Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home
Chapter X. The Watchers of The Dead—Kino and The Woman of Six Husbands—A Woman's Quarrel and its Consequences
Chapter X. The Watchers of The Dead—Kino and The Woman of Six Husbands—A Woman's Quarrel and its Consequences.
It was long past noon, and the sun was declining fast, when Tupu rose and said, “The old men of my people know that my son and daughter must be taken home with us. They cannot remain with the dead of this place. Their fathers sleep at Matuakai, and there must they also sleep. We must not take our children home naked. Let the clothing of the dead be ready for them, that when we reach our home they may not look like slaves, and we be thought common people for neglecting our sleeping son and daughter.”
The old men caused new mats to be brought, which they placed on the litters, and the old men and women brought feathers taken from the tail of the huia, and white feathers taken from the wing of the albatross. The oldest among the women decked the head of the dead wife with some of the feathers, while the old men decked the head of the dead husband.page 146
Tupu's men built a house without sides or ends in the centre of the marae, and covered it with the leaf of the nikau.1 Beneath this, one at each end, the two bodies were laid. Three old women kept watch at the end of the house where the dead wife was laid, three old men doing the same where the husband lay. Each party of watchers kept a fire at their respective ends, round which they sat chatting in a low tone; but not a laugh was heard, nor did the old men or women address a single observation to each other. Between sunset and dawn of day not one of the warriors or people of the pah went near the six old folks who kept watch.
1 Areca sapida, a palm abundant in the North Island forests.
2 Coriaria ruscifolia.
1 A comb made of the white bone of a whale.
Turi, who had his long hair tied up in a tuft, asked Kino, who had the uncombed lock, “What do you think of the acts of our warriors?”
“Think?” answered Kino. “Do you ask me what your own stomach knows? Does it not feel as if it could talk to you of hunger? Did you ever know of such a thing as food being given to us by Tu, and we not to eat it?”
“You never told me why you keep that paki-paki taha (uncut lock of hair) on your head?” asked Turi.
“O, why confuse my thoughts?” answered Kino. “If you are ignorant, remain so still.”
“But tell me,” said Turi. “I have never heard why you keep it. Perhaps I can help you to get revenge, and then you could cut it off. I see that it will ever keep your remembrance alive. You do not work harder at anything than you do at slapping and scratching it.”
“Then listen,” answered Kino. “You know that I had a father.”
“Yes,” said Turi. “I know that you are not a god, and gods sometimes have fathers.”
“My father was a fine-looking man—at least, so I am told by those who knew.”
Turi asked, “Was your mother's father an ugly man? If he was, you are like him.”
“When my father was young there was a fine young page 149 woman in our tribe, and both my father and a chief, called—ah! I will not tell his name—fell in love with her. Each of them tried to gain her love, and my father was successful, and obtained her consent to be his wife, and also that of the tribe. At a meeting of the people the karakia atahu was said over them, by which, you know, she became really his wife. She was my mother. The disappointed chief never spoke a word of hate to my father for having gained the love of the beautiful woman who was my mother.”
Turi here asked, “Did you not get your name, Kino, for being the ugly son of handsome parents? for Kino means evil, or bad. And I must say that your talk about the beauty of your mother makes me look twice at you to see if my eyes tell the truth, that you are really so ugly. Am I right in saying that you are the ugliest man of your tribe?”
“I never asked any one in my youth to tell me what ugliness or beauty was. I only tell you what I have heard, that my mother was very pretty.”
1 The Sphœria Robertsii in its caterpillar state.
“Yes,” answered Kino; “I was hungry the other day, when we came back after we had killed those people we were not allowed to eat.”
“Then did you not, during the time of your hunger,” asked Turi, “think that there was some sight which you would call beautiful for your eyes to look at?”
“Ah!” answered Kino, “now I know. I did think there was one sight I should like to have seen—I would have called it beautiful then—that was a basket of man's flesh cooked, some fat eels, and a cake of fern-root to eat with it. To me those are beautiful to think of. If that be beauty, I know what beauty is. My father and mother lived together three summers, and I was born. When I could crawl about, my father was busy cultivating his land: it was the time for setting kumaras. Not far from where he was working there was a plot of ground belonging to Rou, who was also putting in kumaras. The chief who had not succeeded in gaining my mother had been absent for some time from our settlement; but he had now returned, and was assisting Rou. Mind, I only tell you what I have been told.”
