The O-Matenga And Wai-O-Tane-Pi.
We will now glance at the singular custom of the o matenga (food for the death-journey), the supplying of food to a dying person for the long journey to the underworld, the realm of the dead. “O” is a term applied to food carried on a journey; “matenga” denotes the time or circumstance of dying. Apart from this “death (or dying) food,” the spirits of the dead are often spoken of as partaking of food in the land of spirits.
“Just before death, or perhaps the day before, a dying person often asks for some article of food which he fancies he could relish. That food is obtained; it is eaten: then death ensues.” The food so desired would be obtained for the sick person, however distant or difficult to procure.
Perhaps the favourite foods as o matenga desired by the men of olden times were — (1) human flesh; (2) earthworms (toke); (3) dog's flesh; (4) rats (kiore).
If when a person of rank was near death he desired to partake of human flesh as an o matenga, a party of his people would sally forth and slay a member of some other clan or subtribe of the surrounding people, or a member of another tribe. The body was cleaned, dismembered, and brought to the village home, where it was cooked in a steam-oven. A portion of the cooked flesh was partaken of by the dying person as his last meal in the world of life; the balance was eaten by the people.
When the war-party of Te Whakatohea Tribe, under Makawe and Heretaunga, attacked the people of Te Papuni, slaying Mahia and others, the chief Makawe was seriously wounded—so much so indeed that he was soon brought to his death-bed. When near his end Makawe called upon his people to provide him with an o matenga of human flesh. Thereupon a party of warriors attacked a village at Puke-taro, slaying several people. The heart of one of these victims was carried back to the Whakatohea camp at Te Huia. But Makawe had already passed beyond the need of o matenga in this world. Anyhow, that article would not be wasted.
Earthworms were another favourite o matenga in days of yore. The generic term for such is toke (or noke), but there are many different varieties, each having its distinct name. The two favourite kinds for the above purpose were the whiti and kurekure.* They were stoneboiled in vessels of wood or stone, and certain herbs (greens) mixed with them prior to being eaten. It is said that the sweet flavour (tawara) of this food remained on the palate for two days after the consumption
[Footnote] * The kurekure is Tokea esculenta, named by Professor Benham (See vol. xxxv of the Transactions, p. 64.)
thereof. So prized was this article of food that it was reserved for the chiefs. Hence it was termed a chief's death-food.
When Mura-kareke, a famous ancestor of the Tuhoe Tribe, came to his death-bed at Raorao-totara, a dog was killed, that its flesh might be utilised as an o matenga for him.
The flesh of the frugivorous native rat was also a much esteemed article of food, and often used for the above purpose.
Regarding the Native habit of changing personal names when any important event occurred, this often takes place when a person dies. In many cases such new name is taken from the o matenga, or last food partaken of by the invalid. The last thing so eaten by a person at Te Waimana was an orange, or “arani” in Native pronunciation. Hence a relative gave his newly born child the name of Te O-arani — i.e., the orange o matenga, or the orange journey-food. Hatata, an old man of Rua-tahuna, recently assumed the name of Kuku because his grandchild ate some kuku (mussels) just before death.
A person at Rotorua partook of some ti-ta-whiti (a species of Cordyline) as a last food, therefore a relative assumed the name of Te O-ti. In another case, at Ruatoki, the final thing taken by the sufferer was a cup of tea (“ti” in Native pronunciation), hence a related child was given the name of Te O-ti. In some cases the last thing taken is a dose of medicine, or some stimulant. Hence the local names of Pua-wananga (= clematis; a medicine concocted from this was the last thing swallowed by a relative); Te O-parani (parani = brandy); and many others, too numerous to mention. These last three cases, however, should come under the heading of the wai o Tane-pi.
“A person is near death; he has ceased to partake of food, but can still take fluids. When he nears his end the sick one says, ‘Give me some water.’ That is the wai o Tane-pi, the last drink on his road to the realm of darkness.” This expression, “the water of Tane-pi,” is applied to the last drink taken by a dying person. It is a liquid o matenga. The term “wai o Tane-pi” is applicable to death. It was just cold water, the only beverage of the Maori in pre-European days.
When a man was near death he might say, “O that I might drink of the waters of [such a stream]!” and that water would be obtained for him, that he might drink thereof ere he passed away.
When Te Maitaranui (of Tuhoe) and Te Roro (of Ngati-Manawa) were slain at Te Reinga such an incident occurred. Te Roro fled, but was pursued and caught. Seeing that his end had come, he said to his captors, “Taihoa ahau e patu, kia inu ahau i te wai o Kai-tarahae” (“Do not slay me until I have drunk of the waters of Kai-tarahae”). Kai-tarahae is the name of a
stream which flows into the river at the Reinga Falls. Te Maitaranui remarked, “He manu hou ahau, he kohanga ka rerea” (“I am but a fledgeling bird, a nest just forsaken”). This was in allusion to his youth, which did not, however, save him.
The origin of the name “Tane-pi” is not clear. Another form is wai o Tane-here-pi, which may be the same thing, or connected with it. When the Ngati-Tai people attacked the Panenehu at Wai-kurapa they slew the two children of Tu-namu—Tai-auhi-kura and Tu-auhi-kura. When their father heard of the death of the children he exclaimed, “Having fed you on the wai o Tane-here-pi, I thought you would have been strong enough to take care of yourselves.”
The term “whakamaui” implies the rallying and recovery of a person apparently dying—“Mana ano e whakamaui ake” (“He may possibly rally round”). The origin of this expression is a feat performed by the old-time hero Maui. At one time during his adventurous career he was captured and slain, some say by Hine-nui-te-Po. But the slayers of Maui reckoned without their host, for the spirit of Maui entered into his body again, and he came back to life.
Manawa kiore : This expression implies the faint breathing of a dying person who is past speech.
Of a person in extremis a Native will say, “Kai'te ihu o te tupapaku te manawa e nga ana, kua kore kai raro,” or “Te manawa o te tupapaku kei te ihu tonu e kapo ana”—meaning that the faint breathing is only noticeable by a slight fluttering or movement of the nostrils; the heart pulsates only at the nose.
The final expulsion of breath by a dying person is termed the “puhanga ake o te manawa” (“There is one final expulsion of breath, the eyes stare wildly, it is death”).