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Volume 38, 1905
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Pakipaki Mahunga

The custom of the preserving of heads (pakipaki mahunga) of the dead by their living relatives has been alluded to. This was done out of a feeling of affection for the dead. The head was severed from the body, the latter being buried, while the former was dried and kept by relatives for some time before being deposited with the bones of the body in the cave or tree used for the purpose.

Pio, of Awa, speaks—he who has been caught in the snare of Hine-nui-te-Po, and has lifted the dread curtain which conceals the realm of Miru: “The great token of affection in old times was to cut off the head of a dead relative and preserve it, which was done by the priest. The head was shaken in order to cause the brains to drop out; the body was buried in the ground. The priest would carry the head about with him, sometimes exposing it to the view of living relatives, that they might greet and wail over it. This might continue for months, or even years. When unable to carry it about any longer, on account of other matters, the head would be taken to the burial-cave and left there. It was Christianity that put a stop to this custom. While

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the head was kept, it was sometimes placed on a wooden peg (turuturu) stuck in the ground, and people would mourn over it. Near relatives would spread on the ground before it a kakahuwaero (cloak covered with dogs’ tails), upon which they would kneel before the head and chaunt an old-time dirge of the Maori people.”

These dried heads were also exhibited at any important function or meeting of the people. They were stuck on stakes on the plaza, where meetings took places. Some had the lips stitched together, which, if neatly done, would elicit the remark, “Me te kuku ka kopi” (“Like the neat closing of a mussel-shell”). Some were left with the lips not fastened, hence the lips contracted during the drying or curing process, and the teeth became prominent. If the teeth were white and sightly it was remarked. “me te niho kokota” (“Like kokota teeth”). “Kokota” is the name of a shellfish.

Heads of enemies were also preserved in a similar manner, but for a different purpose. They would so preserve the head of an enemy of the chieftain class that they might revile it, and subject it to all indignities the fertile brain of the Maori might conceive. Such heads would be placed in cooking-sheds and near ovens, a fearful thing to the Maori. They would be exposed to view on the plaza of the village, and reviled by passer-by. Women would place them near where they worked at weaving, &c., and occasionally turn to and curse them with great gusto, heaping opprobrious epithets upon them, jeering and taunting them, as though in the flesh. This would be when such women had lost husbands or other relatives at the hands of the dead or of his tribe.

The method of embalming or preserving human heads was a singular one. A steam-oven, similar to the ovens for cooking food,* was made in the ground. This was covered over save a small orifice left on the top and through which the hot stream escaped. Over this the head was placed, the base thereof being over the hole in the top of the oven (umu). The hot stream caused the brains to melt, when they were easily got rid of. The eyes were taken out, and the eyelids fastened down. The skin was stripped off down to the shoulders to allow for contraction; it was then brought under the neck and there tied. The Maori was very particular in preserving the heads of his relatives to render them sightly when exposed to people for crying over. He liked to see the lips closed so that the teeth were not exposed. He was not so particular with the heads of his enemies.

[Footnote] * See Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxxv, p. 88.

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The expression “pakipaki mahunga” means “to preserve heads by drying.” They were dried after the steaming process by means of placing them in the smoke of a wood-fire. The hair was retained, and was dressed and decorated with plumes when brought out to be wept over.

A description of this head-drying, with many notes, may be found at page 610 of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute,” vol. xxvii, though the statement there made that in preserving the head of an enemy “no dishonour whatever was intended to the owner of the head” must be taken cum grano salis, for that is exactly what was intended. The quotation given from Marsden— “It is gratifying to the vanquished to know that the heads of their chiefs are preserved by the enemy”—is also very extraordinary, and absolutely incorrect. In the same article (p. 611) is seen the statement that “those [heads] of the enemy were usually placed on the tops of the houses, or on poles by the wayside, where they were exposed to the contemptuous taunts of the passers-by.” This is certainly more correct, though how it could be “gratifying to the vanquished” is a somewhat obscure point.

The last case of head-preserving known to myself as having occurred in this district was in 1865, when Ngati-Manawa and some of Te Arawa were defeated at Te Tapiri, driven out of their fort at that place and forced to fly, leaving their dead behind them. The heads of two of these, Eru and Enoka, of Ngati-Manawa, were cut off and preserved, Kereopa swallowing the eyes. These heads were taken by Te Whakatohea to their home on the coast.

When, on a war-expedition in an enemy's country, the invaders lost some killed, the bodies were usually cremated, so that they should not be eaten by enemies. Sometimes the head would be cut off, preserved, and carried back home. When Ngapuhi returned from their famous raid to the Wellington District they brought back many heads of those who had fallen.

When Makawe, of Te Whakatohea, was slain at Te Papuni (see ante) his head was thus preserved by his people and carried with them on their raid to the Wairoa, where they fought at Tara-mahiti, after which they returned home to O-potiki, still bearing the head of their chief.

When Te Ika-poto's daughter died at Heipipi her body was buried there, but her head was preserved and taken to Maungapohatu, her permanent home.

The preserved heads of many former chiefs of the Tuhoe Tribe are lying in a cave at Te Tahora, among them being those of Te Arohana and of Te Mai-taranui.