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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XXIII

page 310

Chapter XXIII.

Evening Tales.

It being dark after the evening meal had been eaten, the people retired into their houses, where they amused themselves in various ways. An old woman, a distant relation of Takaho, still sat in front of his hut, having with her a small kono1 of cooked food. She again and again asked him to come out, and she would feed him. She received no answer save a low, moaning cry. There was no fire in his hut; as he was sacred, none could be lit there.

The largest house in the settlement had been cleaned out during the day; and the floor was covered with the swamp rush, over which were laid rough plaited flax mats. In this house were congregated the young people, young men and women, boys and girls, some sitting, while others reclined at full length on the mats. The house was lighted up by three kapara2 torches, which were stuck up in the centre.

1 Basket.

2 Pine bark.

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“What shall we play at to-night?” asked a young woman.

“Let us kaka,”1 answered a young man, who had a scar over his eye, which made him stare as if his eye was in a fright.

“Yes,” answered a girl; “if you can teach your eye to look calm, I will join in the kaka, and sit opposite to you; but if you stare with one eye, and look calmly with the other, you will make me laugh in the midst of the play.”

Another young man answered her, “I will sit opposite you if you will teach your nose to look at the earth on which you tread, and not keep that everlasting turn-up. I should always be thinking of eels if I sat opposite to you, for your nose looks like eel-holes,”

“How fine your words are!” said another girl. “You can talk; but are you not the young man who, in his rage, tried to eat a stone, and broke his teeth? If I sat opposite to you, I should think of nothing but a waterfall, for the sound between your teeth would sound like nothing but a continued hiss.”

“You are a fine-looking young woman,” said another young man. “Let me sit opposite to you, and look into your eyes to see if you love me.”

“Oh, no! cried out another young man; “I am in love with her, and the next atahu meeting she shall be mine.”

“Did your mother teach you to talk?” asked the

1 Previously described, p. 98.

page 312 same young woman. “How do you know that I can love any one? But I will tell you who I could love—a man with a fine face, fully tattooed, tall, brave, and silent. I have no ears to hear the words of smooth, pale-faced boys; the love of a boy who has not suffered the pain of tattooing is as unacceptable as a rough sea of waves without wind. I would not say yes to a man who has long finger-nails—they are a proof of idleness. A man who is brave is not idle; and a hand that works wears the nails short. A man of knowledge does not talk much.”

Said another young man, “What a god in knowledge must your father have been! Your mother must have been a great woman! I wish I was such a man as you have described, and I would take you for my wife. How I should be envied by all the world!”

An ugly, hump-backed boy, whose face was naturally dark, but through grovelling in the wood-ashes his face and head were now light, said, “I wonder where such as I am came from? I eat, laugh, cry, sleep, play, and enjoy my sport as much as any pretty boy; then why is ugliness laughed at, if it does not hurt me? I would not give my face for the prettiest face owned by a young woman.”

A young woman answered, “If an oyster could laugh as I do, and walk as I can, then we might say ugliness is worth having.”

“But who could make the best face at an enemy?” asked the humpback. “Who would escape in war; the face that repels by its horrors, or beauty that page 313 invites? Our men put on thick mats to save themselves from the pierce of a spear: my ugly face would save me by its horrible grimaces. Where is the difference? Could beauty be so useful?”

“You little lizard!” said a girl, “who told you to tell us your thoughts?”

“Did you never hear the proverb,” asked the humpback, “‘Poor food will never go to a pretty woman; but a pretty woman will go to poor food?’”

“You can talk, and that is all you can do,” answered the girl.

A number of voices said, “Tell us a tale, Humpy. You can tell us as good a tale as the prettiest woman here.”

“Yes,” answered Humpy. “I am not ashamed of my ugly face, because I did not make it so; but it was the act of a beautiful woman.”

“Tell us! tell us!” cried out a number of voices.

