Mourning For The Dead.
When a Maori dies the body is laid out on or near the marae (plaza) of the village for several days before it is buried, and it is during this period that the mourning is carried on. The corpse is laid upon mats of woven or plaited fibres of New Zealand flax, or of kiekie (a climbing plant with leaves which contain a strong fibre), and is covered with a Native cloak woven from the fibre of Phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax. Possibly a rude shed may be erected in which to so place the body. In modern times a calico tent is often used. In this way is the corpse exposed to view prior to burial, and before it assemble the mourners, save the near relatives, who are grouped near and on either side of the body. In the case of a person of
the chieftain class, the corpse is decorated in various ways, and his weapons are suspended near his body, or laid by the side thereof. It is, in fact, a lying in state.
To describe this lying in state a Native will say, “Such a person is lying on the atamira,” or “The corpse is lying on the atamira.” The Maori dictionaries give this word as meaning “a low stage on which a dead person is laid out, one end being elevated for the head.” However, it is now merely a figurative expression, no stage being used, but only mats. In former times the bodies of members of the rangatira or chieftain class were covered with fine ornamented cloaks. The hair was dressed carefully, and prized plumes were placed therein. The garments, &c., actually lying on the body, or in which it was wrapped, were buried with it. Those cloaks or weapons hung near the corpse were not so buried.
At the present time a corpse is either laid out straight, or is propped up by and leans against a supporting structure.
If at death it was noticed, in former times, that one or more fingers of the dead person were extended, that was taken as a sign that a like number of his relatives would die ere long.
The mats on which a person lies at death are burned. If he dies in a hut it must be burned, or deserted as tapu. These precautions are taken in order to prevent the spirit of the dead from returning to trouble the living.
In addition to his weapons, fine garments, &c., exhibited on a person's bier as a sign of his chieftainship, it was also a custom of yore to so display any prized heirloom or treasure of the tribe with a similar view. But the defunct one must have been a person of importance in the tribe to allow of such a procedure, for many of such ancestral treasures were looked upon as being sacred. Any person so depositing a prized family heirloom on the bier for the period of the lying in state paid a great token of respect to the dead.
When a person was lying in death in former times, should he fancy that he had been bewitched, and so done to death, one would take a fernstalk in his hand and strike the body with it, saying at the same time, “Anei to rakau; anei to rakau hai ranaki [rangaki] i to mate” (“Here is your weapon; here is your weapon wherewith to avenge your death”). This act was to incite the wairua (spirit) of the dead person to turn upon the bewitchers and destroy them. (E whakatara ana tena i te wairua o te tupapaku kia haututu, kia tahuri ki nga tangata nanai raweke.)
In Major Heaphy's account of the Natives of Port Nicholson as noted in 1839 he speaks of the fight near Wai-kanae known as “Te Kuititanga.” “We entered the pa [fort] about three hours
after the fight was over. The chief, killed by a musket-ball, lay in state on a platform in the large enclosure [marae]. His hair was decorated with huia feathers, a fine kaitaka mat [cloak] was spread over him, a greenstone mere [battle-axe] was in his hand, with the thong around his wrist; his spear and musket were by his side. The bodies of slain persons of inferior rank were lying in the verandahs of their respective houses, each covered with the best mat [cloak], and with the personal weapons conspicuously placed beside,” &c.*
As observed, so soon as the breath of life departed the wailing for the dead was (and is) commenced by those present. Silent grief is not thought much of by the Maori. When the people of neighbouring settlements hear the gun-firing, or lamentation, they repair to the scene. The relatives of the dead are nearest the body, the other portion of the assembled people are standing further from it, but at one or both sides, not in front of it, and facing the direction in which the mourning party will march on to the marae, or village courtyard or common. They are perfectly silent, save a few old women, who are in advance of the main body, and, with bowed bodies, are weeping and wailing in an extremely doleful manner. No cry of welcome is heard. The mourning party march up in column, very slowly, and utter no sound. When within a distance of 30 yards, more or less, of the village people, and facing them and the corpse, the column halts, and then the tangihanga, or crying for the dead, is commenced by both parties. No word is uttered, but the mournful crying and wailing has a most lugubrious sound. A Maori can open his tear-fonts at the shortest notice, even when attending the obsequies of his greatest enemy, for whom he has neither liking nor respect. They have a poor opinion of the silent grief of the white man, and express doubts as to its genuineness. A Maori enjoys a tangi, certainly if the defunct person is not a near relative or friend.
The mourners do not look at each other, or at the opposite party, during the crying, but usually look downwards. The tears simply stream down their faces; also their noses have an unpleasant habit of running copiously at such times. Hence the old-time saying, “Ko Roimata, ko Hupe nga kai utu i nga patu a Aitua” (“Tears and Hupe† are the avengers of the strokes of misfortune”—i.e., of death). This expression is often made use of in funeral speeches. A Maori mourning party is not a pleasant sight.
