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A year among the Maoris: study of their arts and customs

Chpater XIV — Facts and Fancies Culled from Hearsay and Books

page 172

Chpater XIV
Facts and Fancies Culled from Hearsay and Books

In beckoning someone to approach, the hand and arm are waved, not in the manner which we are accustomed to, but in the reverse direction.

In place of nodding in giving assent the eyebrows are raised.

When a child sneezes one says, "Sneeze, living heart," as we say "God bless you!"

Protruding or hanging the tongue from the mouth is a symbol of valour, or a token of defiance.

Maori children were the rightful heirs of the property of their grandfather, to the exclusion of their uncles.

The Maoris tell the story of how two men and a woman were taken up to heaven during life, carried there on a spider's web as a reward for good deeds.

The reason that the moon is not seen every night is this: Maui, when he made the sun go a little slower by his beating him, being still unsatisfied, followed the sun one evening and caught him, and tied him with a line to the moon, thus making the moon go after the sun, and staying the sun somewhat more in his progress. Soon after this, Maui quarrelled with his kindred, and being desirous of revenge, he put his hand before the moon at times to keep them in darkness. —White.

The origin of the rapid vibration of the hands in the haka is said to have been suggested by the quivering of heated air.

page 173

To make the tooth of a child come, the mother says:

Growing kernel, grow,
Grow that thou mayest arrive
To see the moon now full.
Come, thou kernel,
Let the tooth of man
Be given to the rat,
And the rat's tooth to the man.

John White.

Where a river becomes narrow it is said to be its "places of weariness."

All Maoris smoke, from small children but a few years old to the oldest men and women, and they all have beautiful white teeth.

The following are three proverbs translated by Edward Shortland:

  • 1. When a seine is worn out with age the new net encircles fish. (This means when a man grows old, his son takes his place.)
  • 2. A deep throat, but shallow sinews. (This applies to a voracious but lazy fellow.)
  • 3. The passing clouds may be seen, but passing thoughts cannot be seen.

Here and there on the terraced hills are to be seen little holes a foot or so square; they are the little fireplaces in the homes gone so long ago.

The Maoris wore little more than a loin cloth while at any heavy work, as the cloaks did not allow of a free movement of the limbs.

Distance was measured by nights (po), as so many nights before reaching a destination.

page 174

In the olden days, when a ship was sighted, the natives followed along the shore to be on hand upon its arrival, so keen were they to secure iron, even nails.

Many of the Rotorua natives have a decided Jewish cast of countenance.

Because the Maoris have no word in their language for gratitude, they are credited with knowing nothing of its sentiment. This does them an injustice; they are themselves generous and responsive.

They used flax baskets as measures.

They had no ciphers. Fifty is "five tens," seventy "seven tens," etc. Fifteen is "five and ten," thirtythree is "three tens and three."

They also reckoned by pairs, as "six baskets of kumaras twice told."

The land on which the Maori lives means so much to him that he has some difficulty in understanding why Europeans living in the realm of the great Queen Victoria (many of them spoke as though that gracious Sovereign still reigned) should have land bought for them and have others live upon it, or work it for the owner's profit.

It is said that before their separation into earth and sky, Rangi and Papa were joined together in the form of a globe, and in referring to the creation they say: "The world was, but it lay in darkness."

When the native bush is cleared for cultivation the Maoris say: "The children of Tane Mahuta (the god of forests and birds) are laid low."