Volume 35 1926 > Volume 35, No. 140 > White magic of the Maori. Some explanation of the Atahu or Iri Rite, and the use of love charms, p 315-328
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- 315
Some explanation of the Atahu or Iri Rite, and the use of Love Charms.

TAO-PUTAPUTA was a woman whose home was at Opotiki; Tahito-kuru-maranga was a man whose home was Titirangi at Turanga. Tahito went on a visit to Opotiki and there courted that woman, who did not look favourably upon him. So the man returned with his party, and, on reaching Turanga, dwelt in his fortified village of Titirangi. He then set about fabricating a neck-pendant, and, having finished it, allowed it to lie for two nights in oil scented with a sweet-smelling moss so that it might be fragrant. He then inserted the necklet in a ngaruru shell [Astraea sulcata], over which he repeated a charm and also expressed his yearning love. The charm was as follows. [The charm is such as is termed an iri and atahu, a love charm that strongly affects a distant person when accompanied by a mediumistic object that has been handled by the sender. In this case the medium was really the necklet, not the shell in which it was placed. The wording of the charm is obscure in some parts, but it calls on the loved one to look favourably on the reciter and for affection to find a place in her heart, also for an aspect of forgetfulness, even that she may leave home and parents and seek the one who desires her.]

Having recited the charm he despatched that shell to traverse the ocean, knowing that the woman was in the habit of collecting the paua shellfish [Haliotis]. Even so that shell passed round the coast and reached Opape at Waiaua, on the southern side of Opotiki, at which place the paua shellfish are obtained, where the shell remained at the place frequented by paua.

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Now, there was a party of women of Opotiki coming, and among them was the woman Tao-putaputa; on arriving at Opape a fire was kindled at which to warm themselves when they returned from collecting shellfish. Then the party of women went off to procure paua, and while so obtaining them our woman found merely a ngaruru. The woman seized that shell and threw it away, and then she went off to try at another place, only to again find the same shell; thus did that shell act until she returned to the beach without a single paua in her basket. All the baskets of her companions were full of paua. As she was warming herself at the fire and talking with her companions, she said: “O friends! I found no paua; a ngaruru was the only thing discovered to me, even though I moved away to another place yet that same shell made itself seen by me, therefore I was vexed and so threw it away.”

One of the women remarked: “And you did not bring it here for me.”

When the woman returned from her second endeavour she carried the shell ashore, and on arriving at the fireside she took it out of her basket, and, as she took it out, she saw the strands of the necklet. She pulled it out and put it round her neck, where she wore it while partaking of food. Then the love of the man Tahito affected her and so she journeyed by way of Te Kowhai until she reached Titirangi, where the twain married and their child Tamatea-niho-makuru was born.

Family Tree. Tahito-kuru-maranga=Tao-putaputa, Tamatea-niho-makuru, Ue-kapuanui, Te Rangitauria, Rakairoa, Hiakai-taria, Te Aomania, Te Ihiko-o-te-rangi (? Hiko), Tuhorouta, Hunaara, Te Uruahi, Tatainga-o-te-rangi, Ngunguru-te-rangi, Hine-matioro, Rangikahiwa, Te Kani-a-takirau, Three more generations
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He wahine a Tao-putaputa, kei Opotiki tona kainga; ko Tahito-kuru-maranga he tane, tona kainga ko Titirangi i Turanga nei. Ka haere manuhiri tera, a Tahito ki Opotiki, ka whai tera ki taua wahine, kihai i tahuri ki a ia. Ka hoki mai te ope me te tangata ra, tae mai ki Turanga ka noho te tangata ra ki tona pa ki Titirangi. Katahi ka mahia e te tangata ra tetahi hei, ka oti, ka po rua ki te hinu, ki te makuruhau, kia kakara ai. Katahi ka whaoria ki roto ki te ngaruru, ka karakiatia, me te tangi ano; ko te karakia koia tenei:—

“Te iri te runga tu, te runga pae, te runga marangaranga
Te po hakune atu, te po hakune mai
Ko tou aro i tahuri mai, ko toku aro i tahuri atu
Takina ko au te kura mahukihuki
Riua wehea o mahara i tou matua, i tou whenua.”

