Maori Religion and Mythology
Chapter III. Religious Rites Of The Maori
Chapter III. Religious Rites Of The Maori.
Αλλ' ἄγε δὴ τινα μάντιν ἐρείομεν.—Hom. Il. 1-62.
The religious rites and ceremonies of the Maori were strange and complex, and must have been a severe burden, as will be understood from the translations of Maori narratives relating to such matters contained in these pages. To make these translations more intelligible to the reader, a brief review of the subject is now given in explanation.
The religious rites under consideration are immediately connected with certain laws relating to things tapu, or things sacred and prohibited, the breach of which laws by anyone is a crime displeasing to the Atua of his family. Anything tapu must not be allowed to come in contact with any vessel or place where food is kept. This law is absolute. Should such contact take place, the food, the vessel, or place, become tapu, and only a few very sacred persons, themselves tapu, dare to touch these things.
The idea in which this law originated appears to have been that a portion of the sacred essence of an Atua, or of a sacred person, was directly communicable to objects which they touched, and also that the sacredness so communicated to any object could afterwards be more or less retransmitted to anything else brought into contact with it. It was therefore necessary that anything containing the sacred essence of an Atua should be made tapu to protect it from being polluted by the page 26 contact of food designed to be eat; for the act of eating food which had touched anything tapu, involved the necessity of eating the sacredness of the Atua, from whom it derived its sacredness.
It seems that the practice of cannibalism must have had a close connexion with such a system of belief. To eat an enemy was the greatest degradation to which he could be subjected, and so it must have been regarded as akin to blasphemy to eat anything containing a particle of divine essence.
1 It is observable that Homer attributes special honor to a few of his heroes, who appear to have been the male representatives of their race,—as to Agamemnon of the race of Pelops, and to Aeneas of the race of Assaracus. With respect to each of them, it is mentioned that he was honored as a God by his people. “Θεὸς δ' ὣς τίετο δήμῳ.” Among the Maori these chiefs would have been distinguished by the title of Ariki. Homer gives them the title “ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν,” the old meaning of which words has been a matter of much inquiry. Mr Gladstone (Homer and Homeric Age, vol. 1. p. 456) says, “It seems to me that this restraint in the use of the name ‘ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν’ was not unconnected with a sense of reverence towards it; “and he suggests the word chieftain as its fit representative. Might not its original meaning have been similar to that of Ariki?
On arriving one evening at a Maori settlement, I found that a ceremony, in which everyone appeared to take deep interest, was to take place in the morning. The inhabitants were mostly professing Christians, and the old sacred place of the settlement was, from the increase of their numbers, inconveniently near their houses; a part of it was, therefore, required to be added to the Pa. I was curious to see in what way the land required would be made noa. In the morning when I went to the place I found a numerous assembly, while in the centre of the space was a large native oven, from which women were removing the earth and mat-coverings. When opened it was seen to contain only kumara, or sweet potato. One of these was offered to each person present, which was held in the hand while the usual morning service was read, concluding with a short prayer that God's blessing might rest on the place. After this each person ate his kumara, and the place was declared to be noa. I could not but think that the native teacher had done wisely in thus adopting so much of old ceremonial as to satisfy the scruples of those of little faith. In this case, every one present, by eating food cooked on the tapu ground, equally incurred the risk of offending the Atua of the family, which risk was believed to be removed by the Christian karakia.
By neglecting the laws of tapu, Ariki, chiefs, and page 28 other sacred persons are especially liable to the displeasure of their Atua, and are therefore afraid to do a great many ordinary acts necessary in private life. For this reason a person of the sacred class was obliged to eat his meals in the open air, at a little distance from his sacred dwelling, and from the place which he and his friends usually occupied; and if he could not eat all that had been placed before him he kept the remainder for his own sole use, in a sacred place appropriated for that purpose: for no one dared to eat what so sacred a person had touched.
The term karakia is applicable to all forms of prayer to the Atua: but there are a variety of names or titles to denote karakia having special objects. The translations of those now presented to the reader will, it is believed, speak for themselves as to the nature of Maori worship, and carry with them a more clear and full conviction as to what it really was than any mere statements however faithful. It will be seen that a karakia is in some cases very like a prayer,—in other cases for the most part an invocation of spirits of ancestors in genealogical order,—in other cases a combination of prayer and invocation.
The Karakia of Hineteiwaiwa.
Said to have been used at the birth of her son Tuhuruhuru. It is of great antiquity, dating from a time long anterior to the migration to New Zealand.
Weave, weave the mat,
Couch for my unborn child,
Qui lectus aquâ inundabitur:
Rupe, et manumea [sic: Manumea] inundabuntur:
Lectus meus, et mei fetûs inundabitur:
Inundabor aquâ, inundabor;
Maritus meus inundabitur.1
Now I step upon (the mat).
The Matitikura2 to Rupe above,
* * * Toroa *
* * * Takapu *
* * * to cause to be born,
My child now one with myself.
