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Legends of the Maori

The Chant of Hautu. — A Folk-Song of the Urewera

page 279

The Chant of Hautu.

A Folk-Song of the Urewera.

THE scene is one of those bush hamlets you may see in some of the less frequented parts of the Urewera Country, a kainga of three or four houses of the olden type, roofed with totara bark; a camp nearly surrounded by forest ranges. On the open side the land dips steeply from the terrace on which the village is built, and below there is a glint of water. The first of the morning light is slowly stealing into the forest aisles and across the still waters. The Maori camp sleeps, but the bush birds are wide awake, and the fringe of the forest is ringing with song, long before the cold mists of the night lift from gully and river. The bell-birds are ringing their chimes of the dawning, the tui are sounding their deep bing-bongs and flute-notes, the kaka parrot now and again gives its screech-call. Our English poet sang of “The breezy call of incense-breathing morn, the swallow twittering from the straw-built shed.” The Urewera have a terse and meaningful phrase of beauty to describe the morning song of the birds: “Te waha o Tane, e ko i te ata.” The bush music is here the voice of the god of forests, Tane-Mahuta, who is the personification not only of the trees, but of all the birds; their singing is the utterance of the lord of the wild places.

The rearea, as the Urewera call the bellbird, is chanting its sweetest and loudest, when a blanketed figure appears from one of the low-eaved dwellings, the patriarch of the kainga; the old folk are usually the earliest risers. Listening awhile to the music of the bush, he murmurs a chant of earlier days, the well-remembered song of his departed kinsman Hautu, the wise man of Tuhoe, one-time canoe expert, wood-carver, well-skilled warrior. It is a chant known all through these mountains and valleys of the Urewera, from Ruatoki, on the northern border, to Mataatua and the lakeside kaingas at Waikaremoana. Young and old alike sing the song of Hautu.

It was composed by the tohunga as a song addressed to his young daughter, who was lying apparently in a dying state; she was supposed to have been bewitched by an enemy of her father’s, a rival tohunga of the Urewera. The sorcerer was believed to have performed diabolical page 280 rites, which included the kindling of a sacred fire and the recital of incantations to cause weakening and paralysis of all the bodily and mental faculties; the most feared of all was the ahi whakamatiti. To wreak vengeance on Hautu for some injury or other the wizard caused the little daughter to lie in a lethargic semi-paralysed state that must end in death.

In this song you must suppose the father endeavouring to rouse his daughter to an interest in life, to dispel her fears, to reassure her against the imaginary hurtfulness of the wizard’s spells. You must imagine also something of the untamed face of Nature, which makes a fitting setting and predisposes the forest dwellers to belief in all manner of magic charms and arts of gramarye. In this translation which I have made of the song I have attempted to preserve something of its spirit and rhythm:—

O Pare, my daughter,
Cease your long slumber,
Rise from your mat-bed,
Come forth to the morning.
Lay your hand to the paddle,
The great blade, the long blade,
Matahourua’s paddle.
The dawn-light is breaking,
Soon the sun will be leaping
Above the dark mountains.
Come forth, O my daughter,
The canoe’s at the lakeside;
Set your hand to the baler,
Dash out the water—
The tide of Hawaiki.

No more that sad moping,
That gloomy heart-sickness,
Despair by the fireside;
Bend your ear to the morning,
Voice of Tane, the Tree-God,
The birds of the forest
All chanting together,
The song of the bush-edge,
The song of the summer;
Listen gladly, my daughter.

Slide back the carved tatau,
The door of the whare,
Gaze out on the morning;
The dawn light is spreading,
The bush is awakened,
The Sun God flames upward—

page 281

To your weaving, my daughter;
Place upright the turuturu
The sticks for mat-weaving,
For the robe fine and flaxen.
Set your heart on your pattern,
The art of your mother,
Your karakia murmur,
Skill-implanting taumaha;
Pass your threads deftly,
Shape the tapering garment
That soon will be finished.

Snared bird of the forest,
For the Atua’s appeasement,
Will be laid on the bush shrine,
Sacrificial that offering,
Lest wizard spells harm you.

Let no hurt now befall you:
Curse-spells of makutu,
Charm-fires of magician,
Ahi ruhi, ahi ngenge,
Limb-withering matiti—
At nought we shall set them,
They are powerless to harm you;
Rise and live, O my daughter.

From this translation some cryptic mythological allusions and genealogical references have been omitted. They were introduced by the composer to give additional force and efficacy to his appeal.*

Nowadays the chant of Hautu is often used as a lullaby, and many a child of the mountain country is sung to sleep to the low, soothing rhythm of words that the grieving father long ago used for a different purpose—to rouse his daughter from the stupor that meant death.

* The original of this chant of the Urewera was recited to the author in 1907 by Hurae Puketapu, of Waimako, Lake Waikaremoana.