The Autobiography of a Maori
Chapter III — An Innocent Abroad
An Innocent Abroad
When Mr. McMahon, the schoolmaster, and his wife left because the attendance at the school had so decreased that it was considered hardly worthwhile continuing it, only two white men remained in the district, but they also left soon after. The two were old Mr. Boyle, who had planted a hops garden at Tokata, and John Reid, an ex-schoolmaster, who had married a Maori woman. A white man was therefore rarely seen and the arrival of one never failed to arouse great interest of the community, particularly among the children. One visitor, who had come ashore from a schooner lying nearby, impressed me very much. He was a huge man, the biggest human being I had ever seen, and as he walked down the terrace towards the beach, I stood and stared at him, for he seemed to roll along. He wore a new suit, the finest suit of clothes I had ever then seen. I heard the elders whispering among themselves as to who the distinguished personage was. He was Rire (Maori for Read). That was my first and only glimpse of Captain Read, who made history in Poverty Bay and whose memory is kept green by Read Quay in Gisborne.
1 A gathering of any kind.
Early one morning we put out to sea, my father being in command of the expedition. I was still very young when I found myself actually on the way to Gisborne. I had heard much about the town from Maoris who annually visited Poverty Bay during the rye-grass-seed season, had heard of its straight streets, of its wonderful shops, and of the ships being tied up to a wharf. To me, this was an exploration trip. We called in at Tokomaru Bay for the night and were treated with the traditional hospitality of my race. Having had only a piece of dry bread—and that was a luxury in those days —to eat the whole day, I was very hungry. We were given kumaras and paua1 I have never enjoyed paua more than I did that evening.
1 A shell-fish, or mutton fish.
Off Gable End Foreland, or Pari-nui-te-ra, as it is called in Maori, the wind moderated, and by the time we entered Poverty Bay it had died down completely. We pulled the rest of the distance to the town of Gisborne, and as we pulled up the river channel I noticed manuka sticks stuck in the solid rocks and on the top of each stick was a kerosene tin, upside down and awry. I was told that these were beacons to guide boats entering or leaving the river.
By the way, the name Poverty Bay has been a source of recurring controversy carried on in the columns of the Poverty Bay Herald (now the Gisborne Herald). The opponents of the name Poverty Bay could at least boast of scoring some success over the conservatives when the popular daily changed its name. The name Poverty is, of course, a misnomer, but to contend that it affects the prosperity of the district is nonsensical and merely superstitious. As a rule, when I enter the controversy, I wait until all arguments of the reformers are exhausted and then steal in with my pet argument, which is: If there is anything in the contention that the name Poverty Bay affects the prosperity of the district, I suggest that the name be changed to Fat Bay, and so Young Nick's Head to Fat Head. This argument usually gives the controversy a rest for a year or two. Truly, he laughs best who laughs last.
The sight of a schooner tied to a wharf interested me page 52very much, since I had been so used to seeing boats anchored out in the bay.
We turned up the Waikanae creek and landed at a small Maori settlement. It was some distance from the town and thick with sweet-briars. We camped here for fully a fortnight and the day after our arrival we went into town, this being my first experience of being "in town." I was delighted with everything I saw, but what delighted me most were the shops with large windows in which wares of every description were displayed to attract customers. In country stores there were no such windows; in fact, what were meant for windows were guarded like gaols with iron bars. The people who served in the shops were, I thought, perfection itself, with their charming manners and neat clothes. And the fruit shops!—I revelled in these. My father also introduced me to Mr. C. P. Browne, the photographer and, with a mat my grandmother had woven for me over my shoulders, I was photographed for the first time in my life.
We learned that permission to buy ammunition had to be obtained from Wellington and before this could be done we had to wait fully a fortnight. Naturally I did not regret the delay. With an indulgent father supplying me with money, I was as happy as the day was long.
It was on this visit to Gisborne that I first tasted butter, baker's bread and sausages. I dreamed about sausages in my sleep. It was an unkind pakeha who in later years disturbed that dream by remarking that he did not like sausages for he always liked to know what he was eating. As for bread and butter, I could not eat enough. The two articles are, in a figure of speech, regarded by the white people as the staff of life, but not so by the Maoris, as these articles were unknown in the early days.
