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No. 51 (June 1965)
– 55 –

one detail was spared.

At once Whetumarama sent her eldest daughter to fetch from another district an ancient tohunga, a man who in earlier days would have been powerful, instead of just respected as he was today. Only the close members of Ruihi's and Rangi's families were present at the whakanoa tapu-removing rites, which were carried out by the tohunga with much dignity. Ruihi was told by the wise old soul to pay less attention to the material things of life, to harbour no ill will or resentment against her ‘rangatira’ (meaning Rangi, which annoyed her, as she knew that she came of a rank higher than his), and to find in her heart a deeper respect for Ihu Karaiti. He had no doubt that a woman as clever as she, would be more than able to fuse the old and the new ways together. Thus her children in acquiring the skills of the Pakeha would be able to hold fast to their Maoritanga.

That night the meeting house was the scene of a sentimental audience as the ‘holy man’ explained to the villagers the necessities of tapu. Just as modern life has its ever-increasing statutes and regulations, so tapu served as a forging of bonds in the communal life of our Maori ancestors. Such as the best times and places for fishing and seeking kai moana: the correct ways and know-how for the planting and harvesting of crops; and when to gather the bark and berries from the bush for remedial purposes. The tohunga ended his speech with the whakatauki, ‘For women and for land men will die’, and enlarged upon the great importance in the scheme of things of the role of the women-folk.

To get back to the Ra Marena, all agreed that without doubt the bridal couple had been the most handsome ever seen on our marae. So plentiful was the supply of victuals that the returning manuhiri were loaded with gifts of food to take home. Rewi was profusely thanked for his generous gesture in providing two pigs instead of the promised one. The cakes, rich in variety and filling, were credited not to the baker but to the person who donated the eggs at such cheap prices—not to mention the fowls, which the same soul of goodness had seasoned and roasted herself in spiced cream.

For Ruihi had been none the worse for her ordeal. In her cherry red velvet suit complete with matching accessories, she had been a fair dinkum knockout. If the others had gaped at her shorn locks, the more stylish women were quick to notice the similarity with the hairstyle of a famous actress appearing in a film about the Spanish Civil War. If any of them noticed Ruihi's lack of interest in eating poultry and cakes, they put it down to her new religious diet fads.

As for the peach tree, it is still there today, its limbs entwining the age-old bones of those who built a bridge to a new world. Its fruit are still the source of temptation to another younger generation of children, as it weathers life with the poise and bearing of a regal old duchess. With the sacred ground which nourishes it, the tree is a living monument to the fact that the old-time Maori founded his society upon laws which, like the ‘law of Moses’, were based upon the beliefs and circumstances of the people.

How did I know the fruit was juicy? That's another story. Like cousin Ruihi, I must keep such things to myself. The thin coating of sophistication I have acquired from the new world is as yet insufficient to cover the beliefs of my childhood, let alone pacify the many idols of civilization I now pay homage to.