go the dishes; “and may the —.” I fear I was about to say something bad. “Fling out those knives, and those things with sharp points”—(the old villain did not know what to call the forks!)—“and those shells with handles to them”—(spoons!)—“out with everything.” The last sweeping order is obeyed, and the kitchen is fairly empty. The worst is over now at last, thank goodness, said I to myself. “Strip off all your clothes.” “What?—strip naked!—you desperate old thief—mind your eye.” Human patience could bear no more. Out I jumped. I did “strip.” Off came my jacket. “How would you prefer being killed, old ruffian?—can you do anything in this way?” (Here a pugilistic demonstration.) “Strip!—he doesn't mean to give me five dozen, does he?” page 132 said I, rather bewildered, and looking sharp to see if he had anything like an instrument of flagellation in his possession. “Come on!—what are you waiting for?” said I.
In those days, when labouring under what Dickens calls the “description of temporary insanity which arises from a sense of injury,” I always involuntarily fell back upon my mother tongue; which in this case was perhaps fortunate, as my necromantic old friend did not appreciate the full force of my eloquence. He could not, however, mistake my warlike and rebellious attitude, and could see clearly I was going into one of those most unaccountable rages that pakehas were liable to fly into, without any imaginable cause. “Boy,” said he, gravely and quietly, and without seeming to notice my very noticeable declaration of war and independence, “don't act foolishly; don't go mad. No one will ever come near you while you have those clothes. You will be miserable here by yourself. And what is the use of being angry?—what will anger do for you?” The perfect coolness of my old friend, the complete disregard he paid to my explosion of wrath, as well as his reasoning, began to make me feel a little disconcerted. He evidently had come with the purpose and intention to get me out of a very awkward scrape, and I began also to feel that, page 133 looking at the affair from his point of view, I was just possibly not making a very respectable figure: then, if I understood him rightly, there would be no flogging. “Well,” said I, at last, “Fate compels: to fate, and not old Hurlo-thrumbo there, I yield—so here goes.” Let me not dwell upon the humiliating concession to the powers of tapu. Suffice it to say, I disrobed, and received permission to enter my own house in search of other garments.
When I came out again, my old friend was sitting down with a stone in his hand, battering the last pot to pieces, and looking as if he was performing a very meritorious action. He carried away all the smashed kitchen utensils and my clothes in baskets, and deposited them in a thicket at a considerable distance from the house. (I stole the knives, forks, and spoons back again some time after, as he had not broken them.) He then bid me good-by; and the same evening all my household came flocking back: but years passed before any one but myself would go into the kitchen, and I had to build another. And for several years also I could observe, by the respectable distance kept by young natives and servants, and the nervous manner with which they avoided my pipe in particular, that they considered I had not been as completely purified from the tapu page 134 tango atua as I might have been. I now am aware, that in consideration of my being a pakeha—and also, perhaps, lest, driven to desperation, I should run away entirely, which would have been looked upon as a great misfortune to the tribe—I was let off very easy, and might therefore be supposed to retain some tinge of the dreadful infection.
Besides these descriptions of tapu, there were many other. There was the war tapu, which in itself included fifty different “sacred customs,” one of which was this. Often when the fighting men left the pa or camp, they being themselves made tapu—or sacred, as in this particular case the word means—all those who remained behind, old men, women, slaves, and all non-combatants, were obliged strictly to fast while the warriors were fighting; and, indeed, from the time they left the camp till their return, even to smoke a pipe would be a breach of this rule. These war customs, as well as other forms of the tapu, are evidently derived from a very ancient religion, and did not take their rise in this country. I shall, probably, some of these days, treat of them at more length, and endeavour to trace them to their source.
Sacrifices were often made to the war demon, and I know of one instance in which, when a tribe were surrounded by an overwhelming force of their enemies, and had nothing but extermination page 135 —immediate and unrelenting—before them, the war chief cut out the heart of his own son as an offering for victory; and then he and his tribe, with the fury of despair and the courage of fanatics, rushed upon the foe, defeated them with terrific slaughter, and the war demon had much praise, and many men were eaten.
The warriors, when on a dangerous expedition, also observed strictly the custom to which allusion is made in 1st Samuel, xxi. 4, 5.