REMINISCENCES OF AN OLD COLONIST. 61
as alarmists. Not one single instance is on record of any European having been warned by the Maoris of the intended fate of every Pakeha in the island until after the Government, in the blindest ignorance of what was going on, commenced war against the Natives. In 1866 the Government began the struggle on a frivolous pretext. A Taranaki chief refused consent to the sale of some land which a few of his tribe, in consequence of some dispute, wished to sell. A conflict was entered into in utter ignorance of the precise nature of the difference, and war was precipitated before the Maoris had completed their organisation; so it was that good luck that saved the European population from much more direful misfortune than actually befel them. A parallel was the Indian mutiny of 1857, which burst forth before the preparations of the conspirators had been perfected. So crass was the obtuseness of the Stafford-Richmond Ministry that they induced the Governor to write a despatch to the Colonial Secretary (the late Duke of Newcastle), saying that twenty men and a block-house would be sufficient to coerce the Taranaki chief, William King – which meant the whole Maori nation – into submission. Yet it transpired that 10,000 Imperial troops and 5000 Colonial volunteers met with very indifferent success. It was after the institution of Potatau’s kingship that, in 1860, the war commenced. The Maoris said, “The Governor has set fire to the fern at Taranaki, and the smoke will cover the whole Island.” It was their fixed intention to kill every white man, woman, and child. Eventually Potatau suffered very seriously, and the various tribes became mere remnants of what they formerly were, so great was the sacrifice of life. Then a worse misfortune befel the Maoris in the spread of the Hau Hau religion, which had the effect of reducing them to a state of madness, and brought the end of the war near.
The Maori question is now practically at an end; the great promises of a Maori civilisation have become meaningless, and the bubble of professed intention to Christianise the Native race has burst. Conditions that possessed all the protentialities for the development of beautiful peace, in which the civilised and Christianised Maori would live in prosperity side by side with their white brothers, are gone, as many a noble and well-fought-for idea has gone before. The true level of the Maori intellectuality and morality has become tolerably well-known. His numbers are fast diminishing, and although he may have been ignorant, superstitious, and cruel, he was brave and defended himself against oppression and foreign conquest with rare courage and skill. The secret of his long and effective resistance to superior numbers might, with advantage, be studied and laid to heart by his conqueror.
[Pages 62 and 63 missing from original - text follows]
62 REMINISCENCES OF AN OLD COLONIST.
MAORI BELIEFS AND SUPERSTITIONS.
The Maoris do not have any tradition of a creation; they seem to have conceived the power of Nature very much in the same way as a generative cause of all things. They had no priests or temples, and their religion was of a most mythical description. There existed many legends, such as that of Maui having fished up the island from the bottom of the sea, and the Maori version of the origin of man and Uenguku (the Atua, or spirit of the rainbow) was considered the God of War, or war spirit, and as such was made the subject of incantations. But none of these myths were of general acceptation, and even the name Atua (Spirit, or God as it is often mistranslated) was sometimes bestowed upon a living chief. While there was an absence of religion, superstition abounded. All believed in and feared the taniwha (or water demons), and the demons of the woods and mountains; indeed the bravest warrior would not have walked at night over the most familiar road without a lighted brand in his hand to keep away malevolent spirits. The natural causes of diseases being unknown, they invented witchcraft, the belief in which was as universal as that spirits, on the death of bodies they had animated, departed for the land of the hereafter from Te Reinga, a rocky point near North Cape. Persons of all ages were subject to this dire disease of the imagination, the only chance of cure being to persuade the sufferers in the early stage of the disease that the charm of malign influence which bound them was broken by some superior power or skill. A person of note could not pass away but that his death was attributed to witchcraft, usually ascribed to the practices of an enemy at a distance. If, however, it suited the friends of the deceased to accuse some one near at hand who could conveniently be sacrificed, instant death was the smallest penalty inflicted. To these superstitions, chiefly, must be attributed the origin of the cruelty and cannabalism of which the Maoris were undoubtedly guilty. Their old mythical deities, Po, Rangi, Papa, Tiki, etc., were invoked alike by the whole Maori race, especially in the ceremonies required to free a person from the sacred restrictions comprised under the term “tapu.” They were the national gods, for they were their common ancestors, but at the same time every Maori tribe and family invoked independently each its own tribal and family ancestors. The religious rites are immediately connected with certain laws relating to things tapu, or tilings sacred or prohibited,
REMINISCENCES OF AN OLD COLONIST. 63
the breach of which law by anyone is a crime displeasing to the Atua of his family. Anything tapu must not’ e allowed to come in contact with any vessel or place where food is kept. This law is absolute. Should such contact take place, the food, vessel, or place becomes tapu, and one dare not touch these things.
The idea in which this law originated appears to have been that a portion of the sacred essence of an Atua, or of a sacred person, was directly communicable to objects which they touched, and also that the sacredness so communicated to any object could afterwards be more or less transmitted to anything else brought into contact with it. It was therefore necessary that anything containing the sacred essence of an Atua should be made tapu, to protect it from becoming polluted by the contact of food. Everything not included in the class tapu was called “ noa,” meaning free or common. Things and persons tapu, however, could be made noa by means of certain ceremonies, the object of which was to extract the tapu essence, and restore it to the source from which it originally came. It has been already stated that every tribe and family has its own especial Atua. The Ariki, or head of a family, in both male and female lines, is regarded by its own family with a veneration almost equal to that of their Atua (God). It forms, as it were, the connecting link between the living and the spirits of the dead, and the ceremonies required for releasing anything from the tapu state cannot be perfected without its intervention. Apart from the innate belief in the immortality of the soul, the Maoris venerated the spirits of their deceased ancestors, believing that these took an interest in their living descendants; moreover they feared them, and were careful to observe the traditional precepts recognised by them while alive. Among the Atua much held in awe by the Maoris were the Atua Noho-NVhare, or house-dwelling gods – spirits of the germs of unborn infants – also known as Kahukahu, the forms of makutu employed to counteract the curse of some other tohunga, or wiseman, for whoever practices makutu, even though he is skilled in the art, may have to yield to the mana of some other wiseman who can command the assistance of a more powerful Atua.
Maori education in the olden days consisted of running, wrestling, and reed throwing. Animated as all these pastimes were, quarrels were rare, and discord comparatively unknown. Days and weeks, and even months passed without an angry word being spoken – without an oath being uttered ; indeed the” Maori language was almost absolutely destitute of profane terms ; the sole curse it contained being such an awful one that it was only applied to a public enemy, or those about to become so, and its use was almost invariably a sign of immediate war.