Volume 31 1922 > Volume 31, No. 121 > A few of the Maori wise sayings from Lake Taupo, collected by H. J. Fletcher, p 29-36
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THE few proverbs given below are just a few of those current among the Maoris of Lake Taupo-nui-a-tia. Some of them are indigenous. They carry on the face of them the stamp of their origin. Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 13, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 35, 38 belong to Taupo. They may be known elsewhere, but there can be no doubt about their origin. No. 3 is a proverb that seems to be current nearly all over New Zealand, but it was used by Tamamutu over 200 years ago. The same is true of No. 39, if not a Taupo saying it was current a long time ago. Of the remainder some have local reference outside the Taupo boundary, but a few remain practically anonymous.

The other references to these proverbs in New Zealand literature are: No. 3, Grey, No. 269; Colenso, No. 14; J.P.S., Vol. X., page 134. No. 6, Shortland gives another version. No. 8, J.P.S., Vol. XI., 130, XVI., 79., XVII., 136. No. 15, J.P.S., Vol. XI., 127. Another version is given in Grey, No. 40, Colenso, 169 and Taylor, 76. Another version of 24 is in Trans N.Z.I., Vol. XLIII. Taylor has “Tu ke” instead of “Take.” No. 26 is given by Judge Smith in Trans., Vol. XXII. There are many other versions. No. 26 commencing “E hia” is given by Grey. No. 26, Colenso, 129; Taylor, 51. No. 28 is given in Trans., Vol. XXXI. No. 29 in Trans., Vol. XXII. No. 30 is quoted by Grey and in J.P.S., Vol. XXIV., page 44. No. 32 is given in the same form by Taylor, 52, and Stowell, 126. No. 33 is given in slightly different form by Grey, 240; Colenso, 129, Trans., Vol. XLI. and Stowell, 131. No. 36 is given in Trans., Vol. XXII. No. 39 is quoted by Grey, 548; Colenso, 154; and Judge T. H. Smith in Trans. Vol. XXII.

  • Trans.—“Transactions New Zealand Institute.”
  • Grey.—Sir. G. Grey's “Maori Proverbs.”
  • Colenso.—A paper in Trans., Vol. XI.
  • Taylor.—“Te Ika a Maui.” 1st Edition.
  • T. H. Smith.—A paper in Trans. N.Z. Inst.
  • Stowell.—“Maori-English Tutor.”
  • J.P.S.—“Journal Polynesian Society.”
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1. Tuwharetoa e! kia ata whakatere i te waka, kai pariparia e te tai monenehu. Tuwharetoa!—Drive the canoe gently, lest it be overwhelmed by the driving spray.

2. Whakamarotia atu ano ka whakahoki mai ana ki te kapua whakapipi.—Stretch out, but return to the sheltering cloud.

3. Ka mate kainga tahi, ka ora kainga rua.—One dwelling place dies, two live.

These three proverbs were used by Tama-mutu of Ngati-Tu-whare-toa, about 200 years ago, the occasion was as follows:—Two chiefs of Ngati-Tuwharetoa, Te Tawiri-o-te-rangi and Te Rangi-ka-heke-i-waho had been killed by a war-party from Whanganui. News of this had been brought to Tamamutu, who was living at Motutere, on the edge of the Taupo Lake. He embarked with a large war-party on a large canoe named “Te Reporepo,” and paddled swiftly on towards Wai-taha-nui, about ten miles south-east of Motutere. While discussing the plan of campaign against the Whanganui raiders, Tamamutu urged the warriors to be cautious. Just as a canoe might meet with disaster by driving too hard against the waves. So Tuwharetoa had need of caution in their meditated pursuit and attack on the raiders. (2.) It was a good thing to push out, but it was also well to guard their return. (3.) The man who had only one plan might be killed. The one who had two or more might live. The first two proverbs are purely local. The third one seems to be the common property of many tribes.

4. E noho kai ika, kia haere kai rau.—Fish eaters remain, net eaters are going.

This proverb was used by the raiders mentioned above. They were making their way back to Whanganui from Taupo, by way of the old Maori track along by the eastern side of Roto-a-ira Lake. They stopped to eat some food a short distance north of the present Maori pa of Otukou. Tu-rahui, one of the Whanganui leaders, had caught some of the koaro, a fish peculiar to Roto-a-ira, and started distributing them to his own men first. By the time he reached Tamakana, the other leader, his net was empty. While they were eating they were suddenly attacked by Tu-whare-toa, and Tu-rahui shouted out to repel the attack but Tamakana replied, “E noho kai ika, kia haere kai rau.” He and his party fled and left Tu-rahui with his men to fall under the weapons of Ngati-Tu-whare-toa.

