Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/April 1893/The Maoris of New Zealand

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THE MAORIS OF NEW ZEALAND.
By EDWARD TREGEAR.

Mr. Tregear has furnished, in the shape of categorical answers to the code of questions sent out by Mr. J. G. Frazer, of the Council of the Anthropological Institute, a mass of information respecting those most interesting of savages, the Maoris of New Zealand. Culling out the more important statements and giving them current form, we obtain a picture of a race which has played an important part in the past history of the region they dwell in, and whose presence is in all probability destined to leave a permanent impression in the life of the colony in which they are being merged.

The Maoris are divided into tribes, which, coming from a common ancestry, are somewhat of a clannish character, and subtribes; a few of the names of which are derived from animals and objects. No sanctity is attached to the animal or plant from which the tribal name is derived, nor is there any superstition about killing or eating it. The tribes are not distinguished by differences of dress or mode of wearing the hair.

While particular ceremonies on the birth of a child are not common, certain priestly forms and incantations are observed in difficult cases occurring in notable families, during one of which, when it is performed, the father has to plunge into the river. The mother is tapu after confinement till the ceremonies purification are performed, of which there are two forms. In one form two fires are kindled—"new fires," made by the friction of wood—one for the gods and one for the priest-chieftainess. Fern root is cooked over the fire for the gods, waved over the child by the priest, and afterward placed in some sacred spot. If the female tribe-priest is present, she waves the fern root cooked on her fire, touches the baby in several places, and, pretending to eat the fern root without doing it, also puts it away. If she is not present, a lay figure is made of weeds to represent her. In the other form a number of clay balls, representing as many ancestral chiefs, are made by the priest, and little mounds, each named after a god, near them. The priest takes a branch, parts it, binds half round the baby's waist, chants his invocation; then sprinkles mother and infant by means of a branch, and chants again. When the song is finished he plants the branch, and if it grows the child will be a warrior. Then three ovens are made, one for the mother, one for the priest, and one for the gods, and food is cooked on them. A number of pieces of pumice are placed in a row and named for the child's ancestors. The priests offer food from the gods' oven to each stone in turn, of which they are invited to eat ("the soul" of the food), and with this the tapu is removed. Infanticide is not practiced, because there is room for all, and the tribes want boys for warriors and girls to be mothers.

At puberty the eldest son of a head chief is initiated into the secrets of priestcraft and witchcraft, with ceremonies that begin with a feast in which the people are not allowed to eat from dawn till dark. A shed is built, exclusively by chiefs, of palm branches, the number of sticks on each side of which must be equal, in which the old Ariki sleeps the first night. The young man is sent to him at dawn—naked, for fear his clothes may bring defilement. He is urged to sleep, while the priest watches for omens of jerkings. If an arm or leg jerks inward, it indicates luck; but if it jerk outward, the lad can not be taught. The incantations are repeated and the secrets are taught. The legends say that in the old land whence the Maoris came there was a college in which the young men were taught astronomy, agriculture, etc. A young chief's instruction was considered successful if he was able to strike a slave dead by repeating a charm. This statement may be disbelieved, the author remarks, "but tapu is an awful weapon. I have seen a strong young man die the same day he was tapued; the victims die under it as though their strength ran out as water."

Tattooing is practiced by all—the full tattooing of a brave taking place after he has distinguished himself in war. It is performed to the accompaniment of tattoo songs, and involves tapus. The person undergoing the process is prohibited from eating fish, unless the fish is held up to see the tattooing. No gourd or calabash must be eaten from if children have playfully made tattooing marks upon it. The priest and all the people are tapu on account of the blood during the operation, but the ceremony of making ovens is gone through, much as in the purification rites;

 
PSM V42 D805 Tattooed maori chief.jpg
Tattooed Maori Chief.
 

and the tapu is transferred to the gods' food by the priest handling one of the hot stones of their oven.

