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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XXII. A Debate on the Power of Disembodied Spirits

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Chapter XXII. A Debate on the Power of Disembodied Spirits.

After returning to the settlement, all the people sat down in silence; not even the little children felt joyous enough to join in any sport. Although not one spoke, yet their eyes looked searchingly about at the members of the different groups. The chiefs and old men had collected in front of Takaho's hut; they sat with their chins resting on their knees, and looked earnestly now at one, now at another of their group. What they though it was impossible to divine, but on the countenance and in the eyes of all the adults, could be read the questions, “Who killed Namu? And who is to open the meeting which will lead to the investigation of the matter?” Kai, with Moe on his back, sat close to Heta and Ara; and on his countenance might be read the same questions that were visible on the faces of the others.

A voice was heard, and the people, on looking up, saw Tupu standing facing the door of Takaho's hut. He did not speak, nor could any one observe that he page 302 chanted a song while weeping. Sorrow seemed to fill his whole being, and his sobs were those of a full and overflowing heart. He wept as only men can weep when once the barrier of manliness has been broken down by deep sorrow; his chest heaved as if in deadly struggle with death.

The other men of the groups had covered their heads, and sat in silence. The women sympathised openly with the sorrowing chief, for now here, now there, could be heard a female voice joining that of manly sorrow in bursts of grief that echoed among the forest valleys.

Tupu sat down, but still the undertone of weeping rose from all the assembled inhabitants of the settlement; it was not loud, but resembled the subdued cry of beings dying in exhausted despair.

Takaho issued from his hut, and leaned forward on his toko,1 which he held with both hands; he looked round at all the people and said, “O my fathers, my children, I am the old tree of other summers! I have seen the storms of the sun, of the moon, and of man. I have been with the brave; and death has ever been in my mouth. I am an old tree! Branch after branch has been torn away by the storms I have passed through. I am now hollow. The last two twigs that grew on the tree, which showed that it had a little life, have been torn away on a calm day, by a breath unseen, unfelt by you all. I am hollow, like the tree of ancient times. My heart is dead! Weep! O my

1 A long staff.

page 303 children, I cannot weep; the sap of the tree is dried up, my eyes are fire, my brain is dry, my thoughts have fled like a flock of frightened birds flying from a hawk. Weep! for when I go back into my hut you will not see me again for ever. Who will lead you? Who will teach you? My soul has gone with them. I can say no more.” He turned, and staggered back into his hut.

The old man who cut down Namu rose and said: “Listen, O people! I am not a child; I am not a slave; I am not a priest. I never knew any one die of the rank of Namu and his wife but their bodies were laid out in the usual manner, and the pihe said in respect of their rank. But am I to say that our father does not love us? He loves the dead and not the living. Does our father think that we can remain here if he does not repeat the karakia to send the spirit of Namu and his wife to the reinga? Does he think that we are braver than he was? In his youth he fought with men; but even with all his knowledge and power of war he lost an eye. Man can kill the body; so can a spirit. Man can be seen; but who ever saw a spirit? Our father knows that the spirits of the dead remain where the body is until the priest sends it to paerau. If the spirit is allowed to remain with the body, the nearest relatives are the object of its spite, for neglecting to repeat the usual ceremonies over it to cause it to depart. Are we to remain in this place and be subject to these two spirits, who may come into our houses at midnight and squeeze us all, page 304 and kill us with fever or bowel complaint? I will not remain here. I am no coward; but I do not feel my arms strong enough to battle with a something that I cannot hit, while it can, with a power I have not, strike a blow I cannot ward off. I would rather fight with a shark in the sea than with a spirit in sunshine.”

An old woman rose and said: “I see nothing horrible in the sight of two bodies hanging up in a tree, nor do I see anything to make a fuss about if those bodies are buried at the foot of the tree in which they hung themselves up to be looked at. Why should I be afraid of their spirits? What can they do? Did we kill these two? Did they not die on account of shame? Is any one brave who is ashamed? A body that killed itself because it could not bear to be laughed at could not contain a brave spirit. The spirit is only the thought of the body; that does not die. A coward body could not hold a great thought. The only difference between a brave man and a coward is in the mind; one is big, the other is small. Mind and thought are one. I will remain here, and those two spirits may grin at me, they have no teeth; look at me, but I cannot read one thought in their eyes. I can speak, but spirits have no voice. I am not a man, or I would whistle. I can whistle, and that is the voice of a spirit. I am better than a spirit, for I can whistle, talk, work, cook, and be brave—even more than you, old man. Need I tell you that we women eat but little human flesh compared to you men. Does my old relative remember all the battles page 305 he has been in, and that the bodies of his enemies were cooked and eaten? Were you or any other man ever so stupid as to pihe the spirits of the dead they had eaten to send them to paerau? Or do these spirits remain in the bodies of those who have eaten them? If it is so, why does our relative think that we are to be tormented by the spirits of Namu and his wife for neglecting to send them to the reinga; although we have buried their bodies, and painted the fence round their graves, and wept out love to them in our tears, and told the greatness of our sorrow by our voices, which every valley and forest echoed onward to other hills and valleys, and to the whole world? And did our relative never think, when he had eaten part of an enemy, that he did not feel love, but revenge; not sorrow, but malice; not pity, but contempt; and that he never once offered a karakia for the spirit to go to its last resting-place? Why did he forget that all men have spirits, and that all spirits remain near their bodies? And if our relative had eaten part of a body, how was it that he was not afraid to sleep for fear that the spirit might go down his throat to occupy its own body? I think that if a spirit had slipped down his throat in his sleep he would have been brave, and not spoken as he has done. I wish the spirit of some of the dead that he has eaten would jump down his throat, so that his own soul may have a companion to make it brave, or even to give him a spirit, of which he is devoid. Why did you let my boy lie so long after he was drowned? page 306 And why was he taken to his burial without a pihe being said over him? I am glad of it, for his spirit has kept near to me ever since. I like spirits. I am not afraid. Why should the spirits of Namu and his wife be honoured, when you neglected my boy?”