Ka oti te karakia ka tukua kia taka haere taua ngaruru i te moana; ka mohiotia hoki he wahine ruku paua te wahine ra. Ka taka haere taua ngaruru, a ka tae ki Opape i Waiaua, i te taha whakarunga mai o Opotiki, kei reira nei te wahi e rukuhia ai te paua, ka noho te ngaruru ra i reira i roto i te one piringa paua.

Na, tera te ope wahine o Opotiki kei te haere mai, kei roto te wahine ra a Tao-putaputa; te taenga mai ki Opape ka tahuna te ahi kia mahana ai mo te hokinga mai i te ruku. Katahi ka haere te ope wahine ra ki te ruku; kei te ruku te nuinga o nga wahine i te paua, ko te wahine ra kotahi ano te ngaruru. Ka mau te wahine ra i taua ngaruru, ka makaia e te wahine ra ki wahi ke; ka haere te wahine ra ki wahi ke ruku ai, pera tonu taua ngaruru, a hoki noa ki uta, kaore he paua o tana kawhiu; ka ki katoa nga kawhiu a ona hoa i te paua. E painaina ana i te taha o te ahi, e korero ana ki ona hoa, e mea atu ana: “E hika ma! Kaore au e kite paua, he ngaruru anake te mea e kitea ana mai ki a au, ahakoa tae au ki tetahi wahi whakakite tonu mai ko taua ngaruru ra ano, no reira ka whakatakariri au, makaia atu ana e au.”

Ka mea atu tetahi o nga wahine: “Te mau mai koe maku nei.”

No te hokinga tuarua o te wahine ra ki te ruku ka mauria ki uta; taenga ki te taha o te ahi ka tango te wahine ra i te ngaruru i roto o tona kawhiu, te putanga ki waho - 318 ka kite ia i nga wanawana i te hei. Ka unuhia e ia ki waho, ka heia ki tona kaki, ka kairarungatia e ia. Ka pa te aroha o te tangata ra, o Tahito ki a ia, ka haere ma Te Kowhai, ka tae ki Titirangi, ka moe raua, ka whanau ta raua tamaiti ko Tamatea-niho-makuru.

The above tale is a good example of the folk tales of the Maori, moreover it shows a mixture of myth and magic. The Singular form of white magic termed iri and atahu by the Maori consists of causing certain emotions to affect distant persons, and this condition was brought about by means of charms and some material or immaterial medium. A material medium might be animate, such as a bird, or inanimate, such as the necklet employed by Tahito.

It is necessary here to offer some apology for reprinting this story of Tao-putaputa, which, as collected by the late Colonel Gudgeon, was published in this Journal, vol. 15, p. 52. Another version, collected by the late Colonel Porter, has lately appeared in a work entitled Legends of the Maori. In neither of these versions, however, are we made acquainted with the kernel of the story, the part that illustrates the mental attitude of the Maori when dealing with this love charm. In the two versions alluded to the ambulatory shell is mentioned as the medium employed, whereas, in the more genuine version, the shell is merely a receptacle, the true vehicle employed for transmission of the powers of the charm is the necklet placed within the shell. This object having been made by the lover himself was endowed, as it were, with his personality, and the charm caused this quality to strongly affect the woman when it was placed in contact with her body. Touching the containing shell had no such effect on her; she simply cast it aside. In this curious performance we note the Maori belief in the telepathic powers of their ancestors.

In the version given by Colonel Gudgeon Tahito repeats his charm over the shell and also tells it what to do, to proceed to Opape as a messenger of love, to fear no storms, and calling upon the winds to waft the shell onward. In Colonel Porter's version this address appears as the charm recited, which it probably was, but again the shell itself was the medium.

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The line of descent given from Tahito and Tao shows them to have flourished 18 generations ago, or say about the end of the 15th century.

The neck-pendant made by Tahito is not described, but it was probably partially composed of the skin of a bird; such skins were rolled up and tied and then saturated with oil expressed from the seeds of the fruit of the titoki tree, which oil was scented by immersing therein certain fragrant leaves or mosses, or gum of the tarata, a Pittosporum.