5. Te tangata i mohio ki te matatahi me te kaituha.—The man who understood good and evil or who had the power of life and death.

This is a saying that was applied to Te Rangi-tua-matotoru by - 31 Te Heuheu the 1st. Rangi-tua-matotoru was a great grandson of Tamamutu. He was a man of great mana.

6. Mumura, totoro, kai rokohanga koe e Hauoki e Hauoka.—Burn up, blaze away, lest you be overtaken by Hauoki and Hauoka.

This is a saying of Hine-rongo. Hauoki and Hauoka were in the habit of going at most inconvenient times to their neighbours to beg for food. On one occasion as she was kneeling down to blow the embers of her fire into a blaze she uttered the words given, and they were overheard by the two men. Hauoki said, “What is that about me Hinerongo?” Hinerongo replied, “Tane kai rau aku.” My men of a hundred feasts. She said this because of the amount of food consumed by these two men.

7. Awatope te manu whiti tua, koukou te Manuauare.—Awatope was the bird that escaped. Manuauare was killed.

These two men were brothers. They were living in one place, and on one occasion the elder, Awatope, received a sign that a war-party was approaching. He advised his brother to flee with him but he would not listen. Awatope ran away and escaped, but the younger brother foolishly stopped where he was and was killed.

8. Karanga riri ka karangatia a Paeko. Karanga kai, te karangatia a Paeko.—Where there is danger Paeko is called, but he is not called when food is distributed.

This is a saying of Paeko. He had seen that when the cry of ko te whakaariki, ko te whakaariki was raised it was coupled with his name, but when the distributions of food were made he was rarely called to receive a share.

9. E roa a raro e tata a runga.—It is a long road and the things from above are near.

This is a saying of Taha-rakau. Two men, Taha-rakau and Te Angiangi, were on a journey from Turanga (Gisborne) to Wairoa (Hawkes' Bay). Te Angiangi went in his finery and got wet to the skin. Taha-rakau went in a pureke (a coarse, rough, flax garment, practically waterproof), and so kept his holiday garments dry.

10. Heretaunga ara rau.—Heretaunga of a hundred tracks.

There were many tracks into Heretaunga and as many to return by.

11. Te Whatu arero rua no Heretaunga.—Double tongued Te Whatu from Heretaunga. A man from Heretaunga who contradicted in the morning what he had said overnight.

12. He huruhuru te manu ka rere, he ao te rangi ka uhia.—Birds fly with feathers, and the heavens are covered with clouds.

This is a saying of Tama-te-rangi of Wairoa (Hawkes' Bay). The explanation of this saying is worth preserving as it contains a Maori reason for divorce in pre-pakeha days. Tama-te-rangi, his father and two younger brethren were out on one of those little wars - 32 in which the ancient Maori was wont to delight. The party reached the pa of their enemies and camped. Tama's younger brother stood up and made the speeches usual on such an occasion, and he was followed by the youngest brother, and when he sat down the party looked at Tama expecting him to make his speech. But as he did not rise the younger brother went over to him and asked the reason. Tama replied, “He huruhuru te manu ka rere, he ao te rangi ka uhia.” The younger brothers then understood that Tama had no chieftain-like garments, so they gave him two. He then grasped his taiaha and addressed the party. At the close he ordered the assault, and the first slain fell to his taiaha. After the expedition Tama's brothers said that Tama's wife was too lazy to make him suitable garments so he had better put her aside and get a wife who would.

13. Tahia te marae o Matuki-tangotango kia watea te kainga mo tangata hokotahi.—Sweep the court yard of Matuki-tangotango, let it be clear as a dwelling-place for the man who was equal to twenty men.

This proverb was used by Te Miti-o-tu in reference to his nephew Te Tawhi-o-te-rangi. Te Miti-o-tu wanted the men then living at Tokaanu to move on to some other place, and have Tokaanu free for Te Tawhi-o-te-rangi. Tawhi was the eldest son of Turumakina from whom the hapu Ngati-Turumakina take their name, and of whom the late Te Heuheu Tukino was chief.

14. Tamarahi! kai a au te ika i te ati.—Men! I have the first fish.

This was a shout of encouragement from a warrior to his party to urge them on to complete the victory he had begun.

15. Ka moe te mata hi tuna, ka ara te mata hi taua.—The eyes of the eel-fisher sleeps, the face of the sentinel is awake.

