1856 - Shortland, Edward. Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders - CHAPTER X

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  1856 - Shortland, Edward. Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders - CHAPTER X
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ELOQUENCE is held in much esteem among the New Zealanders; and they generally display, as orators, a remarkable ability. Not that the arguments they employ are always such as would have most weight with a European audience; for the matter to be discussed is referred to a standard of right or wrong, which, though recognized by the New Zealander, would often not be recognized by the European. But they have a certain native eloquence, enforced by readiness of speech and grace of action, which cannot but strike the listener with astonishment and admiration.

Their orations called taki, delivered on state occasions, are composed according to certain recognized laws regulating their form and arrangement. The speaker commences generally by chanting a song which bears some reference to the subject under discussion. After this follows the first part of the speech. Here the speaker sets forth his

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grievances and enunciates the principles of action acknowledged as tika, or just, by his countrymen, by which his conduct has been regulated. He then breaks off to sing another short song, intended to illustrate the subject still further. After this comes the second part of the speech, or the conclusion.

The rule of introducing a song into their speeches is so generally adhered to, that it is very usual for those who have embraced Christianity to substitute for the song some verses quoted from the translated Bible or Prayer-book. And I remember once hearing an elderly chief, named Paki, who was a Christian in little more than in name, introduce into a rather warlike speech the Lord's Prayer, the sense of which he took the liberty to alter in a remarkable manner; for, after the words, "forgive us our trespasses," instead of saying, "as we forgive them that trespass against us," he substituted the words, "but we can't forgive them that trespass against us."

The elder part of the audience always understand perfectly the application and meaning of the songs thus introduced in quotation, and on hearing them have no difficulty in judging what are the intentions of the speaker. Not so the younger men: to them, as well as to the foreigner, although he has a good knowledge of the language, large portions are a mystery, if unaided by explanations. Notwithstanding this, the audience invariably pay the greatest attention to the speaker. They may be

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said, literally, to hang on his words; while from time to time the older and more experienced interpret in a low voice, to those who sit near them, the obscure passages.

While delivering his address, the speaker generally walks forwards and backwards along an open space of a few yards, left unoccupied for that purpose. As he advances he spouts out each sentence, the rapidity of his advance increasing often to a run as the sentences are shorter and more abrupt, and the expressions more vehement. The run is sometimes terminated by a leap, both feet descending together on the ground, as it were, to show more decidedly than by words the resolute determination of the speaker. The sentence being thus ended, he walks back slowly and silently to the place from which he started, preparing himself for the next period. Such is the action, added to expressive movements of the arms and body, which gives force to their words in the more emphatic parts of their orations, when they intend to hurl reproaches and threats at their adversaries. During the narrative, descriptive, and persuasive parts, their action is moderated. They then no longer pace or run up and down; but content themselves with more or less motion of the arms and body, often remarkably elegant and expressive.

It has been reported by many travellers that the Polynesians have, in addition to their language in

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common use, a language peculiar to a sacred class. This I doubt; for the same fact has been declared true of the New Zealanders, which is certainly not so, but has, I believe, obtained credence from the circumstance, before alluded to, that the set speeches of the older men are unintelligible to the multitude. Their being unintelligible, however, does not arise from the chiefs using a different language from the multitude--though it is true that a great many words obsolete, and generally not familiar, are employed by them on these occasions--but from the ambiguity of the meaning to be given to what they do say, and to obscureness owing to allusions made to events of so ancient a date as to be unknown to the rising generation.

The following letter from a Christian chief to another of a hostile tribe, who had not given up his old belief and warlike habits, is written in the form and manner of one of these public speeches, and will give an idea of the use made of songs in them, and the sort of analogy which they bear to the subject:--

E taku teina, e Tohi-te-Ururangi. E tama, kia rongo mai koe ki taku ngeri.

Ka tahi nei ka whai-tu.
Ka tahi nei ka whai-maro.
Ka tahi nei ka heke nui
Ki te puna i Raparapa:
Kia heru ai irunga
0 te pokohuru o taku kainga kanohi--ae.

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E Tohi, kia rongo mai koe. Na--kei tohe mai koe ki te haeremai ki Tauranga. Noho atu. Noho atu. Rere. Kia rongo koe ki te Pakeha ki a Te Hotereni. Koia to tatou kotikoti-tiriwa. Na--ki te pakeke koe ki a Ia. Na--Tena ra pea kia kaha mai.

