Volume 16 1907 > Volume 16, No. 1 > Lore of the whare kohanga: Part V, Miscellaneous items, by Elsdon Best, p 1-12
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Journal of the Polynesian Society.
VOL. XVI. No. 1.
Part V.
Miscellaneous Items.

Whakawaiu.—This term is applied to any food eaten by a mother in order to cause an abundant supply of milk for her child. Birds, fish, steeped fern-root, etc., were so used. When Pou-rangahua, of old time legend, set forth to visit Hawaiki, he said: “I am going far away to where the sun rises, in order to procure some food as a whakawaiu for my child Kahu-kura. For, as he lies in his mother's arms, he keeps putting his tongue towards the east, and so I know the food must be in that direction.” Even so, Pou returned with the kumara, the first cultivatable food product of any account brought to this land.

The failure of the mother's milk is said to be a tangi kai, i.e., the mother needs some special or dainty food, in order to keep the supply of milk going. Another supposed cause is—he wera i te ahi, ka tuturu, ka tarati ranei, te waiu ki runga ki te ahi—a burning by fire, the milk drips or spurts on to a fire. This would have the effect of causing the stoppage of the flowing of the milk. In some cases of milk failure, the child is given the breast by some other woman in milk.

U taetae.—This name is applied to an affection, or disease of the breasts, (u) after giving birth to a child. The milk will not flow, the breasts become hard (totoka) and sore, and scabs - 2 form thereon. When a woman becomes so affected, an elder will say:“Wahia ou u, kai mate koe, koi u taetae”—bathe your breasts, lest they become bad with u taetae. The breasts are bathed with warm water to soften them and cause the milk to flow.

Ure pukaka.—Old Taituha, of Maunga-pohatu, informs me that the ure pukaka, or ara tane, i.e., a line of descent through males only, is often met with, e.g., his own descent from Tane-atua, at p. 30, Vol VII 1 of this Journal. That in some families all, or nearly all children are male, or female, as the case may be, from one generation to another—ka haere pukaka tonu.

Tautahi.—A term which means born singly, i.e., not one of twins.


Huatahi.—An only child. This term is sometimes added to the person's name, as: Toi-te-huatahi, Tamatea-ki-te-huatahi.

It is said that twins were by no means of rare occurrence in former times. One well known ancestor of these people produced three pairs of twins; an unusual thing. Such double births seldom occur now. Twins are said to have often occurred in certain lines of descent, as that from Tuhoe-potiki.

In the case of twins, these natives have an idea that the first born is not so genuine and important as the other (despite the strong racial feeling in favour of primogeniture). The first born of twins, they say, was scarcely contained in the whare (womb). It was just hanging on the edge thereof, hence it was born first. “He pokanoa nona, he piri noa, kai waho o te kowhanga e piri ana”—an unauthorised, non-genuine being; just hanging on, sticking on the outside of the nest. Hence, in former times, the first born of twins was sometimes slain. It was not worth rearing. The second one was deemed the “real” child, and the more likely to live—“Koina te mea nona te whare”—that was the one to whom the womb belonged, i.e., the true fruit of the womb; the first was an interloper. It was held unlucky to let both live. The first one would be slain—“Koi pa mai he mate ki te mea nona te whare”—lest evil (or sickness) assail the one to whom the womb belonged.

I have no notes on the subject of triplets, nor is there any record of such in the very numerous genealogies of the Tuhoe tribe, that I have collected.

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Ai pi.—A term used to denote a prolific parent and numerous children, without any long interval between births. It may be translated as “chicken breeding.” A modern expression applied to a numerous family is pa heihei: “a flock of fowls.”

To matua.—Applied to a small family, to parents who have but few children, born at long intervals.

Tiko hika: A prostitute, a woman who has many lovers.

Peka-a-tama.—A sort of emblematical term applied to a child, or to the genus homo generally, “the branch of man.” The expression peka-a-kai is often coupled with the above and refers to food. They are used in this manner: “The offspring of man dies, is buried, and is seen no more; unlike the offspring of food (seeds, etc.) which grow again.” The term peka tangata is also heard used in a like manner.

Rapoi.—This expression applies to the dandling of a baby in the hands. It is allied to poipoi: to toss, to swing or wave about, cf. whakapoi.

Nana.—To nurse, to tend carefully.

Te tamaiti i aitia ki runga ki te takapau whara nui.—A saying applied to a child of good family, born of noteable parents who have been married according to ancient custom, and all orthodox customs, etc., pertaining to birth have been recognised. Sometimes applied to a clever person.

