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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter III — The Camp of the Hauhaus

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Chapter III
The Camp of the Hauhaus

In the Maori country—Arrival at a Hauhau Pa—Maori village scenes—The ceremonies round the sacred flagstaff—“Riré, riré, hau!”—The man with the tomahawk—A white slave—The painted warriors of Keteonetea—The blazing oven.

The saturnine Hauhau spoke little to the white man during that journey to the rebel camp. He stalked silently on in front, his rifle over his shoulder, turning quickly now and again to assure himself that the soldier was still following him. Presently they forded another stream, which Bent afterwards came to know as the Ingahape, and passed through a deserted settlement, with its tumble-down dwellings of raupo reeds, and its old potato-gardens. A few minutes later they came in sight of their destination, the Ohangai pa. A high stockade of tree-trunks sunk in the ground, some of the upper ends hewn into sharp points, others with round knobby tops that suggested impaled human heads, surrounded a populous village of thatched huts. Just beyond it was the bush, stretching away as far as the eye could carry. page 23 It was a secluded, pretty scene, that village with its neat enclosure, its rows of snug wharés which could be seen through thé gateway and the openings in the palisade, and its squares of maize and potato cultivations, sheltered by the friendly belt of dark green forest.

Some little, nearly naked children were playing about on the open space in front of the palisades. When they suddenly beheld a white man riding along towards them, with a Maori walking by his stirrup, they stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and then rushed helter-skelter into the pa, calling out at the top of their voices, “He pakeha, he pakeha!”

What a commotion that cry of “Pakeha” aroused in the slumbering pa! Men leaped from the flax whariki (mats), where they had been drowsing away the afternoon awaiting the opening of the steam ovens, and poured out of the narrow gateway armed with their guns and tomahawks. When they saw that the European was a harmless, unarmed individual, and that he was apparently the prisoner of one of their own people, the clamour died away, and they escorted the soldier and his captor into the pa. Bent quickly perceived that his companion was a man of some importance, from the peremptory orders he issued and the alacrity with which they were obeyed. The scout was, in fact, the chief Tito te Hanataua, a rangatira page 24 of high standing in the Ngati-Ruanui tribe, and one of the Hauhaus' best fighting-leaders.

It was a wild scene that met the young soldier's gaze when he entered the stockade, and his heart sank before the savagely hostile gaze of a crowd of armed, half-stripped warriors, the black-bearded and shaggy-headed men of the bush, and their scarcely less savage-looking women.

A strange ceremony began.

In the centre of the village square or marae stood a rough-hewn pole or flagstaff, about fifteen feet high, on which flew one or two coloured flags. This was the Niu, the sacred staff which the Hauhau prophet Te Ua had commanded his followers to erect as a pole of worship in each of their villages. [The Niu was in more ancient times the name of a peculiar ceremony of divination often resorted to by the tohwngas or priests; it is perhaps worth noting, too, that in the Islands of Polynesia, the traditional Maori Hawaiki, it is the general name for the coco-nut-tree.] All the inhabitants of the village—men, women, and children—formed up, and began to march round and round the Niu, with a priest in their midst, rushing frantically to and fro, and brandishing a Maori weapon as he yelled a ferocious-sounding chant. The people, too, lifted up their voices as they marched, and, after listening a while, Bent found to his astonishment that part of what they were chanting in a page 25 singular wild cadence were these words in “pidgin” English: “Big river, long river, big mountain, long mountain, bush, big bush, long bush,” and so on, ending with a loudly chanted cry, “Riré, riré, hau!” This meaningless gibberish formed part of the incantations solemnly taught to the Hauhaus by Te Ua, who professed to have the “gift of tongues” of which the pakeha's New Testament spoke; his disciples fondly believed that they were endowed by their prophet's “angel” with wonderful linguistic powers.

The singular march suddenly ceased, at an order from the shawl-kilted tohunga in the centre, and then the people filed into the village meeting-house, a large raupo-reed-built structure, taking Bent with them. He was motioned to a seat beside a Maori, whose name, he afterwards found, was Hori Kerei (George Grey), and who could speak English fairly well.

Sitting opposite Bent was a white-bearded old fighting-man, a dour-faced savage, his brown face deeply scored with the marks of blue-black tattoo; his sole attire was a blanket; in his right hand, and partly concealed by the blanket, he held a tomahawk. His hand twitched now and then, as if he were about to flash out the tomahawk and use it on the pakeha, from whose face he never withdrew his fierce old eyes. He was the chief, Te Rangi-tutaki.