Stand firm turuturu3 of Hine-rauwharangi,
* * * * Hine-teiwaiwa,
Stand by your tia,4 Thuwareware,
Stand by your kona,5 Ihuatamai,
Chide me not in my trouble,
Me Hine-teiwaiwa, O Rupe.6
Release from above your hair,7
Your head, your shoulders,
Your breast, your liver,
Your knees, your feet,
Let them come forth.
The old lady8 with night-dark visage,
She will make you stretch,
She will make you rise up.
Let go ewe,9 let go take,10
Let go parapara.11 Come forth.
1 Hæc ad effusionem aquarum sub tempus partûs spectant.
2 The name of a powerful karakia.
3 Turuturu, a sharp pointed prop, two of which are fixed in the floor to serve as a frame for weaving mats—also used by women in child-birth to hold by.
4 Names of lower parts of abdomen.
5 Names of lower parts of abdomen.
6 Rupe or Maui-mua, brother-in-law of Hine-teiwaiwa.
7 Addressed to the unborn child.
8 The old lady referred to was Hine-nui-te-po, the mother of the female ancestress of mankind.
11 Names of different parts of the decidua.
For tradition as to Tuhuruhuru and other names here mentioned vid. Sir Geo. Grey's “Mythology and Traditions of New Zealand,” p. 39 et seq.
This karakia is still in use with the Arawa tribe in cases of difficult parturition. When such cases occur, it is concluded that the woman has committed some fault—some breach of the tapu, which is to be discovered by the matakite (=seer). The father of the child then plunges in the river, while the karakia is being repeated, and the child will generally be born ere ever he returns.
The following form of karakia is also used by members of the same tribe in similar cases:—
O! Hine-teiwaiwa, release Tuhuruhuru,
O! Rupe, release your nephew.
The ancestors of the father of the child are then invoked by name. First the elder male line of ancestors, commencing with an ancestor who lived in Hawaiki and terminating with the living representative of that line. Then follows a repetition of the ancestral line next in succession, and the third in succession, if the child be not born.1 After which the tohunga addressing the unborn child says, “Come forth. The fault rests with me. Come forth.” The tohunga continues thus—
Unravel the tangle, unravel the crime,
Untie manuka, let it be loosed.
Distant though Rangi,
He is reached.
If the child be not now born, Tiki is invoked thus—
Tiki of the heap of earth,
Tiki scraped together,
When hands and feet were formed,
First produced at Hawaiki.
1 In the Maori Ms., of which the above is a translation, the names of the ancestors of the chief of the tribe referred to are given in genealogical order, but are omitted here.
If the child be a male, it will be born—if a female, the mother's line of ancestors must be invoked.
Intimately connected with the superstition respecting things tapu is the belief as to the cause of disease, namely, that a spirit has taken possession of the body of the sufferer. The belief is that any neglect of the law of tapu, either wilful, or accidental, or even brought about by the act of another person, causes the anger of the Atua of the family who punishes the offender by sending some infant spirit to feed on a part of his body — infant spirits being generally selected for this office on account of their love of mischief, and because not having lived long enough on earth to form attachments to their living relatives, they are less likely to show them mercy. When, therefore, a person falls sick, and cannot remember that he has himself broken any law of the tapu, he has to consult a matakite (seer) and a tohunga to discover the crime, and use the proper ceremonies to appease the Atua; for there is in practice a method of making a person offend against the laws of tapu without his being aware of it. This method is a secret one called makutu. It is sufficient for a person who knows this art, if he can obtain a portion of the spittle of his enemy, or some leavings from his food, in order that he may treat it in a manner sure to bring down the resentment of his family Atua. For this reason a person would not dare to spit when in the presence of anyone he feared might be disposed to injure him, if he had a reputation for skill in this evil art.
With such a belief as to the cause of all disease it will not be wondered at that the treatment of it was page 32 confined to the karakia of a tohunga or wise man. One or two examples of such cases will be sufficient to explain this as well as to show the in-rooted superstition of the Maori.
When anyone becomes porangi or insane, as not unfrequently happens, he is taken to a tohunga, who first makes an examination as to the cause of the disease. He and the sick man then go to the waterside, and the tohunga, stripping off his own clothes, takes in his hand an obsidian flint. First he cuts a lock of hair from the left side of the sick man's head, and afterwards a lock of hair from the top of his head. The obsidian flint is then placed on the ground, and upon it the lock of hair which had been cut from the left side of the head. The lock of hair cut from the top of the head is held aloft in the left hand of the tohunga, while in his right hand he holds a common stone, which is also raised aloft, while the following karakia is being repeated by him.
Tu, divide, Tu, split,
This is the waiapu flint,
Now about to cry aloud
To the Moon of ill-omen.
