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The Ancient History of the Maori, His Mythology and Traditions: Horo-Uta or Taki-Tumu Migration. [Vol. I]


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Some explanation of the disjointed nature of the contents of this work is, no doubt, due to the reader.

The histories of other peoples are based upon monuments, inscriptions in wood or stone, or upon other records: the Maori had not reached this state of advancement, and, though he valued knowledge in the very highest degree, it was entirely preserved in memory and transmitted orally.

He had for ages held tenaciously to the mode of life imposed upon him by the laws and customs of his mythology, and he held his sacred knowledge in such awe that to divulge it to those not of his own race, or even to the junior branches of his own people, was to incur the penalty of death. So thoroughly was he imbued with the principles of his early teaching that, even after he had been taught and had adopted the tenets of the Christian faith, his priests would not dare to disclose some of their secrets.

When reciting the history of the Taki-Tumu, a priest gave certain portions, and left other parts untold; and when asked to fill up the omission he replied, “The parts I have not related are so sacred that I withhold them in dread of sudden death.” Nor could any logic or persuasion rid him of that fear, or prompt him to give the information.

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In the history of Te-Arawa, the priest acted in a similar manner, and excused himself by saying, “I cannot give some of our sacred history, as not an old priest now remains alive who has the power to perform the ceremonies to save me from the penalty of divulging the sacred words of the gods.”

When the young chief who wrote the history of Tainui from the dictation of an old priest asked that the whole of it should be related to him, he was answered, “Since the Whare-kura, in which our learned priests taught our history, have been neglected, no house is sacred enough for the whole of our history to be recited therein, and I am not able to defend myself from the consequences which would most certainly follow if I were to teach you the whole of our sacred history.”

The Mamari priests refused to give all their sacred history for the same reason, and added, “Our gods are not annihilated—they are only silenced by the superior influence of the European God. We are still in the power of our Maori gods, and if we divulge the sacred lore of our ancestors the gods will punish us with death.”

Therefore, to give the most perfect history of the Maori people possible under such circumstances, it was deemed best to compile it as herein given, and, further, as the priests of different families of the same migration give different readings of the same parts of their history, to give all these, so that they may explain each other.

Such chiefs as Matiaha-Tira-morehu, of the South Island; Reihana-Waha-nui, of Wai-kato; Wiremu Maihi-Te-Rangi-ka-heke, of Roto-rua; and Aperahama-Tao-nui, of Nga-puhi; men of supreme rank, who under page V the old régime would have held first rank in Whare-kura, whose minds have been thoroughly transformed by the truths of Christianity, would have given the whole Maori history consecutively from the creation, with the mythology, migrations, wars, customs, superstitions, rites, and ceremonies; but, unfortunately for us, these men were born too late—that is, their education began after the Whare-kura and its rites had been neglected.

The poem, song, or chant placed at the head of each chapter (translation of which is given in the English part) is the expression of the feelings of joy or sorrow of its composer; who also set the tune or chant to which it should be sung (d). The Maori poet never sang of an imaginary joy or sorrow.

Over each fragment in this volume is placed the name of the tribe (hapu) from which it was obtained; and it will be observed that these are the names of the principal tribes (iwi) representing the various migrations at the present day.

The Maori version is given as written by, or from the dictation of, the priests. In a few places their language is more forcible than elegant: the Maori scholar will observe that the translation of such passages, if not quite literal, includes the sentiments of the composers; and where a sacerdotal or obsolete word or idiom occurs, a synonym follows in a parenthesis.

The priests speak of the gods as moved by human passions, and as acting and speaking like men. Their accounts of creation, of the gods, and of the chronological order of parts of their mythology, and of page VI the creation of the world, and of man and woman, vary considerably; so also do the names of several of the gods, and of priests, and of battles; in many instances even the sexes of the gods, and priests, and heroes do not agree; neither do the navigators always agree as to the canoes, or the localities of some of the ancient battles, or the heroes who took part in them.

When a name differs in form or orthography, or where it bears more than one meaning, these are respectively given, with explanations of various other matters on which the priests differ, in the dictionary to be appended to the complete work, as indicated by the letter (d) in the several volumes: these explanations, it is hoped, will aid, not only the young Maori scholar, but also the ethnological investigator in his researches respecting the various tribes who occupy the islands of the South Pacific.

Genealogical charts of the various migrations will be given in a separate volume, and it will be seen that the work has been compiled in the order in which it now stands in accordance with them.

I would record my obligations and thanks for matter received from the late Rev. C. Creed, the late Rev. R. Taylor, and the late Rev. J. F. H. Wohlers.

With great pleasure and gratitude I also record here the names of those priests who have given the histories of the respective migrations, namely:—

Nepia-Po-huhu, Wairua, Paratene-oka-whare, Apiata, Rihari Tohi, Karauria-Nga-whare, Waka-Tahu-ahi, page VII Paora-Te-kiri, Ihaka-Nga-hiwi, Harawira-Ta-tere, and John Jury-Te-whata-horo, of the Taki-Tumu;

Wi Maihi-Te-rangi-ka-heke, Tohi-te-uru-rangi, Haupapa, Wiremu-Hika-iro, and Te-ao-o-te-rangi, of the Arawa;

Kiwi-hua-tahi, Wiremu Nero-Te-awa-i-taia, Tikapa, Ruihana-Te-whakaheke, Wata-Kuku-tai, Wiremu-Te-wheoro, Hoterene-Tai-pari, Hoani Nahe, Hohepa-Tama-i-hengia, and Te-ao (of Kawhia), of the Tai-nui;

Te Otene-Kikokiko, Te Keene-Tanga-roa, Wi Tipene, Paikea, Matitikuha, Tipene (of Whanga-rei), Paora-Tu-haere, Waka-Nene, and Te-Ngau, of the Mahuhu;

Mohi-Tawhai, Taka-horea, Taku-rua, Hakiaha (of Omanaia), Pereha-Te-kune, Te Mangumangu, Papahia, Aperahama-Tao-nui, Moe-tara, Te-Atua-wera, and Whare-papa, of the Mamari;

Hori Kingi-Te-anaua, Te-mawae, Hoani Wiremu Hipango, Kawana-Paepae, Pehi-tu-roa, Apera-hama-Tama-i-parea, Mahau, Ihaia-Kiri-kumara, and Piri-Kawau, of the Ao-tea.

The recital of these names recalls the delightful hours, spread over the last half-century, when their possessors, most of whom are no longer in the flesh, sitting under a shady tree, on the outskirts of a forest, and remote from the abodes of men, rehearsed the sacred lore of their race, and in solemn dread slowly repeated the sacred incantations of their mythology, or performed the ceremonies of the Niu, Tohi-taua, Awa-moana, Ki-tao, Pihe, and other rites, as they were taught by those of past generations. In them I recognize page VIII men of noble and heroic spirit, who, while they acknowledged and dreaded the malignant power of the gods of their fathers, yet dared to disclose some of their sacred lore to one of an alien race.

John White.

Wellington, 3rd January, 1887.

Note.—The alphabet of the Maori language consists of fourteen letters, which are hereunder given in the order in which they were arranged by those who first compiled the alphabet, namely:—

A is pronounced as a in Father
E a Fate
I e Eat
O o No
U oo Boot
H is called ha, the a pronounced as a in Father
K ka, „ „
M ma, „ „
N na, „ „
P pa, „ „
R ra, „ „
T ta, „ „
W wa, „ „

Ng is a nasal sound, and rather difficult to obtain; but if the English word “sting” is written thus, “stinga,” and the added a sounded as a in “Father,” the sound of the Maori Ng will be obtained.