Cremation was frequently practised by the Maori in former times. It was practised by those tribes that lived in open country where they had difficulty in concealing the bones of their dead from enemies; also by war-parties traversing hostile territory, who would cremate their dead, but often preserved the heads and carried them back home. At least one case is on record where a war-party, reduced to desperate straits during a foray, burned their wounded to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy.
An interesting article on cremation amongst the Maori people will be found in the “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” vol. iii, p. 134.
In the Matatua district cremation was performed in some secluded spot, which remained tapu. The ashes were not preserved in any other way.
When Tu-korehu raided Rua-tahuna he lost Te Tiroa, a chief of his party, who was slain by Ngati-Tawhaki. The body of the slain man was cremated lest it be found and eaten by the Tuhoe people. As a relic of the good old days we have still among us in Tuhoeland two old men who have taken part in
cannibal feasts. Even when a war-party was victorious they often were compelled to burn their dead on account of the difficulty of carrying the bodies home.
Those persons who died of kai-uaua (? consumption) were cremated by the Ngati-Awa Tribe of the Bay of Plenty district, and the ashes buried, in order to prevent any other person being affected by the disease.
The Maori has a belief that the priests of former times held wonderful powers. Observe the description of the whakanoho manawa rite, as given by the Tuhoe people, and included in the late Dr. Goldie's paper on “Maori Medical Lore,” in vol. xxxvii of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.”
The following incident was given to me by Himiona Tikitu, of Ngati-Awa, as having occurred two generations ago: “There was a large meeting of Te Awa-a-te-atua. All surrounding peoples attended it. Tawharau, of Nga-maihi, was there. The daughter of Rangi-takina saw him and deemed him handsome above all other men. She strove to gain him as a husband. He declined, saying, ‘You are far above me in social position.’ However, the woman overcame his scruples. Then things became interesting for Tawharau. Rangi-takaina and his people objected to the union, and put an end to it by slaying poor Tawharau. Nga-maihi heard of it. They went and dug up the buried body to the recited charms of the priests. They bore it to the Kupenga Fort (situated on the bank of the Rangi-taiki River, at Te Teko). They deposited it at the tuahu (sacred place where religious rites were performed). Then the priests gathered to challenged or incite the spirit of the dead man to turn and avenge the death of its body. Then the dead returned to life for a brief space, the magic spells were worked, the spirit rose to its dread work. Then the body returned to the clutches of death and was buried. Ere long Rangitakina and the other slayers of Tawharau were no more. The body of Rangi was placed in a European goods-case used as a coffin, and taken to Mount Edgecumbe for burial. People gathered to drag the coffin up the steep side of the mountain Nga-maihi were there. One of the latter, Meremere by name, rose to chaunt a time song for the hauling. It was a tauwaka:—
Te maunga e tu mai nei
Hoi eke! &c.
Pukaka, axe in hand, jumped for Meremere, intending to kill him, but Nga-maihi closed in and prevented him. The singing of the canoe-hauling song was in disparagement of Rangi-takina; it likened his body to a canoe. Enough! That party crumbled away, each to his home, each to his home.”
It often occurs that a Native will claim a small piece of ground where a parent or ancestor of his was buried or slain, although he has no real right to such lands, either ancestral or by conquest, and such claims are often agreed to by the Native owners of the block. When the Whaiti-nui-a-Toi Block was before the Court, Parakiri, of Ngati-Manawa, stated in his evidence, “I claimed a small part of Tahu-pango where my ancestor Taupoki was buried. Ngati-Whare had handed over the piece when my father told me that Taupoki's bones had been exhumed and taken away. I then waived my claim.”
There are many singular methods by which the Maori of yore sought to discover the cause of death and to avenge it. The following is another specimen, and the death of the wizard would be compassed by means of magic spells: “Another custom of the Maori people: A person dies and is buried. If it was believed that his death had been caused by witchcraft a stick would be procured, over which magic spells were uttered, and it was stuck in the centre of the grave and left standing there. Now, should that stick descend (of its own accord) into the ground, to the body which lies below, then not one of the persons who caused his death will survive: they will all perish. Such is the method adopted by the Maori people in order to avenge a person destroyed by witchcraft.”
