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Maori Religion and Mythology

Chapter IV. Religious Rites Of The Maori

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Chapter IV. Religious Rites Of The Maori.

Tantum Relligio potuit suadere.—Lucretius.

You ask me about the customs of Maori men, and their origin, how men came to learn them. This is the source whence men learnt them. Their knowledge is not from modern times. Papa, Rangi, Tiki were the first to give rules to men for work of all kinds, for killing, for man-eating, for karakia. In former days the knowledge of the Maori was great, in all matters, from this teaching, and so men learnt how to set rules for this thing and for that thing. Hence came the ceremony of Pure for the dead, the karakia for the new-born infant, for grown men, for battle, for storming a Pa, for eels, for birds, for makutu, and a multitude of other karakia. Tiki was the source from which they came down to the tupua, the pukenga, the wananga, and the tauira. The men of antient days are a source of invocation for the tauira. Hence the karakia had its power, and came down from one generation to another ever having power. Formerly their karakia gave men power. From the time when the Rongo-pai (=Gospel) arrived here, and men were no longer tapu, disease commenced. The man of former days was not afflicted by disease. He died only when bent by age. He died when he came to the natural end of life.

My writing to you begins with the karakia for a mother when her breasts give no milk. After a child is born, if the mother's breasts have no milk, her husband page 39 goes for the tohunga. When the tohunga arrives the mother and child are carried to the water-side, and the tohunga dipping a handful of weed in the water, sprinkles it on the mother. The child is taken away from the mother by the tohunga, who then repeats this karakia:—

Water-springs from above give me,
To pour on the breast of this woman.
Dew of Heaven give me,
To cause to trickle the breast of this woman;
At the points of the breast of this woman;
Breasts flowing with milk,
Flowing to the points of the breast of this woman,
Milk in plenty yielding.
For now the infant cries and moans,
In the great night, in the long night.
Tu the benefactor,
Tu the giver,
Tu the bountiful,
Come to me, to this tauira.

After this the child is dipped in the water, and the mother and child are kept apart. One whole night they are kept apart, in order that the karakia may take effect. The mother remains alone in her house, while the tohunga seated outside it repeats his karakia. The tohunga also instructs the woman thus—“If the points of your breasts begin to itch, lay open your clothes, and lie naked.” Some time after her breasts begin to itch, and the woman knows that the karakia is taking effect. Afterwards her breasts become painful, and she calls out to the tohunga “my breasts itch and are painful, they are full of milk.” Then the child is brought to the mother. See what power the karakia of the Maori possessed.

This is a word, a thought of mine. There has not page 40 been any remarkable sign of late years, from the time of the arrival of the Rongo-pai (=Gospel), like the signs seen in this island when men were tapu, when karakia had power. One sign seen in this island was the Ra-kutia (=the closed sun). At mid-day there was darkness, and the stars were seen. After two hours perhaps of darkness, daylight returned. Our fathers saw this sign: but there are now no signs like those of former days.

Ceremony Of Tua.

When a male child is born to a Chief, all his tribe rejoice. The mother is separated from the inhabitants of the settlement, to prevent her coming in contact with persons engaged in cultivating the kumara, lest anything belonging to the mother should be accidentally touched by them, lest the kumara should be affected by her state of tapu; for the sacredness of any rehu-wahine is greatly feared.

When the child is about a month old, and strives with its hands to reach its mother's breast, the ceremony of Tua takes place. Two fires are kindled; one fire for the Ariki, one fire for the Atua. The food to be cooked on the fire is fern-root. Then the tohunga takes the child in his arms, and repeats this karakia:—

Breathe quick thy lung,
A healthy lung.
Breathe strong thy long,
A firm lung,
A brave lung.
Severing1 for your bravery,
* * tilling food,

1 The severing of umbilical cord is here referred to.

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Severing for wielding the weapon,
* * warding off,
* * seizing the first man,
* * storming the Pa.
&c. &c.
&c. &c.
The boy infant is stept1 over,
* * * * climbed1 over,
* * * * lifted in the arms,
The boy infant is free from tapu,
He runs freely where food is cooked.
Cause this karakia to flow gently,
To the Pukenga,
To the Wananga,
To the Tauira.

