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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand

Chapter LVIII. — The Taupo Campaign—continued. — Arrival of Major Kepa and the Wanganuis. The War-dance

page 310

Chapter LVIII.
The Taupo Campaigncontinued.
Arrival of Major Kepa and the Wanganuis. The War-dance.

On the evening of the fight, No. 2 Division, tinder Sub-Inspectors Seannell and Northcroft, arrived at Tokanu; and McDonnell announced his intention of following the enemy up next day, but late in the evening a messenger arrived from Kepa (who was on his way with seventy picked men), requesting McDonnell not to fight until he arrived. This McDonnell agreed to do, as he felt that by waiting a day or two, he would have the assistance of seventy trustworthy men, who, with No. 2 Division, could command success under any circumstances. The weather was bitterly cold at this time, and the men, not overburdened with blankets, suffered exceedingly, and would have done so much more but for the magnificent hot springs that surrounded them on all sides. Two-thirds of the force were generally to be found in the large circular spring, sitting with the water up to their chins, discussing the topics of the day. In fact it was a sort of club-room for the men, but a very dangerous one; for at this period the largest of the boiling springs, distant scarcely twenty yards from the bathing-place, was in a state of great irritation, and about twice a week would blow up with very little warning, throwing a column of boiling water a hundred feet high. The Maories had never previously seen it in this state of blow-up; but the cause was explained, when the eruption of Ngauruhoe took place a few months after. To add to McDonnell's troubles at this period, Henare Tomoana's prophet dreamed a dream, to the effect that Waikato had joined Te Kooti, and that they were about to attack Rotoaira. This excited the fears of Renata Kawepo page 311to such an extent, that without consulting the colonel, he Sent a messenger to Henare at Tokanu, desiring him to bring up his men at once.

Next morning they arrived in camp, and when the colonel expressed his dissatisfaction with the movement, and requested them not to leave their posts again without orders, Renata replied that he should do as he liked. McDonnell at once told him to return to Napier, as he did not want disobedient men. This changed the chiefs tactics, and he became more tractable, and in a fit of candour explained that out of his 300 men there were not more than sixty who would fight. The colonel naturally asked what the others were there for, "There for?" said Renata, "why, to see the others fight, and to make a noise."

The force now kept close to camp, to encourage the enemy, who grew bolder every day and swept off all the stray cattle and horses; but the day of reckoning was at hand, for McDonnell only awaited the arrival of Kepa and his Wanganuis. There was no time to be lost, for potatoes were getting scarce, but luckily the camp was well supplied with meat from Murimotu.

This state of inaction did not suit McDonnell, and to pass the time he took out the mounted division on a reconnoitring expedition and came across the enemy, who were decamping from a village which had been partially fortified. They were moving across the plains towards the Iwituaroa range which divides Taupo from Tuhua, to the north-west of Tongariro.

The troops were very anxious to charge them; but McDonnell, who intended something more decisive when he did act, would not allow it, for Te Kooti had nearly three hundred men, and it needed a severe lesson to break up this force effectually. On the 1st of October, Kepa and his men arrived at Rotoaira. It was but a small detachment, but they were all tried men; their delay had been caused by the dreadful weather, the illness of their leader, and by the misrepresentation of Te Aro. This page 312chief, for reasons best known to himself, had consistently misled Kepa as to the distance and depth of snow on the Rangipo desert; moreover, he had unpleasant dreams, which everyone knows are serious things with Maories. McDonnell's work at this period was anything but light, mentally speaking. It was no easy matter to keep harmony among the different tribes, and at the same time allay the superstitions dread still felt towards Te Kooti. His force was in many ways composed of very discordant materials, and inattention to any of their grievances or peculiarities might have proved disastrous to the country at large. The Arawa and Napier tribes now prepared for a war-dance to greet the Wanganuis, who were slowly advancing in column, stripped naked, and rifles at the port. Renata Kawepo and the other chiefs sallied out of their pah naked as the day they were born and waded the river; after the usual challenge, Wanganui came on and the Napier tribes opened the performance. Only one man has ever succeeded in describing the war-dance, so I refer my readers to "Old New Zealand" for that, freely acknowledging my inability to help them. At the close of the dance, Ngatikahungunu formed front two deep, and a hoarse cry went down the ranks of "Eyes right," with an addition of "Pai ia rewhi" (by your left), which was promptly obeyed by bringing the muzzles of their rifles to the front, capping, and then, after whirling the guns two or three times over their heads, snapping them off at Wanganui, who were kneeling in column of fours, their eyes on the ground, and heads turned a little in listening attitude—in fact, they were doing it properly. The ceremony of snapping the caps (called the cap-dance) was gone through three times and was done in capital time, when again the command "Eyes right" was heard, and they all knelt down as Wanganui sprang to their feet. Kepa, who seldom took part in a war-dance, now appeared stripped to the waist, lean and gaunt from his late illness, and led off his men in first-rate style. At the conclusion, page 313the renowned little fighting man Winiata called out to Ngatikahungunu in broken English, mixed with much bad language, "Too much you make a loose the——caps; my word, Colonel Gorton (Inspector of Stores) make you pay." The Napier men now began a series of performances of the most disgusting nature that can possibly be imagined. If Dame Groody of Exeter Hall had but been present, I fancy it would rather have cleared away the fog in which that venerable old lady is enveloped with respect to the Christianised state of the natives.

Warlike speeches followed the dances, and Renata Kawepo, after a long tirade, proposed that in a week's time they should march out and look for Te Kooti. Kepa, a man of acknowledged ability in warlike matters, was not likely to stand dictation from any chief, so he and McDonnell ignored the suggestion, and agreed that Wanganui should rest during Sunday, and attack Te Kooti on Monday.

Some little time previous to this, the men at Tokanu under Colonel Herrick had been marched over the range to Kotukutuku, where the prophetess and her leper son resided, this being a more central position from which to act against the enemy. The order of march was as follows: Kepa, with the Wanganui, Taupo, and Napier tribes, was to march on Sunday night from Poutu by the left shore of Lake Rotoaira, and endeavour to get in rear of Te Kooti's pah on the Iwituaroa range before daybreak and lie perdue. McDonnell with the mounted division, No. 2 Armed Constabulary, and the Arawas, would march from Kotukutuku on Monday morning, and engage the enemy by a false attack in front, leaving the old prophetess at their camp to burn some old whares and create plenty of smoke, to deceive the enemy into the belief that the greater portion of our men were still in camp. McDonnell further intended to retreat hastily directly he was attacked, and thus give Kepa time to close up in rear and draw Te Kooti out on the plains, where he could hardly page 314fail to be cut to pieces. Renata's rascally prophet disarranged all these plans, as will be seen.

McDonnell left Poutu with the mounted division, who had to lead their horses up the steep sides of the hills that rose like the roofs of houses right out of the lake, and reached Kotukutuku just before sundown; Te Kooti's pah was visible from here, and by the aid of a glass the enemy could be seen walking on the parapets.