THE LOVE CHARM OF PARATENE
The whole pa was waiting expectantly for the annual meeting of courtship. There were several ways in which a marriage was arranged amongst the Maoris. The choice of husband or wife by parents and family was very common particularly amongst the high born. Although this arbitrary method sometimes caused unhappiness the arrangement was nearly always accepted by the children concerned. However the people were still gossiping busily and shaking their heads over Ratimira and Taneroroa. Taneroroa was a girl of high rank and her parents had strongly objected to Ratimira a commoner pressing his suit. So the couple had eloped and set up house together in a lonely spot in the mountains for many months until the hubbub had died down. Only recently, through the help of friendly messengers, they had arranged for their safe return to the tribe as married people. However, before they had had time to settle down again in the pa they had, as was customary, been visited by a plundering party. Though ostensibly the visit was a surprise, Ratimira and Taneroroa had eagerly prepared for the event for they regarded it as a mark of prestige. People of no account would never be plundered. Their friends had arrived, performed a fierce war dance in front of their whare punctuated with licentious songs deemed appropriate to the occasion and then there had been a great feast. Finally after seizing everything on which they could lay their hands, the plunderers had left laden with spoils whilst the destitute couple settled down to married bliss and to build up their material resources afresh.
Another method of forming a marriage was by the free consent of the two young people concerned. Most unions of this type were contracted during the long evenings in the House of Amusement where the younger set met for sport and games when the day's work was over. The most common way of arranging a marriage amongst the River People however was the annual or parliamentary form of courtship where the whole tribe gathered in the Whare Matoro or House of Amusement and the young people stood up one by one and named the mate of their choice whereupon the person indicated was expected to publicly accept or reject the proposal. The young people of marriagable age amongst the River people were eagerly awaiting the event and giving a great deal of their time to the sorting out of prospective mates and trying in some way to discreetly make their feelings known to he or she in whom they were interested.
Paratene had long wished to have the fair Hinauri as his wife and he was determined to ask for her hand at the coming meeting of courtship. He was not sure what success he would have for he had recently decided to test her feelings and one evening whilst she was sitting on the marae watching the young men wrestling he had approached her and dropped at her side a love token in the form of a loose slip knot of flax. To his dismay the haughty Hinauri had unfastened the noose and left it lying on the ground and walked away, a clear enough indication that she did not return Paratene's feelings of affection. “Why do you not want Paratene as your husband” Hinauri's sister had said to her later. “He is very handsome and his father is one of the bravest warriors of our tribe.” “Yes he is handsome,” replied Hinauri, “but he is also very conceited and more
interested in the chasing of women than in the chasing of work. There is truth in the saying that a man who chases the feathers of the kotuku rather than the flesh of the kaka will have neither food in his store nor wife in his house”. She tossed her head disdainfully. Her words had come to Paratene's ears but he was very persistent and he made up his mind that come what may Hinauri would one day be his. The annual courtship meeting would be his opportunity to publicly declare his love and then …? Who knew? She might have changed her mind about him by then.
At last the great night came and most of the adults gathered in the Whare Matoro. The light from the pitch pine torches and the small fires bathed the inside in soft light and a slight haze
of smoke hung around the high rafters. The people wore their very best for this occasion. The old wahine wore half calabashes on their heads from which hung a rather comical circular wig made of the hair of the kuri or native dog. The younger set were very conscious of looking their best for the evening and most wore their best clothes. Many were resplendent in cloaks which had obviously been borrowed from their elders. The women and girls wore around their necks little bags made of the feathers of the grey duck and the male paradise duck. These bags were filled with the sweet scented moss of the tara gum. The men had rubbed their bodies with oil from berries. The oil was scented with a moki, a kind of fern, and with other grasses and plants which smelled pleasantly. Of course it was the girls who looked particularly gay for as the ladies of today wear cosmetics so they had their faces and figures daubed and spotted with ochre of various colours. Some had their whole face reddened, others only half with the rest of the face being blue or blackened with charcoal dust. Even more exotic effects were obtained by some of the gayer belles who had on their foreheads the tuhi kohuru of diagonal bands of red or tuhi korae of horizontal red bands. One lass had a yellow chin and nose. These ochres were mixed with the sticky buds of the koromiko and then not only applied to the face but in some cases to the whole body.
There was much giggling and nudging whilst everyone arranged themselves around the walls and on the floor. Then Rangipakia the chief stood up and silence fell. “My children! This is your time and the elders are silent. Speak my children!” There was a pause whilst everyone waited for someone else and then Paratene who had been sitting fidgeting was not able to restrain himself any longer and taking a deep breath he jumped to his feet. “I will have Hinauri.” Hinauri seemed to have been expecting this however for she had her answer ready. She tossed her head. “Your finger nails are too long. You avoid work as Ruru the owl avoids light!” This was a very harsh thing to say and poor Paratene went crimson with shame and he sat down looking very crestfallen whilst those around him giggled at his discomforture. However there was little he could do for custom demanded that he bear the insult in silence. Then a girl stood up. “I will have Otene”. Otene said nothing and after a moment's silence a low cough ran around the crowd and the union of these two was thereby approved. Encouraged by this Terete stood up. “I will have the son of Whanaurua”, she said. Terete was rather ugly and had little tattoo. It surprised no one when the young man said gently “I have no power for my singing bird is another.” Then Matenga the lame one struggled to his feet and said quickly “Terete has charmed me and I will have her.” Terete's delight at thus securing a husband was obvious and another slight sign of applause ratified the agreement.