“Long before I was born,” said Humpy, “my mother lived with her sister, who loved no one, and admired but one face in the world, and that one she saw whenever she looked into a pool of water or a creek. She had been admiring her lover's face in the creek; on returning she passed under a tree, and a green lizard fell on her head. She rushed up to my mother, clasped her round the neck, and fell into a fit. Her face turned this way and that way; her mouth went one side and then to the other; she kicked, she screamed, she foamed at the mouth; then she lay quite still. I am as I am; but I think that the god page 314 who caused my mother's sister to make those ugly faces made my face to continue the resemblance of that fright. But my uncle was a very ugly man. Once he went to an island with a war party. When all were landed, his party saw that he was attacked; but he was so very ugly the enemy burst into a loud laugh at him. This so enraged him that he rushed up to them, and, being left-handed, he killed more that day than any other man.”

“Did he strike them on the face or back?” asked a girl; “for if he was not bigger than you are, he could not possibly kill a man who stood and looked at him; but your uncle's ugliness made them run, hence his success.”

“Then his ugliness gave him power,” said Humpy; “and beauty can do no more.”

“Tell us tales, tell us tales,” cried out all the young people, “now that you have allowed Humpy to give us a wish to talk.”

“I will tell the first tale,” said a young man; “and then one of the young women must tell one.”

“Yes, yes,” answered the young people.

The Two Brothers.”

“Now listen, Humpy,” said the young man; “but I am not going to tell you about your uncle.

“Two brothers lived at the head of a river on the West Coast. The younger brother was very good-looking, and the elder was very ugly. The younger page 315 brother was always travelling to see the pretty women of his tribe, who lived here and there on their own land. The ugly one kept at home, and cultivated food; he had plenty all the year round. The younger brother made love to a very pretty woman; and she was to follow him to where he lived with his ugly brother. After all the talk was over, and the feast of atahu given, the young man returned home; his wife was to follow him next day. The young man asked his brother for food for his wife, and those who came with her; this was given. The elder brother did not wash often, but this day his fine brother asked him to do so; but he refused. At mid-day the wife and her attendants arrived; and after eating the food prepared for them, she asked, ‘Who does that storehouse belong to?’

“The husband answered, ‘All are mine; yen old man, who is so dirty, sitting yonder is my workman, and he keeps me in plenty all the year round. You see his head, it has not been combed for years. He would not wash though I asked him.

“She asked, ‘Is he a slave, and where does he come from?’ At the same time she went to the elder brother, and said to him, ‘Won't you wash yourself?’

“He asked, ‘Does the heart ever wash itself?’

“She asked, ‘You are not a slave?’

“He asked, ‘Does the heart ever comb itself?’

“She answered, ‘If it does not you can do so; it would make you a fine man.’

page 316

“The elder brother went and washed himself, returned, and sat down with his brother.

“The new wife asked her husband, ‘Who is that?’

“Her husband answered, ‘It is my brother.’

“‘But where is the old man who went to wash himself?’ she asked.

“‘I am he,’ answered the elder brother; ‘and I am the owner of the three storehouses of food.’

“The wife asked her husband, ‘And where are your storehouses and slaves?’

“The elder brother answered, ‘The food is not yet grown, and the slaves not caught.’

“The woman said to the younger brother, ‘Then I will not be your wife; I will be the wife of your brother, for with him I shall not die of hunger. You have the finger-nails of a girl; he has those of a warrior.’

“The younger brother left that day, and was not heard of for years; but one day he headed a party, and came to attack his people to kill his brother, but he was the first killed. No woman ever loved him after that, but the worms did.”

The Boy Who Swallowed a Live Eel.”

A young girl said, “He did not gain the love of that woman, or she would have lived with him. You can see, young men, that lies always grow and come to seed when the man who planted them thought they had rotted in the ear; men little think the memory is where page 317 they grow. This woman saw his lies about the food-houses. All men tell lies when they are in love; and men are such large talkers, even from their youth. Listen to my tale:—

“There was a very large tribe, the children of which were so numerous that the boys would not allow the girls to join in their play. A party of these boys went to fish for eels. They went to a swamp, and trod it into a mud puddle, until the eels were so suffocated that they had to come up to breathe, when they caught them. These boys were the same boasters that all boys are. One of the boys said, ‘I can eat a large raw fish.’

