Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Legends of the Maori

The Tapu-Removal Ceremony

The Tapu-Removal Ceremony.

The day came, in March, 1900, when the invited tribes assembled to participate in the ceremonies and festivities attendant on this lifting of the tapu. The house was enclosed with a tall stockade-like fence of manuka; it stood alongside the road at Whakarewarewa. Several hundreds of Maori of the Arawa and Ngati-Awa tribes gathered there, bringing their gifts of food to the owner of the house, and fine mats (whariki and takapau) to cover its floor.

Most important of all, the two most renowned tohunga Maori were brought by their people to conduct the whai-kawa ceremonies. The Arawa brought Te Rangi-Tahau; the Ngati-Awa brought their old priest Tumutara Pio. Ngati-Awa, it must here be explained, entered into the ceremony because Tene Waitere, the carver, was their kinsman, and Tene was anxious that old Pio should be the master of ceremonies. Herein entered the element of professional jealousy, as will appear; Pio and Te Rangi-Tahau were wizardly rivals, if not enemies.

The two tohunga were as dissimilar in appearance as can well be imagined. Pio was a small wizened ancient, white-whiskered, almost gnome-like. Te Rangi-Tahau, a burly warrior in his day, was still a big figure of a man, grim, tattooed of face, hard old eyes that held surface-glitter suggesting the battle-glare of other days. The pakeha called him “Te Kooti’s butcher”; certainly he had gloried in the war days in the summary execution of prisoners with his stone mere that bore the excellently sinister name “Te Ringa-toto” (The Bloody Hand). Te Rangi-Tahau had been the pupil (tauira) of a great priest of earlier days, Werewere Te Rangi-pumamao, of East Taupo. He was accredited with dread powers of magic; he was a man of strong intellect, and no doubt he possessed the faculties of hypnotism and telepathy.

The first ceremony to whakanoa or annul the tapu’s spell took place in the afternoon of a day in March. Ngati-awa, with their venerable page 263 priest, had this service to themselves; they stole a march on the Arawa, to the anger of grim spellbinder Rangi-Tahau.

This is what occurred within the marae of Rauru when the Ngati-Awa party entered. Tumutara the Wise, holding in his hand a twig of the rata tree, recited in quick, rhythmic voice a number of invocations to propitiate the Maori deities, to draw warmth to the house, to render the tapu harmless, and the house habitable with safety. A brown figure, naked to the waist, whence depended a flax garment, mounted to the roof of the big house and climbed to the ridge-pole. It was Tene Waitere, the carver. He took post on the house-top close behind the tekoteko which surmounted the front gable and stretched forth his arms horizontally on either side of the house—a singular figure, in the attitude of the crucifix. It was his work—he the artist, the very cunning worker, with the resounding chisel of his ancestor Rauru. Like a bronze statue stood Tene on the roof-top for some moments before descending. There was a hum of admiration from Ngati-Awa, and as the old tohunga below finished his first karakia to the tribal and national gods and invisible spirits the people again burst out with a loud shout in the last words of the incantation—

Haramai te toki, haumi-e!

Then with the rata twig (over which he had repeated one of the charms in his storehouse of incantations) Tumutara struck the carved maihi, or wide barge-boards in the front of the house, and next touched the toko-ihi, or front pillar supporting the ridge-pole, at the front of the porch, and the two beautiful carved pare over the doorway and window. The rata tree is sacred among the Ngati-Awa and Urewera in connection with such ceremonies, and always used in house openings like this. The Arawa and other tribes use the kawakawa shrub. The classic name of the rata is Te maro-o-Tane (the loin mat of Tane the God) as applied to its leaves. Tumutara told me a legend of the immortal Tane’s mythical house, “Te Tatau-o-Rangiriri” (The Door of the Angry Heavens); it was the first house over which the kawa ceremony was used, or in which it originated, in the remote mists of the past when all men were gods.

Round the door-posts and the lintels and the carved slabs went the white-bearded priest and his followers, all heads bared. Tumutara tapped reverently the wooden images of ancestors and of fabulous demons, and ever repeated in quick monotone the prayers of olden Aotearoa to void the house of all evil influences, to bind firmly all its timbers, to hold it firm against all the assault of wind and rain, to make it habitable with comfort and joy. The sacred outer threshold (paepae-kai-awha) and the inner door-sill (paepae-poto) were exorcised.

page 264

Outside in the splendidly carved maihi barge-boards on the front of the house were placed the chisels, mallets, and other tools used by the three carvers in their work. These tools were for the time being sacred, and special karakia were pronounced over them by the priest. Then once more Tumutara ended a karakia with a long expiration of breath, and all the people said—not “Amen,” but the ancient Maori equivalent:—

Haramai te toki, haumi-e!

Next came the ceremony of takahi-paepae-poto, or treading the threshold. In accordance with immemorial custom this was done by a woman of rank, an ariki, so that the house might henceforth be free to women to enter. A comely young married woman named Merenia Puoke, sister-in-law of Neke the carver, was selected for the ceremony. While the wise man recited his prayer Merenia stepped across the outer and inner thresholds, and thus ended that day’s ritual.