In regard to the Earth taking back her children (man) to her bosom at death, a similar idea may be discerned in the Rig-veda: the earth seems to have been invoked “to receive the dead, as a mother receives her child.” Observe a quotation at page 256 of Max Muller's “Anthropological Religion”; also, at page 254, an account of purification by immersion of the body in water after funeral rites. Note the quotation, “They should not cook food during that night.” This is Maori. Funeral and many other religious rites were performed by the Maori early in the morning, and none were permitted to partake of food until the ceremony was over and the tapu removed. We note in translations of and writings upon these ancient Oriental works, as given by Max Muller, that fire and water were used for purification, just as they were among the Maori. In ancient Greece this custom also obtained: “It was usual at Athens to place a vessel full of water near the door, so that those who had become impure by entering the house [of the dead] might purify themselves.”
I here give a few notes concerning a death and burial which I myself witnessed in these parts some nine years ago. When camped in the sylvan vale of Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi, in 1896, the Tama-kai-moana clan, of Maunga-pohatu, sent three children to Te Whaiti to attend the Native school at that place. Some time afterwards one of them, a little girl of seven or eight years of age, died at Te Whaiti, and her body was carried back to Maunga-pohatu to be buried with her ancestors. It was in this wise: The old patriarch of the clan accompanied the children, and to a certain extent commended them to my care, hence they spent much of their time at my camp. The fever came to the cañon of Toi, and the brown-skinned children of Toi went down before it. Pepuere, of Ngati-apa, and his wife broke out the trail from Te Whaiti. But a few days and bright-eyed Hara followed them in search of the Hidden Land of Tane. Then little Hineokaia passed out on her journey to the swirling weed of Motau, and, lest they be separated, took with her her infant brother, to leave the descendants of Tamatea the Cannibal wailing on the storm-lashed peak of Tara-pounamu. Timoti, of Marakoko, followed his playmates, and Wairama, of the daughters of Kuri, abandoned the world of life. Scarce passed a day but we heard the gun fire which betokened yet another death, and the world was dark to the people of the great forest of Tane. Then Marewa went down into the dark valley and wrestled for many days with death. The kutukutu ahi came—the delirium of fever, a fatal sign to the Maori—and little Marewa was called by her friends who had gone before.
I was writing in my tent one day when I heard a volley fired just across the river, and I knew that Marewa was about to lift the world-old trail trodden by all the sons of man, even from the days of Tura and of Maui. When I reached the place I found her lying in a tent a little distance from the settlement, her mother by her side, the people collected before the tent. I could see that the child's end was very near. Her father said to me, “Friend, your grandchild has departed.” And then, just before she passed away, he bade her farewell from where he stood outside the tent: “Farewell, O maid! Farewell. Go to your ancestors who await you. Go to your playmates. Return to your mother, to Maunga-pohatu, who brought you forth to the world of light. Go to the world of darkness. Farewell,” &c The mother sat wailing by the child's side. Warned by the guns, the people of adjacent places kept coming to join in the lamentation. Each one as he or she approached would cry out, “Farewell, O maid! Farewell.” The end came soon. As her mother sat with her hand on the child I saw the poor suffering mite draw
her last breath, and pass out over the edge of the rohe potae n search of another world.
Some days before the child's death her parents arrived, and her father began to prepare for carrying the child back to her home at Maunga-pohatu, that she might draw her last breath at her home and on her own tribal lands. Knowing the extreme roughness of the track, and judging that such carrying would cause the child much suffering, I objected strongly, saying that she should be allowed to die or recover where she was. I gained my point, but much offended some of the child's elders by my interference. As the child passed away an old woman sitting near raised the mournful long-drawn wail for the dead, and then many voices were raised to bewail the loss of Marewa-i-te-rangi. It was principally a wordless wail, but every now and then one or another would give a few lines of some old dirge.
The people of Te Whaiti wished the child to be buried at that place, but her people objected. Therefore a coffin was made of rough boards, the body placed in it, and the coffin tied on to a bier for carrying. Young men of the district offered their services as carriers, two carrying the bier, bearers changing every mile or two. The parents of the child asked me to accompany them to their home and see the last of their child. I could not leave with them, but knew that it would take them three days to carry the child home, whereas I could walk the distance in a day and a half. So I delayed starting until they had covered half the distance. The party stayed a night at three different Native villages, and at each place the mournful wailing was indulged in, as also speech-making. And the people of each place asked that the child be buried in their urupa (burialground), but the father objected. The family with whom the child had stayed at Te Whaiti accompanied the party, at, I think, the parents' request.
