Volume 9 1900 > Volume 9, No. 2, June 1900 > Triangular teeth amongst Maoris, by F.E. Clarke, p 121-124
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- 121

I MUST confess that my ignorance of the rarity of “triangular” teeth in the Maori, allowed me at the time I first saw them to pass over what seems to have been an ethnological curiosity worth further inquiry. But this was caused by an ingrained idea that such form of teeth was not unusual in the Maoris employed in the old “South Seamen” as harpooners, &c. If my memory is correct, such is referred to in “Typee” or “Omoo,” and certainly in “Moley Dick,” and has been mentioned to me by old whalers (Peter Oldham and Aleck Beadon) years ago. Besides, a certain amount of familiarity with “triangular teeth” in the Kroomen and casual African coalers in the Cape de Verdes (in the middle fifties, when a child there) caused no astonishment at the sight, when my son, who was with me at Kawhia, directed my attention thereto.

My acquaintance with the matter I will now detail:—

In the early part of 1895, taking advantage of a general holiday and an excursion trip thereto, my son, Norman. (ætat then thirteen and a half years) and I placed our cruising Rob Roy canoe on the Gairloch, bound for Kawhia Harbour, with the intention of having a thorough exploration of all the nooks and crannies about the harbour and streams running thereinto. Taking the canoe was a lucky incident in this case, as there is no better introduction to the heart of a civilised or natural savage at a waterside than a type of small boat within their comprehension, but not beyond their knowledge—and so it proved in our case. We were almost féted by the natives we met, and it was an opportunity, if I had been better acquainted with their folk-lore than I was, to have procured plenty of valuable information. Undoubtedly, our boat obtained us much better treatment than was accorded others who were there at the same time, and enabled me to partially dip into subject matter and sites, which I am certain further investigation would have led to many interesting discoveries. It led to the seeing the first of the old Maoris thus:—We were proceeding down the inward shore of the harbour, towards the Wai-hara-keke, when we sighted a large - 122 canoe labouring along in the then heavy wind and rough “jobble.” They came towards us to have a look at the strange craft, and we had to give them an exhibition in the way of paddling rings round them, &c. We were then going on our journey, but this they would not permit. We must go along with them; go ashore and get some pears, and the canoe had to be shown to some one. This I could not fully understand at the time. After the small crowd ashore had seen the boat, and all its fittings had been explained to them, we wanted to go away, but we were again prevented. “Not yet,” was cried. So I stopped, and whilst explaining “watertight bulkhead fittings” to another, my leg was slyly pinched by my son, and I then looked up to see No. 1 of the three-pointed toothed individuals—a very old, middle-sized, but evidently, originally, thick-set Maori, heavily tattooed over the face and other parts of the body, which were allowed to be visible, and who had evidently rigged himself up in his best cloak, necklace and adornments for the occasion. He, of course, did not know a single word of English, and my Maori is very attenuated, so that the whole explanations had to be gone through again in pigeon Maori and sign language. He undoubtedly had three-cornered teeth—“shark teeth” I have always been accustomed to call them"—but whether filed or punched, I do not know, thongh I had the opportunity of looking into his mouth at a distance of, at times, not more than a foot. If I had known the rarity of such an occurrence I should undoubtedly have assured myself more. I understood, I think, from him, that his name was “Kona,” and that he, as with most of the very numerous Maoris round the harbour then, were down for the sake of drying the makawhiti and kanae fish, and giving their wahines a good feed of patiki.

