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Legends of the Maori

The Dirge of Rangi-Mamao

page 309

The Dirge of Rangi-Mamao.

THIS chant of sorrow for the dead came from Tamarahi Tomairangi. of the Ngati-Pikiao tribe. It was composed by Rangi-mamao, of Rotoiti, and sung by her at the tangihanga for her husband, Maihi. Tamarahi recited to me the original, from which I translate this version, when we were in camp at Tapuwae-haruru, Lake Rotoiti, one night in1996.

E tama—e!
O husband well-beloved!
The door of death
Has closed on thee;
And sadly now we raise
The atamira* for the dead
On which thy chieftain form
Must cold repose.

There in those shadowy realms below
Gaze thou upon
Thy weaponed ancestors.
The tribes of men go forth
To that dread borderland,
But none return.

So soon cut off art thou,
In whose embrace I once reclined!
The heavens sob and sigh;
I lift my weeping eyes, and lo!
The wondrous vision of the sky!
The star-canoe Raka-tu-whenua
Gleams in the spangled space,

And god-like Rehua shines.
And now across my sight there comes
Thy great canoe,
With high and decorated prow;
It sweeps across the sleeping lake,
And breasts Mokoia’s isle,
And onward swiftly glides,
Where deep Ngatuti’s currents flow,
And swirl dark Ohau’s tides.
O Sire, uplift thy shadowy sail,
And still sweep on!

* Atamira, a platform or low stage, a bier for the dead, with one end slightly elevated for the head. A dead chief was laid on the atamira, with his hair adorned with feathers, his body covered with the finest flax and feather cloaks, and his weapons arrayed about him.

page 310

Enshrouded now thou art
With the damp, dark weeds of Death,
The kelp that drifts and swirls
At Reinga’s ghostly gates—
On lone Pateko’s rocky isle—
There thou’lt be laid!

See, high in misty heaven,
Thy mountain-guardian,
Black Matawhaura’s peak of ghosts;
Here on Tapuwae-haruru’s sands
Grim Whiro, ogre-god of Death,
Grips at the hearts of men.

In that dim home of Death,
The kotuku,* the shy white bird,
Thy spirit friend shall be,
O husband well-beloved!
E tama—e!

† Pateko is a small rocky island, formerly a fortified place of refuge, in Lake Rotoiti, near Pachinahina Point, on the southern side of the lake. It is a tapu burial place of several hapus of the Ngati-Pikiao tribe.

‡ Matawhaura is a beautiful wooded mountain rising precipitously above Tapuwae-haruru Bay, at the eastern end of Lake Rotoiti. It is a famous range in local song and story. For generations the dead of the Ngati-Pikiao were buried in a cavern near its summit, on the side overlooking the lake, below the bush-grown ramparts of the ancient Pakipaki Pa.

* A poetic belief among some tribes is that the kotuku, the beautiful and rare white heron, is like a spirit, and that it is the companion (tapui) of the rangatira dead in the Reinga. In the original of this poem the expression is:—

“Ko te kotuku to tapui, e tama e!”

page 311
The Widow’s Farewell.

The Widow’s Farewell.

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