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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

1. The Hei-tiki: its Significance

1. The Hei-tiki: its Significance.

White's derivation is overruled by all other authorities. Hei is a neck-ornament. This name is given to me by competent Maori scholars to represent several forms of bous ornaments hung from a string round the neck. Tiki is the name given to the large carved figures on the gables of houses or set up near houses. This, then, is a small copy—a neck-tiki The tiki represents, and the word is derived from, the name of the god Tiki, He is sometimes spoken of as the progenitor of mankind, and enters into numerous mythical tales. According to some authorities there were several gods Tiki. It seems certain that these objects were not gods or idols, nor were they in any way worshipped, Messrs. "White, Stack, Short, land (second paper), and Wohlers, beside other authorities, are substantially in agreement as to their true import, Though Dr. Savage, who visited New Zealand in 1806, thought they were protecting deities, for some unexplained reason he uses the expression "the man in the moon" in describing them.

Mr. Wohlers's account of the hei-tiki offers in all probability the true solution of the apparently conflicting views. They were not portraits of ancestors, but they were, as Mr. Stack says, mementoes of ancestors. They became sacred and ever more sacred from the touch of the sacred dead, and so became indissolubly connected with the memory of ancestors. Why they were named after Tiki, or Adam, is a matter now lost in the mist of time. The old missionaries, who had an ignorant aversion for everything connected with heathen worship, had none for this object or its uses. The Rev. William Tate, who lived in New Zealand in 1828-35, says that the idea that it was connected with superstitions arose from the fact that the hei-tiki was taken off the neck, laid down on a tuft of grass or a clean leaf in the presence of a few friends meeting together, and then wept and sung over, in order to bring more vividly to the recollection of those present the person recently slain, whose body they will never see again, to whom the hei-tiki belonged. In this way it is used as a remembrance of all those who have worn it, and is called by the name of the individual whom it for the moment represents. It is wept over page 45 and caressed with much affection, and those present cut themselves severely In token of their regard for the deceased. These amongst other mamatungas (keepsakes or heirlooms) are much valued. When not received from friends, similar objects may be purchased for a trifle. Similarly, Thomson, describing it as the most valued of all their ornaments, varying in size from a shilling to a plate, says, "When a long-absent relative arrives at a village the hei-tiki is taken from his neck and wept over for the sake of those who formerly wore it. There is no doubt they are handed down from father to son for generations—indeed, for centuries. They were deposited with the bones of the dead until they were removed to their final resting-place." The practice of burying them when the last of a family dies continues to this day, and is doubtless the reason why so many of them and other valuable objects are found buried.

Dieffenbach refers in somewhat similar terms to the practice of wearing them by Maoris of both sexes, and connects them with the grotesque colossal busts at Easter Island and elsewhere. Thomson shows the reverence in which they were held as representing the dead, narrating a story of an English sailor travelling with him who dared to remove one from a monument by the roadside, and only saved his life by hastily restoring it.

The hei-tiki is best described as a grotesque squat figure with a big head and attenuated legs, resembling some kinds of Hindoo idols. Its arms are bent, and its feet meet below. The hands, as on the great tikis of wood, and, indeed, in all Maori carvings, have only three fingers. Mr. Tylor, in his "Early History of Mankind," quoted with approval on this head by Mr. Travers, says, "Some New-Zealanders lately in London were asked why these tikis usually, if not always, have but three fingers on their hands; and they replied that if an image is made of a man and any one should insult it the affront would have to be revenged, and to avoid such a contingency the tikis were made with only three fingers, so that, not being any one's image, no one was bound to notice what happened to them."

It is worthy of note that Parkinson, who went out with Cook on his first voyage, never figures a really good hei-tiki, though several fiat ill-finished specimens appear in his book It may be that the highly-worked specimens were rarer then than fifty or sixty years later, when the missionaries began to describe them.

Writing to me on the subject of the manufacture of hei-tikis, Mr. Helms says, "I was told by a Maori at Blenheim that as many as eight or nine slaves were given for one. Have you heard anything like this? I tried also to find out how page 46 They were made, but all my informant could tell me was that it took a long time, and that the old men would sit in the sun and grind away, humming at it all the time. He put the action to the word, and described circles round the eyes of a hei-tiki I had, at the same time doing a hissing hum. The de. scription seemed to me very natural, because the humming would counteract, so to say, the monotonous grating of the operation,"

Though the best authorities agree that the hei-tiki was not made in this Island, this must be taken subject to an exception, Major Heaphy, in his account of his visit to Arahura in 1846, says that he there saw hei-tikis receiving their last polish. The inhabitants of that place consisted largely of Ngatitoa and Ngatiraukawa conquerors, who had formed a part of Rauparaha's West Coast expedition, and it was probably some of these North Island people who had recently introduced this art.