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Some Chapters in the Life and Times of Te Rauparaha

Chapter I

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Chapter I.

The position occupied by the great chief Te Rauparaha in connection with the establishment and earlier progress of the New Zealand Company's settlements in Cook Straits, would alone justify us in recording all that can still be learnt of the career of this remarkable man; but when, in addition to the interest which his personal history possesses for us in this respect, we find that he took a very important part in the events that occurred in these Islands between the years 1818 and 1840—leading as they did to an immense destruction of life amongst the then existing population, and to profound changes in the habits and character of the survivors—it becomes important, for the purposes of the future historian of the Colony, that we should preserve the most authentic accounts of his career, as well as of that of the other great chiefs who occupied, during the period in question, positions of power and influence amongst the leading New Zealand tribes. As with Hongi, Te Waharoa, and Te Wherowhero in the North, so Te Rauparaha in the South carried on, during the interval referred to, wars of the most ruthless and devastating character, undertaken partly for purposes of conquest, and partly for the gratification of that innate ferocity for which the New Zealanders have long been remarked. His own immediate tribe, the Ngatitoa, though insignificant in point of numbers, when compared with most of the leading tribes of the North Island, had long been celebrated for their prowess as warriors; and the reliance they placed upon the sagacity page 4 and valour of their chief added to the prestige of frequent victories, and, above all, to the confidence inspired by the possession of new and powerful weapons, unknown, in most cases, to their earlier opponents, led them unhesitatingly to engage in enterprizes, the difficulties and dangers of which might otherwise well have deterred even bolder men. Nor was the special confidence inspired by the possession of firearms at all surprising, when we remember the extraordinary results which have recently been brought about, even amongst European nations, by mere improvements in the construction of the weapons used in warfare. In the case of Austria, for example, the power of one of the greatest military nations of the world was almost annihilated, and has certainly been permanently reduced, in consequence of the possession, by their recent adversaries, of weapons of somewhat greater precision than their own. We cannot, therefore, wonder at the results which would be produced upon even the most warlike savage people, where the arms on the one side were muskets, and on the other mere clubs and wooden spears and more especially where those who used the latter had had no previous knowledge of the destructive power of the more deadly weapons brought against them. My narrative will, indeed, often recall the graphic language of De Foe when describing the effect produced by the guns of Robinson Crusoe and Friday upon the savages engaged in butchering their prisoners: “They were, you may be sure,” he says, “in a dreadful consternation, and all of them who were not hurt jumped upon their feet, but did not immediately know which way to run or which way to look, for they knew not from whence their destruction came.” We shall find, in effect, that this was the principal reason why the wars carried on by Te Rauparaha were, notwithstanding the smallness of his own forces, quite as disastrous to the numerous tribes which occupied the scenes of his exploits, as those which were waged against their own neighbours by the more powerful chieftains in the northern parts of the country, and that Te Rauparaha contributed as largely as most of the former to the enormous destruction of life which took place during the two-and-twenty years above referred to. But before entering upon the immediate subject of this memoir, I a have thought it desirable to compile a short account, showing—the habits and character of the New Zealanders; their laws in relation to the acquisition and ownership of land; their customs in war; the general condition of the tribes before the introduction of firearms, and the effects which that circumstance in their history produced upon them. I have thought it would be satisfactory to my readers that I should adopt this course, not merely as a matter of speculative interest, but because some knowledge upon these subjects will really be found necessary to a full appreciation of the events I propose to relate, and of the characters of the chief actors in those events.

