Page:Picturesque New Zealand, 1913.djvu/86

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44
PICTURESQUE NEW ZEALAND

Finally, however, the pa's defenders dashed out in compact formation and scattered for freedom, leaving about half the garrison dead and wounded.

Of men the Maoris never were afraid, but the boldest among them quailed at thoughts of incurring the displeasure of gods and spirits. They still are superstitious, but not to the degree they once were. At all times their lives were regulated by a strict regard for the supernatural. In their memory the respected, dreaded tapu was deeply engraved in large letters. To break it often meant death. From the legendary day that the god Tanemahuta separated earth and heaven by standing on his head and kicking upward, "the whole Maori race, from the child of seven years to the hoary head, were guided in all their actions by omens."

In those days witchcraft was rampant, and persons accused of it were put to death. Curses, which were believed to be the main causes of bewitchery, were so dreaded that whole families were sometimes driven to death merely by the knowledge that they had been cursed. When a Maori believed himself to be bewitched he consulted a priest, or tohunga, who, with much ceremony, including many incantations, tried to destroy the effects of the curse.

The number of objects to which tapu applied among the Maoris was astonishing. This touch not, taste not, handle not perturber was always exercising its baneful influences. Even to those it protected it was dangerous. Also it was inconvenient. The possessors of tapu,