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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter XI — “The Beak-of-the-Bird”

page 108

Chapter XI
“The Beak-of-the-Bird”

The stockade at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu—In the Wharékura—Singular Hauhau war-rites—The “Twelve Apostles” —The enchanted taiaha—The heart of the pakeha: a human burnt-offering—An ambuscade and a cannibal feast.

Early in 1868 “Ringiringi” and his Hauhau comrades took up their quarters in the stockaded village of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu (“The Beak-of-the-Bird”), soon to be the scene of the sharpest action of the war. This settlement was deep in the rata forest, about ten miles from where the town of Hawera now stands, in the direction of Mount Egmont. Out on the fern-lands on the edge of the bush were the European redoubts of Waihi and TuruturuMokai; the smaller of these, Turuturu, was singled out by Titokowaru as a position which could apparently be easily stormed; he therefore laid his plans to attack it, and gathered in his best fightingmen in the forest-fort.

Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu was now the headquarters of the Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Ruahiné belligerents, and all hands were set to work to fortify the village page 109 and to gather in food-supplies for the hapus who crowded the “Bird's-Beak” pa. The front of the village faced a cleared stretch of fern-land, but the forest surrounded it on the other sides; at the rear ran a little creek. There were no trenches or earthparapets; the principal defences were stout palisades, solid tree-trunks and split timber, eight to ten feet high, sunk firmly in the ground, and connected by cross-ties of saplings, fastened to the posts with forest vines. Close to the palisades were some great rata-trees, very ancient and hollow; several of these the Hauhaus converted into miniature redoubts. Some of the hollow trees were cunningly loopholed for rifle-fire, and within them stagings were made for the musketeers; rough stages, too, were constructed up among the rata branches, where the dense foliage and the interlacing boughs formed a perfect shelter for the brown-skinned snipers. One of the tree-platforms, just inside the pa walls, was used as a taumaihi, or look-out tower.

At one end of the village was the large Hauhau meeting-hall and praying-house called Wharé-kura (“House of Learning,” or “Red-painted House”), after the olden Maori sacred lodges of priestly instruction. This building, built of sawn timber in semi-European style, was about seventy feet in length. It was erected by Titokowaru's working-party in six days—in obedience to the Scriptural command “Six days shalt thou labour”; they finished it on page 110 the sixth day, and religiously rested on the seventh —and for many days thereafter. The Wharé-kura was consecrated by Titokowaru in the ancient heathen fashion; it was the temple of the Hauhau ritual, and here the high chief assembled his men when he wished to select war-parties for assaults and ambuscades. At the rear end of the great house was his sacred seat and sleeping-place, laid with finely woven flax mats and hedged by the invisible but potent barriers of tapu.

As often happened in Maori warfare, the first intimation the Hauhaus gave of their intention to renew the fighting was the murder of two or three incautious pakehas on the frontier.

Titokowaru's war-parties despatched on special missions usually numbered sixty men. Though consisting of this number they were termed the Tekau-ma-rua, or “The Twelve.”

This term, though applied to the whole war-party, really belonged to the first twelve men, the advanceguard, who were usually the most daring and active warriors of all, but who had been selected in a peculiar manner which will be described. These twelve were tapu, and were all tino toa—tried and practised fighting-men. They numbered twelve because of the mystic force or prestige supposed to attach to that number. Titokowaru and all his Hauhaus were students of the pakeha Scriptures—Titokowaru when a young man had been a pupil in a mission page 111 school—and “The Twelve” were so named and numbered for several reasons: one was that there were twelve Apostles in the Bible; and another that there were the twelve sons of Jacob; then, also, there were twelve months in the year. Clearly to the Maori mind there was much virtue in twelve. In Maori belief none of the Tekau-ma-rua proper could be touched by a bullet in a fight if they but obeyed the instructions of Titokowaru.

Singular heathen ceremonies were practised in the selection of these war-parties. The spirit of ancient Maoridom was but slightly leavened by pakeha innovations and missionary teachings; and the savage gods of old New Zealand took fresh grip on the hearts of these never-tamed forest-men.

“Ringiringi” on several occasions witnessed the rites of the Wharé-kura what time the one-eyed general picked out the soldiers of the Tekau-ma-rua.

On the day before an armed expedition was to set forth from “The Beak-of-the-Bird,” Titokowaru summoned the people by walking up and down outside his great wharé chanting a song which began:

Tenei hoki au
Ki te Ngutu-o-te-Manu.
(“Here am I
In the Beak of the Bird.”)

Then the people would all file into the sacred house and seat themselves on the mat-covered floor, the page 112 fighting-men of the pa in front. The war-chief took his seat cross-legged on his sacred mat that was spread on an elevated stage at the rear of the Wharé-kura, with a short rail in front; this dais was tapu to him. The men all chanted together a wild haka song, and then sat silent as death, waiting the will of Titoko's war-god and the divination-by-taiaha.

The chief stood, grim and stern, facing his people, his sacred carved hardwood taiaha, called “Te Porohanga,” in his hand. His wild eyes glittered as he recited in quick sharp tones his invocation of the war-god Uenuku and the battle-spirit breathed on the wings of the whakarua breeze. Then, balancing his long plumed weapon in a horizontal position on his thumb and forefinger, the tongue-shaped point directed at the warriors, he stood stiff and motionless as in a trance. He was awaiting the message of his atua, the guiding-breath of Uenuku.