1 The sphœria in its dead state.
“Yes,” said Turi; “I was thinking that you must have been a man all the time you were a child; and now you are a child, when by age you ought to be a man.”
“Never mind the tuft of hair I keep, Turi,” said Kino. “Is it not manly to get revenge? It is only the act of a child to forgive and forget an insult. But I was telling you my father was one day busy planting for himself, while Rou and his party remained in the settlement to entertain some people who came to see him. My father did not come home in the evening, and after dark my mother and others took torches and went to look for him. They went to his cultivation, and there they found him lying dead on the ground, his face looking upwards to the sky, with his own ko (a spear-like spade) stuck through his bowels, pinning him to the ground, and his body was very much mangled. My mother, who continued to cry as long as he remained unburied, would not let me come near her, and some of my relatives took me and fed me. My father's corpse was taken to the cave in the forenoon, and in the evening the people sought for my mother, but she could not be found. A few summers since her bones were found in the forest: they were recognised by a green-stone eardrop which was found with them. I was too young when she hung herself to know anything about it, and I was often called a poor orphan by my playmates; but I did not resent it then. When my mother's bones were found, it caused the people to lament and talk, and all was heard by me, page 152 and I learnt who I was. I now know why I could not love. The god of my fathers kept me from such an evil, that I might be single and have but one object in life, and that is to take ample revenge for the death of my father and mother. Now you know why I keep this paki-paki taha. I have allowed it to grow since my mother's bones were found, and thus shall it continue to grow until I send the spirits of some of the children or grandchildren of my father's murderer to the reinga.1 I have an object in life. What you said is true: I do lead a hotete-like existence; but I shall so act some day that my awhato-life will suddenly change, and I will come back to the living caterpillar again. Then I will cut off this lock of hair, and the awhato will lose the sprout that grows out of the back of his head; for my spear I shall pass through the head or body of those who shall, like the hotete, die, never to come back to mock the only child whom they kept in life untaught, and without a name. The name I bear was given me because I was so little cared for, and because, when a child, hunger often drove me to beg and steal food from others. That is the reason why Kino (evil, or bad) is my name. Kino will befall them when they are not awake to self-protection. If I would, I could not die until I have sent a few messengers to my father and mother.”
1 The place of departed spirits.
“Yes,” said Kino, “but my mother would not have been as wrinkled as any of these three even if she had been as old as they are; her beauty would have kept her good-looking even in old age.”
“You are an old man,” said Turi, “but not so very old, and yet your face looks like the ground in summer, all cracks, although you are not tattoed. If you are so now, how would your mother have looked had she lived? The youngest of these three is old enough to be your grandmother.”
Poko rose, replenished the fire, and sat down in another place opposite Kino, who looked at Poko and Turi, both of whom had lain down, and appeared to be talking each to himself.
1 A temporary shed open on one side, used by the natives in travelling.
1 Podocarpus dacrydioides.
1 An expression of love for the dead, and a propitiation to the gods who caused his death.
1 Leptospermum scoparium.
1 A native receiving an injury which might have caused death will speak of it as if death had actually followed, and representing himself as dead, will demand payment for his death.
2 A large mat made from the best scraped flax, with a wide ornamental border.
Kino, who had been looking at the widow for some time, said: “Her widow's cap does not look like those I saw when I was a boy; the calabash comes too far on her head, and the tufts of hair are not near enough together, they do not cover the whole of her face. Besides, there are not enough of them in the plaits which wind round the rim to the tuft on the top of the calabash.”
“I think there is a design in the matter,” answered Turi. “Had she made her cap of grief, as I should like to have my wife to make hers, when at my death she raises her wail over me, there would have been sufficient hair on the rim to fall down and cover her whole face, so that she could see no one through it, nor could any part of her face be visible. But the old woman yonder does not like to be unseen, and if even Poko were to make love to her she would accept him. What say you, Poko? She has one good eye and one poor one; you have one good eye, so that there would be two good page 159 eyes between you, and the poor eye could be used by either of you, should you lose a good one.”
Poko gave a grunt of amusement as he looked at the widow, who sat near the fire. The bald appearance of the upper part of the calabash, and the hair all round the rim, looked as if all her hair had slipped down from where it ought to grow, and had taken root round her neck.
