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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

Ahumai Saves a Pakeha's Life

Ahumai Saves a Pakeha's Life.

In the year after Orakau Ahumai's tribe had become Hauhaus and were desperately eager to obtain revenge for their losses at Orakau. She was with them at a small village on the bush edge near Oruanui (on the present road from Atiamuri to Taupo) when an adventurous white man rode in to the settlement. He was Lieutenant Meade, of H.M.S. Curacoa; he had been escorted to Taupo by Major Mair, and was returning to Rotorua with a Maori guide. The fierce old Chief and priest of the tribe, Te Ao Katoa (a big name—“The Whole World”) was leading the people in the ritual of the fanatic war-faith Pai-Marire, the chanting and processions round the Niu, the sacred flag-pole of worship. The tohunga seized the occasion to demand the sacrifice of the pakeha to the Hauhau war gods. A Maori stood behind the white man with a ready tomahawk, awaiting the word to strike. Meade, who sat on a log with his guide, was ready, for his part, to fire his hidden revolver through his coat if the executioner raised his tomahawk. But this would have availed him little in the midst of, those armed men. The wild service ended; a council of war began; it looked dark indeed for the white man in the midst of his enemies.

But at the height of the barbarous council, a woman wrapped in a shawl rose from the seated crowd. She walked slowly across the marae. Without a word she sat down at the young Naval officer's feet. She was Ahumai; her wounds at Orakau scarcely yet healed. She had abundant reason for bitterness of soul. Yet she was generous enough to forgive all that, and risk the anger of her tribe, to champion the friendless pakeha when the grave was opening for him.

Her silent act of succour and her high tribal rank saved Meade's life. He and his guide were allowed to leave the village, they rode off with thankful hearts from the nest of Hauhaus where they had all but resigned themselves to death.

Europeans at Taupo long years afterwards sometimes saw the tattooed white-haired dame as she hobbled into the township for her old-age pension. The stray traveller perchance would see in her just a decrepit old wahine, without any story to speak of. But in Ahumai I recognised a truly heroic spirit who could face death without flinching, and defy her people to save a friendless man of her enemies from the tomahawk. Ahumai died at Mokai, near Taupo, in 1908. Her warrior brother Hitiri, whom I knew very well and from whom I heard much of the history of Orakau, was not long in following her to the Reinga.

Lieutenant Meade wrote a book narrating his adventures in New Zealand and the South Seas (“A Ride Through the Disturbed Districts of New Zealand”), and illustrated it with some of his sketches. There is a small drawing of the scene in the bush village where he so nearly fell a sacrifice to the Hauhau spirit of war.