E Pa, tou hau wero tonu ki taku kiri,
Te atakitea atu te whetu o te rangi.
Ka mangi noa 'hau, e ai te aorewa.
'Wai te poairaka i raru ai, 'wai ka tohu iho
Tenei te tangata te hihira atu nei.
Te hoki atu koe i waho na i te roro.
Kore te kakea i te wehi o te tapu.
He koro i tu mai no Te Whakatakere:
Rokohanga mai au ka taia roatia.
He ohonga-moe ake au ko te takapau.
Ka pononga, e Rangi, tou haerenga mai;
He ringa i whakatoro, hoki tapu, ka noa.

Na--Mau e tohe mai. Ae. Kia hohoro mai ano inaianei. He oi he tuhi tenei mo te aomarama. He koha hoki naku ki a koe.


0 my kinsman, Tohi-te-Ururangi, listen to my song.

Now, indeed, we take up arms,
Now we don the war-tunic.
Now we march in force
To the well of Raparapa,
To pass the comb over
The murdered head of the land of my eyes' delight.
Friend Tohi, hearken to me. Don't persist in your design of coming to Tauranga. Stay away. Stay away. Hear the advice of the Pakeha, Mr. * * [Shortland] Hear him: for he surely is our wall of separation. But if you are stubborn against him, in that case, you may come and do your worst.

The breeze which blows from your country
Is for ever piercing my flesh.
The stars of the heavens are obscurely seen.

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I am giddy, light as the mist.
Who is it that disturbs my peace?
Who can be sure the fellow will stir?
Why don't you turn back outside your porch?
One must not be too hasty for fear of the tapu.
A longing desire of Whakatakere,
I was caught stretched out asleep.
When I awoke, there was only the mat.
If truly, 0 Rangi, you come here,
The hand which was stretched out and returned tapu shall become noa.

Nevertheless, if you persist, it is well. Be quick and at once. This is the last of my writing for the bright day (of peace). It is a warning from me to you.

The second song here introduced is a love song from the mouth of a female who had rejected the addresses of her lover, and afterwards repented that she had done so. She sings that the wind which blows from the land where dwells her lover always pierces her flesh, reminding her of him, and of her loss. Her night's rest is disturbed by visions of him; but waking she finds only the mat by her side. The last sentence is intended to come to his ears, and hint to him, that if he renews his addresses they will be more kindly received. The hand which you before stretched out to me, and which returned tapu, that is, which I rejected, shall become noa, that is, shall be accepted.

The writer of the letter intended to express, in this figurative manner, that he was constantly troubled and harassed by threats and rumours of war

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proceeding from the enemy's country--this is the signification which he gives to the words tou hau wero tonu ki te kiri--and that, although on a former occasion, when his tribe had been attacked, he being a Christian had not retaliated, if the same enemy comes again, he and the Christian members of the tribe will unite with their heathen brethren, and take up arms to repel him. Such is the meaning of the words ringa i whakatoro atu, &c.

The words tou hau, thy breeze, or the breeze blowing from the direction of your country, refer to an idea frequently to be met with in the poetry of this people--the imaginary connexion between two places established through means of the wind blowing from one to the other. Thus, Te Rauparaha, lamenting the loss of the lands of his fathers, says,-- u

He whakamaunga atu nahaku -- The only tie which unites us
Te ao ka rere mai. 1 -- Is the fleecy cloud drifting hitherward.

So prevalent is the influence of this poetic fancy among the New Zealanders, and so powerfully are their sympathies excited by the simple circumstance of the wind blowing from the country where an absent beloved person is staying, that a wife or lover may frequently be seen, on such occasions, seated with her face fully exposed to the breeze, while she gives vent to her affection in the peculiar wailing

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chant of the country, called tangi. The same idea is thus expressed by the poet Burns:--

"Of a' the airts the wind can Maw, I dearly lo'e the west,
For there the bonnie lassie lives, the lass that I lo'e best."


Frequent use is also made in speeches and in conversation of familiar sayings or proverbs, called whakatauki. They are the witty or sage remarks of ancestors, which have been thought worthy to be preserved in memory, in order that they may be applied as occasion serves. Some of them are remarkably pointed and elegant. Others are devoid of all wit to a European understanding, although highly relished, and moving laughter among themselves. In travelling, when your guides begin to be weary of a long journey, an appropriate whakatauki will be found a more powerful stimulus to exertion than harsh words: and, on many other occasions, they will carry more weight than any other sort of argument.

Some years ago, it was customary in New Zealand for Romanist priests, and the clergy and catechists belonging to the Church Missionary Society, to hold controversial discussions in public before large bodies of natives, in order that the latter might have an opportunity of judging for themselves which side had the right. On one of these occasions, when the controversy had for some time

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been eagerly and hotly maintained on either side, a Protestant Missionary, who was a better linguist than his opponent, so pleased the audience by the apt use of a whakatauki, that they unanimously decided in favour of his arguments.

