Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 38, 1905
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Whakanoa (Removing the Tapu).

Near every Native village in former times a pond, spring, or brook was utilised as a place where sacred rites were performed, and set aside for that purpose. These waters would not be used for domestic purposes. It was known as the “wan tapu” (scared waters), or “wai whakaika.” Lifting the tapu from persons was often done at such places. This custom still obtains among the Tahoe Tribe. When taking the tapu off bearers and burial parties, the person who officiates as tohunga (priest, shaman) conducts the party to the waterside and bids them take off their

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clothing and immerse their bodies in the water, after which he recites a karakia (charm, incantation, spell, invocation) in order to lift or dispel the tapu, and gives the parties a cooked potato to eat. The persons are then noa, or free from tapu, and may partake of food and mix with their fellows. Cooked food, it may be observed, is a most polluting thing, the direct anti-thesis of tapu, hence it is used in these rites to destroy or overcome the tapu, (uncleanness or sacredness). To smoke a pipe of tobacco has the same effect, tobacco being termed food (kai) by the Maori, hence it is sometimes used in that way, generally perhaps in rites of minor importance. This rite of whakanoa, however, was performed with more ceremony in former times.

A portion of the food cooked for the ceremonial funeral feasts—i.e., at the burial of the dead, and at the exhumation of the bones—was specially sacred. It was for the chief officiating priest, and perhaps the first-born son of the chief (ariki) line of descent of the tribe, such a person being termed a “matamua” (first-born); also, perhaps, the food reserved for those who handled the dead body or bones was called by the same name—viz., “popoa.”

The whakanoa, or making-common rite, performed over those who handled a corpse, or bones of the dead, was termed “pure.” It dispelled the tapu and purified the operators.

A portion of the popar or sacred food was offered (whangaia) to the dead body by the priest (tohunga), who placed it to the mouth of the corpse and withdrew it. The dead person was supposed to absorb the ahua (semblance) or aria (likeness, resemblance, imaginary presence, form of incarnation, &c.) of the food. One authority states that the priest merely waved the food in the direction of the mouth of the corpse (“Ka poia te kai ki te waha o te tupapaku”), repeating as he did so,—

Tuputuputu atua
Ka eke mal l te rangi
E roa e
Whangainga iho
Kl te mata o te tau
E roa e.

Now, this is a singular thing: The above is a portion of an invocation to the stars, which was repeated at the “first fruits” ceremony in former times. Tuputuputu is, I believe, one of the Magellan clouds. All the principal stars are mentioned in a similar manner in the full version of the above. As it was an invocation to cause the stars to provide a plentiful supply of foods, I fail to see its connection with burial rites. My informant may have been in error in giving it in the above connection, yet he is the most learned of the Tuhoe Tribe in their ancient

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history and ritual, and has taken part in the pure ceremony. The only point of light visible to me is this: The invocation was to induce the stars to send bounteous crops, as also to cause birds, &c., to be plentiful, but likewise to prevent food-products being afflicted by any disease, &c. The old-time priests may have endeavoured to ward off disease or death from the living at such rites as the above. It is certain that at many different functions in ancient times priests performed the tira ora rite, whereby to protect and retain the health, prosperity, welfare—physical, mental, and spiritual—of the tribe.

At the pure ceremony the chief mourner had his hair cut by a priest with a flake of obsidian. This was done at the wai kotikoti or wai whakaika, a sacred stream, spring, or pond where-at religious rites were performed.

The term “horohoro” is also used to denote a removal of tapu, or a portion of the rite. “Horonga” is applied to food eaten by the priest during the above ceremony.*Horohoro” in the Paumotuan dialect signifies “soul, spirit.”

I have heard it stated by a Native that bodies of persons of low social position were sometimes not buried, but simply thrown aside, with the added remark, “Nohea ra e rongo nga tupuna i te haunga” (“Our ancestors would not mind the stench thereof”)

[Footnote] * Williams's “Maori Dictionary.”