The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 10 (January 2, 1939)
Lost to Te Reinga
Far away in the Urewera Country TeIa Herewini sat idly dreaming. Some day, her father had once told her, long trains would come rushing past with sirens ablow! heralding their approach and bringing many pakeha people into their environs.
Time had rolled on, but no foot of white man had ventured near, nor had trains been seen nor heard there.
Never either, had TeIa been permitted to venture beyond the interior of the Urewera Country; should she do so, the Tohunga told her, her soul would seek to find Te Reinga in vain.
This prophesy so possessed TeIa's superstitious Maori mind that never had she dared try to satisfy her desire to seek the pakeha people's country, which lay beyond the surrounding hills. One time, so her people told her, it had all belonged to the Maori people, but from far away beyond. Te Moana, and where the rays of Ra fell, and Rangi, the sky father shed coloured lights, the pakeha people had come upon great White-winged Birds, and taken their land from them. Eventually they had become brothers with the Maori, and together they had ultimately settled down in perfect harmony.
All this information TeIa had eagerly devoured.
Since then, her desire to see the part of the world where dwelt the pakeha increased. Far away up in the place where Rangi dwelt, daily now TeIa saw huge birds fly past. One Maori, Apanui Whititi by name, had recently ventured far into the pakeha people's land and returned bringing glowing tales of the world beyond their own hill-encircled environs. The great birds which daily flew overhead, he told TeIa, were known as “aeroplanes” and carried people upon their backs to other places.
TeIa's eyes widened as she listened. How she ached to see all these wonderful things for herself, but the warning of the Tohunga held her back still. She confided her fears to Apanui.
Scornfully he laughed, saying: “He mahi miharo te mahi a te pakeha,”—translated this meant that the work of the White Man was wonderful, and he went on to tell her how they would not believe such superstitions as the Maori people held, and assured her that she had no need to fear the threats of the Tohunga.
“Go,” said Apanui, speaking in his native tongue, “Haere ra! kia ora!” (depart in peace, good luck!)
TeIa answered: “E kore ahau e moe akuanei i te mataku” (I shall not sleep to-night through fear).
“Nonsense, TeIa,” Apanui retaliated, still in Maori.
“Take this opportunity and go in the morning before our people awake. Be brave, and have the courage of your ancestors in your heart, for you are a true rangatira (chieftainess).”
Dawning! and Rangi the sky father had shed silvery light along the hill-tops.
TeIa found Apanui waiting in readiness for her as she made her way to where they had arranged to meet, and together they made their way towards the White Man's territory.
Beautiful as the night when Marama shone softly, was TeIa Herewini. Graceful as the fleeting deer which roamed in her native bush. Soft Maori-brown eyes had she—deep, like the still pools whereby the mamaku drooped, and the tui and weka came to quench their thirst at twilight ere the taniwha moved abroad.
TeIa, thoroughly exhausted after her long trek over mile after mile of rugged country, sank down, and drawing her woven costume around her, she soon fell fast asleep, lulled by the waving nikau palms which abounded nearby.
* * *
Breathlessly Larry Hamilton came to a halt after scaling a particularly rugged portion of the Urewera Country. He had penetrated parts which he understood had never previously been penetrated by white man, and was returning full of fresh knowledge. Larry had been born and bred in New Zealand amongst the Maori people, and was consequently a fluent Maori linguist, but until now, he had never explored this part of New Zealand.
He proceeded to make for a clear pool of water which he could see sparkling in the distance as the last rays of the setting sun shone upon it. Imagine his amazement when on arriving at the pool he beheld the figure of a lovely Maori girl asleep on the grass by the water.
Larry stood looking down at her, with his fine eyes expressing his surprise and deep admiration.
There, with her nut-brown arms bare, and her native costume of black and page 35 white dyed pingao grass and kiekie wrapped around her, she indeed presented a most picturesque vision to this handsome stranger.
It seemed the most natural thing in the world for Larry who had already partaken of his light haversack meal, and quenched his thirst, to quietly undo his rug and throw it partly over the sleeping girl, then gathering the rest around himself, he made a pillow of his coat, for he too was dead tired, and there seemed no one else near, then softly, in order not to wake the tired girl, he made himself comfortable, and he too fell asleep under the wide Maori sky.
Stranger indeed is truth than fiction, and TeIa in her dreams that night dreamed of splendid white men whom Apanui had told her made love even as the Maori people did, but their customs were different he had told her.
Larry dreamed, too, that night—dreamed of a lovely wild young thing of nut-brown with hair black like the tui-bird of her native forest, and eyes that opened and beheld him with the startled fright and surprise of the soft-eyed deer that he had so often seen.
TeIa was the first to awake as the first kea flew by in search of prey. Coming to her full senses, sudden realization of where she was came to her, then glancing at the man by her side and the rug over herself, she sprang to her feet with an exclamation of fright.
The man awoke!
“Tena koe!” he said with a smile and rose quickly. Then, in fluent Maori he proceeded to explain to TeIa how he came to be there and how he had found her asleep, and gradually her fear left her and she smiled, showing teeth that shone like the paua shell, charming the man. Her voice, too, was musical and low as she answered him in Maori.