The other two old women were not of the same active turn of mind as the calabash widow. They sat perfectly still, save that their eyes followed the busy, bustling movements of the widow whenever she replenished the fire. One of them, Koneha, had been a wife and a mother. Soon after the birth of her first-born she had quarrelled with her husband. She had not revenged herself on him, her rank being equal to his own, but she smothered her child. Her husband did not resent her murderous act; but his brother, who came with a taua1 for the child, gave her a blow with his wahaika,2 cutting the skin off her head, laying her cheek-bone bare, and causing an ugly scar. She had been a stout woman in her youth; but now sat smiling at the fire, showing a set of most beautiful teeth, which contrasted strangely with her deep-sunken eyes and gaunt appearance. She looked more like a dead body sitting by the fire than one who had killed her own child to be revenged on its father.
1 A robbing party, also used as a war party.
2 A long-handled wooden hatchet from the head of which hangs a tassel of hawks’ feathers.
The third was a woman of great age, whose head had become quite white. Her memory was nearly gone, and she could not understand an order unless given in an authoritative tone. Her form was reduced to a mere shadow. Her food was generally the scraps left by the tribe; and she spent most of her time talking to herself. She seemed as if she considered herself the intimate companion of the dead. She had loved in her youth; but the relatives of her lover would not allow him to have her for his wife. He joined a war party, and did not return alive. He was left behind—that is, all of him except his head, which his comrades preserved and brought back. For years she had been in the habit of sitting and talking to the head, until it had become a second life to her to keep it company. As this woman was making a long harangue addressed to her lover's head, a voice was heard in the pah, calling upon the ears of all the people to receive food from it.1
Poko, for a wonder, said, “Who is that calling to my ears to listen to his talk, just as I was about to tell a tale of the acts of my boyhood? Then there were great chiefs in the world. Since I went to the wars in my youth, men have become girls, chiefs old women, and women are only fit to wail to deaden the howlings of the dogs. Who is that fellow that calls to us, now that it is time to sleep?”
1 I.e., to listen to what would be said.
1 Astelia Banksii.
Old Whare was now heard coughing, as he came out of the house in which he had remained since the warriors had eaten. He coughed several times, and then came towards the fires of those who kept watch over the dead; again he walked back, and disappeared in the dark. Poko and the old women watched him attentively, as he kept appearing in the light and disappearing in the dark. At last the old man said, “What did my young kinsman say about death? Did he cry over the dead now before us? How is it I never before heard of his love for Aramita? Has he become brave all at once since he saw my mistake? He has not yet killed a man. No; he has not even attempted to make a third hole in a man's face to assist his eyesight, or to give him a third ear with which to hear more readily the news of war, or the call to a feast or a lovetale. I made love in my day; I did not care for father, mother, priest, or tapu. I loved, and that was all I page 163 wished to know; and love was my only master. Why does my young relative tell his love-tale while his ancestor Rou is sick for want of some kinaki (relish) to eat with his fern-root? Had I a thousand daughters, I would not give one of them to a man who was not brave enough to rush into a forest of spears and carry away his wife. And were I a girl, I could not love a man who went to war, and did not even take a child as his slave.”
1 Struck him in the river, see p. 33.
The woman with an eye and a half, she of six husbands, jumped up and screamed as if in pain, and said: “Sit down, O Takuai! sit down. Why am I told of the just acts of years gone by? Was I not a widow at the time you speak of? And was not Whare without a wife? And I was not so old then. I did ask him for some hair from the tails of his dogs to make a cover for my head beneath which I might weep for my dead husband. Old men are not fools; but he did not or would not understand the meaning of my request; and as his dog injured me, I punished him for not accepting my offer to be his wife.”
1 Subdivision of a tribe.
The woman of the dogs'-tail cap threw it to Miro, saying, “There, child, there is the cap for you. I shall die of rage. You may become old like me, and have no son to protect you from the insults of a child girl.”
When divested of her head-dress she looked more like a bundle of bones covered by a mat than a woman. She bowed her face on her knees and began page 166 to weep; and in a low tone, while she wept, repeated the words of a song of former days.
