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Volume 45, 1912
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Art. XLIX.—The Manuaute, or Maori Kite.

[Read before the Auckland Institute. 24th October, 1912.]

Climb up, climb up
To the highest surface of heaven—
To all the sides of heaven.
Climb then to thy ancestor,
The sacred bird in the sky—
To thy ancestor Rehua,
In the heavens.
New Zealand Kite-song.

Previous to their contact with European civilization the Maoris were a strenuous people. They were strenuous in war, strenuous in industry, strenuous in their sports. Their splendid physique, their perfect health, and the hardy condition in which they were kept by their arduous open-air life, joined to their buoyant and happy temperament, fitted them for every kind of undertaking that required strength, activity, and endurance.

Games and exercises of one sort or another would be going on among them all the year round whenever opportunity offered. There would be the poi and the dancing contests, the practice of the haka and the tutu-ngarahu, as well as wrestling matches and spear-throwing, varied with the spinning of tops, the flying of kites, and many other sports too numerous to mention. Some of these were designed to while away the long evenings in the whare tapere, or house of amusement;* some as trials of strength and

[Footnote] * See Elsdon Best, Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 34, p. 34.

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skill in the open air. But it was in the late summer or early autumn that the” great games,” or tribal or intertribal tournaments, usually took place; for it was at this season—when the days were long and the weather generally fine, when the kumara plantation had been cleaned up and required no further attention until the harvest-time–it was then that the Maori was wont to give himself up to enjoyment, provided always that he was not engaged on the war-path. At this time the inhabitants of villages, or groups of villages, would turn out in parties—men, women, and children—and go on their hunting or fishing expeditions, or perhaps on a visit to some neighbouring hapu or friendly tribe; and whenever a number of people were assembled a great part of their time would be spent in whatever game happened to be the craze at the moment.

It was generally characteristic of Maori games that they engaged the strength of the whole number of available contestants. They had not yet reached that stage of civilization at which the game is played by a few trained athletes while the whole crowd sit round as spectators, as in a Spanish bull-fight or a colonial football match. Even if the games were such that only a few could play at a time, the rest were ready to take their turn; and very often, in the larger competitions, a Haka, or posture dance, would form part of the programme, if it did not, as was often the case, form a sort of chorus to the game.

Of all the games in vogue amongst the Maoris that of kite-flying was one of the most ancient as well as one of the most popular. There is pretty frequent mention of the practice in several of the older writers on New Zealand, but the notices are fragmentary and incomplete. It seemed to me, therefore, that it would be a good thing to put them, along with such information as I have been able to obtain from other sources, into a connected form; and the result is the paper I have the honour of reading to you this evening.

It may seem strange that neither in the writings of Captain Cook nor in those of any of his companions do we find any mention of the kite; but when we consider the character of the Maoris, as well as the circumstances of the navigator's visit, we realize that there is nothing remarkable in the omission. The head of the primitive Maori could contain only one thing at a time—what he felt he felt most acutely, to the exclusion of everything else; and we can easily conceive that they would be so taken up with the kaipuke (ship), with the strange race of beings that it brought to their shores, with the wonders of the fire-arms, and the (to them) priceless value of the taonga, or goods, that for the moment such an every-day thing as the mere flying of a kite would have quite lost its interest. The same absence of mention of the kite is noticeable in Crozet, the historian of the ill-fated Marion expedition, which took place in 1772. Crozet was a very accurate observer, and his account of the primitive Maoris and their customs is one of the most exact and graphic that we possess. If he had seen the kite he would certainly have described it. But it must be remembered that his visit was confined to a very small part of the country — a hilly, forest-covered, and sparsely populated region on the coast of the Bay of Islands, where kite-flying would scarcely have been practised.

According to the universal Polynesian tradition, Maui, the hero-god, and the common ancestor of all the brown races of the Pacific, was himself a kite-flyer,* and wherever his adventurous descendants have settled they

[Footnote] * See “Maui the Demi-god,” by W. D. Westervelt, p. 114.

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have brought the practice with them; while in most places they have introduced the material of which tradition states his kite was originally made—viz., the aute or paper-mulberry, which gives to the New Zealand kite its generic name—the term manuaute meaning “the bird (made of) the aute.”