“Another one answered, ‘That is no feat of bravery.’ A third asked, ‘But who can eat a raw live eel?’

“‘I can! I can!’ answered many of them.

“But in the attempt to get the eels down their throats something always sent them back with a kick. But one boy more determined than the others did swallow an eel; it was one he had just caught, and was alive and full of power, and from the muck in which it could scarcely breathe into the boy's mouth was not a bad exchange. The boy put the eel's head into his tongue, and of its own accord it slipped down his throat with one kick. All the other boys stared at the eel swallower, who stood with his eyes wide open.

“One of the boys asked him, ‘How does it taste?’

“He did not answer; there was a move in his throat as if large words were tumbling over each other, but no sound came from his mouth.

page 318

“Tears came into his eyes; still he stood. The other boys began to laugh, and sing, and scream at the fun.

“His sister heard the noise, and heard some of them say, ‘He has gone mad.’ She went to them, and found her brother still standing, but his face was turning quite black. She spoke to him; but not a word did he answer. She put her arms round his neck. He fell down and rolled over and over. The boys gathered round him, laughing, and screaming that he was a brave boy. His sister followed him in his pain. He moved, and looked at his sister with his big staring eyes. She took hold of his hand and sat him up, when he pointed to his throat, and turned his eyes up, as if in severe pain.

“His sister cried out, ‘He is choking.’ And being older than he, she laid him on the ground, and rolled him over and over, when an eel shot out of his month, and wriggled towards the mud pool out of which it had been taken.

“The boy stood up and said to his sister, ‘Who told you to come here and make these boys laugh at me. I would rather die than be laughed at. I am the only boy that can swallow a live eel. Go away! go away.’

“You see, young men, that you men are stupids, and rather than be laughed, at you would die, you are such boasters. And when you tell a lie, you must make it look true, even if you die for it.”

page 319

The Two Rivals.”

A young man said, “Yes; men are such good haters that they can do the most spiteful things to get their own way; and they even play with the gods to get the revenge they seek. Now listen to my tale, which shows how bad men are:-

“Once there was a fine-looking chief, whose fine face was so beautifully tattooed that all the girls wished to have him, but there were only two out of the great number who told their love to him. Each of these young women knew that the other wanted to have him.

“He was a kind-hearted man; he loved all the young women who loved him; he was like the tui on a koroi-tree when the fruit is ripe; out of the great quantity of fruit before him he does not know which to eat; even so this chief loved all the girls, but did not know which to have. The two young women went to him whenever they liked, and sat by him, and talked to him.

“He talked to each of them in the same way. One of the girls, Poki, made a koki kanae,1 which she knew he liked better than any other kind of food, and put a dead papa2 in the centre of it, and told a slave to carry it to him, and tell him that Kahi (the name of the other girl) had sent it. He took a mouthful of the koki, but what was his horror to find he had a papa in his mouth; he vomited, and jumped, and danced, and got into a furious rage, and at last sat down and page 320 thought that women were worse than the spirits of children who died before they had seen the light of this world, for such are the most malicious gods. Soon after this Kahi came to see him. He talked about nothing but lizards, and asked her if she liked to eat lizards.

“Some days after this she found out from the slave what had been done; she also overheard Poki and the chief agree to go together in the evening to the place where Poki's relations lived. Kahi took a large calabash, and cut eyes, a nose, and a mouth in it; she took this, and went and sat by the road by which they were to pass. She had with her a smothered fire, the embers of which she put into the calabash when she heard them coming, and blew the fire into a blaze, which made the eyes, and nose, and mouth in the calabash look like those of a god. At this spot the road ran close to a cliff, at the bottom of which there was a deep creek. When the two saw the god of fire, the chief ran away as fast as he could, while Poki was so frightened that she could not run as fast as her lover. She cried out to him to stop and help her, for the god had hold of her feet. But on he ran. In her fright she ran off the road, and fell over the cliff, and although the cliff was not very high, yet was stunned, and falling into the water, she was drowned.