I propose in the present chapter to inquire, shortly, into the habits and page 5 customs of the New Zealanders in especial relation to the ownership of land, and to war, and then to offer some observations regarding their social and individual characteristics; and I may at once say that in compiling the following notice of these matters I have availed myself largely of Mr. White's “Lectures on Maori Customs and Superstitions,” and of Mr. Colenso's “Essay on the Maori Races,” which, though by no means exhaustive, are sufficient to enable those who have had any opportunities of personal observation, and who may, therefore, read them by the light of locally acquired knowledge, to obtain reasonably clear ideas upon these points. It would appear from the facts collected by these and other writers, and from the traditions of the New Zealanders themselves, that from the very earliest times they clearly understood the value of the possession of land. This was, of course, naturally to be expected in a people dependent upon the cultivation of the soil for a considerable proportion of their ordinary means of subsistence, for although New Zealand, as a rule, is a fertile country, and possesses a mild climate, and is almost everywhere covered with a dense vegetation, its natural vegetable productions, suitable for the proper sustenance of man, are extremely limited; and the Natives would often have suffered from want if they had been wholly dependent for their supplies of food upon the indigenous vegetation, and upon the uncertain results of their rat-chases and their fisheries. No doubt, whilst the Moa still abounded in various parts of both Islands, it afforded them a better class of animal food than any other they possessed before the introduction of the pig, but we have no positive information as to the date at which this source of supply failed them, nor do I think the materials for the determination of this question are at all likely to lead to any certain results upon the point. There can be no doubt, indeed, that long before the time of Cook, the most valuable articles of food used by the Maoris were not indigenous, as, for example, the Kumera (Convolvulus chrysorhizus), the Taro (Caladium esculentum), and the gourd-like Hue, in the growth of each of which a special and most careful mode of treatment was necessary. We find, accordingly, that a very large part of the time of the people of all classes was taken up in these cultivations, as well as in the preparation of such indigenous substances as were at all suitable for food; for, independently of the immediate family wants, the hospitalities of the tribes—to which all the members must necessarily contribute, especially on solemn occasions—led to the expenditure of large stores of provisions. As I have before observed, it was natural that a people, whose ordinary wants necessitated the cultivation of the soil to any large extent, should attach great value to the possession of land; and we find, in effect, that every tribe claimed its own special domain, and preserved the most accurate knowledge of the extent and limit of its territorial rights.

“There is no point,” says Mr. White, “on which a New Zealander's page 6 indignation can be more effectually roused than by disputing his title to land. This love for his land is not, as many would suppose, the love of a child for his toys; the title of a New Zealander to his land is connected with many and powerful associations in his mind. He is not, of course, what we call a civilized man, but in dealing with him we deal with a man of powerful intellect, whose mind can think and reason as logically on any subject with which he is acquainted, as his more favoured European brethren, and whose love for the homes of his fathers is associated with the deeds of their bravery, with the feats of his boyhood, and the long rest of his ancestors for generations. The New Zealander is not accustomed to law and parchment, or to wills and bequests, in gaining knowledge of or receiving a title to the lands of his fathers; nor would he quietly allow any stranger to teach him what lands were his, or what lands were not; what were the names of the boundaries, the creeks, mountains, and rivers in his own district. The thousand names within the limits of his hereditary lands were his daily lesson from childhood. The son of a chief invariably attended his father, or his grandfather, in all his fishing, trapping, or spearing excursions; and it was in these that he learnt, by occular demonstration, the exact boundaries of his lands, and especially heard their various names. It was a custom with the Maoris in ancient times to eat the rat—a rat indigenous to this country, and caught in traps set on the tops of the mountain ranges. This was a source of part of their daily food, and it was therefore, with them, a point of great importance to occupy every available portion of their lands with these traps; and as most of the tribal boundaries are along the range of the highest hills or mountains, and as these were the common resort of the rat, every New Zealand chief soon naturally became acquainted with the exact boundary of his land claims. He did not, however, limit these claims to the dry land—they extended to the shellfish, and even out to sea, where he could fish for cod or shark, or throw his net for mackerel; nor did he go inadvertently to these places, and trust to chance for finding his fishing grounds—he had land-marks, and each fishing-ground and land-mark had its own peculiar name; these to him were more than household words; his fathers had fished there, and he himself and his tribe alone knew these names and land-marks. Where a creek was the dividing boundary of his lands this was occupied by eel-dams. These dams were not of wicker-work, that might be carried away by a flood—labour and art were bestowed upon their construction, so that generations might pass, all of whom in turn might put their eel-basket down by the carved and re-ochred totara post which their great grandfather had placed there. When the dividing boundary between two tribes ran along a valley, land-marks were put up; these consisted generally of a pile of stones or a hole dug in the ground, to which a name was given significant of the cause which gave rise to such boundary being agreed page 7 to; such, for instance, as Te Taupaki—the name given to the dividing boundary on the West Coast between the Ngatiwhatua and Tainui tribes—which means the year of peace, or the peaceful way in which a dispute is adjusted. This boundary had its origin from a chief of the Ngatiwhatua, called Pouta-puaka, going from Kaipara to take possession of land with his paraoa, or bone spear. His intention was to go along the coast as far as the quantity of food which he carried would enable him to travel, and return from the point at which his food was expended; he had succeeded in taking possession of the whole of the line of sandy coast called Rangatira, and on arriving at the top of the hill, now known as Te Taupaki, he met the Tainui chief Haowhenua. They both halted, sticking their spears in the ground, and inquiring of each other the object of their being there. They found that they were both on the same errand, and at once agreed that this meeting point should be the boundary dividing the lands of the tribes whereof each was the representative. The Ngatiwhatua chief at once dug a hole with his bone spear, and the boundary so established has remained to this day. I may state,” adds Mr. White, “without fear of contradiction, that there is not one inch of land in the New Zealand Islands which is not claimed by the Maoris, and I may also state that there is not a hill or valley, stream, river, or forest, which has not a name—the index of some point of the Maori history. As has been stated above, the New Zealander knows with as much certainty the exact boundary of his own land, as we could do from the distances and bearings given by a surveyor. But these boundaries are liable to be altered at times; for instance, when lands are taken by a conquering tribe, or are given by a chief for assistance rendered to him by another tribe in time of war, or when land given to the female branch of a family again becomes, after a certain time, the property of the male branch of the family. In certain cases, also lands are ceded by a tribe for a specific purpose, with certain restrictions, and a tenure conditional on certain terms being complied with.”

