Volume 7 1898 > Volume 7, No. 3, September 1898 > Omens and superstitious beliefs of the Maori: Part 1, by Elsdon Best, p 119-136
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Part I.

AN ordinary life-time would, I am convinced, be insufficient in which to collect and discribe the great mass of items which might be included under the above heading. In common with other races living in the same culture stage, the Maori of New Zealand was simply saturated with superstitious beliefs, which had an important effect on all his actions. From the day of his birth until the time when his spirit left the body, and descended through the swirling Rimu-ki-Motau to the Underworld of the all powerful Miru, Goddess of Hades—the Maori was ever surrounded and confronted with innumerable omens, signs, unlucky actions and man destroying tapu, which might well cause him to be ever on his guard. To keep himself clear of tapu alone would be a serious task, but he had also to keep his eyes well open in order to note and avert the many aitua or evil omens which were liable to manifest themselves at any moment. In addition to these troubles he had ever to carefully guard against the horrors of makutu or witchcraft, by which at any moment his life essence might be taken and his body left minus hau, mauri and wairua —which is Death.

A very serious matter to the Maori is this makutu, and no man may know what the morrow may bring forth connected with it. Should he possess a powerful atua (god) of his own, he may retain life, for that atua will acquaint him with the fact when any one is trying to destroy him by makutu. Otherwise he will waste away and go down to Hades before the deadly arts of his emeny.

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It must not be supposed that the so-called Christian Maori has cast off the shackles of superstition—By no means. He is no more capable of doing so in two or three generations than we ourselves are. He is still a strong believer in omens, signs, witchcraft and many other doleful matters. His belief in the powers of the tohunga (priest) also is still firm; as the following item will show:—

Some few weeks back a small sum of money was stolen from one Pa, at Rua-tahuna. He therefore went to consult a tohunga at Whakatane, taking with him the ahua (semblance) of the money. On receiving the medium by which he would be enabled to see the person who had taken the money, the priest waited until the shades of evening fell, and then repeated the necessary invocations over the ahua of the money. He was thus enabled to cause the wairua or spirit of the thief to appear before him, and he described the appearance of the person thus seen:—“The person who took the money was a young girl, and a makekehu (light haired) and the money has been hidden by her” Pa at once started back to Rua-tahuna, and as he passed my camp this day, he told me of the words of the priest. He seemed quite satisfied.


Omens are divided into two classes:—aitua, or evil omens, and marie, or signs of good fortune. These again are sub-divided under various headings such as puhore, takiri, korapa, takiari, tamaki, &c., &c. The marie do not appear to be very numerous, but the forms of aitua amount to hundreds, thus we can merely quote sufficient to give a general idea of these beliefs.

Of War:—At the wai-taua ceremony, performed before a war party starts out on the war trail, the priest recites an invocation to cause his atua (god) to disclose to him those men of the war party who are under aitua, that is those who will fall if they join in battle with the enemy. He will then see the wairua (spirits) of such foredoomed warriors hovering over the tira-mate or wand of death. He then forbids these men to march. If, during sleep, the priest sees his atua (god) flying through space and covered with blood, that is a marie and a sign of victory. When a taua-toto starts out in search of blood vengeance, and happens upon any person on the trail, that person who thus intercepts the war party is at once slain as an act of blood vengeance, and to appease the gods. Even should this individual be related to the war party, it makes no difference, he must be slain. If spared, from a feeling of compassion or on account of the relationship, it is an evil omen for that war party, and disaster will surely befall them. But if slain, then it is a marie, and fear shall not assail them, but they shall march on with confidence and the war god's heart of stone. This interception of a taua-toto by some luckless wight is a kotipu, but - 121 the special term is “He maroro kokoti ihu waka”—that is— ‘A flying fish intercepting (or crossing) the bow of a canoe’. It is a bad thing for the flying fish.

In war time, when a chief calls on his warriors to spring to arms and attack the enemy, or perform the war dance—should they not all rise as one man, but some remain seated, or be dilatory in rising —that is a hawaiki pepeke and an evil omen of a serious nature. Should the warriors all spring to their feet as one man, then is is a kura takahi puni and a good omen.

The miti aitua is another evil omen in war. It is an intense dryness of the throat and mouth, the saliva ceases to flow and the system feels hot and parched. It is probably caused by intense fear. Rangaika, chief of Ngati-Ruapani was assailed by the miti aitua at the desperate fight of Te Ana-o-Tawa, which was fought out on the shore of Lake Waikare-moana, near Te One-poto. He dipped water from the lake in his hands, to cool his parched throat, crying: “The sign of the dry throat. It is death! It is death! It is death!” He then left for home.

Should we hear that a war party is on its way to attack us, and should we not be alarmed thereat, but proceed to make our preparations for a fight in a calm and deliberate manner—that is a mauri tau and a good omen. But should we start up in haste and rush around, acting without forethought or deliberation, that is an oho mauri or manawa rere, and an aitua. When it comes to fighting we shall probably run away.

To neglect the ceremony of Whangai-hau is an aitua for the war party, and is termed a whakatiki.

If, in battle, an inferior chief attempts to assume command, regardless of the supreme war chief—that is a peke-tua and an aitua for the presumptious one.