Even today, the Maoris of Wairoa regard rohi (loaf, page 53or baker's bread) as the cause of a tribal calamity. When some of the elders of the tribe visited Napier, they were given rohi, which they enjoyed as a great delicacy. On returning home they told the rest of the tribe what a wonderful food rohi was, and so impressed them about the quality of this rare food that it was decided to sell a block of land, Raua Block, at a price that would enable them to discard the common bread of their own baking and to buy the rohi of the pakeha. Of course, when all the money from the sale of the land had been spent, they had to return to their own bread and so had neither rohi nor the block of land—a calamity indeed!
With regret I bade farewell to Gisborne. Since that time I have visited all four main centres of New Zealand, as well as other towns; I resided for three years in Christchurch, and spent nearly a month in Sydney and New South Wales, but I did not enjoy my visits to these places as much as I did the occasion of my first visit to Gisborne.
We decided to camp in the cove which was on the mainland and took the opportunity to look for Cook's well. We found a small round hole cut into the rock over which water fell, and above the hole the word "Cook" was graven in the rock. According to Canon Stack, who as a boy visited the cove in 1842, the name "Cook"1 was cut into the bark of a tree that grew close to the fall.
The Maori name for Cook's Cove is Opoutama. The whole locality, with its narrow passage, its precipitous little island, its cove and peculiarly shaped rocks standing out of the sea near the entrance to the passage, its isolation and wildness, was strikingly beautiful and romantic. I don't wonder why a wealthy sheep-farmer a few years ago tried very hard to persuade the natives to alienate the island to him.
Pourewa, like Opoutama, is historic, for here, in this fastness lived Hinematioro, the grandmother of Te Kani-a-takirau who refused the Maori crown when it was offered to him by the Taupo chief, Te Heuheu. A war-party of the Ngati-Porou tribe once besieged the island in an effort either to take Hinematioro captive or to slay her. The party would have succeeded if the chieftainess had not put out to sea in a canoe. Even so, she perished and her body was later washed up on to the beach. The early missionaries described Hinematioro as "the queen of the south," but the story contradicts the opinion generally held that Hinematioro's mana was paramount throughout the whole of the East Coast.
1 Read Canon Stack's description of the locality in Early Maoriland Adventures.
With so much ammunition procured, a good slaughter of pigeons was assured. The hui was a great success because of the amount of pigeons and moki provided for the guests who attended in large numbers.
I shall now give an account of my second trip to Gisborne, if only for the purpose of showing the tedium and the difficulties of the overland route. My father and I undertook this journey on horseback and it took us four days to do it and that was considered quite good going.
My father had his doubts about taking me for the reason that I had not learned to ride. However, to be sure I could go, I at once began to learn riding. One day, when going through a simple lesson in horsemanship, I fell from my pony and though I was not hurt, I was much afraid lest my father might hear of my simple fall and so refuse to take me with him. I told some boys who witnessed my mishap to tell my father, should he inquire, that I came off the horse because it had shied. It was a lie, perhaps—a boyish lie—but I have never forgotten it.
The day we set out was cold, for a southerly wind was blowing. Along the Hautai beach, near East Cape, we rode into the gale and though I was cold and miserable, I was determined to see Gisborne again.
As I observed the ruggedness of the land behind East Cape and saw the herds of wild cattle that roamed over it, I never thought that this wild place would one day become my home. But here, today, I have managed to provide a comfortable home for my family, page 56and it is here that I pen these lines. Two of my children also have their own comfortable houses in this area, and a third child has her neat cottage here also.
It has become a habit of mine on awaking in the morning, to step out on the high verandah, to admire the beautiful view that can be seen from there. In the foreground is a fresh green paddock, on the left is a wooded hill, on the right is another hill on which a lighthouse is situated. Beyond the green paddock is the broad Pacific Ocean, and to the right lies East Island. Overseas vessels pass fairly close to the island practically every day and night, but coastal boats pass between the island and the mainland.
Before reaching Rangitukia we rode over the highest point of the Kautuku hill, on which is a perfectly round tarn, where, centuries ago, Paikea found Hutu bathing in its still waters. It was Paikea who was rescued by a taniwha from drowning and brought on its back to New Zealand. To make a long story short, Paikea married Hutu and the issue from that union is the Ngati-Porou tribe.
