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Hero Stories of New Zealand

Brown Skin and White — A Tale of the West Coast Frontier

page 142

Brown Skin and White
A Tale of the West Coast Frontier

TAKE care, Pirita, O-cord-that-binds-my heart,” the Maori girl was saying, earnestly and lovingly, as she tightly held the white man's hand. “Some night you will be surprised by the Hauhau murderers, those man-eaters from Oika! Do not ask how I know, but laugh not at my warning. The Hauhaus will be down upon you and your companions when you least expect them. Therefore, Pirita, keep watch! ‘Tis just before dawn that they will come! And I shall send you word, or bring it to you myself, should there be talk of a raid. Take care, Pirita!”

The tawny-bearded young settler smiled as the young girl dropped his hand. He patted her soft, brown cheek, and said: “You're a good little girl, Paré, but don't worry about us; we're all right. My head isn't going to ornament a Hauhau war-fence just yet.”

Paré sighed. She took up her pakeha's strong, rough hand again and stroked it affectionately. She was a child of the bush, and the Maori girl does not mask her sentiment. “Pirita” was strong and fearless, and he was kind to her. She lived in her mother's home in Parikama Pa, the large village of the Waitotara friendly Maoris, on the south side of the river, half-a-mile away, and she found many opportunities of visiting her pakeha Pritchard, who lived in a comfortable nikau-thatched whare with his partner Langley, a young colonial stock-raiser, as adventurous and self-reliant as himself. Langley, too, had a brown-girl sweetheart, in page 143 Parikama, one Piki-rakau, or “The Tree-Climber,” so named because of her fearless exploits in scaling the tall forest trees by the depending vines for the sweet yellow koroi berries, and that delicacy, the white and juicy tawhara fruit.

Those days of Sixty-eight were pleasant enough on the Waitotara, in spite of the wars and rumours of wars. It was an independent, untamed life, and Pritchard and Langley were care-free fellows who did not believe in going out of the way to meet trouble. The West Coast had been war-troubled for the last seven or eight years, but so far the rebel Maoris had not carried gun and tomahawk as far south as the Waitotara. To the northward the Taranaki forests were the scenes of fight after fight, and skirmish after skirmish, and ambuscade and murder without end. Less than three months before, Titokowaru and his cannibals had beaten off a far larger force of whites under Colonel McDonnell, from their bush stockade at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, and killed Major Von Tempsky and a score of his comrades, and had cooked and eaten the body of a slain soldier. Now the savage general of the Taranaki foresters was raiding southwards, and the advance guard of the Tekau-ma-Rua, his tapu war-party, had been seen at Oika, on the Patea River, and the news came that he was about to build a new bush stronghold at Moturoa, a few miles to the north of the Waitotara.

Still, the young settlers said, “Taihoa! We'll wait and see,” and went on with their usual duties. They grazed cattle and ran sheep on both sides of the Waitotara, on a large block of land they had leased from the friendlies of Parikama. They would be rich some day, but there page 144 was no hurry. So they lived and worked happily enough there on the banks of the Waitotara, with their stock roaming over a hundred hills, and they spent their spare time pig-hunting and eel-fishing in the slow-running river, and pigeon-shooting in the bush, and gave little heed to those twin bogeys, the Hauhau and the morrow.

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But the blow fell, and that one night, when, as the Maori girl had predicted, it was least expected. The Tekau-ma-Rua, like other Maori war-parties, usually chose the hour just before the dawn for their surprises, the time when man slept soundest.

Silently and stealthily as Red Indians on the scalping trail, a Hauhau kokiri, a picked war-party of sixty men, loped out from Oika Pa in the black night and crossed the Waitotara in their quietly-paddled canoes. They surrounded the Parikama Pa, awakened the inhabitants, and depriving them of their arms, grimly requested them to come and see the two pakehas tomahawked and eaten. Marching over the ferny hills they silently surrounded the white men's hut while it still wanted nearly two hours to the dawn of day. Meanwhile a smaller war-party had been despatched downstream to Ihupuku to secure two or three other pakehas who dwelt there in a lone whare close to the riverside.