Suddenly, apparently of its own volition, and without any visible movement or effort on the part of the chief, the weapon would move. It would slowly, slowly turn—watched with intense, breathless earnestness by hundreds of fanatic eyes—until its tongue pointed so as to indicate some particular man. Ha!'Twas the breath of Uenuku, deity of blood and fire, that gave it its impulse; Titoko was but the medium of the gods!

The warrior indicated would be questioned by the war-chief, and asked whether his “heart was page break
The Ambuscade. (From a sketch by Major von Tempsky in Taranaki, 1866.)

The Ambuscade.
(From a sketch by Major von Tempsky in Taranaki, 1866.)

page break page 115 strong” within him. If his answer were deemed satisfactory, he would be told off as one of the Tekau-ma-rua, the sanctified advance-guard.

Again and again this strange method of divination was repeated, the balanced weapon indicating—to the perfect satisfaction of the superstitious Hauhaus —the men whom the Maori war-god desired as the instruments of vengeance on the whites. Name after name the priest and chief pronounced, as his taiaha pointed along the squatting ranks, until the tale of bare-legged warriors was complete.

Then, when the taua, or war-party, had filled their cartridge-belts and seen to their weapons, there was a ceremony of a livelier sort. The women and girls of the pa attired themselves in their waist piupiu of coloured flax, decked their hair with feathers, dabbed ochre-paint on their cheeks, and lined up on the marae for the poi-dance, to send the warriors off “in good heart,” as the Maori has it. Hakas, too, were danced by the men and boys of the village, and the merry poi-songs and the loudly yelled war-chants put a brisker jig into the feet of the brown soldiers as they marched out of the settlement and struck into the forest, hunting for pakehas.

As the men of the Tekau-ma-rua left the stockade, Titokowaru himself would loudly farewell them, shouting in his terrible gruff voice the ferocious injunction:

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Patua, kainga! Patua, kainga! E kai mau! Kaua e tukua kia haere! Kia mau ki tou ringa.” (“Kill them! Eat them! Kill them! Eat them! Let them not escape! Hold them fast in your hands.”)

Should the Tekau-ma-rua meet with success in their murderous raids, it was usual for the leader of the party to chant in a loud voice, as the homepalisades were neared, a song beginning, “Tenei te mea kei te mou ki toku ringa,” meaning that he had in his hand a portion of the flesh of a slain pakeha. This was called the mawé; it was an offering to the god of war. The mawé was almost invariably a human heart, torn from the body of the first man of the enemy killed in the fight.

On two or three occasions Kimble Bent witnessed the ceremony of the offering of the mawé, the ancient rite of the Whangai-hau. The heart (manawa) or other piece of human flesh, was brought into the marae and given to a man named Tihirua, who was the priest of the burnt sacrifice. He was a young man about twenty-five years of age, belonging to the Ngati-Maru tribe, of the Upper Waitara. “He would take the heart in his hand,” says Bent, “and strike a match, or take a firestick and singe the flesh. When it was slightly scorched he would throw it away; it was tapu to Uenuku. This was an ancient war-custom of the Maoris; Titokowaru adopted it because he believed it would cause the pakehas page 117 to lose strength and courage, and become unnerved in time of battle. After the fight at Papa-tihakehake, in 1868, I saw this man Tihirua cut a white man's body open outside the marae, tear out the bleeding heart, hold lighted matches underneath it until it was singed, and then throw it away.”*

A more frightful scene still that the sun looked down upon in that forest den was a cannibal feast. On June 12, 1868, a party of about fifteen Hauhaus from the pa, prowling out in the direction of the Waihi redoubt, cut off and shot and tomahawked a trooper of the Armed Constabulary, a man named Smith, who had incautiously ventured out to look for his horse beyond rifle-range of the redoubt. An Armed Constabulary officer, who happened to be walking across the parade ground at the time, heard and saw the firing, and with his field-glasses distinctly saw the flashing of the tomahawks as the Hauhaus cut the man to pieces An armed party was immediately sent out at the double, but all they found when they reached the spot was half the body! The legs and hips were lying on the trampled and blood-drenched ground amongst the fern; the head and the upper part of the body down to the waist had been carried off by the savages, who had vanished into the forest as quickly as they had come. The remains of the poor trooper were cooked and eaten by the people in Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, page 118 after the heart had been offered to Titokowaru's god of war by the young priest Tihirua.

Titokowaru, according to Bent, did not eat human flesh himself, but a boastful letter sent by him a few days later to a philo-pakeha chief at Mawhitiwhiti, seems to indicate that he was a cannibal of the most ferocious sort, unless, as is quite possible, he was speaking of his people generally when he used the first person singular. In this letter, addressed to Puano, and dated “Wharé-kura, June 25, 1868,” he wrote this emphatic warning:

“Cease travelling on the roads, cease entirely travelling on the roads that lead to Mangamanga (Camp Waihi), lest ye be left upon the roads as food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the field, or for me. Because I have eaten the white man; he was cooked like a piece of beef in the pot. I have begun to eat human flesh, and my throat is continually open for the flesh of man. Kua hamama tonu toku korokoro ki te kai i te tangata. I shall not die, I shall not die. When death itself shall be dead, I shall be alive (Ka mate ano te mate, ka ora ano ahau).—From Titoko.”

* Tihirua died at Ohangai, near Hawera, in 1907.