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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter XXIV — The Head-Hunters

page 277

Chapter XXIV
The Head-Hunters

The skirmish at Whakamara—Hauhaus on the run—Government head-hunters—Major Kemp's white scout—Sharp work in the bush—Barbarism of the Whanganui—Kupapas—Smoke-drying the heads—A present for Whitmore—The heads on the tent floor—End of the war.

The deep and roadless forest was now the scene of sharp, barbaric war. The Hauhaus, after the abandonment of Tauranga-ika, built no stockades, but trusted to their most ancient of refuges, the nehenche-nui, the great woody wilderness. From one hiding-place to another they fled, with the Government bush-fighters on their heels.

“After our surprise and defeat at Otautu,” to continue Kimble Bent's narrative, “we were safe neither night nor day. Even when far in the depths of the bush we were always on the look-out for danger, for we never knew when we might have a sudden volley poured into our midst. Kepa and his friendlies were continually scouring the country for us. We retreated north and west through the forest till we reached a settlement called Whakamara. Two nights we were on the track; all we page 278 had to eat was a couple of potatoes each. At Whakamara we found many pigs, and were able to fill our stomachs once more.

“But early one morning the soldiers were on us again. Two of our men, young Tutangé and the warrior Kātené Tu-Whakaruru, who were out scouting on horseback, discovered the troops lying in ambush just outside, waiting to attack the village. They turned and galloped back to us, Tutangé waving his sword and whacking his horse along with the flat of the blade.

“So off we went again, running for our lives, with Whitmore's troops close behind us, firing as they ran. Titokowaru and all his men fled, after a very short fight. We took to the bush just like wild pigs racing before the hunters. I and a few others kept together, running for all we were worth, half-naked, foodless, tumbling over logs, scrambling in and out of creeks, and made no halt until we found ourselves once more at Rimatoto, my old home of 1866.”

From Whakamara village the Maoris fell back on a little fortified pa in the rear of the camp. This position they abandoned after a brief skirmish, and then the forest chase began. Whitmore ordered an immediate pursuit, and a flying column of sixty white Armed Constabulary, under Captains Northcroft and Watt, and about one hundred and forty Maori Kupapas, under Major Kepa and Captain page 279
A Constabulary Officer in Bush- Fighting Costume. (From a photo of Colonel T. Porter's taken in 1869.

A Constabulary Officer in Bush-
Fighting Costume
(From a photo of Colonel T. Porter's taken in 1869.

page break page 281 Thomas Porter, all in light marching order, took to the bush after the retreating enemy.

The advance-guard of the pursuing force numbered twenty-five Maoris, about equally divided between the Whanganui and Arawa tribes. Captain Porter was the only European officer with them, but one or two white scouts and bushmen accompanied the Maoris. As the column's march was necessarily in single file through thick and tangled bush, it was difficult to bring a large number of men into action when any skirmish or ambuscade occurred, and the consequence was that practically all the fighting was done by the advance-guard.

It was a picturesquely savage chapter of the war, that chase of Titokowaru and his scattered Hauhaus. There was more than a touch of the barbaric in it, for some of the Government forces reverted to the primitive war-methods of the Maori himself.

Between the moccasined hero of the war-trail in Fenimore Cooper's and Captain Mayne Reid's romances of Red Indian days, and Kepa's Maori guerilla and some of his white comrades, there was, after all, only this difference: one took the trail hunting for scalps, the other for heads!

As mentioned in a previous chapter, Colonel Whitmore had agreed to a request made by Major Kepa after the fighting on the Waitotara, and had offered rewards of £10 a head for Hauhau chiefs killed and £5 for ordinary men. Kepa's Kupapa page 282 Maoris, recruited from the Whanganui, Ngati-Apa, Ngati-Raukawa, and other “friendly” tribes—only friendly to the pakeha by reason of their deadly animosity to the Taranaki tribes—were little less savage than the Hauhaus themselves, and this manhunt under the mana of the Government was just the work that delighted them. They were “stripped to a gantlin'” for the bush chase—simply a waistmat or shawl and cartridge-belts and a pouch for their percussion-caps. And some of the white bushmen-scouts were just as eager on the head-hunting trail, and added to their service arms a tomahawk.

