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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XVIII. The Burial and Burial Rites of Those Who Died in Battle

page 264

Chapter XVIII. The Burial and Burial Rites of Those Who Died in Battle.

Kai found Moe crying. He had been ordered to go away some little distance from the corpses; but wishing rather to obey Kai than the two old women, he refused, and they forcibly carried him away by the arms and legs to where Kai found him crying.

“Kai,” asked the boy, am I not the son of a great chief?”

“Yes, you are, Moe,” answered Kai.”

“Then why have these two old things treated me as they have done?” asked Moe.

“They did not call you names, did they?” asked Kai.

“No; but they ordered me away, and I would not obey,” answered the boy. “And why should I obey them, when I have not listened to or obeyed one word or order given even by my father?”

“But those women are sacred women of your tribe,” said Kai; “and they are the keepers of the dead. If you call them names or disobey them they may bewitch page 265 you. They are so old that they know what the gods say; and the gods and spirits help them.”

“I was waiting for my mother,” said the boy, “and was keeping my mother's things. Those old women threw them after me when they had carried me here. I would have scratched them, but I was afraid of their wrinkled faces, and their big, red, watery eyes. Kai, they are not like other women; they do not talk, and they have cut their hair so short that their heads look like the back of a singed dog.”

“Yes,” answered Kai; “but that is done to show how they loved your uncle and aunt. You did wrong to disobey them, because they were going to prepare the bodies for the burial-place. Let us sit here and look at them; but you must be silent until I tell you what to say and how to act, for we shall have to take part in the ceremony after the preparation is over. Every one of us will have to tie a piece of flax to your aunt's garment, near to her feet, and at certain words repeated by Takaho, every one must pull his piece of flax until it breaks. The flax breaking is to take away the effects of any disease which killed your aunt, so that such disease may not kill any one of your tribe. Look, the old women are combing your aunt's hair, and putting albatross feathers among it, so as to make her look beautiful. They have now put her feet to the north and her head to the south; for the reinga is to the north, and the priest will send her spirit, which has been here with the body ever since she died, to the northward. See, they have taken your uncle out page 266 of the wharau; he has been up in a half-sitting posture, and smeared with red-ochre. They have tied a thick war-girdle of plaited flax round his waist, and put a spear into his hand, for he died in battle. The two bodies have been put a little distance from each other, because different karakias will be repeated over each—the pihe over your uncle, because he died in battle, and another karakia over your aunt.”

Kai had told this to Moe in a low undertone, not to be heard by any one.

The people had formed into a line in perfect silence at the rear of the wharau in which the dead had lain, no person, not even a dog, being allowed to be on the north side of the corpses. When the old women had finished decorating the dead, an old man suddenly appeared from the house of the dead. He had a maro1 of leaves round his waist, and held a long spear in his hand. He uttered a most fearful yell, and danced for a few moments on the east side of the bodies; then he ran up to the corpse of the man, and stuck the spear into the ground, saying, “That is one for Tu.”

At this signal all the old men of the tribe formed themselves into a compact square, with Takaho on their right, and advanced silently with an even, steady step, until they arrived on the east side of the corpses, facing towards the male corpse. Every one of them held in each hand a fern-stalk. At the end of each stalk was tied a lock of hair taken from the heads of their enemies (these heads are preserved by the old

1 Small mat tied round the waist, hanging down in front.

page 267 women of the tribe, and used by them to ornament the four corner-pegs to which they stretched the web of their mats when making them), then held up their arms straight before them. Takaho, who stood on the right of the old warriors, now repeated the pihe for those who are killed in battle:—

“Peel, O thunder! above us,
You flash omens of fair weather.”

The warriors now formed in a chorus, and repeated with him—

“Tu is enraged, and Rongomai descends.”

At the end of each sentence of the chant they simultaneously raised the fern-stalks to the same height, which went up and down with perfect exactness.

The square now divided into two, and wheeling, one portion to the right and the other to the left, again formed a line on each side of the body, leaving an open space between them, running due north and south.

