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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter XIX — The Tauranga-Ika Stockade

page 226

Chapter XIX
The Tauranga-Ika Stockade

Another fighting pa built—Scouting and skirmishing—The watcher on the tower—McDonnell and Titokowaru—How Trooper Lingard won the New Zealand Cross—Hairbreadth escapes—Pairama and the white man's leg.

On the edge of the great forest, some miles to the south of the Waitotara River, was the site of the olden Maori village, Tauranga-ika. In front fern and grass lands stretched away to the sand-dunes of the sea-coast, with here and there a small shallow lake; in the rear was the dense and roadless bush, a perfect and safe retreat for the Hauhaus in the event of defeat. The country hereabouts was dotted with the white man's farmsteads; but the whites had been driven off before Titokowaru's victorious army, leaving their homes, the labour of many years, to go up in smoke, and their sheep and cattle to feed the Hauhau bands. Wanganui town was only a day's march away, and Titokowaru's council of chiefs, eager to follow up their victory at Moturoa, proposed to assault the town and massacre every soul in it.

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This old-time village was fixed on by the Hauhau war-chief as the site of his new fighting pa, for he abandoned Papa-tihakehake soon after the repulse of the white forces at that strong stockade. With the wariness of the Maori strategist, he avoided a second attack in any one entrenchment, and sooner than risk another, and possibly disastrous, engagement at Papa-tihakehake, he took the trouble to construct an even stronger fortification, a splendid example of native military engineering genius.

In the building of this new pa, Kimble Bent and his Hauhau comrades toiled early and late until it was completed. It was of large size, fully defended with palisading, trenches, parapet, and rifle-pits. It was between two and three chains in extreme length at the rear, with a somewhat narrower front. The ground in front was bare of forest, but carried high fern cover; on the flanks were burned clearings, dotted with blackened tree-stumps and cumbered with logs; then the forest, with some beautiful groves of mahoe on its outskirts. Two rows of palisades, high and strong, were erected around the position; the posts, solid tree-trunks, were from six to twelve inches thick and ten to fifteen feet high; the rows were four feet apart. The spaces between the larger stockade-posts were filled in with saplings set upright close together, and fastened by cross-rails and supplejack ties; these saplings did not rest in the ground, but hung a few page 228 inches above it, so that between them and the ground a space was left for the fire of the defending musketeers, who were enabled to pour volleys from their trenches inside the war-fence on any approaching enemy with perfect safety to themselves. Behind the inner stockading was a parapet about six feet high and four feet wide, formed of the earth thrown out of the trenches. The interior of the pa was pitted everywhere with trenches and covered ways, so that in the event of attack the defenders could literally take to the earth like rabbits, and live underground secure from rifle-fire, and even from artillery. The place was a network of trenches with connecting passages, roofed over with timber, raupo, and toetoe reeds and earth. To any assault that could be delivered by the Government forces then available, the fort was practically impregnable.

At one angle of the pa the Hauhau garrison erected a roughly timbered watch-tower, about thirty-five feet in height. This tower, or taumaihi, was a feature of the ancient pas of Maoridom; on its upper platform a sentinel was posted, day and night, to give warning of the approach of the enemy. In front of the pa, outside the palisades, a tall flag-staff was set up, and on this staff the Hauhau war-flags were hoisted. There were two gateways in the rear stockading, giving access to the bush. In one end of the pa near the rear was a small tent occupied by Titokowaru. Bent, the cartridge-maker, page 229 lived in a little rush-built wharé towards the other end, near one of the gateways.

When the stockade was finished the Hauhaus constructed a tekoteko, a great marionette-like figure of a man, cut out of a pukatea-tree. It was so placed that its head stood about fifteen feet above the ground, well above the front stockade, and it had loose-jointed arms, to which flax ropes were fastened, leading down to the trench below. By manipulating these ropes the arms of the wooden warrior were made to move in the actions of the haka, just as if some painted Hauhau were dancing a dance of defiance on the fortress walls.

When the fort was finished the garrison gathered in their food supplies, saw to their arms, and for many weeks waited for the pakeha. Hauhau scouts and small war-parties daily sallied out from the fort, seeking game in the shape of stray pakehas.

One of these savage man-hunters was a Ngati-Maniapoto man from the King Country, whose name was Pairama, and who had married a Nga-Rauru woman. He used to go out by himself, looking for some one or something to kill. Te Pairama returned to the stockade in huge jubilation one day, bearing as a trophy of his prowess on the trail a white man's leg! He had, says Bent, scouted down until he was close to Kai-iwi. There he spied a white settler in a grass paddock, carrying a rifle.

Down he crouched at once, and stealthily stalked page 230 the pakeha. Just as the unsuspecting settler came to the paddock gate, the Maori leaped out from behind the fence, with a furious snatch tore the rifle from the man's grasp, and shot him dead with it. He cut off one of the pakeha's legs with his tomahawk, and brought it home as proof of his success on the war-path as proudly as any Indian ever flourished his take of scalps. Up and down the marae of the pa he bounded, exhibiting the captured rifle and severed limb, yelling his warsong, and loudly boasting that he would that night cook the pakeha's leg and eat it all himself.