It would appear that the eating of food by the woman after she had suspended the pendant from her neck would have the effect of increasing the influence of that charmed object, i.e., it would cause the desire for the absent Tahito to enter, as it were, into her very vitals. This singular belief in a person simultaneously swallowing food and the active power of a charm is also noted in connection with the peculiar rite of black magic known as mātākai, of which some explanation is given at p. 84 of vol. 34 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. Observe that we are told in the narrative that, after the kairarunga episode, the love of Tahito affected the woman.

Colonel Gudgeon tells us of a case in which a man in the Ngapuhi district despatched a hawk as a mediumistic love messenger to a woman at Waikato. The bird found the woman, dropped a feather on her, and then departed, while the woman at once commenced her long, weary walk to the far north. Old Pio, of Te Teko, explained this use of a feather to me many years ago. In this case no animate medium was employed. The man waited until a wind was blowing in the direction of the woman's home; he then procured a feather, and, holding it in his left hand, passed it under his left thigh, after which he held the feather up in his left hand as he repeated the following charm:—

“Hau nui ana ra ko te hau—e
Te kura i te ipo—e; to ara mai, e te ipo
Haere ki roto i a koe mihi ai
Waha mai te ipo, e te hau—e
Tutakina iho ki au—e
Whiwhia mai, rawea mai, torohei.”

This recital calls upon the wind to bear hither the desired one, and upon his love to enter her heart. As he finished the charm the manipulator cast the feather from - 320 him so that the wind might convey it to the object of his desire. In vol. 14 of this Journal, at p. 100, is another of these tales of the powers of the atahu contributed by Tunuiarangi, of Wairarapa. In this case a man at Flat Point wished to influence a woman at Porangahau. He ascended a hill when a favourable wind was blowing and repeated his charm, launching it forth on the wind; no material medium is mentioned as having been despatched. However, we are told that the ceremony had the desired effect.

As to the despatching of a bird as a medium I am informed that, on the eastern coast of the North Island, the little bird called miromiro was employed for the purpose. An account of such a despatching is described in vol. 9 of this Journal, at p. 186. Other data on the subject will be found in vol. 6, p. 151; vol. 13, p. 170; and vol. 32, p. 39. The Tuhoe folk give taupatiti as an obsolete name of the iri love charm. In the case of the miromiro it is said that the bird settles on the head of the person, and that this contact causes the charm to work. The atahu was also utilized as a means of causing a runaway wife or husband to return to her or his spouse.

At p. 132 of vol. 15 of this Journal a singular form of atahu is explained. Here a man despatches his dog to visit the desired woman, in order that it may procure some form of medium to render his charm effective. The dog makes friends with the woman, so much so that she greets him with the hongi salute. This was quite sufficient; the breath of the woman had reached the dog and would serve as a bond of connection, as desired. The dog at once returned to his master, who took the semblance of the woman's breath that adhered, as it were, to the dog, and over it recited his atahu charm. In this case the medium employed was immaterial and also transferred twice ere being utilized in the atahu rite.

At p. 86 of vol. 20 of this Journal the atahu performance of white magic is alluded to as umu atahu, umu being a word often employed to denote a rite, as in umu pongipongi, umu makutu, etc.

A form of philtre seems to have been occasionally employed, and this was sometimes administered by force, as in a case wherein a desired woman disliked the man who wanted her. In such a case a charm would be recited - 321 over the medium employed, often by a tohunga or shamanistic expert, and the applicant would proceed to the woman's home, walk up to her and cram the charmed matter whatever it might be, into her mouth. She would eject it, but the contact was quite sufficient, the charm would be effective. For some account of this forceful method see Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, vol. 36, pp. 35-36.

When Tamatea-rehe despatched a miromiro bird to communicate his love charm to Manawa, he employed the following iri or atahu charm:—

“Iri kura, iri kura, iria te tupua, tupua nuku
Te whakamaua mai Manawa ki toku tinana
Whiti ora a te tahito, hotu nuku, hotu rangi
Tukia te papa i raro i a Manawa
Te pukenga, te wananga
Whakamaua ki tahito o te rangi
Iri toro, iri toro hei.”

