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The Adventures of Kimble Bent

Chapter V — Te Ua, Priest and Prophet

page 43

Chapter V
Te Ua, Priest and Prophet

Te Ua and his gods—The Pai mariré faith—“Charming” the British bullets—Bent's interview with the prophet—His life tapu'd—Preparing for battle—Life in the forest pa.

About this time Kimble Bent became acquainted with a man whose name has passed into New Zealand history. This was Te Ua Haumene, the founder and high-priest and prophet of the Hauhau religion, or, more correctly speaking, fanaticism. Te Ua came riding into the Otapawa village one day with a bodyguard of armed men. Bent describes him as a stoutly built man of between forty and fifty, attired in European clothing, and carrying a carved taiaha—a chief's halbert or broadsword of hardwood, flattened at one end in a blunt blade, and sharpened at the other into a tongueshaped point, and decorated with tufts of red kaka feathers; in a plaited flax belt round his waist was thrust a green-stone mere.

Te Ua was the man who taught the Taranaki rebels the karakia, or incantations—some of them a curious medley of Maori and English—which they page 44 chanted in their wild marches round the sacred Niu in their village squares. These incantations and chants he professed to have heard from supernatural visitants, the spirits who came on the four winds, and from the angel Gabriel, who spoke in his ear as he lay asleep in his raupo hut and bade him go abroad and spread a new religion, which should band together the tribes of the Maori nation. Many strange tales Bent had heard about the prophet and his wondrous mana. Te Ua had succeeded in imbuing his fanatic disciples with an unquestioning Moslem-like faith in the potency of the Hauhau cult and its accompanying charms and magic formulæ. He was the Mahomet of the Taranaki people, and exercised an influence over the bush-fighters of Ngati-Ruanui and allied tribes almost as great as that which Te Kooti, the Chatham Islands escapee, commanded a few years later amongst the warriors of the East Coast.

The absolute faith the Hauhaus reposed in Te Ua's precepts and his pretences to supernatural power has parallels in the records of the Mahdi's wars in the Soudan, and in other campaigns waged under the banner of Islam, and more recently still in the Zulu rebellion in Natal. He assured his followers that when they went into battle the bullets of the white soldiers would be turned aside in their flight if they but raised their right hands as if warding the ball off, at the same time repeating page 45 the words “Hapa! Pai mariré!” (“Pass over me! Righteousness and peace!”) The expression “Pai mariré” was adopted as one of the designations of the Hauhau religion; and the sign of the upraised hand became the outward sign and symbol of the warrior faith. To-day, should you visit the large European-built house of the late Te Whiti, the Prophet of the Mountain, at Parihaka, you will see a picture of Te Ua on the wall of the speech-hall, his right hand raised to his shoulder, palm outwards, as if in the act of invoking his gods to turn the pakeha bullets aside—“Hapa! Pai mariré!” And many a deluded Hauhau fell to the rifles of the white men before the Maori confidence in the efficacy of the charm was shaken. But Te Ua had a very good explanation to offer for any casualties—that if the pakeha bullet refused to be waved aside and insisted on entering the body of a “righteous and peaceful” son of the faith, it was because the stricken man had lost faith in the karakia—the ritual—and, very properly, suffered for his unbelief.

A sublimely simple explanation, and one that was perfectly satisfactory to the prophet and every one concerned, except perhaps the Hauhau who had happened to stop the bullet.

Even when the glacis of the Sentry Hill redoubt was strewn with the dead bodies of Hepanaia and fifty of his red-painted braves, the best manhood of Ngati-Ruanui and Nga-Ruahine—who fell in a page 46 mad attack upon the walled fort in open daylight chanting their “Hapa! Pai mariré! Hau!”—the faith in Te Ua and his charms was but little abated. And, unlike the Moslem warrior, who fought to the death in the certain hope of a speedy translation to Paradise, the Maori fanatic expected no heavenly reward for his faith and his death-despising ferocity. No houris with welcoming arms; no eternity of fleshly bliss. No, it was just utter blind bravery, a sheer trust in a mad creed of Death-to-the-Whites and Maori Land for the Maori Race.

So the visit of the high-priest of Hauhauism was a great event in the bush pa. The prophet was received with a powhiri, or chant and dance of welcome, by the people of the village; then the tangi and the doleful hum of weeping for the dead. The tangi over, the prophet addressed his disciples in the meeting-house; and hearing that there was a white runaway soldier in the pa, he sent for Bent.

It was a curious interview. The white man no longer appeared in the soldier's uniform, which he had worn for some time after deserting, but had taken to the garb of the savage. He was bareheaded and bare-footed. His sole garments were a shirt made of pieces of blanket and a flax mat tied round his waist. He entered the crowded councilhouse and stood before the prophet. page break
Patara, a Hauhau Prophet.

Patara, a Hauhau Prophet.

page break page 49E noho ki raro” (“Sit down”), said Te Ua, pointing to the floor-mat in front of him.

By the prophet's side was a flax basket containing some potatoes and pork, with which he had been breaking his fast after his journey. This food being appropriated to his use was, of course, tapu in the eyes of the assemblage. Te Ua took a potato from the basket, broke it into two pieces, and gave one piece to Bent and told him to eat it; the other half he ate himself.

“Now,” said the prophet, “you are tapu—your life is safe; no man may harm you now that you have eaten of my sacred food. Men of Tangahoé! This pakeha is my pakeha; and if any other white men should come to us as this man has done, fleeing from their people and forsaking the pakeha camps for our pas, you must protect them, for the gods have sent them to us.”

