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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XVI. — The Old Chief's Story

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Chapter XVI.
The Old Chief's Story.

The Runanga Club:—The night, dark and dreary,—Beneath the skin of a Captive, beats the heart of a Man.—Children of the Soil.—Like dead trees in a Clearing.—I feel like a Slave.—A Hunchback on hot coals.—Fire-water.—A beaten dog.—The Music of the Paddles.—The days of my youth.—The Thunder of the War dance.—The Crack of the Stock whip.—I weep like a Girl.—Alone with his Sadness.—The Gloomy Hall.—Weird eyes.—Leaning on his Spear.—A Story of Old.—The Pah on the Shore.—Tukaka.—Dried fish.—Escape of the Hunchback.—'He will never return.'—The Priest's Dream.—Tukaka in the Oven.—'My burden of sorrow.'—Still and Silent sat the Chiefs.—Bones as fish hooks.—A great Curse.—The Warriors spring to their feet.—A sore Lamentation.—Cries for Vengeance.—In the Silent Night.—The Mother's Lament.—The Spirits of the Dead.—The Song of the Warriors.—In the ruddy glare.—A picture of Grief.—Incantations.—The Pah made strong.—Ready for the Battle.—Vengeance for Tukaka.—The War path.—The two Slaves.—The Priest's Charm.—Singing gaily.—Dead at a Blow.—The Challenge.—The Murderers.—A Watch by Night.—A long Siege.—In the Ovens.—The Tohunga's Dream.—'Let them live.'—Famine.—The Guests in the Fortress.—Treachery.—Two Guests escape.—Abundance of Food.—A Defiant War song.—Come out to be Killed.—'And we killed them.'—All.—Skins full of Bones.—Not worth Eating.

Mangawhero, the Maori Chief, who understood English very well, though he would never speak it, had listened to the story of the 'Taniwha's Cave' with great interest and trepidation.

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He gravely said to the Surveyor next day,

'The Taniwha was in the cave.'

'Why then, did he not devour me?' asked the Surveyor.

'Because you were a white man,' Mangawhero promptly answered, 'had Tui been left in the cave, instead of you, there would have been an end of the boy, the Taniwha would have eaten him.'

'Now Mangawhero,' said the Magistrate, who as I have said, was President of our 'Runanga Club,' 'let us have your story.'

It had rained all day. The night had come on, dark, wet and dreary. Inside the great Runanga house, the gloom was lessened by the ruddy glow of a log fire in the centre; and lighting our pipes, we settled down to hear the Chiefs story.

Gathering his handsome mat around him, and placing a hot ember in his well-worn black pipe, with two or three puffs, he began his story.

'Hearken. Chiefs of the White faces. Salutations.

'The skin of the Maori is dark. I am old and my legs are feeble, but my thoughts are clear. I have heard my father Te Wakawa (magistrate) speak of the kindness of the Keeper of the Prison. It is well. That prison keeper was a good man. He knew that beneath the skin of a captive, there beats the heart of a man. His ways were wise. Enough of that. Hearken. The Rangitira (chief) of the Chain, has page 140spoken of the trees of the forest. Great is my love for them all, and for the birds that sing on the skirt of the forest. Like my people, they are the children of the soil. The white man looks on the men, the trees, and the birds, and they wither and die.

'I am a stranger in my own country. I and my people are like the dead trees in a clearing. One falls and another falls, and soon we shall all be gone. The songs of my youth are heard no more.

'I clothe myself in a shirt and Troutits (trousers). My head—the head of a chief—is sometimes covered with a Potae (hat), and I become outwardly a White man. I look on my Pakeha garments, and I feel like a slave. They are the chains which the White faces have cast about me, but my heart is the heart of a Maori, and I long for the days of my youth to return.

'The hard roads of the Pakehas cut my naked feet, and when I cover them with the skin of a Puroki (leather), I walk like a hunchback on hot coals. Listen. The swamps are dry, their waters have run to the river, and the eels have departed. Their pleasant Kinaki (relish) is gone, and I smack my lips no more. When I drink the fire-water of the White man, I am a warrior again for a little while, but the fire dies away, and I am as a beaten dog.

'The canoe in the river ripples the clear water no longer, for the screech and the smoke of the steamer are there; the sweet music of the paddles is heard no more; and the songs of the young men, whose strong arms made the canoe fly swiftly on the bosom of the river, are ended. Alas! for the days of my youth page 141will no more return, their light is departed. I hear no more the songs of battle. The thunder of the war dance has ceased, and the crack of the stock whip has taken its place.

'My heart is dead, and I weep like a Wahine (girl), when I remember the days and the deeds of the past.'

