1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.II] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Chapter VIII

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  1843 - Dieffenbach, Ernest. Travels in New Zealand [Vol.II] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Chapter VIII
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Native Modes of reckoning Times and Seasons -- Different Sorts of Land -- Modes of Tillage -- Warfare --S pirit of Revenge -- Canoes -- Cannibalism

The natives have some knowledge of the heavens, winds, and seasons, especially as far as is applicable to the purposes of practical life. Their designations for the principal points of the horizon, which are also applied to the winds, are the following: --

North-east--He Marangai Hauraro.
South-east--He Tonga Marangai.
South-west--He Tonga Hauauru.
North-west--Hauraro Hauauru.

A year is called tau, and has thirteen months -- marama. --(See table in following page.)

Distances are often reckoned by nights (po), that is, how many nights they have to encamp before reaching a place. One "po" means rarely more than from twelve to fifteen miles; often less. In relating

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Corresponding to our





" " " rua..



" " " toru..



" " " wa..



" " " rima



" " " ono..



" " " witu



" " " waru.



" " " iwa..



" " " ngahuru



hauhake kumara.

11th month, in which the
kumara is taken up.





past events their reckoning is very imperfect; the most correct mode seems to consist in counting a succession of the great chiefs or warriors of one tribe: sixteen to eighteen were the utmost preserved in their recollection, of whom most, but not all, were father and son; so that this might be regarded as reckoning according to generations. Their system of counting is purely decimal, and might be carried on ad infinitum with native words, if required--10 is kau, 100 rau, 1000 mano: it is performed by joining the cardinal numbers to the conjunctive particle ma. (For further information on this point the reader is referred to the Grammar.) Plants or birds, which appear at certain seasons, give the natives sure signs when the time approaches to begin agricultural labours. Two migra-

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tory cuckoos (the Cuculus fasciatus, Forst.), called kohaperoa, or koekoia, and a very small and beautiful kind (the Cuculus nitens of the same author), called by the natives pipiwawaroa--which appear on the coast at Christmas--mark the period of the first potato-harvest. The flowering of the beautiful Clematis albida reminds them to turn the soil for receiving potatoes, which is done in October. Their plantations are generally on the sides of hills, but the kumara and maize plantations are in the alluvial ground of the valleys. They are excellent judges of soil, and distinguish the different kind; - by names. The one matua (father soil) is the stiff clay of the hills, and is not esteemed; clayey alluvial land on the banks of rivers is called reretu; sandy land is called one pu; land composed of decayed vegetables on the sides of hills is called one kura; rich land on the sides of rivers is called tai pu. The two latter are those preferred for plantations. If the land is wooded (and such they prefer), the trees are cut down and burnt, but no attempt is made to root up the stumps; the land is afterwards dug up with a pole, which has a foot-piece firmly attached to it, and which is used in the same manner as our spade. It is made of the hard wood of the maire (Eugenia maire), or sometimes of the wood of the Leptospermum ericoides, and is called e kaheru. The work proceeds rapidly; and the soil being interlaced with roots of shrubs and fern, the

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implement is preferable to our spades, which cut, but do not tear up; those especially which are made entirely of iron cannot be used by the natives, as their feet are bare. Sometimes a hoe is used formed of Lydian or green stone, fixed to a handle. It is called e toki. The seeds are then put into holes made with a stick of the wood of the manuka. All the plantations are fenced in. The greatest labour is bestowed upon the kumara-fields. They are kept clear of weeds; the kumaras are planted in regular rows; and the caterpillars of a sphinx, which feed in great numbers upon the leaves, are at all times carefully removed. In neatness such a field rivals any in Europe. Every family has its own field, and the produce is its private property. But the head of a tribe, being as it were the father of a family, often institutes a sale, to which all have contributed their produce, and the receipts are divided according to the contributions; in this proceeding there is, however, nothing compulsory. Fishing is likewise carried on in common: an old man acting as an umpire divides the fish which has been caught into equal portions, according to the number of families; he then walks round, and with a stick points out to whom each heap belongs. Strangers who happen to be present, or a white man who is settled amongst the tribe, receive their share. An umpire divides also the property they have received in exchange for land.