Mehemea ko te rangi i whanau ai a Te Tuara-riri.”..Me te rangi i whanau ai a Horu.”—These sayings are applied to bad weather, or to a child born during stormy weather—like the weather in which Horu was born, etc. Horu and Te Tuara-riri were ancestors famous for their ugliness or evil dispositions. A modern saying of a similar nature is: “Me te rangi i whanau ai a Hatana”—like the weather when Satan was born. Me te rangi i whanau ai a Te Rangi-tauarire”—like the weather when Te Rangi-tauarire was born, applied to a fine day. Te Rangi was an ancestor much admired for his fine appearance and manly disposition.

Pu manawa.—A term used to denote natural talents, and not including such knowledge as has been acquired by teaching of elders. The saying is: “E waru nga pu manawa,” there are eight puaha or puareare (openings) of the heart or mind. It is applied to such as are born with a natural aptitude for the various tasks, occupations, etc., physical and mental, pertaining to Maori life. This aptitude, these qualities are, according to native belief, formed before birth, “he mea hanga ki roto ki te - 4 kopu o te whaea—formed in the womb of the mother. If congratulated upon his sagacity, cleverness or courage, a man will reply: “Do you not know that there are eight pu manawa.” A common person has but four inherent talents.

When a child is born feet first, it is looked upon as being very tapu (ko tenei whanau he whakatapu i a ia, e whakatapu ana i tona mana), and that child will retain such tapu and be a person of much influence and prestige in the tribe.

A mother, on the birth of her child, often fastens to its neck, some prized ornament, probably an heirloom, such as a greenstone ornament. When the daughter of Te Waha-mu was born here, the mother hung round the child's neck a kind of necklace, termed a hangaroa, made of shells of different colours arranged on a cord. It had been in the family for generations. The daughter, not having any children in after life, hung the necklet to the neck of her brother's child when she was born, and, on the death of that child, the ornament was buried with her, as a token of affection.

When the lands of the Tuhoe tribe were being put through the Land Court, and lists of claimants' names were handed in, it was found that, in cases where women were in the family way, the unborn children were entered in the lists, a name and sex being assigned to them by their ingenious and business-like elders. The name would probably be that of a grandparent or ancestor, or it was given the name of the place where the birth was expected to occur.

The name Hawaiki, by which term the Maori designates the original home of his race, is used in a curious manner sometimes. On many occasious when I have asked a native for information about some occurrence, he has replied: “I do not know. I was still in Hawaiki when that occurred”—meaning thereby that he was not yet born at the time. This reminds one of a sentence in an inscription concerning Rameses II., inscribed on the walls of Medinet Habron: “Thou wast a ruler of this land when thou wast still in the egg.”

There does not appear to be any trace of the singular custom termed couvade, among the Maori people, owing, probably, to their system of filiation, both the uterine and agnatic lines possessing mana, providing that both the parents be of good family.

In cases where a man had no male child, and particularly desired such he would sometimes take his wife away from the - 5 village and camp with her in the forest, providing her with some special and particular food, in order to cause her to bear a male child.

Natives say that the desire for sexual intercourse emanates from the raho (testicles), but this may possibly be a modern item of knowledge acquired by them, as they illustrate it by mentioning castrated horses.

I can discover no trace of the use of any aphrodisiac in former times. Natives say that a diet of beef has the effect of increasing the veneral power and desire. The leaves and fruit of the kawakawa shrub (piper excelsum) are said to be aphrodisiac, but I have never heard of natives using it for such purpose.

It appears probable that in former times the woman was usually thought to be the cause of barreness, it is doubtful whether male impotence was thoroughly recognised. Yet the Maori is aware that the male is the active agent, and the female the passive agent, or whare moenga, as they term it.

A singular word—oni, onioni and tionioni. This word is used to denote the movement of the body in sexual connection, and also the peculiar mode of walking which Maori girls are taught, the swaying of the hips with each step taken. The interest of the word lies in the fact of its resemblance to the Sanscrit yoni. The Polynesian comparatives are also of interest.

Some interesting notes on native birth customs may be found in Mr. White's Lectures (bound up with Gudgeon's “History and Traditions of the Maori”) pp. 119 to 125. As also in “Maori Art,” pp. 401 to 405.

In regard to the physiology, of reproductions, the Maori is of course, ignorant of the functions of many organs, inasmuch as the little knowledge he possesses of generic functions, disease, etc., is essentially empirical, based on ordinary, unscientific observation only.

The young people among these natives are said to copulate before the appearance of the menses.

U hai po.—An old time saying applied to a thoughtless child.

Kaore koe e mahara ki to u kai po”—You do not think of the time when you suckled your mother at night. A child awakes in the night and seeks the breast of its mother, who is probably awakened by the child pinching or biting her breasts.