This plant, a small tree with rough trilobed leaves, known to botanists as. the Broussonetia papyrifera, is common to most of the Pacific islands, where to this day its bark is used for the manufacture of tapa, or Native cloth. Together with the kumara or sweet potato, the hue or calabash, the ti yore or Cordyline terminalis, and probably the karaka or native laurel, it was introduced into New Zealand by the Maoris in some of their earlier migrations. Though specimens of the tree, as well as of the cloth which was made, from it, were seen by Cook and others of the early navigators, it never seems to have been very abundant. Being a tropical plant, it would no doubt need a good deal of care in the cultivation; and as soon as the Maoris were able to obtain a supply of cotton and linen cloth it was neglected, and became the prey of wandering cattle, and gradually died out. Parkinson, on a visit to the Bay of Islands in 1844, heard of some plants still existing in Hokianga, and managed to get a few cuttings from the chief Patuone, which, however, he failed to propagate; and Colenso, writing in 1880, was of opinion that at that time not a single vestige of the aute tree was remaining in New Zealand.

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Fig. 1—Manuaute: Sir George Grey's model in Auckland Museum.

It is probable that the first kites made in New Zealand were constructed on the Polynesian model, in which the aute was used in the form of tapa, or paper cloth, stretched on a frame; but the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient quantity of the bark, and perhaps the unsuitability of the climate for the manufacture of tapa, necessitated the adoption of another material, especially for the larger kites, and a substitute was found in the leaves of the raupo (a kind of giant sedge—Typha latifolia), a coarse tussock-grass named upoko tangata, or in the flower-stems of the kakaho (Arundo conspicua). Even after the plant had become scarce the connection with the aute was kept up, the heads of the kites being sometimes made of that material while the body and wings were commoner stuff.

All the larger kites consisted of a light frame of twigs or reeds to which were sewn the raupo, upoko tangata, or whatever other material might be used to hold the wind. Even when the aute was used it was employed— at least, in later times—in the form of strips of the inner bark; in any case, there is no record of its use in the form of tapa for this purpose in New Zealand.

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The Maori kite was known under several names, and probably each name described some special variety, differing from the others in size, shape, or the material of which it was made. Thus there is the manu or bird, the kaahu or hawk, the paakau or wing, and the manuwhara or kite of the canoesail. Still, the term manuaute seems to have been retained as a general name, and might be used loosely for any variety.

There is a very fine model of a Maori kite in the Auckland Museum, which was made for Sir George Grey by some East Coast Natives. Its shape is roughly that of a hawk with wings outspread, and measuring about 10 it. or 12 ft. from tip to tip. It is made of raupo, neatly sewn on to a light frame of manuka or tea-tree twigs, stained alternately red and black. The body of the bird is surmounted by the likeness of a human head, made of linen or calico, painted and decorated with hawk's feathers, the latter being shaved off from the quill so as to wave in the wind. This kite is of a very graceful form, and, allowing for the difference of material, probably represents as nearly as possible the original manuaute.

Mr. J. White, in his “Ancient History of the Maori,” tells of a kite, used in the olden times, which was made to resemble a man, with head, body, and legs—the body being made of kareao (commonly known as supplejack), over which was put the bark of the aute tree.

A smaller variety of kite is also represented in the Auckland Museum by two specimens obtained through Mr. Elsdon Best. These are of a triangular shape, and are made of the stems of the kakaho (Arundo conspicua) lashed on to the flowering panicles of the same, no other material being used. These kites are about 2ft. long, and are ornamented with bunches of hawk's feathers at the angles. This species seems to have survived all the others, and has often been seen by some of the older settlers.

So far as I have been able to gather, none of the New Zealand kites were furnished with tails, such as we understand by the term. It is true that Mr. Elsdon Best* mentions the “tail” of a kite, but the context shows that this was part of the solid structure, as he says that to this, as well as to the wings, were attached “long tails or streamers termed puhihi(puhipuhi?). These were probably light garlands of feathers such as were flown from the sternpost of a war-canoe, and were simply used for ornament, having nothing whatever to do with the balancing of the kite. The same author states* that “sometimes shells were attached to the kites, and when flying, should the cord be held [checked?], the oscillation would cause the shells to rattle…. Shells of the kakahi, or fresh-water, mussel, were used for this purpose, evidently on account of their lightness.” And Mr. A. Hamilton, in “Maori Art” (p. 377), says that the head was sometimes hollow, and that the shells were put inside. This statement agrees with that of a Maori writer (Te Rangi, or William Marsh) whom I shall have to quote presently. Mr. Elsdon Best states that horns or points were attached to the head of the kite. These were probably in the shape of long antennae, formed of stalks of toetoe or raupo, covered with feathers, such as were used on a war-canoe.

