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The Sunken Island. A Maori Legend: Occurring Ere the Time of Captain Cook.

Chapter I. A Great Chief at Home

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Chapter I. A Great Chief at Home.

It was long, long ago, many moons they say it was' before Captain Cook, and his ship came to New Zealand, that the Great Matomato, after countless victories all over the east, the west, the sonuth, and the north of this island, settled down in quiteness near the shores of Lake Taupo. There, around a low hill-side, which, arose right in the centre of a wide, wide valley, he built for his slaves a kainga of more than two hundred whares! Above these on the crown of this rising ground, he also built for himself, and for his tribe, one of the largest fighting Maori pas, perhaps, anywhere to be found in the whole world. Eight hundred men, that could steer the canoe, wield the axe, or thrust the spear; besides, their women and children could sleep under the roof of the great wharepuni! Like moon-rings, thrice along the skirts of this pa ran three high palisadings; to walk around the outside, one took twelve hundred and forty paces. Upon the side of it where the sun is lost, at regular distances above the posts, were placed ten grimsome carved faces, other ten of these scaring figure-heads, faced the sun at morning; other ten at noon; and also ten more, where it begins to sink. Nearly a thousand flanks of sharks at all times were spread like soaked-mats against those upright walls; while huge pits of toothsome roots and barks were stored within—wonderfully constructed canoes, delightful to look at—such as to ashame Maoris of the present day for their less gifted hands—stood like horses in a line ready to be led to wherever there was work for them wanted to be done. But, there was one thing, that the Great Matomato prized more than all the glory of his many famous victories; than indeed, all the wealth of slaves and stock, that he then possessed; and certainly had he been offered all that the land and water contained, from sky to sky, he would have said, “Away with them! away with page 6 them! away with everything I now hold as my own; but, spirit, of Atua! leave me my kotiro!” This was his only child, a lovely girl of seventeen summers; who had first breathed the ambient atmosphere in a rough cradle, rocked by the deep blue waters of Ahipara, hence she was given the name of Rnna, meaning thereby a water plant; and the beauty of Rúna, as she grew, kept spreading and spreading wherever on the three islands a Moari thereon lived. As a matter of course, even apart from her wondrous personal charms alone, the circumstance of Rúna being the daughter, and the only child too, of the Great Matomato, was sure to be sufficient of itself to arouse a great many aspirants for her hand, and among the young chiefs there were all sorts of manœuverings and displays—I can tell you—so as to win the much coveted Runa's partial interest. One would show his prowess by challenging anybody and everybody at feats of daring enterprise; another would display his merit in unrivalled swiftness of limb; another in parade of strength; another again in gorgeously stained flax raiments, and another in the choice of sweet rippling words, which he could make slide cunningly off his tongue; and, strange to state, even young as Runa then was, she had all the woman's art of fixing in the mind of each one that he was the first in her estimation. But this kind of artifice on Runa's part, at times, created confusion and evil consequences. It was in this way, one or two perhaps, of these enamoured rivals would foolishly explode the joy of his heart secretly to a friend; that friend of course in confidence to another, and so on, until it reached in time the ears of some others in the same rivalship. Then, the truth of such an assertion would blasphemously be refuted; loud, noisy challenges would be given, and contemptuously accepted; often too sufficient bitterness was produced at these ruptures as to kindle not unlikely, future intertribal wars. Not unfreqnently when Matomato got to hear of those turbulent squabbles, he would pit them one with another in deadly combat, attributing the fault as was then the custom to the overthrown. Runa, whichever way things went in these sanguine contests, never seemed in the least disturbed, yea! in the very heat of them she often betook herself to merry gambollings amid her father's slaves! On such occasions Matomato often felt inwardly wounded at his daughter's unseemly cool conduct. But, odd enough, this powerful Chief of Chiefs, who would brook nothing amiss from anyone else, failed altogether for courage to reproach his fragile daughter. Is not the saying of old, undeniably true, “that nothing can arrest the arm of strength so effectually as love?” page 7 But Matomato had some excuse too, for his weak forbearance to this, the only fruit of his loins. One night, eleven years previously, Runa's noble mother fell lifeless at his side, from a stone, which an enemy had slung at random inside of one of his fighting pas, leaving Runa thereby, the only object left to receive the strong current of his passionate affection. It was heart-touching sometimes for one to observe the radient pleasurable glow on the massive round countenance of this great chief, as he looked down on the flat valley, from his seat on the hill, at the foot of the tall palisadings, and watched his little kotero, gracefully timing the marvellously clever movements of the háka which was gone through in those times in the way I shall describe. Now, the whole company separately whirling, and intermingling, like the independent specks seen in a sunbeam; then, advancing with a deafening tumult in straight lines, as of the deep waves of Moana rushing ashore, when the wind beats violently from land; next, suddenly stopping, with lips apart, clenched teeth, and wide sundered eyelids! the left leg straight as a dart thrown behind; the right foot, knee, breast and face launched forward in line with their shoulders, the hands thrust straight out with a weapon in their grasp, immediately making three swift mimic blows from right to left, and then three more in succession from left to right again, the whole moving together as if actuated by but one, these motions over and over again usually were repeated, and between each, thrice three stamps with their right heel, and thrice three ughs! from their open throats were given. At last the heels came together, and the weapons brought erect, with the points resting on the ground, betwixt the balls of the feet; one hand is freed so as to rise and fall, swing and sway to the time of the words of the Waiata, which all give voice to render.

At this distant time and place, it was nearly all about the grand achievements of Matomato which was sung, of his mighty power, of his sure vengeance, of his well-considered justice, of his invariable mercy to the weak and helpless. The most frequently repeated song of triumph, one that, in short, has long outlived his day, was nearly such as this is, which I here repeat:

Who gains the fights with his own hands?
Matomato!
Who highest in runanga stands?
Matomato! Matomato!!
Who lords it over all these lands?
Matomato! Matomato!! Matomato!!!

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Who mercy to the humble shows?
Matomato!
Who pride-presumptuous overthrows?
Matomato! Matomato!!
Who swells the feast with slaughtered foes?
Matomato! Matomato!! Matomato!!!
Who in his wrath makes storms arise?
Matomato!
Who loud as thunder shouts war-cries?
Matomato! Matomato!!
Who belches lightening out his eyes?
Matomato! Matomato!! Matomato!!!

The song wound-up the haka, and the haka thus woundup; was the signal for the man on the out-look, astride on a high-cross pole to vehemently halloa-out for the slaves to spread the smoking-feast, and also to lay down the raupo-leaves for the Rangatiras and the Rangatira wahines; so that these swells should squat dry and comfortable. Everything, I think you call it “in apple-pie order!”