This scene continues for some time. Those seen by myself were continued for varying periods, from half an hour to per-
[Footnote] * See “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute,” vol. xii, pp. 38–39.
[Footnote] † Hupe: Discharge from the nose is so termed.
haps two hours. But a similar scene would be enacted on the arrival of every fresh mourning party, which might arrive, at ever widening intervals, for a year after the death of a person.
During the tangihanga or weeping there are usually several elderly or old women who advance to the space between the two parties—i.e., who place themselves in front of their respective parties—and there, with bowed bodies and outstretched, quivering arms, appear to act as chief mourners, though they may not be the nearest relatives of the deceased then present. This is termed “tangi tikapa.” These few persons occasionally wail forth a line of some dirge, and then recommence their wordless wailing sound.
Another custom much in evidence formerly at such times, but now discontinued, was the haehae, or laceration of the body by mourners.
“A Maori dies. The people collect for the wailing. The nearest relatives of the dead show their affection by lacerating their bodies, faces, arms, and legs until they are scored all over. It was a token of affection. Though the dead be male or female, daughter or son, that was the sign of affection of our ancestors. The greatest sign of their affection was the preserving of the head of a relative and carrying it about with them. But Christianity put a stop to that. The laceration of the body was done with obsidian [flakes]: hence these words in an ancient dirge, ‘Homai he mata kia haehae au’ [‘Give me obsidian, that I may lacerate myself’].”
This custom of cutting the body was practised by near relatives of the dead only (among the Tuhoe Tribe). These mourners presented a gruesome sight, stripped to the waist, blood streaming from numerous gashes made by the keen obsidian (mata).
Anent this cutting of the body at funeral obsequies, Andrew Lang, in his “Making of Religion,” looks upon it as being practised as a counter-irritant of grief, and a token of recklessness caused by sorrow. The Maori ever gives the one explanation thereof—He tohu aroha—a sign of affection or sympathy. As the word of old was “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead,” so has the custom died out in these isles.
Another custom among these Natives is that of presenting gifts to the bereaved clan or relatives of the deceased. Such gifts are termed “taonga kopaki” (taonga = goods, property; kopaki, as an adjective = wrapping, enveloping, covering). Some of the persons who join the visiting mourning parties will bear with them such articles as fine cloaks, polished greenstone ornaments, &c. After the tangihanga, or wailing, is over such persons will step forward and present their gifts, laying
them on the ground in front of the assembled people of the place. This is a token of sympathy, of condolence.
“Friend, a further word. When a Native chief dies we do not merely lacerate ourselves, but also collect food to take to the obsequies for the dead; also fine garments, and jewels [greenstone ornaments]. Those who are mourning for the dead are stripped [to the waist]. They lacerate themselves. Their eyes glare wildly. When the lamentation is over the gifts are handed over—namely, the taonga kopaki. Then the greeting to the dead commences; he is farewelled. Also are greeted, and sympathized with, the living relatives of the dead.”
It is also a custom for mourners to carry at such times green boughs of trees or shrubs in their hands, and to wear on their heads fillets or chaplets of green leaves, &c. I have heard it stated by Natives that in former times it was not the custom to invite people to come and mourn for the dead, as is often done now by the relatives. It was left for people to so come of their own initiative, prompted by their sympathy. The kiri mate (an expression applied to relatives of a deceased person) would announce their intention of so going, and others would accompany them.
“Our ancestors desired that man should die as the moon dies—that is, die and return again to this world. But Hine-nuite-Po said, ‘Not so. Let man die and be returned to Mother Earth, that he may be mourned and wept for.’ Hence it is that we see the Maori people going to greet and weep for those who have died by the house-wall. And those also who have died by drowning or other accidents, there is but one way to avenge their deaths, and that is by lamentation. The only return is that of greeting, of weeping. The mourning parties go forth to wail for the dead, and thus is death avenged [equalised].”
When the visiting mourners are making speeches on the plaza, after the wailing is over, they speak directly to the dead, and not in the third person. They ever speak in eulogy of the deceased, of his good qualities, his generosity, hospitality, courage, &c., frequently crying him farewell, and using many peculiar expressions, figurative, mytho-poetical; quotations from ancient myths, proverbial sayings, and aphorisms. Extracts of an allegorical nature culled from old-time lore, dirges and laments for the dead, are all introduced into their speeches. The companions of the speaker will join in many of the songs, perhaps in all, but the village people will not join in rendering those of the visiting mourners, nor will the latter join in those of the village people. After the wailing is over and the speeches are commenced the people usually sit on the ground, only the speaker standing, except when a song is sung, when those who
join in it all stand up, usually grouping themselves together, and always facing the opposite party.
