Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon




What with remembering that he had signed the Treaty as a man of honour and the more urgent knowledge that he could no longer abide the English and English hectoring ways, Hone Heke was most discomfortable in his great stockaded pa over by Lake Omapere, where in the pale page 62 shallow waters warriors speared eels by torchlight, and his tall carved palisades stood stark against the sky. The English, undoubtedly, had all been hatched from birds'-eggs, since they could have had no parents to teach them manners.

How otherwise (demanded Heke of his priestly to-hungas) had they dared send a handful of police across Cook Strait to the little settlement of Nelson, in the other island, with orders to arrest the mighty chief Te Rauparaha for refusing to allow the survey of his lands? Handcuffs for a chief so sacred with tapu and hereditary power that to touch his mat was death to an ordinary Maori! No end of little settlements now, all running foul of Maori prestige, Maori law; and though Te Rauparaha had killed a few before returning to his enraged northern territories it would, said the tohungas, after making the proper number of incantations, have been wiser to have wiped out the lot, and so Heke had better do it now, instead of cutting down flagstaffs which the English put up again.

“But I signed the Treaty with my sacred mark of tattoo,” protested Heke uneasily.

“Then what have I been smuggling you guns for?” asked Flower, who had walked the twelve rough miles to the pa because he really wanted to know. There could be but one answer to that. “E-a!” shouted Heke, and snatched up his taiaha and rushed out to the dusky square in the centre of the enclosed village. Here he strode up and down to attract attention and then, with upraised arm, shouted his imperious:

“Whakaronga mai!”

It struck all the work and chatter like a bombshell; hurling the people into silence; hurling them into squatting warrior-rows with the dark-eyed women and children behind, all staring motionless at Heke in the firelight shaking the long carved taiaha, shaking back from his muscular shoulders the brilliant feather mat, launching page 63 out into that flood of oratory which is as natural as breathing to the Maori.

“No te timatanga … in the beginning,” began Heke. Flower listened, grimly amused. Every Maori has to start with “In the beginning,” and will go on to the end if it takes him all night. If Heke went on all night Peregrine Lovel's shipyard would go up in smoke yet.

Gradually descending through the majesty and might of the Maori, Heke came at last to the white men who (he told those dark rapt faces) had the bowels and understanding of a shark. From top to bottom of Maori law and dignity they had blundered and befouled, and even the mighty tapu was not what it used to be.

Once, thundered Heke, a chief was too sacred to be named, and anything in the world was his if he chose to call it his backbone. Now that England had brought her infamous laws traders everywhere refused to consider as Heke's backbone a desired keg of tobacco or a tuparagun. They should be grateful that he asked so little. What, he demanded, had the Treaty done for them? Snared them like stupid pigeons in a net, so that they could neither sell their land nor buy guns without selling it. But traders such as their brother Flower, who understood the Maori, helped them to get guns. And soon they would use them.

Flower, leaning against a raupo-reed wall, watched with the critical eye of a surgeon those still rows of tattooed faces half-seen in the cooking-fire lights. The dark and terrible melody of those rolling Maori gutturals, moving even him, would presently wreck Maori control. And, it was generally believed, there were still cannibals back in the mountains. Heke undoubtedly had eaten many times of human flesh, since such was a chief's duty on the body of a slaughtered enemy chief in order to receive his mana—that power of which tapu is only the physical sign. In Maori eyes Heke was chock-full of page 64 mana as he marched up and down in silence, preparing for his next flight.

The black gods of old could not have been more evilly grand than Heke, with his kaka-beak nose (from Egypt, probably, and much prized), his white-tipped huia feathers standing up in the thick hair like misplaced ears, the deep whorls and lines showing indigo on his weather-hardened bronze face. And he had cause for discontent. He had lost many privileges … such as the levying of a personal tax on every vessel entering the harbour and the supplying of temporary wives to whaling-ships, which were now making their landfalls at Australia's Sydney in protest against New Zealand's customs duties. The English were breaking down his mana, and it was probable that in a little while he would no longer be able to kill disobedient Maoris with a look.

Yet when he spoke again he had soared above the personal. His lament, moving and melodious, was for his country. He looked into the future with the impassioned eyes of a seer.

“E-a! My country! Ao-tea-roa … Land of the Long White Cloud. The pakeha god is stealing from you all your own old gods. Where now is Rangi, the father of us all? What can Tane do against the slaughter of his forests? The pakeha is stealing from you all your war-riors, laying those proud hearts in the dust, turning those strong hands to common tasks. Out of the deep sea like fish at spawning time come the pakeha, thousands upon thousands. In canoes with the white wings of gulls, they are coming … coming….”

Heke raised his taiaha with its gleaming paua-shell eyes. “From the sky beyond earth's rim, beyond the first faint blue of morning I see them coming with their red faces, their greedy hearts. I see them swallow the Maori as black night swallows the proudest day…. And Ao-tea-roa knows the Maori no more.”

He drooped his head and one moan went through the page 65 assembly like a gusty wind. Flower nodded approval. Old Heke could be a hypocrite when he chose, but he was no hypocrite now. And he saw true. There's no place like home, and (be it never so humble) the white man generally contrives to get into it, ejecting the brown man in possession. Despite all the smuggled guns sold to Heke, Te Rauparaha, and other chiefs, they couldn't fight England. But they had provided Nick Flower with money to live on in their homes when he got them.

“Mawai … who shall foresee the end?” murmured Heke. Then, with a blasting yell and a leap, he became pure savage.

“Shall they swallow us? Oh, warriors, shall they swallow us? Oh, young men … oh, women who have suckled warriors at the breast, who go to them in marriage, shall the pakeha swallow us? Say!”

With a roar, everyone proclaimed a personal desire to do the swallowing first. And then they were all at it in a terrific rhythmic volume of sound, stamping bare feet in unison until the hard earth shook, rolling their dark eyes, lolling their thick tongues, blowing the great white conch-shells and the six-foot wooden trumpets until the fishermen came ashore in a hurry and little birds fled twittering through the scrub, pursued by the high unearthly shrilling of the tall Amazonian women urging their men on to war.