Mr. Colenso, in his “Essay on the Maori Races,” tells us that their views of property were, in the main, both simple and just, and in some respects (even including those most abnormal) wonderfully accorded with what once obtained in England. Amongst them, property was usually divided into two classes, namely, peculiar and common. Every man, for example, had a right to his own, as against every one else, although this right was often overcome by might. A man of middle, or low rank, caught, perhaps, some fine fish, or was very lucky in snaring birds—such were undoubtedly his own; but if his superior, or elder chief, wished or asked for them, he dared not refuse, even if he would. At the same time, such a gift, if gift it might be termed, was (according to custom) sure to be repaid with interest, hence it was readily yielded. The whole of a man's movable property was also his own, which page 8 included his house and fences, as well as all his smaller goods. All that a freeman made or caught, or obtained, or raised by agriculture, were his own; although his house, created by himself, was his own, yet if not on his own land (rarely the case) he could not hold it against the owner of that spot; unless such use had been openly allowed to him by the owner before all (i te aroaro o te tokomaha). So a plantation planted by himself, if not on his own land (also a rare thing), he would have to leave after taking his crops, on being ordered so to do; but not so if he had originally, and with permission, felled the forest, or reclaimed that land from the wild; in which case, he would retain it for life, or as long as he pleased, and very likely his descendants after him. To land, a man acquired a peculiar right in many ways:—
  • Definite.—(a.) By having been born on it, or, in their expressive language, “where his navel string was cut,” as his first blood (ever sacred in their eyes) had been shed there. (b.) By having had his secundines buried there (this, however, was much more partial), (c.) By a public invitation from the owner to dwell on it. (d.) By having first cultivated it by permission. (e.) By having had his blood shed upon it. (f.) By having had the body or bones of his deceased father or mother, or uterine brother or sister, deposited or rested on it. (g.) By having had a near relative killed or roasted on it. (h.) By having been bitterly cursed in connection with that piece of land, i.e.—this oven is for thy body, or head; on that tree thy liver shall be fixed to rot; thy skull shall hold the cooked birds, or berries of this wood. (i.) Or by the people of the district using for any purpose a shed which had been temporarily put up there, and used by a chief in travelling.

  • Indefinite.—(a.) By having been invited to come there by the chief with a party to dwell (lit., having had their canoe in passing called to shore). (b.) Through his wife by marriage; but such would only be a quasi life-interest to him, i.e., during her life and infancy of the children, as, in case of children, they would take all their mother's right. (c.) By having assisted in conquering it. (d.) By having aided with food, a canoe, a spear, etc., an armed party who subsequently became conquerors of it. All these equally applied, though he should belong to a different tribe or sub-tribe.

