The Maoris have several theories to explain the process of conception. By some tribes the pregnant state is attributed to the moon-god, who is, as we have already pointed out, “the true husband of all women.” Others believe that during sexual intercourse the male transmits to the female the life-principles (hau and wairua) of the fœtus, the woman being merely the receptacle in which this germ matures. In other cases women are supposed to become enceinte owing to the supernatural influences of certain conception stones, phallic trees, incantations, and magic dolls. Certain Australian tribes (Arunta, Luritcha, and Ilpirra) firmly believe that the child is not the direct result of intercourse, and that at pregnancy the woman becomes “possessed” by an already formed spirit-child, the natural habitations of which are certain gaps in the ranges, and the vicinity of phallic monoliths, such as the Erathilpa Stone, near Alice Springs (C.A.). Maori beliefs are very similar to these. They say the soul or
spirit is created by the gods in the seventh heaven, called autoia (“here the spirits of mortals begin to live”), coming to earth. These spirit-children render women pregnant, and thus assume a material body, or become malignant demons (kahukahu) in the manner described elsewhere.
Another extraordinary explanation of the physiology of impregnation is the following, given to Mr. Best by an aged Tuhoe wahine: “There is,” she said, “a certain substance or organ in woman. This is white outside and reddish-yellow inside. It resembles a bird's egg. A row of these extend from the base of the liver (ate) to the womb. When the husband has connection with his wife a portion of the white substance attracts the semen of the male, and these two substances unite, the male's and the female's, and also a portion of the blood of the paheke (menses), and become one and are enfolded in a part of the white substance, and then develop into a child.” This is probably a Maori perversion of a European story; it is altogether unlikely that such a theory should originate in the native mind.
Phallic Stones.—Sterile Maori women, like Australian aboriginals, Banks Island and Fijian women, were acquainted with phallic or conception stones. One well-known stone of this kind stands on the bank of the Awaroa River, in the Kawhia district, and married women who have had no children perform ceremonies and chant incantations to the atua of this stone that they may become mothers and have children to nurse. Their tradition is that the god Uenukutuwhatu (Rainbow with hailstones) turned himself into a taniwha (water-demon) and then became the above-mentioned stone. In Fiji there are similar stones which the women worship. These monoliths represent the generative principle and procreation, and in many ways resemble in form, and in the mode they are worshipped, the phallus of the Phœnicians, and the similar gods whose worship assumed such offensive forms in ancient Rome, and found vent in the noblest monuments of the Pharaohs.
Phallic Trees.—Mr. Elsdon Best* has recorded some extremely interesting facts concerning certain so-called phallic trees existing in various parts of the North Island of New Zealand. These trees are supposed to have the power of rendering sterile women fruitful. The potency of the conception stone above referred to was apparently attributed to the indwelling god Uenukutuwhatu, but the special functions of these phallic trees were derived from a totally different and unique source. According to Maori cosmogonic myth man and plants are the offspring, by different wives, of the god Tane-nui-a-rangi. The
[Footnote] * “Te Iho-o-kataka.” Auckland Weekly News, 20th Sept., 1899.
birth of the various forest-trees preceded that of the first human being; but trees did not give birth to men, as in the myths of the Hereros, Kaffirs, West Africans, &c. The Ovahereo or Damaras trace their origin to a sacred tree from which were also begotten the Bushmen, oxen, zebras, and all other living things. The Maori recognised, as did the Buddhists, Karens, Ojibways, and other primitive peoples, that trees had what may be called souls, and also that ancestral ghosts, and the souls of gods and demons, might be confined in or take up their abode in trees. In India the doctrine of transmigration “widely and clearly recognises the idea of trees and smaller plants being animated by human souls.” “All over the world, from ancient Egypt to the wigwams of the Algonkins,” says Andrew Lang, “plants are said to have sprung from a dismembered god or hero, while men are said to have sprung from plants.” In Bengal we find the curious custom in certain totem clans of marrying the bride and bridegroom to trees before they are married to each other. The bride touches with red lead a mahwa-tree, clasps it in her arms, and is tied to it. The bridegroom goes through a like ceremony with the mango-tree. This is done possibly with the idea of rendering the union of the couple fruitful, but we have no definite information supporting this theory. The Yarucaris of Bolivia say that a girl once bewailed her loverless estate. She happened to notice a beautiful tree, which she adorned with ornaments as well as she might. The tree assumed the shape of a handsome young man—
She did not find him so remiss,
But, lightly issuing through,
He did repay her kiss for kiss,
With usury thereto.*
The special virtues of the Maori conception trees did not depend on any peculiarity of their growth or species; nor was it attributed to the presence of any god, demon, or ancestral ghost who may have taken up his abode in the tree; nor was the tree regarded as a man or god who had assumed the outward form of a denizen of the forest. Mr. Best regards these trees as phallic symbols, and “evidences that the ancestors of the Maori practised the phallic cult.” That the Maoris in olden times did practise phallic worship cannot be disputed, but there is but little to support the theory that their conception trees were phallic symbols.