Professor A. C. Haddon, in a most interesting and exhaustive essay on kites in general (“Study of Man,” p. 246), states that the string (of the New Zealand kite) was most expeditiously formed and lengthened at pleasure, being merely the split leaves of the flax-plant (Phormium tenax). This may have been the case in regard to the little toy kites used by children, and perhaps to some of the degenerate kites of later days, but a string of knotted

[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 34, p. 58.

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flax-leaves would have been far too heavy as well as much too weak to raise some of the monster kites which in old times were flown at the “great games,” when the string was often hundred of yards long. In fact, it is expressly stated in a minute and graphic description of the manuaute, in a Maori MS. by Te Rangi in the Auckland Public Library, kindly translated for me by Archdeacon Hawkins, that the string for such a kite as he describes was made of muka, or dressed flax—meaning, of course, that it was spun in the same way as a fishing-line or any other small cordage.

It appears to have been customary both in New Zealand and throughout Polynesia for the kite-flyer to chant a kind of song as the kite went up. These songs were a variety of the karakia called turu manu, or kite-charm, and were believed to make the kite fly properly. A number of these have been preserved. They are often full of poetic fancy; but the archaic language in which they are composed, while denoting their great antiquity, makes them extremely difficult of translation.

Mr. Colenso relates that, on arriving at a Maori village, he was surprised to find grown-up men engaged in flying kites and spinning tops. He seems to imply that there was something unmanly, if not childish, in such an occupation. But why kite-flying should be considered less manly than, say, bowling or golf it would be difficult to explain, especially if the kite-flyer was the manufacturer of his machine.

Mr. Elsdon Best gives a very graphic account of kite-flying in the olden days in a paper on Maori games read before the Auckland Institute in 1901.* Writing between inverted commas, probably repeating what was told him by some old Maori in Tuhoe-land, he says, “In the days of old our people would weave kites, and the wings and body thereof would be covered with aute. Hence the name ‘manuaute.’' Horns or points would be fastened to the head of the kite…. When the wind rose the people would go a kite-flying (whakaangi manu), and many would gather to look on. An expert person would be selected to cast off the kite that it might rise, and, if a large kite, he would have to be careful lest the thing swoop down and he be struck by the points thereof. When the kite rose it would soar away like a bird, and the cord would be paid out as it ascended. Then the karakia [or kite-flying song] would be repeated…. Then a round object, a disc, would be sent up the cord, along which it would travel. It was to take water to the kite, and show that the kite had reached the heavens. And it would reach the kite, although the latter might be so distant as to be out of sight. Then the cord would be drawn in, and finally the kite would be recovered. And on being looked at it would be found quite wet. A peculiar wetness this that clings to the kite: it is not like the water which flows here below; it is like dew, or the misty wet which settles on the ranges.”

But probably the finest account of the kites and kite-flying of the old days is that given by Te Rangi in the Maori MS. already referred to. The account is headed by a pen-and-ink drawing of a kite somewhat similar in shape and construction to Sir George Grey's model in the Auckland Museum —i.e., of a bird with extended wings, each part of the kite being marked by a number referring to a schedule of names.

He commences with a description of the manuaute, which he says was a comparatively unimportant kite, but was nevertheless a very good flier, requiring from 150 to 200 yards of string of dressed flax (muka) for one of moderate size, and from 300 to 700 yards for a larger one.

[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 34, p. 58.

