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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

Bottles and Powder

Bottles and Powder

Your companion, you say, is an American. As your friend, he is welcome, but not otherwise. You pakehas are too forgiving altogether. With us, a memory of any great wrong dies hard.”

“But he has not wronged you, Tamati?” I said.

“No, that is indeed true; but one of his countrymen did great evil, and we can neither forgive nor forget. Sit you down and, after you have heard the story, you may judge for yourself whether the feeling is justified.”

A few days previously a young American had come to try the miscellaneous sport which the district offered. He had made himself highly popular in the locality—with everyone except Tamati, who, from the time his nationality had become known, had treated the stranger with ill-concealed hostility.

“It was in the whaling days,” continued the old man. “In those times my tribe owned the lands bordering the harbour of Kawhia. We were not unduly warlike, and many of your race freely made home with us. Particularly welcome among our visitors was this big man from overseas, the captain of an American trading ship. Every summer it was our custom to look for his vessel beating up the harbour, and his trip became an annual event that invariably gave rise to much mutual pleasure. For always, portion of his holds would be stocked with much good waipiro, which he traded to us in return for the filling of his ship with dressed timber, and other things. Following each trading, Maori and pakeha would fraternise freely at the big celebration that was held. For days afterwards, of course, we were glad that we had been civilised, as you would call it, and that there were no adjacent tribes who might wish to make war upon us. You will understand….

“One morning, the American came up the harbour with a big cargo of bottles and barrels of the fiery water. Would our chief trade for the whole lot? After consultation with the elders of the tribe the rangatira agreed, and commanded his men to gather forthwith the huge payment required. He immediately drove them to labour in the adjoining forest, thinking, perhaps, that he might not be able to do it later on … And the ship was loaded, and the waipiro passed over. A feast followed. Now, it chanced that a previous trader had paid our chief in sovereigns, of which there was a large bag. This was kept in a special storehouse, and was ever guarded by picked men of the tribe. When the celebration was at its height, and the chief was loudly recounting certain brave deeds of the past, the American discovered the secret of the sovereigns.

” ‘Oh, chief,’ he said, ‘as you know I have sold you all the waipiro, but the bottles and barrels you see before you are still my property. In return for the bag of gold which you treasure, I shall generously present you, my good Maori friend, with all these. You must bury them in the kumara patch, one foot deep, bottom up, and leave them until the cold weather comes. You will then discover that they have turned again, and be filled with the same good waipiro you have just enjoyed. I swear this in the name of my great ancestor, whose name was Washington.’

“With the aid of four slaves, the chief arose. ‘Ae Wirihana (Wilson),’ he replied, ‘I stand before a man of high honour. The bargain is a good one, and will be struck forthwith.’ And they shook hands, and more waipiro appeared, and the sailors embraced all the prettier maidens, and everyone was truly happy. And the people laboured long in the fields burying those bottles as that scoundrel had advised, and he took the sovereigns and his departure.

“The next year, when the American was again due, the cliffs were lined with very angry men, all in war attire. page 67 Each held a musket in one hand, and a bottle in the other. The musket was loaded: the bottle, of course, was not…. But that low Yankee had forgotten his way back to Kawhia.

“In those days, news travelled slowly, so that the American had no fears in continuing his trading on the other coast. At Tauranga, when he landed, he discovered a large Taua (war party) being got together to raid the Taupo tribes. It happened that the men were short of powder, and were prepared to make heavy payment for new supplies. He at once approached the chief, telling him that under his hatches were many bags of the precious powder. There was much haggling over the price, but finally the rangatira agreed to meet the white man's demands. The bags were duly delivered to the village, and the war party left immediately to avenge the ancient wrong of which the Taupo people had been guilty. And when the inland tribe saw the well-armed raiders approach, great fear was in their hearts. They had heard of the terrible effects of the fire sticks of the pakeha, but knew nothing of their use. Yet, bravely, the fighting men were got together. Their chief harangued them. He did not fail to emphasise the heavy odds, but pointed out that if they were to die it was better to die fighting in the open than to be mercilessly slaughtered in their own pa. And so, at the head of his warriors, he sallied forth through the wide entrance gate, and his challenging cry to combat was echoed by every man in the fierce charge down the hillside.

“Immediately, the invaders formed in line, and up went the deadly muskets. There were flashes from the caps, but nothing else; and before the Tauranga people could recover from the first surprise at the happening, the defenders were amongst them, killing them in dozens, in scores. The victory was both complete and overwhelming and only a broken remnant managed to evade the deadly pursuit which followed. Chanting their songs of victory, the Taupo men returned. They had not lost a single warrior and the wailing chant for the dead which the women had commenced at the beginning of the sortie was changed to a song of joyous welcome.

“Vowing quick vengeance, the unbeaten portion of the Coast tribe found its way home, and great indeed was the lamentation at the disaster. Greater still was the wailing and weeping when it was discovered how the powder, left behind in an open space had grown—”


“Yes, grown, pakeha—the finest crop of turnips you ever saw…. It is said that it was the only occasion known on which the Tohunga laid a curse in the English tongue, which he could speak a little.

“He found our own language quite insufficient for the purpose….”

(Rly. Publicity photo.) The road through the beautiful Tangarakau Gorge, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The road through the beautiful Tangarakau Gorge, North Island, New Zealand.

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