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No. 15 (July 1956)
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SONGS OF THE MAORI

The next group contains the tangis or laments inspired by misfortune or disaster. They have a close resemblance to those arising from the preceding causes. There is the element of suddenness by which the spirit is aroused and the heart stricken so that the feelings burst forth in mournful song. One of the most striking of these, really magnificent in expression, is that of Te Heuheu Iwikau for Te Heuheu Tukino II, buried in the great landslide at Tokaanu in 1846. The following account is given by Sir Apirana Ngata in his explanation of the tangi:—

“This is one of the most famous laments of the Ngati Tuwharetoa and it is fitting that there should be a solemn character in the tangi for the death of the mighty chief of Taupo—Te Heuheu, and his people—in the landslip of one side of Mt. Kakaramea in the night of the 4th of May 1846. It is said that the slide was caused by the eruption of a mud volcano on the east side of Kakaramea. (The visitor to Tokaanu may still see the traces of this immense slip and the steaming hillside whence it came).”

Te Heuheu Tukino was a great chief by descent, he was also a distinguished leader in many fights around Taupo, in Waikato and in the southern part of the North Island from Hawkes Bay to the Hahia Peninsula. He was also a renowned tohunga, and as such was tapu or sacred in his person, keeping apart from the people. It is said that he himself had seen signs of coming disaster. The black shags had settled one after the other on Te Upoko o Waipare—a rock in the lake near his home. But he thought that such a warning could not possibly be meant for him. He and his people lived at Te Rapa, situated immediately below Mt. Kararamea between Tokaanu and Waihi. It was night when the sides of the mountain began to rumble, the trees shook and the stones rattled. Hearing the noise, Te Heuheu appeared at the door of his whare and, thinking it was some monster of the lake—the taniwha, Te Upoko o Waipare—he directed a powerful karakia or incantation against it. In his ear, he wore the famous Kaukaumatua, a greenstone pendant which came from Hawaiki. The village was completely buried in the slip and Te Heuheu and his people—from 40 to 60 in number—were overwhelmed, there being only one survivor. The body of Te Heuheu was found and his bones were carried to be placed in a cave on Tongariro mountain.

This is a translation of some of the verses:

See! the dawn leaps up from the ridge of Tauwhara's peak
It is my dear one, perhaps, who thus returns to me
Here am I left alone to weep in the world
Thou art gone from me, my treasure.
Farewell, thou great one, farewell thou terrible one
Farewell, thou rata tree which sheltered us from the breeze.
What fell demon hurled thee from us?
Sleep on, o father, in thy house of death,
The cord of Kaukaumatua is fastened in thine ear,
But Te Ika a Ngahue is left behind
As a keepsake for us.
Turn hither thy stately form, thy broad figure
That I may see thy skin graced with the dark tattoo
Thy face lined with a hundred markings.

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Thy people are left behind, leaderless and unrestrained.
The stars in the heavens have acquired a new grace
Atutahi and Hehua are eclipsed.
Spurning the common host in all the Milky Way
Thou shinest alone.
O son of Rangi, awaken from thy sleep
Arise once more, take thy weapon in hand
Tell us of thy glorious deeds, of thy prowess in the fight
How in the midst of serried ranks thou stood'st
Like a rock against the angry waves, despite the storms around thee.
Thou hast fallen; thou liest beneath the ground
But thy fame resounds throughout the land
And reaches up to heaven.

Pahoe was swept away in a flood and his body was washed ashore at the mouth of the Waiapu River. As he was a chief of note, the tribe was stirred by his death. We can imagine how they made a hurried search amongst the drift wood on each side of the river, examining the shingle bars and waiting till the body rose at the mouth of the river. There he was found by Marumarupo:—

E takoto ana me he kumukumu
Te tahutitanga i roto i te taita
Ko he aruhe tawatawa
Ka tere te koheri, ka tere te kahawai
Lying like a shining fish
Fleeting amongst the driftwood
His tattooed face showing like a speckled caterpillar
Or mottled like the mackerel or the gleaming kahawai.

The child of Hinekaukia was burned to death and the mother pours forth her grief in a very fine lament, one of the most beautiful in the Maori language:—

Whakaangi mai ra, e tama, me he manu
Mairatea iho te waha, kai rongorongo, e
Hei whakaara po i ahau ki te whare.
Float hither, my child, like a birds,
Changing with your beautiful voice,
That I may hear it once again
To keep me awake at night in our desolate house.