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The former modes of carrying on warfare have now been almost entirely changed by the introduction of fire-arms. Single combats with the meri or the patiti (stone-club, or tomahawk), to decide a dispute, were formerly frequent, but are now discontinued. A war is generally announced to the opposite party beforehand, but sometimes it is carried on by surprise. The young men of the tribe, with the slaves and women carrying provisions, approach the stronghold of the enemy, generally at daybreak, when they hope to find their adversaries unprepared; but the watchful dogs often frustrate their designs, and they are either met in open field by their antagonists, or, if the latter feel themselves too weak for such an encounter, a long siege ensues, which often lasts for several months; and woe to the inmates of a pa if it is taken. In meeting in the open field, the action begins with a dance, in which all manner of distortions of the body are employed to express defiance of the enemy; the thighs are beaten, the tongue thrust out, and the eyes drawn up, till only the white is visible: by these means and by mimic song they excite themselves to the height of fury. The chief leads his troop; he carries a sort of staff with a carved point, and ornamented with parrot-feathers and pieces of dog-skin; besides this he has a "meri," a war-club made of green jade, pierced at the handle, through which a string passes. With the lower end of the staff they fence skilfully. Old women dance in front of the

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party, stripped of their clothes, bedaubed with red ochre, and distorting their faces even more frightfully than the men. All the warriors have their hair dressed, tied round on the top of the head, and ornamented with feathers, but their bodies and limbs are entirely naked. The combat is carried on by alternate advance and retreat. If a party retreats in flight, they carry, if possible, their dead with them, or the enemy seizes them for the purpose of devouring them.

In an engagement on the sea-shore, in which muskets were used, I saw both parties advance, guarding themselves by trenches rapidly dug as they pushed forward. They fire continually, but irregularly, and a great deal of powder is wasted, as they rarely take aim. But, notwithstanding this, large numbers are often killed.

Their mode of besieging is rude, but not without cunning. The besieging party digs trenches and erects high structures of blocks of wood, from which their fire can reach into the pa. Both parties have fosses with loopholes, and outposts; but they are little careful to conceal their arrangements, each knowing the other's forces too well; and strangers or neutrals are allowed to pass from one party to the other, the combatants politely ceasing to fire during the time.

If a pa is taken, in most cases nothing but a general slaughter of the men satisfies the thirst of the victors for revenge, and women and children are carried off as slaves. When the two parties are

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inclined to peace, they deliberate about the conditions, and a feast concludes the whole.

On returning home they sometimes kill more of the captives. E'Ongi's principal wife, who was blind, often indulged the natural cruelty of her disposition in this manner. But her barbarity at length met its just punishment: in one of the last excursions of E'Ongi to Wangaroa she was left behind on account of sickness, and, being unable to defend herself, the dogs actually devoured her alive.

A remarkable custom exists among the natives, called the taua tapu (sacred fight), or taua toto (fight for blood), which is in the true spirit of the ancient law of the Asiatics--"blood for blood." If blood has been shed, a party sally forth and kill the first person they fall in with, whether an enemy or belonging to their own tribe; even a brother is sacrificed. If they do not fall in with anybody, the tohunga pulls up some grass, throws it into a river, and repeats some incantation. After this ceremony, the killing of a bird, or any living thing that comes in their way, is regarded as sufficient, provided that blood is actually shed. All who participate in such an excursion are "tapu," and are not allowed either to smoke or to eat anything but indigenous food.

In former times large fleets of canoes often went to distant parts of the island, and, as the country is everywhere intersected by rivers, and contains many lakes, the canoes were dragged from one to the

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other. E'Ongi traversed nearly the whole northern island in this manner.