In a war expedition, should a warrior, be so thoughtless as to pass before a tohunga (priest), that is a piki-aro and a serious matter for that warrior, for he will assuredly be assailed by the kahupo (also known as hinapo), that is to say, he will become dim sighted, and thus unable to fight to advantage or pursue an enemy. This trouble may also be caused by interfering with any property or appliances of the priest, or by disregarding his injunctions. Or the trouble may come in the form of the parahuhu, in which case it is of no use to pursue an enemy, inasmuch as he will ever keep just beyond your reach.

In the case of a young warrior out on his first war trail, he must be careful when he kills his first man, in order that he may obtain a marie. He must take the weapon or cloak of the slain man and present it to the priest of his party, who will then repeat a tohi, invocation, over the young warrior, that he may hereafter be successful in battle.

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Should the war god Maru be seen before, or facing a war party, on the march, it is an evil omen, and that party will turn back. But if Maru appears in the sky behind them—it is a good sign, and the enemy will fall.

It is an aitua for a war party to eat standing.

In the Arawa Country, should a war party be marching past Matawhaura mountain, on which the taniwha, known as Kataore, resided, and should that reptile chatter as the party passes, it was an aitua for them.

Pu-wawau.—This belongs to a different class of aitua, but as it is applicable to war we here give it. The pu-wawau is a water aitua. When you hear the babbling of the waters of a brook or river sound like a human voice—that is the pu-wawau. It is the waters singing—it is an omen of disaster in war. Look out for the war parties, for Tu-the-red-eyed, god of war, is frowning down upon you, and the Ika-a-Whiro1 is abroad. Let me tell you of a pu-wawau—In the Christmas number of the “Antipodean Magazine” is a story entitled “On the Dividing Range.” At page 68 are these words—“His strenuous heart shook him while he listened, and far away the murmur of the water was like a lady singing” Now that was a pu-wawau, albeit a Pakeha one—for death and the black snake walked hand in hand in that jungle, and the murderer of the lone prospector was called by the pu-wawau.

Părăngēki.—When the shades of night have fallen across the world, and darkness fills the forest, should you hear sounds as of a company of women and children singing, laughing and talking as they pass along—that is a parangeki. News will arrive to-morrow that some tribe has been defeated in battle. It is said by our old people that the parangeki emanates from the spirits of the dead. It must not be confounded with the singing of the Heketoro or fairies.

Whakarau-kakai.—When the chiefs of a tribe argue and dispute with each other in regard to the setting out of a war party, that is a whakarau-kakai. Its end will be an aitua.

Pa-puweru.—This is an ancient custom in Tuhoe-land. Should we hear that a war party is approaching, and should we have no desire for war, our priest will go forth, bearing with him a cloak, which he will suspend across the trail by which the war party is coming, and he will also repeat certain incantations over that garment. Its meaning is to ‘ward off’ the war party. It is a token that they are not wanted and had better return. Should they disregard the pa-puweru, and persist in attacking us, it is an aitua for them, and they will court defeat thereby. Such was the origin of the place name of Pa-puweru near Tara-pounamu. Should a man feel sleepy and utter such wordless sounds as a person does when stretching himself, that is is a taiaroa and a sign of bravery.

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To yawn (hitako) is a sign of cowardice, in regard to war. With the fisherman it is a puhore, a sign of bad luck.

While a war party is on the march, should they cook food in a hapi (steam oven) they must, on breaking camp, divide or rend to pieces the koronae, or woven band of leaves which was used to line the oven. Should they neglect to do so, then is there surely trouble ahead for that war party.

Again—on opening the hapi, should a lizard be discovered within, and should the food immediately around that lizard be still in a raw state, while the remainder is cooked—that is an aitua for the warriors; the gods are against them and have come to warn them, for know, one and all, that the lizard is the aria (form of incarnation) of the war gods Te Hukitā and Te Rehu-o-Tainui.

Whakaupa.—After the conclusion of a battle it is an evil omen to remain or camp upon the battle ground, Such is the whakaupa.2

Korapa.—When the wero or challenger advances towards the enemy to cast the challenging spears, should he turn to the left instead of to the right after casting the spears, or while running back to his own party, should he look back at the enemy—that is a korapa and an aitua. Should he be in danger of being caught, however, by his pursuer, it is allowable for him to turn and rapahuki that individual, that is to trip him. The aitua of turning to the left may possibly have originated in in the common belief that the left side of a person is the taha mate (the side of death or weakness) and the right side the taha ora (the side of life or strength.) In like manner the left side of a person is the taha wahine or female side, and the right side is the taha tane or male side.

Attention was paid to the phase of the moon when starting out on the war trail, as also the position of certain stars in regard to the moon. This custom is an ancient one. When the Athenians were collecting their war party to engage the Persians at Marathon, Sparta had promised assistance, but the Persians had landed on the sixth day of the moon, and a religious scruple delayed the march of the Spartan troops till the moon should have reached its full, Well was it for Athens that the gallant Platœans heeded not the aitua.

Rua-koha.—This was a most important sign to the old time Maori. The term is applied to summer lightning playing around mountain peaks. When this was seen the old man would ask: “Where is the kotua?” —that is—in what direction is the koha flashing? Should it flash in the direction of lands of other tribes—the omen is a good one, but should it flash up vertically—the same is an aitua. A curious use - 124 of this term was made in my hearing lately. Te Whatu had lost two pipes at Pa-puweru. He said—“Ka waiho a Pa-puweru hai rua-koha mo te paipa—” Pa-puweru shall be as a rua-koha for pipes.

