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Poenamo
Book the Third - Chapter VIII.
Maori Philosophy


At last our village settled down to its wonted quietness, minus the chiefs, who were now in their Elysium eating kumeras and smoking pipes for evermore; minus also their whole stock of winter provisions, which the funereal feasting had fairly exhausted, rendering it necessary to have recourse to the dernier ressort—fern-root, flavoured with fish and peppies. But to two individuals of that Maori community—the widow chieftainesses of the two dead men—a blank had been made which to them could never be filled.

Hard indeed was their case—in the full bloom of young womanhood to be laid on the non-matrimonial shelf for evermore. But such was their fate; had there been any younger brothers of the dead chiefs the widows would have descended to them, whether previously provided with wives or not—polygamy, it must be remembered, being the order of the day. But in the two cases in question there were no surviving brothers upon whom the husbands' mantle could fall, so they were doomed to waste their widow fragrance on the desert Maori air—to use a figure of speech—and the pi things had not even the satisfaction of succeeding to the personal effects of their defunct lords, for even as they themselves had become matrimonially tapu, so had everything belonging to the dead chiefs become irrevocably tapu.

It mattered not how valuable the property left behind—their guns and blankets and highly-prized and beautiful kaitaka mats—everything at their death met the same tapu-absorbing fate. On the fence around their graves could be seen hanging all their late treasures—wives excepted, of course.

If at any time in their newly-attained paradise they fancied any of these their late possessions, they had only to come, in spirit, and take them away, there on the fence they would find everything sacredly preserved—I ought rather to say sacrificed to their manes.

And all these coveted treasures hang as safely there as if lodged in strongest tower and watched with strictest guard. What Maori would dare the tapu even if he could possess himself of all? We have but to think of the poor girl who ate of a wahi tapu kumera, and who would be .so mad as ever to dream of despoiling a dead chief's tomb?

No; the coveted double-barrelled gun may rust to pieces, the 1aztaka mat drop rotting piecemeal to the ground, but no sacrilegious hand will (hare touch either the one or the other—a shield of impenetrable tapu covers all.

History repeats itself—so we hear everyday; the customs of one race are found repeated in another, however far apart and apparently unconnected.

In after years (having done one decade of pioneer settling, and starting to see the world before doing a second). I found the Maori was only doing as the Turk did.

When I stood on the shores of the Bosphorus, now thirty years ago, did I not see there tombs decked with the effects of the defunct, only, there, tapu was of no avail to hold sacred the cashmere shawl and diamond-trimmed turlioush. Strongest door and strictest guard had to be set there, or these tombs would not have remained long unrifled—it was not likely when grand tiaras of diamonds tempted men to sacrilege.

And if you cross over to Scutari I can tell you something more savouring of the way of Maoridoin. As you ascend to gaze on the wonderful panorama from Mount Burgnrla, perchance it may happen to you some day that your dragoman may point out to you, as he did to me, a spot, saying, "There stood a small summer palace of Sultan"—Heaven knows what his name—I forget now—"in it he died, and it was burned down with all it contained," so that no one should ever make use of what, in fact, had become tapu by his death!

'Tis true that was done on the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus—'tis but a step to the European shore! Yes, history is evidently given to much repetition. So perhaps 'tis but a step from ancient Orientalism to primitive customs in Polynesia!

Winter, as it slipped past, fulfilled the promise of its early commencement, the weather being truly delightful.

How people get spoiled, to be sure! I actually now-a-days hear complaining grumblers growling at our winter. Don't I wish them back again to "Northern climes abhorred" to renew their remembrance by actually feeling the abhorrence? They have so long lived under our glorious sunshine that they remember not the gloomy days which hung over them in their youth—vile fogs, endless rain, the sun making frantic efforts to pierce the murkiness, and beating an ignominious retreat. Oh! how it weighed upon me when I revisited my "ain kintrie" after a decade of blissful sunshine! That long-ago first winter, and our work in time forest, was a new revelation of delight to me. We built grand chateaux en Espane Men digging out on canoe and converted it into a very argosy, and sailed away in it—well, pplaced if you like it better— full of our young and hopeful aspirations. Few were the days we could not go to our work. We were up at daylight. Erangi's pot of pork and potatoes and pannikin of tea were always ready, and the little kit full of cold Aatmeras for our luncheon. She was wise in her generation, and when she saw the kumeras being swept away by that hurricane of funereal feasting, she had smuggled into our tapu whear a grand supply, and, of course, no one then dare eat them except ourselves. Our cold kumeras, a drink of the clear spring-water that trickled past our log, and we were very kings—we envied no man. Hard work is such a grand appetiser when it goes with a good constitution, and with fine keen bracing air, and last, not least, a mind full of hope—these are the sauces that make simple fare rich.