The last night on the road was passed at Rahitiroa, and I caught up to the party just before they arrived at that isolated hamlet. As we wended our way along the forest range, about three-quarters of a mile away, our party fired two guns to let the village people know we were near. They had before been apprised of the probable date of the arrival of the party. As we passed down the bush-covered spur leading down to the hamlet I saw old Hopa, of Hamua, cut a stick and hand it to one of the women of our party. As we approached the plaza we saw the people of the village assembled thereon, while men were firing guns frequently, some standing on the roofs of outhouses as they fired. As we halted about 30 yards from the collected people the coffin was placed on the ground and the wailing for the dead was proceeded with. After this was over our party sat down,
and the leading men of the place rose one by one and made speeches anent the death of the child and death in general. Then the principal men of our party did the same thing.
Now, when we marched on to the plaza the chief man of the place was standing in the ranks opposite. At once the woman of our party who had been provided with a stick walked up to him and struck him sharply across the shoulders several times. He took not the slightest notice, but stolidly continued his wailing. The cause of this was the fact that this man had proposed that Marewa be treated by a local tohunga (shaman), a crazy man who treated patients as being afflicted by kehua, or spirits of the dead. Although the child was not treated by this ruffian, yet the proposal for him to do so was deemed by some Natives to be the cause of her death. Also, the beaten man's own daughter had died but a few days before our arrival, and it was thought by some that she had been bewitched by the same old humbug. Had not the long-armed law of the white man been reaching out across the wild forests of Tuhoeland at that time, it is highly probable that the old warlock would have died suddenly of lead-poisoning.
At this forest hamlet we were treated to an illustration of the ancient custom of muru, or kai taonga—i.e., the taking forcibly or demanding payment for some injury or loss sustained by the person or persons from whom such payment is demanded. A girl of this place had been assaulted some days previously, hence our party demanded compensation. Why a people should pay for the privilege of being afflicted by some trouble is a somewhat difficult problem for the European mind to solve, though it appears to be clear enough to the Maor: Possibly it was looked upon as a punishment for them not having looked after the child better. It is a custom that, presumably, could only obtain among a communistic people. Anyhow, the visitors left the richer by two horses, two rolls of print, some new clothing, several greenstone ornaments, and 5s. in silver. Apparently the latter represented the amount of ready money in possession of the subclan.
A considerable amount of speech-making was indulged in. In the course of his speech one of the village people said, “Welcome, O maid! There are none here to welcome [beckon] you to the plaza. All your Maori people are dead. Your lands have become digging-places for the white man” [alluding to the Government road-works then in progress]. A woman murmured, “Ei! Moumou a Marewa” (“Marewa is wasted”—i.e., reared to no purpose). The old chief of Maunga-pohatu (grandfather of the dead child) rose: “Friends, the shadow of death has again come upon us, the death that came to man in the days of Maui
of old, in the days when man was young upon the earth. It has ever remained with us, even that all men, great and small, are caught in the snare of Hine-nui-te-Po. There is no escape from it. But this dying of our young people is a new thing. In former times our people did not die so—they scarce knew disease; they died on the battlefield or of old age, they knew no other death. These diseases which slay our people were brought by the white man. They brought the epidemics which raged in the days of our fathers, the rewharewha and the kurawaka, which slew many thousands of the Maori people. Now we are afflicted by the whaka-pakoko (fever). Friends, we have prayed long to the God that health and strength be given to the Maori people, that we may retain life. But the scourge never ceases, it continues and continues. Therefore have I ceased to pray for health and vigour for our people; I now pray that we old people may be taken, but that our children be spared. But methinks I see before me the end of the Maori people. They will not survive. For we can see that our people are fast going from the earth,” &c.
Next morning our party started on the last day's march to Maunga-pohatu, over extremely rugged forest country where the work of the bearers of the bier was no sinecure. When we reached the summit of the high, bleak range of Te Whakaumu a halt was made at the old taumata, or resting-place, used by these foot-travellers of the great forest for centuries past. The snow and cold sleet are driving fiercely across the sullen, exposed summit, yet the bier-bearers are stripped to the waist and perspiring profusely. The ascent of Te Whakaumu is no joke. When relieved they wrap blankets round their nude bodies and drop behind the bearers. Through a break in the driving storm we see the great rock bluff of Maunga-pohatu far above and ahead of us. The mournful wail of the lament for the for the dead sounds through the drifting snows. The mother of the dead child is crouched upon a rock near by, and gazing across the forest ranges at the storm-lashed mountain. She is greeting the sacred mountain of the fierce Tama-kai-moana clan, the enchanted mountain of many a wild legend, that, as Maori myth has it, gave birth to the dark-skinned people who dwell beneath it, and gathers them to her stony bosom in death. For she is the mana of the clan—she is the mother of the Children of the Mist.