The lament of Te Wharepouri for Nukupewapewa is one full of devotion. They were closely knit in friendship. Te Wharepouri was a chief of Te Atiawa. When Wellington was established in 1840 he lived at Ngahauranga and he was a well known figure in the young community. Nukupewapewa was a chief and great warrior of Wairarapa. He is said to have been commanding in stature and handsome in person. In the times of Te Rauparaha, the Wairarapa people were attacked by Te Atiawa and in one of the battles Te Wharepouri's wife and daughter were taken captive. Out of his chivalrous instinct, however, Nuku restored the two women safely to Te Wharepouri. Hence Te Wharepouri formed the idea of going to visit Nukutaurua, at Te Mahia to which place Nuku with the survivors of his people had retired. Te Wharepouri and his folk were making the journey by sea when Nuku was drowned off Napier. Upon his arrival at Nukutaurua, Te Wharepouri poured out his sorrow in this lament:—

Wairua i tahakura nou, nei, e Nuku
Kia whakaoho koe i taku nei moe
Kia tohu ake au ko to tinana tonu.
Spirit of my dreams are you, o Nuku
Come to awaken me in my sleep
That I may think it is really you again in the flesh.

Some very fine expressions occur in the lament for Te Kotuku who was drowned in the river Mokau:—

He aha te roimata te wa mutu te haramai?
Why have those tears no space in their coming?

Then cries the singer: My name is bruited about on everybody's lips, as if my thoughts had been like the western wind driving the fleecy clouds to grace the land breeze from the south. I am like a canoe broken to fragments by the rushing waters of kohau seeking in vain to reach those that have returned safely to land.

The tangi of Te Heuheu Tukino for his father Te Heuheu Herea and that for his younger brother killed in battle near Te Horo are other examples of the tohunga diction. These three laments are made so excellent by the grandeur of the words which; indeed, are like the words of prayer to the goods before the sacred altar. Whoever has mastered thoroughly the words of these laments has reached the pinnacle of the Maori tongue, and can boast of his knowledge of Maori.

The laments of the tohungas are not, however, always expressed in the awe inspiring language or the priestly terms of the tohunga. Take for example Rangiuia's lament for his

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son, Tuterangiwhaitiri. His tohunga position is laid aside, he descends from the altar to the front of the house and there he mourns as a father, crying bitterly over the loss of his only child.

He rangi au e tatari, he raro au e manako
Mo taku mea ra, kaore ano i puta mai
I te ra ka taau, ka tu mai kei uta
I te tai ka taui, ka maunu mai te hukinga
Ko wai ka tohu iho ko te rangi tonu tenei o te mate
Ka hupeke ra koe, te akito rawa iho
Ko te ngenge ra, e ka waiho nei ki ahau.
Kuru rawa aku iwi, i te ra roa o te waru.
Kia noho ake au i konei, e hika ma, e.
All day long I wait, with every breeze from the north my hopes arise
For my beloved one who has not yet appeared
As the sun declines, and stands yonder in the west
While the tide falls slack, and leaves bare the headwaters.
Who can say that this is, indeed, the day of death
So suddenly have you withdrawn and have not chosen to linger
Only weariness remains with me: my bones ache in the long days of summer.
Let me remain here, my friends, alone in my sorrow.

It is said that Tuterangiwhaitiri's death was caused by witchcraft. He was dearly loved by his father who cherished him in his heart that he might carry on the treasures of Te Rawheoro, the great house of learning, when this disaster overtook him.

A great number of tangis refer to the child, to the husband, who is dead or absent or has been taken away, or for the absent lover. Then again we have tangis for the homeland, for the tribe that has been lost, for a wrecked canoe, for a basket of seed that has become rotton, or the crops that have failed. The style of composition in all these is the same as those in the preceding groups.

Amongst the songs published in the two volumes to which I refer,8 are three composed by a person on his sickness. These are, however, treasures in themselves. That of Harata Tangikuku is confined to the district of Ngati Pourou, that of Te Rohu on her leprosy circles the island, and that of Timotiu on his asthma remains a favourite with all the Maori orators speaking of some calamity on every village green. In these songs, the spirit is directed inwards as are the thoughts of the speakers on the marae taking unto themselves the death which they are lamenting:

Listen to Harata Tangikuku, dying of consumption:—

Tiro iho ai au ki ahau;
Rinoi ra e te uaua;
Te koha kore o te kai ki ahau
Heke rawaho ki te kiri ora,
Waiho au kia poaha ana
He rimu puka kei te akau.
I turn my eyes upon myself;
My veins stand out like twisted cords;
Food no longer sustains me,
And I gradually decline in strength.
Soon I shall be only a hollow frame
Like the dried seaweed lying on the strand.