A young man rose and said: “Old people may talk as they like; no doubt they know what to talk about; but if they like to remain where spirits reside, they may do so. If spirits are to be laughed at, why then were we told tales about spirits in our childhood—of their power and revenge—if they are not true? My mother told me that she and a few others resided inland, in a place where a skull was found close to the house in which they slept; the skull was found when the ground was dug for the kumara crop. The man who found it took it to a sacred place, and went elsewhere to set his kumaras. He did not speak a word during the whole day; and in the evening he took a hot stone into his hands and threw it into the fire in our house.

“My mother asked him, 'Did you do that to make your hands noa?'1

“He answered, ‘Yes.’

“My mother asked, ‘Then why did you cultivate when your hands were sacred?’

“‘I made them noa as I came back.’

“‘But why did you take the trouble to carry it away and hide it?’ asked my mother.

“‘Because I love that skull,’ he answered.

1 Free from tapu.

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“‘Why?’ she asked.

“‘Because it was the skull of my brother,’ he answered.

“‘How do you know that?’ she asked.

“‘I knew it by a mark on the right side, above the ear-hole,’ he answered. ‘When we were boys, we went out one day to gather koroi berries, and he fell from a tree and knocked a dent in his skull.’

“‘But how came he here?’ she asked.

“He answered: ‘He loved a girl of our tribe; but she took another man; he left us, and I have not seen him since. We sought for him many moons. We lived some distance from here. We knew that he was dead, because our dogs sometimes smelt as if they had been eating rotten meat. But we could not find him. I was but a boy then, but am grey-headed now. I did not know how to send his spirit to the reinga. I have often thought of him since.’

“Immediately after these words of the old man every one in the house felt a pain in their stomachs; they rolled here and there, they cried, they wept, they howled, and they perspired until daylight, when they all left the place. My mother said it was the spirit of the skull. It is true, for my mother said so. I will not remain here to brave the power of spirits; for if the spirit of a man had the power to make so many ill at once, what could the spirit of a woman not accomplish, if it had half the daring of my mother, who has just now spoken? I might dare to meet the spirit of a cracked skull, but I could never be brave enough page 308 to encounter even the soul of a girl. I will not remain here if the spirits are not sent to paerau.”

An old man rose and said: “What a fuss you make about spirits! Why should anything that has double the power be afraid of that which has only half its force? I have a spirit in me, and my body you can all see. Why then should I fear a thing that has no body when I have in myself the same power it can wield? How thoughtless you boys are. Are not all things the offspring of the gods? Is not the kumara the god that hid himself from fear? Do you not eat the kumara? Are not fish another god who went into the water? Do you eat fish? Are not the birds also gods? Were not the gods spirits? Then why are you not afraid of the things that you eat? Anything cooked sends the spirit into the stones on which they are cooked. Then why do old people eat out of a hangi, and off the stones which hold the spirit of the food cooked on them? Do old people possess less spirit in old age than in youth? I will remain here.”

A young woman rose and said: “I will only speak to the man who spoke last. Did he not say that old people eat out of a hangi, and off the stones which hold the spirit of that which was cooked on them? Did he eat out of a hangi on the evening of the day in which he was made to take for his wives the widow of the eaten slave Koko, and also the widow who said that Koko's arm was stolen from her. Did he not feel that he had not spirit enough to be the master of a tribe page 309 of wives? There was fish and nikau cooked in the oven at that time. Do the leaves of the nikau stand or droop? Do fish dare to come into the air and look at the sun? As the nikau dares not look up at the forest leaves around it, so must its spirit be a drooping, desponding one; and as fish cannot live in the blaze of the sun, so must its spirit be gloomy, sulky, and shamefaced. Did our father want to have such spirits in him to assist him to kill those two women, and then to weep and not look up? In what part of the body does the spirit live, if not in the eye? I know when a man tells the truth; his eyes tell by their look what his tongue says by its words. The soul tells the truth by looking out of the eyes. Our father's spirit did not look out of his eyes while he spoke just now. But he need not be afraid of spirits, for he has lost his own long ago. If a spirit jumped into him, it would be glad to. find such an empty home in which to live—no heart, no love; and he dare not hate. His breast is quite vacant, or he would not have made us listen to his spiritless talk.”

“Let all talk cease,” said Tupu; “and on the day after this I shall know what we are to do.”