It is painful to note how the modern Maori turns to the way of the pakeha. In 1898, a woman sued an elderly dame of - 6 Tauranga for the recovery of a horse and £1 in cash, which she had paid the latter for services performed in the way of repeating charms to cause the confiding one to bear a male child. After waiting twelve months, without any result, she took out a summons against the false prophet, and recovered her property.

If the upper milk teeth of a child are the first to appear, then it is said that the next child born to the parents will be a male. If the lower teeth appear first—then the next born will be a female.

Some natives pretend to know when a woman has conceived, by noting her desire for certain foods. This may be connected with a certain fastidiousness often noted in women when in that condition.

As observed, the local people would collect in the plaza of the village, when a woman of rank was known to have conceived, in order to offer congratulations. A similar gathering took place when a child was born to people of rank. Guns (in late times) were sometimes fired at birth of a child.

When, in former times, a woman was seen to eat the berries of the titoki tree, it was said to be a sign that she sought a lover. (Ka kai te wahine o mua i te hua titoki, ka kiia he taera).

It was deemed unlucky to nurse, or dandle, a child much, or to allow many persons to do so, (Mehemea ka rapoi katoa, te whakaaro, he tatai mate). It was also bad for the child should any one salute it by the hongi, or nose pressing process, as it slept. This was not allowed, but if the child were awake, then no objection was made.

If when bearing a child on his back (the usual way of carrying a child), a person was compelled to obey a call of Nature, and did so without removing the child from his back, laying it down, and then going aside, then was such neglect deemed an evil omen for the child. Presumably it had been belittled. Should the child be of high rank, and the bearer a commoner, then the latter might be slain for such an act of carelessness. If a babe was seen to put its toes in its mouth, that was a sign that such child had been treated in the manner above described.

Old women, when handling, or nursing, a child, carefully avoid any exhalation of their breath in the child's face, lest the child take some harm therefrom. She will hold the child with its head turned aside.

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Young children are carried on the bearer's back, and kept in position there by means of a shawl, blanket, or other article, which is brought round and secured across the bearer's breast.

Before a child was able to walk, a system of strengthening its limbs was in use in former days. This was effected by means of the korowhitiwhiti, or, as the Kahungunu people term it—pakokori… This was a small enclosure, about one foot square, or somewhat larger. It was formed of four pieces of tough creeper, usually supplejack was used, each piece being thrust into the ground so as to form an arch, which represented one side of the apparatus. The four sides being set up, a piece of tough creeper (aka) was bent into a circle and lashed on the top of the four arches of the pakokori. This circular top piece was padded with old garments which hung down inside the cage and so formed a sort of lining to it. This top piece was at such a height as to just come under the armpits of the child when it was placed inside, and so supported the child in a standing position, but so that the weight of the child's body would be principally supported by the circular top piece of the singular cradle. The arms of the child hung outside the structure, which would be erected in the court-yard of the parents' hut. All this was to cause the child to stand up, and put some of its weight on his, or her, legs, with a view to strengthening the same, that the child might learn to stand up, and walk, sooner than it otherwise would have done.

The porakaraka was a kind of swinging cradle. It was simply a basket, which was distended by means of a bent piece of forest creeper being fastened inside it. This cradle was suspended from a beam by a cord. Another cord was often seen secured by one end of the cradle, the other end being occasionally siezed and pulled by the mother, or caretaker, as she pursued some such labour as weaving, or plaiting, or preparing various materials for such works. The child was secure and comfortable in this basket cradle.

When a child is born, the first thing done to it is to shake it vigorously, in order to get rid of the nanu. This is a term applied to a watery discharge from the mouth and nose of a young child. The shaking process is to eject this matter, and prevent it forming, or collecting. If not so treated, it is said that such discharges will continue until the age of puberty.

One authority states that the term nanu is properly applied to a whitish discharge sometimes seen exuding from a child's - 8 navel, after the cord has dropped off. It is said that the child so affected will probably soon die, (Ka makere te pito, na ka papi ake taua mea te nanu, kua mohio he mate). Also that ngaru is the name applied to some substance, or obstruction, in the nose of a child when born. The child is held up by the legs, head hanging down, and shaken, so as to cause the ngaru to fall out. If not so ejected, then the child will always be affected with an offensive discharge from the nasal organ. “Ka whanau te tamaiti, ka karanga te mohio—Ruia to tamaiti, kia heke te ngaru, kia taka ki waho.. … … …. Mehemea kaore e ruia i te whanautanga mai, kua puta i te pito, ara he nanu, kua ruia, kua puta te ngaru ma te ihu. Kaore e ruia, ka hupe tonu te ihu, pakeke noa. Ma te moe tane, wahine, e mutu ai, e iti haere ranei.” …. “When a child is born, then a wise person will say—Shake your child, that the ngaru may be freed, and fall out. If the child is not so shaken at birth, then the discharge from the navel will appear, i.e., the nanu. If shaken, then the ngaru will be ejected from the nose. If not shaken, the nose will always be running, even until the child be grown up. Marriage alone may stop it, or diminish it.”