The conception trees are thus described by Mr. Best: “The Iho-o-kataka is the name of a famous hinau-tree which stands in the Upper Whakatane Valley, in the land of the Urewera
[Footnote] * J. G. Müller: quoted by A. Lang, “Myth, Ritual, and Religion,' vol. 1, p. 155
Tribe. It holds an important place in the annals of Tuhoeland, inasmuch as it possesses the singular power of rendering barren women fruitful. It came about in this wise: When Kataka, the daughter of Tane-atua, was born in Hawaiki, some seventeen generations ago, Irakewa took the iho (umbilical cord) of the child and came to Aotearoa (New Zealand) on a taniwha (sea-monster), and placed the iho on a hinau-tree near Ohaua. Later on Tane-atua arrived in the Matatua canoe and landed at Whakatane, in the Bay of Plenty. And it chanced that when Taneatua, while travelling in the interior, sat him down to rest beneath that tree and stretched forth his hand to pluck some berries therefrom, what was his surprise to hear a voice say, “Do not eat me, for I am the iho of Kataka, your child.” Upon hearing the voice Tane-atua refrained from eating the fruit of the hinau, and he then took the iho of another of his children and inserted it at the base of the tree (or suspended it on the tree), at the same time repeating this incantation:—
Ko whakairihia ahau
Ko whakato tamariki ahau.
(“I am here suspended that I may cause children to be conceived.”) ‘This is how this tree became possessed of the power of causing children to be born into the world. And the name of that tree has ever since been Te Iho-o-kataka, and the iho of our children have always been hung up in the same tree, even unto the days of the pakeha (white man). And before being hung up the iho is wrapped up in aute or raukawa (the paper-mulberry and Panax edgerleyi, a scented shrub), and bound round with aka (a climbing plant).
When a woman is pukup (barren) she goes to the hinau-tree and embraces it. But great care must be taken to comply with the due ceremonies, so she is accompanied by a priest, who during the performance repeats the necessary incantations. If she embraces the taha tane, or male side, that towards the rising sun, the issue will be a male; and a daughter is produced by embracing the female side (taha wahine), that facing the setting sun. The sex of the child is determined by the side embraced by the would-be mother.
The tohunga or medicine-man who revealed these secrets thus concluded his narrative: “Friend,” said he, “there are two men, Pahi and Ramarahi, now living at Rotorua, who were born through the influence of this tree.”
“Te Hunahuna-a-po is the name of another phallic tree, which stands close to the Horomanga Creek, some six miles from Galatea. According to the Ngatimanawa account this tree is also a hina, and has one dry side and one green. Should a wahine pukupa go to this tree to test its virtues, she closes her
eyes afar off, and approaches in that manner. She is very careful as to the manner in which she draws near to the talismanic hinau. ‘Kia kaua e haere Maori noa iho.’ She embraces the tree for a considerable time, and then, with her eyes still closed. she turns her back to the tree, that she may not see the part she has embraced. But it is not unknown to the priest who is watching her as to which side she has clasped. If she embraces the living side of the tree, then will she surely bear a child; but if the dry or dead side, no child will come to gladden her. There is a person living at Galatea who was born through the power (mana) of this tree, and his name is Te Ai-ra-te-hinau.”
Te Puta-tieke, a pukatea-tree near Opotiki, is also endowed with the same virtue.