We had our small luxuries too. Every now and again a pig had to be killed and corned down, and then we had a couple of fresh-meat days. Eraugi ventured on soups made in a fearful and wonderful way, but we thought them—stunning, only I don't think that word was invented then. As a treat of a most extraordinary kind on rare occasions, she gave us one ships biscuit to be divided amongst us, and as she placed it on our simple board she would beam all over in a wonderful glow of smiles, as who would say—"There! haven't I given you something nice to-night?" And she was right; we did think it so, and ate it accordingly.

And we had our small trials too in the curtailment of our great luxuries, for the principal of these came to an end during our sojourn at Waiomu. One morning a very medicinal odour arose from our pannikins as Erangi placed them before us with the remark in a very commiserating tone-

"Ka pau te ti"

Too true the tea had run out! But the Pania substitute of wild mint was served instead, and— gratefully accepted. The difference, however, was that Erangi's two Pakehas no longer looked forward to their pannikin of tea as the one nice little treat in store.

It is so easy to become epicurean.

If we had only been living in a civilised land with Maori customs we should have had a chance of laying in a fresh supply of tea on easy terms, as you will gather from what I am now about to tell you. One morning as we were starting to the forest we observed an unusual hustle in the settlement, and evident preparations going on for some expedition. We noted, however, that although almost every native was gun in baud, there was not the usual accompliment of the cartouch-box, so the inference to be drawn was, that the tribe was not going out on the warpath. The fact was, they were all about to start on a "taua," or raid—a robbing visit to a neighbouring friendly tribe connected with them by marriage, as Pama informed us.

"But, in the name of wonder," I asked, "what does it mean? An expedition to rob their own relations and friends? Why, what does a taua mean?"

"It is great fun," responded Pama, "except to those upon whom the taua is going to be inflicted. You ought to go, sir—you might make a haul of a fine kaitaka mat. They have just got news that Te Tara's daughter, who is married to one of the Ngatiporas chiefs, has been misbehaving herself. The young lady has been found out in a love intrigue with another young chief. Now you must know that if her husband had been a. very much bigger chief; and his tribe more powerful than ours, perhaps he might just have put a tomahawk into the young lady's head, and a bullet into the gentlemans. But in this case he dare not use his tomahawk, though it is just possible he may have used a stick, but the gossip does not say the young lady has had a welting.

"And is the tribe off on a taua, as you call it, on the strength of the possible fact that the husband has thrashed the girl, and is he to be robbed because he has thrash the girl and is to be robbed because he has punished the guilty?"

"No, sir, that's not the way of it at all. The thrashing has nothing to do with it, but it is the custom of these queer people that the girl's relations and friends go and rob the husband."

"The devil it is! then all I can say is, that inscrutable are the ways and customs of the Maori. Explain for goodness sake. Why, here is a man who has the misfortune—the dreadful domestic calamity— of an unfaithful wife, and he is tauaed into the bargain by way of condolence from her relations. Unriddle me this riddle, O sphinx Pama!"

"What the Maories say is this, sir, that if the husband had been kind and good to his wife, and treated her properly, she would not have gone astray therefore it is his fault that she has misbehaved, and they punish him by a taua, and not only him, but his tribe too."

"But you don't mean to say that the tribe submit to be robbed without having a fight for it?"

"Yes I do, sir. You just go and see. If they know beforehand they may hide a lot of things, but if they don't, and the taua is down upon them before they know where they are, you will see them just sitting quietly squatted on the ground on their mats, if they have been able to get hold of them first, and they will sit and never budge an inch whilst the other fellows are helping themselves and walking away with everything they can lay their hands upon."

And so I lifted up my voice and said, "Oh, Horatio! there are--"

Bother the quotation! And why should not the Maories have a strange philosophy?

"E tika ne!" That is true indeed.


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