After the above operation was performed by the mother's attendant, or midwife (kai-whakawhanau), the latter then proceeded to press the child's head between her hands, in order to cause the head to assume a symmetrical form, and to prevent the child being “big-headed.” The child was then wrapped up. Occasionally one of the child's grandparents would perform the functions of a masseuse. After the above, and continuing, at intervals, for a long time, came the toto process, 2 or processes, all of which were done with a view to improving the child's appearance. Some pressed the nose of the child so as to give it an ihu parehe, or flat nose. (Several times I have laid a lead pencil across a native child's nose, and observed that the pencil touched the face on both sides of the nose).

The legs of the infant, if bowed, were placed together, and tightly bandaged by means of wrapping a mat round them, and then lashing the same with cords. The body and limbs were rubbed (massaged) all over, in order to render the skin soft and supple, as also to cause the child to grow up lithe and active. As a Tuhoe aphorism has it:—“Kia totoia nga waewae o taku mokopuna hai whai taki”—Let the legs of my grandchild be - 9 massaged, that he may pursue challengers. Or, as the Rongo-whakaata people, of Turanga, have it:—“Kia totoia ake nga waewae o taku mokopuna hai haere i nga parae o Manutuke”—Let the legs of my grandchild be massaged that he may traverse the plains of Manutuke. The first of the above sayings expresses a desire that the child may become an active and swift-footed warrior, able to pursue and overtake the enemy's challenger (taki or wero).

We have seen, in the course of this paper, that a child's grandparents had much to do with its training, etc., while young, indeed it often occurred that the grandparents assumed the right to tend, train and educate the child.

It is not often that I include in my articles any matter that has not been obtained by myself, and from the Tuhoe tribe, and still more seldom do I quote from other writers. I have by me, however, an excellent little sketch, written by my friend Ihaia Hutana, of Waipawa, and which was published in a native newspaper, “Te Puke ki Hikurangi,” now defunct. This illustrates so many items in regard to the birth, and raising of children among the natives in former times, that I cannot refrain from here inserting it:—

“The salvation of the men of old was the attention they paid to raising children, for they knew well that safety lay in numbers, and that rank could only be sustained by tribal strength, thus proving the old time saying that a house built within a fort is a sign of rank and safety, while the house standing on the forest edge is food for fire. Our fathers married that they might have descendants to perform necessary labours for the welfare of the community. They desired male offspring to carry on their family to future times, they were delighted to see their children become parents in their turn. When a child was born, the people would come and pay their respects to it. Should some portion of the people not so come to greet the child, that was deemed a serious act of disrespect, the offenders might perhaps be slain. When a child was born, the relatives of the parents busied themselves in procuring, and preparing, various kinds of food, which food was for the purpose of causing the mother of the child to give a plentiful supply of milk, that the child might be well nurtured.

“It was a great day when a woman was found to have conceived. The old women would carefully watch for the signs by which they knew that conception had taken place. When - 10 such signs were noted, then the people would collect in the plaza and there, with song and speech, show their joy at the occurrence, their pleasure in noting that the union of the young couple was to be a fruitful one. They would also know, by means of certain signs, whether the child was a male or a female. A similar gathering of the people in the plaza took place when the child was born. Also, the young couple were given much advice by the elders, as to the proper treatment of the child. For instance, it was not thought desirable that the child be nursed, or dandled, much. Such frequent handling of the infant was termed poipoi. Nor did the old people hongi 3 the child. If an old man carried the child on his back, he would not so place it that the child's breast was pressed against his back, but would put it sideways, that the child's shoulder might rest against his back. They were very careful to protect the breast, or front parts, of a child. The child was kept warm by the warmth of the bearer's body, hence it was not wrapped up much. The bearer would occasionally change the position of the child on his (or her) back, that it might not become cramped, or weary. Sometimes the child was carried with its back against that of the bearer. But it was always deemed desirable that the child should lie upon its back as much as possible (i.e., when not being carried), that it might move its limbs freely, and also wriggle its body, thus strengthening its limbs, and sinews. After a while it would be seen that the child could turn over and, later, it would begin to crawl. The people of yore were very solicitous of their children, and took much pains to rear them carefully, that they might grow up strong and healthy. They were also careful to provide the mother with the best kinds of food, that the child might be well nurtured.

