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Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race

The Tattooed Warrior

page 190

The Tattooed Warrior.

In connection with Maori tattooing, a rather amusing incident happened a few years ago, bat to one, at least, of the actors in this ludicrous business, it was not at all pleasant.

One of the gentlemen who formerly filled the Gubernatorial Chair of the Colony (but who for obvious reasons shall be nameless), before sailing from England for New Zealand, had appointed a married gentleman of distinction to fill the position of Private Secretary.

As this gentleman's wife was ambitious (but where is there one of the fair sex who is not so?) and anxious to acquire a knowledge of the Maori language, so, as it were, to astonish the natives upon her arrival in the Colony of her husband's future labours.

This lady had provided herself with several books of an educational character in the Maori language, for perusal and study whilst on the voyage out to the Colony, and was most energetic in her self-imposed task, so that by the time of her arrival at the seat of Government, she had made considerable progress in her studies, and was looking forward anxiously to the time when she should be able to prove her linguistic ability, and so reap the reward she had set her heart upon.

That opportunity was shortly to be afforded her.

Soon after the arrival of the Governor in the Colony, the Upper Wanganui tribes, at a great runanga (meeting), resolved to send a deputation of Chiefs to welcome him to the Colony on their behalf, and for that purpose had appointed six high and influential rangatiras (gentlemen) to do so.

page 191

Some of these chiefs were advanced in years, and of the old school of native nobility, but sad to state, one now rapidly disappearing, most of them being possessed of remarkably well tattooed faces and bodies.

Now it is not to be supposed for one moment that Maori tattooing is confined to the face only, which is called moko, for it is at all times considered and reckoned as a mark of rank to be well tattooed from the middle of the body to the knees, but more particularly so upon the posterior and loins, which is called whakairo, and men so tattooed are looked upon as great dandies amongst the Maories.

It may appear strange to the reader when I state that women also tattoo, but in their particular case the operation is confined to the lips, chin, and eyelids, whilst occasionally horizontal lines were carved upon the abdomen, every line of which has a distinct name for itself.

To tattoo elegantly and well was a most difficult art, and a good operator had lasting fame and good emolument in the land of the Maori.

In the execution of this tattooing, which is invariably performed by the tohunga (priest) of the tribe, the process is extended over a considerable period on account of the wounds, after each operation, having to heal before others can take place and the work be completed.

The process is frequently begun about puberty, but manhood or old age is the lot of many before the whole body is completely tattooed.

It being voluntary the person operated upon never allows the slightest expression of pain to escape him, displaying the greatest fortitude whilst reposing his head upon the operator's knees, and undergoing the painful operation with stoic indifference, songs being chanted meanwhile to encourage the patient, divert his attention, and increase the patience of the sufferer.

The pigments used are obtained from the charcoal or ashes of various vegetable products, but that produced from kauri gum or the vegetable caterpiller is held in the greatest esteem.

page 192

Tattooing is a painful and slow process, and as considerable inflammation follows each operation, only a small portion of the body is done at one time, but when completed and the wounds perfectly healed up, the surface of the skin with its rough ridged lines of tattooing presents much the appearance of corduroy cloth.

The instruments used to perform the operations are a light mallet, and a small instrument resembling a miniature butchers' claver, with another one similar to a horse lancet, these instilments being all formed either of bone or hard wood.

The figure to be tattooed is first painted on the skin. then the instrument is dipped in a pigment and driven by a sharp blow from the mallet through the skin; it is then withdrawn, wiped clean, and dipped again in the pigment for another insertion through the skin.

Remarkable savage skill and genius is often displayed in the formation of the lines and beautiful curves to be seen upon the bodies and faces of some chiefs of high degree and of the old school, but who are now, unfortunately, rapidly dying out, leaving but few specimens to be met with, as this ancient custom is rapidly falling into disuse, and must, in a very few years, become a thing of the past, and only to be seen illustrated in very old prints.

These chiefs arrived at their destination in due time, and a day was appointed for them to present their addresses and congratulations to His Excellency the Governor.

The day arrived at last, and the deputation appeared in all the glory of new striped blankets of gaudy hues, who, after delivering their credentials and congratulations, were replied to by His Excellency, through the agency of an interpreter, after which they were invited to partake of refreshments, which, it is needless to state, they eagerly accepted.

After they had gorged themselves to their hearts delight of the viands placed before them in profusion they received carte blanche of Government Houses unmolestedly walking at sweet will throughout the length and breadth thereof, admiring this, and wondering at that, to the evident amusement of all lookers on.

page 193

It was whilst in the course of their peregrinations that they were met and accosted by this lady, who, with pleasure depicted in every line of her handsome face, made haste to put her long cherished wishes to the test.

Advancing towards one of them (he who possessed the finest tattooed face), she accosted, him thus:—

"Tenakohe te Rangatira" (Good day Chief).

"Tenakohe te Wahine Pakeha" (Good day White Woman,) he replied.

Advancing a little closer so that she could have the better view of his remarkably well tattooed face, she raised her dainty little hand and placing one of her soft tapering fingers on the rough ridged tattoo marks, she again broke the silence by saying in excellent Maori, but which language I shall here omit asbeing rather confusing—

"The tattooing upon your face is very, very good and beautiful to look at!"

The Chief's surprise and pleasure was expressed in both jesture and speech as he exclaimed in reply:—

"Ah! white woman! You think the work on my face very, very good and beautiful to look at!"

To this speech she quickly responded in Maori by saying:—

"Yes, yes, I do like the work upon your face! It is very, very good and beautiful indeed!"

The lady was delighted beyond measure at the opportunity of astonishing this tattooed old savage and the many onlookers present, at the ease with which she, a late arrival and stranger to the Colony, could converse with its aboriginal people.

This ancient son of the forest being delighted beyond description at the ease with which this handsome young English woman could converse with him in his native tongue, and the evident pleasure it afforded her to examine the remarkable and well executed tattooed lines upon his face, whose soft touch, no doubt, sent an electric thrill through his senile frame; and to increase her pleasure, page 194as he fondly hoped, he drew his ancient hut commanding figure erect (which was at least six feet two of humanity), and, with conscious pride and dignity drew his blanket on one side with one hand, whilst with the other he pointed to the remarkable but beautiful lines of tattooing upon his loins, at the same time remarking to the lady—

"Behold! White woman! Look! Look at this! Is not the work on that leg, very, very good and beautiful?"

That lady vanished in confusion.

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