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Hero Stories of New Zealand

Manihera's Farewell

page 52

Manihera's Farewell

WAIARIKI, on the south-eastern shore of Lake Taupo, where the old trail from the north approaches the Tokaanu hot-springs village, was the scene of a tragic and heroic episode in the early years of mis-missionary enterprise in the heart of the Maori country. That the missionaries who were the chief figures in the story were Maoris themselves heightens the value of their devotion to a noble ideal and their self-sacrifice in the cause of intertribal peace. The incident is an illustration also of old Maori customs and of the passion for revenge in satisfaction of a defeat in war.

Te Manihera was a chief of the Ngati-Ruanui tribe, of South Taranaki, who in his greatly adventurous youth became a protegé of the missionaries of the Wesleyan Church and later the Church Mission Society. He took his name from the Rev. R. Maunsell, the Church of England missionary at Waikato. He was a middle-aged man when the missionary impulse set him seeking a field beyond his tribal district, in the cause of the new religion, the Rongo Pai, and the reconciliation of old enemies. His tribe had been at war with the Ngati-Tuwharetoa people of South Taupo. In 1841 three chiefs of Taupo were killed at Patoka, on the Waitotara River, when on a war expedition against the Ngati-Ruanui in Taranaki. In 1843 the great chief Te Heuheu Tukino led a war-party to the West Coast to exact revenge, but was persuaded by the missionaries and Government officials to return without fighting. The feud slumbered, but it was not dead. It was now the page 53 year 1847. Te Heuheu had been overwhelmed with fifty of his tribe in the great landslide at Te Rapa, near Tokaanu, in the previous year. His brother, Iwikau te Heuheu, of Pukawa, and the chief Te Herekiekie, of Tokaanu, were the two principal men of the tribe at the period of this narrative; there was considerable jealousy between them. The Tokaanu people cherished bitterly the memory of the war with Ngati-Ruanui; they had suffered losses for which they had not been able to obtain utu—compensation, vengeance.

This was the position when Te Manihera resolved to visit his former foes and carry them a message of peace and reconciliation, under the new dispensation. The Taupo people had already been brought under the influence of Christianity to some extent by the Rev. Richard Taylor, from Wanganui, and the Rev. S. M. Spencer, from Rotorua, but the ferocious spirit of the vendetta was ever ready to spring to life, and the old ways and beliefs persisted.

Te Manihera travelled by way of the East Coast and thence to the Arawa country, and he left Rotorua early in March of 1847 on his mission to the Ngati-Tuwharetoa. He was accompanied by a friend named Kereopa (the Bible name Cleophas), a fellow disciple of the Rongo-Pai. The two missionaries to the Lake tribe took the track along the eastern side of Taupo, passing through the villages of Waipahihi, Rotongaio, Motutere, Te Hatepe and other places, and crossing the mouths of the Tongariro River at the beach. Their coming was heralded by messengers sent to the lakeside village of Tokaanu, and there was excitement, and anger too, when it became known that emissaries of the page 54 hated Ngati-Ruanui dared to visit a people whose wounds were still open, in the Maori phrase.

It happened that at this time the tribe of Tokaanu, headed by Te Herekiekie, had built a new meeting-house, a large and beautiful building, adorned with carved figures of gods and heroes, and rich with rafter painting and intricate lattice-wall patterns. The house was fifty feet in length and lofty in proportion. It stood in the village near the Tokaanu stream and the hot springs, close to the site of the present carved meeting-house called “Puhaorangi,” near the main road where it enters Tokaanu township. The tapu pertaining to such carved houses would presently be removed by the priests, with the ancient prayers and charms, and the ceremony of the whai-kawa, or taingakawa-whare. In former times a human sacrifice was often made at such ceremonies, to give the ritual added mana and ensure the stability and good luck of the house. The head or the heart of a suitable victim was buried at the foot of the principal post supporting the ridgepole, or under the threshold.

When the chiefs of Tokaanu heard that the apostles of Ngati-Ruanui were approaching, they said: “Let them come—they shall be the sacred offering (patunga-tapu) for our house. Let them come; like flying-fish crossing the bows of our canoe they will be caught.”

