THE MAORI GAVE HIS BEST
(Continued from page 24)
the fighting-men from other tribes, and invariably the best-chosen dances and the bestordered ‘pois’ kept the ranks of the ‘taua’ up to their full strength. To-day, of course, their ‘pois’ are no more than what they were originally intended to be, the women's portion of the ceremonial welcome of a hospitable, high-minded, and punctilious people.
V. HAKA OF NGATI-POROU
‘Whiti! Whiti!’ cried the leader, ‘E!’ replied the throng; and as one man they rose, two hundred and fifty strong, and in front of each rank, at the chest, there appeared one long line of spears, held horizontally, every man grasping his own and his neighbour's. The effect was as if a tall pole were being handled by each section of the ‘taua’.
‘Tena i whiua!’ At the command the long lines of spears swung from left to right, while knee-joints were set loose, and the forest of feathers waved from right to left in movement opposite to the direction of the spears, the feet stamping and keeping time. The measured contrasting movements of the white feathers and the black spears, in perfect precision of time, pace and angle, were startling in their suggestion of machinery in motion, and enchanting at the same time by the singular grace of the combined individual action. As yet there was no fire in the action, for this was the preliminary to the great war-dance with which the Ngati-Porou were wont to strike terror into the hearts of their foes in all their wars. Presently the change came, sudden and fierce.
‘A ki waikurekure ha!’ It was a mighty shout, cutting sharp across the bugle-tone of the leader's recitative. It came with explosive effect of many detonations from the deep throats of the column, and was repeated three times. Simultaneously with the first syllable of the first roar the black spears, held horizontally in combination, rose in perfect lines of sections—rose as long, dark, vibrating crests, sweeping upwards and onwards in regular succession to their leader. They swung overhead to the full length of the arm; from overhead they swept down in majestic volume to the waist-level; and as they rose and fell they gave the impression of resistless force pressing forward. Three times they rose and fell, and all the while the strange electric insistent war-cry resounded, and the terrible ‘crescendo’ of stamping feet kept up its suggestion of remorseless pursuit to the bitter end. After the third repetition the horizontal thrust from side to side was resumed, and thus the demonstration went on alternately.
VI. TRIBAL STYLES OF DANCING
It is hard to state what was the characteristic of the admirable performance of these, the ‘tangata whenua’, who had vowed not to suffer defeat in the friendly rivalry on their own ‘marae’. In the volume of sound produced they were first, for theirs was the largest ‘taua’, and incessant practice had made their throats as of brass. They made a great impression. One picture lingered in the mind's eye for days afterwards, that of the venerable Pokiha Taranui (Major Fox), aged and dying, yet calling up his last reserve of energy—almost to the last flicker of life as it proved later on—to swing the big claymore, the sword of honour presented to him by the Queen, wildly before the wide front of his ‘taua’.
With the exception of the Tuwharetoa war-dance, which followed, the Ngapuhi performance was one of the wildest of that day. Each man strove to leap as high as possible, and exerted himself in every action to the utmost extent. And this marked the special characteristic of the Ngapuhi war-dances and hakas, for in them more latitude within obvious limits is given to individual effort, the Ngapuhi combining the emulation of individual against individual with that of tribe against tribe.
There is a marked difference in this tribe's method of dancing. Whereas all the others leap from alternate feet, the ‘tauas’ of Taupo spring from both at once. The result is a higher spring, heavier fall, and a pause between the two in mid-air, as though the ‘taua’ were on the wing—wherein lies the marked speciality of this tribe's ‘peruperu’. As the men rise, their feet, rising together, come into line with the bent closed knees, and give a grand uniform effect in the momentary pause in mid-air, every foot and lower limb in exact line.
Big, heavy men of magnificent physique, broad-shouldered, and strong-loined, they presented a striking contrast to their cousins, the Ngati-Porou, who were slim, active and wiry; and the appearance of their ‘taua’ was not so uniform. With similar words of command they rose to their feet with ‘taiaha’ lifted high to the right. They were a grand ‘peruperu’. With slower step than that of the Ngati-Porou, they leaped as high, shook the ground with heavier tread, and shouted with louder chorus.