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Volume 28, 1895
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Art. VII.—The Ceremony of Rahui.

[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 12th August 1895.]

I have several attempts to gain information on this now obsolete custom of rahui—one time practised by the Polynesian peoples—both privately and also by a short article published some time back in the Magazine of the Polynesian Society, but have been unsuccessful in persuading any person to take the subject in hand. This being the case, I am left to work out a theory of my own, which is the subject of this paper. It is a thousand pities that no person having time and opportunity to investigate and work out the history of this remarkable custom should have inquired thereon some years ago, previous to the death of the witness Noa Huke, whose evidence is quoted herein:—

Rahui.—In the case Airini Donnelly v. Broughton, published in the supplement of the Hawke's Bay Herald, Napier, 26th March, 1892, the witness Noa Huke says, “The whole of this block [of land] from Te Whanga to Puketitiri and Titiokura, at Mohaka, was affected. That land was given to Te Rangika-mangungu and Tutura. They went and put up rahuis all

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over it. At Puketitiri, Piko (a man) was the rahui; at Oingo (Hauhau) was Kauhourangi, another man. The whole of the land was thus made sacred, even the eel-weirs.” In the evidence of another witness, referring to a different portion of the land, some chiefs “impaled a woman there.” These points were specially dwelt on by Sir Robert Stout in his summary of the evidence. But no explanation was given as to what this ceremony consisted of, neither was it shown in what manner the above-named men were ultilised as rahui.

Of myself, I see no reason to doubt that these unfortunate men were buried at the foot of posts erected at certain places, perhaps even when still alive, or were lashed to the posts by the sacred cord; this being done to increase the tapu of those places, and to prevent by this tapu the removal of such posts at any future date.

In Tregear's Maori-Polynesian Dictionary is given, “Rahui —To protect by a rahuii.e., by a mark set up; to prohibit persons from taking birds, fruit, &c., or to prevent them from trespassing on lands, &c, made tapu.” For good instances of tribal rahui, see “Maori Customs and Traditions,” by John White, bound up with “History and Traditions of the Maori,” by T. W. Gudgeon.

We find the following definitions in a Paumotuan dictionary by E. Tregear: “Rahui—A defence, forbidden; Maori, rahui, to prohibit; Hawaiian, lahui, to forbid.”

In “Traditions and Superstitions of the New-Zealanders,” Dr. Shortland, at page 316, gives whaka-ihi, he tapu, he rahui, as of the one meaning. At page 265: “Having matured his plans, Heke came suddenly, cut down the obnoxious flagstaff without opposition, and then went home again. Afterwards, when Governor Fitzroy set up a new one, Heke appealed to this act as a further argument in support of his cause. ‘See,’ said he, ‘the flagstaff does mean a taking-possession, or why else should they persist in re-erecting it?’ This remark referred to a common practice in New Zealand—namely, that of setting up a post on a spot of land which any one desires to claim as his own. When two tribes contest the right to any place, one of them will set up their post, their antagonists will soon after come and cut it down; but, probably, either party will take care not to meet the other on the disputed ground till the post has been cut down and re-erected several times; when, if neither party will yield, the dispute at last ends in a fight.”

Nothing is said here as to utilising a man as a rahui; and this remarkable evidence of Noa Huke remains unaccounted for. Will none of our members of the Hawke's Bay Institute search this matter out before those who might explain are alike “gathered to their fathers”?

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There are four place - names in the district which may possibly owe their origin to the aforesaid setting-up of rahui on the land, two of which—Puketitiri and Titiokura—were mentioned by Noa Huke. The other two are Waititirau, the site on which stands Mr. J. H. Coleman's house, and Wakatu, or, as I suppose it to be rightly spelt, Whakatu, near Tomoana.

The name Puke-titi-ri has no reference to the bird titi, a large petrel, generally spoken of as the “mutton-bird.” Different varieties of these petrels are often heard and dimly seen when passing overhead on a summer evening in the gloaming on the way from the sea to their nests in holes excavated in the light pumice soil of the mountain-ranges far inland—possibly a distance of forty miles or more. They mostly travel in pairs, somewhat apart, and must return again to the sea before daylight, yet I have never detected them on the return journey. These birds also nest in great numbers on the small islands near the Bluff, Southland, and also those near Stewart Island.

The Southern Maoris visit the islands each season and collect the young birds from the nests, at which time they are extremely fat. They are partially cooked, and then packed away in the large bladder-like portions of a kelp or coarse seaweed, and are, as it were, imbedded in their own fat, which aids in their preservation. This industry is a yearly harvest to the southern Maori.

To return to my subject: We have Puke, “a hill”; titi, “of the setting-up”; ri, “of the mark” which no person dare to pass over. Surely this must be one of the places where rahui was set up. Why are we unable to discover the exact spot where this special rahui was erected? The second word mentioned by Noa Huke was Titiokura, which divides thus: Titi, “the setting-up”; o “of”; kura. This word kura has a variety of meanings, as “red in colour,” “a wreath or head-dress,” &c.; and the painting the posts supporting a house with red-ochre was a symbol indicating the tapu or sacredness of such building. We find the word Whare-kura used by the Polynesians to denote the sacred building where the young priest-chiefs (ariki) were taught mythology, history, agriculture, astronomy, &c. This house was very tapu: no women were allowed to come near it, food was cooked at a distance and brought by special messengers. I have no doubt kura in this instance was an allusion to the chief supports of the building being painted red, as an indication of its sacred character.