The people of the place where the dead person is lying are the first to rise after the wailing is over and deliver speeches. The principal persons only of either side deliver such formal speeches. When the first speaker has finished another arises, and so on. When the last speaker of the home people has finished there is a short pause ere the first speaker of the visitors arises. This is to make sure that the home people have finished speaking.
The speakers of the home people will first address the visitors somewhat in this strain: “Haere mai, haere mai, haere mai. Haere mai te iwi; haere mai nga rangatiratanga; haere mai nga mana; haere mai ki te mihi ki to tatou papa e takoto nei. Kua hinga to tatou rata whakamarumaru. Ko te manawa ora kua riro, ko te ahua anake i waiho. Ko tenei, haere mai; haria mai nga mate o era kainga, utaina mai ki runga ki nga mate o tenei kainga. Ko tatou he morehu no aitua,” &c. (“Come hither, come hither, come hither. Come the people; come the rank, the prestige; come and greet our father who lies before us. Our sheltering tree has fallen. The breath of life has departed, the semblance alone is left. So now come hither, welcome; bear hither the troubles of other homes, join them to the afflictions of this place. We are but the survivors of misfortune.”)
When a speaker of the visitors rises he will first address the home people: “Call to us. Call the troubles of other homes. Call to the people who sympathize with you. It was said of old that man shall be caught, one and all, in the snare of the Goddess of Hades, that he shall be mourned and wept for. Hence we come hither. By tears and grief alone shall [a natural] death be avenged,” &c. Then, turning slightly, so as to immediately face the dead, the speaker addresses the body in the second person: “Toku papa, haere. Haere, haere, haere, haere. Haere ki te Po—haere ki te Po—haere ki te Po. Haere ki ou tupuna. Haere ki Hawaiki. Haere ki ou matua. Haere ki Paerau. Haere ra, te maioro te karia, te whakaruru hau. Haere ki Tawhiti-nui, ki Tawhiti-roa, ki Tawhi-ti-pamamao. Taku toi kahurangi, haere. Marua ana te whenua i a koe kua riro i te tari a Hine-nui-te-Po. Kua kore he tangata hai arai i te kino, i te aha, i te aha, i te aha,” &c. (“My father, farewell. Go, go, go, go. Go to the spirit-land—to the spiritland—to the spiritland. Go to your ancestors. Go to Hawaiki. Go to join your elders. Go to Paerau. Farewell, the breastwork of the people, the shelterer from piercing winds. Go to Tawhiti-nui,” &c. “My protector, farewell. Defenceless is the land since you were caught in the toils of the Goddess of Death. Remains none to avert evil,” &c.)
It will be observed how mourners farewell the dead to Hawaiki, to Paerau, &c. The latter seems to be a term applied to the spirit-world. But Hawaiki and the various Tawhiti are names of lands wherein the ancestors of the Maori sojourned in times long past away. Hawaiki, say the Native legends, is a far-distant land where originated the Maori race, hence the spirits of the dead are supposed to return to the primal home of the Maori, and are so farewelled by the living. hawaiki lies to the west, towards the setting sun, and the departing place of spirits is situated on the western or north-western parts of not only New Zealand, but also the isles of Polynesia inhabited by the Maori race.
“A Native dies. The living bid farewell to him. The cry is, ‘Go to Hawaiki.’ That was the permanent home of our ancestors, hence this ancient cry of farewell to the dead. Although dead, and separated from the living, that is the address to them, to those whom death has taken.” Here in this explanation, given by a Native, we see the Maori idea that spirits of the dead fare to Hawaiki, the cradle of the race, where man originated.
When a chief dies, the high mountains or ranges of his district are mentioned in such funeral speeches, for such natural objects, or some of them, possess considerable prestige. Such hills in this district of Tuhoeland are Maunga-pohatu, Te Peke, and Manawaru. “Ko Maunga-pohatu te maunga, ko Pohokorua te tangata o raro” (“Maunga-pohatu is the mountain, Pohokorua is the person beneath it”) is a common style of expressing this idea.
“Whare mate” is an expression applied to mourning relatives of the dead. The near relatives of the deceased would not take food until after the burial, except at night, and in secret.
A peculiar term, “makau”: This is given as = spouse, wife, or husband, in Williams's “Maori Dictionary,” but Tuhoe do not seem to use it in that sense. Here it is applied usually by elderly women to their children or grandchildren, perhaps only in laments or addresses to the dead, as, e.g., “Te makau a te ipo—e,” or “Mai ra te makau—e.” A great many endearing terms are applied to children in funeral speeches, as “my sweet scented necklet,” “my jewel,” &c. In like manner are men compared with, and addressed as, “the white hawk,” “the totara sapling.”
Some time after the funeral ceremonies are over, perhaps a month after or longer, sometimes a full year, according to inclination and leisure from crop-work, the relatives of the deceased will form a party and proceed to visit other places and other subtribes or tribes as an uhunga, or mourning party.
