The Adventures of Kimble Bent
Chapter IV — In the Otapawa Stockade
In the Otapawa Stockade
The return from Keteonetea—The hill-fort at Otapawa—A korero with the Hauhaus—Bent's one-eyed wife—“The wooing o' 't”—Bent is christened “Ringiringi.”
Morning came at last, but the solitary white man in this nest of savages had hardly closed his eyes. More than once he fancied some one was trying the low door of the wharé, and he looked round the dimly-lighted hut—a small fire was kept burning in the centre of the floor—in search of a weapon, but found none. Bent lay there, listening intently, and longing with an inexpressibly bitter longing for the old camp-life, hard though it was, and for the sound of a white comrade's voice. It had not always been “pack-drill and C.B.” in his army life, in spite of the tyrant sergeants. But now it was the bush and the wharé for the rest of his days—or, in other words, for just so long a period as he might be able to save his head from the tomahawk.
Daybreak—and no sooner was it light than the Hauhaus began to gather round the pakehd's hut, page 35 while the women were lighting the hangis—the earth steam-ovens—for the first meal of the day. “Come out to us!” they yelled; “come out, pakeha!” They ran to and fro in front of the wharé, and raised barking cries that sounded fearfully menacing to the pakeha sitting on his low mat-bed, and feeling not in the least disposed to respond to the invitation to come outside and be killed.
But the old chief speedily ended the uproar by opening the sliding door and shouting angrily:
“Haere atu! Haere atu!” an imperative phrase that the deserter had already learned to recognise as one that could be exactly translated “Clear out!”
Thereafter there was comparative peace. The white man was under the protection of the chief, and was allowed to wander round the village pretty much as he chose; but he was warned not to go far, or some warrior might take a fancy to his head.
Four or five days passed without incident, and then a horse was brought up for Bent, and he returned to Tito's kainga, escorted by the chief's daughter and ten armed men, all mounted. Tito seemed relieved to have his pakeha back again in safety, and after feasting the Maori guard on the best the village women could lay on the dinnermats, he sent them back to Keteonetea loaded with new clothes and baskets of kumara (sweet potato) page 36 and taro—another tropic root-food brought from Polynesia by the ancestors of the Maori, but now no longer grown by the Taranaki people.
Soon Bent was on the tramp again. His chief, Tito, set off one morning, taking his white man with him, for a fortified village called Otapawa, where the Hauhaus were preparing to offer a strong resistance to the British troops. Otapawa was about four miles away by a narrow and winding forest track. A small river, the Mangemange, had to be forded on the way, and here Bent had a taste of some of the minor adventures of the bush. Bent being a rather small man and Tito a big, powerful fellow, the Maori good-naturedly took his pakeha on his back to pikau him across the stream. Bent was rather heavier than Tito had imagined, and after balancing to and fro precariously on a slippery place in the deepest part of the ford, the Maori's feet suddenly went from under him, and he and his protégé were capsized in the middle of the creek. Tito, however, kept a tight grip of the white man, and, though the stream was running swiftly, they managed to struggle out to the opposite bank in safety, and after drying their clothes as well as they could continued their bush journey.
About midday the Hauhau chief and his companion emerged from the solitudes of the forest to find themselves in the Otapawa clearing. A hill about three hundred feet high rose like an page 37 island from the great rimu and rata woods that compassed it on every side; at the back ran the Tangahoé River. At the foot of the hill there was some cultivation; a steep winding path led to the top; here were a ditch and a bristling double stockade of tall tree-trunks set solidly in the ground, connected by cross-rails lashed with forest vines; within was the Hauhau village. The only access to the interior of the stockade was through a low and narrow gateway, painted red.
A shawl-clad figure with a gun rose from a squatting position just outside the pa gate as the two travellers walked out from the shade of the forest and began the ascent of the mound. A loud cry of astonishment and warning brought out the villagers, one after the other, bobbing their heads as they ran through the gateway. Then the shout was raised, as they recognised Bent's companion:
“Aue! Here comes Tito with a pakeha! A pakeha!”
Waving shawls and blankets and weapons, the people cried their greetings to the chief, and the white man and his protector walked in between two lines of wondering men and women and children, who pressed in close behind the new-comers as they passed into the palisaded pa.
A long, low-eaved, thatched house stood near the middle of the pa, somewhat apart from the smaller wharés. Into this building Tito and Bent were page 38 taken, and finely woven flax mats, patterned in black and white, were spread out for them. Tito rose and addressed the crowd. He explained, with a good deal of pride, as Bent imagined, how he had become possessed of a live white man—a somewhat unusual acquisition amongst the Maoris in that unrestful period, for the impatient Hauhau was, as a rule, too fond of trying his new tomahawk on a pakeha skull to keep a prisoner long. The korero over, food was brought in in freshly plaited baskets of green flax—boiled pork, dried shark (a present from a seaside tribe), boiled taro and kumara—quite a bountiful meal for a war-time bush camp.