In support of this theory I quote the following from “Traditions of the New-Zealanders,” by Dr. Shortland (page 112): “In former days the huts used in travelling by sacred

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persons were always distinguished by their posts being daubed with red-ochre, to prevent the law of tapu being inadvertently broken; and for the same reason sacred persons painted their bodies and clothes with the same red substance, that they might leave a mark behind them where they rested.”

I think we may safely conclude that the name Titiokura was given to that place at the setting-up of rahui there. Waititirau is rather a difficult word to decide upon. Some might take it thus: Wai, “the water”; titi, “of the mutton-birds”; rau, “in number a hundred.” But, taking the evidence of the two place-names already deciphered, it seems that we may safely claim it as a site of a rahui, making it Wai, “the water” (near which); titi, “was set up”; tirau, “the peg”: or, “the water of the sticking-in of the peg.” In this word I suppose that there should originally have been a third repetition of the syllable ti, as Wai-titi-tirau, and so including the terminal tirau, “a peg.”

My fourth name, Whakatu, would seem to be related to the remarkable word tutututu, “to stand erect”; and is a compound of whaka, which is called a prefixed causative, and mostly indicates “to cause,” or “to make to do”: therefore, Whakatu means, “to cause to stand”; or, more correctly, “to erect or set up; a place where something was erected or set up”; and in all probability indicates “the place where rahui was set or put up.” It is not reasonable to make waka, “a canoe,” tu, “standing erect,” as the original meaning of the name.

Dr. Shortland says, “The word tapu is used in the same sense in the Sandwich Islands, in the Society Islands, and, as far as is known, in the other islands of Polynesia. It is probably derived from the word ta, ‘to mark,’ and pu, an adverb of intensity. The compound word tapu, therefore, means no more than ‘marked thoroughly,’ and only came to signify ‘sacred’ or ‘prohibited’ in a secondary sense, because sacred things and places were commonly marked in a peculiar manner, in order that every one might know that they were sacred. The fundamental law on which all their superstitious restrictions depend is that if anything tapu is permitted to come in contact with food, or with any vessel or place where food is ordinarily kept, such food must not afterwards be eaten by any one, and such vessel or place must no longer be devoted to its ordinary use, the food, vessel, or place becoming tapu from the instant of its contact with an object already tapu.”—(“Traditions and Superstitions of the New-Zealanders,” page 101.)

At first sight I was taken with the likeness of the placename Motiti (“Flat Island” of Cook) to those mentioned above, and even thought that it might mean “the place of

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the mutton-bird” (petrel); but on further consideration it became apparent that the word Motiti was an abbreviation for Motu-iti, “the small island.” Such being the case, we have here a warrant to suppose that certain other place-names may also be clipped or shortened—notably, the name Wai-titi-rau, already spoken of as originally in its full significance being Wai-titi-tirau.

At the same time, it may be that this name has been imperfectly written and understood by the pakeha. Possibly it might be Wai-titiro, “the water of looking at”—i.e., a looking-glass to reflect the image of a person—or “the place of the distant view.” As I am unacquainted with this spot, and its position or history, this question must be left open, and might be decided by some one consulting the Maoris in that district.

A remarkable use of the word rahui, together with a tragical incident of early pakeha days, is given by Dr. Shortland in “Traditions and Superstitions of the New-Zealanders,” page 234:—

“In the more lawless and savage days of the New-Zealanders a trading vessel came into the harbour of Tauranga to purchase a cargo of flax…. No cargo was at the time procurable, and the captain was persuaded by one of the chiefs of Ngapuhi Tribe to take his ship to Whakatane, about forty miles distant, being led to believe he would there obtain plenty of flax without any difficulty. The chief sent one of his men in the vessel, ostensibly as a guide, but he was really the bearer of a message as fatal as that contained in the letter given to Bellerophon, for it was a hint to the chief of Whakatane to seize the vessel and all the property in it.

“The Ngapuhi chief knew that he could attempt nothing against this ship while at Tauranga, for it was there under the protection of the natives of the place, who carried on a profitable trade with foreigners, which would have been ruined completely by an act of violence. He therefore conceived the idea of making both ship and cargo a present to the less scrupulous natives of Whakatane, in order that he might claim a share of the spoil. The captain fell into the trap, and, attempting to defend his vessel, he and his crew were all killed, and the vessel was then plundered and destroyed.

“A secret is seldom, if ever, well kept by the people of this country. With the news of the fate of the unfortunate ship, its cause, and the very words of the message, ‘Tenei tou rahui poaka,’ were reported at Tauranga…. Nini, after expressing his resentment against the perpetrators of the deed, demanded of the chief of Ngapuhi, who was present, if it was true that he had sent the message to Whakatane which led to the catastrophe. The chief did not deny it. ‘Then,’ said

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Nini, ‘you shall be payment for the white men’; and with these words he shot him.”

This message Dr. Shortland translates, “Behold a herd of pigs made sacred for you.” This is incorrect, as giving the double meanings of rahui, “a herd,” and also “made sacred,” which is impossible. The literal translation is, Tenei, “here”; tou, “thy”; rahui, “herd”; poaka, “of pigs”: or, the other sense would be, “Here thy pigs made sacred.” Now, if they were under the protection of a rahui, would not ship and crew have been safe from harm?