The Maoris compare the placenta (ewe, whenua, puwhenua) to the earth, “the land of one's birth,” “exhausted land,” from which springs uho or iho, the umbilical cord, which appears to have been compared to the trunk of a tree (?) (cf. uho, the heart wood of a tree, the stem or kernel of fruit; tara-uho, the heart of a tree; iho, the heart of a tree, that wherein the strength of a thing consists), or to the long, fibrous root of a tree or shrub (cf. tangaengae, the navel-string; the middle part of the fibrous root aka). Tangaengae (myth) is a spirit standing at almost the lowest point of creation and helping to sustain the universe, the child being the fruit of the tree. At birth the placenta is carefully destroyed by burning, burial, or being thrown into the river or sea. This is done to prevent hostile sorcerers securing it and using it as a “bait” with which to kill or make sick the mother or child by sympathetic magic. The iho was also sometimes buried in a sacred place, and over it was planted a young sapling, either a ngaio (Myoporum lœtum), karaka (Corynocarpus lœvigata), or kahikatea tree (Podocarpus dacrydioides), which, as it grew, was he tohu oranga (a sign of life) for the child.* The umbilical cord of a chief's son was often placed under a stone or on a tree at the boundary of the tribal lands to maintain and strengthen the tribal influence over such a boundary. The iho of children of many succeeding generations might be placed in the same spot. The iho was sometimes placed in a tree, and that place would ever after be known as “the iho of So-and-so.” At Te Ariki is a tree in which the iho of a priest's child was placed, and the hole closed with a piece of precious greenstone. The latter addition enhanced the mana of the iho.†
Thus it is clear that the iho, or umbilical cord, was regarded by the Maori as being a structure of very great importance, being
[Footnote] * “Te Ika a Maui,” Taylor, p. 74.
[Footnote] † “Notes on some Customs and Superstitions of the Maori,” Best, Trans. Austr. Assoc. Adv. Sci., 1898.
severed at birth with much ceremony and priestly incantation, and afterwards carefully deposited in some special spot or common tribal repository. The iho was apparently supposed to retain part of the vital essence of the child from which it was taken, and this would influence the growth of a tree planted over it, or endue the object or place of its lodgment with mystic powers (mana). The tree Te Iho-o-kataka clearly gained its supernatural power from the iho of Kataka, the daughter of Taneatua, but it is not clear how the iho was regarded in this case. Possibly the umbilical cord attracted child-spirits desirous of becoming embodied in the fruit of the root or stem (iho) on which children grow. If so, naturally trees in which the iho of all the children of the tribe were hung would swarm with the unborn souls of children waiting for a suitable opportunity to render a woman pregnant, and thus pass from a spirit to a material sphere of existence.*
There seems to be no ground for regarding these conception trees as phallic symbols. For we have already pointed out that the Maori did not generally attribute conception to sexual intercourse, (?) but to supernatural influences. Te Iho-o-kataka gained mana from the iho of a female child, and it is owing to some obscure supernatural attributes of the iho, and not of the ure or tawhito, that this tree can make barren women conceive.(?)
“Another method of rendering barren women fruitful is by means of the magic rite called whakato tamariki (whaka, a causa tive prefix; to, pregnant).† The efficacy of this strange sorcery is still believed in by many of the natives still living. The sterility is overcome by the supernatural power of the all-powerful priest-physician, who would give his patient directions how to act. First she must obtain a handful of the fragrant grass termed karetu (Hierochloe redolens), and insert therein a portion of paraheka or tatea (semen and preputial secretion). This she hands to the tohunga, who takes it to the wai karakia or sacred pool of the village. There he performs his peculiar rite, singing over the bunch of grass the following karakia to cause the woman's sterility to leave her and to make her conceive:—
Ka whakato au i a koe ki a papa-tuanuku
Kia puta mai a papa-tuarangi
Kia niwha i roto i a koe
Kia puta mai i roto i a koe
Ko wairua whai ao
Ko wairua tangata
Ko Tu-kaniwha, ko Tu-ka-riri
Ko Tu whai ao
[Footnote] * This is not the native idea.—E. B.
[Footnote] † This item is from the Tuhoe Tribe,—E. B.
Kia puta i roto ko Tu-mata-uenga
Kia mau ki te rakau
To rakau poto, to rakau roa
I puta ana mai
Ko Wahieroa na Tawhaki
Ka horohoroa i unga
Ka horohoroa i raro
Ka puta ana ki waho ko Te Hapu-oneone
Ka whanau i roto i a te hapu
Na Tiki-nui, no Tiki-roa, na Tiki-apoa
Na Tiki-tahito, na Tiki-hou
Ka pa ki te ruahine
I a kahau ki waho
I a kahau ki uta
I a kahau matire rau.