Te Manihera and Kereopa were well aware that danger threatened; Manihera had forebodings of death. But strong in their faith and in their fervent hope of bringing about lasting peace between the tribes they held on their way. They crossed the swamps of the page 55 Tongariro delta and came to Waiariki, which is close to Tokaanu. There a party of young men joined them, to escort them to Tokaanu. Death lay ahead. As they walked along the narrow track through the manuka thickets, they were suddenly fired upon from ambush by a small party of men led by the old chief Te Huiatahi. Kereopa fell mortally wounded. Manihera, too, received a wound, but stood upright, calmly facing his foes who surrounded him. Te Huiatahi struck at him with a tomahawk and inflicted another wound.

Summoning up all his vital powers, Te Manihera addressed his assailants. He explained his mission and his desire to end for ever the strife and hatred between the tribes. Ringed about with savage faces, he expounded the Gospel of the Prince of Peace. It met with no sympathetic response. Those voices and those ferocious visages meant death.

“You must die with your companion!” Te Manihera was told. “You must die as payment for our dead.”

Te Manihera, bleeding from his wounds, fast weakening, supported himself with his walking staff. Feeling his strength rapidly leaving him, he made one last request. He asked but one thing, he said; he would sing his own lament, his farewell to his wife and friends far away, to the Ao Marama, this world of light.

His captors assented to this. They stayed their hands until they had heard their victim's death song.

Then the dying man chanted his waiata poroporoaki, his farewell and his dirge. This is the English of his song (I translate from the original, sent me by a venerable page 56 member of the Arawa tribe; it begins, “E hora te marino, horahia i waho ra“):—

“Spread out afar
The calm lake gleams
So smooth and fair and bright.
The stream flows strongly by,
Like Pakihi's waters far away.
My heart throbs high with grief
For my beloved one.
My doom is fixed—
Death's terrors chill my flesh,
My shrinking skin is stung
As by the ongaonga thorns.*
Would that I could cross those heights,
To thee, O Harata,
Wife of my fond embrace.
My spirit shall return to thee,
Return to the tribe I love.”

The doomed man's foes, hemming him around, listened with the utmost intentness to his chant. When he had ended the lament, the chief of the Tuwharetoa said:

“Sing it again.”

So Te Manihera chanted his death-song once more. His listeners kept perfect silence. They were memorising the song, as was the Maori way; they would be able to chant it word for word.

Then Te Manihera bowed his head. The fearful tomahawk flashed once, twice, and he fell. There he lay, by the side of his friend, from whom the life had passed. page 57 So was made even the utu account; the defeats of the past were finally avenged.

∗ ∗ ∗

The executioners did not regard the victims as missionaries; they considered nothing but the fact that they were members of a hated alien tribe. It is not known exactly whether the sacrificial offering was made as intended for the carved-house opening ceremony. It is probable, however, that in accordance with the savage custom of the times, the hearts of the two victims were cut out and offered up to Uenuku, the god of war. The Rev. Richard Taylor arrived at Tokaanu from Wanganui a few weeks after the slaughter of the apostles, and preached a sermon at the graves at Waiariki.

The Ngati-Tuwharetoa men concerned repented of their deed, when all was made clear to them, and they had listened to the missionary. All but old Huiatahi, who maintained that he was justified in exacting utu. The chief Te Herekiekie, who was absent from Tokaanu at the time, disapproved of the killing. It is said that the bones of Te Manihera were later taken home to his people, who were presented by Ngati-Tuwharetoa with a certain treasured and historic weapon, a greenstone méré. This was a peace-offering and a tangible admission of wrongdoing and a tribute of sorrow. The Ngati-Ruanui accepted the gift, and the peace-making was cemented with much eloquence of speech and shedding of tears. That weapon is venerated for the stories of the warrior past which it brings to mind, but most of all for the heroic memory of the fearless comrades who went calmly to a cruel fate in the cause of peace and goodwill among men.

* Ongaonga—the New Zealand nettle (urtica ferox), a shrub the leaves of which are covered with fine spines or hairs that inflict severe stings on the skin.