The Penguin Book of New Zealand War Writing
Harry Ricketts and Gavin McLean (eds)
Penguin Books, $65.00, ISBN 9780143573098
Oddly enough – or perhaps not – when this book arrived at my door I remembered one of the more arcane customs recorded in Te Rangi Hiroa’s The Coming of the Māori: “Warriors before setting out on a military campaign,” he writes, “each in turn bit (ngau) the cross beam (paepae) of the latrine.” These were cliff-side toilets in hill forts and the cross beam was what you held onto while you shat into the void below. There was a strong tapu upon it, to prevent the theft of faecal matter for the purposes of sorcery; and the ceremony of the biting of the bar was attended by a tohunga chanting karakia considered protective of Te Hokowhitu a Tu as they went off to make war.