The old Chieftain was silent. His eyes were fixed on the dying embers, and we left him alone with his sadness.

We left the Council hall for a little while. The rain still fell in torrents, and the roar of the rapids in the distant river told us that every stream on our road was in flood, promising difficulty and danger, if we resumed our journey too hastily. Returning to the gloomy hall, its carved ancestral figures, with their weird eyes of shining shell gleaming in the ruddy glare of the fire, and their three-fingered hands at their sides, we resumed our seats on the logs.

The Chief was leaning on his spear in thoughtful mood. Presently he said,

'I cannot speak to you of this Island as it is. Hearken. I will be a youth again, and tell you a story of old.

'When I was a Tamaiti (boy) Te Rangiwhero (red heaven), my father was a Chief among the warriors of our tribe. We dwelt in a Pah (fortress) on the bank of the river. We ate fern root and Taro and we were strong. The Kakahu (a cape made of flax) covered page 142our shoulders in winter, and we were not cold. In summer we hung our mats in the Whares (houses), and were warm. Now, when we wear the garments of the White man, we shiver and cough, and our feet are sore in the skin of the Puroki (bullock).

'Sometimes we planted Kumara (sweet potatoes) and ate them in peace. Sometimes our plantations were destroyed by our enemies; then, we dwelt in the recesses of the forest, where we had secret plantations, or we dwelt in our Kainga (village) by the sea, and caught fish for our Hangis (ovens).

'Then, we were strong and attacked our foes. We avenged our wrongs, and killed and ate our enemies.

'One day, I went with Te Rangiwhero the Chief, my father, and some warriors and boys of our tribe to visit a friendly tribe on the shore of the sea. For many days we remained with our friends, eating fish, singing songs and dancing Hakas (a favourite dance by men and women, in puris naturalibus). Then we departed to our own Kainga (village). As a mark of Aroha (love), my father left my younger brother Tukaka in the keeping of our friends for a time, in the fortress by the shore of the Waiti (salt water).

'For many days we dwelt in peace at our village.

'When four moons had nearly gone, the Chiefs of the Pah by the sea sent a present of dried fish to my father. For two days we feasted together. Then the strangers departed to their dwelling place with many Ketes (baskets) of dried eels to our friends by the shore, for great was our love to them for Tukaka, who was dwelling with them in peace.

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'Then, when the fifth moon was bright, Pukaki the hunchback, a slave boy, the companion of my brother at the Pah by the sea, crept at nightfall into my father's house in our village, sitting silent and sad.

'"When will Tukaka return?" were the words of the Chief my father.

'"He will never return," replied the Tamaiti (boy).

'Then the weeping boy, for he loved the young son of Te Rangiwhero, said, that an old Tohunga (priest) had dreamed a dream. "In the morning at sunrise the Tohunga told his dream to the assembled tribe. Then they killed Tukaka, put him in the Hangi (oven lined with heated stones), and ate him at their evening meal. The Tohunga said I was a hunchback, and Tapu (sacred), and he kept me for his slave, and I lived; but my heart was dark and sad, for great was my love for Tukaka. Then O Rangiwhero I escaped, and have brought to thee, my burden of sorrow."

'At these words the faces of Te Rangiwhero and the warriors of the tribe were dark, and quivered with fierce anger, but they sat still and were silent.

'After a little time, the hunchback boy asked, if the messengers from the tribe by the sea, had brought a present of dried fish in their Ketes (baskets).

'"Yes," replied the Chief Te Puke, "they were a sweet relish to our Kumaras."

'Then the hunchback boy cried out with sore lamentations, and would not be comforted.

'After a long time, he said,

'"O Rangiwhero, the fish you ate were taken by hooks, made from the bones of Tukaka your son."'

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At the remembrance of this great curse, the tears ran down the face of Mangawhero, and he silently paced the Runanga house. None of us spoke, for we felt the grief of the old man for his murdered boy-brother, was too great for us to comfort him.

At length he stood erect, and in a fierce voice resumed his story.

'When the hunchback slave boy had spoken, all knew that a great curse had been laid on our Tribe, and in an instant, every warrior sprung to his feet, except my father, who sat with his head covered. In a little time, he also stood on his feet One by one, the warriors walked silently and in deep anger, into the Marae (open space) in the Pah. The women raised a sore lamentation for the killing of the boy Tukaka my brother. Loud were their cries, and many were the tears of the Tangi (mourning) they made for him.

'Then Te Rangiwhero, my father stood up in the bright shining of the moon. Lifting aloft his spear, he said,

'"O Chiefs, this cruel Kohuru (murder) cries for vengeance."