In all the languages of the world there is perhaps no better example of a soliloquy composed by a singer in respect to his own sickness. Consider also the following quotation from the lament of Te Rohu, a beautiful girl stricken with leprosy:—

Ka ura mai te ra, ka kohi au he mahara
E hoa ma, e, he aha tenei hanga
E te tau, e pae, tirohia mai ra
Aku pewa i taurite, tenei ka titoko
Kei te ngaru whakateo e tere i Taupo.
The sun glows red and I sit here and ponder
Oh! my friends what is this affliction?
Oh! all of you before me, look at me
See how my eyebrows once so straight and smooth
Are now raised up in sharp ridges
Like the ruffled waves that break on Taupo's shore.

The second verse in the lament of Timotiu is known to all Marois:—

Whakarongo e te rau
Tenei te tupuna o te mate
Ka piri ki ahau.
Listen all you people!
This is the ancestor of all ills
That afflicts me closely.

* Sir Apirana Ngata's Nga Nateatea, Vol. I and II.

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Now let us deal with the love songs—waiata aroha as they are called. This is an extensive group. It will be always recognised that love is the chief source of the emotions of the human heart. There are many ways in which this sentiment can be expressed. In these songs, the love of the woman for the man forms the most frequent theme, or the separation of the woman from the man as in the case of Puhiwahine separated by her brothers from Toko Mahutu, or desertion for another, or being left at home while the husband is away to war, or being supplanted by another, or the love of a maiden for a secret lover.

In this group of songs, therefore, will be found the language of love, however simple may be the words. Take a few verses to illustrate this style of poetry:—

Ko taku hoa moenga, ka riro ke
Ka maunu ke atu, he pae ke
Ko te whakawerawera o taku poho
Kaitahi tonu au ka matao.
My love has forsaken me
He has been carried away by a new fancy
It was he who kept my bosom warm
Now indeed do I feel chilled.
E kui ma, e heoti tou te manako.
Ko koe nei te tane ki roto ki te ngakau, e
He aha te inaina, e kohi ai te mahara
He aha te ao pango, e kapo ai te aroha.
Oh! my friends, only one thought fills me
You are the only one who dwells in my heart
Whatever breath of news comes from the seat of war
Whatever black cloud floats by, my love grasps at it.

Here is Topeora the gifted singer of Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa, daughter of Rangihaeata, relative of Te Rauparaha, sighing for an absent lover:—

He manu aute au
E taea te whakahoro
Ki te aho tamairo
E hira hoki au
I aku tumanako
E kai nei te aroha, i.
Oh, would I were a kite
That, with the letting out of the twisted string
I might soar to lofty heights
Whence I might look down upon my heart's desire
With love of whom I am consumed.

And finally this one from Rev. Taylor's book:—

E to, e te ra, rehu kit te rua
Ringiringi a wai, te roimata i oku kamo
He mea mahue au, te hikoinga wae
Nou, e Taratiu, whakangaro atu ana.
Sink, o sun, sink into thy cavern
In showers like rain, the tears gush from my eyes.
I am left all lonely since thou hast departed
O Taratiu, now hidden from my sight.

There are many similar fine passages which appeal to one from their wisdom and their sweetness. For the purpose of Maori oratory there is nothing better than the language of these songs. Therein are to be found the words suitable for every occasion, for every mood of the Maori mind. They show, too, that the heart under the brown skin throbs to the same impulses as that under the white.

This, then, is a brief outline of the character of Maori poetry. Life to the Maori was one continuous struggle for existence. He had little time for quiet contemplation of the beauties of Nature—his songs deal instead with war and love, birth and death. But from the examples I have been permitted to present to you, I am sure that you will realise that the Maori composers, savages though they were, had in their nature the true poetic instinct, and that their songs are well worth a high place in the literature of primitive tribes.

In conclusion, let me remind you that these poems were not written down; they were chanted and sung from memory. Moreover, the music of the chant is peculiar to each poem and cannot be applied to other poems. Finally, the metre of the poem depends entirely on the song, the singer varying his syllables to suit his music or his music to suit his syllables.

It is thus impossible for a pakeha to render the poem as a Maori would chant it. The only way to achieve this is to have the waiata sung by a group of Maoris who are familiar with the song to be recorded, and New Zealand is the only country in the world where records of the primitive Polynesian music can still be secured. Are they not worth securing?