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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter V. The Allies Gather to Te Roto

page 54

Chapter V. The Allies Gather to Te Roto.

It was grey dawn; at Te Roto the slaves were all up, some busy breaking firewood, others taking the dirt, ashes, and stones out of the hangis, preparatory to lighting the fires with which to cook the morning meal, and soon the smoke curled up in long columns, like enormous ropes with the ends torn out into shreds. The remainder of the inhabitants and the tribes who had slept at the Tama were by this time all astir. Many of them were putting their canoes into order; some of the children were running here and there in savage glee, with spears in their hands; while here and there groups of them were sitting listening to a child orator and warrior, who entranced his listeners with a wild account of the doings of his ancestors; while others of them might be seen dancing the war-dance with fiendish glee. Takuai still remained in his hut with Tupu and Tare, where they were looking at the omens given by the niu.1 He had spread his mat on

1 The name of the ceremony immediately afterwards described.

page 55 the floor, and, sitting opposite to it, he stuck up in it pieces of fern-stalk, representing the hapu1 of the enemy about to be attacked. He also held in his hand several fern-stalks, corresponding in number to those stuck up on the mat, to each of which he tied a piece of flax about one-third the distance from the end pointing towards those on the mat, the flax being passed twice round the stalk, and then tied into a slip-noose. These sticks were called the kaupapa,2 and each one represented one of the tribes now on the eve of starting. Takuai now held his arm extended to its full length, with the palm of his hand wide open and turned upwards, on which the kaupapa were laid, and, naming a tribe, he repeated the following karakia: “Go to life; go to death; let the omens tell;” at the last word of which he drew his arm back, and suddenly throwing it out again, the kaupapa shot off towards the stalks on the mat. If the two ends of the noose pointed towards the stalk on the mat, and were at the same time below the kaupapa, to which it was tied, the stalk thrown at being on its right side, the attacking party would be victorious. If the stalk on the mat was knocked down, the enemy would be severely beaten; but if the ends of the flax and the noose were on the upper side of the kaupapa, this would tell of many deaths in the attacking tribe, without any success. Thus were the omens found.
The Mahuri had some killed, but were brave; the

1 Family or sub-tribe.

2 Supposed to contain the god of the hapu.

page 56 Tihao were brave, but lost none; and so on, each tribe having good or evil omens.

Old Takuai was now fed by a slave, and the morning meal of fish and fern-root having been eaten, and the tide being on the first of flood, two canoes were got ready, and started, each holding about fifty men. The women, children, and old men remained behind with a considerable force of men, who by the niu had had evil omens of the coming battle, and therefore remained to guard the settlement at the Tama. When the canoes were on the point of starting, not a word was spoken by either those remaining behind or those who were leaving—all were silent, as if they had suddenly become dumb. Here and there a man and his wife might be seen rubbing noses, or a brother and sister, or a son and his mother; but no good-bye, no sigh, no crying, or tear could be heard or seen. Such custom must be strictly observed; for the sigh, or crying, or tear, especially of those who remain behind, would be for the death of those on their way to battle, and would be a curse on the brave.

As the canoes were passing Motiti, Nga, priest of the Hutai tribe, stood up in his canoe and addressed Tare, who was still on Motiti: “Abide at your place. O father, we are going to see the tattooing on the face of Kaito! Remain in peace; O father, stay!”

Tare answered: “Go, my sons, go; the child cries, and the father is ashamed. The wren often has to feed the young of the summer bird, even after its own chick has been turned out of the nest which page 57 its parents built expressly for it. Go, my sons, go.”

It was not until the canoes had passed Tarahiko Point that any one stood up to sing the canoe song, by which the paddlers kept time, and Ripi arose and sung:—

“One bend of the river!
Second bend of the river!
Go where the robin lives;
Slap them! Sneer at them!
Glide on! Pull away!
Altogether! altogether!
Pull away!”

The men kept time to this song, but without emulation, and in perfect silence, no voice being heard save Ripi's. Even the women in the canoe were silent.