This is a proverb of our elders. If a man goes out to catch eels he may remain out all night and sleep at his post. The bait may be in the water and while the noose is moving an eel may steal the bait; this is the loss of the fisher. But the sentinel must keep awake all night to warn the pa of the approach of an enemy.

16. He ihu kuri, he waewae tangata.—A dog's nose, a man's legs.

The turning aside of men when travelling, at the cry of welcome, is compared to a dog's movements from side to side of his track. It is a well-known proverb.

17. Kaore, he au uta, kapa he au moana.—Indeed, it is only a shore current; now, if it were an ocean current—

Te au uta is the smoke of a fire. When the house is filled with smoke, perhaps some one will cry out, “We are very much troubled with the smoke.” The man who lit the fire will reply, “It is only a shore current, now if it were an ocean current you would have something to cry out about.

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18. E hau-nui ana i raro, e hari ana a runga.—It is blowing below, but the sky is fair.

If a party arrives at a kainga and is stopped for a couple of days by a storm; on the third day if there is no rain they will prepare to move on. Their hosts will say, “It is blowing hard, stop a while.” The travellers will say, “Never mind the wind as long as the sky is fair.”

19. Ka ki kopu, ka iri whata.—When the stomach is full the rest will be suspended in the storehouse.

When food is scarce and men go away to gather shell-fish, sea-fish or eels, if they get a large supply, they will prepare their ovens and cook the food. Only when they have eaten as much as possible will they place the remainder on the drying stages.

20. Taku manu tioriori.—My brave warrior.

An exclamation of Te Heuheu Tukino in praise of his son Te Naeroa.

21. Taku Poporo tu ki te hamuti.—My Poporo (solanum aviculare) standing by the manure heap.

The Poporo is a rapidly growing plant, and in olden days was often found near the paepae hamuti. Its dark-green oily looking leaves were very pleasing to the eye, and its ripe fruit pleasing to the taste. Applied to Naeroa by Te Heuheu.

22. Taku wai whakatahetahe ki te kauhariri. A difficult proverb to translate. The illustration given is that of a house, the roof of which sheds the rain on either side, and the people inside can hear the rain drip from the eaves, but it does not touch them. So Te Naeroa stood in the storm of war. “Kauhariri” I think should be “kauhanga riri.”

23. Haere ra e pa; nga tai wharewa kauri ki te uru.—Go, O father, the kauri floating tides of the west.

Te Naeroa was killed at Hao-whenua and a lament by his brother, Te Heuheu contains the four sayings given above. In the story of the fight his name is given as Papaka (J.P.S., Vol. XIX., page 79). Nga tai whakarewa kauri hi te uru is descriptive of Ati-Awa tribe of Taranaki, and their fights are compared to the tides bearing away kauri trees (chiefs).

24. Take raumati whakapiri ngahuru.—Absent at planting time close by at harvest. This is a word of reproach to lazy men.

25. E mua kai kai. E muri kai wai.—First eat food, afterwards drink water.

There was a strife between Uenuku-kopako and Tukekeru about food. Uenuku said that oil or fat was the best food, and Tukekeru said that water was. The dispute waxed hot and at length Uenuku insulted Tukekeru by a reference to oil and his head. It was not forgotten.

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The next year was a good year for birds, and Tukekeru prepared a large quantity of huahua (or preserved birds), and he sent an invitation to Uenuku to come and eat some of the preserved birds and incidentally some of the thirst provoking fat.

Tukekeru's place was near Maroa on the Taupo-Atiamuri road where the water-springs are scarce. A house was built over the only spring there so that the spring itself was under the window covered with a board just where Uenuku's bed would be. When all was ready messengers were sent to Rotorua to invite Uenuku and his tribe. As soon as they arrived food was prepared; kumara, fernroot and plenty of huahua. Before long the oily huahua created a great thirst, and a cry was made for water. Tu' replied there was no water nearer than the Waikato. That night and next morning they suffered agonies from thirst and were not able to eat any more huahua on account of their thirst. When some of them were nearly dead with their thirst Tu' told Uenuku to turn up the mat below his bed and he would find water. He lost no time in dipping up some water and taking a good drink of it himself, and then passing it round to his people. Then Tu' reminded him of their dispute as to which was the better food, oil or water.

26. He tao rakau, ka taea te karo, he tao ki e kore e taea te karo.—A wooden spear can be parried; a word spear cannot be parried.

A man can ward off an attack by an enemy when assaulted by tao, taiaha or mere, but he cannot parry the spoken word.

