Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XXIV

page 168

Chapter XXIV.

A Native Feast—Games—Fairy Net—Native Dancing.

The provisions for the feast were piled up in two walls, measuring about five feet high. At each end a couple of long poles with flags, in imitation of the English manner, were erected. These appeared to be looked upon with great pride, and as company after company of their guests gathered in, after the loud welcome shouted or cried over each, the flags were always pointed out and duly admired.

The piles of food proved, upon examination, to contain everything the natives deem eatable, the predominant thing, however, being dried fish, this being a fishing feast; and, when many friends come, it sometimes happens, that nearly all the store of dried fish which they had intended for themselves is eaten up.

The fires, having heated the stones and earth sufficiently, were cleared away with poles, the hot stones dusted free from ashes and rolled into the hole in the ground. Next the cooks placed leaves, the Kurmara, fish, flesh, and fowl, everything, in fact, they intended to cook, then, covering it with leaves, they poured in a can full of water, laying over it sods and earth, to keep in the steam, and, in a very short time, the whole was cooked, and placed in flag baskets, to hand round.

page 169

Captain Graham had seen cooking, though never on such a large scale; but none of the others had ever done so, and were very much amused, wishing Bridget had been there; but, although invited, she declined, never having quite got over her dislike of the “niggers,” as she insisted upon calling them.

Although a good deal of meat was cooked on this occasion, such feasts oftener take the shape of a cold lunch or dejeuner, as we should call it; but having noticed that he always got hot things when he ate at Captain Graham's, the chief determined to give him the best he could, when he returned the compliment. The dish which Lucy had placed before her contained a pigeon, and was so beautifully carved, that she pointed it out to her father, upon which the polite chief made her a present of it, telling her he had cut it out himself. The natives are all very generous, and sometimes give away everything they have. Indeed, if you praise almost anything they have, they will lay it before you as a gift, though they certainly generally expect something in return.

When the eating portion was over, and the pile of provisions had melted away, the games, dances, etc., began. A number of the former seemed quite familiar to Lucy. There was a whipping. top, ninepins, cat's-cradle, skippingropes, and hide-and-seek. Aps joined in the latter in great delight, shouting and tumbling about among the native children.

In some of their games they repeated poetry. One, in which they stood in a circle, one person concealing a little stone in their hand, while another person in the middle tries to guess where it is, you will, I am sure, recognize; page 170 but here is what the New Zealanders repeat, while the circle is moving round :—

“Sister, sister, where is the stone?
Sister, in what hand is it hid?
Seek where it is,
Seek for the stone!
Where shall we go?
We will go to the many,
To the multitude,
The Ti to the Ta.
Tell me, tell me,
With whom is it to be found.”

When they were tired of games, a priest stood up to tell stories, one of which, as it was about fairies, and all little children are fond of these imaginary people, I shall try and tell you. But, first, you must know that the natives of New Zealand all believe that the high mountains, the dark impenetrable forests, and the wild cliffs overhanging the sea, are inhabited by a race of people they cannot see, and who come out of their caves underground, at night, just as the fairies in England and Germany do, to dance and feast until daylight warns them home again.

Some people, it is said, have seen the fairies, and, many, many years ago, it happened that a man named Kahu-kura, was going to pay a visit to a tribe a very long way from his own home. On his way he passed a pretty bay, upon the sand of which he saw a great quantity of bits of mackerel, lying just as fishermen leave them when they catch too many to carry away whole, so clean and trim them on the spot. There was something, however, about the way things were left that attracted Kahukura, so he determined to wait until night, and see whether anything took place. At first it was very dark, then the moon came page 171 out, and the little bay became like a lake of silver, the pink sand lying round one side, like a wreath of flowers. Then he heard beautiful voices singing, and presently a whole troop of fairies appeared, some from the rocks, some from the forest, and some in canoes. Then he saw they had a net, which they put into the water, and dragged round the bay; so, just as they were pulling it on shore, he ran down, and, being a very small and fair man, they did not observe he was a stranger, so he took hold of the net and helped them to pull. Oh how surprised and delighted he was, when he saw thousands of beautiful silvery mackerel come dancing out in the net; then, each fairy took a long piece of flax, and began tacking the fish upon it, to carry them away, and Kahukura pretended to do the same; but did it so clumsily that he always let his fall down, so the good-natured fairies had to help him. Morning broke, and they saw he was a human being, and were in such a fright that they forgot their net, so Kahukura got it, and learnt how to make nets.

Nearly all native feasts become the scene of government arrangements; I mean, that the chiefs take advantage of the presence of other chiefs, etc., to make speeches and tell them what their opinion is, how they intend to rule their tribe, who to fight against, who to make friends with.

At the time and the feast I have been writing of, the war was raging in Taranaki, the English troops had been obliged to retire, and many natives who had been too much afraid to come forward at first, had gained courage and were flocking in, or threatening to do so, to join Wiremu kingi, whom, however, many more denounced as a rebel and robber, saying he wished to get the land himself.

page 172

The day before this feast, Captain Graham had received a colonial newspaper with an account of the war, and felt very anxious to hear what the natives would say.

First the chief of the tribe who had come as guests stood up, and, a space being cleared, he began brandishing his spear, and running backwards and forwards, shouting out his speech all the time, and, when excited, springing high off the ground. He spoke very eloquently and beautifully, bringing in all sorts of natural objects to illustrate his meaning, and comparing the Queen to the sun, the Governor to the moon, and the English to the soft winds, that, passing over the earth, made everything good rejoice. He was not what is called a missionary native, that is, a converted one, so did not make use of scriptural names and types, which the other chief did, when he stood up. In speaking of the war, they both said it was wrong, and, if they fought, they would fight for the good English, and the more English that came the better, as they brought raiment and riches with them, and all the listeners expressed their approval, so that there appeared no cause for apprehension in that quarter.