Their object is to kawe te mate (convey the death) to other divisions of the tribe, to the more distant relatives of the deceased. When they arrive at a village the party will go through the same weeping and lamentation as already described. The speeches also are of a similar nature. Should any member of the people visited have died recently, then he will be included in the tangihanga, or mourning; in fact, such weeping, mourning, and speeches will apply to all persons of the two parties who have died since such parties last met to mourn for their dead.
One occasionally hears of very singular customs connected with mourning for the dead. I insert here descriptions of a few such.
After the defeat of the east coast Natives at Maketu, the following lament was composed as a whakaoriori potaka (song sung to the spinning of tops). The people would collect together, many of them being provided with humming-tops of the old Maori pattern. The people would sing the first verse and then all cry out the words “Hai! Tukua!” The last word was the signal to the top-spinners, who simultaneously started their tops spinning. The moaning or wailing hum of the tops represents the moaning sound made by mourners for the dead. When the tops are run down they are restrung, and another verse of the lament is sung, the top-spinners waiting for the cry “Tukua!” before starting their tops off again. I have seen a party of Natives going through this singular performance.
Toia te roroa o te tangata—e
Ina noa te poto ki te oma i Hunuhunu—e
Nga morehu ma te kai e patu—e
Ko te paku kai ra mau, E Te Arawa—e
E ki atu ana Karanama, e noho ki tamaiti nei—e
Takiri ana mai te upoko o te toa—e
Koro Mokena, huri mai ki te Kuini—e
Koi rawerawe ana ou mea kanu kaka—e
Na Tamehana ano tona whenua i utu
Ki te maramara taro—e
Waiho te raru ki to wahine—e
The following is equally as extraordinary as the foregoing. When several men of the Ngati-Tawhaki clan of Tuhoe were killed in the fight at Mana-te-pa, at Rua-tahuna, about 1840, one Tu-kai-rangi evolved the following scheme as a lament for the dead, and to banish the sadness and gloomy feelings of the survivors. This proceeding would be said to avenge, or equalise, the deaths of the friends of the performers. Tu-kai-rangi erected two moari, or swings (giant's strides), one near Mana-te-pa and one at Kiri-tahi. The following song was composed and sung while the swings were used. Grasping the ropes of the swing, the performers sang a verse of the song given below and then swung off round the pole, one after the other. When they stopped another verse was sung, and again the people whirled round the pole, and so on.
Tu-kai-rangi, hangaa he moari
Kia rere au i te taura whakawaho
Kai te pehi Hiri-whakamau
Na wai takahia.
Taku aroha ki a Te Haraki—e
Nga whaiaipo a Te Hiri-whakamau
He taura ti—e
He taura harakeke
Nga taura o Te Hiri-whakamau
Another token of mourning in former times was the cutting of the hair. One way was to cut off all the hair very short with the exception of one patch, of perhaps 2 in. diameter, on the left side of the head. This was left the original length, of perhaps 2 ft. or less, and was allowed to hang down. It was called a “reureu.” I have seen a woman with her hair so cut when mourning for her dead child. This latter case, however, would probably not have occurred in former times, as Native women appear to have worn their hair short. Men, however, wore their hair long. A widow or widower would have all the hair cut off short. The hair cut off is buried with the corpse.
When a Maori dies, almost always a lament (tangi) is composed by relatives and sung during the period of mourning, usually when speeches are being made. Sometimes several are so composed for a single individual, if a person of consequence. Many old-time laments have been preserved for centuries, and are often extremely interesting, on account of containing allusions to the ancient history of the race. In fact, the laments and lullabies seem to be the most interesting of Native songs, and for a similar reason. Native laments of modern composition
are, as a rule, very inferior, or, if they are not so, owe it to the fact that they are composed by wholesale cribbery from ancient songs.
The higher forms of dirges for the dead are termed “apakura.” They may be called laments of a sacerdotal character, and often contain ancient cryptic phraseology of an old-time cult. The ordinary lament (tangi) for the dead is of quite different composition—in fact, they resemble ordinary songs, and are often so used.
The term “tangi taukuri” seems to apply to a lament wherein the composer bewails his own evil fortune, or that of his tribe. The tangi tikapa and tangi whakakurepe are modes of mourning, lamenting the dead, while going through various motions, such as swaying the bent body from side to side, quivering the hands with arms extended. Sometimes a weapon (patu or mere) is held in the right hand while going through the above genu-flexions.
I will now give two specimens of laments for the dead as illustration. The first was composed about eighteen generations ago, is a good specimen of ancient Maori composition, and contains many allusions to, and fragments of, old-time myths and history. My readers will regret to hear that it is incomplete, which accounts for its shortness. The second lament given is a modern one, composed about 1901 for a Native woman who died at Galatea.