For a notable case of the rua koha, we may refer to the destruction of the Roman legions under Varus, by Arminius, the War-man of the north. Among other terrific portents observed by the superstitious Romans, three columns of fire were seen to blaze up from the summit of the Alps. Here was the aitua of the rua koha. Also, fiery meteors shot down into the Roman camps—compare an item given on p. 109 of “White's Ancient History of the Maori,” Vol. I., where its tates that the god Rongomai was invoked by the besiegers of the Rangiuru pa at Otaki—and Rongomai was seen by all our people coming flying through the air. His appearance was like a shooting star or flame of fire. He shot down into the pa (fort) with a noise like thunder, and the earth around was thrown up in heaps and scattered . . . . we were filled with delight, and took the pa by storm.”

Such unusual occurrences would naturally be looked upon as aitua by a superstitious people. Several instances are on record of the dismay caused by eclipses of the sun, as that of the 28th May, 585 B.C., and that of August 15th, 310 B.C., which occurred while the Medes were defending the town of Larissa against a Persian army, and which they took for an aitua, as it truly was, for the town fell.

Niu.—This was a kind of divination in vogue throughout all Maori-land in the days of yore, when the merry war party ever raged around in search of the Fish of Tu. It was a ceremony performed by the priest of a war party in order to ascertain what fate the gods held in store for the expedition. Should the result be unfavourable, that party must return, nor dare to persist in fighting, for the tribal gods would assuredly be arrayed against them, and to disobey the gods is death itself. Two small sticks or pieces of fern stalk were used in this divination rite. The priest laid the sticks on his open right hand and cast them forward, and according to which way they lay when on the ground the augury was derived.

Matakite or Prophecy, the art of the Seer, the medium of the gods was also an important item in war. This, however, has been already described in the pages of this Journal. See “Te Rehu-o-Tainui,” Journal Polynesian Society, vol. vi, p. 41.

Omens Derived from Dreams.

The Maori places great importance upon dreams. This fact probably arose from the universal belief that the spirit (wairua) of man has the power to leave the body during sleep, and that when a person dreams, it is his wairua roaming round which sees and hears - 125 all that one dreams of. Hence it is an aitua to suddenly awaken a sleeping person; you must not shake him for instance, but call to him, and thus give his absent wairua time to pass back into the body.

Should you dream that you are flying through space and being pursued by another person, which pursuer, however, is really a spirit of the dead from Hades, which is trying to capture you, should your wairua be caught by the wairua from Reinga—that is an aitua for you, but should it escape, then it is a moe ora and a marie. And in sleeping double, if your companion gives you a dig with his elbow—that is is an aitua for him, but if you have the presence of mind to pinch him, that act will remove the aitua and peace will again reign.

If you dream that you see a person bearing a greenstone ornament—it is an aitua for such person. To dream that you are in a house with two doorways, a second one in the back of the house—is an aitua. To dream of a house facing (e aki ana) the back of another house—is an aitua. It is a whare-kotore. To dream that a person makes an insulting gesture (whakapuheto) towards you is an aitua.

When Karia and Te Onewa-tahi, of immortal fame, resolved to wipe out the Ngati-Rakei hapu (sub-tribe) of Nga-Potiki, then living at Ohaua-te-rangi, the sign of the aitua came to Pukeko, chief of Rakei, in this wise: He dreamed that Te Onewa came to him and saluted him in the Maori manner, that is with the hongi (nose pressing) of our ancestors. But he took a mean advantage of Pukeko, and bit his nose. Then Pukeko arose and addressed his people:—“My dream. My nose has been bitten by Te Onewa. My word to you all—it is this—be on your guard.” And well they might be, for the nose biter had prevailed on the Arawa to assist him in his work, and matters began to look serious for the children of Potiki, though like true Maoris they did not worry over the odds against them, but gaily marched forth to meet the enemy. How they met the enemy and befooled them, and drove them back defeated and humbled to the out-lands of the Boiling Water Country, and moreover gained their present name of Ngati-haka—these are matters of history, but do not belong to this aitua. . .

When sleeping out it is an aitua not to cover the face.

Should you dream that you see or hear a person threatening you—it is your wairua which sees danger ahead for you, and that is the manner in which it warns you. And if you see an atua hovering around or over you, then know that it is probably the wairua (spirit) of a dead relative, your father maybe, or your child, which has come to warn you of impending danger. That spirit has come to abide with you as an apa, and you are the kaupapa or medium of that apa. Passing strange and of great interest is the weird apa-hau, and we will speak of it anon, when we have finished our aitua.

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Tātāhau.—To talk in one's sleep, in an intelligble manner, is moenanu. It has no signification. It is neither an aitua nor yet a marie. But should you hear a sleeping person talking gibberish (e kunanu noa iho ana te waha), uttering no intelligible words, while the hands clutch convulsively—then know that the same is a tatahau and an aitua. Or should you dream that a wairua (spirit) is trying to destroy you— that also is a tatahau.

