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Volume 38, 1905
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Tree Burial

Tree burial has always been much practised by the Tuhoe Tribe, certainly since the time of one Tama-tuhi-rae, alias Tama-a-mutu, who flourished some thirteen generations ago, and to whom the Tuhoe tribe attribute the originating of the custom. Tama-a-mutu instituted the custom of tree burial, it is said, because he considered it wrong to bury the dead in the earth, as the earth is for producing food. Even so, when Tama drew near his end he told his son that he did not wish his body buried in the earth, but wanted it placed in a tree. Hence, after his death his son constructed a wooden box, in which he placed the body of his sire. This box or coffin was placed up in a tree

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and there left. This is said to have been the first occasion on which a coffin was used in this district.

Tama-a-mutu obtained the name of Tama-tuhi-rae (Tama the brow-marked) from the fact that he used to ornament his brow in ancient fashion by marking it with red ochre (horu). It was also a custom to so mark the skulls of chief when the bones were disinterred and deposited in a burial cave or tree. There were two ways of so marking—the tuhi korae, or tuhi marei kura, consisted of horizontal stripes smeared across the forehead; while the tuhi kohuru was a series of red stripes running diagonally from the upper corner of the forehead downwards over the eye to the cheek. The descendants of Tama-tuhi-rae are known as the Nagi-Tama-tuhi-rae clan, generally abbreviated to Ngai-Tama. Their principal living chiefs are Te Whiu Maraki (he who caputered Kereopa, the eye-swallower, at Ohaua) and Tamaikoha. This clan of Tuhoe resides at Te Waimana. I submit a genealogy from Tama-a-mutu:—

In the following song we observe a reference to Tama-a-mutu and his institution of the custom of tree burial. This composition is termed a “tangi tawhite,” a singular class of chaunts by which persons are said to have been bewitched and done to death at a distance. It was composed and utilised by one Piki near a hundred years ago:—

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E hine! Maru-nui i te tapu
Ka taka i o tuakana
Tu ake hoki, e hine!
I te tu wharariki
Hai whakakakara mo hine ki te moenga
Te moenga te whita, te moenga te au
Oti tonu atu koe ki ràro—e—e.
Taupae atu ra i tua o Te Wharau, e hine!
Ka wehe ko te po
Ka wehe ko te ao i a koe
Tokona atu ra ki tawhiti
He toko-uri, he toko-tea
He mapuna, he kai ure
Kai ure noa ana, e hine!
Nga tohunga i nga atua kia mate
Koi tonu nga mho ki te ngau
Na Maw i hangarau, e hine!
Tana ika tapu
Ko te whenua nui e noho nei taua
I tikina ki raro wheuriuri
Ki a Hine-nui-te-Po
Hai nagki i te mate
I tukua mai nei ki ana karere
Ki te waeroa, ki te namu poto
Hai kakati i te rae
I te mata o te hurupiki, e hine!
Ko ta paua, ka ea te mate
O te hiku rekareka nei
O te tuna—e—i.
Takoto mai ra, e hine!
I roto i te whare papa
Ko te whare ra tena
O to tipuna, o Tama-a-mutu
I tuhia ai—e, ki te tuhi marei kura
Koia a Ngai-Tama-tuhi-rae
I whakairi ai—e
Ki runga ki te rakau
Koia te kauhau i to papa
I a Maui, e hine!
Tera ia te rua o tini raua ko mano
I karia ki te oneone ika nui, e hine
Hurihuritia iho ra, e hoa ma-e!
Ta tatau mahuri totara
No te wao tapu nui o Tane
No te awa—e, i Oatua
No runga—e, i Okarakia
No nga pinga—e, i roto i Te Kopua
Taku totara haemata
Te rite ai, e hine! ki a koe—i—a.

And ever since the time of Tama-tuhi-rae have the dead of the Nagi-Tama clan been placed in trees, and never in the earth. A tree is selected which has masses of a parasitic plant known as kowharawhara (an Astelia) growing on its branches. Among these thick masses are concealed the remains of the children of Tama.

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In the above song (lament) will be noted a reference to the contest between Maui and Hine-nui-te-Po. The whare papa mentioned is an allusion to the coffin in which the body of Tama was placed. The expression “mahuri totara” (totara sapling) is one of many such often applied to young people recently dead. It often appears in laments. It likens the lost one to a young totara tree, a tree highly prized by the Maori.

In some cases the dead were placed in hollow trees, the body being wrapped up in a cloak. We have seen that the Ngai-Tama clan disposed of their dead by placing the bodies in or on trees. Other clans also did the same, but the system usually followed was that of burying bodies in the earth, or placing them on a stage, and then, when the hahunga or disinterment took place, the bones were deposited in a cave or chasm, or rock shelter, or in a hollow tree, or among the parasitic plants which grow on the branches of forest-trees. The pukatea tree, which when it attains a large size is generally hollow, is often used as a last resting-place for the bones of the dead in Tuhoeland. There are many such burial-trees at Rua-toki, one of which stands within 2 chains of my present camp at Hau-Kapua. While exploring the gulch one day I espied several skulls at the base of a pukatea tree, and thought that I might have some trouble with the local Natives for camping at a tapu spot. I quickly found out, however, that there was no need for uneasiness, as the Natives were quite ignorant of the place as a burial-ground, and denied that the remains were those of any of their people. They advanced the opimon that the bones were a toenga—that is, the bones of bodies that had been eaten in former times. It is however, highly improbable that the bones of a body that had been eaten would have been treated with such respect. Rather would they have been simply thrown out on the kitchenmidden of the settlement. On the spur immediately above the burial-tree stand the earthworks of two old Native forts—HauKapua and Titoko-rangi. The remains, I opine, are either those of plebeians, of whom but little notice was taken, or they belong to some other tribe. The last supposition is probable, inasmuch as Rua-toki is not ancestral land of the Tuhoe Tribe, but was gained by conquest, and Tuhoe have several times been driven off the land.

In placing bones of the dead in a hollow tree they were sometimes inserted at the base of the tree, should an opening there exist. If not, one was often found up the trunk of the tree, sometimes 40 ft. or 50 ft. from the ground. In such cases the bones would be carried up, thrust into the hole, and allowed to fall down inside the tree. Some of these trees contain great quantities of human remains. In one that fell and split

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open near O-potiki Captain Mair counted over three hundred skulls.

A rata tree at Raorao, on the Wai-riko Block, was formerly used as a burial-tree. The bodies were placed among masses of Astelia with which the leaning trunk was covered on the upper side.

The bones of the dead of the Ngai-Te-Kapo clan, of Rua-toki, were placed in a hollow pukatea tree (Atherosperma movce-zealandiae).

A kahikatea tree at Nag-whakahiwawa, in the Horomanga Valley, was an old-time burial-place, as also was a similar tree at Raro-po.

When some of the Tuhoe Tribe were living at Anini, near Te Pa-puni, their dead were not buried in the ground, but placed in trees.

It is said that the remains of Mura-kareke and Tama-pokai, two famous chiefs of Tuhoe, were concealed in a hollow rata tree at Owhakatoro.

When Te Korowhiti died at Te Kohuru his body was placed on a platform or staging constructed among the branches of a tawhero tree. This making of a platform in a tree-top, on which to place a dead body, was by no means an uncommon occurrence.