“When the child could crawl, and began to try to stand, then a pakokori (see ante) was made. The child was placed in this structure, which reached to its armpits, and was lined with flax tow, where it stood and wriggled about, supported by the top piece of the pakokori. This had the effect of strengthening the body and limbs of the child. When it cried, the mother would seat herself by the side of the structure, and there give it the breast. They thought that it was much better to so feed a child while it was standing up.

“This was another custom: When a child was born, the attendant held it up by the legs and shook it, in order to eject - 11 the nanu (viscous fluid) from the mouth. It was said that this had the effect of causing the child's voice to be clear, distinct, and melodious, as it grew up, whether in speech-making, singing, or in reciting ancient lore. They were very particular about the nanu in the mouth of the child. Some did not so shake the child, but the attendant would use her finger to scoop the nanu from the child's mouth.

“Then, when the child grew up, he was taught the customs of his people, to deliver a speech, to bear weapons, to cultivate food, to hunt and snare, and take the products of forest, stream and ocean, to manage a canoe, to build a house, or canoe, as also the ancestral lore of his tribe, together with many signs pertaining to the weather, winds, etc., in fact everything that might be beneficial, and useful, in after life. Indolence in a young person was severely censured, for it brought trouble to himself, and to his children, in later life. Indolence was the cause of some branches of a family sinking in the social scale to the level of plebeans. Still, in after times, such peoples might, by means of diligence, rise again to their former rank.”

Here ends Ihaia's interesting article, which corroborates much of the matter given by the Tuhoe people, albeit the quotation is from a member of the Ngati-Kahungunu tribe.

A child is born. If, soon after, the mother gives birth to another, it will ever be noted that the first born is puny (rehe). This, says the Maori, is caused by the second conception (?). It is the second one that causes the puniness of the first.

The Maori is acquainted (as well he may be) with the period of gestation in woman. A seven months child is never expected to live long.

In regard to the goddess, or patroness, of child-birth, Hine-te-iwaiwa (iwa: nine; te iwa: the ninth), Mr. Tregear observes that the latter part of the name “is probably a mystical allusion to the nine months of gestation in woman.”

As to the proportion of the sexes to each other among the natives, at the present time, I can best explain that noted in the births. Out of ninety-one births among native women, registered in the Matatua district, 47 were males, and 44 females.

I have observed that the older generation of living natives is by far the most robust, much more so than the younger people, and children. The mortality among children is heavy.

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There are not, at the present time, many large families among the Tuhoe tribe. There are two families of eleven each, but most have about two to five children, and a good many couples have no issue. The letters S.P. appearing so often in the genealogical tables of these people is a sign of decadence. One of the above large families consists of the children of one woman only. In the other case there were three mothers.

Although the Maori people have much decreased in numbers since the arrival of Europeans, I have been much surprised by the result of a system of registration of native births and deaths, lately inaugurated in the Matatua District, which includes the Tuhoe, Ngati-Awa and Whakatohea tribes. During the past eighteen months I have registered ninety-one births and sixty-four deaths. Unfortunately I do not know the native population of the district, which is necessary as a basis for calculations as to rate of increase per cent., etc.

It is here that I find I have come to the end of my notes on the subject of procreation among the Maori people. Though far from being complete, yet this sketch embodies a considerable amount of matter that has not hitherto been placed on record. The preparing of this paper has not been a work of compilation from the writings of other persons, but has been collected by myself, at first hand, from the elderly people of the Tuhoe tribe. It has taken ten years to gather the above information, and has meant the putting of a multitude of questions to my native friends, and, I ween, a great patience on their part. Many nights have I so spent within my 8 x 10 calico mansion in the forests of Tuhoeland. It also means a ceaseless interest, and ceaseless vigilance, on the part of a collector, in order to detect, note, and question upon allusions, often most vague, in songs and speeches, as heard when in camp among the Children of the Mist. In tent and hut by rude camp fires while on the march, within the council houses of many hamlets, these notes have been gathered and preserved. Would that I could endow the reader of them with the same keen pleasure that possessed me in the collection thereof. But that can never be!

And if they be not rendered into the tongue of those who dwell within the white man's cities, in manner most conventional, be not your hearts darkened thereby. He manu hou ahau, he pi ka rere.

1  The author has misquoted the reference in this Journal, nor can we find the correct one.—Editor.
2  The head pressing may also be included in the term toto. (Toto: to chip into shape, to fashion, to form).
3  Hongi: The native mode of saluting by the pressing of noses.