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Volume 38, 1905
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How The Maori Dies.

As a rule the Maori meets death calmly and without betraying fear, but not cheerfully. (Who does?) He had no belief in any future state of happiness, in any realm of peace where the spirits of the dead abide amid either sensual, social, or intellectual pleasures; no spiritual happiness and contentment awaited him after death. His mentality had not evolved any form of belief in judgment of the soul after death, in any system of reward or punishment in the spirit-world for virtuous conduct or sins committed while in the flesh. Hence he had no fear of future punishment, of suffering in the next world for sins committed in the world of life. No priest terrorised imaginative minds with threats of awful sufferings after death, or demanded any form of payment for services rendered in averting such sufferings. To state, however, that the Maori possessed no system of ethology, as some writers have done, is quite wrong. His moral code differed considerably from our own, hence, with Western obtuseness, we cannot grasp it, or even recognise it. To discover and study that system you must examine the working of the laws of the tapu cult, the intricacies of which have never yet been fully explained by any writer. Sin to the Maori was invariably connected with some infringement of tapu. No man in olden times was allowed to take part in any sacred or important undertaking until his mind, or heart, had been purified by means of a very singular and sacred religious rite, which imparted to him moral, mental, and intellectual cleanliness. In the days that lie before we will endeavour to explain these matters.

The old-time Maori generally met death bravely on the battle-field, even when put to torture by enemies. When dying from disease or natural decay they do so calmly, and even in an apa-

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thetic manner. One does not notice in the Maori so situated any of the keen desire and struggle to live so often noticed among white people. His mind is too deeply imbued with fatalism for that. When stricken with illness, real or imaginary, the gloom of Te Po seems to already envelop him. More especially is this noticeable when a Native believes that he has been bewitched. Once let him get this idea fixed in his mind and his doom is sealed; he will surely die ere long. I have known such cases in this district during the past few years.

When a person fell ill he was almost invariably taken a little way from the village, and either a miserable shed of brush or palm-leaves erected over him, or he was simply left in the open. He would not be allowed to die in his house, on account of the intense tapu which pertained to death. If he did so, then the house could no longer be used, for it would be tapu, and would simply be left to decay. In former days, when fighting was of common occurrence, it often happened that a fortified village would be deserted on account of the blood of its occupants having been spilt there while defending the same against an enemy. In such a case, if no local priest was deemed sufficiently high in his profession to lift the tapu from the blood-stained defences, then the garrison deserted that place and built another fort elsewhere. When Te Kanapa and others were shot at the Mana-tepa Fort, at Ruatahuna, in the early forties, that strong-hold was deserted by the garrison on account of blood having been shed therein. The forts known as Te Tawai and Te Kape, in the same valley, were deserted on account of certain people having been buried therein.

For the reasons above stated, the Maori usually died in the open air. When death was seen to be near, the sufferer was generally carried to the marae, or plaza, of the village, and there laid on some mats on the ground, either without covering (if fine weather) or with but a rude shed over him, which shed would probably be open at the sides. At the present time a tent is usually used for the purpose. But often they die absolutely in the open.

In many cases when nearing his end a person would say that he would die at a certain stated time, which he usually contrived to do. The people of his village, as also others, probably, from adjacent settlements, would gather at such time on the plaza before the dying man's couch and there await his dying words—i.e., his advice, injunctions, behests, &c., as also his farewell greeting to his tribe. Such speeches are termed “oha,” “poroaki,” or “poroporoaki.”

When old Whakamoe lay sick unto death by the shores of Waikare-moana, a Native Land Commission was expected to

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soon arrive at that place. The old man informed his people that he would not die until he had welcomed the Commissioners. Days ran into weeks, and the Europeans had not yet arrived. But Whakamoe clung to life, and kept his word; for one morning the waiting people saw canoes crowded with people leave the dark shadows under Huiarau and glide across the calm, bright waters of the rippling sea. When the visitors—European and Native—marched into the village plaza the world-weary old warrior was waiting for them. He lay on his last couch, on the ground, his relatives near him, and then was heard his voice uttering the old-time greetings of the Maori people as he welcomed the visitors from the outer world and the vale of Ruatahu-na. After this greeting he addressed his tribesmen, advising them as to how to conduct their affairs, and commending the visitors to their care and hospitality. And then he bade farewell to his people, and so fared forth upon the great unknown ocean, like the children of Pani of old.

