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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter III. — In the Fifties

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Chapter III.
In the Fifties.

An Infant City,—The Lords of the Land.—A Maori Chief and his Retainers.—A bare-legged Gentleman.—A Slave in slop clothes.—Cobbler's manacles.—A Natural Nobleman.—An evening Party.—A Chief in Full dress. A Native quarrel.—'Where is it?'—'Who is she?'—A little Pig.A great Pet.A Pig in Arms.The Korero (talk) begins.Maori Orators.—'Poaka is mine.'—'I will eat him.' Pig as a food, better than Man.The Contest grows fiercer.The Orators dance and Shake their spears.The hubbub increases.—The priest's Oration.A half-and-half Proposal.—Shouts of 'Divide the Poaka,' (pig).—A Maori woman to the rescue.The Pig's Foster Mother.A file of Soldiers.—'Kapai, the pig is hers.' The Quarrel ended.

AS already stated, I had not been long in New Zealand before my attention was strongly attracted to the Maories, who at that time frequented the City of Auckland in large numbers. In those days, civilization had made neither its conquests nor its victims amongst the Maori savages. A Maori Chief and his retainers landed from their canoes in one of the numerous bays, drawing up his canoes on the sandy shore, and dispersing amongst the half-formed streets of the infant city, with fish, Indian corn, peaches, page 18pigs or potatoes, which they offered for sale. The Chief in his Maori mat or blanket, every part of his noble features usually covered with the black curved lines of tatoo, stalked through the streets with a dignified air, as if the City belonged to him. I suppose he was in reality surprised at the strange things he saw around him, but whatever may have been his thoughts, beyond an occasional lifting of the eyebrows, he made no sign of astonishment or wonder. Clothed in his embroidered mat and innocent of those cobbler's manacles—the boot or shoe—he stalked through the town with the grace and dignity befitting one of Nature's noblemen.

As the disposal of their produce proceeded, each member of the tribe would don some article of European dress he had purchased. If the sale were slow, the clothing was promptly passed along from one to the other. The Chief would doff his mat, and appear in a full suit of black cloth and a pair of boots. Then indeed his dignity had departed. His Roman contour was lost in the suit of slop clothing; the grand free steps of his naked feet had degenerated into a cramped, angular shamble, more akin to the gait of a slave, than like the firm, graceful tread of a savage Chief.

Long ago, these slops were only worn on tribal visits to town. At the Native villages the Maories clothed themselves in a more natural garb, and were healthier and happier in consequence. When in Auckland they endeavoured more and more to dress page 19in European fashion, sometimes however, not without difficulty.

A friend of mine had invited a number of ladies and gentlemen to an evening party. Amongst them appeared a Maori Chief of rank, dressed in a heavy overcoat and top boots. It being a hot summer evening, my friend, the host, invited his Maori guest to take off his overcoat. Taking the host into a quiet corner, the Chief unbuttoned the overcoat, revealing, to my friend's consternation, nothing underneath, but the naked skin of the Chief. Tapping his brawny breast with comic gravity, the Chief said,

'Do you wish me to take away the coatee now?

'No, thank you,' replied the host, and closely re-buttoning the coat, he left his dark-skinned guest to swelter, as best he could, in the thick garb of civilization.

It was a stirring sight, in the olden times, to witness a dispute between two tribes encamped on the beach. A vacant space between the encampments would from time to time be occupied by an orator, now from one party, now from the other, in the discussion of these occasional quarrels. The quarrel may have been about the most common causes, 'land' or 'woman.'

Indeed, so well understood is this, that on first hearing of a contest between distant tribes, a Chief would at once enquire

'Where is it?' or, 'Who is she?'

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In the scene I am about to describe, the quarrel was as to the ownership of a pig. Now a pig to a peasant Irishman is an important personage, as he pays the 'rint.' (That was before the adoption of the 'Plan' not to pay the 'rint' either by the pig or by any other tenant.)

As a wealth-producing animal a pig takes high rank in America, and in the Chicago slaughteryards he is knocked down by the million. But amongst the Maories, the Poaka (pig) held a different position. He was not only a domestic animal, but a pet, one of the family indeed, and often fed and fondled like a child; accompanying the tribe on its frequent journeys, tempted along by an occasional potato thrown to it, and encouraged by the cry 'Poaka, Poaka,' in tones more or less affectionate.

If, on these marches, a pig were small or feeble, it would be carried along like a child, slung on the back of a woman. So fond are some of the women of Poaka, that I have often seen a woman nurse a little pig. It will be seen, therefore, that in the absence of those standing causes of quarrel—a piece of land or a woman—a pig was no infrequent nor unimportant substitute.