Then the tohunga breathes on the flint, and smashes it with the stone held in his right hand. After this he selects a shoot of the plant toetoe, and pulls it up, and then fastens to it both the locks of hair. Then diving in the river, he lets go the toetoe and locks of hair, and when they float on the surface of the water, he commences his great karakia thus—
This is the Tiri of Tu-i-rawea,
This is the Tiri of Uenuku.
Where lies your fault?
Was eating a kutu your fault?
Was sitting on tapu ground your fault?
Unravel the tangle,
Take away the fault from the head
Of the Atua who afflicts this man.
Take away the disease,
And the mana of the curser.
Turn your mana against your tohunga,
And your whaiwhaia.1
Give me the curse
To make as cooked food.
Your Atua desecrated,
Your tapu, your curse,
Your sacred-place-dwelling Atua,
Your house-dwelling Atua,
Give me to cook for food.
Your tapu is desecrated by me.
The rays of the sun,
The brave of the world,
The mana, give me.
Let your Atua, and your tapu
Be food for me to eat.
Let the head of the curser
Be baked in the oven,
Served up for food for me
Dead, and gone to Night.
The latter part of this karakia is a curse directed against some tohunga supposed to have caused the disease by his art of makutu.
1 A karakia so called.
A woman is much vexed when any of the flax scraped by her is stolen, and she consults a tohunga, in order to discover the thief. Whether the flax has been stolen from her house or from the water, the woman's house must be tapu. No one must be allowed to enter it. This is necessary, that the makutu may take effect, and the person who stole the flax be discovered. So when the woman comes to the tohunga he first asks her “Has any one entered your house? “She replies” “No.” Then the tohunga bids her return home, saying “I will come to you at night.” The woman returns home, and at night the tohunga comes to her. He bids her point out her house, and then goes with her to the water side. Having taken off his clothes, he strikes the water with a stick or wand, brought with him for that purpose, and immediately the form of the thief stands before them. The tohunga thus curses it—
May your eyes look at the moon—
Eyes of flax be yours,
Hands of flax be yours,
Feet of flax be yours.
Let your hands snatch
At the rays of the Sun.
Let your hands snatch at Whiro,
Whiro in vast heaven,
Whiro born of Papa.
Snatch, snatch at your own head,
Perishing in the Night of Darkness,
In the Night of Death—Death.
Is the name given to forms of makutu employed to counteract the curse of some other tohunga, or wise-man; for whoever practises makutu, even though he be skilled in the art, may have to yield to the mana of some other wise-man who can command the assistance of a more powerful Atua. The following is a specimen of this kind of makutu—
Great curse, long curse,
Great curse, binding curse,
Binding your sacredness
To the tide of destruction.
Come hither, sacred spell,
To be looked on by me.
Cause the curser to lie low
In gloomy Night, in dark Night,
In the Night of ill-omen.
Great wind, lasting wind,
Changing wind of Rangi above.
He falls. He perishes.
Cause to waste away the curser tohunga.
Let him bite the oven-stones.
Be food for me,
The tapu and the mana,
Of your Atua,
Of your karakia,
Of your tohunga.
Among the Atua much held in awe by the Maori were the Atua noho-whare, or house-dwelling gods—spirits of the germs of unborn infants. They are also known by page 36 the name kahukahu, the meaning of which word was explained in a former publication.
The Maori has also a firm belief in omens derived from dreams, and from any sudden movements of the body or limbs during sleep, all which signs are believed to be warnings from the Atua.
There is a class of dreams called moe-papa, which are very unlucky: and if any one has one of these dreams, he will avoid going on a projected journey; for it is firmly believed that should he persist in going he will fall into an enemy's ambush, or meet with some other misfortune. Hence the proverbial remark, if a person has neglected such a warning, and has fallen in with a war-party, “He was warned by a moe-papa, and yet went.” The kind of sleep denoted by this word is described to be the climbing a precipice, the wandering astray in a forest, entering a house, climbing a tree. Such dreams are death warnings. They appear to be such as we term night-mare.
The startings of the limbs or body during sleep are called takiri, some of which are lucky, and some unlucky, each kind being distinguished by a special name.
The lucky takiri are—
The hokai, or starting of the leg or foot in a forward direction. It denotes the repulse of the enemy.
The tauaro, or starting of the arm towards the body.
The whakaara, when in sleep the head starts upwards. It signifies that ere long the Ariki or his father will arrive.
The kapo, a very lucky sign. While a man sleeps with page 37 his right arm for a pillow, if the arm starts so as to strike his head, on awaking he will not mention it to his companions; for he knows by this omen that in the next battle which takes place it will be his good fortune to kill the first man of the enemy.
The unlucky takiri are—
The kohera, a starting of the arm and leg of one side of the body in an outward direction.
The peke, a starting of the arm outwards from the body.
The whawhati, a sleep in which the legs, the neck, and the head are bent doubled up towards the belly. This is very unlucky. The evil will not come to another person, but attends the man himself.
The former takiri do not necessarily denote evil to the individual sleeper, but to any of his companions.