With the Whanganui men marched a European scout and bushman about whom some remarkable stories are told. This was Tom Adamson, Kepa's pakeha-Maori, a big, powerful fellow who surpassed the Maoris themselves in bushcraft and endurance. He marched barefooted, like his Maori comrades. Another of the white scouts and Hauhau-hunters was a man who, in after years, became celebrated for his pioneer exploration work in the vast wilderness of Milford Sound, an old John-o'-Groat's sailor and soldier named Donald Sutherland, whose name has been given to the immense waterfall that is one of New Zealand's natural wonders.

It was a wild, picturesquely unkempt column, that little armed force of pakehas and Maoris, as it filed off under its active and daring young officers page 283 into the gloomy, danger-haunted woods, the unknown and trackless forest through which the Patea and its tributaries flowed. The bush-fighting costume of many of the whites as well as Maoris was simple, not to say brigand-like. Officers and men of the Constabulary and other corps who had to do much bush-marching discarded the trousers of civilisation and took to the “garb of old Gaul,” worn alike by the Scottish Highlander and the Maori; this kilt was usually a coloured shawl, strapped round the waist and falling to the knee.

Through the huge and tangled woods they scrambled—hunters and hunted. Now along some narrow trail, hardly discernible to the untrained eye; now crawling through networks of supplejacks and brambly shrubs and great snaky lianes that looped tree to tree in bewildering coiled intricacies. Down into steep and narrow watercourses, swinging down one after another by the hanging vines and tough tree-creepers; up rocky gorges and jungle-clad cliffs. For endless miles upon miles the great solemn woods covered the face of the rugged land; beneath the shadows of the thick, dark foliage loped the blood-avengers.

In the afternoon of the first day of the chase the column descended into a deep, thickly wooded gorge. Suddenly from both sides a fire was opened upon the centre of the force, the main body of the A.C.'s. “Clear the bush!” was the order. The page 284 advance-guard and A.C.'s quickly circled round and enfiladed the enemy, who bolted like Red Indians through the thickets; and the chase went on.

Three Hauhaus were shot and decapitated on the first day of the chase. Every man killed, in fact, on this and the succeeding days of the pursuit had his head cut off.

The first Maori decapitated was a young chief, who was shot while in the act of climbing a steep cliff in the bush. Being a rangatira, his was a £10 head. This man was a prominent Hauhau named Matangi-o-Rupé. He belonged to Titokowaru's own immediate clan, or hapu, Ngati-Manuhiakai—“The Tribe of the Hungry Bird.” It was a Ngati-Raukawa soldier in Kepa's contingent who took off the Hauhau's head with his tomahawk; later he duly delivered it at the pakeha camp. Matangi's son, Kuku—now living at the village of Taiporohenui—on learning of his father's fate, swore to have utu—revenge—and vowed to Bent that if he ever encountered the man who beheaded his parent, he would “slice him to pieces like a piece of beef.”

Some years after the war, Bent, while on a visit to a Maori settlement at Oroua, in the Manawatu district, met this Ngati-Raukawa head-hunter—“an ugly, tattooed old villain,” as he describes him. The pakeha, by way of imparting an interesting bit of news, informed the old warrior of Kuku's threat, page 285 but the tattooed veteran only smiled. The days of the lex talionis were over. That utu account has not been squared; but only because of the inconveniently peaceful rule of the pakeha. Kuku has by no means forgotten or forgiven the man who sold his father's head to the white man.

