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The Maori Race


page 160


One of the most common troubles of a person supposed to be acquainted with the Maori language is that of being asked the meaning of Maori names. Very often an attempt is made to supply the meaning, and in most cases only by guess work. Of course there are certain names whose meanings are plain and unmistakable, such as Wairarapa “flashing water,” Awaroa “the long river,” etc., but in most cases it is safer to decline to answer. There is one rule of comparative security. It is that if there is a well established legend containing an account of the name being bestowed, that meaning may be fairly taken as legitimate.

Places were named sometimes from actions of celebrated persons, even from very unimportant actions. The traditional occount of the wanderings of a celebrated lady of ancient times thus recites how certain localities were named. “Where she hung up her apron (maro) to dry was called Te Horohanga-maro (“the apron hung up to dry”). Where she rubbed her neck ornament (hei) they called it Te Miringa-a-hei (“the rubbing of the neck ornament”); where she had built a temporary hut or screen they called it Hokahoka (“stick bushes up”). Where the impression of her foot was seen on the path they called it Tapuwae-roa (“Long-foot”) etc.5

Sometimes places were named from some observation on the animals found there, as a place frequented by the cormorant or shag page 161 (Kawau phalacrocorax, N.Z.) was called “the flock of shags” (kahui-kawau). At other times the appearance of the land or sea would cause a name to be applied, such as “Big Mountain” (Maunga-nui) or “red earth” (Whenua-kura). At yet others a circumstance would decide what designation should be applied. Thus, a war-party was passing through a plantation, and, coming by chance upon a man at work, killed him, as was the custom of such war-parties. An oven was prepared, and the body placed therein, but the slaying had been seen by a boy who hastened to tell the news to the victim's friends. They turned out and attacked the war-party before the food in the oven was half ready, but the visitors gallantly held their own till the meal was ready, and then carried it off with them. The place was always called thenceforward Tunu-haere, “Cook as you go.” The longest place-name I have yet encountered is that of a locality near Whanganui. It is called Putiki-whara-nui-a-Tamatea-pokai-whenua.6

Maori names are hideously travestied by the colonists in many cases, not only in speaking but in writing. Te Umuakaha became Temuka; Wairarapa, Wydrop, Ngaru-a-wahia, Naggery-Waggery; Eketahuna, Jacky-town; Te Urukapana, The Woolly Carpenters. Even names of persons suffered terribly, the great chief Te Rauparaha being designated “The Robuller.”7

Names of tribes (iwi) were generally denoted by the prefix Ngati, meaning “descendants of, “as Ngati-Raukawa the descendants of Raukawa. Sometimes sub-tribes (hapu) or page 162 small remnants of tribes used Ngati before their names. The prefix varied into Ati and Ngai as Te Ati-awa, Ngai-tahu. All tribal names did not bear the prefix, the Arawa, Muaupoko, Rangitane, and others are in this class, but variations of the prefix with a similar meaning are to be found; Nga Whanau-a-Mahu “the children of Mahu,” Te Uri o Hau, “the posterity of Hau,” Te Aitanga a Whare “The Begotten of Whare,” are instances in point.

Turning to the subject of personal names, some prefixes appear often repeated on particular lines of descent. Rakei and Ngai are thus used in the Urewera pedigrees of “the people of the land.” Pare, as a prefix to female names, is common in Ngaiwi genealogies, while Hine is similarly frequent among the descendants of the Great Migration from Hawaiki. Names commencing Tu or Tama were generally male. “The” (Te) before a name was an aristocratic symbol, as Te Morehu, Te Hapuku, etc., and held position as among the Irish Celts a chief was called “The O'Donoghue,” “The O'Connor Don.” The sign of the vocative case, E, was used before a name in addressing a person as we should use O, the Maoris saying E hoa, as we would “O friend.” This word e was often mistaken by Europeans as part of the name and so spoken or written, causing the name of Te Puni, for instance, to be written Epuni, because the chief was addressed “E Puni.”

The names of chiefs are generally selected from those of ancestors, bestowed at the “baptism” of the child. If the baby sneezed page 163 or moved peculiarly while the names of its forefathers were being recited at the ceremony, the name being uttered at the time was given to the infant. A child was generally known by some pet-name or nick-name given by its mother, but as it grew up its proper baptismal name was used. Afterwards other names were assumed. Such a name might be “in memoriam” of some loved relative, or it might take its rise in some incident of the life-history. As an example we may take that of a man who, on account of his father being murdered in his own house, assumed the name of “The House of Murder” (Te Whare Kohuru). A warrior who was renowned for stealthily approaching an enemy's fort was called Mawhai, the name of a creeping plant. Some names were very fine and resonant “The Sounding Sea” (Tai-haruru), “The Great Ocean” (Te Moana-nui), “The Shady Heavens” (Rangi-maru), etc., but others commonplace or even ridiculous in our notions: “Eight-warts” (Ira-waru), “Stiff-beard” (Kumikumi-maro), “Long-sob” (Hoturoa), etc. Some names, especially girls' names, were pretty and poetical, “Plume of the precious bird” (Puhi-huia), “White heron” (kotuku), “The young lady in love” (Hinemoa). The last name has a rather round-about explanation. The moa (dinornis) was supposed to stand on a mountain with its beak wide open “eating the wind” (te moa kai-hau). The idea of “eating the wind” or “feeding on air” became a metaphor applied to lovers who lost their appetite through excess of sentiment, so that to say one was a moa feeding on air page 164 implied that the person spoken of was in love. Hence Hine-moa, “Lady Moa,” meant a girl lover.

Maoris disliked (especially if chiefs) being asked their names straight out. To do so implied that the person asked was personally not known, and therefore undistinguished. A story is told that a stranger went to a village at Ohinemuri to visit the chief Taipari. On entering the settlement he asked for Taipari, but unfortunately addressed his enquiry to that person himself. “That is he” answered Taipari, pointing to his slave Netana. The visitor went up to the slave, saluted him and then began a confidential chat; all to the intense delight of the crafty chief, who, when he thought the game had lasted long enough, said “Netana, let food be cooked for my guest.” The visitor was naturally disconcerted, but had sufficient command of himself not to express his annoyance, knowing that he had put himself in the wrong by his own breach of etiquette.

Allusion has been made (under “Tapu”) to the custom of the use of a word being reliquished if it was the name, or part of the name of a chief. If a chief was named Te Mango, “the shark,” for example, the word mango would drop out of common use, and some word such as waha-nui, “Big Mouth,” be given to the fish instead. On account of the name of the chief Tai, “the tide,” the word “tai” was changed to ngaehe, “Ripple.” Sometimes a chief would alter his name as a memorial that some curse or insult was still unavenged; page 165 indeed the whole of a tribe, or sub-tribe, would adopt a new name for such a reason, and until revenge had been obtained.

Words were altered or dropped altogether for certain reasons, just as names were. Thus, when out bird-snaring, it was wrong to say “I am going to look (titiro) at my snares.” The birds not being dead might escape if this word were used, so the word examine (matai) was spoken instead. So also in discussing the taking or unfastening (wetewete) the birds from the snares, wetewete had to be avoided and the rare word wherawhera used instead.8 When on a rat-hunt it was indiscreet to speak of a rat by its proper name (kiore), it became koroke, “the fellow.”