Among every tribe, a variety of these current sayings are to be met with; but, though familiar to themselves, they would often not be understood out of their own circle without some previous explanation. "Mumura tou toro, kei rokohanga koe e Hauokanga" is a whakatauki which, if addressed about the hour of dinner to a person who was in the habit of dropping in at that time, would convey a hint that he was an unwelcome guest. Its explanation is rather diverting.

A certain Hineroa was frequently annoyed by a young man named Hauokanga, who made a practice of coming to pay her a visit just at the time her meal was cooked, and then of eating up a large share of it. One day, fearing another of these unwelcomed visits, she thus addressed her fire.: --

"Mumura tou toro, kei rokohanga koe e Hauokanga."

"Come, blaze away, or you'll be caught by Hauokanga."

Just at that moment Hauokanga appeared, and, overhearing the words, inquired,

"He aha kei a au, e Hineroa ?"

"What's that about me, Hineroa?"

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"He hohoki ra."

"Why you're for ever coming back again," replied Hineroa.

"Ka hokia he huanga, tenei ka wehe."

"I come again because I am a kinsman; but now we are divided." With which words Hauokanga departed, and never again returned.

"He maha nga he o Turangatao ki muri:" "Many were the crimes of Turangatao afterwards," are words conveying no particular meaning in themselves, but familiar to the tribe Ngatihaua, as a sort of vaunt that "honesty is not the best policy." The origin of this saying tells a very significant tale of the moral condition of the New Zealanders before the introduction of Christianity.

A fortified village was taken by surprise one morning, and among the few who escaped was Turangatao. In the flight he passed close to another village not far off, where he had left his wife and children for security; but, the enemy being close in pursuit, he thought more of saving himself than his family. His wife, however, seeing him coming, shouted out to him--

"Turangatao, e pehea ana te mamae?"

"Turangatao, how fares it with you? "

"Taria iho."

"Stop a bit, and you'll find out," replied he, running on all the while.

"Tahuri mai ki a taua tamariki."

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"Oh! do turn hither, and help me to save our children," shrieked the wife in alarm.

"He tamariki kei te matamata o te ure. E pari ana te tai o te kotinga."

"Oh! as for children," returned he, without stopping, "I can get children enough. The tide of life is on the flood."

Presently the enemy came and killed his wife and children, while he escaped, and lived to commit many other evil deeds afterwards. Hence the saying, "He maha nga he," &c.

This tale of Turangatao I have often heard told by Te Tiwha, a chief living at Matamata, who seemed to be not a little proud of him as an ancestor on account of his witticisms, many of which, including the above heartless reply, are handed down as whakatauki. Tiwha always laughed heartily when he repeated the words "He tamariki kei te matamata," &c, and so did those who heard him, showing evidently that a heartless blackguard is not even now thought by them so disreputable a fellow as he should be.



He toa riri, he toa pahekeheke. He toa mahi-kai, he toa mau tonu--a, mate noa iho, mate kongenge noa iho.

He who is valiant in fight, is a valiant apt to stumble. But he who is valiant in cultivating food, is a valiant who will abide--even to a natural death, worn out by old age.

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He kai-tangata, he kai-titongi-kaki. Tena--ko ta tona ringa, tino kai, tino makona.

Food given by another person is only a throat-tickler: but food gained by the labour of one's own hand is the food which satisfies.


Makariri piri noa, tahae-mahana, he arero.

Cold which is only skin deep, stealing warmth, is not worth a word of complaint.


Maramara nui a Mahi ka riro i a Noho.

The large chips made by Mr. Hardwood fall to the share of Mr. Sit-still.
MORAL.--The food of those who labour often falls to the share of those who are lazy.


He tangata momoe, he tangata mangare e kore e whiwhi ki te taonga.

A man fond of sleep, and a man fond of idleness, will never obtain wealth.


He aorere ka kitea: he huatau e kore e kitea.

The passing clouds can be seen: but passing thoughts cannot be seen.


He ta-kakaho ka kitea: tena--he ta no te ngakau e kore e kitea.

A crooked part of a stem of toetoe can be seen; but a crooked part in the heart cannot be seen.


E mokai tupunga-rua, kawe ake, kawe iho.

0 slave of two growths, shooting up, sinking down.
MOKAI..--A child grows up to be a man, and afterwards descends to a second childhood in old age.