“Kahi again went after her beloved, and after many moons got him. So you see, young women, that men are a very revengeful set of fellows.”

“Stop!” said a girl. “You have eyes, yet when you page 321 look at an object you do not see the thing looked at as though it were two; even so, you young men, though you have eyes to see, and minds to think, and thoughts to try, still with these three powers you are led, as in the case of your eyes, to see only one object, and that is your praise or honour. What evil did that woman do? If she tried to get the object of her love, when he did not know his own mind, it was quite right that he should be taught. But what a coward he was! Did he love the girl when he ran away and let the god catch her? If I had been in her place, I would have caught him, and pulled him over the cliff.

“But women are cowards also,” said Humpy. “Now listen, and I will tell you a tale.”

“Yes,” answered a girl, “tell a tale. That is all you can do to amuse yourself during your life, poor lizard that you are! You may tell tales of love until you are as old as the rock which has stood for generations at the mouth of the Wairere river, even from the time when Maui was a boy, and still not gain a wife.”

“Quite true,” answered Humpy; “yet I know there is no hump on my heart or soul. What does it matter that the tree looks crooked, if the wood is good? It is not always beauty that can sway by words. It may do so with girls; but the time may come when girls may not speak, and my hump will not be seen in the beauty of the words my tongue shall utter.”

“Yes, yes,” cried out a young man; “we will listen to that when that time comes. Now for the tale.”

1 A rissole of mullet.

2 Lzard.

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Two Moths and Two Lizards.”

“Listen then, you fine-talking women, and in the tale I am going to tell, see, each for yourselves, what beauty can do if it is held high enough.

“An old woman, named Timo, had a slave, whose name was Moko. The old woman did not cultivate for herself, but made her slave do all such work; yes, and all the other work, even cutting flax for her. She did nothing but make mats.

“Moko had been taken prisoner by her husband in a battle which was fought some time before he died. In the same battle the head of Moko's brother was taken, and afterwards made into a moko-mokai (dried, and kept to look at). Timo kept this head, and put it on a corner peg of the trellis to which the web of her mat was fastened. To this head she would often talk, and call it such names as would not make Moko feel love for her; for Moko used always to sit in the house in silence, if his work did not require him elsewhere.

“It was winter; and for days had Moko been forced to listen to Timo while she talked to the preserved head of his brother. Though men are made slaves in body, the heart does not become a slave, as it can talk to itself, and feed on big thoughts, even as large as the thoughts of a chief.

“One day Moko felt very sorry to hear this head called bad names, and when Timo had gone out to see her grandchild, who would not stop crying in the next page 323 house, Moko took his brother's head and looked at it, turned it up, and looked into the hollow skull.

“‘Ah!’ said he, ‘there is the place, now so hollow, where the eyes, and the brain, and the tongue were—the eyes that so often looked at me, and so often cried when I beat him. Why do I love this now? But I cannot help loving it. My mother would love even a few hairs from this cured head! Why does the old woman keep you to speak evil to you? She would not do so were you alive! But I can do something.’

“Moko took the head out for a short time, and when he returned, he replaced it on the corner peg, and sat down in the corner of the house, where he had sat so many summers and winters. Timo returned, and began talking to the head, when suddenly a hissing sound issued from the mouth. She looked at it, and saw the mouth was partly open, and the eyes appeared to wink. She turned towards Moko, and saw that he sat staring at the head in a state of extreme fear.

“Again did the mouth hiss and the eyes wink. Timo sat still, but her hands dropped. Moko cried out, ‘O, the god Tote! He was a god of our people! One of our people, through Tote's power, died suddenly, because she would look at my brother when his eyes winked.’ But Timo could neither move nor speak.