“You are a Maori now,” added Te Ua to Bent, “and you must have a woman to cook your food for you.”

Bent, in his imperfect Maori, informed the prophet that he had already been supplied with a wife by the Maoris, but, like a prudent man, made no comment on her imperfections.

“That's all right then,” said the prophet. And he gave Bent a large cloak of dressed flax, called a tatara. “Wear this,” he said; “it is a tapu garment and sacred to you; no other man may wear it.”

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During the next few days, before Te Ua returned to his home at Opunake, on the coast, Bent had further interviews with the prophet, who treated him with kindness, and gave him what was to the runaway a very welcome present—some pakeha tobacco. Though something of a madman, like most Maori prophets, Te Ua was of more benevolent spirit than his acolytes, Kereopa and Patara, and their kin, who had been sent to preach the gospel of Pai mariré to the outer tribes. Had Kereopa, for instance, come to Otapawa, Bent would, in all probability, have fallen under the tomahawk as a sacrifice for the savage ritual of the Niu, and his head would have been smoke-dried and carried over forest-trails from distant tribe to tribe, or stuck up like a scarecrow on a palisade-pole.

Bent learnt a good deal of the personal history of the prophet, and of his peculiar delusions. Te Ua had fought the white soldiers at Nukumaru about a year before this, when a force of Hauhaus made a desperate attack on the camp of two thousand British troops, under General Cameron, and killed and wounded nearly fifty soldiers before they were driven off with the loss of about thirty killed.

The outward and visible sign or incarnation (aria) of Te Ua's deity was a ruru, or owl. This bird is sacred amongst Taranaki Natives; they will not kill or harm one; they say it is an atua, a god, and has a hundred eyes.

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An incident which Bent relates as occurring in another bush settlement where he and Te Ua both happened to be staying is illustrative of the prophet's peculiar respect for his owl-god. Just at dusk, when the evening meal was over, and the night creatures began their roamings, an owl flew softly from the trees and settled above the window of the house in which Te Ua was sitting. “Ha!” said the prophet, when he saw it; “there is my atua.” He recited an incantation, calling the ruru by name, and when the karakia was ended the bird as noiselessly flew back to the forest. Te Ua said nothing more till the next morning, when he announced that he would leave the place at once, because his owl-god had appeared to him as a warning to return to his home.

Soon after the wandering prophet rode out of Otapawa, word reached the pa by a spy who had been in the British camp that the troops under General Chute were preparing for an advance against the Hauhaus, and that it was probable the hill stronghold, being so close to the white men's base of operations, would shortly be attacked.

All was excitement in the pa when this became known. The palisading of the pa was strengthened with stout timbers from the forest; trenches and rifle-pits were dug within the walls. The natives worked away like mad, and Bent with them. He had caught the fever of the moment, and in all but page 52 skin was a Maori. He was not at all happy, however, at the news that his old regiment, the 57th, was expected to march on Otapawa, and he heartily wished himself far away from these scenes of constant commotion and terror. But for the present he was safer with the Hauhaus than with the men of his own colour and tongue.

Day after day passed, and the Maoris lay behind their strong stockade waiting for the attack. The underground food-stores were well supplied; water was carried in in taha, or calabashes, made by scooping out the soft inside of the hué gourd; bullets were cast and cartridges were made. Then, as no troops appeared, and the scouts who kept constant watch on the forest outskirts reported that there was no sign of immediate action on the part of the enemy, the tension of garrison life relaxed, and the ordinary avocations of the kainga were resumed,

In a clearing hewn and burnt from the heart of the woods were the cultivation grounds. Here all the able-bodied men of the fort were set to work, turning up the rich black soil and planting potatoes, kumara, and taro. Planting over, the lengthening days were spent in hunting wild pigs, and in gathering wild honey, which was plentiful in hollow trees in the forests; or in strolling, pipe in mouth, about the pa; playing draughts (kaimu) on the marae in Maori fashion; singing songs and narrating old stories and legends. Night and morning there were page 53 long Hauhau prayers, led by the priest of the pa, old Tukino, who was one of Te Ua's apostles.

Life in this bush-fort presented to the lonely pakeha a picture of barbaric simplicity. Few of the people had European clothing; the men's working garb was just a rough flax mat hanging from the waist to the knees. They lived on the wild foods of the forest until their crops were ready for digging; snared kaka (parrots) and the sweet-tongued korimako, or bell-birds; tui, or parson-birds, and the swarming wood-pigeons, and shot or speared the pigs that abounded in the dense woods. They lived to a large extent, too, on aruhe, or fern-root, which they dug up in the open patches of fernland; and in the bush they gathered the berries of the hinau-tree, steeped them in water to rid them of their astringency, dried them in the sun, and then pounded them into cakes, which made a sustaining if not very palatable food. Another food-staple was kaanga-pirau, or maize steeped in water until it was quite decayed. “The smell of this Indian corn,” says Bent, with an emphasis begotten of unpleasant memories, “was enough to kill a dog. Nevertheless, I had to eat it, and in time I got used to it.”

“I had at this time,” continues the deserter, recounting his wild days in Otapawa, “no boots, no trousers, no shirt—just Maori flax mats to cover me, and a mat and blanket for my bed. I had page 54 managed to procure some needles and thread, together with paper and pencil (I kept up a sort of diary now and then), and one or two other little things which I kept in a kit, thinking that, though I had nothing to sew with the needles and thread, and very little to do with the other belongings, they might come in useful before very long. One of my greatest troubles was the want of salt; as for bread, I had not tasted any for many months.”