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Kaipara, or, Experiences of a settler in north New Zealand

Chapter XXIV. — A Maori Wedding

page 194

Chapter XXIV.
A Maori Wedding.

Bad shots as the Maoris are generally considered, they are nevertheless very fond of sport, and are great fellows at horse leaping, running matches, and athletic amusements of all kinds. They are a fine, intelligent race of people, with plenty of fun and spirit in them, and are justly renowned for their hospitality.

About two years ago, the marriage of a daughter of one of the chief men belonging to a native village a few miles off took place; and I, in common with all the settlers in the neighbourhood, received an invitation to be present at the ceremony, and to partake afterwards of the wedding breakfast. My wife told me it would be the right thing to take some little bridal gift, and gave me a fan to present which had a good deal of gold and colour about it. I wrapped it carefully in some nice tissue paper, and thus accredited, rode off to the festive page 195gathering. During the journey, the paper in which the fan was enveloped unfortunately became torn, and finally disappeared, and conceiving the impression that a horseman in knee breeches, spurs, and fan looked somewhat ridiculous, I was anxious to get rid of my present as soon as possible. On drawing near to the village, therefore, great was my delight to perceive the bride's father stationed at the entrance to receive his guests as they arrived, and I at once made up my mind to hand the fan over to him, but to my disappointment found his knowledge of English was as limited as mine of Maori, which consisted of one word, "Kapai," meaning, It is good.

I endeavoured to illustrate the action of the fan, and held it towards him, saying at the same time, "Kapai." He evidently viewed it with distrust, and appeared to think it something unholy, or a disguised infernal machine. Whenever I held it near him he backed, and every time I opened it he jumped. The more I cried "Kapai," the more he shied, and we were gradually working our way into the village, my host backing at every movement of the fan, and I leading my horse with one hand, and with the other manipulating the wretched bridal gift.page 196At last, just as I had made up my mind to pitch it away, a Matakohe settler came up who could speak Maori, and who soon altered the aspect of affairs. The fan was accepted most graciously, and was taken the round of the
He evidently viewed it with distrust.

He evidently viewed it with distrust.

Maori belles, each one of whom, when its action was explained, had a trial of it.

This helped to fill up the time, until our Church of England clergyman—who was to perform the ceremony—arrived, and we all repaired page 197to a structure erected by the Maoris for the occasion, and made of Nikan palm leaves plaited together. The inside was very tastefully decorated with ferns and cabbage palms, and really did great credit to their artistic taste.

An "Ancient and Modern" hymn, in which the natives heartily joined, having been sung, the ceremony was performed in Maori, and a second hymn closed the service.

The bride and bridegroom then led the way to another construction of Nikan leaves, where the wedding breakfast was prepared. The happy couple took the head of the table, and the "Pakehas" (i.e., the white men, literally "strangers"), were invited to first sit down, the Maoris waiting on them. The feast was ample, and consisted of wild pig, beef, vegetables, and plum pudding. When the Pakeha visitors had eaten their fill of the good things, the Maoris had their innings, and then the health of the bride and bridegroom, who still retained their position at the head of the table, was drunk in Gilbey's Castle A Claret, the toast being proposed by our local J.P., and translated by an interpreter to the Maoris. The bride's father returned thanks, and every one present shook hands with the loving pair and retired. page 198Some horse-jumping competitions among the natives brought the afternoon to a close, and I returned home very pleased with my day with the Maoris.

Giving place to their Pakeha guests, and seeing them duly satisfied before partaking of anything themselves, struck me as showing a very keen sense of true hospitality and politeness. They have also, I believe, a true appreciation of justice—at least I have often heard so, and in the only case which has come under my personal observation, the Maori concerned showed it in a marked degree. It occurred in connection with the race for horses owned by Maoris, run at our last meeting. The jockey of the leading horse—an Englishman—in coming up the straight for the post, deliberately pulled right across the second horse, thereby nearly causing an accident. A protest was entered by the owner of the second horse, and the evidence having been heard by the committee, it was unanimously decided to disqualify the leading horse, the second was declared winner, and the jockey censured. The leading horse could easily have won, and much sympathy was felt for its owner, who had lost the race through the bedevilment of his jockey.

page 199

When I handed the money to the Maori whose horse was pronounced the winner, I explained to him, through an interpreter, that he had won it simply through the misbehaviour of the leading jockey, and expressed my opinion that it would be fair to divide the sum with the Maori who had been so badly treated. He seemed to see the justice of the case at once, and without the least hesitation paid over half the money.

Civilisation has done, and is doing, great things for the Maoris. Among others it has taught many to drink, to swear in English, and to wear English slop clothes, which are quite unsuited to them and their habits, and to the use of which, many medical men attribute the pulmonary complaints so rife in their midst. They are constantly wading through streams, and getting wet through by rain, and they let their clothes dry on them (as they were accustomed to do when their skin formed the principal part of their garb), and thus sow the germs of disease, and hasten the inevitable day when the Maori will have been improved off the face of the earth.

No cannibalism exists, I believe, among them at the present time, though there are natives page 200living who have indulged in it, and smack their lips at the thought. They say white men are too salt to be much good for the table, though young Pakeha children they pronounce to be "Kapai."