Later on in the bush chase the advance-guard, hurrying along at the double, came upon a Hauhau family—a grey-haired, middle-aged man, his wife, and two or three children. They had not been able to travel so fast as their friends, on account of the tired children, and so had been left behind. The old warrior was fired on by one of the Arawa Maoris, and was severely wounded. He fell, but struggled to a squatting position, with his empty gun across his knees. The Arawa rushed at him, with tomahawk raised, to finish him off. The old Hauhau sprang up with a great effort, gripping his tomahawk. He was too badly wounded, however, to strike a blow, and the Arawa seized him and his tomahawk. Just at that moment a white man, dressed like a Maori in a waist-shawl, and barefooted, rushed up, tomahawk in hand. He seized the Hauhau by the hair, and, with a couple of furious strokes, chopped off his Head, and dropped it, all bloody as it was, into the flax kit he carried slung at his back, and in which there were already other heads.

The Arawa by no means liked being done out page 286 of what he considered was his head, seeing that he had captured the Hauhau, and there was a savage squabble between the two as to its ownership. The white man “bluffed” the Maori out of it, however, and prepared to add the heads of the rest of the family to his collection. He rushed at the weeping wahiné and her children, and their heads would have come off also had not Captain Porter, fortunately for them, just come up. The poor, terrified woman clung to his knees, beseeching him to save her and her children. He told them they would be safe, and ordered the white scout forward. The Arawas took charge of the widow and her children, and she was sent to Rotorua when the campaign was over.

The Whanganui Kupapas were fully as savage as any wild rebel. No quarter was given to any Hauhau warrior, and no Hauhau thought of asking for any mercy. Of one frightful scene Porter was an eye-witness. After killing and beheading two or three men in a little valley in the forest, the Whanganui Maoris tied flax ropes to their ankles and hung them up to the branches of the trees, eviscerated them and thrust sticks into them to keep them open, just like animals in a slaughteryard. Then they danced round the bodies like fiends, flourishing the tattooed heads of the dead by their long hair and shouting and yelling warsongs, and making the hideous grimaces of the page 287 pukana. They were quite beyond control, mad with the lust of killing.

Porter at last managed to put a stop to this mutilation, but he was powerless to prevent the head-taking, except so far as his own men were concerned. He did not allow any Arawas to decapitate an enemy, much as some of the warriors from the Hot Lakes Country would have liked to. He asked the Whanganui natives to bury the heads, and, if necessary, take only the ears with them if they wished to claim Whitmore's reward. But the warriors answered, “No, Witimoa said ‘heads,’ and if he doesn't get the heads he may not pay us.”

The pursuit of the Hauhaus continued for several days, until Titokowaru's warriors finally scattered in the dense forest, and the pursuers had exhausted their food. It was then determined to make for the coast again, but owing to the density of the bush the Government men lost their bearings. They were far in the tangled, jungly forest, without a guide, for they had killed their prisoners. The column accordingly divided, each division marching independently for the open country, food, and tented camps.

The night before the divisions of the pursuing column separated, Major Kepa ordered one of his tohungas, a wild-looking, tattooed old warrior, learned in all the savage arts of Maoridom, to whakapakoko nga upoko that is, to dry or preserve page 288 the heads of the slain Hauhaus. Porter and the other Europeans in the Maori contingents now for the first time witnessed the ancient process of smoke-drying human heads. The heads had up to this time been carried in flax kits on men's shoulders through the bush, and it was necessary, if they were to be taken out to the camp, that they should be preserved from decay.

The old medicine-man went into the bush and returned with armfuls of branches of the mahoe-tree, and made a fire, which he kept burning until all the wood was reduced to glowing embers. The earth was heaped up around this fire, and the head, neck downwards, was placed over it, and all openings at the sides were closed, so that the fumes from the charcoal oven would pass up into the head. The brains had previously been removed and the eyes stuffed up. As the smoking went on, the old man smoothed down the skin of the face with his hands to prevent it wrinkling and wiped off the moisture, until the head was thoroughly smokedried and quite mummified. For several hours the head-smoking went on, and in the morning the trophies of the chase were packed for the final march.