Girls were given great license from a very early age in the matter of lovers. Some girls, however, were born proud, and either kept to one sweetheart or had none, but this was rare. When a girl married she became tapu to her husband. Any one outside the relation of brother and sister could marry, although marriage of first cousins was greatly disliked. Polygamy prevailed among those who could afford it, and whose circumstances or inclination led into it, "but as the tribe supported all in food, the mean men would be prevented, in some way or another, fromPSM V42 D806 Maori woman.jpgMaori Woman. having large establishments." Betrothal of children was common among people of high birth. "If no betrothal, there was generally a lot of talk and squabbling, every one in the tribe thinking he had a right to interfere, till at last the young couple, if lovers, would flee to the bush until their living together was agreed to. The girl generally began the courting. I have often seen the pretty little love letter fall at the feet of a lover—it was a little bit of flax made into a half knot; 'yes' was made by pulling the knot tight, 'no' by leaving the 'matrimonial noose' alone. . . . Sometimes in the whare matoro (the wooing-house), a building in which the young of both sexes assembled for play, songs, dances, etc., there would be at stated times a meeting; when the fires burned low, a girl would stand up in the dark and say, 'I love So-and-so—I want him for my husband.' If he coughed (sign of assent) or said 'yes,' it was well; if only dead silence, she covered her head with her robe and was ashamed. This was not often, as she generally had managed to ascertain (either by her own inquiry or by sending a girl friend) if the proposal was acceptable. On the other hand, sometimes a mother would attend, and say, 'I want So-and-so for my son.' If not acceptable, there was generally mocking, and she was told to let the young people have their house (the wooing-house) to themselves. Sometimes, if the unbetrothed pair had not secured the consent of the parents, a late suitor would appear upon the scene, and the poor girl got almost hauled to death between them all. . . . Girls have been injured for life in these disputes, or even murdered by the losing party. There was generally a show of force, more or less severe; but after she had been taken away, the parents came to see the pair, and when presents had been interchanged all were satisfied." It was sometimes the custom for a man who had many wives to lend one of them to a guest whom he wished to honor greatly.

Disease was supposed to be caused by the entry of an evil spirit into the body or by the anger of some deity or demon. Curses were sought through exorcisms, etc., by the priest; while for certain affections special methods of medical treatment were used, apparently with considerable success. Wounds were generally left to themselves, after broken pieces of spear or bone had been extracted; and they healed in a manner that a European could hardly credit.

To avoid having the home tapued by death, chiefs when dying were carried into some shed. At the sound of the wail from the wives and relatives, friends gathered and cut themselves with sharp shells and pieces of flint—women in the face, and men on one side of the neck. The hair was cut off on one side, while a few long locks were sometimes left untouched as a memorial of the departed. The burden of the lament was, "Go on, we follow." The friends, who came from long distances to mourn, wore wreaths of green leaves or lycopodium. Sometimes the body was buried; in other parts of the country it was placed in a little house with the greenstone club, etc., of the deceased; sometimes in two pieces of a canoe placed upright together, the corpse being tied in a sitting posture on a grating through which the decomposed parts fell; at other times it was placed in a small canoe and set up in the branches of a tree. Slaves were killed sometimes, and the chief wife strangled herself, to be buried with her lord. A taro root was placed in the hand of a dead child that it might have food for its journey to Reinga; food was also buried with a chief. The exhumation took place from a year to two years after death, with intricate ceremonies, including the consecration of the spade with which the body was dug up, the charms for the binding up of the bones, for the scraping, for the bearers, lustrations of those engaged, lifting the tapu from them, etc. The bones were scraped, anointed, decorated, painted, and set with feathers. When they had been seen and wept over by all the relatives, they were packed away in the dark ancestral burial cave, or else thrown into some inaccessible rift or deep chasm, lest some enemy might get hold of the skull, to taunt it or to use it as a baler for a canoe. Fish-hooks made from the jaws, and flutes, pins, etc., from the bones, were supposed to be terrible insults to the relatives. Hence the secret sepulture.

Murder must be revenged by every member of the tribe until satisfaction had been obtained. A chief, when dying, left as his last words a reminder of revenge for his people to carry out, and would generally nominate some one person to devote himself to this especial purpose. Such death orders were looked upon as sacred commands. Vengeance, or propitiation by bloodshed, could be obtained by assaulting a tribe which had nothing to do with the cause of quarrel; but, generally, the tribe or family of the murderer was singled out and a vendetta was declared.