Presently, reaching for his knapsack, Larry produced food, saying at the same time in English: “Do you speak the language of the pakeha?”
TeIa shook her head, and in her own tongue said: “I do not know what you are saying. You must be speaking the pakeha tongue.”
Larry nodded and said as he proffered her some food: “Ma maua tetahi kai” (a little food for us two).
Shyly she smiled her appreciation, and helped herself to the food, and in return brought out dried fern-roots and birds from a woven kit of flax.
“Ka pai” (good) Larry said, tasting them for the first time.
“What food is this?” he asked indicating the fern-root.
“E hamu ana matou i te pakakohi” (we are eating fern-root) TeIa replied. Then moving under the shade of a tree she said: “E pakakinakina ana te whiti o te ra” (the shining of the sun is hot).
“Yes,” agreed Larry moving to the shade also, and speaking in the Maori language all the time now, “but you have not yet told me whither you are bound, nor why you are so far from your own people?”
“Do I have to give you an explanation of my actions, pakeha?” asked Tela with some dignity, holding her head erect.
The man thrilled as he beheld her natural pride and a slight colour leapt to his cheeks under the healthy suntan.
“I very much should like to bathe in yonder stream if you will go away, please,” she said simply.
“Go right ahead, and when you have finished I shall have a dip.”
Hurrying down to the stream TeIa unbound her mat and was soon splashing about and bathing like some dusky nymph as she sported in the sparkling water.
She soon finished and dried herself and returned to where Larry lay.
“Your turn now,” she said.
“Good. Do not go away, I shall not be long,” he said.
“I find some more food for my journey now,” she told him, taking her basket and looking about.
When all was in readiness, TeIa looked a little sadly at the pakeha who had come over beside her after his bathe in the stream, and shyly she looked at him saying: “I must go now to Rotorua before darkness overtakes me again.”
“I, too, am making for Rotorua. May I come with you?”
Unmistakable pleasure showed on her lovely face as she answered: “Oh! Yes I should be glad of your company for I am alone as you see.”
“Fine, then let us go now, eh?” Larry said, swinging his rucksack over his shoulder and falling into stride beside TeIa. Many more miles were traversed and by mid-day they came to their destination—Rotorua!
No one took much notice of the beautiful Maori girl in her native garb walking along beside the sun-tanned tourist. Maori guides were quite a common sight in Rotorua and no doubt passers-by thought this was just another Maori guide showing a tourist the sights. How surprised they would have been had they known it was vice versa!
TeIa had unfolded all her family history to Larry's listening ears that day as they wended their way over rugged country and through stream and bush, and he had proved a willing and interested listener—drinking in with joy all her quaint Maori charm and conversation, till he was thoroughly enslaved and intrigued by her. He learned that she was an orphan with no one to consult about her actions—hence she had risked the displeasure of the Tohunga, to steal away and see the territory of the pakeha, and Fate, or the powers that be, had made it possible for her to become acquainted with a pakeha at the outset, but her heart grew a little heavy now that Rotorua had been reached, for very soon she felt that she must bid good-bye for ever to this splendid pakeha, who looked a page 36 real chief and behaved like one.
How amazed she felt, and how her eyes widened as she beheld houses and people and steaming cliffs and boiling mud pools, and many more new and strange sights as Larry piloted her along.
Some hitherto unknown and strange feeling presently came to her primitive heart, above the glamour of all the scenery, and suddenly TeIa felt that she was going to miss her companion dreadfully when he took his departure and she was entirely alone again.
Looking up at Larry suddenly, very shyly, and as with an effort she asked: “Would it be very immodest for a Maori girl to ask a pakeha man to show her his world, Rari?” (all this still in the Maori language, and she had learnt his name that morning and pronounced it the Maori way).
Looking down at her as she raised her great brown eyes to his, full of trust and sweetness—Larry Hamilton suddenly felt that she was the most desirable thing to him in the world, and as he halted a moment he drew her arm through his with fingers that trembled, and blue eyes gazed into deepest brown as he replied: “It is a little unusual, Tela, but I intended to show you my world if you would allow me to, and” he added boyishly, “I am going to buy you some pretty pakeha girls’ clothes and show you how to put them on, and” he continued, “after that I am going to show you what it is like to eat a real pakeha meal at Rotorua's best hotel—”
“But—Rari—” TeIa interjected.
“Don't interrupt,” he said, not giving her a chance to say any more as he went on—“and then you are going to rest your tired little body in a real pakeha bed there, instead of away out under the stars.”
Sweet wonder was in her eyes as she listened and tried to ask him if this was customary, but still he kept on: “First of all though,” he said we shall just step over the road to that little church there,” and he proceeded to lead TeIa across the street.
“Why do you take me there, Rari?” she asked.
“Well, dear, that man on the steps is called a ‘parson,’ and he and that church are the only entrance to the world I intend to show you,” he said as he opened the gate and led her in.
* * *
Far away in the Urewera Country, the Tohunga told his people that the soul of TeIa was lost to Te Reinga! (the Maori heaven).
What mattered it? She had found a heaven on earth with her “Rari.”