When this karakia ends the ceremony of Poipoi (=waving) follows. The tohunga takes up the fern-root cooked for the Atua, and waving it over the child repeats these words:—“This is for the Tipua, for the Pukenga, for the Wananga. Eat it. It is the food cooked for you to eat.” The cooked fern-root is then deposited on the sacred place. Afterwards the child is taken in the arms of the female Ariki, who waves over it the fern-root cooked on her fire, and touches with it different parts of the child's body. The Ariki is said then to eat this fern-root, but does not do so in fact. She only spits on it, and throws it on the sacred place.

If there are several female Ariki of the same family of whom one is absent, a figure is made with weeds to represent her. Then part of the fern-root is offered to

1 The female Ariki at these words steps over the child, and then takes it in her arms.

1 The female Ariki at these words steps over the child, and then takes it in her arms.

page 42 the figure and is stuck in it. All these ceremonies take place on sacred ground. The part of the ceremony—that of touching the body of the child with the food to be eat by the Ariki—is named kai-katoa. After this the child is free from tapu, so that persons of the family may take it in their arms.

No further ceremony takes place till the child arrives at youth, when his hair is cut, and the young person is released from tapu. The hair must be cut in the morning in order to insure a strict observance of tapu; for it is not only the tohunga who must be tapu on this occasion, but also the whole tribe. This tapu commences in the morning, and no one must eat food while it lasts. Should any one eat during that time it will be discovered; for if the skin of the child's head be cut while cutting the hair, it is known at once that some one has eat food. This is a sure sign. After the hair is cut the ceremony of Poipoi is again observed, and the tohunga then raising up his hands repeats this karakia, and the young person is free—

These hands of mine are raised up,
And this sacredness here.
Tu-i-whiwhia, Tu-i-rawea,
Your freedom from tapu
Make sure the obtaining.
Make sure the freedom.
Make it sure to Papa.
Give me my tu:
Lift up the sacredness:
Lift it up: it prevails.
My hands here are raised1 up,

1 As to the custom of raising aloft the hands while praying to the Gods, compare Hom: Il. Lib. 3 273, and other numerous examples.

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To Tiki there these hands of mine,
To Hine-nui-te-po these hands of mine,
These now free from tapu.
Freedom. They are free.

Ceremonies For The Dead.

When a man dies his body is placed in a sitting posture, and is bound to a stake to keep it in a good position. It is seated with its face towards the sun as it rises from its cave. Then every one comes near to lament. The women in front, the men behind them. Their clothes are girded about their loins. In their hands they hold green leaves and boughs, then the song called keka commences thus:—

Tohunga chants It is not a man,

All chants It is Rangi now consigned to earth, Alas! my friend.

Tohunga chants My evil omen,

All chants The lightning glancing on the mountain peak Te Waharoa doomed to death.

After the keka, the uhunga or lament commences. The clothes in which the corpse should be dressed are the kahuwaero, the huru, the topuni, and the tatata. The lament ended, presents are spread to view, greenstone ornaments, and other offerings for the dead chief. A carved chest, ornamented with feathers, is also made, and a carved canoe, a small one resembling a large canoe, which is painted with kokowai (=red-ochre); also a stick bent at the top is set up by the way-side, in order that persons passing by may see it, and know that a chief has died. This is called a hara. The carved chest is called a whare-rangi. The corpse only is buried, the clothes are placed in the carved chest which is preserved by the family and descendants as a sacred relic.

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On the morning following the burial, some men go to kill a small bird of the swamps called kokata, and to pluck up some reeds of wiwi. They return and come near the grave. The tohunga then asks “Whence come you?” The men reply, “From the seeking, from the searching.” The tohunga again asks “Ah! what have you got? ah! what have you gained?” Thereon the men throw on the ground the kotata and the wiwi. Then the tohunga selects a stalk of toetoe or rarauhe, and places it near the grave in a direction pointing towards Hawaiki to be a pathway for the spirit, that it may go in the straight path to those who died before him. This is named a Tiri, and is also placed near where he died, in order that his spirit may return as an Atua for his living relations. The person to whom this Atua appears is called the kaupapa or waka-atua. Whenever the spirit appears to the kaupapa the men of the family assemble to hear its words. Hear the karakia of the kaupapa to prevail on the spirit to climb the path of the Tiri.