Miro answered: “Wait; let your cap lie there. Did some say that I was to have Heta if Aramita was not allowed to become his wife? Am I a dog to be thus given to any one you like? I am not a man, I am not a priest. But I tell you, men, women, children, and priests, you may do as you please with your own. You may kill them and even bury them if they have done that for which they ought to be eaten. O Takuai! talk on, and let the birds hear your voice; perhaps some kaka may be persuaded by the power of your words, and when the sun rises in the morning make love to a pigeon. Love those you like, O Takuai! but I shall not allow you to say whom or where I am to love. You are tattooed, but your face is not beautiful; the lines are as crooked as a lizard's leg. Then why do you talk to me of a hairy untattooed face like his whom you have coupled with my name? Look out of your house and see me.”
She put on the widow's cap, and dancing with it on, she called upon Takuai to say whether he and Heta together would not make love to her. Though ugly as she now was, was she not better looking with all the bush of dogs’ tails round her face than ever they were, or ever could be? She took the cap from her head and threw it into the fire; and with a slow and defiant step returned and entered the hut, in which her mother and the other women were still talking in the most rapid and excited manner.page 167
While Miro was dancing and speaking, the old woman who kept the preserved head of her lover sat in astonishment and pleasure, staring at Miro with her mouth half open, and her eyes sparkling with an idiotic glare, while her hands now and then moved as if in deadly struggle with some foe. Now she would partly rise, and then sit down again with a low laugh. But when the widow's cap fell on the fire she sprang up, took a bundle of wood and threw it on the cap, at the same time uttering a scream which caused Miro to look back over her shoulder, but she did not deign to stop or turn round.
The relict of six husbands jumped up, and was in the act of springing to the rescue of her cap, when the blighted one caught hold of her, and the two struggled, screamed, and tore each other. The noise they made roused the inhabitants of the pah, who hastened to see what they thought must be a spirit from the reinga carrying away a living being to that world against her will.
1 The open space in every village surrounded by the huts. At the side or end of this space is always situated the house or hut of the leading chief of the village.
When silence was partially restored, old Poko rose and said, “Listen, O people! listen to a man who has never made a speech before in his life. Why did you nearly frighten me to death? Why did you come to see these two women fight? Why did any of you ever take a wife? Why did you not do as I have done? Why did you ever fall in love with a woman? Why did you ever have children? Why did you continue to keep men and women in existence? Why did you burn your feet? If you had been like me, there would not have been one of us here to-night. If you had not had children there would have been no death to cry over, and none to keep watch over the dead. If there had been no one alive, there would have been no need of fire to keep them warm. If there had been no fire you would not have burned your feet to-night. I say it is all your own fault. And you, O weeping women! are the cause of it all. You are the mothers of the boys; the boys become men, and the girls look at them; then they talk as the people of past generations talked. Then they become man and wife, and so the evil continues. I say to you, you are to blame for your burnt feet. If you had not been burnt you would not have the pain you now feel. My word is, let every one be as I am. Let no one be husband or wife, and in a few years we shall all sleep, and be away from the evils which have befallen you this night. My words are the words of the gods. The dead are gods. I page 170 learnt them while sitting here and looking at the dead.”
While Poko was speaking, mothers who had been weeping under their mats rose, and called their children by name, each answering by a loud yell of “I am burnt,” to which the mother would answer with another scream of motherly grief. Then might be seen hurrying to and fro in the dark half-frantic mothers led by the wail of their burnt children, and in their anxiety rushing against each other, or against children, the sudden contact bruising and knocking many over. And again there would occur a deafening noise of howling, crying, and angry words of scolding women.
The men sat in sullen silence until quiet was nearly restored, for all evils come to an end in time. When they one by one returned to their huts, Poko and his two companions again quietly nodded to the fire around which they sat.
She of the three women who had thrown the embers about said to the other two, “Have you done your work yet? You wished to have some sport, and I thought it would be right to put the fire out, so that you might not be seen by the people who would come. If you want any more sport say so, and I will not light the fire.” As she received no answer, she again made the fire, and whilst doing so she found part of the dogs'-tail cap, which she threw to the owner, saying, “What will he say when he knows the cap you made to weep under for him was put in the fire? I should not like to be a widow and have such page 171 a thing done to me. It would make me kill some one, and then kill myself.”