Takiari.—If, while sleeping, a person grinds his teeth, or his hand closes as if clutching something (ka kamu ko te ringa), it is a sign of plenty, in the food line, and therefore a marie. This is one of the Takiri class of signs. If a dog barks in its sleep, or its limbs twitch and start—that also is a takiari and a marie for hunting, for if you go a hunting with that dog your are certain of catching a kiwi.

There are two other takiari, though they do not apply to sleep in any way. Should you hear on a fine calm night a sharp report in the bush, as of a branch cracking, or hear a tree fall—those are takiari and aitua. Should many trees be heard to fall on successive calm nights, then is there trouble ahead for the whole tribe.

To dream that one sees carved posts or slabs in a house is an aitua for the owner of that house. This is termed a moe-whakairo.

Moe-tamahine.—This is to dream that one is embracing a woman. It is a marie or good omen for hunters; you will catch a fine fat pig. (The connection between a woman and a fat pig is not evident, but it appears to be clear to the aboriginal mind). Whereas to dream that one sees a wairua tangata (spirit of a human being, probably of the dead) is a moe-papa or unlucky dream and a puhore, or omen of non-success in hunting or fishing.

Moe-tahakura.—To dream that one is in the presence of a friend who is really dead, as one's late wife—is a tahakura.

“Naku te ai tahakura i konei i te tane
Au atu taku moe, he wairua Reinga.”—Old Song.

Other tahakura come under the headings of puhore and weaving, of which more anon.

Moe-taharangi.—This is to dream that one is with an absent but living person, as one's sweet-heart. To dream that one sees a calabash of preserved birds is an aitua for the owner thereof.

Moe-whakatiki.—This is to dream that one goes to a house or village, the people of which are having a meal, but do not invite you to join in the same. It is an aitua for those people.

To dream that I am having my hair cut is an aitua for my eldest or elder brother or for a child of the same.

Moe-tuhonohono.—When sleeping in a native house should a person sleep at another's feet—it is an aitua for him. Men must lie with - 127 their heads back against the wall, only women may sleep in the space between the men's feet and the passage down the middle of the house. Neither is it allowable to rest in the ihonui or that part of the central passage between the door and the fireplace.

Kati!—Enough of sleep and its aitua.

Tupaoe,—This is a nocturnal tuporo. Tuporo is an ancient word and now almost obsolete.3 It means to sing while travelling, but applies only to daytime, it is neither an aitua nor a marie. But to sing while travelling at night is a tupaoe and an aitua for the singer. It is a dangerous business that tupaoe, exceedingly so. You are, as it were, imitating the Heketoro (=Turehu=fairies), who are a very tapu people, and it is a bad form to interfere with them in any way. Disaster lies that way. But the unfortunate singer cannot help himself. It is his wairua (spirit, double, the Ka of the ancient Egyptians) warning him of coming trouble. He does not know that any misfortune is ahead, but his wairua knows all about it, and thus prompts him to sing at night. It is a way the wairua has. It can always see future troubles, and this is one of its ways of showing that danger exists for the body. As old Whatu and I were sitting by the fire in my tent one night, discussing metaphysics; we heard a native singing as he rode along the trail. The old man said: “Ko wai tena e tupaoe haere nei i te huarahi?” I remarked: “How foolish of him to seek trouble in that manner.” “Not so,” said Te Whatu, “He cannot help himself, he is prompted by his wairua.”Presently one Horohau, of Ngati-Kuri, came in. He had come to apply for a bush-felling contract; I said, “O son you are too late. The last contract was signed three hours ago.” “It is an aitua,” said Horo, an aitua for me and my children, for our crops are destroyed by the frost.” Then he went out from the tent, and presently we heard him riding through the scrub on the cliff-head. But he was no longer singing. The Ruanuku said— “His wairua knew that he would not get a contract.”

Kohau.—This term is applied to a person who is ever singing about his place, even until he sleeps. It is an aitua for him.

Konewa.—This is to sing at night; but outside the house, and not while travelling. The latter would be a tupaoe, while to sing inside is a kohau. The konewa is an aitua for the singer.

The kohau must not be confused with tihau. The latter means to utter deep toned, wordless sounds; to call attention. It is generally applied to amaru4 tangata or company of people. Nor must tihau be - 128 confused with whakahoho, which is a clear-toned, trilling, wordless call, also to call attention, but generally applies to only one person. The cooee is a whakahoho.

Irirangi.—This is a spirit voice heard at night. We may be in our house, talking and singing. Presently we hear a spirit voice singing, apparently outside, and we know that it is an aitua. Should any one be lying ill, the aitua is probably for that person. Philologists may compare iri=atahu—a love charm in the form of a song.

Taputapu-ariki.—If people collect and sing a puha (jeering song) without just cause, or if we are sitting in the marae or plaza and presently one rises and begins to pikari (make motions of defiance) and then others rise and join him, but without singing—that is a taputapu-ariki and an aitua for those people. The aitua from the Po (Hades) prompts that first man to get up. But if a taua muru wahine (woman siezing party) comes to our place and goes through the same performance—that is a taua-a-poke and no aitua.

Kopare.—To pass a person without speaking is a kopare and an aitua for that churlish individual.