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A long talk began. Hori Kerei interpreted. The Maoris asked Bent why he had come to them, why had he run away from his own people. The deserter frankly told them that he was tired of being a soldier, that he had been ill-treated and imprisoned, and that he came to them for protection.

Pakeha,” said Kerei, “they want to know if you will ever leave the Maori and go back to the soldiers.”

“No,” said Bent; “tell them I'll never run away from the Hauhaus. I want to live with them always; I don't ever want to see a white man again!”

Kapai!” said Grey good-humouredly. “That the talk! All right, I tell them true.”

When Kerei had interpreted the white man's reply, the old man with the tomahawk leaned over and said, very earnestly, tapping the blade of the weapon with his left hand as he spoke:

Whakarongo mai! Listen, pakeha! You see this patiti in my hand? Yes. If you had not at once replied that you would never return to the white soldiers I would have killed you. I would have sunk this into your skull!”

After this brief speech, delivered with a fierceness of mien and glitter of eye that made the refugee tremble in spite of his efforts to appear calm, the old barbarian shook hands with him.

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Then Tito te Hanataua—the man who had brought the soldier to the pa—rose and said:

“O my tribe, listen to me! Take good care of the pakeha, and harm him not, because our prophet has told us that if any white men come to us as this man has done, and leave their own tribe for ours, we must not injure them, but must keep them with us and protect them.”

Tito's word assured Bent's safety, and the tone of the people changed to one of friendliness; many of them shook hands with the lonely white man The women cooked some pork and potatoes for him in an earth-oven, and he was given to eat, and received into the tribe. Henceforth he was as a Maori.

Now began for the runaway an even harder life than that which he had endured in the army. He found that he was virtually a slave amongst the Maoris. He had had fond imaginings of the easy time he would enjoy in the heart of Maoridom, but to quote from his own lips, “they made me work like a blessed dog.” Soon after his arrival in the pa a party of men was sent off to Taiporohenui—a celebrated old village and meeting-place near the present town of Hawera—and he was ordered to go with them, and was set to work felling bush, clearing and digging, gathering firewood, and hauling water for the camp. Tito was his master—not only his master, but in hard fact his owner, page 28 with power of life and death over him. Bent divined the Maori nature too well to refuse “fatigue duty,” as he had done in the Manawapou camp. There would have been no court-martial in Taiporohenui—just a crack on the head with a tomahawk. So he bent his back to the burdens with what cheerfulness he might, and was thankful for the good things Tito provided, though they took no more elaborate form than a blanket and a flax mat for a bed, and two square meals a day of pork and potatoes.

Tito was, says Bent, a man of about forty-five years of age, a stern, but not unkindly owner, with a pretty young wife of seventeen or eighteen, whose big, dark eyes were often turned with an expression of pity on the unfortunate renegade pakeha.

The people watched the white man closely, thinking no doubt that as he was being worked so hard he might be tempted to run away if he got the chance. And whenever he went out of doors the old man who had sat opposite him in the meeting-house on the day of his first arrival followed him about, never speaking a word, with his tomahawk in his hand.

The news that a white soldier had run away to the Hauhaus soon spread amongst the Ngati-Ruanui. One day a messenger from the large village of Keteonetea came to Taiporohenui and page 29 announced that he had been sent to fetch the strange pakeha to that settlement.

“What do they want with me?” asked Bent, when Tito told him that the envoy was waiting for him.

“They want to see the colour of your skin,” replied Tito.

Bent, in alarm, begged Tito not to send him to Keteonetea, for he greatly feared that he would be killed.

Tito reassured his white man, telling him that the Keteonetea people were his relatives, and that he was not to be alarmed at their demeanour, because they would not harm him.

The messenger and his white charge tramped away through the bush to the village, a lonely little spot hemmed in by the dense forests—long since hewn away and replaced by grassy fields and dairy farms. A palisade surrounded the kainga; within were clusters of large well-built reed wharés, and the inevitable Niu pole stood in the middle of the marae.

