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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XXI. — Utu (Ransom)

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Chapter XXI.
Utu (Ransom).

Instance of Utu.—A Man Killed.A Taua.—The Avengers.—A. Challenge and a Reply.Maori Oratory.A Song for the Dead.The Sons of the Sea.A Demonstration.—A Demand for Utu.—The Ransom paid down.A Dead Pot no Payment for a Living Man.A Woman's Reply.The Ransom Accepted.A Canoe Song.Stripped and Hungry.The Hunchback's Story.A Counter Claim.The Demand paid. Payment for the Dead:—Cattle and Graves.—A Chief's Sorrow.Fences for a Pound. 10, the Supreme God.Leaving the Old Faith for the New.The Church in the Wilderness.Conversion.—'No Blanket no Hallelujah.'—Doctrine of the Atonement.A Maori Chief's Idea of it.

A curious instance of the ancient Maori custom of Utu (payment, ransom) occurred shortly after my arrival in New Zealand.

A Maori tribe from a village on the coast, had been engaged digging Kauri gum on the north shore of the Waitemata (Sparkling water). By some misadventure, a Maori belonging to a Tamaki tribe, in digging a hole for the gum, had been killed, of which the gum-digging tribe, with true Maori courtesy, duly informed the Tamakis.

In a few days, the gum-diggers learnt that on page 197a certain day, a Taua (levying party) from the Tamakis intended to come and exact Utu (payment) for the offence.

On the day appointed, the canoes of the Tamakis were seen coming up the Waitemata harbour. The gum-diggers assembled on a little flat outside their camp, their spears stuck upright before them, and silently awaited the approach of the Taua. Shortly afterwards the Tamakis landed on the shore, made fast their canoes, and danced a defiant war dance on the beach. When the last shouts had died away, the gum-diggers sprang to their feet, and dancing a war dance in reply to the challenge, invited the Taua to come on and state the reason of their coming. The two apparently hostile parties met, and after the usual salutations by rubbing noses and shaking hands, the strangers began their Korero or talk.

A Tamaki chief, spear in hand, said,

'Salutations to you, who dig holes in the ground. Where is my son? I look for his face amongst you, but I see only the Moko (tatoo or tribal brand) of the Ngatimatas. Purutino, where art thou? Come to me O son. The canoes wait for thee on the shore,' and leaning on his spear, he chanted in plaintive tones, a Lament,

To the canoe, the canoe
On its pillow, the canoe waits for thee,
Return O son, the paddles are still,
The canoe gently rocks on its pillow the wave,
Return to thy mother who waits on the shore.

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'Chiefs of Ngatimata give me back my son, that I may return in peace to my village.'

A Ngatimata Chief rose to answer,

'Salutations to you, O sons of the sea. Hearken. The son of my father went forth at the rising of the sun, to dig for gum in a deep hole, his strong arms had made. Then the earth fell in, and thy son lay buried, and we knew it not. When the Wahines (women) had drawn the food from the Hangi (ground oven), and we were seated around the Kai (food), Purutino's place was empty. I sent a boy to call him, who found a hand sticking out of the earth. Then we rose in haste and ran to the hole, and dug away the fallen earth, but Purutino spoke not. His breath was gone. He lay like a stone. He was dead. Then we sought out his tribe, and sent a messenger to you. Enough. It is ended.'

In a moment Taranui, a Chief of the Tamakis, rose, spear in hand, and leaping and slapping his thighs, rushed with great fury at the Ngatimatas, as though he would drive his spear through one of them, but stopping at the instant the point almost touched the Maori—who sat immovable, not flinching a hair's breadth—the excited Chief said,

'Hearken. This is my word. You who dig gum from the earth have killed Purutino. He was alive. He is dead. You have killed him. Give him back to us, that he may return to his village. You say his spirit has departed to the caves of the dead. It is well. We have come for Utu (a ransom) for his life.'

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Then Taranui, who was a great orator, rushed backwards and forwards, slapping his thighs, and making hideous grimaces, demanding Utu at frequent intervals.

After the excitement caused by the furious oration of Taranui had subsided, a great silence followed, until Ruatiri, a Chief of the Ngatimatas, rose to his feet, and said,

'Hearken. I have heard the word of Taranui. It is good. We will give Utu (payment) for the youth who is gone. Enough.'