The old woman of six husbands, who had partially recovered from her fatigue of wrestling, got up and called upon all the world, and every person in it, to the rocks and fishes, to the birds and dogs, and lastly upon Whare, saying, “You, O Whare! are the cause of my now being killed. I have no one to protect me. Why should I continue to live alone to be the sport of girls? Go, O people! go and live as long as you can. O Tupu! see that I am buried with your children, whom I will keep guard over till the sun rises, when I will go with them.” She sat down and tried to convey with all the strength of her lungs the idea that her heart was really breaking.
She had cried some time, when a voice was heard from the other end of the pah, saying, “Stay, O mother! stay, and I will keep you from insult. I did not see before what your words meant, but now I do. Sleep, and then we can protect each other.”
The fire burned brightly, and the three old women sat near it to warm themselves. The light danced in flickering rays on the bald head of the now rejoicing wife of her seventh husband. The other two laughed at her bald, shining head, but she said, “You may laugh, but I shall not again be angry. Whare will protect me.”
A voice was again heard from the dark. The speaker was the brother of one of the former husbands of the woman whom Whare had agreed to make his page 172 wife. “What did I hear?” he asked. “Did I hear you say, O Whare! that you would take my sister for your wife? Did she say you were the cause of her being hurt? What does my sister mean? You did not ask her to make the cap which she wears for my brother. Why does she wear a cap for her sixth and last husband? And did she not do the same for any one of the other five with whom she lived? Does my sister think that I do not see, and do not notice or understand why she acts as she has done? Does she think she will live for ever? Does she think she will live until she has had six more husbands? I ask of what good has she ever been to our tribe? She has killed six men, and not been the mother of one child. The greatness of a man is his wives. A man of one wife is not thought so great a chief as the one who has six wives. And the honour of a man and his wife is their children. For two things are they an honour: first, they cry over the death of their parents; second, they keep up the strength of the tribe. But my sister has not been an honour to us or to herself. If she takes Whare for her husband, she must make my heart glad. She has not given me a child by my brother; she must give me other things to satisfy my heart.”
Having heard the speech of the brother of one of her former husbands, the newly-engaged wife rose to speak, when one of the other two women said, “Mind what you say, old Whare is listening; his eyes may not see the wrinkles in your face, but his ears can hear the cracks in your voice.”page 173
1 A woman betrothed.
There was one hut in the pah, the occupants of which had not taken part in what had transpired outside. That was the hut which Rou, his wife, and relatives occupied. On his return from the fight, Rou had narrated all that took place in the battle.
In answer, his wife said, “If you are not fed by others I shall not feed you. Go and get food for yourself. Go feed your good brother Tupu with kumara. Such food is the best for you. Am I to live when those who were killed have not been avenged? Are we slaves, that we are to die like slaves by the hand of any man that likes to kill us, and you are not brave enough to defy the woman words of a man like Tupu? O, why did I remain here, and not go with the old women who went to the fight? Truly you are not as good as my old slave Konehu. She would shame you. You have your eyesight and can see your enemy. You are young compared to her, and you are strong. You are related to those who were killed; and when the god Tu gave you the bodies of the murderers, you put them into the earth. Are they so sacred, common eyes must not look at them? Konehu did not act like that. She was sitting over a hangi in which we had cooked some food for you cowards, and while searching about for the remains of sow-thistle that might have been left by those who had taken the food page 176 out of the hangi, she touched a surly dog, which bit her arm. She caught the dog's head with her other hand, and bit off a piece of its ear, and ate it for revenge. O Rou! are you not ashamed to have less of a warrior's spirit than my old slave, who is nearly double with the weight of her great heart bowing her down to the earth? Go, O father of my children! and tell them if they are murdered you will not allow their murderers to be sent to Paerau1 to show that they died avenged by your love. Go, O Rou! and tell them that your love of life was greater than your love for them or me.”
His wife did not say all this continuously, but with intervals of silence she would utter a few words, and again become silent. The other occupants of the hut sat with their heads covered, crying in a low tone, Rou and his daughter Miro being the only two who sat erect. Miro listened to those who were making speeches outside in the dark, while Rou sat in sullen silence on the right side of the door on entering the hut. No one had attended to him with food, nor had his hunger been appeased since the meal he partook of as the warriors left to attack the pah. What his thoughts were no one could guess. He had not spoken a word, save to tell his wife of the battle.
1 The place of departed spirits, nearly synonymous with the reinga.