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But this apparently was only a toy compared with the manukaahu (hawk-bird) and the manuwhara (sail-bild), on the description of which he waxes picturesque. Unfortunately, he does not give the dimensions, but they must have been immen e machines, even allowing for exaggeration in the statement that it took “from five men to ten men, to twenty men to thirty men” to send them up, and, including the men holding the line—which might be anything to 1,200 yards, or even 2,200 yards in the case of an extra-large one—it took no less than seventy men to manipulate the kite. The head of the “man in the kite,” as he terms it, was ornamented with feathers,” requiring perhaps the plucking of twenty pigeons.” This includes, no doubt, the decoration of the horns which he mentions afterwards. There were also plumes from the albatross (toroa) on the head, as well as tufts of albatross-down attached to the ears. And “there were also young birds inside the head, to make a rattling or a rumbling noise as the kite was lifted up by the wind. About twelve was the number of these young ones, which were, merely skeletons without any flesh.”

It was a difficult as well as a dangerous thing to get the manuwhara launched in the air, on account of the straining of the huge wings under the pressure of the wind. For if a false start were made, and the kite struck a man as it swooped over the ground, the horns would pierce his body—“he would be driven into the earth; he would never rise again.” This is what caused such fear,” continues the writer, “when the manuwhara swooped about like a hawk skimmimg over the earth; and that is why it required such a number of men to hold it.”

The flying of such a kite was, of course, a great event, and would no doubt attract a large concourse of spectators, including probably the inhabitants of adjacent villages, and possibly parties of visitors from other tribes, many of whom would perhaps bring their own kites to join in a flying match. It is easy to picture the scene as the “great games” are being held on some breezy upland, or perhaps a broad beach, when the fineweather wind is blowing in strong from the sea. There are the kaumatuas, or tribal elders, sitting with their more distinguished visitors on some rising ground whence they can obtain a good view of the proceedings. The chief women also, sitting in a body apart, with the general public in the back-ground, and a host of children running all over the place. All are in animated discussion as to the respective merits of their favourite kites, or the potentiality of some new manu which is going to break the record, while a steamy haze in the distance reveals the presence of the haangis, or earth-ovens, where the food to be eaten when the play is over is in process of cooking.

Meanwhile the big kite is brought out, not without difficulty, and held up by a number of men facing the wind, while a party of young athletes, in their feathers and war-paint, are squatting down in a compact body at a convenient distance in front, ready to spring up and salute the kite with a haka as it starts on its flight.

And now the excitement rises to fever-heat. “The men who were holding up the kite,” continues Te Rangi, “were as if they were mad, owing to the straining of the wings and the blowing of the wind as the men at the string were taking up their position.” “It was not yet proper,” he says, that these men should be more than 100 yards away”—doubtless so as to be able to keep the kite under control in case of a false start. “As they held it in their hands,” he goes on to say, “a man came running forth from the front rank of the haka, quivering his hands,” like the challenger of a warparty—doubtless with rolling eye-balls and protruding tongue and all the gestures proper on such occasions. At last the kite is let off. Soaring up

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like a giant hawk, it would take all the strength of the men to hold it as they pay out the line, and “as it went up from the hands of the holders,” says Te Rangi again, “there was heard the rattling of the young ones” (that were shut up in the head). It was like the letting-go of the anchor of a ship.

So graphic is the description that we can almost see the body of young athletes jump to their feet with the shout as of one man, “A-haha! Me te kete kainga e ringi ana ki te pari,” and join in the maddening haka, as the great bird, with its human head festooned and feathered, sails away with waving antennae and its long streamers floating in the wind.

But the Maori kite was not always a mere plaything, even though it might be such a magnificent plaything as that described by Te Rangi. Kiteflying in the real old times had often a religious significance. Maui compelled the winds with his kite, and in the hands of a powerful tohunga the manuaute could do wonderful things. As an instrument of divination it could tell whether it would be wise for a war-party to attack a fortified position. “If the war-party,” writes Mr. A. Hamilton in “Maori Art” (p. 377), “got within a reasonable distance of the pa without being molested the priest would construct a kite made of toe-toe whatu manu, and fly it in the air; if the kite should fly lop-sided it is an evil omen, but if it flies well the priest will hold the line in his right hand (to hold it in his left would be an aitua, or unlucky), and, letting it out, he repeats his incantation. Still holding the kite, he sends a ‘messenger’' up the string: when it is half-way up he lets go the line, taking care to have the wind so that the kite will fly across the pa. If the kite catch on the palisade it is thought that the incantation of the priest, made during the performance, will produce such an overwhelming dread or panic in the inhabitants that they will be easily conquered.” That is, of course, provided that a stronger incantation by the tohunga inside the pa is not able to keep the kite from alighting.