'With voices of fury, the warriors sprung to their feet, and stood in a ring round my father, lifting every man his hand, and all crying this one word, '"Vengeance!"

'Then all was still, and in the silent night, Ruahine, the mother of my murdered brother, sang this "Lament":— page 145
  • 'O Tukaka sweet bird of the forest, thou art gone,
  • Thy laugh was clear as the song of the Korimako (bell bird).
  • Thy face was the red blush of the morn,
  • Now, O son thou art gone.
  • No more wilt thou dig Kumaras (food) for thy mother,
  • Never more will the dark maidens laugh at thy smile!
  • Thy slayers had no mother,
  • No tears ran down their cheeks for me or for thee,
  • Their hands were dipped in the blood of a child.
  • Taurekarekas (slaves) have slain the son of a Chief.
'Then Ruahine's maidens in the silent night chanted with tearful voices:—
  • 'O warriors let not your feet linger,
  • Let not your hands rest, till a hundred slaves
  • Have gone on the journey to the Reinga. (The place at the North Cape, where the spirits of the dead depart to the Spirit World.)
'Then all the warriors of the tribe stood forth and this was their song:—
  • 'The spirit of thy bird O Ruahine is flitting,
  • He lingers on the road to the Reinga,
  • He grasps the flax on the shore to stay his flight.
  • He waits for the spirits of his slayers,
  • That when he descends into Reinga's cave,
  • A hundred slaves may attend and obey.
  • O Ruahine, mother of the dewdrop of the Kainga (village)
  • We depart on the morrow to send swiftly his slayers Along the shore.'

As the old Chief sang this song of his youth, his face grew dark with anger, his eyes gleamed with the page 146passion of an unforgotten wrong, as, with mat on shoulders and spear in hand, he stood in the ruddy glare, a Maori warrior of the olden time, the impersonation of vengeance, fury, strength, and savage power.

In a little while his excitement ended, his outstretched arm dropped to his side, and with bowed head, he stood before us, the picture of grief. Silently he resumed the usual squatting position, and continued his story.

'On the morrow, the Chief my father sent to all the villages of the Tribe his fleetest young men, each bearing a small canoe decked with feathers and filled with the emblems of war, to summon the warriors to assemble at our Pah, when the full moon lighted the valley. When these had all gathered, the chief Tohunga (priest) of the Tribe made his incantations. He offered sacrifices to Tu the god of war, and invoked curses and destruction on the foe.

'Next day at sunrise, the war party began their journey. On the third day at sunset, we arrived at the edge of the forest, and beheld the fortress by the sea, and our hearts burned within us to avenge the Kohuru (murder) of Tukaka. The words of the hunchback were in our thoughts, as we lay by night in the ending of the forest.

'Our enemies knew well that Te Rangiwhero would rise up to avenge the killing of Tukaka, his young son. They had made strong their Pah by the sea. They had gathered in abundance of food. They had filled the Pah with the warriors of their tribe.

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The earth walls of the fortress were high. The ditches deep. The waves of the sea beat round the cliff. On one side only the land appeared. They were ready for the battle. We sent no messengers to tell them of our coming. They were murderers and no Chiefs

'One word only was on our lips, "Tukaka."

'One thought only in our hearts, "Vengeance."

'We waited till the moon of the morning rose faintly over the trees of the forest. Then we trod the war-path, each warrior in the footprints of the warrior before him. Silently we drew near, in the breaking of the day, to the Pah where our enemies slept. We lay down in the tall fern, for the land of that village was good.

'At sunrise, two slaves came down from the Pah to gather Pipis (cockles) from the shore. Their eyes were dazzled by the shining sunlight on the sea. They saw nothing but the Korora (gulls) feeding on the sand. They heard only the morning song of the Riro riro (wren), and the fading calls of the More poak (owl), for the day had begun.

'Then I and my brother Pungehu crawled through the fern to draw the first blood for our dead brother. We remembered the Karakia (incantation) of the priest, when the sweet voice of the Korimako (the bell bird) had ushered in the coming day. These were the words of the charm of the Priest—

'The Toa (warrior) springs and wards off the blows,

He strikes and the enemy falls.

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'The two slaves came from the shore with the Pipis. They knew not that death was there. The morning wind sighed through the fern. But we held our breath, and waited for their coming. They came, singing gaily. We struck but one blow, and they both fell dead at our feet. Then our slaves cut their bodies in pieces, and threw them into the Pah of the Ngatikohurus (the tribe of murderers). That was our challenge. Then the murderers knew that Te Rangiwhero and his warriors had come for vengeance. Whilst they looked over the walls of the fortress, we danced the war dance on the shore of the sea.