The canoes which they use in war are the largest, and are ornamented at the head and stern. They are made of one tree, the kauri, in the northern, and the totara in the southern parts of the island. I have seen them eighty feet long, and they are able to carry a proportionate number of warriors. They have gunwales on their sides, firmly attached by flax ropes. Formerly a stone adze was the only implement used in their construction; the natives, however, have now an iron adze. There are other sorts of canoes; one of them, very low and without gunwales, is used in many parts of the island, especially in the inland lakes of Taupo and Rotu-rua, and is called tiwai. The sails are triangular, and made of the light raupo-rushes. They can sail very close to the wind, and are steered by a paddle.

A few observations regarding the cannibalism of these islanders may not be out of place. This frightful custom has not yet entirely ceased, although it undoubtedly will do so in a very short time. The implacable desire of revenge which is characteristic of these people, and the belief that the strength and courage of a devoured enemy are transferred to him who eats him, are, without question, the causes of this unnatural taste--not the pleasure of eating human flesh, which is certainly secondary, and, besides, is not at all general. A chief

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is often satisfied with the left eye of his enemy, which they consider the seat of the soul. They likewise drink the blood from a similar belief. The dead bodies are "tapu" until the tohunga has taken a part of the flesh, and, with prayers and invocations, has hanged it up on a tree or on a stick, as an offering to the Atuas, or to the wairua of him to revenge whom the war was undertaken. The heads are stuck up on poles round the village. Women, especially those who plant the kumara, and those who are with child, are not allowed to eat of the flesh, but children are permitted to do so at a certain age, when the priest initiates them into the custom by singing an incantation, which I insert here, although it is too obscure for translation: --

He waka ngungu tamariki tenei karakia
Ka ngungu te tama nei
Ka koro te tama nei
Ka kai te tama nei
Ka kai tangata te tama nei
Ka horo parata te tama nei
Ka kai hau te tama nei
Ka kai e tiki ei
Ka kai rangi
Ka kai papa hei kai
Mau nga tua hei kai
Mau nga wahi tapu hei kai
Mau nga tua ahu
Horo nuku
Horo rangi
Horo paratu
Horo awa hei kai
Mau nga pukenga hei kai
Mau nga wananga hei kai
Mau tenei tauira
E kai te tama nei
E horo te tama nei i te tangata
Ka kai akuanei
Kakai apopo
Heoi katahi kakai te tamaiti.

Many men too are restricted from eating it. They all agreed, when conversing with me freely upon the subject, that human flesh is well flavoured, especially the palm of the hands and the breast. The flesh of Europeans they consider salt and dis-

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agreeable--a curious physiological fact, if true; and they stated the same regarding the flesh of our dogs and the introduced European rat. It appears very doubtful whether they ever killed a slave merely for the purpose of eating him. Where such murder was committed there was generally some superstitious belief connected with the act, or it was done as a punishment.

The island of Tuhua, or Mayor's Island, in the Bay of Plenty, with a population of about 200 souls, has been subject to many attacks from the tribes of the mainland; first from the Nga Pui, and afterwards from the Nga-te-Wakaua, in Wakkatane. Their pa being situated on an almost inaccessible rock of craggy lava, the enemy has always been obliged to retreat. The last attack was made in the night, but the inhabitants were on their guard, and allowed the enemy to come to the base of the rock on which the pa stands, and then rolled down large boulders, by which many of the attacking party were crushed; the rest retreated. They related this the following morning to a missionary, and, on being asked to show the marks of the blood on the rocks, they answered, "Our women have licked it off!" The savage, passionate and furious with the feeling of revenge, slaughtering and devouring his enemy and drinking his blood, is no longer the same being as when cultivating his fields in peace; and it would he as unjust to estimate his general character by his actions in these moments of unrestrained passion,