At these words the Ngatimatas went to their Whares (houses), and brought out all their possessions, placing them in a heap in front of the Tamakis—iron pots, spades, picks, blankets, mats, clothing, kits of potatoes, bags of flour and gum—everything they possessed.

This done, they sat down as before.

Both parties looked on the heap with silent gravity. After a while, Te Whetini, a Tamaki Chief, rose and slowly walked round the heap, and kicking it contemptuously, here and there as he slowly paced round it, said,

'Is that dead pot Utu (payment) for a living man? Will these blankets bring the life again? What are kits of potatoes, will they paddle a canoe? Will a bag of flour plant Kumaras? Why do my friends put these dead things on one side, and Purutino on the other? Who can paddle or plant for the mother of the dead? It is nothing.'

After hours of talking, slapping of thighs and page 200other furious demonstrations, the matter was on the point of being settled, when one of the Tamakis, seeing a little cutter lying at anchor close in shore, suddenly started to his feet, and said,

'What are these iron pots and blankets as Utu (payment) for a man? Purutino was a man, and could go about from place to place. These are dead things, and remain still as you put them down. Let my fathers give to us the cutter. That Kaipuke (vessel) can move from place to place. Let that be the Utu. That is my word. Enough. It is ended.'

At this, Te Rawhiti, an old Chief and the owner of the cutter, sprang to his feet, spear in hand rushed at the last speaker, declaring he would not give up the cutter, and called upon his tribe to drive the Tamakis back to their canoes. The same instant, Rawhini his wife, an old woman, yet full of vigour and spirit, rushed up to Te Whetini, threw handsful of dust at him, and spitting in his face, declared he was a Tutua (mean person), and should have neither cutter nor iron pots.

For a few moments, it looked as if the Korero (talk) would end in a general fight—when the principal Chief of the Tamakis told one of the young men to carry an iron pot to the canoes.

The spell was broken. The storm subsided, and the heap of articles was quickly carried down to the canoes.

When the canoes were loaded, a general rubbing page 201of noses followed. The paddles were plied to a Maori boat song, the Ngatimatas chanting, as the shining sprays fell from the gracefully moving paddles,

Go to your home, swiftly strike the paddles,

Carrying our Aroha (love) to the mother,

To the mother, who watches and weeps

On the shore.'

The swift canoes sped down the harbour, and the Ngatimatas returned to their houses—empty of everything—not even a potato remaining. The few White settlers who had witnessed the affair, kindly gave the plundered Ngatimatas, a few bags of potatoes to keep them from starving.

A week after the departure of the Tamakis, a hunchback, who had been absent with another party of gum-diggers, returned to the camp. On learning what had been done, the hunchback (the depositary of the tribal traditions) at once told how, that long ago, a Ngatimata man and woman fishing, had been driven by a storm away from the coast, and had been made prisoners by a party of Tamakis fishing for sharks, and that no Utu (payment) had ever been made for them.

After a long consultation and much Korero (talk) the gum-digging tribe determined to demand Utu (payment) for the captured man and woman; for amongst the Maories, no lapse of time destroyed the right to payment for a wrong. The Ngatimatas therefore went aboard Rawhiti's cutter, and made sail for page 202the Tamakis' Kainga (village). They landed at a spot near where the bridge now crosses the river, just below the Pah (fortified village) of the Tamakis.

In the usual formal manner, a young Chief was sent to announce the arrival of the Ngatimatas, and their demand for Utu.

A vigorous war dance followed from both Tribes, and after two days' talk, much after the previous fashion, the Tamakis acknowledged the justice of the demand for Utu, and the Ngatimatas returned with much of their own property, and a good deal of their neighbours'.

The demand for Utu is occasionally made on curious grounds. I remember a Chief who had leased some land to me, over which my cattle grazed, coming to me, and saying,

'Some of my ancestors are buried on that land, and I am very Pouri (sad), because your cattle tread upon their graves.'

'Why do you not put a fence round them?' I replied.

'O,' said he, 'my village is far away, and I have no wood, no axe, and no money to do that work, and I mourn for my ancestors who sleep beneath the feet of the bullocks.'