No. 2 occurrence was as follows:—I was camped then just a little way in the mouth of Rakau-nui Stream, having got permission to fix the tent close to the semi-natural, semi-artificial caves—a very convenient place, as being formerly tapu; there were no natives there after nightfall. In giving me permission to camp there (in any cases where I have had to deal with aborigines, either in Australia or here, I am always particular to ask if there is any likelihood of interference with vested rights before doing anything, even if I know it can be done vi et armis, or in a milder way, without permission), the natives said, “You camp there, if you like, but at night the ‘taipo’ is always about.” After becoming acquainted with the men, one of them told me the following reason why they did not care about stopping at these caves. Of course, with my limited knowledge of Maori, and the reciter's limited knowledge of English, some discrepancy may have arisen in the tale, but I understood it as follows:—His grandfather lived at the caves when Te Rauparaha was living in the district, and - 123 he came down and surprised them in the cave. There was an escape outlet provided (opening about a chain or so away round the corner, allowing anyone to drop out on to the rocks, six or seven feet, at low water, or into the water when tide is high) through which the residents of the caves were endeavouring to escape. The favourite wife of the grandfather, who was enceinte, was leading. From her circumstances and the passage being small, she stuck, and force being applied to drive her through, resulted in matters being made worse; therefore, they had to cut her open, and then pull her back, as Te Rauparaha's men were killing behind, and so the remains were passed backwards, allowing the others to get out. As an indignity, Te Rauparaha's men eat what was left of the favourite wife and Cœsarianly operated-on infant. Since then, my narrator told me, the caves had been abandoned as dwelling places of the Maori, and were originally tapu. My countenance exhibited, I expect, an expression of incredulity, because my narrator said, “My father is alive, my grandfather is alive—would you like to see them?” I said that I would; so he said he would bring them to me in a couple of days. This he did. The father was a hale, stout man; the grandfather very wizened up and heavily tattooed. As a pet, he had with him a very young, long, red-haired pig. I could not understand a word he had to say, and his father and grandson had evidently great difficulty at times to understand him. But the tale was gone over again with due assenting words and gestures. This old fellow's teeth were also “shark-shaped.” He also took the greatest interest in the canoe and “fixins,” mosquito-proof tent, &c., and he evidently had with me his first drink of coffee. Whilst he was at my camp a party came up the river in a boat from the settlement at Powini, amongst them two fat men, one inordinately so. As it was a splendid sandy beach in front of my camp and high water at the time, they pulled in to see how I was getting on (one of them being an excursionist), and to have a bathe.

When the very fat man was gambolling in the water and displaying his sedential rotundity, I jogged the grandfather quietly in the ribs, smacked my lips and rubbed a similar portion of my person to that which our fat friend was so lavishly displaying. The flash of amused and gratified light which lit up “our grandfather's” eyes and face was amusing. The grandson's name was Taki-ari Te-kou, and he was then living at Motu-karaka.

The third individual was a very old man—I understood one of the original chiefs—then stopping at the Maketu kainga. He was a very light-coloured Maori, and had a magnificent sample of the high-dome shaped head. He was pretty well tattooed from head to foot—as his only garment, a calico sheet, gave us many opportunities of observing—as he used to come over and sit on his “hunkers” along- - 124 side me whenever I came on shore. We would mutually admire and try to understand one another, and with him also I noted there was a difficulty in talking between him and the present Maoris. He had the shark teeth, with very thin lips, and a much thinner nose than either of the other two old fellows. He, I believe, died very shortly after I was up—at least I think it must have been his death I saw recorded in an Auckland paper in Kawhia news—as it said the guns were fired all round the harbour to note the intelligence, which was expected. His heart was very weak when I was there, because he went down twice like a log when we were near him, but he refused all assistance when he came to, waving the surrounding people away in a grand manner.

Mr. Morpeth told me he saw one of the “shark-toothed” when he was up at Kawhia about a year ago. Also Mr. Holdsworth and a friend with him “unearthed” another individual, I believe, on the last excursion a few months ago. I have looked forward since my trip to another one there. I promised the Maoris to go up the next year at the same time, because they were going to show me several things no other white man (so my guardian angel Ra-tohi told me) had ever seen, but unfortunately in the following May I had another attack of la grippe, the sequelœ of which put a final touch on my heart, and I am afraid has doomed me to a very inactive and exertionless life for the future.

I am certain from what I saw of the remains of stone fixings on some of the caves in the hill tops about the Harbour, much interesting ceremonial information is to be gathered by a Maori expert from some of the very old fellows left—that is, if the right way is taken to obtain it. Of course my conjectures may be wrong, but that is my impression.

[We shall be very glad if any other of our members can support the late Mr. F. E. Clarke's observations. We have never seen anything of the kind amongst the Maoris ourselves. Mr. Clarke was well known as a scientific observer, and it is not likely he would be mistaken.—Editors.]