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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XIII. Their Arrival at Home, and Their Reception There

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Chapter XIII. Their Arrival at Home, and Their Reception There.

It was break of day, the tide was flowing, the canoes were on their voyage to the kainga. The eight men in charge of the dead, who had slept by themselves, were again in their places in the rear.

When Kopura point was reached, Tupu called a halt, and said, “We have the dead with us, and we shall be looked at by those who own them. Go, you women and young men, into the forest and pluck the fern which climbs on the decayed trees, called taringa hakeke,1 and let us wear it, as our fathers have done, as mourning for the dead.”

The order was obeyed, and the women and young men returned with the ferns; and as they sat in rows, men with men, and women with women, each one plaited the ferns among the hair of the person sitting before him or her, and all were adorned with this token of mourning.

1 Trichomanes reniforme.

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Thus arrayed, they looked at each other and said, “You look quite full of sorrow.”

The fern used on these occasions is about the size of a child's hand, and is nearly round; it is about the same thickness as the leaf of a tree, and is fringed all round the edge with a small seed-pod; the stem is about as long as the breadth of the hand, and is quite flexible, which fits it for plaiting with the hair. The heat of the sun soon caused the ferns to wither and droop, hiding the hair and face of the wearers.

Those left behind at the kainga,1 who had kept a constant watch for the warriors at the top of the hill near their pah, saw the canoes as they came up one of the many turns of the river, and, recognising their friends by the mourning tokens on their heads, gave timely warning to the kaingas near their own long before the warriors could land.

On and on came the canoes, making for a level point that jutted out on the south bank of the river, close to the house of a portion of the Mahu tribe.

Not a voice was heard until the canoe bringing the dead came in sight. Then the kainga in an instant swarmed with human beings, and a loud wail burst from the people, in which all joined. The warriors landed in silence. As they left their canoes they stuck their paddles into the ground, and, leaning forward on them, wept in silence, while the women and girls of the kainga stood, with their arms hanging down and their heads bowed, weeping silently; but

1 Village place of abode.

page 209 the inhabitants of Rimu wept until their voices echoed in the forest at the back of the kainga. The eight men in charge of the corpses sat with the dead in the canoe, weeping silently. A crowd of children who had observed the canoe were speculating in whispers as to who the dead were; and even these little ones put their mats or a branch over their heads as a token of sorrow.

The people of the kainga remained seated in the little palisading usually put up round the kainga, and the inhabitants of the neighbouring kaingas who had assembled (it being the house of the old priest Takaho), sat down in the open space between the houses and joined in the tangi.

When the tangi1 had continued some time, the warriors, one by one, sat down, after which the crying became less and less, and died away.

When the tangi ceased, those in charge of the dead landed and sat by themselves near Takaho's hut. Not one of the crowd moved, save the little ones who were looking at the corpses, and who now stole round to a group of women, some of whom were their mothers.

One of the children—a boy—went to his mother, who still sat with her hands covering her face, and parting them, he sat on her lap, folded her arms round his neck, and said, “Mother, I saw them; they are in the canoe. I have not seen your cousin, who carried me when we went inland. She has not come back. There are two dead in the canoe. I saw the

1 Wailing.

page 210 hair of the head of one of them; it is short and curly; it is the head of a man. I could not see the head of the other, but there is a long lock of hair peeping out on the side of the canoe; it is a woman's hair.”

This mother was the wife of Namu, a head chief of the Mahu tribes; she was young, slender, and of a delicate body—a being of impulsive nature; she was the only child of her parents, and her rank was equal to that of her husband. She had but one child. She did not answer her boy, but a trembling came over her when she heard what he said.

Tupu, the first to speak, rose, having only a small mat round his waist, and, taking a few steps towards the huts where the principal body of the people were, addressing Takaho, he said: “I am the bird of evil omen. I have to tell of death. Your child went with me. I have brought Miona back, but I alone can speak for him. He did not die the death of a slave; he saw the face of his enemy; but he had to die. The gods tell us in omens. Miona was told at the mata, but he would not heed the warning. We took ample revenge for his death. We did not eat the bodies of our dead relatives. There will be enough to eat at some future time. Your child did not go alone; she, his love from childhood, departed with him. We did not know she had determined to go. We heard no word of a poroaki1 from her. She sent no message to you. They are here; it is for you to speak your thoughts.”

