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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

“Two Moths and Two Lizards.”

page 322

Two Moths and Two Lizards.”

“Listen then, you fine-talking women, and in the tale I am going to tell, see, each for yourselves, what beauty can do if it is held high enough.

“An old woman, named Timo, had a slave, whose name was Moko. The old woman did not cultivate for herself, but made her slave do all such work; yes, and all the other work, even cutting flax for her. She did nothing but make mats.

“Moko had been taken prisoner by her husband in a battle which was fought some time before he died. In the same battle the head of Moko's brother was taken, and afterwards made into a moko-mokai (dried, and kept to look at). Timo kept this head, and put it on a corner peg of the trellis to which the web of her mat was fastened. To this head she would often talk, and call it such names as would not make Moko feel love for her; for Moko used always to sit in the house in silence, if his work did not require him elsewhere.

“It was winter; and for days had Moko been forced to listen to Timo while she talked to the preserved head of his brother. Though men are made slaves in body, the heart does not become a slave, as it can talk to itself, and feed on big thoughts, even as large as the thoughts of a chief.

“One day Moko felt very sorry to hear this head called bad names, and when Timo had gone out to see her grandchild, who would not stop crying in the next page 323 house, Moko took his brother's head and looked at it, turned it up, and looked into the hollow skull.

“‘Ah!’ said he, ‘there is the place, now so hollow, where the eyes, and the brain, and the tongue were—the eyes that so often looked at me, and so often cried when I beat him. Why do I love this now? But I cannot help loving it. My mother would love even a few hairs from this cured head! Why does the old woman keep you to speak evil to you? She would not do so were you alive! But I can do something.’

“Moko took the head out for a short time, and when he returned, he replaced it on the corner peg, and sat down in the corner of the house, where he had sat so many summers and winters. Timo returned, and began talking to the head, when suddenly a hissing sound issued from the mouth. She looked at it, and saw the mouth was partly open, and the eyes appeared to wink. She turned towards Moko, and saw that he sat staring at the head in a state of extreme fear.

“Again did the mouth hiss and the eyes wink. Timo sat still, but her hands dropped. Moko cried out, ‘O, the god Tote! He was a god of our people! One of our people, through Tote's power, died suddenly, because she would look at my brother when his eyes winked.’ But Timo could neither move nor speak.

“Again did a hiss issue from the mouth, and the eyes winked, and a shrill ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ came from the mouth, while it put its tongue out three times at the old woman. The tongue had two eyes at its end, and they looked as red as fire, and the end of the tongue page 324 opened, and a dark blue fork came out; at the same time it gave another shrill ‘Ha! ha!’ Timo fell on her back, gave a kick or two, and lay quite still, while Moko still sat staring at the head.

“Just then a heavy shower of rain fell, and some boys and girls who were playing outside rushed into the house out of the rain. They saw Timo lying down dead, and began to blame Moko for killing her; but just then he fell down as if in a fit, and stared at them with his eyes as wide open as those of a coward when a great evil is near to him. The children burst out into a loud laugh; but a sudden hiss, and shrill ‘Ha! ha!’ from the head gave them such a fright, that the doorway was not wide enough for them to go all out at once; so they went head over heels, arms and legs over one another, screaming in such a dreadful manner that the whole settlement was alarmed. While yet struggling over each other, the head gave another ‘Ha! ha!’ which took all the strength out of their legs, and they crawled away on their hands and knees, howling and screaming in such a tone of horror, that the warriors rushed to the rescue, not doubting but they were in the hands of the enemy. As the men came near the children, each child seized the hand or foot of a man; but not a word could any one of them say. All kept their eyes fixed on the door of Timo's house; and not until another ‘Ha! ha!’ issued from the head did any one know what had frightened the children.

“The son of a chief said to his father, who held him in his arms, ‘Timo killed dead; Moko looking at her!’

page 325

An old man went into the house in the attitude of war. He found Timo quite dead, and no one but Moko there. He at once dragged him out by the hair of the head, intending to kill him as the murderer; but just as he was about to deal him the death-blow the chief's son again said, ‘Wait!—look at the head.’ At the same time another ‘Ha! ha! issued from the head.

“Moko rose and said, ‘Tote killed her; I did not. Why should I die, if I can cook and look at my brother's head?'

“The old man again entered the house, looked at Timo and at the head, and was about to carry the corpse out, to save the house from tapu, when the head again hissed. He laid the body down, and ordered Moko, who had also entered the house, to take the head from the turu-turu, and see if it could laugh. When he lifted the head from the peg, a bundle of flax fell out, and with it two moths and two lizards.

“It was the moths that had made the hissing noise as they fluttered about, and the lizards, being frightened by the moths, uttered the cry which is so much like the ‘Ha! ha!’ of a man; and it was one of the lizards which put its head out between the lips of the head.

“You see, young woman, two moths and two lizards killed a woman, and she was not a humpy.”

A girl answered, “No; her body was not humpbacked, so you say; but not only was her soul humped, but her heart also was humpbacked. Had she been page 326 like us girls who heard your tale, the instant the head had put out its lizard tongue at her she would have bitten off its nose and eaten it, making her teeth keep time with the hopping in and out of the tongue. Her chest was also humpbacked, and her death was caused by the jump her heart made into her throat, and it stuck on the hump and stopped her breath. She died because she was humpbacked in body, soul, heart, chest, and throat. As you have a hump which can be seen, and I am sure that you have many more, so take care and do not get into a rage, especially with girls, or you may die the death of the old woman of your tale. But listen to my tale. I do not expect you to learn anything from it; for you are not the one of two men that a girl would choose. But you might be as spiteful as one of the two men I am going to tell about, I do not doubt, and even more so; for he was not humpbacked in soul, which you are; for when a karaka berry is cooked, the seed is also cooked, so that there must be a humpy soul in a humpy body.

Humpy answered: “But you have not said there are humpbacked brains. I am sure there are some, and are mostly found in women. It accounts for the curious ways, the wild talking, the ceaseless noise their tongues make, and the colouring they give to anything they tell, making it the opposite of what it really was. You must admit that a hump on the brain is the root of all madness. I have seen more women than men mad with passion; and as anger does not rise from the soul, but from the brain, it shows that there must be some page 327 defect there; and I say from experience that most women, to judge by their conduct, have more or less of a hump on the brain. But let us hear your tale, so that we may see whether you have a hump or not.”

“If your hump was not so solid,” answered the girl, “I should say that it was another pair of lungs. From the long speech you have just made, I am sure that you will not die from coughing at me if my tale is tedious.”