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Fig. 2.—Manuaute: Specimen in the British Museum.

Another use of the kite as an instrument of divination is described in “The Migration of Kaha-hunu,” translated by Mr. S. Percy Smith (p. 25). It appears that in very ancient times two twin brothers of high rank had been treacherously murdered by a certain chief, who was jealous of their growing importance in the tribe, and their bodies covered in a deep pit. The story goes on as follows: “Now, the children were absent from the morning even to noon: the morning food was cooked, but they appeared not. Then Kahutapere, their father, went about inquiring for his children

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at this village and that village, but they were not seen. He then went to the pa of Rakai-hiku-roa (the father of the murderer), and on inquiring was told that they had not seen them. Enough! The man was disheartened and anxious about his children, and returned to his pa and cried over them (believing them to be dead). Presently he decided on a course of action (by which they might be found): he weaved two kites, and named them Tara-ki-uta and Tara-ki-tai, after the twins. He then assembled all the priests to say the incantations over them. When they met he flew the kites, and as they ascended the incantations were recited. The kites ascended a great height, and hovered over the pa…. When at their extreme height they descended; then ascended a great height and hovered over the pa— that is, there were two ascents and two descents above the pa. It was sufficient; the lines were wound up, for it was now known that the people of the pa had killed the children.”

What appears to have been a common and very ancient use of the Maori kite seems to have been its employment as a means for seeking for land for settlement. No less than four instances have come to my knowledge, and doubtless many more might be discovered on inquiry amongst the older Maoris. The first is related in an account, kindly furnished me by the Rev. Matiu Kapa, of Kaikohe, in connection with the spread of the Ngapuhi Tribe, of which he is a member.

The Ngapuhi claim that their ancestors originally came to New Zealand, together with those of the Rarawa and the Aupouri, in a canoe named “Matawhaorua,” about five and a half centuries ago. This was a sacred canoe which had belonged to Kupe the navigator, who had visited and explored the country some time previously. It was sacred because it held the mana of the tribes which was leading them, to New Zealand. It was sa sacred that it was not proper that any food should be carried in it, and it was therefore accompanied by another canoe, named the “Mamari,” which carried the provisions for the crew.

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Fig. 3.—Manuaute: Modern specimen in the Dominion Museum, Wellington.

On that first trip of Kupe's the women and children did not come to New Zealand, but stayed behind until a land could be found for them, and when Kupe discovered the land he returned to Hawaiki to bring the people. There was, however, a long delay before they were able to start, on account of dissensions among the tribes; and Kupe, who had grown very old, handed the expedition over to a chief named Nukutawhiti, together with the sacred canoe, at the same time giving him sailing directions which would land him across to Ocean of Kiwa.

The voyage was accomplished in safety, and the party landed at Hokianga—so called because it was the place of returning (hokinga)–i.e., the place whence Kupe had returned to Hawaiki.

The people settled down near the place where they landed, but after some time the country became too small for them, and after a time a chief named Kaharau determined to go further out and seek land for his

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descendants. He flew a kite named Tuoronuku from Pakanae, near the mouth of the Hokianga River, and as it went forth the turu manu, or kitesong, was sung, as follows:—

Taku manu, ka turua atu nei,
He karipiripi, ke kaeaea;
Turu taku manu, Hoka taku manu,
Ki tua te haha-wai;
Koia Atutahi, koia Rehua
Whakahoro tau tara,
Ki te kapua, Koia E!
[Translation, by Mr. S. Percy Smith.]
My bird, by power of charm ascending.
In the glance of an eye, like the sparrow-hawk,
By this charm shall my bird (arise).
My bird bestrides (the heavens)
Beyond the swirling waters,
Like the stars Atutahi and Rehua,*
And there spread out thy wings,
To the very clouds. Truly so.

As the string was let go the kite drifted along before the wind, and fell to the ground at Kaikohe, a distance of twenty-five miles from. Pakanae—of course, conveying the mana of the tribe, and communicating it to the land on which it fell. The Maoris followed it up, and ever since the district of Kaikohe has been occupied by a branch of the Ngapuhi Tribe.

