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Legends of the Maori

A Dirge for Te Heuheu

page 313

A Dirge for Te Heuheu.

This funeral chant was composed a century ago by Te Heuheu Tukino, paramount chief of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa tribe (who was afterwards killed by a landslip at Te Rapa, Lake Taupo, in 1846), on the death of his father, Te Heuheu the first, a renowned ariki. The mourner likens the dead chief to a kokomako or korimako (bell-bird), which in the ancient ritual was on certain occasions killed and placed on the ahurewa, an altar of sacrifice (a sacred mound, rock, or post), as an offering to the gods.

The original Maori poem begins:—

Tataka kau ana
Nga manu o te ata;
Ka riro ko koe ra.
Haere ra, e Pa
I te hāhātanga o Pipiri.

The composer’s grandson, the late chief Te Heuheu Tukino, in reciting the poem, observed of it: “He mea tapu tenei, mo nga uhunga o nga rangatira anake” (“A sacred thing this, for the wailing-parties of chiefs only”):—

On fluttering pinions, sore distressed,
The forest birds distracted fly;
Farewell, my father, borne away
On winter’s breath. Alas! thou’rt gone,
A sacred offering to the gods.

Vanished art thou
In the dim dawn of day—
A nestling on the altar set,
While I, like snowy-breasted shag,
Swoop swiftly o’er the plain.

For thou art gathered up by Tu,
The all-consuming god of war.
Depart thou by thy sacred way,
To the great dwelling of the gods—

O sweet-voiced bird!
My cherished kokomako-e!
Bell-bird from Pungarehu’s woods,
That once in dawning gaily sang—
Alas, thou’rt gone!

A sacrifice thou art,
On sacred ahurewa high,
Impaled by the wizard-priest;
By Uenuku, vengeful of the gods,
Devoured art thou!
Alas, alas!