Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 38, 1905
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Hirihiri; Ara Atua.

Of the many rites performed over a sick person by the tohunga, or priest, I shall not here speak, inasmuch as I have already put them into the form of a paper which was forwarded to the late Dr. Goldie, and which will appear in the forthcoming volume of the society's Transactions, together with many other items concerning Native treatment of disease, &c. There is, however, one rite, as performed by priests over dying persons, which has a place here, and that is the assisting of the soul or spirit of man to leave his dying body. This rite comes under the term of “hirihiri,” which expression needs a few words of explanation, inasmuch as it has several bearings. The hirihiri taua is a ceremony performed over warriors about to lift the war trail, and has been described in a former paper. Another hirihiri is that peculiar rite by which a demon which causes disease

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by entering the body of man is forced by priestly arts to leave the sufferer's body and take itself off. The hirihiri of which we now speak is a rite the performance of which assists the soul of a dying person to quit his body and wend its way to the land of spirits. One of the objects of this ceremony is that the departing spirit may be induced to pass straight to spirit-land, and not remain in the vicinity of its former physical basis to afflict the living.

In the performance of this peculiar ceremony the priest suspended over the mouth of the dying subject a piece of the harakeke leaf (Phormium tenax), or a blade of some sedge-like grass, or of tutumako. This was the ara atua, described by me in Dr. Goldie's paper. By it the passing soul was supposed to leave the body, and was assisted to do so by means of an invocation recited by the attendant priest, and termed a “hirihiri.”

So soon as the breath of life has left the sufferer's body the wailing for the dead is commenced by surrounding relatives. Since the introduction of firearms a custom has obtained of firing guns when a person dies, and also during the mourning ceremonies which follow. This is termed a “maimai aroha” (token of affection).

The eyes of the defunct are closed by a relative.

When the sound of gun-firing is heard at a place where it is known a person has been lying ill, then it is understood that he is no more, and people may be seen wending their way from adjacent settlements to that place, in order to join in the wailing (tangihanga) for the dead. Sometimes guns are fired just prior to death, when it is evident to the attendants that he is passing away.

In former times it often occurred that on a man's death his widow or widows would commit suicide—usually, perhaps, by hanging themselves, or by throwing themselves over a cliff; but in later times, often by means of firearms.

So soon as the death of a man occurred his body was “trussed” for burial—i.e., before it became cold; albeit it would not be buried for some days. This “trussing” process, styled “rukuruku” and “korukuruku,” consisted in crossing the arms on the breast and drawing the legs up until the knees rested on them, under the chin. A cloak was wrapped round the body, and the limbs retained in the above-described position by means of a cord lashed round the body. The bodies of women were also manipulated in this manner.