The mother is in the whare potae. She is mourning for her child, and greeting the landmarks of her home. It is a combination of mother-love and the love of primitive man for his tribal lands. Now the summit of the mountain is suddenly covered with a white pall of mist. An old man said, “The mountain is greeting for her child.” The parents of the child
are a little apart; they have chaunted a lament for their child and greeted their mountain home. Then, as the mountain-brow becomes obscured by the mists the whole of the people give voice together in an ancient dirge of their race The bitter sleet and snow, fierce-driven by the winds, pelt the mourners unmercifully. Through the drifting scud we see the great cliffs far ahead, wherein are the caves of the dead, where l e the bones of many generations of the children of Potiki. And then, with the storm fiends lashing us, we go down into the darkling valley below.
When we reached the narrow valley where, in times long passed away, the men of Tuahau were done to death, we who were not bound by tapu indulged in a meal; but the bearers of the child were not allowed to partake of food until the shades of night should fall, and the bereaved parents, being in the whare potae, were also forced to go foodless. They sat apart from us “common” people, and full well do I remember the indignant refusal of the bereaved mother to partake of a pannikin of tea which I offered her. Mea culpa! Of a verity my sins be many.
When our party emerged from the forest into the clearing and saw, a mile below us, the village of the Tama-kai-moana clan, a few shots were fired to let the people know of our arrival. They fire several shots in return. Then we see the people rapidly collecting in the plaza, and long, wailing cries come to us on the clear mountain air. Descending by rugged ways we reach the stream below, where we halt and form into solid column, the bearers of the bier being in front. In that formation we march slowly up the slope towards the village. When about half-way up the challenger (wero) leaps from cover behind a stump. Naked to the waist, clad but in a scanty kilt, face painted, hair adorned with feathers, and brandishing a double-barrelled gun, he advances towards us, leaping from side to side, making hideous grimaces, lolling out his tongue, and emitting deep-toned grunts as of defiance. When within about 12ft. of the front of the slowly advancing column he rapidly fires both barrels of his gun to right and left, turns to his right, and walks quietly back to the hamlet. The column takes no notice of this exhibition, but marches slowly onward, with guns at the trail, looking straight before them and downward. Meanwhile volley after volley is being fired in our direction from the village, where many of the men are armed with breech-loaders. Loud cries of “Haere mai!” are mingled with a dozen different laments. As the head of our column reaches the fence which encloses the plaza the armed men are crouched behind it. Thrusting their guns through the palisades they fire a final volley over our heads, and then retire to take
their place among the village people who have gathered to receive our party. Then followed a long period of weeping (tangihanga), which we have already described. This lasted for about two hours (a very long tangihanga). After this the village people —i.e., some of the leading men—stood forth and made speeches in a loud voice. One big-framed bushman fiercely denounced the old chief for taking the child away to die through contact with the white people. “I do not stand forth to welcome you, but to blame you for the death of our child. You took her away to bring life to the Maori people! Not so: it was to bring death. We sent her living body forth from here: the semblance alone returns We saw you take her alive and well: you return us a piece of wood [the coffin]. Why do you bring this piece of timber here? I do not want it. Take it away and give me back my grandchild.” So he continued for some time; and then, dropping the fierce tone of voice, he greeted the child as though she were still living: “Come back, O maid! Come back to the home of your fathers. Return here to Maunga-pohatu, to your mother who greets you, greets you by the sign of the drifting mists. The breath of life has departed from you, the personality alone remains. Behold yon mountain!—the mountain that brought you into the world of life, and which greets her child as she returns to rest with her ancestors. Welcome. Come, child, though you be covered with the garment of death which descends upon all mankind, come and sleep with your fathers who await you,” &c.
That night the coffin was placed in a rude shed constructed for the purpose on the plaza. The mother and aunt of the child remained all night with the coffin. Every time I awoke during the night I could hear them wailing for the dead, crooning forth old laments in tones most doleful to hear.
Mourning and speech-making were continued the following day. The parents and aunt (the latter seemed to act as chief mourner—her part was the tangi whakakurepe) took food only after darkness fell. The young men who had carried the child from Te Whaiti had the tapu removed from them at an adjacent stream in the manner already described.