While all of a man's movable property was his own, in consequence of the law of muru or plunder, a chief had little he could really call his own, except his personal ornaments, weapons, etc., which were tapu by touching his sacred body. A chief could tapu a certain thing by saying, "That canoe is my backbone," etc. Then, unless one was of greater power than he, it was untouched, and became really, for all practical purposes, the chief's bodily part. Fire was obtained by friction of wood, and when used for "common fire," was kept lighted as long as possible. Fire-sticks PSM V42 D808 Maori king with his greenstone club.jpgMaori King with his Greenstone Club. were carried to start new fires with, and new fires were made on all solemn occasions. A chief, too, must have his own sacred fire to sit by, lest some inferior person may have used it, or have used some of his fire to light another on which food was cooked. This would be metaphorically cooking the chief himself. The women and men ate apart, and generally each man ate apart; and eating was all done in the open air, because food would tapu the house, and so tapu any one entering it. Cannibalism was common formerly, and was accounted for by the desire for revenge—cooking and eating his body being the greatest of insults that could be put upon an enemy. If the person eaten had been a redoubtable enemy, his head was dried as a trophy, and his thigh bones were made into flutes; otherwise the bones were thrown away. Hunting was of but little account, for there were no large animals, but fishing was invested with a network of ceremonies and tapus. Previous to engaging in war the omens were consulted by taking a number of fern stalks to represent spears, and others to represent the warriors. The spears were thrown at the stalks representing the warrior chiefs singly. If the spear fell on his left side, the man would fall; if on the right, he would live. Then sticks named for enemies were thrown at others named for the men, women, and children who were to remain behind, lest they should

 
PSM V42 D809 Maori salutation.jpg
Maori Salutation.
 

be attacked in the absence of the warriors. A young chief on his first war party received a special baptism, when he and his companions had to stand naked in the water and be sprinkled and charmed. Until he had passed through this ceremony and the bloodshedding he was a nobody. All men on a war party were tapu to women, and had to do their own cooking because there were no women along; but they were very particular that food should not be passed by one in front of another, or put near a weapon, or touched by the right hand. When the fight was over the men formed in ranks, three deep, each headed by a priest, who received from every man a portion of hair which he had cut from his victims, and waved it as a wave-offering to the war god while the party sang the war song. Approaching their own tribal land, they performed the ceremony of "turning round to look back." A hole having been dug for each slain enemy chief's head, turning round toward the hostile land the priests waved and shook the heads as a challenge, and to allow them to bid farewell: after which followed other ceremonies, closing with the lifting of the tapu from the warriors.

A curious point in the settling of ranks was that the son was greater than his father, because, holding rank by both father and mother, he was the result of two great people coming together, while his father was only one great person.

The games of the Maoris included kite-flying, tops, cat's cradle, skipping rope, ducking one another, swing (peculiar in character), dart-throwing, wrestling, diving, ball, twirling a disk, various games played with the fingers and hands, a kind of hunt the slipper, slinging, stilts, draughts, proverbs, hide and seek, a game played by boys standing on their heads and marking time with their feet, and dancing. A certain legend is of great interest because it mentions a variety of other amusements, but more so on account of its antiquity. It is known both in Samoa and New Zealand, although so many centuries have elapsed since the separation of the tribes that Samoan is incomprehensible to a Maori.

Omens were drawn from convulsive startings in sleep, and the twitching of the arms and legs outward and inward. Tripping the foot on starting and getting the feet between the toes filled with fern were evil. An itching chin denoted that something oily would be eaten. An ember popping out of fire or the singing of gas from burning wood were ominous. Aërolites, meteors, and the approach of the moon to a large star were unlucky. The unpremeditated stretching out or stepping out with the right hand or foot was accepted as an omen. Omens were drawn from the flight of birds and from dreams, when the soul was supposed to have left the body and wandered in Te Reinga. In illness the soul journeyed away and was on the brink of crossing to hades, but returned if the man lived. Messages were sent by the dying to friends gone before. The souls passed from south to north till they came to the extreme northwest point of New Zealand, to Te Reinga, the spirit's leap. Here the soul leaped into the sea or slid down the trunk of a tree, the pohutukawa. Hence the saying for one dead, "He has slid down the pohutukawa"—and passes to Po (hades). It was only the soul of an offering, as of food, which was accepted by the gods. When the fairies accepted certain jewels, they only took the souls of the ornaments, while the material jewels were returned to the votor. Weapons have not souls exactly, but the weapons which have been used in war have a wonderful mana or prestige, power, or influence. Some weapons have come down from the gods, and have their genealogies of owners up to chaos. Such weapons sometimes prophesy, sometimes shift about. They would kill with their subtle power the inferior person who dared to touch them. The souls of the departed were not exactly worshiped, for Maoris hardly had the idea of worship, or were not humbly minded enough to worship. They offered death sacrifices, but it was rather with the idea of pacifying the evil deities and paying honor to a chief than of adoration.—From the Journal of the Anthropological Institute.