1838 - Polack, J. S. New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Chapter XII

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  1838 - Polack, J. S. New Zealand [Vol.I] [Capper reprint, 1974] - Chapter XII
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Tattooing -- On Grades of Native Rank -- Costume of the Sexes -- Provisions, and Methods of preparing it -- Food prepared for Journeys -- Filthy Habits of the New Zealanders, &c.

THE bodies of the males are marked with the stains and incisions of the moko, or tattoo; the females are marked but rarely, with the exception of the lips, over and under which horizontal lines are made and stained blue.

The process causes intense pain, as the instruments, though neatly made, are clumsy for the purpose. The patient is generally placed in a recumbent posture, the head resting against the knee of the operator; and the implement, which is formed of bone, shaped like a chisel, is let into the flesh by a smart tap applied to the handle. This causes the blood to gush out, which is wiped away with the hand of the operator, or by any thing that may present itself.

The habit of staining and cutting the skin is

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of as ancient an origin as any custom we are acquainted with. In Leviticus, the Divine law states, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor engrave any marks on you;" a proof sufficient that this custom was among the abominations of the Asiatics, from whom these people are evidently descended.

The pattern of the moko is generally painted, in lines of charcoal and water, on the face of the patient. The skin, thus excoriated, becomes indurated by the practice. It is generally commenced on the face of a young man at the age of eighteen, and is continued at various periods in after life: this ruthless fashion is regarded as the ne plus ultra of facial embellishment. Some old gentlemen, to insure additional beauty, have the lines re-engraved at an advanced age. The furrows are sufficiently deep to remain visible in a Methusaleh.

The first attempt is generally on the lips, and then each cheek is submitted to the process; and so they proceed alike in embellishment and age.

The lines are drawn with an elegance that cannot be surpassed, each side generally corresponding with the nicest exactitude. A hieroglyphic, of peculiar fancy and taste, engraven with much care, is traced round the

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thighs, and a posteriori. No two persons are tattooed exactly alike. The females have sometimes a single line on the side of the nose, in addition to the blue lines already stated; also, a few marks on the chin. The blue lips have an unpleasant appearance until the stranger becomes accustomed to it.

The countenances of the men have a look truly ferocious, from tattooing; but habit also, in this instance, renders it less unbecoming to the practised observer. Tattooing on the face of a white man has a disgustingly livid effect.

Tattooing is no sign of rank. Men and women, in a state of slavery, get marked equally as much as chiefs or priests: many of whom may be seen without even a single line on the countenance; whereas numbers of slaves, either born bondsmen or taken in battle, are fully marked, with scarce a portion of the countenance untouched by the chisel. In time of war, during the great slaughter of an enemy, those heads only are preserved that have been well tattooed, unless belonging to superior chiefs. Among the many heads which I have seen of slaughtered prisoners, I do not remember to have beheld one that was not tattooed, and many entirely covered with marks. These permanent lines and angles may be regarded as a coat of

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arms, as each peculiarity of design indicates the person.

In taking the portrait of Nene, a chief of the Hokianga, the accuracy of the likeness was undisputed by persons residing some four hun-dred and twenty miles distant from the village of the chief, and who had never seen him, but had heard of the peculiar marks that ornamented his face; and by such a chief is known.

Every tribe has distinctive insignia. These marks have the effect of adding a few years to the appearance of a young man, and the contrary on an elderly person. All classes get tattooed when they please; nor is there any characteristic in the country to distinguish a chief, the feather, or O, being used often by the slaves. Thus, in deeds of purchases of lands, or any receipts, the moko is made use of; that is, a facsimile of the peculiar mark whereby a native is distinguished from his countrymen. The initials on the seal attached to my watch was called my moko, from the fact of its being applied to the sealing of a letter.