In the Korero (talk or discussion) I am describing, a pig, as I have said, was in dispute. The first Maori to enter the open space was a well-built savage of no great rank. Pacing slowly backwards and forwards, he began,

'Salutations to you, O Chiefs, who dwell by the sea. Salutations to you, whose dwelling is on the page 21mountains. Hearken. This is my word. This pig is mine.'

Falling back amongst his tribe, a Chief from the other side stood up, saying,

'Salutations to you all. Hearken. Te Mata has spoken. I have heard his words. He said "Poaka, Poaka." Enough. I have done.'

One after another, orators rose—chiefly from the tribe which most loudly claimed the pig—the chief burden of their speeches being echoes of what had been said by their friends, all ending with the oftrepeated words,

'The pig is mine. Enough.'

A young Ngapuhi Chief now stepped into the arena. Looking round and saluting both tribes in turn, Herini dropped on all fours, and mimicked the grunting of a pig, as he traversed the arena from side to side. The grave silence with which the speakers had hitherto been listened to, was broken by loud laughter and cries of 'Poaka, Poaka.' For the Maori, with all his gravity, is a man who loves a laugh.

In the silence which followed, Herini slowly rose and saying with great gravity,

'I am a pig and I dwell with the Ngapuhis,' retired amongst his tribe.

A long silence followed. At length, Te Hiroki, an old Chief of the Ngatimarus, rose. Grasping his spear in both hands, he made a feint of attacking an imaginary foe, and looking at Herini, said,

'Salutations to you O Poaka. Cease your grunting. My pig is a little pig with a curly tail. Hearken.

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The pig is mine. His ancestors dwelt in my Kainga (village). I have eaten them. My ancestors have eaten their ancestors for many generations. My ancestors since the time of Captain Cook have always eaten Poaka, when they had no Ngapuhi to eat. My friends, we have ceased to cook and eat Ngapuhi. We love Poaka better. It is sweeter and more tender.'

Striking his spear on the ground, Te Hiroki repeated the old refrain,

'The pig is mine,' and looking round the audience said with a fierce grin,

'I will eat him.'

During these orations the innocent pig had been closely kept amongst the natives who held possession—by tossing him a few potatoes at intervals. At length he lay down in the sun, and fell fast asleep innocent of the hubbub he caused. Meantime the Orators shake their spears. The contest waxed louder and fiercer. Excited orators walked, danced and leaped about the arena, detailing ancient battles and cannibal feasts. Taunts flew thick and fast from side to side. Preparations were beginning to be made for a defiant war dance by each side.

Indeed, it seemed quite time for the police to interfere. But in those primitive times, the police were few, and knew better than to meddle in such a quarrel as this threatened to be.

Whilst the hubbub and excitement were increasing every moment, an old hunchback leaning on his staff page 23feebly raised his voice and claimed a hearing. Whether from his priestly office—for he was a Tohunga (priest)—or from his great age, I know not, but in an instant, every voice was hushed, every Maori motionless.

'Salutations to you, O dwellers on the mountains. Salutations to you who fish for the sharks in Hauraki. Why does the thunder of your voices fill the air? Why do lightnings flash from your eyes? Hearken. They have ceased. It is well. What do I hear? Listen. "Poaka. Poaka" It is the voice of a little pig. Friends, if the warriors of Hauraki wish to fight, let them fight for the lands of their ancestors. If the Chiefs of Ngapuhi desire to dip their spears in the blood of their foes—let them avenge the wrongs of the women of their tribes. O Chiefs, let your anger cease. Let not the squeaking of this little pig disturb you. Bring this pig to me, and I will divide it—one half to Ngatimaru, one half to Ngapuhi.'

This decision was received with marks of approbation, and shouts of

'Divide the Poaka,' 'Cut it in two,' from the tribe who falsely claimed it, and growls of dissent from the real owners. The little pig was promptly seized, and a knife was passed to the Tohunga to carry out his decision.

At this moment a native woman approached the encampment, bearing on her back a load of firewood which she had brought from a neighbouring forest. Seeing the position at a glance, she dashed down her load, and rushing up to the Tohunga demanded the page 24little pig. The rival claims were shortly made known to her.

Demanding the release of the pig, she cried softly 'Poaka, Poaka.' The released pig at once trotted up to her. To take it to her bosom was the work of a moment. The deep silence was broken only by the satisfied grunts of the pig, as it nestled in the arms of its foster mother.

Shouts of 'Kapai, Kapai' (It is well), 'the pig is hers,' rent the air, and the file of soldiers, which by this time had drawn up near the disputants, marched back to the barracks.

The quarrel was ended.