A Native prefers to die in the open air: He mihi ki te ao marama te take. Ka mihi ia ki te ao marama ka whakarerea e ia. The reason is, he likes to greet the world of life and being. He greets the world he is about to leave. If a sick person asks to be taken out into the open, that is viewed as a sign of death being near. Sometimes, however, a person is not brought out thus into the open. The passing-away of a person, the last hour, is termed “whakahemohemo.” But even if a person died under shelter, yet the body would be exposed in the marae (plaza, court) after death for the mourning ceremonies, the lying-in-state—of which more anon. In the case of persons of low birth (ware), many rites and customs were omitted. He was a nobody, a person of no importance. But little ceremony pertained to the death of a ware.

Sometimes when a person of importance was nigh unto death a human sacrifice would be made. One of his relatives would slay a person as a “koangaumu,” as it is termed, the body being known as an “ika koangaumu” (sacrificial fish, or victim). The idea was an exaltation of the sick person. The body of the sacrifice was eaten, a portion of the flesh being given to the invalid. It is said that the act of slaying a person would serve the purpose of allaying the grief of the sick person's relatives, who expected soon to lose him.

The Maoris believe in omens innumerable. Signs of coming disaster, as a defeat in battle, or the death of a chief, are numberless. If a comet (known as “Tu-nui-a-te-ika”) was seen, persons would ask, “Who is the striken one?”—for such was a sign of death. Some tribes or clans had tribal or family banshees, such as Hine-ruarangi, of the Ngati-Whare people.

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These omens will not be inserted here, on account of their excessive number. Also, many of them have been published already in my paper on “Omens and Superstitions of the Maori.”*

We will now attend the bedside of the dying Maori and see how he fares when caught in the “snare of Hine-nui-te-Po,” as the saying has it. We will note his thoughts regarding death and the spirit-world; we will look with his eyes on strange rites, and stand by the priest who aids his soul to quit the wrecked body; we will follow him to the underworld and commune with the gods of Hades: and you shall see a man who dies calmly, and in times of stress—as under torture—bravely. For his mind has not been terrorised for long centuries by pictures of eternal suffering after death. His priests, in one respect, could teach us one grand lesson. He has not been taught to fear the here-after.

The end is near. The sick person has been carried to the plaza of the village home or fort; his relatives and friends are gathered here to hear his last words. If he be an important person, practically the whole tribe are present—at least, all those dwelling near by—though I have seen Natives travel forty miles over rough bush trails to see their chief die and to hear his last words. If he had been taken ill away from home his relatives would carry him thence on a litter, so that he might die on his own land and among his own people—a very desirable thing among Natives. I have seen men so carried over the roughest forest ranges.

The dying man would be found lying on some mats placed on the ground, and covered with the scant clothing of primitive man, probably a cloak woven from the fibre of the so-called flax (Phormium tenax). When a Maori dies, such of his clothing as may have been used by him or have been in contact with him during his illness is either buried with him or burned at his death. In former times they possessed nothing in the way of clothing similar to European garments, but merely cloaks, capes, and kilts. Since the Natives have adopted European garments, relatives of a person near his end will often say to him, “Put on your clothes,” and will assist him to do so. He thus dies in them, and is buried in them. If any such are left they are burned. But if he has any spare clothing packed away, such is not destroyed at his death, but is taken by relatives. Also, the vessels used to cook food in for a sick person, if his own property, are often destroyed at his death. They are destroyed for the same reason that his clothing was burned—lest others use them; for death has its

[Footnote] * See “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” vol. vii.

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tapu, as has birth. In entering and leaving the world man is under strong tapu

But the tribe is waiting for the last words, the dying speech of our tupapaku (sick person). They have gathered to attend his death-bed—i.e., to whakahemohemo him. Prior, however, to this last farewell the sick man has called his family around him—i.e., the gens, or family group—and has expressed to them his wishes as to the disposal of his personal property, his interests in tribal lands, &c., so that no trouble may ensue in regard to the same after his death.