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as to judge of Europeans by the excesses of an excited soldiery or an infuriated mob. If we were to be judged by the conduct of our countrymen in the South Seas, who, unprovoked, have not only frequently murdered the innocent by tens and twenties, but, what is still worse, have fostered the passions of the natives against each other in every possible manner, what a picture would be given of our civilization! The history of the discovery of the islands of the South Seas is one continued series of bloodshed and aggression; and in our intercourse with the New Zealanders it might easily be proved that, in nine out of ten cases in which there has been a conflict between them and Europeans, the fault was on the side of the latter, not even excepting the case of the otherwise humane and benevolent Captain Cook, who shot natives in order to make himself acquainted with their race. If one were to reckon up the crimes and gratuitous cruelties (not including, of course, the unhappy but involuntary consequences of our intercourse) which civilized men have committed against the savage, the balance of humanity, and of other virtues too, would probably be found on the side of the latter. I am acquainted with authentic facts relative to occurrences in many of the South Sea Islands, several of them related to me by the perpetrators themselves, which make the blood boil, and which are only equalled by the treatment of the American Indians as related by Las Cases.

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Their mode of carrying on war by surprise and stratagem has naturally made the tribes fearful and suspicious, and has proved the greatest hinderance to the occupations of peaceful industry. Tribes have been broken up, villages deserted, cultivation neglected; and it is only now, after complete exhaustion, that the heavy wounds inflicted since the time when E'Ongi first exchanged for muskets in Sydney the ploughshares which he had received in England begin to cicatrize, and the people to throw off that state of suspicion and alarm in which the perpetual hostility of their neighbours had placed them; and that a field is at length opened for a government, such as perhaps never existed before, to reclaim them to civilization.

How far the fear of being surprised by their enemies was carried, will be proved by the custom, very common in a pa, or with a travelling party, of beating the pahu, a canoe-shaped piece of wood about twelve feet long, and suspended by two strings, the hollow din of which sounded far and wide through the stillness of midnight, and was intended to let an approaching party know that they were on the alert. But many a pa has been taken by surprise, and many a party has been cut off, from neglecting any kind of caution.

One of their most favourite systems of warfare is to get the enemy into their power by cunning. The tribes of Rotu-rua and Waikato were for a long time involved in a war which originated in

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an act of treachery. A chief of the Waikato paid a visit to a pa in Rotu-rua, where he had some relations; an old man in that pa, who had quarrelled with one of the Waikato many years before, and wished to involve his people in a war with them, received the chief with great apparent friendship, but told his son to kill him treacherously from behind, when he was in the act of making the customary salutation. The son did so, and a long and bloody war was the consequence.

The Rotu-rua are now the most belligerent tribe in the island, and are at war with all their neighbours. The cause of a long war between them and the Nga-pui was an act similar to that above related. A party of thirty Nga-pui came on a visit to the island of Mokoia in the lake of Roturua; they were hospitably received, but their doom was already sealed. After feasting, the islanders joined them in singing a war-song, it having been previously arranged that at the second repetition of the chorus they should kill all their guests: this was done, and all the Nga-pui were butchered, with the exception of two who escaped in a canoe. This act of treachery was, however, severely punished: E'Ongi came down from the Bay of Islands, dragged his canoes overland into the lake of Roturua, killed a great number of the murderers, and carried away about sixty of their children into slavery.

It is well known that the New Zealanders have

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a custom of preserving in a peculiar manner the heads of their slaughtered enemies. After the brain has been taken out (and eaten), the head is slowly steamed over hot stones, the exudating humidity is wiped off, and this process is continued till the bead becomes mummified, in which state it can be preserved for a long time; these heads are called moko-mokai. In returning home from a war excursion the victors carry them on the taiahas, a sort of pike, and afterwards plant them upon the fences around their houses. In singing the Pihe, or funeral ode, these trophies are elevated on sticks at the concluding chorus.

Formerly these heads formed a speculative sort of commerce with the Sydney traders, but now they have become very scarce; I myself have seen them only on one occasion in the interior.

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