  • Beyond all these, however, was the right by gift or transfer, and by inheritance, which, not unfrequently, was peculiar and private. This (which has of late years been much contested, and too often, it is feared, by ignorant and interested men, or by those who have too readily believed what the talkative younger New Zealanders now say,) may clearly be proved beyond all doubt:—(1.) By the acts of their several ancestors (great-grandfathers) to their children, from whom the present sub-tribes derive their sub-tribal names, and claim their boundaries; such ancestors divided and gave those lands simply to page 9 each individual of their family, which division and alienation, however unfairly made, has never been contested. (2.) By their ancient transfers (gifts or sales) of land made by individuals of one tribe to individuals of another, as related by themselves; and from which gift or alienation, in many instances, they deduce their present claims. (3.) By their earliest (untampered) sales and transfers of land to Missionaries and to others, which were not unfrequently done by one native (as was notably the case in the first alienation of land by deed to Mr. Marsden, at the Bay of Islands, in 1815). Although the foreign transferees (not knowing the native custom) often wished others, being co-proprietors, to sign the document of transfer; and this, bye-the-bye, came to be looked upon as the New Zealand custom; whence came the modern belief that all must unite in a sale; and thence it followed that one could not sell his own land! But such is not of New Zealand origin.

It will be observed, that there is some difference of opinion between the two writers from whom I have quoted, as to the existence of definite individual rights of property in land, as distinguished from tribal, or common, or indefinite rights; but as this is a point which little concerns the purpose of my narrative, I shall do no more than refer to it here. The extracts above given, at all events sufficiently show that the Maoris always attached the greatest value to the ownership of the soil, and took the utmost care to preserve an accurate knowledge of the boundaries of the tribal estate. The very value, however, attached to the possession of land naturally led to aggression and to the use of various other means of acquiring title to it; and not only in many of their traditions, but also in all other accounts of the habits of the race, we find mention of wars undertaken for purposes of conquest, and of marriage alliances being contracted, and other devices resorted to, for the purpose of peacefully securing additions to the tribal territory. Upon the first of these points, Mr. White tells us that a tribe, in going to war, had one or more of three objects in view:—1. To take revenge for some real or supposed injury. 2. To obtain as many slaves as possible. 3. To extend its territory. “A tribe,” he says, “seldom became extinct in consequence of war, but when this resulted, the conquering tribe took all their lands, and from the slaves taken in war the conquerors learnt the boundaries of the land thus taken. But, if a portion of the tribe escaped, their claim held good to as great an extent of land as they had the courage to occupy. If, however, they could manage to keep within their own tribal boundary, and elude their enemy, their right to the whole of the land held good. Hence the meaning of a sentence so often used by old chiefs in their land disputes: I ko tonu taku ahi i runga i taku whenua (my fire has been kept burning on my land); meaning that other tribes in war had never been able to drive them entirely off their ancestral claims. The right to lands taken by conquest rests solely on the conquering party actually page 10 occupying the taken district, to the utter exclusion of its original owners or other tribes; thus, in a war of the celebrated Hongi, he drove all the tribes out of the Auckland district into Waikato, and even as far as Taranaki; but though the whole district thereby became his, yet, as he did not occupy it, the conquered tribes, on his return to the North, came back to their own lands; and we found them in occupation when Auckland was established as an English settlement. Again, in the case of a tribe which had been conquered and had become extinct, with the exception of those who had been made slaves by the conquering party, these slaves could, by purchase, recover the ownership of their tribal rights to land, or they could be liberated and return to their own lands on a promise of allegiance to the conquerors, rendering them any assistance, if required, in times of war, and supplying them, for the first few years after their return, with a certain amount of rats, fish, and fernroot; and eventually, on presenting the conquerors with a greenstone battle-axe (the mere pounamu), they were again allowed to be called a tribe, and claim the lands of their fathers as though they had never been conquered.