But the warrior's braggadocio received a sharp check from Titokowaru. The war-chief disapproved of this sort of thing on the part of irresponsible young free-lances. “No man must bring white man's flesh into this pa,” he said, “unless he is one of the Tekau-ma-rua, the war-party sent out by me. Take that pakeha leg back again at once and place it alongside the body.” And soon thereafter the disgusted scout, his ardour for “long-pig” so unexpectedly damped by Titoko's code of cannibal etiquette, was to be seen trudging back along the track to the pakeha farm, with sulky visage and reluctant gait, and a white foot and leg—raw—protruding from a flax basket strapped to his shoulders.

By day the scouting parties of the Hauhau “Twelve Apostles” scoured the country; by night page 231 the people gathered round the fires on the marae or in the big sleeping wharés, and talked and sang and danced the hakas of which they never wearied. Wild night-scenes those on the stockaded marae, with the crowds of blanketed or flax-cloaked men and women, their wild faces illumined by the leaping flames, squatting in great circles round the camp fires, while more than half nude figures leaped and stamped and slapped their limbs and chests with resounding slaps, and expelled the air from their lungs in wolfish “Ooh's!” and “Hau's!” as they trod the assembly ground in all the fury of the wardance. A warrior orator would rise, weapon in hand, and throwing off his blanket for freedom of action, go bounding along the marae in front of the assemblage, shouting short, sharp sentences as he taki'd to and fro, his athletic figure untrammelled except for a waist-shawl or short dangling mat, fire in his movements, and ferocity in every gesture and in every cry—the embodiment of belligerent Maoridom in its savage prime.

Like defiant replying shouts from some hidden foe in the blackness of the forest that rose in a solid wall above the rear stockade came the clear echoes of the roaring haka choruses.

And so the wild night passed, until the camp fires died down, and the tribespeople sought sleep in their packed wharepunis and their rush-strewn burrows; and the melancholy “Kou-kou!” of the page 232 “hundred-eyed” ruru, the bush-owl, was heard, as the bird-sentry of the night hours cried his watchword from the forest or a perch on some tall palisadepost. Yet not all eyes were closed in the pa, for the Hauhaus, grown wise by much hard experience, did not neglect the posting of sentries, and a sentinel watched from the platform in the angle-tower. At intervals he cried his watch-cry, or raised his voice in a night-song that rose and fell in measured cadences like a tangi wail.

The most dreaded hour in Maori warfare was the dark, dank hour just before the dawn, and then it was well to be on the qui vive, for Kepa's dusky forest-rangers and their white comrades the A.C.'s had a truly unpleasant fashion of attacking their enemies at most unholy, shivery times, when man slept soundest. So the watchmen in the tower were enjoined to extra vigilance in the early morning hours. And, as in the olden Maori days, out rang the voice of the high sentinel, chanting his ancient “Whakaara-pa,” his “All's well” song, to Tarioa and Kopu, the first and morning stars.

This is one of the songs he cried, an old watchchant of the Ngati-Toa tribe of Kawhia:

Kia hiwa e! Now watchful be,
Kia hiwa! O watchful be,
Kia hiwa e tenei tuku, On this side and on that!
Kia hiwa e tera tuku; Bend ears to every sound.
Kia whakarongo koe High up, high uppage 233
Ki nga kupu. The surf rolls in
Whakapuru tonu, On Harihari's cliffs,
Whakapuru tonu And loudly sounds the restless sea
Te tai ki Harihari,
Ka tangi tere On Mokau's coast.
Te tai ki Mokau. Now yonder, lo! the sun—
Ka ao atu te ra, The sun leaps up
Ka ao mai te ra Above the mountain-tops.
Ki tua o nga pae ra.
E—e! I—a—we!

Late one night, as the Hauhaus lay behind their palisades, Colonel Thomas McDonnell—a man who spoke Maori like a native—rode boldly up to the pa wall with his escort, and asked for Titokowaru. He called out in the native tongue, “O Titoko—where are you?”

Titoko, summoned from his tent, went down to the stockade. “I am here!” he shouted.

The white officer cried: “Titoko, I have been trying to discover your atua, the god which guides you in your battles. Now I have found it—I know the source of your mana. When the wind blows hard from the whakarua (the north-east), I know it is the breath of your god, the wind of Uenuku! But your atua is only a tutua—a low fellow!”

Spoke Titoko angrily, and said: “McDonnell, go! Depart at once! If you do not ride away directly, there will be a blazing oven ready for you!”