The second night of our stay, two of our party slept in a shed adjoining my own camp. I heard them rise about midnight and leave the place. It appeared that they had heard a whistling sound which frightened them, as they imagined it to be made by the ghost-spirit (kehua or whakahaehae) of the dead. Therefore they took up their blankets and fled to the large sleeping-house, where most of our party were, and there passed the remainder of the night.
On the second morning after our arrival the child was buried
The grave of one of her great-grandfathers, who flourished during the first half of the nineteenth century, and who had been buried at one side of the plaza of the village, was opened and the child laid within. The people were gathered together about 40 yards from the grave. The burial party were, of course, all tapu. When opening up the grave, one of them took out the skull of the old warrior who lay therein and held it up to the view of his descendants, from whom arose a long moaning wail at the sight. After the burial the tapu was taken off the burial party.
That night all the visitors were called to assemble within the meeting-house. On entering we saw that all the dead child's possessions, except her ordinary wearing-apparel, had been collected and displayed in the middle of the room. There were also other articles, presented by her elders. The items comprised beautiful feather cloaks; greenstone—both worked and polished ornaments, and blocks of the rough, unworked stone; cloaks and capes woven from dressed and dyed flax-fibre; as also other articles, together with £10 in money. All these things, as also the horses on which the child had been carried on divers journeys, were presented to the people with whom she had lived while at Te Whaiti, those who had tended her during her illness, and those who had brought her body back home. Farewell speeches were made by the village people that night to our party, who were to leave next morning, with many greetings to those who had been kind to the child.
When the sun climbed over the rugged front of Maungapohatu next morn I lifted the back trail for the cañon of Toi, amid the farewell cries of the bush folk—“Haere. Haere ki a Marewa.” (“Farewell. Return to Marewa”). Although actually leaving the child, yet to the Native mind her semblance and personality were ever with me and at my camp. Looking back from the summit of the range, before entering the forty-mile forest, I saw the mother seated opposite to her child's grave on the cliff-edge, and swiftly came back to me the words of Hopa of Hamua. “Kua riro to tatou kura i toku ringa. Hai konei ra E hine! Hai konei. Hai konei. Hai konei. (“Our treasure has now left my hands. Remain here, O maid! Farewell. Farewell. Farewell.”)
A remark omitted: In these days of the white man the Maori prizes highly a photograph of a deceased relative. Having a good many photographs of Tuhoe Natives in my camp, people come and ask to see a photo. of some relative who has passed away. This they will weep over for a while and then go away apparently satisfied. A Native asked me to photograph his dead daughter as she lay on the bier. When finished, I left it with the parents at their home. They made no sign during
my brief stay, but I had not ridden a quarter of a mile down the track before I heard the mournful wail for the dead raised. The old people here sometimes weep profusely at sight of a photograph of Te Kooti, or “Te Turuki,” as they term him.
The Maori of yore preferred to die in battle. He disliked the idea of perishing slowly of natural decay—“Engari kia mate a ururoa te tangata” (“Rather let man die like the ururoa shark, fighting to the last”).
At the lamenting for a dead man his widow is a prominent mourner. She walks about during the tangihanga weeping and indulging in the tangi tikapa (see ante). Near relatives of the dead, who take charge of the corpse, receive the choicest food, albeit they eat but at night. They are termed the “whare mate,” or “kiri mate.”
The mortuary memorial is occasionally a double one—in this way: When Takua, of the Ngati-Kahungunu Tribe, was slain at Nga-huinga, a wooden post was set up, and a pit (pokapoka) dug at the spot where he fell. Some of the memorials erected for chiefs were carved in a most elaborate manner.
I have heard an old Native say that weeping for the dead was not so common in pre-European days here as it has become since, and that it was principally performed over a person slain by treachery, not so much over those who were slain in fair fight or who died a natural death. It may be so, but I have my doubts.
On the return of a war-party there would be a tangihanga for those who had fallen.
W. Wyatt Gill has recorded the “trussing” of the body for burial in Mangaia (Cook Islands), with many other interesting facts; as also the case of a person who remained in the whare potae for seven years, for an only child.
In some cases members of a war-party would carry home the bones of their dead, as well as the head.
There is among the Maori no feeling against uttering the name of a person lately deceased.
A few weeks ago a Native was taken ill at Rua-toki, and it was thought his end was near, hence the people started to carry him to Matata, thirty miles away, that he might die among his own people and on his tribal lands. On reaching the Rangitaiki River, however, he died, but the bearers took his body on to Matata, where the mourning and burial took place.