Up to this time the deserter's adventures had been, if not exactly tragic, at least of a severely unpleasant turn. Now, however, they took a humorous twist—humorous from an onlooker's view, though to the white man himself it seemed rather the final pannikinful in the bucket of his misfortunes.
A woman was brought into the wharé. She walked over and seated herself on the flax whariki by Bent's side.
The white man turned and looked at her in some surprise. Her vision still haunts the memory of the old adventurer as that of a particularly ugly woman. She was not old, probably not above twenty-five, but she was blind in one eye, her lips were of negroid thickness—such “blubber” lips page 39 as seen here and there among Maori tribes tell their tale of an ancient Melanesian strain in the blood of the Polynesian immigrants. She was tattooed on the chin, and there was a deeply chiselled blue line on the inner cuticle of her lower lip. Her hair hung round her face in a tangled mop. “Well,” said Bent to himself, “she is no beauty.”
The woman spoke some words of greeting to Bent, but he steadily gazed on the floor and said nothing.
Then a Maori sitting near by, who could speak a little English, said, “This woman wants to marry you!”
“Oh, Lord!” exclaimed Bent. “What for? I don't want to get married.”
An old man, whose name was Peneta, and who was draped from shoulder to ankles in a red blanket, walked up to the white man and, halting in front of him, pointed to the one-eyed woman.
“Pakeha,” he said, with a quiet grimness in his tone, “this is my niece, Te Rawanga. You must marry her (me moe korua). If you refuse, you will die! That is all.”
This was translated to Bent.
Here was a dilemna, indeed! Bent had nothing to say. He looked at the woman by his side, and she smiled at him as coquettishly as her one good eye allowed. He looked, and the more he looked page 40 the less he liked her. Then he glanced at the dour old uncle, and cast his helpless eyes around the crowded meeting-house. The men were glum and scowling; one or two of the young girls seemed to perceive the humour of the situation, for they giggled, and then hid their faces in their shawls.
Bent eyed his prospective uncle-in-law again. The old man was impatient. He said again, “Take my niece as your wife.”
“Ae,” assented the white man, who could see no hope of escape. “I'll take her.”
So the young soldier was mated, to the satisfaction of every one but himself. “She wasn't my fancy, to put it mildly,” he says. “But I suppose it was her last chance, and the old man would have tomahawked me if I hadn't taken her.”
Mrs. Bent's wedding-furnishings, which she bundled a little later, with determined air, into the corner of the communal house assigned to the white man, were spartan and primitive in the extreme.
They consisted solely of a large plaited whariki (sleeping-mat) and a wooden pillow, which, to the white man, seemed alarmingly like some weapon of chastisement.
Matrimony amongst the Hauhaus was simplicity itself.
Bent, now fully received into the tribe, had a Maori name given to him. It was “Ringiringi,” a name he bore for two or three years, until the page 41 war-chief Titokowaru rechristened him “Tu-nui-amoa.”
The origin of this name “Ringiringi” may be explained, as an example of the way in which the Maoris so frequently acquire new names often from very trivial incidents. It was a contraction of “Te Wai-ringiringi,” which was one of Tito te Hanataua's nicknames, bestowed upon the chief about two years previously. A party of Ngati-Maniapoto Maoris from the King Country were at that time on a visit to Taiporohenui, where a large war-council of the rebel tribes was held. Tito te Hanataua was one of the Taranaki orators, and as he taki'd up and down, spear in hand, in the usual energetic manner of the Maori speech-maker, he spoke so rapidly and fluently that the Kingites dubbed him “Te Wai-ringiringi,” meaning “The Pouring Water,” because his words poured from his lips like water. Tito was rather proud of this nickname, and his bestowal of it upon Bent was in a sense a mark of favour.
Bent at this time was a thin, rather weak-looking man, and his slimness was made the subject of a haka chorus amongst the people, a little song for which his one-eyed wife was responsible. These were the words:
“Ki te kai, e Ringi,
Kai poroporo te manawa,
Te iti to hopé,
page 42 (“Eat away, O Ringi,
Eat your fill of poroporo berries
To make you strong again;
Lest your waist be small and weak,
Eat to become a fine Englishman!”)
The poroporo is a forest shrub which bears an abundance of large red berries, a favourite food of the tui and pigeons, which become very fat on this rich bird-fare.
The white man, however, as he told his wahiné, preferred to leave the poroporo to the tuis, and to fill out his attenuated waist, which the people looked upon with some amusement, with good Maori pork and potatoes.