A Sketch of the New Zealand War
Waitini and Wiremu Kingi VIII
Waitini and Wiremu Kingipage 72page break page 73 VIII
Here is Donald McLean's story about Waitini:—
There was much tribal jealousy between the Ngatiawa and the Ngatimaniopoto, two neighbouring tribes. This was before the natives acquired fire-arms. It was the custom then to fight in phalanx, just as the Greeks did. The two tribes were drawn up in battle array, distant from each other about eight hundred yards. Neither was anxious to begin the fight. They were too equally matched, and embarrassing intermarriages had taken place during a long peace.
Waitini was a Ngatiawa of the purest blood. With great dignity he stepped out of his phalanx, and marched half the distance towards the Ngatimaniopoto. There he halted, sang his song, flourished his tomahawk, slapped his buttock, and strutted defiantly about.
Three young Ngatimaniopoto chiefs rushed out from their phalanx to capture Waitini. As they started, abreast, straining every nerve, Waitini sat down to pick a thorn out of his foot. Waitini apparently saw nothing, and, as his adversaries approached, a dreadful yell was sent up to heaven by his tribe, who saw his danger. He moved not a muscle. He was lost. An ominous silence fell upon his people; their hearts were bursting with alarm. The reckless Waitini continued to pick at the thorn; his tomahawk even was laid listlessly by his side. Waitini had calculated page 74all the chances. It was a brave man's lure. The Ngati maniopoto were of unequal speed. There was, however, but little distance between them. The first was on Waitini apparently before he woke up. He did wake up, however, sprang like a panther half to one side, and then swung round. His youthful adversary could not check his speed, and, as he passed, Waitini buried his hatchet in the Ngatimaniopoto's skull.
The second man was on him almost before he could clear his axe. Waitini ran for his life at a right angle to his adversaries'course. The two Ngatimaniopoto followed him, the foremost making a bee-line, the next at an oblique angle. Waitini fell on his knee when he was all but caught. The first pursuer stumbled over him, and met his death as he fell. Waitini then rushed at the third adversary, whose eye quailed for a moment in doubt. In the moment of indecision he was slain. The two phalanxes then rushed at each other in great fury. Waitini, with coolness, waited for his men. The Ngatimaniopoto were beaten. There was great slaughter, and the Ngatiawa became the dominant tribe, and remained so until the downfall of the King movement.
It is easy to understand the character and position of a man like Waitini amongst such a race. He was worthy of it all—genial, kindly, unassuming, brave; and what a hero he looked! He was six foot four, twenty-one stone weight, without a particle of spare flesh on him. I saw him naked. He had muscles like iron bands, a head like a Roman emperor, and a heart in loyalty and simplicity like a child's.page 75
When the great wave of enthusiasm for national independence swept over Maoridom, Waitini, with a chosen band of 140 men, went down to Taranaki to fight for the cause.
Waitini Taiporutu was a sucking babe in Wiremu Kingi's hands. Wiremu Kingi was a diplomatist. He was amongst the Maori a counsel chief; that is, a politician. Waitini Taiporutu was a war chief, a soldier.
Wi Tamihana te Waharoa was a counsel chief of the Ngatiawa, Waitini's tribe. Tamihana besought Waitini not to go to the Taranaki war. "You are a great warrior," said he. "We cannot spare you. The trouble is coming home to us. I see it. You are a great baby, too—guileless as an innocent girl. You are my sister's son and the pride of your race. Wiremu Kingi is a subtle, white man's Maori, without any special sense of honour. He will entrap you, and you will be lost. You weaken our tribe by taking away the pick of our young men; and when it is all over, the Ngatimaniopoto will turn and rend us. The future of our race is in your hands; stand fast, and wait. In due time, I will find you fighting enough."
In spite of it all, Waitini would go to the war. The fever was in his blood.
The Battle of Mahoetahi.
Mahoetahi lay about five or six miles to the north of New Plymouth. It was a knoll with sides sloping irregularly. Somewhat egg-shaped, it was almost surrounded by a flax and raupo swamp. It was easily approachable on the north-east, where a dry ridge led from the open plain right up to the brow of the knoll.
When Waitini arrived at Waitara and joined forces with Wiremu Kingi, he carried things with a high hand. Haperona, a slave by birth, was Wiremu Kingi's fighting chief, a little, fiery man, with a jealous temper and great military talent. On Waitini's arrival, Haperona was relegated to an insignificant position. Wiremu Kingi was a man of imagination, with a practical turn for affairs. He was not carried away by any Utopian idea of Maori nationality. He had lived too long among white men of high intellectual order to deceive himself. He was at Waikanae the personal friend of Archdeacon Hadfield, a distinguished missioner, who had been educated at one of our great English universities. Archdeacon Hadfield united to great enthusiasm for the Church scholarly attainments of page 77a high character. He was by nature meant for a constitutional lawyer. Divine faith turned him into an apostle. Wiremu Kingi sat at his feet, and became an enthusiast for the British Constitution. Wiremu was forced into war by Governor Gore Brown's pragmatic incapacity.
Kingi had sufficient intellectual power to command a large following in the Parliament of the Colony. Isaac Earle Featherston, William Fox, William Fitzherbert, Archdeacon Hadfield, and Bishop Selwyn were the advocates of his views. Wiremu had used the wave of Maori enthusiasm to further his purpose and secure allies in men and money, but he had no intention of being swallowed up in the King movement. Therefore Waitini Taiporutu's arrival was to him by no means an unmixed blessing. To make war for the defence of his tribal land and constitutional privileges as a British subject, with the whole of Exeter Hall and half the New Zealand Parliament at his back, was one thing; to declare openly for the Maori king another. Wiremu Kingi dissembled. He said to Waitini, "Hitherto we have done nothing. Now indeed, with the chivalry of Waikato, under the command of our greatest soldier, we page 78can make a forward movement, and drive the Pakeha into the sea."
Waitini, accompanied by Haperona, and a few of his own tribe, scouted for a day or so. Finally they agreed to establish a post at Mahoetahi, on a part of the land in dispute, and challenge General Pratt to a pitched battle, beat him, and then by a forced march along the sea-shore cut him from his communications with the sea.
I have never been able to satisfy myself as to the cause of the absolute failure of this combined movement. Either Wiremu Kingi's courage failed him at the supreme moment, which is quite possible, as he was only a counsel chief, or Haperona, out of pique, determined to destroy Waitini, or there was an agreement from the beginning between Wiremu Kingi and Haperona to humble the Waikato. From personal acquaintanceship with Haperona, I am inclined to think that he merely obeyed Wiremu Kingi's orders, whatever they were. Haperona had military genius and a profound contempt for the soldier. His position was a perfectly safe one, practically chosen by himself. His chief also was out of danger, his rear being covered with capable scouts in touch with his fighting pas. Whatever the cause, Waitini Taiporutu was not assisted in the hour of danger, and the flower and chivalry of Waikato was left to perish at Mahoetahi.page 80