Whatever may have been the original cause for tattooing, it never, I would say, commenced with the New Zealanders, as with them it is a mark of beauty. Among the ancient nations of Asia it doubtless originated, in accustoming the

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young men to bear, without blenching, the intolerable anguish which accompanies the execution of this work on the tender parts of the face, especially between the nose and eyes, and on the lips. They are thus prepared for undergoing the tortures of an enemy. Many persons do not commence tattooing until past thirty years of age.

The bodies of some of these votaries of fashion are marked over with small dots, resembling the blue spots in a Guernsey frock, and may be taken for that useful article at a distance. Several chiefs, of either sex, favoured me by sitting for their portraits with exemplary patience. In these sittings, the terms in use by professional men were reversed; for, instead of my receiving a bonus, I was obliged to present one, as a native never gives away even his time without a consideration. I was invariably requested to be particular in drawing the peculiar figures my sitters possessed; and when the performance was finished, those parts underwent the strictest scrutiny.

As the marks had been engraven at different periods, every little circumstance connected with my subject at the time was duly narrated to me. Thus, the period when one of these Parises lost his heart, was notated at the time by a mark

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perhaps on his nose: the time he regained it (after marriage, of course,) was well remembered by another incision elsewhere.

The costume of either sex has no material difference. The most valued native dress is formed from the skins of the dogs, which certainly appear more respectable when thus covering the bodies of their masters, than they could have seemed when in their former lank state. They are made to tie round the neck of a chief like a cloak appended, or similar to that worn by a Spaniard.

The various furs are cut lengthwise in squares, alternately white, brown, or black, according as nature had furnished their late original proprietors. These squares are sewed to a remarkably strong-textured matting, similar in the arrangement of the threads to our coarse canvass, but infinitely stronger. This sine qua non of native fashion is called pui; and it is not deemed any degradation by the warriors to sew this article themselves in the seamstresses' apartments-- a somewhat rude representation of Hercules placing aside his club, and similarly engaged at the feet of Omphale, without the complaisant motives attributed to the antique hero.

These mats are sent to the principal chiefs as presents; and no articles of apparel have yet

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been introduced that can compete with the native PUI in the estimation of its wearers.

I was at one time empannelled on a native jury (if it may be so termed), in a case of adultery, committed to the southward by a chief against the honour of a humbler native. This subject for Doctors' Commons was made to pay a large canoe, two axes, and a pui mat, which was assigned over to the feudal chief: who would have been but little affected by the want of honour in his tribe, provided he got such a garment once per mensem.

In a case of this kind, the unfortunate husband gets nothing for his share, as he is obliged to make presents to all his advocates. I intended to have proved my disinterestedness; but the chance was not afforded me, as the utu, or damages, had been served out before I had the means of attesting my generosity.

The kakaou maori, or common native mat, is made of the flax, simply scraped with the mussel shell.

The kaitaka is made from the hunga hunga, or silken flax. This garment is often produced in an elegant manner: it is formed of a number of threads placed close together, and bound cross-wise half an inch asunder. These are often striped within the cloth, of blue, red, and green

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baize, beautifully interwoven, and purchased from the Europeans. It has the glossy appearance of flake-white silk.

A mat is the work of many persons. Two small stakes are placed in the ground, about six feet apart, on which frame the work is made. The size of these mats is generally five feet long, and four feet broad. The performance is tedious, as it is worked by the hand. This work affords a vast deal of amusement to the ladies of a village. As early as one of these mats is undertaken by a wife for a husband, herself, or relative, she gives notice to her neighbours, who all promise their aid. It is the most useful invention that could be found for them, as it employs their hands; and, it may be affirmed, that that little member called the tongue is not silent. At these meetings, similar to the "quiltings" in the villages of the United States of America, every thing is discussed; the younger people shaking the little cabin to its centre with their jokes and gaiety; the elderly ladies exclaiming, with Marryat's ci-devant sultana, "The time has been." To the kaitakas are appended borders, in stitches similar to samplers with which European young ladies delight their papas at holidays; and which may be seen framed, exciting the admiration of sitters in country parlours.