Kotua.—In travelling to a village, should I meet a person who tells me a friend or relative of mine has there died, and should I turn back home without visiting that place—that is a kotua and an evil omen for me. Also, should I meet or pass a person, who turns his back towards me, to avoid speaking to me—that is a kotua and an evil omen for him. It is also a kotua and an aitua to build a house facing to the south.

Omens in Regard to Weaving.

There were many strange customs of old, pertaining to weaving, and most careful were the old-time weavers of clothing, lest they transgress some law of the whare-pora (a special house in which the art of weaving was taught). Common, rough cloaks and kilts could be made everywhere and at any time, but fine woven cloaks, &c.. must always be made under a roof and during the day-time. To weave such a garment in the open air and without a covering of any kind over the weaver, is a tahakura and an evil omen for her, though to stretch an old garment across sticks over the weaver would be quite sufficient to avert the aitua. In going along the line where the natives are engaged in bush-felling a few days ago, I observed that one of the women had brought her work with her. This was a fine maro-kopua, which she was engaged in weaving, one of those elaborate and ornamental kilts, with taniko and hukihuki and tihoi all complete, such as the puhi of old delighted in. She had no roof under which to erect her frame, so she did so within the hollow trunk of a huge fallen tree, and there I found her weaving away, doubtless happy in the knowledge that the tahakura was thus averted.

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The weaving of fine garments must cease with the setting sun and the frame and garment be put aside until next day. The weaver may prepare the twisted threads (miro and karure) at night, but she may not weave. Were she to do so, she will assuredly lose all her knowledge of the art of weaving; the shades of night will deprive her of such—Ka hikoa te matauranga a te wahine e te po.

To leave an aho or cross-thread uncompleted at sundown i.e. not carried out to the margin—is a tahakura and an aitua for the weaver and garment, inasmuch as that garment will never be completed by her, but will have to be thrown away. That tahakura has unnerved the weaver and deprived her of all power to work or of continuity, she will never again be able to concentrate her thoughts on the work in order to complete the same.

Aroakapa.—To weave at night is an aroakapa and a tatai mate (aroakapa, tona hangaitanga o tenei kupu he tupou. Tupou=he mate, he aitua, he aroakapa. Ko te mahi po te tikanga. Mehemea ka moe ahau i te po, ka kitea e au te kakahu o taua wahine e iri ana, ka kiia tena he aroakapa, he tupou, ara he aitua). If a weaver (or her husband) dreams that she sees a garment suspended before her—that is an aroakapa. Her wairua thus warns her of impending trouble, death, mis-fortune.

When a woman is weaving a garment, should a visitor arrive, she must at once cease work and loosen the right hand turuturu (turuturu=two upright sticks to which the garment is fastened, in weaving), leaning it inwards at an an angle across the work. To neglect this is an aroakapa. Should the visitor have come from afar, then the work must be rolled up and laid aside.5

If the visitor be a chief from an adjacent village and the weaver merely pushes the turuturu over, without unfastening the garment—that is a hukiora. As the chief seats himself he will say to the weaver—“Erect your turuturu.

The above troubles are always liable to affect such weavers as have not been through the important ceremony of Moremore-puwha, which binds knowledge acquired. A weaver may not smoke while working, and her work must be put aside or covered when she takes food.

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Another tahakura belongs to the puhore order of aitua. If you and I go gaming together and you secure fine fat birds, while I only get poor ones—that is a tahakura for me.

Aitua in Carving.

The shed in which carving was done was tapu, and no food might be partaken of within it. In carving, it is not permissible to blow off the chips and dust formed by the action of the chisel, they must be swept off with the hand or the plank be turned over to dislodge them. Should they be blown off by the breath of the carver, it would be an aitua for him; he would lose all his knowledge of the art of carving, inasmuch as those chips represent or were formed by that knowledge. To make a muhu is also an aitua for the carver. (muhu=an error in carving).

In building.—It is an aitua if the kaho-tuanui (batten nearest ridge-pole), is not propely fixed, that batten being one of the tapu parts of the a house. In adzing the timbers for a house, the chips formed must be left in situ, not burned or taken away, or the work will never be completed. If we level and prepare a site for a house, and then desert the place without building—that is an aitua for us; we have cut and wounded Papa, our Mother Earth, without just cause.

In squaring (tieke) the site for a house, a cord is stretched diagonally across from the corner posts. Should the pegs inserted prove to be correctly placed on the first trial, it is an aitua for the leading builder or owner of the cord (taura tieke).

A house may be built for a kaihau-kai (feast). When the guests arrive they enter the house and seat themselves back against the walls. The priest of the party climbs up to the roof and there recites the Ue karakia (incantation). When he reaches the refrain:— “Hui E! Taiki E!” every man joins in, and at the same time siezes with both hands the wall post nearest to him, and shakes it, or endeavours to do so. Should the house give to the strain of many hands, and so be injured—it is an aitua for the builders thereof, but not for the visitors.

To hear the chirping of the moko-ta is an aitua, the same being a small lizard which often takes up its abode in the walls of houses. To hear the tokerangi (death watch) is an aitua. It is an aitua to find a pigeon's nest, a circumstance however which very seldom occurs.