1 Last words spoken at departing.

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A young chief now spoke, and, addressing the returned warriors, he said: “We are all here, O fathers! we have come from our different places to receive you, the children of Tu; the days of old men were not like these days. Men were not women in those days. Boys do not know what more to say.”

Namu now said: “Welcome, O fathers! welcome with your heavy burdens. I do not wonder you have come back with so much food from Tu. Why did you not send for me to come and help you? Though my back is sacred, I should not have broken the law of tapu if I had carried flesh. When shall the feast be? Will you cook at once the large quantity you have in the canoe?”

Pia now spoke, and said: “Listen, O boys and girls, men and women, old people and children! What do you know of the past? We who have the grass of tura1 on our heads know what we speak about. Why do you haunt those who left the dead where they fell? Why should we eat our kin? Do you not know that we should have been cowards for the future had we done so? The gods would have visited some of you with kai koiwi2 for the act. Do you not remember that but a few moons ago a child of Papaka climbed a tree on which had been hung a cooked leg of one of our relatives, and the gods caused the child to fall and kill himself? Are you so dull, O Namu! that you and Tare talk as you have just now

1 “The grass of tura,” or grey hairs.

2 Consumption.

page 212 done? Were not you two in the canoe which brought up the river the heads of our murdered relatives, which we regained from those who killed them? It was a fine calm day, yet the gods upset the canoe, and you, with the rest, were nearly drowned. The gods buried the heads of our relatives in the water. I did think, O Namu! and you, Tare, that you could talk to men, but I now see that you are still young, and ought only to talk to girls. True, O Tupu! true was your word; you did right. You are cautious. You are brave. You did that which has kept from us the anger of the gods. Speak, O Takaho! and say what the gods order. When are the dead to be taken to the last resting-place of our fathers? When is the pihe1 to be sung; and at what time to-day will you say the auriuri,2 so that those who came in the canoe with the dead may eat?”
Takaho, an old man bowed with age, having snow-white hair, which was now red as the setting sun—as was all his body and garments—for he had rubbed himself with kokowai, now came out of his hut. He was the senior priest, and it was his place to order and conduct all sacred ceremonies. He said: “Listen, my children. You have all seen the tree on which the shags3 live, and that in time the tree dies. You have also been near one of these trees on the banks

1 A song sung over the bodies of the slain.

2 The incantation by which the tapu is removed from persons who have touched the dead.

3 Phalacrocorax Novæ Hollandiæ, Buller's ‘N. Z. Birds,’ p. 325.

page 213 of the river when the birds were coming to roost for the night, and have no doubt seen that those who alight first are turned off by some new-comer; and you have heard the noise they make. Before they took up their abode on the tree it grew, but their feet kill it. They curse their own home, and some stormy night the tree falls to the ground. The branches on which they roost break at a time when they ought to have been depended upon. Thus they cause their own death. The shags make no noise until they come home in the evening, after they have eaten the day's food. Hunger having been sent out of their bodies, anger comes and takes its place, and they are bold to each other; and thus they each take the place of the one who came home first. Listen, my children, keep your eyes and ears open, and learn from these birds. Let no young man of this tribe be like them; nor let your voices or desires be like theirs, lest your words act like the feet of the shag on the tree, and corrupt the hearts of some among us, and when the storm comes from our enemies, those on whom we depended drop us into the hands of death. Do not curse our home with such words as you have spoken to-day. When the sun has passed the highest point in his journey I will take the tapu off these eight men. After that you can all eat. Until I have repeated the karakia auriuri1 let no fires be lighted. When I have given the power to eat, then they shall eat. After that they shall go and gather mange-

1 The incantation removing the tapu.

page 214 manage1 with which to wrap the bodies of the dead, which shall be hung up in the trees—the sacred trees at Tuhakai. When to-morrow's sun has looked at us over the mouth of the cave out of which he rises, we will sing the pihe (dirge) for the dead; then you may tell your thoughts. I will tell you when we may hahu2 the dead; there are some of our former dead who can be taken at the same time to the last resting-place. You can plant much in the ground next season, so that the hahunga3 may be large enough for the tribes who shall be invited. Let no word be spoken in haste or anger. Live, O people! and remember the proverb, ‘The thrust of a spear can be warded off, but the piercing of a word is a wound given in the dark, and cannot be warded off.’ Feed yourselves with bravery, make yourselves strong to resist your enemies; do not let your anger be burnt out in family quarrels. I will listen, and hear what the gods say.”

1 Lygodium articulatum.

2 Remove the bones.

3 The feast on the occasion of removal of bones.