This is your path, the path of Tawaki;
By it he climbed up to Rangi,
By it he mounted to your many,
To your Thousands;
By it you approached,
By it you clung,
By it your spirit arrived safely
To your ancestors.
I now am here sighing,
Lamenting for your departed spirit,
Come, come to me in form of a moth,
Come to me your kaupapa,
Whom you loved,
For whom you lamented.
Here is the Tiri for you,

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The Tiri of your ancestors,
The Tiri of your Pukenga,
Of your Wananga,
Of me this Tauira.

The Reinga Or Hades.

When the spirit leaves the body it goes on its way northward, till it arrives at two hills. The first of these hills is a place on which to lament with wailings and cuttings. There also the spirit strips off its clothes.1 The name of this hill is Wai-hokimai. The name of the other hill is Wai-otioti: there the spirit turns its back on the land of life, and goes on to the Rerenga-wairua (Spirit's-leap). There are two long straight roots, the lower extremities of which are concealed in the sea, while the upper ends cling to a pohutukawa tree. The spirit stands by the upper end of these roots, awaiting an opening in the sea weed floating on the water. The moment an opening is seen, it flies down to the Reinga. Reaching the Reinga, there is a river and a sandy beach. The spirit crosses the river. The name of the new comer is shouted out. He is welcomed, and food is set before him. If he eats the food he can never return to life.2

Tale Of Te Atarahi.

There was a man named Te Atarahi, who remained five nights and five days in the Reinga, and then returned to life. On the fifth day after this man died, two women went out to cut flax leaves. While so employed they

1 Spirits on their way to the N. Cape are said to be clothed in the leaves of the wharangi, makuku, and oropito.

2 Vid. similar account. “Traditions and Supersitions of the New Zealanders, “p. 150, et seq.

page 46 observed the flower stalks of the flax springing up every now and then, at a little distance from them. Then one of the women remarked to her companion—“There is some one sucking the juice of the korari flowers.” By degrees this person came nearer, and was seen by the woman, who said “the man is like Te Atarahi, why, it surely is Te Atarahi.” Her companion replied—“It cannot be Te Atarahi, he is dead.” Then they both looked carefully, and saw that the skin of the man was wrinkled and hanging loose about his back and shoulders, and that the hair of his head was all gone.

So the women returned to the Pa, and told how they had seen Te Atarahi. “Are you quite sure it was Te Atarahi?” said the men of the Pa. And the women answered, “His appearance was like Te Atarahi, but the hair of his head was all gone, and his skin hung loose in folds about his back.” Then one was sent to look at the grave where Te Atarahi had been buried. He found the grave undisturbed, so he returned and said “Sirs, the body is well buried, it has not been disturbed.” Then the men went, and examined the place carefully on every side, and found an opening on one side, a little way off. Then they went to the place where Te Atarahi had been seen by the women, and there found the man seated on a ti tree. They at once knew him to be Te Atarahi; so they sent for the tohunga. The tohunga, came and repeated a karakia, after which, the man was removed to the sacred place, and the tohunga remained with him constantly repeating karakia, while the people of the Pa stood without looking on. There the man remained many days, food being brought for him. Time passed, and he began to have again the appearance of a Maori page 47 man. At length he recovered and got quite well. Then he told how he had been in the Reigna, how his relations came about him, and bid him not to touch the food, and sent him back to the land of Light. He spoke also of the excellence of the state in which the people of the Reigna dwelt, of their food, of their choice delicacy the ngaro, of the numbers of their Pa, and the multitude of the dwellers there, all which agreed with what the Atua have said, when they visit men on earth.

Nga Patupaiarehe Or Fairies.