Among the Matatua tribes, and also apparently at Waikato, this atahu was performed at or in water, as in a stream. A late case that occurred at Whakatane was the result of wife desertion. The abandoned wife applied to a certain wise woman who took her to a stream, which both entered in a nude state. The female tohunga sprinkled the subject with water and then repeated an atahu charm over her, and then said: “I can see the wairua [spirit or shadowy form] of your husband standing by your side. Return to your home; in a week your husband will be with you. When he arrives do not weep over him, but both of you go and immerse your bodies in water.” In this case a miromiro bird was despatched, and this bird made a 100-mile flight, found its man seated with others in a house, flew in and settled on his head for a brief space. He at once rose and commenced his 100-mile walk. Grey, grave elders have assured me of the truth of this story, hence I pass it on.

The following is an atahu charm given by a member of the Ngati-Raukawa tribe:—

“Tu te urunga, hau te urunga, maniania te moenga
Hakune atu te po, hakune atu te ao
Ko tou aroaro i tahuri mai ki ahau
Ko toku aroaro i tahuri atu ki a koe
He miromiro taku manu ka tukua atu
Hei hiki mai i a koe, e te ipo.”
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Some of the wording of this charm is quite clear, unlike the obscure recitals often employed—“You turned to me, I turned to you; my bird despatched to bring you to me, O loved one, was a miromiro.” Other such charms are given in vol. 36 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.

Here follows an account of the atahu rite given by a member of the Ngati-Kahungunu tribe; of this also both original and translation are given.


The following charm, with its attendant ceremonial performances, is termed atahu by the Maori, also, in some districts iri. The Maori had a firm belief in the powers of certain experts to influence distant persons in the manner described in this article, as he had an equally firm belief in the powers of certain warlocks to injure or slay distant persons by means of black magic. The employment of human saliva as a medium or connecting link between magic spells, etc., and their objective was a common occurrence in both white and black magic. The remark concerning the attitude assumed by the performer as he took his stand in the water to recite his charms, is one often met with in such narratives, and ever such experts faced the sunrise during such performances. Spiritual insulation was attained more completely, in native belief, when a priestly expert took his stand in running water. In such a situation there was the least danger of encountering evil or polluting, harmful influences.

Now this is a love charm to cause a woman to desire a man who it was considered should have her, or to influence a man who it was thought should be assigned to a certain woman, or a woman who had deserted her husband, or a husband who had abandoned his wife, whichever of these causes mentioned might chance to be the one brought before the expert when the matter was brought by some person and placed in the hands of that expert, so that a wife or husband might be charmed and so caused to return.

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Now should a person decide to apply to an expert on account of such a cause, then that person should bear with him a garment that has been in contact with the skin of the woman, or man, as the case might be, or some hair of the head of such person; such were the most appropriate things to take to the expert. Now if the hand of the applicant once grasped the article he intended to carry to the love charm expert, from the moment that his hand so touched it he should take no form of food, not even take a smoke or a drink of water. He should just take the garment, or hair, or ear pendant, and proceed on his way. On arriving at the home of the love charm expert he should proceed directly to the hut of that expert. Let him not turn aside, although perchance he sees the expert at another place, or working in the fields, or on his way somewhere, or even meet him on the path or elsewhere; nor should he even greet that love charm expert under such circumstances. Should he greet him then his errand will be a fruitless one, and should he turn aside to another place and deliver his burden to the love charm expert, or enquire: “Where is the expert So-and-so?” mentioning the name of the expert, then the object of his errand will be defeated, it will be ineffectual.

(On the contrary when you set forth you must know precisely where his home is, and the situation of his sleeping hut. So you proceed and, when you reach the doorway of his home, that is to say of his hut, you take your burden and suspend it or lay it on the bargeboard of the hut. Deposit it carefully, that it may so remain, lest it fall to the ground as the effect of wind or other causes; should it so fall off then the errand will come to nought.)

Now should the article carried by the person reach in proper manner the love charm expert, then the latter would ask the bearer: “What have you brought?” The person, male or female, would reply: “[I desire] that my husband be returned to me by the spirits,” or “That my wife be returned to me by the spirits.”

The love charm expert then takes a mussel shell, or cockle shell, and says to the suppliant: “Now then, expectorate into the shell.” The depositor of the burden expectorates into the mussel or cockle shell, which shell the love charm expert takes in his right hand and then enters the water until the water reaches above his navel. He - 324 then faces the place where the sun rises, and recites the following:—

(See p. 326, for charm repeated.)