'The Pah was strong. The sea was on every side but one. There, a narrow neck joined it to the land. The Ngatikohurus were many. They had gathered in all their tribe, for they knew the blood of the son of a Chief of warriors was on their hands; that they had cooked and eaten Tukaka as though he were a fish. They had dug three deep ditches across the neck of land, and made high banks before each trench. The Pah was strong, and filled with men and women and children and food. Wai Maori (fresh water) was there, and trickled down the cliff to the sea.

'We came to the Pah when the Kukupas (pigeons) were lean, and feeding on Hinau berries, for the spring was beginning. Te Rangiwhero knew well that the ripe Tararire berries would have made the pigeons fat, before we had killed our enemies, and broken their curse. My father said that three moons would page 149shine before we returned to our villages on the banks of the river, and he commanded us to plant Kumaras on the edge of the forest, for our food.

'Every day we searched for food in the deserted villages of the Kohurus. Every day, we caught fish in the sea. A hundred warriors kept watch by night and by day in front of the outer wall on the narrow neck. Every day, the Kohurus (murderers) sung songs of derision, for they knew their Pah was strong, and their bellies were full of food. Their words were big words, but their deeds were small. Every day, the ground was shaken by the war dances of our warriors who watched. Many were the battles, but when the first moon had ended its shining, we had taken the three walls across the neck, and had driven the murderers inside the fortress. After that, they came out, when in the dim light of the morning, they could see the eyes of our warriors who watched. With loud cries they rushed down upon us. We waited for their coming. Our spears drank their blood, and few returned to the Pah. Again and again they attacked us, but they left the bodies of their slain behind them.

'Our Hangis (ovens) were filled by their dead. Many Kohurus we ate for Tukaka. Fiercely now they fought, for we saw their bones in every fight, their eyes were dim, and their lips hung down, for they were hungry.

'We had eaten all the food stored in the Ruas (pits for food) in their villages, but the Tamure (snapper) came to our hooks, the Hapuku (codfish) knew page 150we were hungry, and every night, with the rising tide came into our nets.

'The Kohurus devoured the fish with their eyes, but none were found in their ovens. Then their hunger made them fiercer than before, and they fought with our watchful warriors every day. We killed many. We made our ovens hot for their slain, and ate them as a Kinaki (relish) for our Kumaras and fern root. Still they held fast, for their Pah was strong.

'Then Te Rangiwhero said,

'"They have no food. They are hungry, for we shut them in the strong place when we planted the Kumaras, and now we are eating them. The time has been long, but we remember Tukaka."

'Then we were strong and our anger burned fiercely, for we knew the murderers would soon be in our ovens.

'Then our old priest dreamed a dream, and at midnight, he said that my father had avenged Tukaka, and that the Atua (God) said,

'"Let the remnant of the Ngatikohurus live."

'At these words our hearts softened, and Te Rangiwhero said also,

'"Let them not die!"

'We waited for the sunrise. The Atua had spoken in the ears of our enemies also, for when the sun lifted his face above the mountains, the remnant of them came out of the Pah, with a priest before them, leading a young girl by the hand. They came page 151to us with their bones sticking out of their skins, so hungry were they.

'We gave them some food. They ate Kumaras and fish all day, for they were empty. At sunset they invited our young men to spend the night with them in the Pah. My father sent twenty young warriors with them as guests. They were provided in the Pah with the special rite of hospitality, usual on peaceful visits.

'Then these dogs,' said the old Chief, his eyes gleaming with a fierce anger, which his great age could not extinguish, 'Then these dogs rose in the night and killed all the visitors but two, who jumped over the walls of the Pah, and slid down the cliff into the sea, and crawling to us, all bruised and broken, told in our tingling ears, the treachery of the Kohurus (murderers) in the Pah.

'In the morning,' continued the old man, 'the murderers shouted to us, that they had now abundance of food (meaning our young warriors whom they had killed), and singing a defiant war-song, bid us remain or depart as we pleased.

'Then our anger, which the peace-talking had cooled, burned in our hearts hotter than before. We hurled back their defiance, and danced a war-dance before the gateway of the Pah.

'They held out for a little while. But our anger burned like the fire in Tongariro (an active volcano).

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They grew hungry after eating our warriors whom they had slain in their sleep, but the Pah was strong and we could not take it. So we kept them shut up, until they came out to be killed.'

And with the gleam of vengeance in his flashing eyes, the old warrior said,

'Then we killed them. All. Man, woman and child. We had taken Utu (payment) for Tukaka. There were none left to fight or to weep. We had killed them all. They were only skins full of bones, and not worth eating.

'So we departed to our own villages by the river. Enough. My words are ended.'

The old Chief stood for a moment motionless, and then silently moved away to his Whare.