Takiri.—The class of omens known by this name are derived from the convulsive movements of the limbs during sleep. They appear to differ somewhat in different tribes. Thus, some natives will tell you that should the left arm start or jerk during sleep—that is a tamaki and an evil omen—a war party is marching on you. If the right arm, it is a marie. These signs are based on the belief that the left arm (and side) is the weak member, and the right arm the strong one.

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The sudden clutching or clenching (kapo) of the hand during sleep is also known as a tamaki, which is a sort of sub-species of takiri. If the left hand, it is an aitua; if the right, it is a marie. The right side, being stronger, preserves life. Another tamaki is the itching of the nose. This is an aitua, generally denoting that one is being slandered:—

“E tangi ra e toku ihu, e pa tamaki nei,
Ko au pea e, kai nga whare ra
E muhari ana mo te pakihore,”&c.
Cry on, my nose, a sign of evil,
'Tis I, perchance, in yonder house.
With indolence am slandered.

It appears, however, to apply to other matters as well. Old Paitini told me one day that it would soon rain. I asked, “What is the sign?” He said “Kua korero taku tamaki” My tamaki has spoken.

Other takiri are known as the kohera and ruru. The former is the jerking of the arm outwards, it is an aitua. The latter is when the arm jerks inwards across the body, it is a good omen.

Tai-whawhātirua.—This is to make an error in reciting karakia, &c. It is an aitua of a serious nature.

In bush-felling, should a tree fall backwards, it is an aitua. Or should the butt thereof hang on the stump—that is a hongi, and an evil omen. Also, when engaged in tree-felling, the workman will spit into the kerf (tuaimu) in order that weariness may not affect his arms.

In canoe making, when an adzer commences to adze over the surface for the last time, that is to finish off (whakarau) a canoe, he throws a small stone into the canoe—kia mau tonu tana maramara6—that his knowledge of his art may endure and not be lost. To omit the heretua7in adzing a canoe is an aitua.

When clearing ground for a new cultivation, it is a common practice not to fall such trees as rau-tawhiri, tawhero, &c., but to climb up them and cut off the branches, this process being known as autara or kairangi. But all the limbs of the tree must be cut off; should one or more be left, it is termed a pouaru. Either that workman or his wife will die ere long.

Landslides are often looked upon as evil omens. Thus the land slip which occurred at Maunga-pohatu, some four or five generations back, and which is known as Te Hororoa, is said to have been the aitua which preceded the fall of the Papakai pa. A small slip on the range at Te Umuroa was the sign for Te Puke-o-tu, who died shortly after-wards.

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In travelling, it is an aitua to build a camp fire or cooking fire on the track, it must be made off at one side.

To lash the palisades of a fort in an incorrect manner was an aitua.

Puhore. This is a somewhat mixed class. The puhore is an omen of non-success in hunting, fishing or fowling; there are many different kinds of puhore. When going a-hunting, should you speak of the game as already caught—that is a toitoi-a-kewa and a puhore, nothing will be taken during your hunt. As Paratene was passing my camp with his hunting dogs he said. “I am going to hunt the great boar of Ma-tera.” I said, “Now we shall get some fine tusks to make autui (cloak pins) of.” “Son” he replied: “Do not indulge in the toitoia-kewa, it is a puhore.” Of course I felt rebuked, for I had actually been foolish enough to speak of that boar as captured, while he still possessed life and strength to run away. Again, when digging for the perei, an edible root (Orthoceras solandri) the diggers must not mention the name perei, or the root will never be found. At such a time it is terned maikaika. In bird-snaring I must not say, “I am going to look at (titiro) my snares”—that would be a puhore. The birds are not yet dead and might escape. I therefore make use of the more uncommon words matai (to examine). In like manner I cannot use the word wetewete to denote taking the birds from the snares, but must employ the word wherawhera. All this appears to spring from the ancient belief, common among primitive races, that man, the lower animals, trees, stones, &c., shared a common life and understanding. Thus the perei root and birds were assumed to possess a knowledge of the Maori language, or at least the vernacular thereof, and an unusual word is made use of, in order that they may not understand it. At least it seems so. Another species of puhore is the tahakura. It applies to the non-success of a hunter or fowler, when his comrades have been successful.

In taking the titi birds, the fowlers are careful not to cause any of the birds to bleed, which would be a puhore. Also, should the first bird taken chance to fly against the tama-tane or mata-tauira (upper part of net), it is a puhore. But if it flys against the lower rope (tama-wahine) that is a marie.

On returning from setting traps for the kiore (edible rat), the trapper may not talk, or no rats will enter the traps. He will eat his food in silence and retire to his sleeping house,

In going a hunting should you stumble with your left foot (te mea kaha kore, i.e. the weak side of man) it is a tutuki, tamaki, and a puhore. Your foot tingles with pain, hence tamaki. To dream that one sees a fence across the track one is traversing, is a puhore. In going hunting or fowling, your dog runs ahead and stops to wait for you (ara ka tiko te kuri ki te taha o te huarahi). If he stops on the left side of the - 133 track—it is a puhore; if on the right side—it is a marie. Here the belief regarding the right and left side of man, being respectively the taha ora and taha mate, also the strong and weak sides—is actually transferred to the track along which the hunter is travelling. Also as he proceeds, should his head come into contact with spiders' webs—that is a puhore.

