The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)
A Chieftainess of Tuhoe
“Come, little ones!” Called Ripeka gently. “I have had my dinner, and now you shall have yours. I have boiled potatoes for you, in a tin. Back! Back! Longsnouted one! You grow too fat, and your brothers grow too thin.”
Ripeka seated herself on the only dry spot available—a low mound built by hand in the midst of a swamp—and idly threw the warm, sweet fodder to her grunting, struggling herd. She herself had helped to carry baskets of soil from Te Pa-a-te-Kapu, a fortified hill nearby, to form this comfortable feeding ground, and had patted the sides firm with her capable hands.
She was a daughter of Te Kaho, a rangatira of the Urewera or Tuhoe tribe, and had married a son of the Ngati-Pukekos, who were a prosperous people, averse to war, and loyal to the pakeha Government.
“Greedy one!” said Ripeka, rapping a bristling head. “No more for you to-day.”
As she deftly plied her stick, her mind was full of anxious thoughts. These were unsettled times, with Te Kooti making trouble again. She knew he was back at Ruatoki, her old home, after his unsuccessful warring in Poverty Bay districts. She thought of her brother, Tupara, young and strong, eager for battle. Would he be swayed by the magnetic influence of the fanatical leader? She thought of her sister Rora who had married too, and was living in the home pa, nine miles away. Was she safe and happy? But it was for news of Tupara her heart hungered. Tupara, who had always loved her so dearly, who had treated her, in those old days, as a lover might have done. They were not far away, those happy, peaceful days, when they had laughed, and played and quarrelled by the banks of the Whakatane River, but they seemed remote because of the shadow of war. Te Kooti, that clever, desperate warrior, would be certain to turn his avaricious eyes upon the riches of these well watered plains, with their wheat crops, their flourmill, and their cattle. He would organize a band from among her father's tribe, and raid the Ngati-Pukekos. She, Ripeka, would become a “taha-rua,” one belonging to two enemy peoples. Perhaps Tupara would even meet her husband in battle! Her heart sickened at the thought.
Before Long-snouted One had finished rooting about for the last piece of potato, Ripeka was disturbed from her troubled dreamings by the sound of approaching footsteps. She leapt to her feet, realising in a flash that her fears were already being confirmed. These men, coming swiftly and quietly round the bend were the vanguard of the Tuhoe force, marching in single file to the attack. She saw Eru Peka, the half caste in the lead, and Maka-rini te Waru, the ugly, light-haired man who had married her sister. And then came Tupara, her own Tupara, who loved her. Tall, splendid, every inch a warrior. In the midst of her fear rose pride of him, and joy at seeing him.
He caught sight of her, and immediately his eyes told her what she had forgotten. Anyone met with on the road to an attack must be killed at once, or bad luck would attend the venture. Ripeka remembered, and covering her dark head with her shawl, sat down again on her fenced island among her pigs.
Tupara pled for her life, and Maka-rini urged Peka to let her go free. “No, no!” said the others. “She is a ‘taha-rua,’ and how can we know she will be loyal to us? How do we know that she may not, even before this, have learned our secrets, and betrayed us to the enemy?”
“We will ask Te Kooti,” declared the malicious half caste leader. “He shall decide her fate. Remain here, brothers, until I return to you.”
He hurried away, and put the case before the Hauhau fanatic. Te Kooti wore a pointed, soft black hat, to distinguish himself from his followers, and had two revolvers at his belt. He deliberated a moment.
“The flying fish is cut off by the bows of the canoe,” he quoted. “Let her be slain by her relatives Te Tupara and Makarini te Waru.”
His answer rejoiced the cruel heart of Peka, and he hastened back to the waiting band, and pronounced the death sentence.page 93
“Kill her,” he said, “and feed her to her own pigs.”
He determined, that, in the event of their refusal, he would slay her with his own hand, and then tomahawk them for their disobedience.
Tupara and Makarini advanced towards the girl.
“Must I, her brother, take her life?” mourned Tupara. “She is young, she is beautiful, and I would give my life to save her. Her voice is as sweet as the voice of the riro-riro, and I must silence it. How can I do this thing? I will stand back, and let Makarini strike her.”
Ripeka raised her head, and stood at a command from Peka. Tupara took her to him, and pressed his face to hers, and the slow tears fell from his closed eyes.
“Farewell, my sister, the companion of my childhood. Farewell!” Ripeka threw her arms about him and wept. “If I must die, O my brother, let it be by your hand. Do not let any other touch me.”
Tupara understood. His torn heart registered a vow that her death should be swift and sure.
“Is it not better,” he thought, in a moment of time, “is it not better that my hand should deal the blow, than that someone else should perhaps slay her less swiftly, and give her needless pain? Better that one of her own family should kill her, than that murderer Eru Peka should be able to boast of having slain a chieftainess of the Tuhoe tribe.”
“Be swift, my brother,” whispered the girl.
“Close your eyes, Ripeka,” said Tupara, drawing his weapon from his belt of flax. His patu; an edged club of polished okewa stone, sharpened for the heads of his enemies; to be used now, first of all, on the lovely form of his sister!
He lifted the club, and struck her, with all his strength and all his love. She fell without a cry.
“March on,” ordered Eru Peka, and Tupara turned, and fell into line, as the little company moved forward once more.
A Link with the Past.
Still living in Lyttelton is an old lady, Mrs. D. Williams, who as a little girl cut the ribbon of the first railway line in New Zealand, the Christchurch to Ferrymead (now Heathcote) line in 1863. Her father was captain of the ship which brought the train, or part of it, out to the colony, and the old lady recalls how when she cut the ribbon she was afraid the train would be let loose to run over her.
This railway whose gauge was 5 feet 3 inches was later sold to the South Australian Government, but some of it was lost in the wreck of the Hydrabad on the Otaki beach.
Many years later Mrs. Williams rode as a guest of honour on the first train drawn by an electric engine from Christchurch to Lyttelton.
Besides having played her part in New Zealand's railway history her sons served in both the Boer and Great Wars.—D.D.