When the night began to draw in, fires were lighted, and the scene became much more picturesque. I dare say some who read this have passed a gipsy encampment at night, and seen the effect produced by the firelight gleaming upon their gay dresses and ornaments. The scene in the New Zealand camp might be compared, in many ways, to this, except that it was so much more striking. Every native had his or her head ornamented with coloured feathers, the red Kata and the yellow bramble-flowers, which the firelight flashed upon very page 173 prettily, as the different groups gathered round to talk, and listen to the story-tellers.

Presently a dance was proposed, and welcomed with great excitement. A circle of men and women was formed, one gave the key-note and movement, and the whole body began to chaunt, and slide sideways at the same moment; sometimes clapping their hands, sometimes holding them above their heads; beating time with one foot; then jumping off the ground, and lighting with a sound like thunder. This movement, when the dance is held before battle, is accompanied by hideous faces and shouts, and is done with such force, that it is heard to a great distance, and is supposed to inspire their enemies with fear.

Sailors, who have allowed it to take place on board ship, state that they thought the deck would be stove in.

Aps did not enjoy this part of the proceedings much, being terribly alarmed at the grimaces and noise, and at last got so unhappy, that Mrs. Graham proposed to go home. The girls had seen quite enough too, so left with her. No one who saw the pretty little farm homestead, with its garden and fields, could have believed that only two years had served to bring this gay and happy home out of the wilderness. But here let me remind my young readers, that the Grahams were really a united family, loving each other with a devotion seldom, I fear, met with. Whatever was to be done, pleasant or unpleasant, was done with a right goodwill, and every trouble gladly shared. Thus, if Mrs. Graham wished anything done, she had only to say so, and both girls would not rest until it was settled; and everything, too, was done in such an orderly and regular way, that each hour of the day had its own separate duty. Lucy and Beatrice always got up page 174 at six o'clock. When dressed, Lucy went off to feed the poultry; Beatrice to milk the cows, and make butter for breakfast; and everyone declared they never saw such butter; and so well did she manage her dairy, that she was able to send crocks of butter to Christchurch every month; from the price she got for which, she kept herself in boots, shoes, gloves, and pocket-handkerchiefs, and always had a little to buy presents with for the others.

Lucy's department brought in an equal amount of gain, except now and then, when a wild cat got in among the young chickens, when sad havoc would occur. Watching the coops and their precious little inmates, was generally Aps's duty, and one he was particularly fond of, as Lucy paid him twopence a day; and he was heard asking Wilson how much his papa paid him, and if he got more than twopence. What became of Aps's money was long a great mystery. He used to double it carefully in a piece of paper, and then disappear for a time. When he came back, he looked very wise and happy, just as little boys do when they know a delightful secret, or are going to be allowed to do something very nice.

The mystery was discovered in a very funny way at last. Mrs. Graham had taken Aps to visit a friend, and while they were gone, Captain Graham and the men went off to the forest, to cut down a tree, as they were going to build another cottage. What do you think for? It was for Bridget and Wilson to live in after they were married; for, in spite of all their fighting and sparring, they had become great friends; indeed, ever since Wilson ate the goose pie, Lucy said she was sure he had made up his mind to secure such a capital cook for his wife.

Well, a tree was fixed upon, and the work began. Just page 175 as the last stroke was given, and the ominous crack that precedes a fall warned them to get out of the way, Aps and his Mamma came in sight.

“Keep back!” shouted Captain Graham; and, with a loud crash, the great tree fell. Aps uttered a shriek, and, tearing his hand from his mother's, ran forward.

The ground was covered with little rolied-up pieces of white paper, which had showered down upon the heads of the astonished men, when the tree fell.

“Oh my wages, my wages!” sobbed Aps, throwing himself down upon the ground, and trying to gather up all the white papers at once.

“What is it, Aps?” asked his father, resting on his axe, and beginning to have a glimmering of the truth. “What is all the paper? This is the funniest tree I ever saw. Hollo, Mamma, we've found a squirrel's nest, full of paper parcels.”

“Oh no, no, mamma! it's my wages. I put them in a hole to keep them to buy a pony, like the little boy in the story-book; and now they're all lost, and I won't get a pony for ever so long. Oh, dear, my wages !”

Poor Aps's story brought a smile to the faces of his hearers; but his grief was too genuine to be laughed at; besides, there was something in it that made each of them think of the time when they were children, and hoarded up pennies to buy some favourite thing; so they all set to work, and very soon Aps had his pinafore full of papers and pennies. Just as he was turning away, after a last, lingering look at his bank, now really a broken one, Wilson came up to him, and, stooping down, whispered,—

page 176

“Keep up your heart, little man, and see if I don't bring you a pony when I come back from being married.”

Aps's cheeks flushed, and his great eyes, still swimming with tears, looked enquiringly up in his friend's face; but presently it clouded again. He remembered what a long time it had taken for him to collect even the money he had, and how much more a pony would cost; so how could Wilson ever buy one. It was very kind to say he would; but he must mean a play wooden horse, thought Aps, and not a real pony, with a long white tail, and a saddle and bridle.

But Aps was wrong. Wilson had been very careful of his wages, which are very much higher in New Zealand than here, and actually did bring back a pony with him; and Captain Graham sent for a saddle and bridle: and though the pony had a short brown tail, and not a long white one, Aps was quite happy, and attended the rubbing down of his treasure morning and night, mimicking the hissing noise Wilson made, and very soon learning to rub the pony himself.