Puhore are numerous as sands on the sea shore, but fortunately there is an antidote for this serious bane. This antidote is the tuapā. The tuapā may be termed a luck-post. It is an adzed slab of timber set up as a post somewhere neat the settlement, and painted red. This tuapā is not tapu to a dangerous extent, it merely has sufficient innate power to give effect to the simple ceremony performed at it. A fowler, before going forth to set his snares (tahei, whapiko, or mahanga) will visit the tuapā and possessing himself of a branchlet, he first touches his bird [spear (maiere or tao-kaihua) or basket8 with it, and then casts it at the base of the tuapā, repeating at the same time these words:—

“Nga puhore nei, nga tumanako nei, nga tuhira nei,
Ki konei koutou putu ai,
Arai puhore,
Whakawhiwhi ki te tama-a-roa.”
Vain effort, covertiousness, indolence,
In this place lie,
Fend off ill luck,
Let possession be this son's.

The fisherman will detach a sliver from his pine torch and touch his puwai (fish basket) or net with it, and go through the same performance.

Tumanako signifies the desire of some absent object. It is a peculiarity of those who indulge in toitoi-a-kewa. Tuhira is an expression appled to an indolent person, who does not exert himself to hunt or fish, but who much appreciates the fruits of the toil of the others. He is ever partaking in anticipation of such fruits (birds, fish, &c.), while they are still at large and have power to escape. The term tuhira does not apply to one who is indolent at procuring firewood, which has no power of locomotion, and thus cannot escape. The word mangere would here be used. Even should a man talk of the firewood he is going to procure, that would not be a toitoi-a-kewa, for the same reason. The purpose of the ceremony and karakia of the tuapā is to ward off all puhore, more especially those caused by the desires, spoken and unspoken, of those who indulge in tumanako, tuhira, and toitoi-a-kewa. Enough on the puhore.

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There are many superstitions regarding lizards. To awake in the morning and find signs of a kaweau lizard on the floor of the house is an evil omen. The moko-ta we have already noted. A lizard known as the kueo, which lives in a rata tree at Ruatoki, is the aria or form of incarnation of the god Tamarau, a deified ancestor, who performed wondrous feats in the misty past, and wound up by flying through space from the hill Arorangi at Wai-o-hau, wherefore, and because he had, by a singular rite, become possessed of the sacred and fearful powers of his defunct sire, Hape the Wanderer; this Tamarau was ever after looked upon as a first-class god. Even in these degenerate days it is said of a swift runner—“E! Ko Tamarau koe.” Anyhow, it is a good thing to keep away from that kueo, for should anyone approach the tree, a frightful peal of thunder is the result, while the lightning flashes in a truly terrific manner. So say the Sons of Tuhoe.

It is stated by some old natives that the cuckoo is the offspring of the ngarara papa (a mottled or speckled lizard, same as moko-tapiri). Also, that when the eggs of the green parroquet (kakariki) are hatched, that the shells left in the nest turn into green lizards (moko kakariki).

Kotipu.—This singular superstition in regard to a lizard seen on a track when travelling has already been described in this Journal, Vol. VI., p. 44, but there is a still further ceremony in order to avert the evil omen of the kotipu. This is known as the Whakautuutu rite, and it is performed at a sacred fire known as the ahi-whakaene, at which are conducted the fearsome practices pertaining to Makutu or the Black Art.

The lizard having been slain, it is then cut into pieces and over each piece the priest utters a short hirihiri, or incantation, to divert the aitua to other tribes, a truly pious and neighbourly act. The pieces of the lizard are then cast into the ahi-whakaene, together with a lock of hair (taio makawe) from the head of the person who first saw that lizard. “Such were the signs of coming evil which were known in ancient days, even in the remote times of Tane, Tangaroa, Tu, Rongo, and Tawhirimatea. The signs of life and death (marie and aitua) were given to them by great Rangi.

At the ahi-whakaene are performed rites to destroy men by witch-craft, they slay the ahua or semblance of a person, hence death ensues to the body. Also at this fire is performed the rite of ka-mahunu which is intended to implant shame, uneasiness and fear in the breast of a person who is addicted to evil practices, and thus tend to convert him to a sense of morality by stirring up his conscience, all this explanation being put by a Maori into the one word whakapahunu. Ka-mahunu is also applied to a similar ceremony performed at a fire called tirehurehu over the hearts of slain enemies, in order to deprive the enemy of courage in battle and cause them to be assailed by Tumata-rehurehu, which is Hades itself in war.

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It is also an aitua to see a moko-tapiri (or moko-papa), a lizard which lives in hollow trees. The mokomoko lizard is the âria (form of incarnation) of the god Te Hukitā. Kereru Te Pukenui was the kaupapa or medium of that atua.

If seeds are kept in a house in which wood of the maire tree is burned as fuel, those seeds will never grow.

It is a cause of much trouble if a person sits on the inner threshold of a house, which same is a sacred part. The saying is, “Kia wehi ki te paepae-poto a Hou. (“Respect the sacred threshold of Hou.”)