Another instance is related by Mr. J. White in his “Ancient History of the Maori” (vol. 5, p. 94). “In the days of old,” he says, “the Nga-ti-koroki, of the Waikato tribes, put a kite up in the sky, and when it had gone far up the line broke, and the kite went in the direction of Here-taunga (Mercury Bay). The owners followed it, and found it in a place now known by the name of Whenua-kite (land found or discovered). Having found the kite, they gave the place the name it now bears, and the Ngati Koroki claim and hold possession of that land to this day.”

The Ngatihaua, a Waikato tribe, also put up a kite at Maungatautari, when the string broke. They followed up the broken string, which they found resting along the tree-tops, and discovered the kite at Whitianga, also in Mercury Bay, and on that account the tribe afterwards laid claim to the land at Whitianga in the Native Land Court.

A similar device is said to account for the presence of a small detached body of the Ngapuhi Tribe at Koputauaki, near the township of Coromandel.

There was still another use found for the kite, described by Mr. J. White as follows: “In the days of old an aute kite was the medium of communication between the various tribes who lived at a distance from each other…. The kite, when made, was kept till the wind blew from its owners towards the district in which the tribe lived for whom the message was intended. The kite was then taken and made to fly far up in the sky. Then the line that held it was allowed to go, and the kite was blown far away, and alighted at the home of those for whom the message was sent. These, when they had seen the kite, would divine the purport of the message, and the receiving tribe would at once go in a body to the place from which the kite had been sent.”

[Footnote] * Canopus and Antares.

[Footnote] † “Ancient History of the Maori,” vol. 5, p. 94.

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Dieffenbach says that the kite was a sign of peace when it was seen flying near a village. This may have been the case under ordinary circumstances, as it is obvious that kite-flying as a pastime would not have been practised in time of trouble; but I have it on the statement of Kapua, of Purangi, in Taranaki, a recognized authority on old Maori matters, that a kite was often flown over a pa when an enemy was on the war-path in the neighbourhood. This was no doubt a special kite, which would be recognized as a signal not only to give the alarm to the surrounding villages, but to summon the various fighting-parties to a central rallying-point.

I conclude with an anecdote relating how a kite was used as a signal, related to me by Mr. James Bedggood, an old settler in the Bay of Islands. Once upon a time a certain chief, who was already married, took to himself a second wife; but, as might be expected, the two women could not agree. Infatuated with his new wife, the chief took the old one secretly away in his canoe, and marooned her on an uninhabited island, where in process of time she gave birth to a son. She was very badly off for food, and for a while she had to subsist on anything she could pick up on the island. Walking along the shore one day, she happened on a kit of kumara which had been washed up by the tide. These she planted, and in due time harvested the crop, when her condition was a little better. Meanwhile her brothers, who had suspected all along that there was something crooked, had been searching for her everywhere, but so far without success. One day, however, they noticed a smoke rising from, the island. They got out their kite, and managed to fly it so as it would drop near the fire. The woman recognized the kite, and made a bigger smoke as a sign that she had seen and understood, when the brothers crossed over and rescued the mother and child. Her husband wanted her to come back to him, saying that, after all, he preferred her to the young wife; but her brothers would not consent to this tardy settlement, and took her away to live with themselves.

The Maori kite has long been a thing of the past. Probably no Maori now living has ever seen a real manuaute, and when Sir George Grey wanted to obtain one many years ago he was obliged to get one specially made.

In the evolution of modern Maori life there is no room for the manuaute. Its place has been filled by other things. There is no occasion to send up a kite to take a message to a neighbouring county when the post-office or the telephone will do the business with much more ease and certainty. Neither would it be worth while to take the matter out of the hands of the police and hunt round with a kite for the body of a missing relative. As an instrument for the acquisition of new lands it would be hardly required, as the Maori of to-day is more anxious to dispose of the land he already possesses than to exert himself to acquire any more. And the “great games”: is not their place taken by the horse-race and the football match and other pakeha diversions that delight the modern Maori? Some day—on the occasion of a Royal visit, perhaps–kite-flying may be revived once more, like the haka and the poi dance; but the revival, if it ever does occur, will be but a temporary makeshift, a shadow of the past, for the string is broken and the manuaute has long ago sailed away into oblivion.

Haere ra, manuautel
(Farewell, Maori kite!)