So quietly did the Hauhaus invest the hut where the two men lay sleeping, unconscious of their danger, that no bark of dog or sound of foot gave the alarm. The Maoris squatted there silently awhile; then one of their chiefs knocked imperatively on the door and ordered the inmates to come outside.

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The white men jumped up and ran to the little window. In the moonlight they saw a crowd of wild-looking fellows, some armed with long-handled tomahawks— frightfully effective weapons in a hand-to-hand engagement—and the rest with guns. At the sight of the pakeha faces they set up a great yell. The chief who had ordered them outside said, “Put on your clothes, pakehas! Be quick!”

Pritchard and Langley had not the slightest doubt but that their last day had come. “This settles us!” said one of them; “It's come at last! Well, we may as well be decently dressed, anyhow. Where's my collar?” And the two of them, lighting a candle, dressed themselves fully, and even put on their paper collars, articles de luxe that did not trouble the pioneer much unless he was bound to a wedding or a funeral. And this did not look much like a wedding. They had a rifle and a double-barrel gun in the house, but defence was impossible.

Their dressing completed, the two white men, putting on as brave a face as they could, walked out of their hut. A couple of Hauhaus, gripping long-handled tomahawks, bounded up, one on either side, and marched the captives out through a double line of armed men, ferocious in their black and red war-paint, smeared on brow and cheeks, and their shaggy, unkempt heads of hair. At the end of this lane of Hauhaus there was a ring formed by the rest of the people. The whole of the Parikama Pa inhabitants were there, amongst them the pakehas' old friends and acquaintances. Armed men formed the inner part of the ring, and a fire which had been kindled in the middle of the circle threw its dancing light on their fierce, cruel faces, and their glittering page 146 hatchets and the long-barrelled firearms which rested butt-end on the ground in front of them. There were perhaps two hundred people there, mostly armed men, with shawled and blanketed figures of women behind them.

When the white men reached the ring they were ordered to sit down. Their tomahawk-armed guards sat ominously near, one on each side.

Out from the crowd jumped a savage figure, a big man, tattooed of face and body, very nearly naked, a tomahawk in hand. He was an old man, white-haired, but as active as any young athlete, for he bounded from side to side with incredible swiftness and energy, smacking his naked thigh with his disengaged hand as he did so. He came to a sudden stop in front of the prisoners, and ripped out a ferocious speech, quivering his hatchet and slapping his tattooed breech between the sentences.

“Now we have them!” he was saying; “Now we have them! This is what we have waited for since Te-Ngutu-o-te-Manu! Once more shall I taste the flesh of man, the real food of the warrior. You young men listen to me! You are not as your fathers were; you have not the same courage, the same determination. You are becoming soft. Why is this? I shall tell you. It is because you no longer eat the flesh of man, the sweet flesh, the white flesh! That is the meat that makes the heart as hard as stone, that ever keeps alive the desire for war. If you would conquer in this war and drive the pakeha out of the land you must eat those whom you capture. I have eaten Maori and pakeha. You, my sons, must also eat page 147 pakeha, that you may be brave! Patua, kainga! Patua, kainga!—Kill them, eat them!”

The old cannibal ceased abruptly, and squatted down again, and two other speakers followed, with similar actions and virulent orations. “We have two pakehas,” they said, “but there are others down at Ihupuku. Let us get them all!”

“They will be here presently,” said one of the Tekau-ma-rua. “Kereopa will have his grip on them by now!”

A young Maori girl, gliding through the crowd, pressed into the front of the ring. It was Paré. She cried, while the tears ran down her cheeks, “Do not slay the white men! Save them! They have done you no harm; they have not fought against you!”

There was silence for a while. The girl sat down; drew her shawl over her black head, and quietly wept.

A man of milder speech than the orators who had preceded him, rose to his feet and addressed the people, suggesting that the prisoners should not be killed, but should be kept as slaves and forced to fight on the Hauhau side.