McDonnell rode away, and the angry chief returned to his tent. Why McDonnell should have paid this daring night visit to the stockade is not page 234 quite clear, but the incident is given just as Bent narrates it. He and his companions on the marae heard the dialogue, and Bent says the old fear struck to his heart when he heard Titokowaru menacing the white officer with the oven. The Taranakis seem to have been particularly addicted to the “ordeal by fire.”

“The oven is gaping open for you!” was their customary threat. Their tribal history abounds, too, in tales of how some obnoxious neighbours or others, Ngati-so-and-so, had been effectively disposed of by the simple process of surrounding their huts while they slept, fastening the doors, and then setting fire to the wharés. The only objection from the Maori point of view to this summary method of obtaining utu was that it “spoiled the meat!”

Colonel McDonnell was so conversant with Maori tikanga—customs, rules of life, and ways of thought—that he was by way of being a tohunga-Maori himself, and his dramatic twitting of Titokowaru with the fact that the reputed source of his fighting mana was within his (McDonnell's) knowledge was a circumstance that hugely annoyed the old war-chief.

It was just as if so much of his mana-tapu had passed to his white foeman—to the rival maker of strong “war-medicine.”

Occasional skirmishes with the white cavalry patrol-parties enlivened the three months' sojourn page 235
A Hauhau Scout, Tutangé Waionui, of Patea.

A Hauhau Scout, Tutangé Waionui, of Patea.

page break page 237 in Tauranga-ika. In one of these rencontres a young Wanganui trooper—now a resident of Wellington—won his New Zealand Cross. This was William Lingard, a member of Captain John Bryce's troop of Kai-iwi Cavalry.

Out scouting one day, Bryce took a party of his men boldly up to the front of the stockade on a reconnaissance. The place was unusually quiet, and a white flag was flying on the flag-staff in front of the pa. One of the cavalrymen, Sergeant Maxwell, leaping a ditch and hedge that intervened between the farm lands and the pa, raced right up close to the stockade, and fired at it. Trooper Lingard, also leaping the obstacles, with the rest of the detachment, rode up past the pa. Lingard, though he could see nothing of the Maoris, raised his carbine and fired a shot. The next instant the whole palisade front—just above the ground, where the interstices were left for musketry—was a blaze of fire, and a storm of lead sang over the little troop. The Hauhaus, hidden in their trenches, and preserving complete silence, had waited till the patrol was within murderously close range. Maxwell was mortally wounded; but he sat his horse till it carried him out of range. Several horses were shot, and fell. One trooper, H. Wright, was pinned to the ground by his horse falling on his leg, and was unable to extricate himself, but, nevertheless, drew his revolver, and kept popping away at the palisades.

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The whole pa was now in a roar of battle-excitement. The Maoris, as they fired, raised their fearful yells and war-shouts, an infernal din that almost drowned the cracks of the fire-arms. Kimble Bent was there, sitting on the parapet inside the stockade, and watching the encounter. A burly framed Hauhau, a herculean savage known as Big Kereopa—one of those who had shared in the cannibal feast at Papa-tihakehake—dashed out from the rear of the stockade, armed with a long-handled tomahawk, and rushed at the helpless pakeha. Trooper Lingard instantly put his plunging horse at the Hauhau, and cut at him with his sword. Another trooper, Tom D. Cummins (now of Wanganui) took a hand in the combat, and with a shot from his carbine stopped the charging Hauhau. He put a bullet into Kereopa, and the big fellow clapping a hand to his wound—which was in his posterior parts—bolted back into the pa nearly as quickly as he had come, yelling “I'm shot! I'm shot!” Lingard, leaning over, got Wright by the hand, and, though almost dismounted himself, succeeded in dragging his comrade from under the fallen horse. Then, noticing a white horse—which was usually ridden by one of the Maori scouts—tethered to a tutu-bush a short distance from the palisades, Lingard galloped at it, cut the tether-line with his sword, and soon had Wright mounted again and riding down the hill out of range, with page 239 the Hauhau bullets whistling close around their heads. Lingard's rescue of his comrade was a remarkably plucky bit of work.

. . . . .

An incident of Hauhau life at this period, illustrative of the pitilessly savage character of the olden Maori, is told thus by Kimble Bent:

“While we were living in the pa at Taurangaika, a Hauhau fighting-man named Taketake quarrelled with his sister. She threatened that she would run away to the pakehas, and tell them of the cannibal practices of the rebels. He warned her that if she did he would shoot her. That evening she left the pa, and started for the white soldiers' camp. Taketake loaded his gun and followed her. Overtaking her on the road, he shot her through the back and killed her. He returned to the pa and reported what he had done. A party of men went out and brought back the murdered woman's body, and that was all there was about it. No one interfered with Taketake, or considered what he had done was a crime. All they said was ‘Kaitoa!’ (‘Serve her right’).”

While the pakeha attack was awaited, Bent and his companions spent much of their time in the forest at the rear of the fort, catching eels in the creeks, hunting wild pigs, and gathering wild honey for the garrison food-supplies.