“Again did a hiss issue from the mouth, and the eyes winked, and a shrill ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ came from the mouth, while it put its tongue out three times at the old woman. The tongue had two eyes at its end, and they looked as red as fire, and the end of the tongue page 324 opened, and a dark blue fork came out; at the same time it gave another shrill ‘Ha! ha!’ Timo fell on her back, gave a kick or two, and lay quite still, while Moko still sat staring at the head.

“Just then a heavy shower of rain fell, and some boys and girls who were playing outside rushed into the house out of the rain. They saw Timo lying down dead, and began to blame Moko for killing her; but just then he fell down as if in a fit, and stared at them with his eyes as wide open as those of a coward when a great evil is near to him. The children burst out into a loud laugh; but a sudden hiss, and shrill ‘Ha! ha!’ from the head gave them such a fright, that the doorway was not wide enough for them to go all out at once; so they went head over heels, arms and legs over one another, screaming in such a dreadful manner that the whole settlement was alarmed. While yet struggling over each other, the head gave another ‘Ha! ha!’ which took all the strength out of their legs, and they crawled away on their hands and knees, howling and screaming in such a tone of horror, that the warriors rushed to the rescue, not doubting but they were in the hands of the enemy. As the men came near the children, each child seized the hand or foot of a man; but not a word could any one of them say. All kept their eyes fixed on the door of Timo's house; and not until another ‘Ha! ha!’ issued from the head did any one know what had frightened the children.

“The son of a chief said to his father, who held him in his arms, ‘Timo killed dead; Moko looking at her!’

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An old man went into the house in the attitude of war. He found Timo quite dead, and no one but Moko there. He at once dragged him out by the hair of the head, intending to kill him as the murderer; but just as he was about to deal him the death-blow the chief's son again said, ‘Wait!—look at the head.’ At the same time another ‘Ha! ha! issued from the head.

“Moko rose and said, ‘Tote killed her; I did not. Why should I die, if I can cook and look at my brother's head?'

“The old man again entered the house, looked at Timo and at the head, and was about to carry the corpse out, to save the house from tapu, when the head again hissed. He laid the body down, and ordered Moko, who had also entered the house, to take the head from the turu-turu, and see if it could laugh. When he lifted the head from the peg, a bundle of flax fell out, and with it two moths and two lizards.

“It was the moths that had made the hissing noise as they fluttered about, and the lizards, being frightened by the moths, uttered the cry which is so much like the ‘Ha! ha!’ of a man; and it was one of the lizards which put its head out between the lips of the head.

“You see, young woman, two moths and two lizards killed a woman, and she was not a humpy.”

A girl answered, “No; her body was not humpbacked, so you say; but not only was her soul humped, but her heart also was humpbacked. Had she been page 326 like us girls who heard your tale, the instant the head had put out its lizard tongue at her she would have bitten off its nose and eaten it, making her teeth keep time with the hopping in and out of the tongue. Her chest was also humpbacked, and her death was caused by the jump her heart made into her throat, and it stuck on the hump and stopped her breath. She died because she was humpbacked in body, soul, heart, chest, and throat. As you have a hump which can be seen, and I am sure that you have many more, so take care and do not get into a rage, especially with girls, or you may die the death of the old woman of your tale. But listen to my tale. I do not expect you to learn anything from it; for you are not the one of two men that a girl would choose. But you might be as spiteful as one of the two men I am going to tell about, I do not doubt, and even more so; for he was not humpbacked in soul, which you are; for when a karaka berry is cooked, the seed is also cooked, so that there must be a humpy soul in a humpy body.

Humpy answered: “But you have not said there are humpbacked brains. I am sure there are some, and are mostly found in women. It accounts for the curious ways, the wild talking, the ceaseless noise their tongues make, and the colouring they give to anything they tell, making it the opposite of what it really was. You must admit that a hump on the brain is the root of all madness. I have seen more women than men mad with passion; and as anger does not rise from the soul, but from the brain, it shows that there must be some page 327 defect there; and I say from experience that most women, to judge by their conduct, have more or less of a hump on the brain. But let us hear your tale, so that we may see whether you have a hump or not.”

