The Story of Houmea, a Female Thief: a very ancient Tale.
Here is the narration concerning a certain female thief; the name of that woman was Houmea, and she was a very extraordinary person, a pest. The name of her husband was Uta.
One day her husband went out to sea in his canoe* to catch fish for himself and his wife and their two children; the name of one was Tuta-
[Footnote] * Here, throughout (as has been before observed, “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., p.), only the persons themselves immediately concerned are mentioned; but it should be understood there were plenty of others,—plebeians, etc. A chief, for instance, could not go out alone to the deep sea-fishing in a large canoe.
whake, and of the other Nini. The husband went out a long distance to fish, and having caught a plenty he paddled back to the shore; on landing he waited some time for his wife to come down to the canoe, to fetch the fish he had caught;* but she did not come. At last he walked to their village, and said to his wife, “O mother! mother! there was I on the beach long waiting for thee, but thou didst not come forth!” On hearing this, Houmea replied, “O, sir, it is entirely owing to the disobedience of these two children.” Then Houmea went down to the sea-shore to the sandy beach, to fetch the fish, and when she got to the canoe, she swallowed all the fish,—every one went into her own stomach, being devoured by her. This feat done, she went to pull up bushes of coarse sedgy plants, and of sow-thistles, which she brought on to the sands, and dragged and scattered them about; she also made big and small footsteps of her own footmarks, and trod all over the beach, and greatly trampled and tore it up, that it might be inferred a marauding-party had been there and stolen the fish. This done, she returned to the village, quite out of breath, sighing and panting; and said to her husband, “O sir, alas! there are no fish left, the fruits of thy fishing! have they been taken away (quietly) by men,—or by a marauding party,—or by thieves?” Then the husband said, “Who, I should like to know, can that thievish people be? here residing near the dwellings of men.”† When Houmea rejoined, “The numberless multitudes of imps.”‡ To this remark her husband replied, “Perhaps so.” Then they all went to rest.
[Footnote] * Or, as the mistress, to superintend the taking them to the village; the distribution, etc.
[Footnote] † Meaning,—well able to protect their own property.
[Footnote] Many are the stories—curious, droll, and interesting—related of these little folks,—“imps,” elves, goblins, or fairies. I have never yet been able to decide, what particular English, German, or European term to give them as an equivalent. They are said to swarm in countless numbers; (see Story of Uenuku (supra), and Tawheta's figurative and proverbial expression respecting them (p. 13); and to be just as ready to do good to men in difficulty, as to do mischief. Indeed it is said, in some of their old Myths, that it was from those little cunning beings that the Maoris learnt the art of making nets. Their various relations concerning them have always served to remind me of Gulliver's active Lilliputians. They were found, also, in the depths of the forests, as well as on the sea-sands,—though rarely ever seen by men. Mr. Locke tells me that when he was engaged in surveying for the Government at Portland Island (Hawke's Bay), the older Maoris residing there assured him that they had often in the early morning seen the countless footsteps of those imps on the sandy shore, by the sides of the fresh-water streamlet, where they had been holding their night revels. They bore different names (family or generic) among the old Maoris; which may also mean a difference in kind, dispositions, powers, etc.
In the morning, early, he again went out on the sea in his canoe to fish, and having caught a quantity paddled back to the shore; there he waited a long time for the woman (or wife), Houmea, to come down to fetch the fish he had caught, but finding she did not come, he went on to the village; and, entering, said to her, “O, mother, mother! am I to remain ever on the sands? there was I waiting for thee, and thou didst not appear; nor, indeed, hast thou done any thing at all!” (i.e., towards preparing for my return). Then Houmea arose, and went forth, and when she got to the canoe, she swallowed all the fish! But, on her going thither, her husband had sent their two children to watch her, and when they got there (within sight but hidden), they saw her swallowing the fish. So those children returned running to their father, and said to him, “O sir, O sir! it was verily Houmea herself who swallowed the caught fish of thy canoe!” Shortly after this Houmea returned to the village, panting and blowing, and said to her husband, “Never a single scrap was there left in thy canoe of all the fish thou didst catch! All have been taken away by some man or other.” Then her husband replied, “O lady-daughter! who, indeed, is that man thou speakest of? The children were verily there, and on their looking-out they saw thee—thy own very self—swallowing the fishes of my canoe.” On hearing this she was overwhelmed with shame; nevertheless she strove hard at her own proper work, winding about, doubling and equivocating, that her theft of fish-stealing might be wholly concealed. In addition thereto she also loudly said, that she was guiltless of this charge, for she had never known anything whatever of crime, whether of adultery or of stealing the food of any man; (therefore, was she likely to begin now?) And then she also said to herself, within her heart, concerning her children, “All right and straight, no doubt, your doings, but I'll equal them yet!”
On another morning, after this, the father went again out to sea in his canoe to fish, and when his canoe had got out to the fishing-ground and had anchored there, Houmea said to one of her children, “O child, go for some water for us, we are all very thirsty;” and so the child went. Then she called to the other of her children, saying, “O child, come hither to me, that the lice (of thy head) may be caught and killed.”* So this child went to her, and squatted down by her, and she caught some lice, and then she swallowed the child whole down into her stomach! Just afterwards the other child returned with the water, and this one was also swallowed up by her. Verily the two children were thus destroyed by her, swallowed
[Footnote] * The head of a chief's child being rigidly tapu (tabooed, or sacred), could only be touched by a tapu person, and so with its vermin; through which the poor children were often great sufferers.
alive, within her own stomach there to dwell! By-and-bye the canoe with her husband returned from the fishing. On his coming into the village he found her groaning audibly, while the big flies were also buzzing in numbers about her lips. On seeing this the husband said, “O mother dear, art thou ill?” She replied, “Yes, very much so.” Then he rejoined, “Where (within) is the demon (atua), that is now gnawing thee?” She replied, “Within my stomach, within my bowels.” Then he said to her, “Wherever can the children be, as they are not here present?” To this she replied, “Gone away somewhere, from the early morning; wherever can they be, wherever can they possibly be!” Then he closely examined her lips, and having done so, he recited a powerful spell: these are the words of that spell:—
——“Attack, strike end on, hit away upwards, turn (it), ward (it) off on one side; cause the food swallowed by the big cormorant* to be disgorged without; (let it) be open, clear; the obstruction is already uplifted by the charm, the obstruction is now securely noosed in a running loop of flax and carried off,—that is to say, the obstruction hindering (or confining) Tutawhake.”
At the close of those words, lo! out of her mouth came those two children she had swallowed; Tutawhake bearing a carved staff of rank (taiaha), and Nini bearing a spear (huata.) And this is the tale of old concerning the woman who was both a thief and a murderess of her own children.
[Footnote] * Graculus varius.