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Kakariki e tunu, kakariki e ota. Kai mata whiwhia, maoa riro ke.

Roast the kakariki, 2 and eat the kakariki half raw.

Make the best of your raw meat, for when well cooked somebody else may run off with it.
MORAL.-- This proverb is often used in travelling when some of the party desire the food to be served up quickly, in opposition to others who wish to stop till it is well dressed.


Poroaki tu-tata, whakahoro he tau.

Your farewell words promised a speedy return; but you allow the year to slip away.
MORAL.--A remark made to any one who says, on taking leave, that he will soon return.


He nui tou ngaromanga, he iti tou putanga.

You depart with mighty boasts; but you come hack having done little.


Ai ou hapainga ki tou ringa whati tou tuara. Puta tahanga mai koe. Ana tou kore na.

I thought you would bring in your hands enough to break your back. You return empty-handed: so I suppose you have got nothing.
MORAL.--Applied to any one who leaves home with nothing, and brings nothing with him on his return.


Tuia te kawe, tairanga te kawe: ko te kawe o te haere.

Thread your arms through the straps of your pack, adjust the straps. The straps are for a march.
Moral.--A hint to your companions to move on after a halt.

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E tu ranei, e noho ranei? kei whaia e te karanga taua. Whakatika.

Will you stand up, or sit still? Beware lest you are pursued by the alarm of any enemy. Get up.
MORAL.--Same as the last.


Haere imua mo hari-taonga. Waiho imuri titiro kau ana.

He who goes before gathers treasures. He who is left to follow behind looks for them in vain.


Kohia te kai rangatira: ruia te taitea.

Pick out the gentleman's food: distribute the refuse among the crowd.


Titiro iho ka puehuehu, ma tana waiaro. Taraua he kaka, ki tahaki tera.

When he sees a mealy potato, he saves it for his own eating. When he meets with a fibre of fern root, he throws it aside.
MORAL.--A rebuke to a person who picks out the dainty bits for himself.


Na ia tou paua.

Look here's your mutton-fish.
MORAL.--This proverb is equivalent to the slang expression, "Do you see any green in my eye?" and the speaker, when saying the words, draws down the lower eyelid with the point of the fore finger, in a significant manner.


Haere ki te kowha-pipi ki Katikati.

Go to Katikati to shell cockles.
MORAL.--This proverb is used in the same sense as "Don't you wish you may get it." Katikati being debatable ground, it would not be safe for any one to go there for that purpose.

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Ahea no muri patato mai ai.

Whenever will be heard the sound of splitting fire-wood.
MORAL.--A hint from a guest, in case of delay, to hasten the serving up of food.


Ko Tauranga pakukore tenei.

This is barren Tauranga.
MORAL.--A reply to a person who begs clothes, or any thing else, if you don't choose to give. Tauranga is a place where for miles the only growth is fern and small bushes, and where fire-wood is so remarkably scarce, that the crackling of a good blazing fire is never heard there. The word "pakukore," literally "making no report," refers to this circumstance.


E pa, tangia te wai o to' waha.

Sir, bale the water out of your mouth (as from a canoe in a storm).
MORAL.--A rebuke to a noisy, wordy antagonist.


Ka mahi te tamariki wawahi-taha.

The jar-breaking child is at work.
MORAL.--A rebuke to a careless servant.


Ka tata te kai a Rangihoa.

Rangihoa's food is nigh at hand.
MORAL.--A hint, when one is sleepy, that he wishes his guests to retire.


Huia te waero, kia tae koe ki te whare o Ketaraia.

Shake the cloak before you enter the house of Ketaraia.
MORAL.--A hint to any one who is about to visit a great person to put on his good clothes.

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He hohonu kahi, papaku uaua.

A deep throat, hut (shallow sinews.
MORAL.--A word to a voracious, but lazy fellow.


Ka pu te kupenga, ka hao te rangatahi.

When the seine is worn out with age, the new net encircles the fish.
MORAL.--When a man grows old, his son takes his place.


Maku te kai, he maha au kai ki muri.

Give me the food to eat, you will have plenty by-and-by.
MORAL.--The saying of an old man to his son; meaning that at his death he would have all.


Waiho kia patai ana, he kaha ui te kaha.

Let him go on asking, his strength (or ability) lies in asking questions.
MORAL.--A remark on a person who is always asking idle questions.


Kirikiri-kaimata, he tangata-ringaringa.

Here are baskets of uncooked food; a man has hands.
MORAL.--Don't wait for me to cook your food; but help yourself.

1   Waiata vii. lines 8, 4.
2   A small green paroquet.

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