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These borders are of various patterns, with an elegance of design and ability in execution that the needle but rarely produces,

There are many other mats, each differently named, but none superior to the kaitaka. Flax garments, as above described, are handsome summer dresses, but without warmth, the crude flax striking cold to the naked body: for comfort, the English blanket is supposed by the people to be unequalled, and is in universal repute. It well becomes the generally tall stature of the natives: it is made fast over the right shoulder, and hangs down in graceful folds, that reminds the classical reader of the pleasing negligence that was anciently displayed by the haughty Roman in the ancient toga. The resemblance is also much assisted by the black curling hair, bushy beard, and commanding figure of the southern islander.

The usual method of wearing the native dress is by taking two corners of the garment over the shoulders, and tying them with strings of the flax across the breast. Around the waist another mat is made fast with a wetiki, or belt, of a similar manufacture. As a preservative against rain, many large garments are worn, of some weight, made of the kiakia, spear-grass, which is impervious to the element. Another

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sedgy plank, called kierakiki, is placed over the person, as an outside covering. When sitting down in such a dress, the native has a most uncouth appearance, and might be mistaken at a distance for a heap of rushes, or partly the remains of a rush-cabin, if his black, shock, bullet of a head did not challenge an extra examination.

Another outer garment is made from the split reed of the swamps, and interwoven into a stuff something resembling China matting, with the ends projecting several inches on either side. Two pieces of this manufacture serve for a dress. There are garments variegated with the handsome green and red feathers of the parrots and parroquet birds, but these have become very rare. The dress formed of the feathers of the Kiwi are scarcely ever seen.

The ladies affect less handsome apparel than the men, but they are delighted in lavishing ornaments on themselves. The chemise, if the nether garment may be so termed, is fastened firmly round the waist. European female garments are much in request; and the males may be often seen strutting about in a cast-off cloth jacket, without a single covering beside.

A civilised lady would not feel her extreme modesty more outraged than the females of the country by any act contrary to the dictates of

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modesty, and any peeping Tom would be immediately sent to Coventry by them. It is to be regretted that an ample account cannot be furnished of the ladies' dresses, a bachelor being necessarily at fault in such descriptions.

The red, ochreous earth, called kokowai, is in great request among the beaux and belles of the land; and, with deference, I beg to observe, that the best Parisian rouge of Delcroix would fail to meet a preference in the native market. This material of embellishment is rubbed over the body from the head, including often the hair, to the feet. This rubrication is fixed by the oil extracted from the liver of a shark, which rancid perfume is gustable on either tack. A kiss cannot be ravished from a lady who makes use of this mixture, without a legible testimony being imprinted of the felonious indiscretion. The elderly matrons only make use of it; and, consequently, they are not often called upon to lose much by such abrasions.

Both sexes bore the lobe of the ears sufficiently large to admit such ornaments as are supposed to add individual beauty, in which various trinkets are placed -- such as the dried skins of parroquet birds, down of sea-fowl, human bones carved, ossifications of large birds, cloth-beads, bodkins of green talc, teeth of friends,

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enemies, dogs, pigs, and ditto repeated of the sand-shark, which, from their rarity, are in much request, and are generally garnished at the ends with a piece of sealing-wax. This simple ornament fetches a high price.

Iron nails were formerly used as waka kais, or ear-rings.

The ladies (tasty souls!) wear armlets, ringlets, necklets, and anclets, of any and every thing that fashion dictates. But the most valued ornament, that has stood the test of many generations, is the tiki, made of the poenamu, or green serpent-stone, in the form of a distorted monster. There is no reason given for the outre shape in which this figure is invariably made. Gods, or Lares, are not in the land, and they are equally unlike departed friends; for the resemblance is neither like any thing above the earth, or, perhaps, beneath the waters. These ornaments stand paramount in public estimation: the original cause for their manufacture is forgotten.