Kutukutu-ahi.9—This is the delirious talk of a sick person. It is the aimless talking of the wairua of the invalid, and is looked upon as a fatal sign. During the bird-taking season no cooked food might be taken into or through the forests; the hunters may only carry food in a raw state, and any leavings of a meal may not be taken away from the spot where it was cooked. This is to prevent the forest from becoming tamaoatia. The forest mauri, or talisman, would become powerless to keep the birds on such lands, were the realm of Tane (god of forests and birds) to be desecrated in such a manner. Also, when an oven of birds is opened, and the contents found not thoroughly cooked, it is the worst kind of an aitua to cook them a second time. It is a tawhanarua, and all the birds will migrate from the surrounding forest.

In like manner, the mauri (=zoe, the breath of life, the spark of life) of man may become tamaoa, if cooked food is passed over his head, &c. At the time when Christianity was accepted by the Maori people, the common method used to destroy the influence of the old-time gods was that of washing the head in water, which had been heated in a cooking vessel. Owing to the intense sacredness of the head of a Maori chief, or of any free citizen, and the universal belief in the degrading and desecrating effects of food when brought into contact with a person, dwelling-house, or anything imbued with tapu, the above was the most severe test probably that could be applied to the converts of Maoriland. To this day many natives firmly believe that the decline of their race is to be attributed to the above degradation of the mauri ora, or life principle.

Some time back, old Tamarau, of Ruatoki, camped with me for a few nights, and I allotted to him a bunk which had been fitted up in the mess-tent. The old sage retired to rest, but on looking up he beheld the alarming sight of divers bags of flour, &c., suspended from the ridge-pole. This was too dangerous altogether, this fearful array of food above his sacred head; his mauri was in extreme peril, the - 136 horrors of tamaoa were upon him. Even so, he gathered up his blankets, and stalked into my tent, and slept there before the fire, happy in the knowledge that he was safe in a whare takiura, into which no mauri destroying food is allowed to pass.

Again, I hung up a piece of meat over the entrance to my tent. Old Paitini gazed upon it in deep disgust. “Son!” he said; “do not place food over the entrance to your tent. You will lose all the knowledge I have imparted to you.”

I was foolish enough to ask old Ngahoro, a great-grandfather, a question anent some ancient historical item, in a store at Te Whaiti. He replied severely, “Young man! This is not the place in which to speak of such things.”

Being benighted on the trail at another time, I camped with Tawari, of the Sons of the Black Dog. I hung my haversack to the ridge-pole of the tent, as any ignorant person might do. My host became very uneasy, and at length asked whether the bag contained any food. Upon my telling him that there were a few biscuits in it, he asked to be allowed to hang it in the cooking-shed (whare-kaunga). Then he was at peace, for his mauri was sufe.

Probably the most glaring error I ever committed was when I offered food (a pannikin of tea) to Ru, when she was in the whare-potae (house of morning) for her child Marewa. Whare-potae is often a metaphorical expression, and then signifies the period of mourning, as it did in the above case; for the parents of the dead child were travelling at the time. Of a verity have my sins been many, and of sable hue, in bringing down aitua upon myself and friends; yet would I fain hope that sometime in the dim vistas of the future I may know something of the Maori, his beliefs and strange rites. And when we pass together from the pua reinga10 beneath the drear Rimu-ki-Motau, at the Tawa-mutu, then shall the Children of Pani say one to another, “Kati! Let him pass. He is but a pakeha—He maurea kia whiria.”

(To be continued.)

1  Ika-a-Whiro—a term applied to a tried warrior.
2  Should a chief see his men falling fast and matters looking sultry for his warriors, he will cry—“Me haere i te manu-kawhaki, kaua e whakaupa ki te riri, kia whai morehu
3  Tuporo, in Rarotonga seems to mean a song sung to induce another to join in avenging one's wrongs—like the Maori tiwha.Editors.
4  Cf. Rarotonga, maru-tangata, a number or company of people.—Editors.
5  In boating round the island of Upolu, Samoa, with my friend W. Churchill, we occasionally landed and walked awhile under the shade of the coco-nuts. On the south coast, near Fale-alili, in one of our walks we came to a native house, and it was proposed to call in and get some ava, the people living there being relatives (by adoption) of my friend, who is a Samoan chiof by adoption. We found a young woman making one of those handsome mats called Ie-sina, upon which the Samoans set an extravagant value. She hurried, covered up her work, and went away to get some one to come and make ava for us. I then learnt it was an improper thing for men to see a mat in process of making; it was an ill omen. Sometimes these mats take over twelve months to make, and are never seen by the men of the family until finished. Samoan and Maori custom in this, seem to be much the same.—S. Percy Smith.
6  Query, maramarama, or marama.—Ed.
7  Heretua—bevelling off of gunwale of canoe.
8  Basket, i.e., the kete rau huka, in which the fowler carries his snares.
9  Kutukutu-ahi—This term is also applied to a grumbling fellow, always harping on some trouble or grievance.
10  This name—pua-reinga—is an interesting reminiscence of Eastern Polynesia, the meaning of which is probably not known to a single Maori in the country, though the words have come down to the present generation through the ages. In Rarotonga and other islands, the spirits of the dead pass to the west, to the reinga, or leaping-off place for the next world. Here grows the sacred pua tree, up which the spirit climbs before taking its final leap (reinga) down to Tava, the chasm opening into the Realms of Miru, the goddess of death. Tava, is retained in the Maori name Tawa-mutu, as above, meaning the “last chasm.”—S.P.S.