We started out very early the following morning. We had to be ferried across the dangerous Waiapu in a canoe and our horses were towed behind. Our route— it could not be called a road—then followed the beach and was very rough in places. Often, where it was impossible to follow the beach, hills had to be climbed and usually we were unable to descend without first climbing practically to the summit—it was not just a matter of going over the brow of the hill. An example of this was our climb over Tawhiti Hill, between Waipiro and Tokomaru Bay, where the track came to within a few yards of the trig station before descending steeply to the beach on the other side.
We spent the night at Te Puka, the home of the loyal chief, Henare Potae, the father of Wiremu Potae. Although travel-stained, my father and I slept between page 57two clean sheets. I well remember this because the Maoris had not then adopted the pakehas' custom of sleeping between sheets.
On the next stage of our journey, between Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga Bay, we rode over five hills, two of which were very steep and high. As usual, the road took us to the highest points of these hills. One thing in favour of these steeply-graded roads was that they were not muddy and boggy, for every shower flushed them. That evening we reached Tolaga Bay where we were hospitably entertained.
The next morning we again made an early start. Coming upon the Uawa River, a few chains below the ferry, my father chose to ride across it, his excuse for not using the ferry being that there was no punt and he did not want our horses to get wet. To my surprise I found that the river was not too deep to cross. I have often since looked at the Uawa River and thought that it might be considered almost impossible to ride across it, but, as I have said, my father and I did it. The Tolaga Bay hill, over which we rode, was not steep and here the engineers' old idea of surmounting the highest point of a hill was fortunately not observed. From the foot of the hill to Gisborne the route followed the beach almost the whole distance, and in several places it was impossible to get through at high tide. All along the route there were small native settlements which have since disappeared. There was, I recall, a settlement on either side of Gable End Foreland, or Pari-nui-te-ra, as it is called by the Maoris. The northern settlement was called Waitotara and the southern Pokotakina, but both disappeared many years ago.
The Pakarae and Waiomoko rivers and the Pouawa and Turihaua streams were always dangerous when in flood. They could be forded only near their outlets to the sea. I once knew a promising young man who page 58was washed out to sea when endeavouring to cross the little Turihaua.
We arrived at Gisborne on the fourth day. We both had fine horses and had been fortunate in regard to the weather. Had it rained we might have been delayed for days or even weeks. The above is an account of the East Coast main road over seventy years ago.
At that time, Cook County included what are now Uawa, Waiapu and Matakaoa Counties. When Waiapu County was instituted road facilities began to improve and an enterprising firm inaugurated a coach service. This service had a very up and down career and was finally run off the road by the introduction of a motor service. I have said that my father and I took four days to ride from Te Araroa to Gisborne; now, by motor-car, it takes only as many hours to do the journey.
Before returning home my father and I attended the races. I had been to Maori races at home, but this was my first experience of big racing and all its glamour. The race-course was at the "Island" near Waerenga-a-Hika. There was a very large crowd and the day was delightfully fine. The ladies paraded in their pretty frocks, but what most took my fancy was the brightly coloured costumes of the jockeys. The racehorses were the most beautiful that I had ever seen. Used as I was to seeing the mongrels on the coast, I had had no idea that horses could be so beautiful.
On our way to Gisborne we passed a Maori mounted on a fine-looking horse. He was wearing riding breeches and Wellington boots and I guessed that he was a shepherd for he dismounted to pull a sheep out of a drain. I believe that the adjacent land was then in the possession of a Maori, and this dandy was his shepherd. It was many years after this incident that I again met the same man in a Maori pa. Gone were the splendid riding-breeches and gorgeous Well-page 59ington boots. I supposed he enjoyed life while he had the chance; at any rate, he did not seem to worry whether he had Wellington boots or not, for he was a true Maori.
A little further down the road, at Te Hapara, a scene of a different kind presented itself to my astonished gaze. I thought I was really seeing things! The actors in this scene were a man and a woman. Both were on horseback and had evidently been to the races. The lady looked very neat in her riding-habit and on her side-saddle which helped her as she leaned towards the man who had his left arm about her waist. They were so absorbed in their love-making that they did not seem to care who looked on. To an innocent abroad like me, the love-scene was unique, colourful and intensely interesting, perhaps even instructive. Hitherto, I had noticed that, in Maori life, love-making was usually done in secret.
