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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XX. The Search For The Suicide Wife And Murdered Husband

page 288

Chapter XX. The Search For The Suicide Wife And Murdered Husband.

The last speaker was interrupted by the voice of a man, who had been sitting by himself in the open space between the houses, who said, “Now that your work and talk is done, I must speak. Hearken, O people! I, Kai, left you last night to seek for my master Namu and his wife.” Takaho came out of his hut, and looked anxiously at Kai as he spoke. “I left in the dark, and went on and on until I reached the Kaiaia settlement. Love for my master and his wife made me brave. I did not think of the dead so lately taken to their home in the trees, until I came to the ford of Paku. You know the water is deep on either side of the ford, and should any one step to the right or left of the ridge of rocks in crossing, he will fall into a deep pool, and the rapid would carry him into the pool below. I had nearly reached this ford, and was thinking of my master, when I heard something behind me. I looked round and saw a dog. I stopped, page 289 it stopped; I walked on, it followed; I walked towards it, it went away from me. My skin felt quite soft, and the hair of my head curled up and down here and there. I stood and looked, the dog looked at me; the eyes were as bright as mother-of-pearl shell. I knew then it was a spirit. I turned to run away, but my legs would not run; they would only go as fast as they pleased. I reached the ford, and looked round; the dog still followed me. I noticed that its ears and tail were kept close down and the nose up. I stepped into the water, and got halfway across the creek, when I felt the dog's hair touching my leg—that was towards the upper side of the ford. I put my hand down and struck at it; at once it began to howl as it looked up at me. I turned, slipped from the ledge of the ford, and know nothing more until I found myself sitting on the south bank of the creek, holding the forefingers of my hands in my ears. I took them out, and still heard the dog's howling. I said to myself, if I am to be eaten by a dog-spirit, I had better let him do it at once; for the thought of pain is worse than pain itself. I called the dog, ‘Moi! Moi!’ I heard two barks, and the next time it barked it was at my side. I saw that it was the spirit of a dog which came to our tribe, and whoever was head chief at the time saw him. We all knew that it was an omen of death, and if the dog howled the death was to be by hanging. We called him Owa, for he is a god and a dog; he is the father of dogs. I repeated an incantation, to send the god back to the world of spirits, and went on my journey. page 290 I found that no one at Kaiaia knew anything about Namu or his wife. I am here; and it is now for you, O people of a tribe which has not been in slavery, to take the action of chiefs!”

One of the old women who had attended to the corpse of Namu's wife's cousin said, “I remember that when Moe and his mother were sitting together at the feet of her cousin, she was teaching Moe a song. I heard part of it; and as Kai has seen the god of suicide, I should like to hear the song, that we may know, O people! what to do.”

“I am a slave,” again said Kai; “you, O people! are chiefs; but a slave, if he tells the truth, cannot be less than a chief, for a chief cannot tell more than the truth. Moe sang a song to me which his mother taught him. I do not remember the words; but Moe can sing it. Moe told me also that Namu had besmeared the face of his wife with cooked food, even in the presence of the gods—the dead are gods—and some young women laughed at her.”

“Yes,” said a girl who rose up; “Namu did so because his wife would not come and eat with us. Namu said she was sulky, and it was only deceit for her to sit and cry over her cousin, when he wanted her to eat. I was one of the girls who laughed; but I did not laugh at her having the food smeared on her face, but because one of us said, ‘If Namu was only a big man, and his wife died of grief, she would have him.’ It was Paki's big fat daughter who said thus. Her arm is nearly as big as Namu's whole body. Another of us page 291 said, ‘You are a lazy woman; and if you had Namu for your husband, you need not cook or cultivate much for him. One basket of kumara would serve him all summer, and ten sticks of fern-root all the winter. One kumara and a bit of another would serve him for a meal, and you could cook that in a child's hangi.’ Namu was so enraged, that he went and rubbed his wife's face with cooked food. I laughed at the little man who was to live on one kumara a day.”

Takaho called to Kai, and asked, “Where is Moe?”

The boy came from the midst of a group of children who were playing with flax, making cat's cradles in their fingers. He answered, “Here I am, grandfather.”