Again they took up the chant, holding the fernstalks as before, and lifting them up and down:—

“Courage to the source of Urunganga1 and Aparangi,2
Joined are now the shadows
Of the war party and of the people.
Arouse your blood,
And conspire with the men of Tu.
Tu is angry! Tu is strong! Tu is noble!
Grief has come; the stay has fallen
From Pipirau.3

1 The god of revenge.

2 The god of peace.

3 One of the mansions of the departed spirits.

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O how sacred to cut off the head of the leader!
O, Pipirau! is it sacred? O how sacred!
Tu, of the long face, is gone, is lost!
The harvest time is now;
Lay them out in the marae—
Up! be brave! let courage begin!
Go to the sea, as the net,
And draw the fish of Tu—
The stream of delight for the brave,
Where live
The fish of sweet liver, the fish of Tu—
We offer them to thee,
O Tu!
We lift them up to thee,
O Tu!
Honour to thee,
O Tu!
Lift up, call aloud;
Let the people roar to Tangaroa1
Give the word of Tu;
Offer the gift of Tu;
Tu of the noble face!
Honour to thee!
It is harvest time now,
O Pipirau and Ru!”2

As the chant ended, two old men made their appearance, each one carrying a back-load of mangemange,3 which they threw on the ground, one bundle at the head of each corpse, just as the warrior said “Pihe! pihe!”

The chanting warriors walked backwards from the corpse, and sat down in a half-kneeling position, still holding the fern-stalks up in a line with the chest.

1 Supreme god of the ocean.

2 God of earthquakes.

3 Lygodium articulatum.

page 269

The two old men now lifted the body of the man on to one of the bundles of mangemange, which they rolled round him, so as to make a round bundle, and tied it up tight with the fibres of the kiekie.1

Their work being done, they sat down, one on each side of the corpse. Takaho, who had stood up to this time at the head of the male corpse, now walked to the head of the woman's corpse, and when near to it, the two old women who had offended Moe came forward, each having a maro2 round her waist, made of kawa-kawa and karamu3 twigs with the leaves on. They spread a mat on the ground, the ends of the web of which were uncut; they laid the body of the woman at full length on the mat, with her feet to the north, and stepped back, one standing on each side of Takaho.

All the people who had been sitting on the south side of the corpse now came forward, men, women, and little children, without hurry or confusion. As soon as they drew near to the priest they divided into two bodies, one body going on each side of the corpse. Each one of the people, without exception, tied a long piece of flax to one of the uncut ends of the web of the mat, and holding the other end of the flax, stood east and west of north, as far from the corpse as the flax would allow them, with their heads bowed down, not uttering a word.

The chanting warriors, who had laid the pieces of

1 Freycinetia Banksii.

2 Small mat.

3 Vide ante, p. 221.

page 270 fern-stalks on the bundle of mangemange which contained the body of the chief, now formed a square behind Takaho and the two old women, and joined in the following chant:—

“There are Pi and Pa,1
Rising as the morning,
To eat—e—
The food planted
By your ancestors,
Which they left
In this world.
There are Pi and Pa,
Rising as the morning
To eat—e—
Oil and taro;2
It is the food;
Eat sparingly!
Refresh thyself!
Eat sparingly,
To insure thy
Safe arrival
At the abode
At Paerau.”

All at the same moment pulled in a northerly direction their pieces of flax, which, having been made very thin in the middle, broke, leaving one half attached to the mat. The people at once returned in silence to the place from whence they had come.

The warriors again formed into two lines, one on each side of the corpse, and while they and Takaho chanted—

1 Pi, the sustaining power of food, and Pa, the power of consuming food, idealised into gods.

2 Caladium esculentum.

page 271 “O yes, there is the seed,
The exalted seed,
The seed with which you depart—”

the old woman who stood on the left of the female corpse put a piece of taro into the hand of the body, which the woman's spirit was to use for food on her way to the world of spirits, and to plant there for future sustenance. The priest and warriors continued:—

“To your multitude!
To your thousands!
To your sacred priesthood!
Ascend by your road to heaven.”

During this time the two old men had tied the man's corpse to a pole, which projected beyond the head and feet.

