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Te Tini o Toi, The Children of Toi, (book one), by Narena Olliver
Miromiro, the tomtit
The Miromiro, while tiny in size, played an important role in old Maori rituals, from birth to death. Like the bat, fantail and morepork, appearance of this bird unexpectedly inside a house was regarded as an aitua, omen of misfortune. It was a medium to the gods. The verb “miro” or “mimiro”, perhaps gives a key to the import of the bird’s name, for it means “to twist or twirl rapidly”, “to move quickly”. Its sharp sight in seeking out insects and grubs is recalled in the saying about an observant person, he karu miromiro,a tomtit’s eye. It can spot an insect 10 metres away.
The bird was nicknamed torotoro, or scout by Maori for its habit of appearing from nowhere in the forest. It was the first to settle on the water troughs with snares attached to them, a scout for the pigeons coming to drink. Then there was its habit of scratching the ground over which an enemy had walked. This was a telltale sign to the warrior looking for footprints of his foe.
In the battle between the land and sea birds in ancient times the Miromiro had a special job too, as torotoro for the land birds, to keep watch on the movements of the enemy. It was considered best suited because of its keen and quick vision, its ability to move rapidly but secretly.
In the legend of Maui (Maui–Potiki) who followed his mother Taranga to the underworld, the Matata, Bay of Plenty, version of the myth says that Maui showed himself to the people of the underworld as Miromiro, not as a pigeon. He perched on the crescent-shaped end of a ko, or digging stick, and sang a planting song mentioning his own name and those of his brothers and sisters.
Ever after that event the crescent–shaped part of the ko has been called a whakataumiromiro, and the Miromiro known as “one of Maui’s birds”. Indeed it accompanied Maui to his fatal meeting with the death–dealing Hinenuitepo. Thereafter, Maui manifested himself to man in the form of the Miromiro. It’s voice was Maui’s voice. His spirit lived on in the bird even though his bodily form may have perished.
There is no doubt also that “the Miromiro is the lovebird”, He manu aroha te miromiro, as the old saying goes, for it was the go–between when a husband wanted to get an errant wife back. The Miromiro was selected because it was believed that it had influence, was related to Maui, therefore his mana, since it had alighted, as Maui, on a ko in the Underworld.
Selected too for the whiteness of its breast (in the North Island male), signifying the world of life and light, as opposed to that of death and darkness. For the same reason the snow–white heron was much esteemed, the albatross for its white cluster of feathers, the Huia for its long white–tipped feathers. The spotless white feathers of the pigeon on the other hand were disdained, because the flesh of the bird was eaten.
To cast an atahu, or love charm, a husband would consult the tohunga and the Miromiro was the medium and the messenger. However far away the woman might be, the Miromiro would fly to her and settle on her head. The charm would begin to work and she would be unable to resist its power, being gently propelled back to him.
Erring husbands were also called by this device.
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»»» Song of Miromiro, the Tomtit
Other common names: —
Great headed titmouse, pied tit, Ngiru-ngiru, yellow-breasted tit, black tit, Maui Potiki.
13 cm., 11 g., large head, short tail, sub species vary in size and colour, the Snares being totally black; North Island has black head with white spot above bill, black upperparts and upper breast, white underparts, white wing bar and sides to tail; South, Chatham and Auckland Islands similar but with yellow breast; adult females have brown head and upperparts.
Where to find: —
Widespread in forested areas but not common.
More Information: —
Miromiro on the bird gallery page
Credit for the photograph: —
Illustration description: —
Latham, John, A General Synopsis of Birds, 1795.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Riley, Murdoch, Maori Bird Lore, 2001.
Page date & version: —
Friday, 23 May 2014; ver2009v1