Takaho said to him, “Tell us what your mother said to you, and sing the song she taught you.”

“Yes,” answered the boy; and he walked into the midst of the open space where Kai was still sitting. He went up to Kai and said, “You will not go away, will you?”

“No,” answered Kai. “Speak in a loud voice. You are the son of a chief, and chiefs are not ashamed. Speak slowly, and let all the people hear. While you speak, do as you would do with the string of a kite. You pull it in bit by bit, and wrap it up, for fear of a tangle; so you must commence at the end of your talk, and come down bit by bit, and do not let it get tangled by having to go back and explain.”

“I will,” answered Moe; “but I never spoke to our people before. O, my grandfather! I was eating with Kai on the day in which you took my cousin to the trees; my mother was sitting at the feet of her dead page 292 cousin, crying. After I had eaten as much as I wanted, I went to my mother, who was still weeping. I said to her I would cry for old Koko; though he was our slave, he had been kind to me. My mother answered, she did not now weep for her cousin. I asked why she cried, then? She said that Namu had besmeared her face with cooked food in the presence of the dead, and some girls had laughed at her, and she could not live after such an insult. I did not know that she meant to go away and leave me as she has done. I slept with Ara last night; but my mother kept me warmer than she did. Where is she, O my grandfather?”

“Tell us the other words,” said Takaho.

The boy answered: “But my mother did not tell me to teach the song to you or any one else. I will tell it to you when she with her own mouth says that I may do so.”

“I am older than you are,” said Takaho. “I am the friend of the gods, and can give you the right to tell it to us, and keep harm from you, my child.”

“But you are not my mother,” answered Moe. “You never took me into your arms as she did. I have only one mother. Ara is very kind to me; but she does not fondle me in her breast as my mother did. Last night I went to sleep with lots of words in my heart and tears in my eyes. My mother used to speak to me, and I listened to her until her voice lulled me to sleep. You are an old man, and your voice is not so sweet as my mother's. My mother must come and tell me whether I am to teach you the song.”

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Kai said in a low tone, “Tell all, my child. You are a chief, and you and I will take revenge for your being made to sing a song which your mother did not say you might sing to your people.”

Moe said, “I will tell it to you; but I cannot sing it to you as my mother sang it to me. You know, O grandfather! that her voice is as sweet as the korimaka's. You must not laugh, O people! I do not know how to sing, I am so young; but I will try and sing it as my mother sang it to me.”

Kai said, “You are a great chief, and your mother was a beautiful and kind woman. Sing now, my child.”

Tears glistened in Moe's eyes, and he tried to cough to choke down the sobs which nearly mastered him because he was made to sing a song that his mother taught him while she was weeping. He coughed again, and his tiny voice was heard to sing in a plaintive tone:—

“Cease, O tears,
To flow into my eyes!
Keep ye within!
Let me cherish you
For something yet unknown.”

Moe's voice was drowned in the loud wail which then rose from the priest and the people. It stopped the boy; and when the wail died away again, he continued:—

“I will turn me, and go
A way I've not yet trod;
And keep my love suppressed,
For fear it master me again,
For him I cannot help but love.”

page 294

The people again burst into a loud cry and wept. The men did not move; but as by common consent the elder women rose, and while they joined in the words of the lament, they swayed to and fro, throwing their arms up and down, and clawed the air, while the tears ran down their cheeks and chased each other over their bare breasts.

The children sat quietly, and nothing could be heard save the weeping. Here and there could be seen children fondled to their mother's chests or sides, whose faces looked as if they were really suffering a great load of sorrow. Kai joined in the lament, while Moe stood by him with his head bowed down, his face all marked by lines which the tears had made in the dirt or dust that covered him. For fear of his sacred body, Kai had not washed him since his mother's departure; for no less a personage than a chief dare wash the child of Takaho's nephew. Thus the poor child stood; while his great-uncle looked out of his hut weeping for the boy's mother.

A voice was heard to say, “Let weeping cease! You all know what the song tells which our child was taught by his mother. She is dead. She said she would go a road which she had not trod before; she has killed herself. Arise! Let us see.”

Another voice was heard to say, “Let every one go his own way to find our daughter.”