“The above is the form of karakia used should a male child be desired. If a female child is wanted, then, instead of the name Rongo-ma-tane, that of Rongo-mai-wahine is inserted, and the lines following it are altered so as to apply to a female, whose labours were dedicated to Hine-te-waiwa—that is, to weaving and the various domestic duties. Male children were dedicated to the service of Tu, the god of war.
“When the marriage feast, known as the kai kotore,* was held, the priest recited over the young couple an invocation called ohaoha, in order to preserve their physical and spiritual welfare, as also to cause the woman to be fruitful. It often happened that the bride's sisters would decline to eat of the food of the particular oven termed the umu kotore, which was prepared for such relatives only, lest they should become sterile (koi purua).”
A sterile Maori woman sometimes made a whaka-pakoko-whare or small house, (?) adorned it with the family treasures, treated it with great reverence, and saluted it with endearing terms. This image, often a mere doll, she nursed in the hopes of becoming fruitful. They also, it is said, repeated special incantations, called uruuruawa, for the cure of barrenness. The Tuhoe natives called the images above referred to whaka-pakoko, a word meaning “image.” This image was in human form, and usually made of wood. In some cases a stone was so dressed and carried by the childless woman, and even potatoes were sometimes so utilised. Mr. Best knew a woman who, being barren, used to nurse a young pig in her arms, as a substitute. Wherever she went the little pig accompanied her, sometimes carried in her arms, at others it would be seen trotting along behind her. Fashionable women in Paris and New York similarly carry puppies and monkeys. It has been stated that the whaka-pakoko were regarded as gods, and also that they were carried
[Footnote] * See Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxxvi.
in order to cause the bearers to conceive. The Tuhoe natives, however, seem to have nursed them merely as the result of the unsatisfied maternal instinct. Women who nursed and petted these singular objects were wont to compose and sing songs (oriori) or lullabies over them. precisely as they did to children
Where ngaro is an expression implying the death of all the children of a couple, leaving them without offspring. This affliction of a whare ngaro, or lost house, is said to be caused by the evil influence of ancestral spirits, or is attributed to makutu (sorcery). When parents lost by death their first child they would go to the tohunga and have the tu ora (or kawa ora) rite performed over their second child, in order that the threatened whare ngaro might be averted and the child survive.
Maori women attribute sterility to the habitual use of fermented food, in the form of maize which has been steeped in water until putrid. This is purely a native idea, and one which they consider is confirmed by the fact that fewer fertile women are found among tribes where this food is a favourite article of diet. Consanguineous marriages are also productive of sterility, and Dr. Batty Tuke many years ago visited a pa (fortified village) on the Wanganui River, named Marakowhai, where out of a population of two hundred inhabitants only two fertile females were to be found. That sterility is frequently the result of consanguinity may be deduced from the fact that in many cases where childless women have subsequently formed connections with Europeans, large and healthy families have resulted. Prior to the advent of the whites, early and excessive venery was an important etiological factor, and after the arrival of the whaling fleets was added the potent influence of venereal diseases.
In 1845 Count Strzelecki* expressed the opinion “that when an aboriginal (Australian) female had had a child to a European, she lost her power of conception by a male of her own race, but could produce children by a white man.” Dr. Sarsfield Cassidy,† in a paper read before the members of the New South Wales Medical Council in 1898, supports Count Strzelecki's assertion, and declared that “it had been proved, by overwhelming evidence, that a healthy aboriginal male and female cannot beget children should the female have lived with, and borne children to, a white man.” Strzelecki's statement was generally believed years ago, and a recent medical work ‡ states that the Count “believed this to be the case with many aboriginal races; but it has been disputed, or at all events proved to be by no means a universal law, in every case except that of the aborigines of Australia and
[Footnote] * “Physical History of New South Wales.”
[Footnote] † Journ. Trop. Med., vol. i., p. 141.
[Footnote] ‡ “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine,” Gould and Pyle, p. 89.
