The Maori: Yesterday and To-day
Chapter XVI. — Kawhia Felix. — A Picture of the Past
A Picture of the Past.
In the sun-warmed front of a fern-tree and nikau- thatched house on the bank of the Waiharakeke River, on the south side of the many-armed Kawhia Harbour, the ancient dame Ngarongo-Herehere Rangitawa sat placidly smoking her morning pipe of powerful torori. Before her the tidal river wound in a shining loop about a cliffy elevation, where fern and bush clothed in a mat of peace the trenched lines of an olden fort. Ngarongo's thoughts roved far back; she could remember her childhood's life of more than eighty years ago. Her pipe finished, she spoke to her kinsman Raureti te Huia from the Waipa, of the things he wished to hear, the tale of Kawhia as it was in the days before the war, and the daily life of the people. He set them down faithfully in Maori, and I translate from his MS., sent on to me soon afterwards, this clear and perfect description of the happy and industrious period that came to a tragic end when the wars of the early Sixties began.
My Ngati-Maniapoto friend's narrative begins with a little picture of good old Ngarongo. She is large of body, he says, with a broad, kindly face rather darker than most Maori; her hair curls in ringlets, her chin and lips are blue-tattooed in the kauwae pattern.
“In my small girlhood,” said Ngarongo, “I lived at Te Arapukatea; that was my birthplace; and most of my life I have lived on this south side of Kawhia Harbour, and all this country and all these streams and bays I know, aye, and all the pipi banks in the harbour, and all the fishing places. As I grew page 193 up I learned all the things that made up the work of the Maori woman, and most of all I learned how to help supply our home with food. The waters of Kawhia Harbour were our chief food supply—they were waters of abundance. I shall enumerate the parts where we obtained our kai-mataitai, the food of the salt waters.
“The pipi shellfish was one of our most abundant foods; our hapu's ground was Taaoro yonder; the kind of pipi found there was the kokota. There was another cockle called the pipi hungangi; this was very plentiful, and for it we worked the sand-banks and tide-washed flats at Tuhingara, Toreparu, Otaroi, Hakaha, Te Wharau, Tahunaroa, Te Maire, and other places. For the pupu shellfish we worked Tarapikau and other banks. Another food was the tuna, the eel. We had many eel weirs, too, but my food-gathering was chiefly on the seashore and in the estuaries. There were many places where we hauled the nets for fish of the sea; we had landing-places for tamure (snapper), and mango (shark) at Te Umuroa, at Te Maire, at Ohau, at Whangamumu, and many other beaches, where we brought the hauls ashore and split the fish up and hung them in long lines to dry in the sun. There was the patiki, too, the flounder.
“It was most pleasant work, that fishing of old. There were three places in particular where our hapu brought its catches of sharks and dogfish ashore; they were Ngawhakauruhanga, Ohau, and Purakau. We had special places where we fished for moki (cod) and for the koiro (conger-eel), and there was also a place where the whai (stingaree) abounded. That was at Koutu-kowhai. There was, too, small fresh-water fish called the mohi-mohi, and there was an appointed place for taking it.
“Our best time for catching fish of all kinds was from November to March, when the north and page 194 north-east winds blew and the weather was pleasant and warm. That was when the nets were drawn. All the people were engaged in this work, and great numbers of fish were sun-dried for winter food.
“And there was, too, the spearing of flounder by torchlight at night. My son, that was a delightful occupation, the rama patiki. There were certain nights when these patiki were plentiful on the sand-banks, and that was when we got great numbers of them by means of torch and spear.
“Then later in the year we turned to the land for our food. We went into the forests, we climbed the mountains, we snared and speared the birds of the bush. There was that range called Paeroa; that was where we set many wai-tuhi, which were wooden canoe-like troughs, or sometimes hollows in prostrate logs, which we filled with water; over these we arranged flax and cabbage tree nooses in which the pigeon and other birds would be caught as they came down to drink after feeding on the berries. All along the Paeroa Range (which is south yonder towards Kinohaku) we had these wai-tuhi. The forest was full of food for the birds: the fruit of the miro, the hinau, the mangeo, was in exceeding abundance. Many of us were busy in the season of birds in the work of snaring (takiri) the tui, and also the kokomako (bell-bird); the best place for catching those birds was on the poroporo shrubs, which were covered with delicious fruit for the birds. A woman could often take as many as a hundred birds in a day's work, from morning till dark.“Also we took many titi (the petrel called muttonbird). The best place for killing the titi was at Te Rau-o-te-huia. The work was done at night. Fires were made at places over which the titi flew, and these attracted the birds, which came flying low, and were killed with sticks by the people around page 195page 196 the fires. There was a season when these birds were abundant and in the right condition for killing.
A Diehard Chieftainess.
Mere Kuru, of Ngati-Tamatera tribe, Ohinemuri This vigorous and determined dame of the Upper Thames, a near relative of the celebrated warrior Taraia, for some years strongly opposed the opening of the Ohinemuri goldfields to the pakeha. She and her cousin Te Hira finally gave way in 1875.
[Portrait by G. Lindauer, 1875
“Other foods of our people, which we got at various times, were fern root, the pith of the mamaku fern-tree, and the large berries of the hinau and tawa trees; these were dried and treated in various ways. And then, too, we had foods of the pakeha kind in great abundance. Kawhia was a most fruitful place. We had apples, peaches, figs, pears, and grapes. We sent the best of the fruit away to Auckland and sold it. We had our own small vessels (schooners and cutters) in those days before the war.
“I remember the vessels our people had in our part of Kawhia. There was the Aotearoa; she was owned and sailed by Paiaka. There was the Nepukaneha (Nebuchadnezzar), which was Hone te One's vessel. These craft traded to Onehunga, and they carried much produce from Kawhia. We shipped in them wheat and maize, fruit, pigs, pumpkins, vegetable marrows, and dressed flax. Many hapu were concerned in this trade; we all shipped cargo for sale to the pakeha, and all was done agreeably; there were no quarrels among the people over trade.
“At Ahuahu there was a large settlement, and there lived our missionaries, one after the other. Te Waitere (the Rev. John Whiteley, killed at Pukearuhe in 1869) lived there; after him came Te Tatana (Rev. Turton) and Henare too [‘Henare’ was the Rev. Schnackenberg]. It was there that I was married to Rangitawa; that was two years before the war began in Taranaki, and Rangi and the other men of Kawhia went away to fight there (1860).
“That was how we lived here in Kawhia in the days of our youth. We were always employed and there was no trouble; we lived happily there, in the midst of abundance, and then when the war began our troubles came.page 197
“Rewi Maniapoto came out from Kihikihi and Te Kopua on his way to Taranaki with a war party. He came to Ahuahu and the tribes of Kawhia assembled and joined him and they all marched off for the south by way of Marokopa. Their first battle was at Puke-ta-kauere, on the Waitara; they defeated the Queen's soldiers there. But I need not tell of all the fighting that followed. It stopped our accustomed industry on the shores of Kawhia. All the old work in which the whole of the people shared stood still.page 198
Pikirakau (“The Tree-climber”) a warrior woman of South Taranaki, who fought on the Government side in the Sixties.
[From the painting by G. Lindauer
“No more wheat or maize was grown, no flax-scraping was done, and the trading vessels lay deserted at anchor, for there was no one to man them. The soil was not cultivated, the flourmill wheels ceased to turn. The winds wailed over a deserted Kawhia, when the men, young and old, had girded themselves with the belt of war and gripped their guns and other weapons of war and marched away. Only the feeble old men and the women and children were left here. And when those who were left returned after the wars it was a different life at Kawhia.”