[This effusion is directed to Te Ihorangi, the personified form of rain and one of the powers of space. It mentions the names of the winds that will serve to convey the errant one back to his or her home, such winds appearing under what may be termed their honorific names. It calls upon the absent one to return by way of the sun path and the ways of two great mythical birds of Maori folk lore to the sheltered home of husband or wife, as the case may be.]

At this juncture the shell was placed on the surface of the water by the love charm expert, that it might drift away inland [or to land]. So it would float away until lost to their view. Then the expert would say: “Go, return; she will return to you.”

When the person who had deposited the mediumistic article was about to return the expert would say to him: “When you arrive at your hut lie down therein, and do not pine, for she is coming and will arrive ere long. In the event of her arrival do not coax or revile her, inasmuch as the spirits have caused thought and memory to function. When you have been two nights together then bring me a present of whatever you like.” Then the depositor of the burden [the applicant] would return to his own house.

So ends the superior form of the atahu rite, as performed by love charm experts of the school of learning of past generations, and passed on to us bereaved witless ones now before you.

Now remember that other peoples differ as to the proceedings of their love charm experts, whose charms and methods have been derived from the school of black magic. That form of love charm is evil and disaster follows it. Now this will serve as my explanation to you of this branch of the activities of your ancestors as formulated in the school of learning. Do not you indulge in low practices. If your wife absconds in order to seek another husband, let her go and sell herself to others; who knows that she will survive. Let my explanations to you now cease.

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(Na Ngati-Kahungunu nga whakamarama e whai ake nei.)

Na, he karakia atahu tenei i te wahine kia pirangi mai ki te tane i whakaarotia ai māna taua wahine; ranei ko te tane i whakaarotia ai ma tetahi wahine, ranei he wahine i whakarere i tana tane, ko te tane ranei i whakarere i tana wahine, ahakoa ko tewhea o enei take i kiia ake nei te mea i tupono mai ki te aroaro o te tohunga ina kawea mai e te tangata ki taua tohunga kia karakiatia kia whakahokia mai tona wahine, tona tane ranei.

Na, ki te whakaaro te tangata kia haere ia ki te aroaro o te tohunga mo taua take te take o tona haere me mau rawa e taua tangata tetahi kahu i piri ki te kiri o te tangata tane, wahine ranei, nga makawe ranei o nga mahunga; ka mutu nga mea tino tika hei kawe ki te tohunga. Na, ki te mau te ringa o te tangata ki te mea hei kawe atu ki te aroaro o te tohunga atahu, ko te wa ano i mau ai tona ringa kaua ia hei kai i tetahi kai, ahakoa he paipa, he wai ranei. Me mau ia i taua kahu, i aua makawe ranei, mau taringa ranei, na me haere ia. Ka tae atu ki te kainga o te tohunga atahu kia hangai tona haere ki te whare o taua tohunga atahu. Kaua ia e kotiti ke ahakoa kite atu ia i taua tohunga i tetahi kainga e noho ana, i waenganui ranei e mahi ana, e haere ana ranei, i tutaki ranei i a ia ki te huarahi, ki tetahi wahi noa ranei kaua rawa ia e oha atu ki taua tohunga atahu. Ki te oha atu ia kua he te take o tona haere, a ki te kotiti ke ia ki tetahi kainga ke hoatu ai ki te tohunga atahu, uiui ai ranei: “Kei whea te tohunga nei, a Mea?” ka whakahua i te ingoa o te tohunga, kua he taua take i kawea ra e ia, e kore e mana. Engari ka haere, kia mohio rawa koe ki tona kainga, ki te wahi i tu ai tona whare moe. Katahi koe ka haere, ka tae atu koe ki te whatitoka o tona kainga, ara o tona whare, ka kawe e koe te mauranga ka whakairi ki runga i te maihi o te whare whata ai te mauranga, takoto ai ranei. Kia pai to whakatakoto, kia mau, koi taka iho ki te whenua i te hau, i te aha ranei; ki te taka iho ki raro kua he taua take.