The claims in connection with lands given to a tribe for assistance rendered in war are more complicated than any other. Although the land was given to the leader of the tribe rendering such assistance, it did not thereby become vested in that individual leader, inasmuch as the assisting tribe were seldom alone, but had brought their allies, and, if these allies had lost any of their chiefs in battle, each relative of the deceased chiefs had a claim in the land thus given; and each relative of any chief who had been killed, of the tribe to whose leader the land was given, had also a claim. But the complication of land claims does not end even here. It was necessary that the land given should be occupied so that possession of it be retained, and as the assisted and assisting tribes became related by intermarriage, the tribal lands of the assisted tribe were claimed by the issue of these marriages, according to the laws relating to the ownership of land as affected by the marriage tie, so that after a few generations their respective claims not unfrequently became the cause of another war. An instance of this happened about four generations ago. One of the northern tribes rendered assistance in time of war to a southern tribe, now residing not far from Auckland, and a portion of land was given to the northern tribe; shortly afterwards the daughter of the southern chief was taken in marriage by one of the chiefs of the northern tribe; the two sisters of this woman were married to chiefs of the southern tribe, and thereupon their children's claims held good; but when the time came for the offspring of the sister, who had married the northern chief, to give up their land, the colonization of New Zealand had commenced, and land became a marketable commodity. This offspring retained their claims against all right and argument, and to this day there is a rankling feeling between the tribes 0concerned; page 11 and if, in this disputed land, incautious dealing by Europeans takes place, it would probably result in a Maori war. The war in the Bay of Plenty, which has been continued until very lately between certain chiefs, also originated in a like cause; the contending parties were all of one tribe, and sprung from one ancestor, but, by intermarriage, some have a more direct claim than others. The descendants, who, by intermarriage, are related to other tribes, have made an equal claim to the land over which they have but a partial claim, and resistance to this was the cause of the war. Disputes of this kind are not easily unravelled. I believe that were it possible to teach the Maoris the English language, and then bring them into some Court, allowing each contending party to plead his cause in such a dispute as I have mentioned, not according to English law, but according to Maori custom, both sides would, according to native genealogy and laws, make out their respective cases so clearly that it would take a judge and jury, possessed of more than human attainments, to decide the ownership of the land.

While speaking about lands claimed by conquest, I will give a few instances of land claimed by the offspring of those male or female chiefs who have been made slaves in war. It would not generally be supposed that lands disposed of at the southern end of this Island would affect any native at the northern end of it, yet such is the case. A chieftainess who was taken slave from the South by the Ngapuhi and other northern tribes, became the wife of a Ngapuhi chief; her claim stood in the way of completing a sale of the land, and it was not until the consent of her son by the Ngapuhi chief was gained, that the land could be disposed of by the natives residing on it, and to him, in due course of time, a portion of the payment was transmitted. Again, a chief who was taken slave from the Bay of Plenty by the northern tribes, having taken a northern woman to wife, and having a family, his relatives from the Bay of Plenty made presents to the chiefs by whom he was taken, and procured his return home; but he was obliged, according to Maori laws of title to land, to leave his wife and daughters with the Ngapuhi people, for if he had taken them with him, they would have lost their claim to land at Ngapuhi, and would not be allowed any claim to land in the Bay of Plenty; while his son, whom he took back with him, now claims, by right of his grandfather, an equal right to the lands of the Bay of Plenty tribe. Again, one of the northern chiefs having taken to wife a woman whom he had made slave from Taranaki, and having a son by her, this son returned to the tribe of his mother and claimed as his right, derived from his grandfather, a share in their land, which was not disputed, because, as I have before stated, the great-grandchild in the female line has a claim to land. I remember another instance of this: a certain block of land was sold by a tribe near Auckland, and when the purchase money was portioned out amongst the claimants, a page 12 northern chief rose up and rehearsed his genealogy, by which he proved that he was the great-grandchild (in the female line) of one of the claimants of the block sold. He thereupon, as a matter of course, received a part of the purchase money. He was a northern chief, aud had only been known to the settlers by name.”