It is customary for a few women to accompany a war expedition as attendants, their duty being twofold: to help the slaves in cooking, and to eat the kai popoa1 for the goddesses of war. Most of them had lost all the gentler characteristics of their sex, and had almost become fiends. They had never been mothers, hence the feelings which prompted them; and if it ever occurred that the men seemed inclined to show mercy, they aroused them to fury and deeds of cruelty by language which such women alone could use. Their power was like that of setting expiring embers again into a blaze. In all cases they headed the whakatoamoa dance, a dance of insult, during which they rehearsed all the unavenged wrongs of the tribe. They

1 The sacred food.

page 58 were the very incarnation of revenge, and wielded the power of stirring up the most fiendish feelings of the human heart, and prompting to deeds which the deadliest enemy of man might blush to witness. On the present occasion there were but few of these personified vengeances.

The Mangamuka river at first winds through low hills, covered with forest to the water's edge, and some distance up the right bank, on a small island, was built the Rata pah, occupied by the son of Otene and his people, who, on the approach of the war party, joined the expedition with fifteen of his men. The river from this pah began to run between high mountains, which closed in, only leaving a narrow defile, with high precipitous banks, over which water constantly dripped into the river, sounding like a heavy shower of rain. The defile is so narrow and shut in that one can only see three or four canoe lengths ahead.

They soon reached Kiroa's pah, Mangataipa, when, while the warriors sat silent in their canoes, he recounted to them what the enemy had done since the two messengers left them, after which he and some of his men also joined them. On arriving at Te Roto they landed in perfect silence, carefully abstaining from making the least noise, the women proceeded to the settlement. When getting out of the canoes, the warriors left their paddles and everything in them to be attended to by the slaves. The two priests, Nga and Takuai, walked naked up the banks of the river, which page 59 had become at this point a shallow murmuring stream, running over a bed of loose pebbles. The rest followed in two lines, quite naked; and when they reached a small pebbly flat the priests stood close to the water's edge, and Te Nga beckoned them to come to where he stood. Not a word was spoken; the warriors squatted down on their heels, with their toes in the water and their hands on their knees, all in a line, with Takuai and Te Nga standing, one at each end. Te Nga, who had broken a branch from a karamu-tree, now sprinkled the water over each warrior with the branch. Each time that he dipped the branch and sprinkled a man he repeated the following karakia, which is the baptism of war, to make a war party brave:—

“This is the new path, the path of power to heaven;
Steadfast be the breath of dawning day;
May this war party be steadfast.
Let thine eye look at the star Rehua;
To the eye that never winks.
O, thou war party! climb the ascent of heaven.
Do you wish to make captives?
Do you want plunder?
The solitary rock in the ocean;
Fearless rock! What rock?
Are thy sinews like the maire wood; so hard,
That thou art sure thou cans't not be seen?
The bird is the white crane,
It has not caught the smallest fish,
A bunch of red feathers covers the fountain.
The black-feathered shag is the bird
Of omen to a war party.
The flat fish, eating the sand,
Take it up.
This then take as an omen of war.
The cormorant is the bird, let it dive;
page 60 It comes up with a fish in its beak;
Whence does it come?
From the fountain on shore?
A flying fish, is the fish
Cut in twain by the great-mouthed shag.
The red-eyed herring sleeps in the depth of the stream,
It is taken up and given as an omen of war.”

The warriors remained in their places until the priests had taken their positions and turned towards the settlement, when they immediately stood up and followed the priests, walking in double file, until they reached a short distance from Te Roto, where they rested, and built themselves sheds in which to sleep. The slaves prepared the food, consisting of pounded fern-root, and placed it before the warriors, who still remained naked, each one having to feed himself with his left hand, their weapons of war being kept at a distance from them while eating. When any one wished to drink, he was assisted by a man slave. The drinker partly closed the palm of his hand, so as to form a trough, which he put to his mouth; the slave poured the water into his hand, until the warrior, by elevating his eyebrows, commanded him to stop pouring.