Later on in life, I came to know intimately Sir James and Lady Carroll. Sir James is a well-known figure in New Zealand history. Lady Carroll, or Heni Materoa, as she was called in Maori, was reputed to be wealthy, and though she was a chieftainess she was always modest and unassuming, never seeking popularity and always giving liberally to deserving causes.
I accompanied my father and others to Tokomaru Bay for the occasion of the opening of the carved house Ruatepupuke. After the hui, Te Araroa people left for their homes in three whale-boats. Our boat, "Te Kapara," was the smallest of the three. We called at Port Awanui and, while we were ashore, the southerly breeze increased considerably. My father must have had forebodings, for, before we left on the final stage of our journey, he borrowed a large iron bath which later proved to be our salvation. The first boat, the "Heni," left a few minutes ahead of us, and our own and the other boat left about the same time. The wind page 60was pretty stiff and we scudded along. My father was at the steer-oar and I sat on the sternsheets at his feet. Suddenly he called out that the foremost boat had capsized. This happened about a mile and a half from the mouth of the Waiapu River. The other boat and our own picked up the people who were struggling in the water. Among them were two or three girls who had the fear of death in their eyes. It was fortunate that we were early on the scene for the sea was very rough.
The "Heni" had turned over six miles from East Cape, in normally comparatively safe waters and nobody could tell what fate awaited us at East Cape, notorious for high winds, rough seas and a tidal rip. The "Heni" was a larger boat than ours and, in addition to the members of her crew that we had rescued, there were three other extra persons in our boat. Fortunately, I was too young to realize the serious position we were in. We could not pull back to Port Awanui, and to seek a landing was impossible, so there was no choice but to face our peril. With the larger boat behind us we sailed quite close to the island where the water was deepest, without any thought of swimming ashore if we turned over. Fortunately, the tide was right, but the passage was far from being safe for a shell of a boat such as ours. A wave lifted our boat without any harm, but, as it passed, the boat seemed to slide back and we were in a boiling trough. Then a succeeding wave towered astern of us, dashed over the boat and almost filled it with water. As the boat slid back into yet another trough it seemed to wobble with the weight of water. At my father's orders, two strong men baled the water out with the iron bath which we had brought from Port Awanui. With a bulging sail and relieved of the weight of water, the boat struggled out of danger. But soon we were again sucked into a trough and page 61another big wave dashed over the stern and almost swamped the boat. Once more the iron bath was put to good use, and again the boat struggled on under my father's magic seamanship. By this time we had passed the point of the island and my father swung the little craft under the lee of the island and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. The larger boat kept fairly close to us and even yet I can see the anxious look on the skipper's face as he watched the little "Kapara's" fight for the life of its crew. I do not think we could have been saved had the worst happened.
I have often wondered why my father left Port Awanui when such a gale was blowing. I have now lived long enough to learn that many disasters could have been avoided if people had been circumspect and had taken no unnecessary risk. Probably, my father would not have left Port Awanui if the other boats had not decided to leave. As it was, the crew which had showed least concern had got into trouble and her crew and passengers would have all perished had it not been for the timely arrival of the companion boats.
It was my father's foresight and superb seamanship that brought us through. It was old Tatari who advised me, after he had finished a boat for me, never to put out to sea when the weather was uncertain, but, when overtaken by bad weather out at sea, to keep one's head and fight for one's life.
East Cape is notoriously rough. I can think of half-a-dozen wrecks that have happened there. My brother Henry, who now lies in a foreign land, saved the sole survivor of the scow Whakapai and for his bravery was awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society. The ketch Sir Henry turned over off East Cape, and although her captain made a great bid for his life, the elements proved too much for him. He disappeared in the boiling surf but his body was later page 62washed up on the island. Captain Goomes' body was buried on East Island by the lighthouse keepers.
Te Rangitaukiwaho, a chief, was strongly advised not to put out to sea, for the moon was in its takirau1 phase and the sea would be rough, or kani2. The chief replied that he was aware of the fact but he was prepared to risk the takirau. He and all his crew perished when sailing off the notoriously dangerous Tauhinu Point, off Tokararangi reef, and a child which was born later was given the name Te Kani-a-Takirau. This child grew up to be the great Tolaga Bay chief, known throughout New Zealand.
1 The fifth night of the moon.
2 Literally, to saw, as the bow of a canoe cuts into the sea.