It must here be borne in mind that the Maori, being unacquainted with any graphic system, made all important arrangements such as the above by means of explaining them in a formal speech to his people or tribe or subtribe. The disposal of his property by a dying person in the above manner was equivalent to the making of his will. Such an arrangement would stand good, and be respected by the people, because it had been explained in the presence of the tribe or clan, as custom demanded. It was therefore a legal act.

“I speak of the days of old. When a man was near death, his people collected around him when they knew that he was about to leave them. The people assemble before him in the marae [plaza], they greet their passing chief: ‘O sir, greetings to you! We wish you to speak to your tribe, to your family, to your offspring.’ The patriarch speaks: ‘When my face is lost to your sight, live peacefully with each other. Ever remember the persons who brought evil, and peace, into this world, as seen in Aotea-roa [New Zealand]. The evil came from Tu and Tangaroa, from Tane and Tawhirimatea; while peace and prosperity originated with Rongo and Haumia, with Ioio-whenua and Putehue. This [peace] is what you must hold to and preserve, as a means of salvation for the tribe in the time that lies before, as a treasure for the people, as a means towards peacefulness. Then shall the result be a treasured home, domestic peace, and a peaceful land. Troubles shall not assail you.’ Before the people of Hawaiki came hither to Aotea-roa peace prevailed in this land, and the men of old strove to preserve such peace. Observe the words of Toi the Wood-eater, when he, a dying man, addressed his peoples. The tribes of Toi were assembled to say farewell to him, the lord of many clans. There were seen the Tururu-mauku, the Tini-o-te-Marangaranga, the Tini-o-Tuoi, the Rarauhe-maemae, the Kokomuka-tu-tara-whare, the Raupo-ngaueue, and many others. The Maranga-ranga greeted the old chief: ‘O sir, greetings to you!’ And Toi said, ‘Be careful to preserve the peace and prosperity handed down to you by your ancestors. Respect the behests

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and trusts of your people who have gone before.’ The Tuoi arose: ‘O sir, the father of the people, the holder of the tribe, salutations to you!’ And Toi replied, ‘Hold to the welfare of your people, preserve it for the generations to come.’ Arose the Raupo-ngaueue: ‘O father, we greet you—you who nurtured the people that they might retain life in this world.’ Said Toi, ‘My words to you shall not differ. Your salvation—it is the advice given by Puhao-rangi and Ioio-whenua—the welfare of the tribe, preserve it.’ So died the famed Wood-eater, Toi of Ka-pu-te-rangi.”

It must not, however, be supposed that the last words of a Native chief were always of the above nature: far from it. The much-quoted Toi was the high chief of the tangata whenua, or original people, of the Bay of Plenty district, a people who were not, apparently, of a warlike disposition, in which respect they much differed from the later migration of Polynesians to these shores.

A leading feature in such valedictory addresses of a dying chief to his people lay in his strenuous urging of them to avenge such defeats, or murders, or insults as had been suffered by his tribe, and which accounts were not yet “squared.”

The term “oha” is applied by the Maori to all wishes, instructions, and advice of a dying person, as also to the property he leaves to his descendants. It also applies to his widow and to the tribe (Ko te hapu, he oha na te tangata rangatira kua mate). Williams's Maori Dictionary gives: oha = to greet; maioha = to greet; koha = parting instructions, respect, regard, a present, gift, &c.; oha = a relic, keepsake, a dying speech; whakatau-oha = to make a dying speech; oha = generous, &c.

Dying people are sometimes farewelled by the assembled people before they expire, but most of such speeches are uttered when the body is lying in state—i.e., after death. The tangi (wailing) also sometimes commences when the person is in extremis. The farewelling remarks of the people at this time, however, are as a rule not long speeches, but brief, sententious remarks, pregnant with mytho-poetic ideas and the mentality of a primitive people: e.g., “Haere ra, E Pa! Haere ki ou tipuna. Haere ki Hawaiki. Haere ra. E te pa-whakawairua! Haere ki Paerau.” (“Farewell, O father! Go to your ancestors. Depart to Hawaiki. Farewell. O the pa-whakawairua! Go to Paerau.”)

The terms “Hawaiki” and “Paerau” are in such cases used to imply the spirit-world, or perhaps the fatherland of the race in the sense of its being the place where the genus homo originated.

At other times the wailing commenced when the breath left the body.