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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter X — The War-Chief and His Gods

page 102

Chapter X
The War-Chief and His Gods

The war-chief Titokowaru—Ancient ceremonies and religion revived—Uenuku, the god of battle—Titokowaru's mana-tapu —Bent makes cartridges for the Hauhaus—A novel weapon.

The year 1867 was one of little activity amongst the Hauhaus with whom “Ringiringi” lived, except in respect of their interminable meetings and Niu-parades and prophesyings. Hostilities had been suspended by both sides for the time, but the temporary peace was only the prelude to the fiercest fighting of the Ten-Years' War.

The white man worked for his master Rupé all that year, digging and planting, carrying wood and water, and performing, in fact, the duties of a household slave. But it was a slavery that had its privileges and its compensations, and there were long days of abundant food and little work, in the intervals between the seasons of communal labour in the potato-fields and the periodical birding and eeling and pig-hunting expeditions.

It was while living at Te Paka that “Ringiringi” became well acquainted with the celebrated Tito- page 103 kowaru, the great war-chief of the Hauhaus. Titoko, as his name was usually abbreviated, came riding into the little bush-village one day at the head of an armed band of Ngati-Ruanui and Nga Ruahiné men, and held a meeting in the marae, urging the people to renew the war. He was travelling from village to village, haranguing the Hauhaus, and explaining his new plan of campaign, which briefly was to make surprise attacks on small isolated redoubts garrisoned by the white soldiers, and to lay ambuscades. He declared, too, that his tactics would be, not to build any more stockaded forts in positions where the Europeans could easily reach them, but to entice the troops into the midst of the forest, where the Maori warrior would have the advantage. This scheme met with general approval, and the tribespeople signified their intention of joining Titoko and fighting his battles for him whenever he gave the word to begin.

Titokowaru was the most brainy, as well as the most ferocious, of the Taranaki chiefs who led the Hauhaus against the whites. It was his strategy that was responsible for the most serious defeats inflicted on the Government forces in the war of 1868–9. In appearance he was a stern, commanding man, with a countenance disfigured by the loss of an eye—reminder of the Battle of Sentry Hill. He was not tattooed. “When roused,” says Bent, “he had a voice like a roaring lion.” In his attire page 104 he was often quaintly pakeha, for he frequently appeared in a black “hard-hitter” hat and a full suit of European clothing. He carried no weapon but his sacred taiaha, his tongue-pointed staff of hardwood, ornamented with a plume of red kaka feathers.

The war-chief revived many a half-forgotten savage practice in the campaign that followed. Besides being a Hauhau “prophet,” he was a tohunga, or priest, of the ancient Maori religion.

Before despatching a war-party he invariably recited the customary spells (karakia) to ensure their success, and the worship, or rather placation and invocation of Uenuku, the war-god, was resuscitated in every armed camp and on every battle-field.

Titoko possessed, in a strong degree, what the Maoris termed mana-tapu—personal tapu, or sacred prestige, heritage from his priestly forefathers of Ariki rank. His body was sacred in Maori eyes, and he was accredited with many a singular supernatural attribute: “Even the winds of heaven are his,” said the Hauhaus. When the whakarua, the north-east breeze, blew, it was a fitting time for the war-parties to set out, for the whakarua was the breath of Uenuku, Titoko's deity, and his familiar spirit, and it was an omen of success in battle.

Bent gives some curious instances of Titokowaru's mana-tapu. Once, when the white man was travel- page 105 ling through the forest with Titoko and his band of Hauhaus, the chief's shoulder accidentally struck against a flax kit containing some cooked potatoes which an old man was carrying on his back. Titoko immediately ordered the man to throw the potatoes and basket away, for the food had become infected, through contact with the priest, with the mysterious and deadly microbe of the tapu, and consequently unfit to be eaten. So the old fellow had to cast his day's rations into the bushes and go fasting.

Titokowaru would suffer no rivals in the pa. Now and then it happened during the war-days that some budding tohunga would arise and prophesy things, in bold opposition to the chief, and announce that his familiar spirit, or his ancestral gods, had conferred priestly powers upon him. Titoko had “a short way with dissenters.” His usual and most effective method of silencing the pretender was to take a basket of potatoes in his hand and seek out his rival.

“What,” he would say, “have you then an atua, a god of your own?” Should the Hauhau be so imprudent as to answer “Yes,” Titoko would lift his potato-kit and set it on his rival's head. “That for your atua!” It was enough. The other's tapu —if he ever had any—would be immediately destroyed by such an act, for the head of man must not be touched by food, and any self-respecting atua would desert a tapu-less Maori without delay. page 106 But no man dared, by way of retaliation, to try the potato-basket trick on Titokowaru.

“Ringiringi” had now been nearly three years with the Maoris, and spoke their language well. “I lived exactly like a Maori,” he says; “worked like a nigger, and always went about bare-footed. They would not give me a gun, nor did they make me fight—for Titokowaru made me tapu, and would not permit me to go out on the war-path—but I had to make cartridges for them. They managed to get plenty of gunpowder; I have often seen it brought in in casks and in 25 lb. weights. They got a good deal of it from the neutral and so-called ‘friendly’ tribes, who procured it from the pakehas. The Puketapu tribe, and some of the Whanganuis, helped us in this way. I know there was a white man, Moffatt, living on the Upper Wanganui River, who made a coarse powder for the Hauhaus there, but I don't think any of it came our way. I had a wooden cartridge-filler, and we always had plenty of old newspapers to make the cartridge-cases. Bullets were plentiful, too, as a rule; but sometimes in the bush, when the Hauhaus ran short, they would use old iron, stones, and even pieces of hard wood. I have sometimes loaded my cartridges with bits of supplejack, cut to size, when I had no lead bullets.”

In those bush-whacking days the Hauhaus made use of some remarkable devices against their enemies. One of these Maori engines of war was called a page 107 tawhiti, or trap. It was a sapling of some tough and elastic timber, matipo for choice. When a suitable one, about ten feet long or so, was found growing in a likely position outside a pa or alongside a bush-track by which the enemy were expected, it would be stripped of its branches, and bent down and back without breaking it, until it was lying in as near as possible a horizontal position, so that it would sweep the road. The end was fastened with flax in such a way that any unsuspecting person marching along the track or approaching the village and touching the trap, would cause the flax to slip, and release the tawhiti. The tree in its rebound could inflict a terrible blow.

In 1866 Bent saw ten or twelve of these tawhiti set on the tracks just outside Te Popoia, a small pa near Keteonetea. The place was attacked by the Government forces in the night, and in the darkness several of the Kupapas, or Government Maoris, who formed the advance guard, were injured by the unexpected release and rebound of these savage traps.*

* Compare this with the ingenious form of “spring-gun” which an English exploring expedition found in use in 1910 amongst the Negrito pigmies on the slopes of the Snow Mountains, in New Guinea. This spring-gun is made by setting a flattened bamboo spear against a bent sapling, fastened to a trigger in such a way that it is released by the passer-by stumbling against an invisible string stretched across a game-track. These hardened bamboo spears inflict serious wounds, as they are launched with considerable force.