New Zealand.” Thomson,* however, knew several instances of Maori women having children with men of their own race after having had children by Europeans. And Professor Stirling† and Mr. Taplin have abundantly proved that Australian native women may have a large family of black children after having had one or more half-caste children. Thus it may be justly concluded that this idea is now entirely exploded, and the reverse a matter of notoriety.
The Maoris. whose whole life was so much influenced by omens, had several concerning pregnancy. For instance, if a newly married man, while sleeping sound at night, beholds lying on the ground human skulls ornamented with feathers, he awakes with the assurance that his wife will soon conceive. If the feathers are those of the huia bird, it is a sign that the child will be a girl; if those of the kotuku (a white crane), the dream prognosticates a male child.
The Australian woman when pregnant must not eat kangaroo, or eels, or birds. Melanesian women are afraid to eat double bananas when pregnant lest they should give birth to twins. Maori women, however, have all their longings and fancies gratified, in as far as food is concerned, during pregnancy; if she desires eels, or wild-turnips, or shell-fish, or what not, her whim is gratified, but not from any idea, such as prevails in Europe, that non-gratification of such would result in some evil or deformity to the child.
The pregnant Maori woman did not, like her Fijian sister, habitually take medicine during pregnancy to prevent irregularities during labour, or to facilitate the birth of the child; nor was she massaged for some months, as was the Tokelau woman, prior to the commencement of labour. Kava, and a special medicine called wai-ni-lutu-vata, or medicine for simultaneous birth, were taken in Fiji, and the woman was subjected to a curious manipulation, a form of vakasilima, to insure a rapid labour. The Maori had no knowledge of such methods of treating or preventing morbid parturition: if Nature failed her she had little to fall back on beyond the incantations of the tohunga. The only medicine they knew of for facilitating labour, and this was only occasionally used, was the nikau (Areca sapida). The pith of this palm was cooked and eaten for a few weeks by expectant mothers, it having the property of slightly relaxing the bowels, and is reputed to relax the pelvic ligaments.
“In former times, when a woman was rapou (pregnant for the first time), she sometimes lived apart from others, but not in all cases. Still, she would be under certain restrictions and rules
[Footnote] * Brit. and For. Med.-Chir. Rev., vol. xv., p. 524.
[Footnote] † Rept. Hom. Exped. Cent. Austr., vol. IV., p. 129.
during such period. For instance, she was not allowed to have her hair cut, lest the child be rehe (rehe = korehe = pukiki = stunted). She might take a dislike to certain foods, or, as the Maori puts it, the child might be afraid of certain foods, and hence the pregnant woman would also take a dislike to such foods, and decline to partake of them. On the other hand, she might desire, or yearn (kumaˇmaˇ) for certain foods, which would probably be procured for her.” (Tuhoe.)
“If she should desire birds, and these are procured for her, and she eats of the wings, neck, &c., only, it is known that the child she bears is a male. But if she eats the body of the bird, then, it is said, the child is a female. A red or flushed face in a pregnant woman also denotes that the child she bears is a female. If a pregnant woman nurses the child of another woman and the child within her moves, she knows that her own child is of the opposite sex to the child she is nursing. If a whe (the mantis insect) is seen upon a woman it is a sign that she has conceived, and, according to which kind of whe it is, people know whether the child is male or female.”
“If a woman desires to bear a male child, having possibly already borne several female children, she will make it her business to be near when a birth takes place in the neighbourhood. If the child, when born, is a male, she will obtain the whenua, or placenta, and proceed to piki it—that is, she will stand over it for a while, with a foot on either side of it. This singular act, termed piki whenua, is also had recourse to by barren women.” (Tuhoe.)
“Sometimes, though rarely, a ceremony was performed, and karakia repeated over a woman, in order to render her sterile, that she might cease to bear children. Paora Horomata, a Tuhoe tohunga, was a famous adept at this rite, known as whakapa, but the karakia used by him was not ancient, being a part of the ritual of Hauhauism of modern times. His method is said to have been effective. Women who were tired of bearing children and wished to have no more would go to him when near lying-in, so that they might give birth to the child at or near his home. He would be summoned at the birth of the child, and would take some of the blood lost during the separation of the placenta; this blood he would throw into a small fire he himself kindled, repeating at the same time his karakia. By this means his patient was prevented from any further conception. He used no medicines in his method.” (Tuhoe.)