Bent found a large number of Maoris, about three hundred, assembled on the marae, the village parade ground. The scene still lives vividly in his memory—an even wilder, more savage spectacle than that of his first day at Tito's pa. The men's faces were painted red, in token of war—red smudges of ochre on their cheeks and red lines drawn across page 30 their brows; they wore feathers in their hair, their only clothes were flax mats. The lone pakeha might well have imagined himself back in the days of ancient Maoridom, before missionaries or traders had changed the barbaric simplicity of the aboriginal life. The only modern note was the firearms of the warriors; all the men carried guns (most of them double-barrelled shot-guns, and a few rifles and carbines), and wore tomahawks stuck in their broad-plaited flax belts. Most of the women were as primitive in their garb as the men; their clothing consisted chiefly of flaxen cloaks; a few wore shawls and blankets.

“The people looked at me very fiercely as I came into the marae” says Bent, “and I felt my heart sinking low, in spite of Tito's assurance.” They put him into a raupo hut by himself, and fastened the door—a proceeding that did not at all tend to elevate his spirits.

The ex-soldier was left to himself in the dark wharé for quite a couple of hours. He could hear the people gathered on the village square discussing him excitedly; one orator after another declaiming with frantic energy. At length a Maori unfastened the door of the wharé, and, taking Bent by the hand, led him out on to the marae. The native could speak English; Bent afterwards found that he had been an old whaler, and had lived amongst white people for many years; his name was Kere page 31 (Kelly). He told the pakeha, with some show of kindness, that he must not be frightened, that no one would harm him, but he must go to the sacred Niu and promise that he would never return to the pakehas.

The first thing that met Bent's eyes on stepping out through the low doorway of the wharé was a great fire blazing in the centre of the marae, surrounded by a ring of short stakes. Accustomed as he was by this time to sights of terror, this struck a fresh note of alarm.

“Good Lord!” he said to himself, “are they going to burn me alive?”

“Friend,” he said to Kere, “tell me, what's that fire for?”

The Maori explained that it was an ahi tapu, a sacred fire, used in the Hauhau war-rites.

Bent was very doubtful. “I'm afraid,” said he to his companion, “that it's for me! Are they going to throw me into it? I've heard they do such things.”

“No, no, pakeha! It's all right. You'll be safe. But remember, do as the tohunga tells you, and promise him you'll never go back to the pakeha soldiers, or you'll die!”

The Maori led the white man up to the foot of the Niu pole, a tall ricker, with rough crosstrees and with flag halliards of flax rope. Bent was told to sit down at the foot of the poie. The people all gathered around in a ring.

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A tall old warrior stood in the middle of the ring, facing Bent—the prophet of the Niu. He was naked from the waist up; his face was completely covered with tattooing. He was a tohunga, or priest, Bent afterwards discovered; by name Tu-ahi-pa, or Tautahi-ariki, a man held in much awe by the people as a worker of makutu (witchcraft).

For a long time the old wizard closely eyed the pale-faced stranger before him. Then he said, through the interpreter, Kere:

“You behold this ring of people, the people of Keteonetea?”

“Yes,” said Bent.

“I ask you this, will you return to your people or remain with us?”

“I will never return to the pakehas,” Bent replied; “I want to live with the Maoris and to make them my people.”

“Good!” exclaimed the Hauhau priest. “Now, turn your eyes upon yon fire, burning there upon the marae. Well, if you had not promised to become a Maori and live with us, the tribe would have thrown you into that blazing oven. It is well that you have spoken as you have.”

This, to Bent's great relief, ended the ordeal. The Hauhaus, at a cry from the priest, began their mad march round the Niu—men, women, and children—chanting as they went their savage psalms, page 33 rolling their eyes and lifting their arms high in the air as every now and again they cried their wild refrain, “Riré, riré, hau!”—the last word literally barked out from the hundreds of throats.

When the Hauhau ceremony was at an end, a young woman who had joined in the march round the Niu came to Bent, took him away to a hut and gave him a meal of pork and potatoes, and then led him to her father's house. The father was the principal chief of the kainga, and, as it turned out, cousin to Bent's rangatira Tito.

Here the white man spent the night, the chief's daughter lying across the entrance just inside the doorway, for fear—as the chief told him—that some young desperado might take it into his head to earn a little notoriety by tomahawking the pale-face. Outside, the Maoris were gathered on the marae, by the light of great fires, the chiefs making speeches and taki-ing up and down in excited fashion, weapon in hand; now and again the fanatic crowd would burst into a loud Hauhau chant that echoed long amidst the black encircling forest. So the wild korero went on, far into the night.