Pieces of whalebone, cut into various shapes, are also made use of. Imitations of the favourite tooth of the sand-shark are made to the southward from shells. These facsimiles are capitally executed. The hearu, or comb, is now regarded as indispensable to the females. In ancient times, a similar article, about nine inches long, was

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placed upright on the back of the head as an ornament. This has totally fallen into disuse, and has been long discontinued; but it is well remembered by the elderly people. The combs are now very neatly carved, made of the kaikatoa, or rowito woods; pieces of pearl-shell are let into the eyes to beautify the ornamental part. Some few of the men (but very rarely) bore the septum of the nose, for the purpose of placing an ornament within it; but the public taste is decidedly against the fashion: it is now but rarely seen. Rings made of whalebone, and armlets of the same substance, have been much in vogue.

The females of Uwoua and Tokomaru wear an article peculiar to themselves only. It is called a wetiki, or belt, formed of a grass producing a delightful odour, equal to the most delicate flowerets. This grass is plaited remarkably neat, and is used in lengths of several yards: its uses may not be mentioned, as this chevaux de frise is only arranged on the person of the female in the innermost recesses of a lady's sanctum.

The hair of the males, on gala days, is gathered together, and made fast on the crown of the head with a pare, or top-knot, and carefully oiled with the abominable extract of shark's liver. The blue mixture, containing manganese; black, furnished by charcoal; yellow, procured

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from decayed wood, in appearance like chrome; and the red kokowai, are all put into requisition to beautify a native Narcissus. The apex of the head is decorated with sea-fowl feathers.

Flowers of various kinds are made use of by the younger females, who weave them within their hair, and invariably repudiate red ochre and shark's oil, until arrived at a certain age: both sexes are equally devoted to trifles and finery.

The various articles, vegetable and otherwise, made use of by these people for food, have already been enumerated. The principal sustenance, anterior to the time of Cook, was the roi, or fern-root, answering the same purpose that bread does with us. This food is very constipating to the European, but is much liked by the people of the country. The kumera is certainly the principal favourite of the natives. To this vegetable is attached a religious veneration, as being the edible supposed to have been brought from the country by their ancestors, in addition to its sweet and grateful taste. In travelling excursions, food is generally prepared to avoid the trouble of making an oven, and to carry much in a small compass. For this purpose dried fish, and a pudding, in shape resembling a wheaten loaf, of baked shell-fish, or potatoes, mashed together with dried shark or cod-fish, is in much

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repute; also a caviare of the roes of various fish, together with a snail (narrara) that is found on the earth; and the root of the Korou, with a variety of the palm tribe.

The cetaceous fishes, especially the whale, are accounted a luxury by these people, who vie with certain northern nations in their unqualified admiration of train-oil and other abominable rancidities. The scraps, as pieces of the blubber of these fish are called after the uliginous matter is extracted, are regarded as bonnes bouches. These morceaux are recommended by the native faculty to those patients whose fastidious stomachs will not endure the usual nutriments, similar to civilised ennuieux, when at periods they are only enabled to keep body and spirit on comfortable terms by the interference of jellies and similar objects of gout.

Many a battle has been fought by hostile gourmands for the carcass of a whale thrown on shore long after its death.

Agreements are often entered into by native tribes residing on either coast of a river, that, in the event of any monster of the deep drifting on their respective shores, each shall partake of the fish fairly. When I resided at Hokianga, a large whale without its head (the body cut adrift by some whaleman) was thrown on the southern

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shore of that river. The resident tribe determined to devour the fish among themselves, without admitting their neighbour to a just share; but the goddess Muta was never acknowledged by a New Zealander, and the people of the opposite banks soon became acquainted with the fact, and armed themselves for the fight; but a composition was entered into by the belligerents, and they mutually gastronomised on the fish in amity, contending only, with their usual determination, which party could devour the largest quantity.