A sharp and sudden shower of rain came down, in a cold and heavy squall, sending the crowd scampering for shelter. The speeches were cut short. The white men were each bound hand and foot with ropes of flax and thrown on the ground. Their guards ran into the whare, where a fire was now blazing in the wide sod chimney-place. There was not much chance of their prisoners escaping.

Wet to the skin and chilled through and through, the two white men lay there, miserably waiting for the tomahawk.

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A soft voice breathed in Pritchard's ear. He turned his head in wonder, and a nose was pressed to his and a hand caressed his cheek. “Aue! Aue!” sadly breathed the voice, and hot tears fell on his face. “It is I; it is Paré!” said the girl, and again she pressed her nose to the white man's in the greeting of the hongi, and wept over him. And over the helpless form of his comrade he saw another shawled figure bending. The two faithful girls of Parikama had crept out from the hut to tangi over them and succour them.

“Be quiet!” Paré whispered. “Lie still and utter not a sound. You shall not die. I have a knife; I shall cut you loose and I shall leave the knife with you. But don't attempt to get up yet. Lie still and watch your chance!”

The white man silently blessed the loving heart of the Maori girl as he felt his bonds relax. His wrists and legs were free. He felt for the knife and slowly and cautiously reached out and cut Langley free. He looked round for the two girls, but they had vanished.

For two or three minutes the two white men lay there side by side, waiting till the numbness should have left their limbs. Just then, in the distance, they heard the distant sound of voices on the river, Maoris yelling war-songs. It was the party which had been despatched to Ihupuku, returning without the pakeha “fish,” but well primed with pakeha grog.

“Let's bolt for it now! They'll be out upon us!” whispered Pritchard to his mate; and leaping up the two men ran for their lives. Only just in time, too, for they had barely disappeared in the wet blackness of the page 149 night when some of the Hauhaus ran out from the whare; they had heard the chants of the returning canoe-men.

There was vociferous anger and confusion when the escape of the prisoners was discovered, but presently some swift runners were on the fugitives' trail. They knew that the white men would make in the direction of the Weraroa redoubt, and they probably would have recaptured them had it not been for another curious interposition of white man's luck. As Pritchard and Langley raced along, parallel with the river's course, but making for the high ground, they came to a landslip extending from the hill-top down to the flat which bounded the river. Down this landslip they slid, making as little noise as possible, and at its foot they crouched in the bushes. As they expected, their pursuers kept along the top of the slip, and in a little while they heard them returning. Then the two escapees resumed their painful journey, crawling along on hands and knees at first, until they considered they were well out of sight, then travelling on as rapidly as the dark and the rough ground and the thickness of the fern and scrub would allow. When it was light enough to see they were well out of sight from the river or the Hauhau camp; but so roundabout a course did they have to steer that it was not until well on in the afternoon that they breasted the Weraroa hill, and saw before them the hospitable redoubt.

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Those great boasting words about the eating of white man's flesh were no idle ones, for only a week after this episode the Hauhaus defeated Colonel Whitmore's page 150 forces at the Moturoa stockade, killed a score or more of the white Constabulary men, and after the battle cooked and ate one of the bodies left on the field. Some of those Hauhaus survived to recent times; one of them, well beknown to me, frequently came down to Wellington, as mild mannered an old gentleman as you could imagine.

Pritchard's and Langley's bones have been dust this many a year, and their sweethearts of long ago, too, have gone the way “golden lads and girls all must.” That midnight raid was the end of the sweethearting, for Pareé and Pikirakau, sorely weeping, were taken away across the border river and given in bush-marriage to two Hauhau braves. The thatched whare and the low-bending karaka where Paré used to play plaintive little ruriruri airs on the jews'-harp to her pakeha those summer days of ’Sixty-eight have disappeared long, long since; and the peaceful cow-farmer of Waitotara fills his milk-cans on the spot where the two despairing men lay in the rain one dim day-dawning, waiting for the tomahawk.