“If your hump was not so solid,” answered the girl, “I should say that it was another pair of lungs. From the long speech you have just made, I am sure that you will not die from coughing at me if my tale is tedious.”

How Hamu Got His Wife.”

“Two men courted a girl; they were both of them fine-looking fellows, not having been born with humps in or on them; and the girl could not say which she liked best. Both the men were chiefs: one, Hamu, belonged to the same tribe as the girl; the other, Koki, was from another tribe. For a long time the latter appeared to have gained her love, and Hamu became quite sulky. He must have had a hump on his tongue, for he spoke to no one.

“At last Hamu spoke to the girl's mother and said, ‘Am I a slave, that your daughter should take a man from another tribe? I shall die from a dark heart; all my thoughts are dark.’

“Koki, whenever he stayed in that place, slept with the young men in the large house, while Hamu slept in a house with his grandfather; and he had often asked his grandfather to use the power of his incantations to obtain for him the girl's love.

“The only reply he got from the old man was, ‘Be page 328 brave! Love and war are brothers, and if a man is a coward in either he will be conquered. You would not ask me to defend you in battle, if any one struck at you? If you would act for yourself in that case, do the same in this. Love has no law; you can tread on the young, the old, the common, and sacred men and women if they are in your way. Be brave! and gain your own wife.'

“Hamu had observed that Koki always slept in the same place in the large house, and that he always put his belt in the same spot in the raupo of which the side of the house was made.

“Hamu's grandfather had a meré pounamu,1 which was an heirloom, which he kept in a corner of his house, where no one durst go. Hamu had not seen him take this out to oil it for a long time; and one day that he had seen Koki talking with the girl, and noticed that she looked very pleased, he asked his grandfather, ‘When do you oil your meré? In summer or winter?’

“The old man answered, ‘I have not done it for a long time; I will do it now.’

“He went to get it; but no meré could be found; the pieces of mat and the bundle of feathers wrapped round it were there, but the meré was gone. A great meeting of the whole tribe was at once called; when all were assembled in the marae, the old priest told them of the loss of his meré, and that it must be brought back before sunset, or many of them would

1 Green-stone meré.

page 329 die, for he would bewitch the whole family of the thief.

“Every house in the settlement was at once searched, and it was found in the big house, in the corner where Koki slept; who, as he did not belong to the place, sat in one place, laughing and joking at the fuss going on; when an old woman came forward with the meré in her trembling hand, and asked, ‘Who slept in the right hand corner of the large house? He stole this, and hid this where he pretended to put his belt.’ Koki laughed at her. But when the old grandfather heard this, he ordered Koki to leave the place, and never return. He did so, and Hamu soon got the girl for his wife.”

“Ah!” said a young man, “that woman had a hump in her love, and it went into her hands, and caused the meré to be taken where it was found.”

“No,” said a girl. “It was the bad heart of Hamu; he was a coward; he could not gain in a right way the girl's love, and he stole the meré, and put it where it was found. He had a humpy heart, where love and hatred grew together; he was the thief who got the true chief blamed that he might obtain the girl.”

“But,” said Humpy, “those two men did not act as they did to please themselves; both wished to please one person, and that was a woman. If he did wrong to steal the meré, it was because his love had been stolen by a woman; if he did wrong to cast blame upon another by acting in a deceitful way, was it not page 330 because a woman acted in the same way, for she allowed both men to think that she loved them, when she knew that she could only have one of them. She was to blame for the theft and the unjust punishment.”

“How long are you going to talk?” asked a girl. “If you will talk, I propose that we lie down, and let ourselves be lulled to sleep by your voice, as it does sound better to hear than your body does to look at; the one is passable, but the other is as bad to look at as the blue matuku1 when on the wing.”

This called forth a loud burst of laughter from the young people; and, as Humpy would persist in talking, all laid themselves down to listen, and were soon asleep.

1 Ardea sacra, Buller's ‘N. Z. Birds,’ p. 228.