When a shark is taken to the southward, the liver is taken out, cut up into pieces, and boiled in a small iron pot (purchased from Europeans). The fat is relished exceedingly; and a little stinking oil, whose foetid exhalations reminded me of high-kept venison, was accounted a delicious repast--a species of nectar the native Ganymede reserves for his chief.

The only method of cooking formerly in use was by the kapa or angi maori, the native oven, already described. Roasting by the fire is less in use.

At present, iron trypots of small size are much in vogue; and the natives in the vicinity of European settlements make use of our culinary utensils, such as the frying-pan and similar

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useful articles. The fern-root is placed among hot ashes, and afterwards pounded on a stone, until it becomes mashed and soft. It is then chewed, and the fibrous stalks spat forth. It certainly requires a continual use to discover its peculiar beauties, but it improves on acquaintance,

Fish of every kind form an important article of diet; and large heaps of shells are seen in the vicinity of every native house. Hogs are principally bred for the English settlers. On some of the small islands, where these latter animals are located, the flesh acquires an unpleasant taste, from their piscivorous propensities.

The dogs are solely devoured by their friends and masters; but as their numbers are not too great, they are reserved as a regale for holidays.

The method of feeding is similar to that of the little dirty urchins among us, who shelter their villanous habits under the adage of "fingers were made before forks." This truism, which will not admit of dispute, is in repute with the natives; and in cold weather the native digitals are put in requisition, instead of knife, spoon, or handkerchief. Among other digestibles patronised, the filthy vermin with which many of their heads and bodies are sufficiently stocked,

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are, as I have stated, among the most prominent. The satisfactory explanation given by the natives, for thus summarily disposing of these individuals is, that they are decidedly cut off from making a re-appearance. This brutality, which is not confined to the native perruquiers, is much indulged in by all classes; and an escape formerly from the dungeon of an inquisition, would have been of easier performance than a kutu from the ivory portcullis of a native mouth.

The elders of both sexes are very filthy in their habits; neither their bodies nor dresses ever appear to undergo the luxury of a purification. When these latter are crowded with kutus, they extract them by kindling a fire of green kaikatoa, over the smoke of which the mats are held, which incline the vermin to make a hasty retreat; but their attempts to escape are rendered abortive, as the greedy fellows around consign them to an early tomb.

The method of softening the much-valued Indian corn, gives this food such a foetid odour as would disturb the complacency of any respectable quadruped, and cause an intestinal embarrassment to any other biped than one of these islanders.

Fish, as mute as the proverb assigns them to be, by a death of six weeks previously, and thrown

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on shore, are devoured with manifest delight. I have been assured, by many persons who have resided for years in the south island, that the blubber of seals, killed full two months previously, was devoured by the natives with the greatest eagerness, and that many of them were not satisfied with emptying the lamps, but actually swallowed the fragrant wick.

Yet the natives will often repudiate such articles as civilised nations hold in high esteem; cheese, called waihu kou pakeke, or hard cow's milk, is seldom eaten by a native; the taste is accounted nauseous. Salted meats, or fish, do not please them; and mustard, pepper, and similar condiments, grateful to the taste of an European, are repudiated with much aversion. Birds are preserved by the natives, by first plucking the feathers, extracting the bones, then pouring their fat, melted, over them.

The New Zealander cannot be called inhospitable. Should a stranger, of either complexion, pass a village during meal-times, or any travelling party taking their food by the roadside, he is immediately invited to partake of the fare; a contrary conduct would be accounted mean and unworthy, and would tell much against the hospitality and honour of the party. On such invitations, I invariably accepted a trifle of

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the proffered repast, such as a potato or kumera, as no person can easily excuse himself as having lately partaken of food. A native can manage one meal per diem; that is, masticating from sunrise to almost sunset. The harvest of the kumera takes place in the tenth month, at which period a feast is made, and great rejoicings take place; the quantity devoured at such times would necessarily puzzle a conjuror.




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