In addition to the above points, which, more especially affect the events of my narrative, Mr. White gives us details of other modes of acquiring title to land, with, illustrative cases of the most interesting kind; but there is one custom which he does not refer to, and which was mentioned to me by Wi Tako Ngatata, namely, that in some cases a conquered tribe, absolutely driven from its lands, was formally restored to possession by the conquerors. He stated, as an instance, that this was done in the Wairarapa, after the Ngatikahungunu had been forced to the northward by the Ngatiawa, under E Puni and himself, in revenge for some isolated acts of violence perpetrated upon members of their own tribe. He informed me that this proceeding was always a highly formal and ceremonious one, and was carried out, in the instance in question, in consequence of many intermarriages having taken place between the two tribes since the settlement of the Ngatiawa near Port Nicholson, and of the absence of any desire on the part of the latter to push their vengeance to extremity. It would lead me too far, were I to enter more at length upon the points above referred to, and I will now proceed shortly to notice some of the leading features in the character and habits of the natives in other respects. There can be little doubt that, both in intellectual and physical capacity, the Maori occupies a high position amongst savage people; but I cannot agree with Mr. White when he says, “that in dealing with him, we deal with a man of powerful intellect.” I admit that he possesses much intelligence, and a quick perception, but he is wanting in one of the chiefest characteristics of the civilized man—a characteristic only acquired by a long course of national education—namely, the power of foreseeing the result of these special classes of actions to which his contact with Europeans gives the greatest importance. It is not, however, altogether in this respect that I propose to view his character, for the principal events in my narrative took place before the colonization of the Islands; and their want of foresight when dealing with the agents of the New Zealand Company would not have produced effects injurious to them, but for the occurrence of events which have taken place since the death of Te Rauparaha. “Their ordinary course of life,” says Mr. Manning, speaking of the natives, “when not engaged in warfare, was regular, and not necessarily unhealthy; their labour, though constant in one shape or other, and compelled by necessity, was not too heavy. In the morning, but not early, they descended from the hill pa to the cultivations in the low grounds; they went in a body, armed like men going to page 13 battle, the spear or club in one hand, and the agricultural instrument in the other. The women followed. Long before night (it was counted unlucky to work till dark) they returned to the hill in a reversed order; the women, slaves, and lads, bearing fuel and water for the night, in front; these also bore, probably, heavy loads of kumera or other provisions. In the time of year when the crops, being planted and growing, did not call for their attention, the whole tribe would remove to some fortified hill, at the side of some river, or on the coast, where they would pass months in fishing and making nets, clubs, spears, and implements of various descriptions; the women, in all spare times, making mats for clothing, or baskets to carry the crop of kumera in, when fit to dig. There was very little idleness, and to be called “lazy” was a great reproach. It is to be observed, that for several months the crops could be left thus unguarded with perfect safety, for the Maori, as a general rule, never destroyed growing crops, or attacked their owners in a regular manner until the crops were nearly at full perfection, so that they might afford subsistence to the invaders; and, consequently, the end of the summer all over the country was a time of universal preparation for battle, either offensive or defensive, the crops being then near maturity.” This picture exhibits a very unhappy condition of existence, for it is manifest that no race, in such a position, could ever rise further in the scale of civilization (paradoxical as the language may appear) than was sufficient to improve their knowledge of the art of war. But, notwithstanding this unsatisfactory condition of the tribes, the people appear, in their social and domestic relations, to have been, generally speaking, good natured and hospitable, though being little, if at all, fettered by conscientious motives or restraints, they were at all times easily roused to acts of violence and cruelty. With them, moreover, revenge was a most persistent feeling, and the duty of ministering to it was considered of sacred obligation. Their love of war was universal and intense, and in its prosecution they were as reckless of the consequences to themselves as they were of the results to their foes. “Nothing,” says Mr. Manning, “was considered so valuable or respectable as strength and courage; and to acquire property by war and plunder was more honourable, and also more desirable, than by labour.” Their cruelty to their prisoners was frightful. Cannibalism was considered glorious, and this habit led not only to the most dreadful atrocities, but also to a degree of callousness, in regard to the sufferings inflicted upon others, which appears to be utterly incompatible with, and renders singularly remarkable, the kindliness of feeling which they constantly exhibited in their domestic relations. It is clear, however, that whatever good qualities the Maori possessed in his quiet and social moments were utterly lost when he was acting under the impulse of passion. Mr. Colenso, in describing their character, particularly alludes to their love for children, page 14 and remarks that “nothing more clearly shows the truth of the old adage, ‘the best corrupted is the very worst,’ than that a party of New Zealanders should be so carried away by the diabolical frenzy of the moment as wholly to forget their strongly and highly characteristic natural feelings, and kill, roast, and eat little children.” I need not, however, dwell any further on the subjects specially treated in this chapter, for their habits and customs must necessarily come, more or less, under further consideration throughout the course of my narrative.