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Amongst the Maoris: A Book of Adventure

Chapter XII

page 118

Chapter XII.

Maori Ways And Habits.

The Maoris did not seem at all affronted at the Pakeas not appearing to relish their peculiar national delicacies. Perhaps they were the better pleased at having it all for themselves.

During dinner, at which the men sat down, and the women sometimes waited on the strangers, sometimes retired giggling together into the huts, Jack Stanley had leisure to examine more particularly the dresses of their hosts. Most of them were attired in what are called mats, made of the New Zealand flax, which grows in abundance about the island. This is, when new, of a pale cream colour, and very fresh and cool in appearance. The chief's dress had a rather ornamental border of black and red squares worked round his garment, and in his head were stuck some of the feathers of the black and white parrot. His hair looked something like two or three large handfuls of the stuffing from a mattress, placed upon his head rather than as if growing out of it. Some few of the page 119 women wore European dresses, so far as that they had a sort of ill-fitting sack of some common calico print fastened round them; but they did not look nearly so well in it as in their native costume. Some of the women's flaxen mats were dyed, and their hair, which looked extremely dirty, was gathered into a knot upon the top of the head. Indeed, the general appearance of the people was dirty, and the smell which came from them was very disagreeable.

“Why is it that most, if not all, barbarous people love dirt?” said Bernard to Colonel Bradshaw as the two stood outside the hut after dinner.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness, they say, you know,” answered he. “I think the Christian Maoris are cleaner, though they might wash their blankets oftener. I suppose as they become more civilized they will get cleaner.”

“But it cannot be natural to be dirty,” returned Jack, “for animals are always clean.”

“That is true, but it is not an argument. Animals follow their instinct in this as in everything else: they know it is unhealthy to be dirty. Men seem to be without instinct, excepting on rare occasions.”

“Well, my instinct induces me to feel very sick,” said Jack.

“My dear boy,” said Colonel Bradshaw, “it is a very unfortunate thing to be too sensitive. You must forget your sense of smell, and often other senses also, when you are travelling.”

page 120

“Do you think these people will be affronted if I sketch some of them?”

“On the contrary, they will take it as a compliment. I will go and tell the chief: you must draw him first.”

“Oh, no!” said Jack; “he is such a horrid old object, with his tattoo and his wide mouth. I would sooner draw that young man who is sitting by the palings.”

“You must not: he is a slave. You must draw the chief first, I can assure you; so come along.”

“Perhaps my dear old friend in the plaid breeches would permit me to put his angelic countenance upon paper.”

“I doubt if he would to oblige you,” answered the Colonel. “He does not look as if he bore you much love or goodwill.”

“Oh,” said Jack, laughing, and glancing at the old priest, “I fancy he thinks that style of expression becomes him.”

So Jack Stanley had to sketch the ugly old chief and his shrivelled wife first as a sort of powder, and take the good-looking young man afterwards as jam.

His drawing excited an immense amount of interest and the artist felt at times considerably oppressed by his company, or rather admirers, who pressed round him so closely as occasionally to interfere with his occupation, and who shouted with laughter at everything that pleased them.

When the sketches were finished, Jack Stanley turned to Colonel Bradshaw and said,

page 121

“Cannot we move on at once? The dirt and the smell of these people turn me quite sick. I am sure I have endured them with great philosophy until now. I would so much rather camp out to-night as usual, instead of remaining in this place. I am sure I shall dream of that old plaid gentleman, whatever you call him.”

“No,” answered Colonel Bradshaw. “After the reception we have met with, I don't think we can, Jack. They expect us to remain here to-night, and it will hurt their feelings if we move on.”

“Feelings!” Jack Stanley exclaimed; “I did not suppose they had any. It does not look much like it, by all we have but lately seen. I fancy they have about as much feeling as they have sense of smell.”

“You must not judge of them as you would of ourselves,” said the Colonel. “I think as good an indication as any of the Maoris possessing acute feeling, is their keen sense of the ludicrous. You must remember that the people of this village are heathens: we Britons were no better before the days of the blessed Gospel. In the missionary villages you will not be annoyed by such horrible sights as you may here. Generally, although not altogether, they have done away with such things, although even there they cannot be expected to throw away all their superstitions at once. Come on, Jack! come on, Bernard! those signs mean that it is sleepingtime, and that we are expected to go to bed.”

“Oh, dear,” groaned Jack, “cannot they let us remain page 122 a little longer at peace in the fresh air? Indeed, sir, I would rather walk about all night.”

“Come on!” was all the answer the Colonel gave, and Jack had to submit.

There was a choice given the travellers of sleeping in the open air of the pah, to be devoured by sand-flies, or sleeping in a large hut prepared for strangers. Jack was for the former alternative, decidedly; but the Colonel whispered to him,

“They will be better pleased if you avail yourselves of their hospitality. They mean to be friendly, and they have been at the trouble of preparing this sleeping-place for us: it is better to try and please them.”

Bernard and Jack nodded, and entered the hut.

Besides their three selves, there were the four Maori guides who had come with them. These men had already lighted a fire of enormous size, and, as soon as their master and his companions entered the hut, they proceeded to close the door, and block it up in such a way as not to permit a breath of air to enter. As it was a very warm summer night, the Europeans began from the first few moments to gasp for breath. The Colonel spoke to the natives; but it was in vain: if they opened the door, no sooner was he laid down again, and apparently quiet, than the Maoris shut it again. It was useless to attempt to sleep: if they could have done so in such heat, the fleas gave them not a moment's respite.

But neither heat nor fleas seemed to disturb the Maoris. page 123 Through it all—combined with the smoke from the wood fire, and the steam and smell of dirt from their own bodies and their blankets—they snored the snore of unconsciousness. One after the other the Englishmen rose and made a rush into the open air, where they passed the remainder of the night a prey to the devouring sand-flies.

“Have these people any religion?” asked Hope Bernard, as he looked up at the stars.

“I can scarcely answer you,” said Colonel Bradshaw. “Some sort of religion they have; but it is not a worship of God. They pay reverence to certain demons, or atuas, as they call them.”

“Lizards, for example?”

“I don't think they look upon lizards as atuas themselves, but as in a way sacred to them: as the Egyptians of old paid reverence to cats and dogs and other animals, and did not permit them to be destroyed.”

“But what do you think they believe? They must have some mythology, as is shown by what you have just said about their superstitions.”

“The people themselves believe that their islands were fished out of the sea with a hook by their ancestor, Mani. I suppose he is to be looked upon as a god; but, so far as I can gather, they have no gods. They are full of superstitions, and they believe in witchcraft, and evil eye, and such things; but their worship is a propitiation of wicked spirits—a keeping off of evil, more than any hope of good.”

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“How wretched!” said Bernard.

“Wretched indeed,” the Colonel answered.

“Naturally, in consequence, they indulge in anger and revenge and all the worst passions.”

“You say that old man is a priest of their religion. He just looks like an old ruffian to encourage such sentiments,” said Bernard.

“He is, no doubt, a very fit representative of such a religion,” answered Colonel Bradshaw.