Na, ki te tae pai atu te mauranga a te tangata ki te tohunga atahu, ka mea ia ki te tangata nana te mauranga: “He aha to mauranga?” Ka mea te tangata, ahakoa tane, wahine ranei, ka mea: “Ko taku tane kia whakahokia mai e nga apa hau ki au”—a ranei ka mea: “Ko taku wahine kia whakahokia mai ki au e nga apa hau.”

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Ka mau te tohunga atahu ki te anga kuku, ki te anga pipi ranei, ka mea te tohunga atahu: “Tena, e tuha i to huare ki roto i te anga nei.” Ka tuhaina e te kaiwhakatakoto o te mauranga tana huare ki roto i te anga kuku, pipi ranei. Ka mau te ringa katau o te tohunga atahu ki te anga i tuhaina a roto, ka tu ki roto i te wai, i tae ki runga ake i tona pito te hohonu o te wai; ka ahu te aroaro ki te uranga mai o te ra, ka mea:—

“Tenei au he tipua, he tawhito, he ukiuki ki a koe, e Te Iho-
Tenei au he pia, he uriuri no tenei tama no.…”

— a ranei ka mea: “no tenei hine no.…” Ka whakahuatia te ingoa i konei; ka mea ano te tohunga:—

“Tenei te hau ko taku hau
Tenei te hau, ko te hau o.…”

Ka whakahuatia te ingoa o te tane, o te wahine ranei nana ra te mauranga i whakatakoto ki tona aroaro; ka mea ano te tohunga:—

“Tenei to hau, ko te hau Pārāwera-nui
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki taikainga
Tenei to hau ko Tahu-makaka-nui
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki taikainga
Tenei to hau ko Huru-mawake
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki taikainga
Tenei to hau ko Huru-nuku
Hei whiu mai i a koe ki taikainga
Ko to manawa, ko te manawa o.…”

Ka whakahuatia ano te ingoa o te tane, o te wahine ranei nana i whakatakoto te mauranga e te tohunga atahu, a ka mea ano te tohunga:—

“Tenei to manawa ko taku manawa
Tu hikitia, tu hapainga
To ara ko te ara o Tane-matua
Tu hikitia, tu hapainga
To ara ko te ara o Tiunga-rangi
Tu hikitia, tu hapainga
To ara ko te ara o Haronga-rangi
Ka tau ana koe Mahora-nui-atea
Ka tau ana koe ko te whare ko te ahuru mowai
Ki tenei tahu nei.”

I konei ka tukua e te tohunga atahu te anga kuku, pipi ranei ki runga i te wai, kia ahu ki uta o te awa taua anga kuku. Heoi, ka haere taua kuku, a ngaro atu i a raua. - 327 Heoi, ka mea te tohunga: “Haere, e hoki, māna e hoki mai ki a koe.”

Ka hoki te tangata nana te mauranga i whakatakoto, ka mea ano te tohunga: “Ka tae koe ki to whare, takoto i roto i to whare, kaua hei ohia to ngakau, kei te haramai ia, e kore e roa. Ki te tae mai kaua hei whakawai, hei tutara, i te mea kua oti te mahara te whakarite mai e nga apa tahurangi ki a koe. Ka po rua korua e moe ana ka kawe mai te whakahere ki au i tau i manako ai.” Heoi, katahi ka haere te kaiwhakatakoto o te mauranga ki tona ake whare.

Ka mutu te tino atahu i konei a nga tohunga atahu o roto o te whare wananga o nga whakahekenga iho, tae mai nei ki a matau e tu wairangi nei i o koutou aroaro.

Na, kia mahara ano he rereke a etahi iwi, a o ratau na tohunga whakahaere atahu, he mea takiri mai i roto i o ratau whare maire nga karakia pera. He kino tera huarahi atahu, he mate te mutunga o tera atahu. Heoi taku whakamarama ki a koe mo tenei peka o te mahi a o koutou tipuna i takapau ai ki roto i te whare wananga. E ta! Koi mahi koe i te mahi tutua nei. Ka oma to wahine ki te whai tane māna, waiho atu kia haere ana ki te pawhaki haere i tona aroaro hei pukaitanga para tangata ke; ko wai ka tohu e tohungia ia. Kati tenei whakamarama aku ki a koe.

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Old Maori Pits, Queen Charlotte Sound.