As soon as the warriors had finished their repast, the slaves brought them their clothing, which they put on, and went in a body and sat down halfway between their encampment and Te Roto, facing the latter; at the same time the females of the pah, especially the young women, came out towards them, waving their mats, and saying, “Welcome! O welcome! Come, O fathers, come!” and with measured step advanced towards page 61 the sitting warriors, who bowed their heads to the ground, and began to wail in a low tone, which became louder and louder as the young women approached them. The latter were followed by the old women, next in order came the men, and last of all the slaves, all of whom had their heads bowed towards the ground, and were weeping and crying in a low tone as they passed out of the pah, but raising their wail louder and louder until they got within a few yards of the sitting warriors, when the noise made by the assembled throng sounded a horrible mixture of crying, howling, groaning, and sobbing. All those who came out of the pah stood before the warriors; the young women, who were in front and nearest them, began a song in which those who came with them joined, while the warriors at each interval or stave of the song joined with a loud sob. The women lifted their arms up, and threw them about as if attempting to catch something; while the men behind, who stood weeping with their arms hanging down, with a loud wail repeated the chorus of “O, woe is me!”

“Depart, O son, depart
To the spirit world,
And convey the tidings.
O, woe is me!

As the flowing tide,
My tears stream, my eyes,
Uncontrolled, cannot check thy force.
O, woe is me!

O signal smoke! tell them at a distance,
Where, beloved by me, is gone.
O, woe is me!

page 62

What, O Taku, are thy powers?
Withhold not thy force from them,
Who are thy? weapon's food.
O, woe is me!

Thou hast oft deceived me,
That now my heart with doubt beats loud.
O, woe is me!

My woe is great;
My loved is gone.
O, woe is me!

The arm is strong;
The weapon red;
The blood of my best beloved
Has dripped from each.
O, woe is me!

My incantation has been said;
My baptism of war is done.
O, woe is me!

Take me to the cold south wind.
And feed my heart with satisfaction.
O, woe is me!
As fire, so my grief consumes me,
For my loved for ever gone.
O, woe is me!

Thus the summer months depart;
The sedge-grass blooms; the birds now sing;
Uenuku rises; the lightnings flash.
O, woe is me!

As soon as the song was ended all sat down—some a little distance from the warriors—the men of the pah a little apart, still weeping in silence with their heads bowed down; the women, with pieces of tuhua,1 cut their faces, arms, and breasts until the

1 Obsidian.

page 63 blood flowed and clotted all over their lacerated bodies, and while doing this they sang or chanted a song, making a noise like the subdued growl of wild animals. In the midst of the noise Te Rou stood up, and in silence walked some little distance away, not deigning to look at the weeping women, then, addressing the sitting warriors, he said: “Come, O daylight! I Come, and shine on me, O sun! for long has the darkness been on my heart. Who told you to come here? Who invited you to come in this mood? What is in your hearts? I did not invite you. To-morrow you must go and see the man who sent for you. I am alone. All I had are gone. My sons are dead. I had no one left on earth to send for you. Have you seen the faces of those who put their tongues out at you in contempt?” At this part of his speech Te Rou put out his tongue and jumped towards the weeping women, then, suddenly turning towards the warriors, he began to dance, making the most horrible faces he could at them; when, as if by magic, the women ceased their crying, and, like a flash of lightning, they were all on their feet, dancing and putting out their tongues at the warriors, the youngest of the women going close up to them, and making the most devilish faces and contortions of body they could, the other women dancing like mad beings. All were naked, save a maro1 round the waist. Having kept up the dancing until they were tired, they suddenly ceased with a loud “Ha! ha!” and returned silently to the pah, preceded by the men.

1 A small mat.

page 64 When the dancing had ceased, and the people were turning towards the pah, Mato, a priest, jumped upon the right of the crouching warriors, and repeated:—

“Sons of the mighty!
Sons of the brave!”

In an instant the warriors were on their feet, and, all in perfect time, danced the war-dance, then, turning round, retired to their camp for the night.