27. E whia motunga o te Weka i te mahanga.—How many times will the weka escape from the snare.

A weka will not be caught twice in the same snare. If he escapes once he will not be caught a second time. A slave who once escapes from captivity will not return.

28. Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi.—The worn out net is thrown aside, a new net is used.

Said of an old man who is past work and sits in his whare, and of young men who take up their work.

29. Rangitihi upoko whakahirahira.—The arrogant rangitihi.

Rangitihi, fifth in descent from Tama-te-kapua. His descendants are proverbial for their boastfulness.

30. Ko Te Arawa mangai nui.—The boastful Arawa.

This proverb expresses the same idea in another way.

31. E kore e toro te pakiaka o te hinahina i runga i a au, kua rongo ake au, e kihi ana, e mara ana.—Before the roots of the hinahina (melicytus ramiflorus) spread above me the sound of “Kihi” and “Mara” will have been heard (in the land).

This curious statement is attributed to a man called Toiroa, of Nuku-taurua. It really means—Before the roots of the hinahina have time to spread over my grave, the sibalant sounds of English - 35 speech and the Nga-Puhi salutation, “E Mara,” will be heard. The first was fulfilled by the coming of Captain Cook, and the second by the invasion of Nga-Puhi.

32. He kotuku rerenga tahi.—A Crane of one flight.

The White Crane was only seen once a year. The guest who comes but rarely is compared to it.

33. Kakariki i tun ua ki te ahi, kakariki i otaina.—Kakarikis roasted in the fire or kakariki (partly) raw (are good).

If potatoes, pork, or birds are being cooked in an oven, some one may call out, “The food is cooked.” The women will say, if they think the food is not cooked, “No, don't uncover it yet, the birds will be raw.” The men will then say, “Kakarikis cooked or kakarikis raw are good.”

34. Me te hau awaawa te tangata nei.—The man is like a wind between two cliffs.

Used of a man who does not sit down with the rest of his party to eat food but wanders about.

35. Parerawaki, he rangi pai.—The weather is breaking, it is a fine day.

This is described as a bad proverb. When a party of visitors are storm bound, and their hosts wish them to move on; one of them will look out, and if there is any appearance of blue sky he will use the above words. It is a bad breach of Maori etiquette to do so.

36. E mua, ata haere; e muri, whatiwhati waewae.—Those in front go leisurely, those behind run. Those who start early on a day's journey can travel quietly. Those who start late must hurry.

37. He kopara ra te manu nana e eke tuatahi te tihi o te kahikatea.—A kopara was the bird that first mounted to the top of the kahikatea tree. This is a saying of Huikai.

As there is some ancient history involved in the explanation we give the whole story.

In the days of long ago there was strife between Ngati-Kahungunu and tribes under the leadership of Takaha. These tribes were from Wairarapa, Tamaki, Waipukurau, Porangahau, Te Roto-a-Tara and Ponkawa. Takaha was a brave man, tall, and fine looking. During the time these people were fighting, Huikai joined himself to the Ngati-Kahungunu side. He asked the chief of the party what Takaha was like, and he was told that Takaha was a tall and noted warrior. Huikai replied “He kopara te manu nana e eke tuatahi te tihi o te kahikatea.”

As Ngati-Kahungunu were in order of battle, Takaha approached ahead of his party with a taiaha in his hand, and his hair done up in a top-knot on his head. Huikai was behind the leaders of Ngati-Kahungunu and as he was such a small man he was unable to see Takaha on account of the men in front. So he asked the man in front - 36 of him to let him climb up so that he might see Takaha. He did so, and Huikau had a good look at the enemy and then got down. He then made his way to the front with a taiaha in his hand. As soon as Takaha saw him approaching he turned towards him and struck a blow at him which Huikai parried, by a quick return blow Takaha was stretched upon the ground. The name of the fight was Arai-o-Turanga.

38. He ahakoa, kai te tuhera tonu te awa i Nukuhau.—What of that, the river is always open at Nukuhau.

This is a saying of Waitapu. She had borne her husband four daughters and he was enraged for he wanted sons. Nukuhau is the name of the piece of land on the western side where the Waikato river leaves Taupo Lake. The meaning of the proverb was that Waitapu was in the prime of life.

39. Ruia taitea, ruia taitea, kia tu ko taikaha.—Cast away the sap but let the heart remain.

This proverb is taken from the totara tree (Podocarpus totara), the outside of the sap is called taitea. It decays quickly—decays like the common soldier who has no standing. The inside of the totara is the taikaha, it does not decay, it is like the chief whose power does not fade.