With the ice now broken a quick succession of suitors both male and female stood up to press their claims. “I will have Tangaroa”. “I will have Pungarehu”. “I am no longer my own for Hitana has charmed me”. “Kiriana is my singing bird”. “My choice is Purewa”. “I intend to have the daughter of Poananga”. So it went on until a number of happy couples had been mated and then there was singing and dancing to follow.
At last the gathering broke up. Those who had been successful went laughing into the darkness with their loved ones. Others who had been rejected or not even asked at all dragged their footsteps towards their whare and silence descended on the village. The annual courtship in the Whare Matoro was ended for another year.
For the next few days Paratene went about his work and every time the wind whistled in the trees he seemed to hear the voice of Hinauri saying “Your finger nails are too long. You avoid work as Ruru the owl avoids the light.” It was true of course that Paratene was a little vain but he was certainly not lazy and the unjustness of the remark made him only the more determined now to get what he wanted. He guessed that the real cause of Hinauri's resentment was the fact that one night in the House of Amusement, he has teased her after beating her in one of the games of skill with which the young people occupied themselves. Had he but known it, Hinauri secretly admired him for his fine looks and his skill at arms but like most women she was very stubborn where her pride was concerned and her mind was made up that Paratene would never be her husband.
However, Paratene also was very determined. Despite her insults he loved Hinauri and he was determined to one day make her his wife even if it meant kidnapping her to do it as was sometimes done. He did not relish such a course however because it would make him an outcast from the tribe. So he waited and hoped always afraid that someone might claim in marriage the young lady whom he regarded as his.
Paratene spent much of his time in the forest snaring birds and as he worked his mind never ceased grappling with the problem of how he could take Hinauri as his bride. One day he and his brother were out setting up their perch snares. They had selected a poroporo tree laden with rich ripe berries. A perch snare needed someone to sit in the tree and pull a string to spring the trap when a bird landed on the perch so the brothers had first to build a rough platform with a little shelter for the fowler to hide in. Paratene shinned up the tree and then his brother attached the materials for building the platform onto a rope which Paratene pulled up into the tree. The two were experienced workers and it did not take long for them to set up their little bower. Leaving Paratene to set the snares, his brother moved on down a nearby stream to inspect other snares which they had set there several days previously.
Paratene hummed a little song to himself as he selected branches on which to hook his perch snares so that they would stick up above the foliage and attract birds to come to roost on them. When all was ready he settled down, nor did he have long to wait. As the birds landed on one of the perches, Paratene was kept busy pulling the string so that the loops caught the birds around the legs and imprisoned them against the upright portion of the snare. As a bird was caught, Paratene climbed up and killed it with a quick twist of the neck. Then he unhooked the snare, took out the catch, reset the loop and hooked the whole thing back into position.
Paratene was just about to remove a fat parrot from the snare when he heard a rustling in the bushes beneath the tree. He saw a flash of a white heron's feather and his breath caught in his throat and he recognised the slim form of Hinauri moving slowly through the forest gathering up fallen hinau berries.
Now Paratene well knew that love charms or atahu were sometimes used by young men to win the affection of an unwilling maid. These atahu were recited over some object such as a bunch of leaves. The leaves were then placed where the girl was likely to see them. If her curiosity tempted her to pick them up she immediately came under the influence of the spell. Another way was to recite the atahu over a bird, preferably the riroriro, and then the winged messenger would fly with uncanny instinct to land on the young man's beloved, no matter how distant she was, and she was then under the influence of the spell.
Paratene was no ‘tohunga ta makutu’ and he knew little of the magic arts. Moreover the bird in his hand was no riroriro but he somehow knew that this was his chance to secure that which he most wanted and he knew that if he hesitated he might lose that chance forever. Snatching the parrot out of the noose he locked its wings across its back, recited an atahu chant over the bird and dropped it quietly to the ground. However because he was no expert, the spell did not work quite as Paratene had hoped. To his dismay the parrot began to hop away through the undergrowth. Hinauri saw it hopping around unable to fly and she set off after it hoping to capture this delicacy for her oven. The parrot was small and very elusive and it darted out of her reach.
Suddenly as Hinauri brushed through some bushes, a long trailing branch of thorns caught on her cloak and dragged it from her shoulders and she stood disconsolate and naked. Paratene could not stand it any longer and he burst into roars of laughter from his tree. The brown of Hinauri's skin turned a rich red with embarrassment and anger for it was a matter of shame for a woman to be seen entirely naked and she hurriedly dragged the cloak from the thorns and wrapped it around her and looked angrily at Paratene as he sat on his little platform smiling at her.
“E Paratene! Haere mai ki konei!” she commanded her eyes flashing and nothing loath, he jumped down and came over to her still laughing. “You have seen my shame”, she said. “Now I have no course open to me but to marry you for that will be the only sure means of stopping you gossiping about me.”
And so it was. On their return to the village, Hinauri called her relatives around her and said simply, “I am going to take a husband and Paratene is his name”. This, by custom, was sufficient. From then on they lived together and thus was Hinauri snared by the cunning Paratene as surely as the parrot who lands on the fowler's perch. Indeed she soon forgot her former dislike for her husband and, always as happens in the best of stories, they lived happily together for ever after.