The two old women wrapped the body of the woman in the mat, and laid it on the other bundle of mangemange, which they wrapped round it, and tied together; they then tied the whole to a pole, which also projected beyond the head and feet. Then the chanting warriors rose and walked to the southward of the two corpses, and sat down in two lines, one behind the other.

Takaho now led the way to the sacred place, which was not far distant, being a clump of trees on high ground on the other side of the stream on which the settlement was built. The two old men lifted on to their shoulders the ends of the pole to which the chief was tied, and followed the priest, carrying the corpse feet first. The two old women carried the woman's page 272 corpse in the same way, being careful to carry her head foremost.

As soon as the corpses were being carried away the whole people, as with one voice, broke out into a loud wail, which they continued until the bodies were hid by the scrub through which they were being carried. They then sat silently, when the old priest was heard to say, “Extinguish all the fires.”

Instantly some of the women went and put all the fires out, and in silence resumed their places among the people, who sat with their heads partially bowed down.

When the priest, Takaho, reached the centre of the olump of trees he stood still, facing the north, and the body of the chief was laid on his right, and that of the woman on his left. The two men who had carried the body of the chief now climbed the nearest tree, and lowered down on the east side two ropes of flax. One of these the priest tied round the head of the corpse and the other round the feet, when it was drawn up, and with three flax ropes it was tied on to a branch. The men descended, and again climbing the same tree, lowered two ropes from another branch on the west side of the tree, and the corpse of the woman being tied in the same way, it was drawn up and fastened to the branch.

When the men came down, they each took hold with the left hand an end of the pole with which they had carried the body of the chief. They stood on the right of the priest; the women, who held their pole in the same way, stood on his left. Takaho repeated the following page 273 incantation, to take the tapu off their hands, so that they might touch food again as soon as they reached the settlement:—

“The centre of heaven
Is the foundation;
Honour Tu! lift up Tu!”

Here the men and women lifted up the poles, which they held, and kept them above their heads. Takaho continued:—

“Come, O power!
Come on sacredness!
Come on the words of the
Priests, chiefs of Tu.
Lift me up by the power of Tu—
The offering of the heavens is shaking;
We give it to Thee, O Tu!
Make it common, O common! to eat food with Whiu,1
That his girdle may be put on,
And leave the dead to die;
And the living to live;
To move; to grow;
To wink at the earth;
To wink at the sky;
To wink!”

At the last words the men and women let their poles drop, and put their hands to their noses and smelt them, then to their sides, and in this posture followed Takaho in the same order as they had come. He took them back by a different way from that by which they had come, as it would be death to all were they to return by the road over which, corpses had so recently been carried. Upon reaching the settlement, they

1 The god of tumult, “to eat food with the living who make a noise.”

page 274 found all the people sitting silently where they had left them. Takaho sat down about twenty paces from, and directly in front of, the shed in which the bodies had lain. He rose, and addressing the two men who had carried the chief, he ordered them to make a fire. One of these went into the scrub, and broke off a limb of a poporokaiwhiria1 tree which had been withered some length of time; this he brought to the priest, who spit upon it. He then went about ten paces from the priest, but in front of the shed, where the other man joined him. The two women sat side by side in front of the two men. One of the men held the branch firmly on the ground with his foot, while the other, who was kneeling, with a small branch of the same wood which he held by one end, with the other end rubbed backward and forward on the largest part of the large branch, which soon made a groove. At the end farthest from the rubber a fine black dust soon collected. Now the man rubbed as fast as he could until he was tired; when he ceased, smoke issued from the little heap of dust. The man who held the large branch down now went and collected from the scrub a bundle of dry fern-leaves, into which the heap of dust from the kanati (large branch rubbed) was put, while the other man with the kika (small branch used to rub with) carefully knocked any remaining dust into the fern. The fern was then swung round and round, to cause a current of air, which soon set the fern-leaves into flames. Takaho now took the bundle of fernleaves,

1 Hedycarya dentata.

page 275 and the kika and kamati from the men; he then went and set the shed on fire, throwing in also the two branches, and returned and sat down in his former place, all looking silently at the burning shed.

When everything was consumed, Takaho rose, and said, “You may light your fires, and cook the food for the evening meal.”