Half-starved, ragged and weary, the Constabulary and their Maori allies at last reached the open country; from the top of the range of wooded hills they had seen the white tents of Colonel Whitmore's page 289 head-quarters at Taiporohenui. That evening they were in camp, and there they enjoyed the first square meal they had had for days. Kepa and Porter and their contingents had been nine days in the bush.

Captain Porter went to Colonel Whitmore's quarters as soon as he arrived, and reported the result of his expedition. While he was giving the commanding officer an account of the forest chase, the Whanganui men who had taken the Hauhau heads came up in a body and opened the tent door, and poured in head after head upon the ground, exclaiming as they did so, “Na, Witimoa, to upoko!” (“There, Whitmore, your heads!”)

The little colonel was thunderstruck. He stared with consternation in his eyes on the ghastly heads, most of them tattooed, with grinning teeth and long blood-stained hair, strewn about the floor where they had rolled. There were eleven of them, some at the colonel's feet, some beneath the table; some had rolled under the camp bedstead.

He had forgotten all about his promise of a reward for heads. Anyhow, he now told the Maoris, he did not mean that the heads should actually be brought in to him in camp, but that a reward would be paid for each Hauhau killed in the pursuit. But he kept his word to Kepa, and each head was paid for.

The white scouts, too, brought in their kits of page 290 heads, and received their blood-money. These and certain other Taranaki heads brought in were not personally delivered, but were all paid for, mostly in orders for clothes, boots, and other necessaries.

“No more heads,” was the colonel's order. He realised that this barbarous fashion of squaring affairs with the enemy would arouse a howl of condemnation from those who did not understand the sharp and savage necessities of frontier-fighting.

These facts may not please the mild or gentle variety of reader. The idea of a New Zealand Government force decapitating its enemies and smoke-drying those heads for purposes of reward is too, too savage for the refined humanitarian to contemplate without a shudder. Nevertheless, these are facts. Many an ugly incident happened in the bush-fighting of those days. It was no kid-glove warfare. In this case the Government Maoris were inflamed by anger and revenge, and indeed some of them were little better than the cannibals they were chasing. And they were wild with a desire to ngaki maté, that is, to seek vengeance, payment, for their dead—blood for blood.

But while it was barbarous, it was thoroughly in accord with the spirit of guerilla warfare that was forced upon the troops, and it served its purpose, for it struck terror into the hearts of Titokowaru's warriors, and they never fought again.

. . . . .

page 291

The Hauhau war-chief's mana-tapu was gone, and there was nothing for it but to fly to the depths of the wilderness. He and his men gathered in a few days at Rimatoto, but made a very short stay there. They marched through the forest to the island-fastness in the Ngaere swamp, where they were very nearly caught by Whitmore and his Constabulary, who made a rough tête-de-pont over the quaking morass with hurdles of supplejack and bush-vines. Then they made off for the Ngatimaru Country, on the upper waters of the Waitara, thirty or forty miles away, over terribly rough country and through an almost trackless forest.

“A party of forty or fifty of us,” says Bent, “remained in our little settlement at Rimatoto, always on the alert against surprise by the troops, until the anxiety of our position became too much for us. We packed up our belongings, and swagged them inland to Rukumoana, on the Patea River. In this lonely spot, far in the bush, we camped, and made a little clearing in order to plant food. When we had felled the bush with our axes, twenty men travelled across to the Upper Waitara to procure seed potatoes from their friends, and we planted our crops and waited.”

In this remote valley of refuge, far in the forest, the white runaway and his Hauhau companions—he was still with his chief Rupé—remained for many weeks, living the loneliest life conceivable, hearing page 292 nothing of the outside world, and existing precariously on the foods of the forest.

Titokowaru was safe in his bush retreat in the Ngatimaru Country, his last battle fought, his once godlike mana in the dust.