Sympathizing with the sorrow and the sentiment of the Chief, I said,

'Well, I will fence round the graves, if you will point out to my stockman, the places where your ancestors are buried.' page 203'Kapai' (good), he replied, 'great is my Aroha (love) for you, but my village is far away, and my horse is old and his legs are stiff, and the trouble will be great. Now,' joyfully continued he, 'give me a pound for Utu (payment).'

Looking in the face of the old Chief I said,

'Is that the measure of your reverence for your ancient dead? I will not give you the money, but whenever you will point out the graves, I will fence them in.'

He went away sorrowful, more for the money he failed to get, than for the silent dead. He troubled me no more, and the warriors of old sleep, without a ransom, in their unknown graves.

Formerly, as I have elsewhere stated, the Maories were heathens, under a priesthood not very dissimilar to the Druids of our Celtic ancestors. Worshipping many inferior deities, they paid special devotion to the Atua or God. But amongst the sacred circles of the Tohungas or priests 10, the Supreme God, was alone worshipped.

Then under the teaching and preaching of the Missionaries, with the exception of the Tohungas or priests, they almost universally embraced Christianity.

There are many causes for this remarkable forsaking of the Old faith for the New. The instant relief Christianity brought from continual inter-tribal contests; the arts of civilization taught by the Missionaries; the strong imagination of the Maori; and page 204without doubt, the temporal advantages it offered them, had not a little influence in securing, what in some instances, passed for conversion. A curious instance of this latter influence, occurred to a well-known and very worthy Missionary.

This gentleman occasionally distributed blankets amongst the Maories who attended his little church in the wilderness, until, noticing in the case of one worshipper, that he came for a blanket rather too frequently, the Missionary told him that he could not give him any more blankets.

'All right,' promptly replied the Maori, 'no more blankets, no more Hallelujah,' and departing, returned no more.

Besides the causes, above given, for the adoption of Christianity, the universal custom of Utu (payment or ransom) for a wrong or crime, powerfully prepared the way for their acceptance of the great Christian doctrine of the Atonement. The practice of Utu or ransom as already stated, pervaded their social and tribal life. No wrong however trivial, no crime however great, but could be atoned for by a proportionate Utu or payment

A striking instance of their knowledge of and application of the doctrine of Christ's atonement occurred not very long ago, at a meeting of the tribes, at which Tawhiao, the Maori King was present. At this meeting, the desirability of returning to the Christian faith was discussed. The doctrines of the various Christian sects were passed under review. It page 205seemed however, as if little more than endless disputes would be the result, when a fine, thoughtful looking Chief rose, and addressing the assembly, said, with equal gravity and dignity,

'There are a great many religions (sects) believing in Jesus Christ—the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Wesleyan and others. It is not necessary that we should trouble ourselves to find out which is best. Their words are many. Their ways are many. But their faith is one. All that is needed for us to do, is to believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became Man; that he gave himself, a living man for living men, as Utu (payment, ransom) for us, who have all sinned; that he was ready to make payment for all who desire it, and will live their lives rightly. Christ said "All ye that thirst, come and drink of the water of life."

'When I am thirsty, if the water is pure, I don't refuse to drink, whether the water comes to me in a shell, a calabash, or a pannikin (tin pot). I am thirsty, and I drink.'

Before closing this chapter, it is fitting that I should note the occurrence of the general departure from the Christian faith, which took place amongst the hostile Maories—during and after the last great war—which was as general as their former adoption of it. One strong reason was doubtless, the continual squabbling amongst the various Christian bodies. Another, and a more powerful one, was that the Maories soon found that the Europeans they met with, rarely or never page 206practised the Christian doctrines they professed. Another significant reason was, the Maories said,

'The Missionaries taught us not to do any work on Sunday, but we see the English soldiers build redoubts, march and fight battles on Sundays, and that they generally win the victory. Now, what is the use of our worshipping the Christian God? we hardly ever win a battle. No matter how closely we obey, what we have been told were His commands, He never helps us. He is the God of the White men, and does not regard the Maories. Let us turn back to our old gods.'

And, as I have said, they turned back, and fell into a curious medley of Christianity and Heathenism, from which they are now, however emerging, and are preparing I think, to become once more, Christians.