One day while Ruarangi was absent from his house a Patupaiarehe or Fairy came to it, and finding only the wife of Ruarangi within, carried her off to the hills. When the husband returned home his wife could not be found. He, however, traced footsteps to the hills where the Fairies dwelt, but saw nothing of his wife. Then he felt sure she had been carried off by the Fairies, and returned sorrowing and thinking of some plan to recover her. At length, having thought of a plan, he summoned the tohunga of the tribe—those skilled in bringing back love—those skilled in makutu—in short all the tohunga. When these all assembled before him, he said to them “The cause of my calling you is this. My wife has disappeared.” The tohunga replied “When it is night, all of you leave your houses.” So when night came every one came forth from his house as the tohunga had ordered. Then the tohunga skilled in restoring love stood up, and after some while discovered that the lost woman was with the Fairies. So he commenced a karakia to make her love for her Maori husband return.

What wind is this blowing softly to your skin:
Will you not incline towards your companion,
page 48 To whom you clung when sleeping together,
Whom you clasped in your arms,
Who shared your griefs.
When the wind bears to you this my love,
Incline hither thy love,
Sighing for the couch where both slept.
Let your love burst forth,
As the water-spring from its source.

When the tohunga had ended this karakia he said to the husband “Go, fetch your wife. When she meets you, be quick to rub her all over with kokowai (red-ochre).” So the man went, and when night came he lay down to sleep by the way side. While he slept he saw his wife coming to meet him. With this he awoke knowing well that the tohunga had spoken truly. At day-light he went on his way, and after some time came in sight of the Pa of the Fairies. No one was within the Pa. All had gone forth to look at the Maori woman. Now a great desire towards her Maori husband had come to the woman borne to her by the karakia of the tohunga, so the woman said to her Fairy husband “Let me go and visit my new brothers-in-law.” This she said deceitfully; for when her Fairy husband consented, she went straight away to meet her Maori husband, who, as soon as she came near, rubbed her all over with kokowai, and hastened home with her.

Meanwhile the Fairy husband awaited her return. He waited a long while, and at last went to look for her: at length he discovered footsteps of a man and woman, then he knew she had gone off with her husband. So the war-party of the Fairies assembled, and went to attack the Maori Pa. But they found the posts of the Pa daubed over with kokowai, and the leaves used in the page 49 ovens for cooking, thrown on the roofs of the houses: the Pa too was full of the steam of cooked food. As for the woman, she was placed for concealment in an oven. So the Fairies feared to come near; for how could they enter the Pa in their dread of the kokowai, and the steam of the ovens which filled the court-yard. So great is their dread of cooked food.

Then the tohunga Maori all standing up sung a karakia to put to sleep the Fairies.

Thrust aside, thrust afar,
Thrust aside your sacredness,
Thrust aside your tohunga:
Let me, let me mark1 you
Let me mark your brow,
Give me thereupon your sacredness,
You mana, your tohunga,
Your karakia give me,
To place beside the oven-stones,
To place beside the cinders,
To place beside the kokowai.
Now these rest on your head,
On your sacred places,
On your female Ariki.
Your sacredness is undone.

By the time this karakia came to an end, all the Fairies were seated on the ground. Their chief then stood up, and sung thus:—

Alas! for this day
Which now oppresses me.
I stretched out my hand
To the mate of Tirini.
Followed were my footsteps,
And charmed was returning love,

1 With kokowai, or red-ochre.

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At Pirongia there.
This the dreaded tribe is undone,
Tiki1 and Nukupouri1
And Whanawhana1
And I Rangi-pouri:1
I carried off the woman,
I the first aggressor:
I went to enter the house of Ruarangi,
To stretch out my hand,
To touch the Maori skin.
The boundary is oven-marked,
To prevent its being moved aside,
To guard the wife in safety.

He thought the power of his karakia would appear; but it could not conquer the devices of the Maori tohunga; for how could it prevail against the cooked food, and the oven-stoves, and the kokowai, and the many other devices of the tohunga. Hence it was seen that the power of karakia was not possessed by the Fairies. The only power given to them was to smother men.

1 Names of the Fairy chiefs.