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

Chapter X. Shark Fishing Disaster

Chapter X. Shark Fishing Disaster.

The part now come to in this story is at morning, before the stars had left the sky. But early even as it then was, might have been seen miles off the Sugarloaves of Taranaki, on the waters of the Pacific, two large canoes, and a crew of three in each of these, fishing for sharks; the flesh of which along with roots, at that time formed the chief diet of the Maori. Funny as it may look, there are none of our people care very much to wander any very great distance from their homes between sun-down and midnight, although even ever so light, but although even ever so dark between that and the dawn, they have no great dread of going anywhere! It may be true or it may not be true, it is not for me to say, but it has been given out by the old natives, so it may be taken for what it is worth, that at-the-turn-of-the-night, the evil spirit Whiro retires, then to the deep bowels of the Earth, to attend to the fires therein burning, which he keeps heaping up for his cruelly spiteful volcanoes.

The shark fishing crews now beheld the sun by degrees swelling out of the far flashing waters of the east, its bright face on a level with that of their own canoes, and darts, and spears-weapons of the old gods-composed of smokeless flame are pointed all around outward from its ring. This change in the rawhiti now hurries the fishermen on to casting down into the deep sea their wakis or bate. They can see now in a way, what is going on in part of the quietly lapping waves under them, and the gleaming phosphorus too, to some extent helps their vision. The waki of one of the canoes seem as though no sooner thrown over than the line is immediately drawn tight. At this point the crew in the canoe cease to talk: if a word should be passed, that word is passed at a very low and guarded whisper. Quickly the mooring tackle is hauled into the boat to provide the shark with freescope in its course of circle-swimming, which commences page 40 with it as soon as the monster much to its surprise, finds something dragging at his head, without its having the power to resist, or yet the power to perceive. Next the shark finds itself in the canoe engaged in a desperate but generally a hopeless struggle. For after about a dozen hard blows on the head with a heavy-wooden mallet, it is finally obliged to give in for ever. At this stage, silence is instantly broken, by a loud cheer from the captors, followed by a short hand-round dance, a few lively jests, and often a snatch of an uproarious song—similar in meaning to what I may now give.

Lay hold of the waki! haul, haul away men,
As the big shark keeps whirling around,
Shorten quick the line, you have him, you keep him!
While he twists, you knock on his nose!
Whoogh! what a big fellow!
Whoogh! what a big fellow!
To grill on the hot seething stones!
Whoogh! what a big fellow!
To make the wahines' mouths wai!
To make the wahines' mouths wai!

Such luck, as has seldom ever been known before, followed the crew of this canoe. For above an hour scarcely had their bait been thrown, for as long-time as one could have had out a good sneeze, than a tug was felt on the line. They were, as it rarely happens in the case of sharks, at any rate, right in the centre of a shoal. But after a while, good luck and bad luck with these fishermen entirely changed places, and instead of being outside in the centre of a shoal of sharks, the shoal of sharks were very, very near having them, by piecemeal right into their centre! In the struggle of getting an enormous-sized one into the canoe, the canoe heeled over. Thereby, losing not only all their former hauls, but also losing all their tackle! and for a time every likelihood of losing themselves, as they clung on to the bottom of their topsy-turveyed boat.—They in this evil instant roared as loud as could possibly be bellowed, for assistance from their mates—in the supposed to be accompanying twin canoe, as it is for trying situations of this kind, that two or more boats always put out and generally keep together. Their call was unheeded, elsewhere no other canoe could be seen! After for sometime struggling, they managed to turn their craft over, and succeeded likewise by swimming to recover their oars. Of course, then the thought struck each one, “that what they had themselves, just now, by good chance escaped, must also have happened to their twin crew, and that they (the twin crew), page 41 perhaps, had had the bad chance not to escape, as they themselves had luckily done.” But while their strength remained, their best should be done to find out if that their worse fears had befallen their companions, or if any yet were struggling above the waves, to try to save them. The wind then backing to the north-west changed altogether the range of the sea, making headway in the direction which was thought, the best chance of discovery lay—very much more difficult: however, as all kept pulling with a determined will, the canoe at a pretty fair rate of speed cut through the water. They had not rowed a very great distance, ere their attention became drawn to something unusual in the water, at the distance of three miles, and a few points north of windward. What was their amazement on nearing this object? when they descried it to be one of the twin-canoe's crew, supported on a jumbled-heaped together lot of rods, fringed with rags of flax matting, and what not! How—they swore, by all the good and evil spirits!—did such a droll crazy-looking article ever get out on the sea? “I know not,” answered the rescued,—“all that I hope is, that my other two mates may have had as good luck as what I myself have had, in also getting something or another to clutch at, and to hold on by. I could not have swam a hundred yards more, when this queer thing came right in my way—I can tell you.” Then in answer to the question put, of how it was that their wreck came about? He answered, “that in all the years in which he had been fishing, nothing like half the size of the shark which had upset them, his eyes had ever looked upon, and when they had lifted it up to the edge of the canoe, by some mischance the line got a little slackened—then, with one terrible bound against the side, it shot the canoe for yards away right from under them! There must have been at the place in which this dreadful thing befell them, a strong current running south, as the canoe was seen out of all reach by the time we had recovered from our astonishment. Now, don't you think by my making an extra hand to your steering,” he enquired, “we might be able in a short tussle, to run the canoe to a grip, or if not even that, pick up either one or both of her crew?” The only reply that there came to this proposal, was by the nose of their precarious craft headed in the direction described which the empty boat had taken—accompanied by the oars dipping and rising in and out of the water at a marvellous rate of speed. On, on! southward they sped without a moment being lost, aye! until the big drops of sweat coursing downward almost blinded the oarsmen!

Cheer, cheer! willing hearts cheer! away upon the crest page 42 of a far away ridge of the sea, a canoe is sighted! A little while further on too, their strained vision makes out that it was the very thing of which they were in pursuit! the canoe which has brought upon them all their trouble! Better and better still, they soon afterwards observe that this canoe is not drifting by the mere force of wind and current. “They are saved! they are saved!” All with one voice shout—“More marrow from the bones of our arms men, and alongside soon shall we be of our companions!” But, what is it now which makes each look aghast? Is there again perceived another fresh perplexity?—Yes! for this canoe which the sight of just now quite overpowered them with joy, as they first set their eyes upon it; in place of meeting is discovered to be receding from them!—“They are only two to four,” spoke one of the oarsmen, “and whatever their reason may be for this odd quirk, we can soon put our hands on them, and seek for an explanation—all together men, and quick!”

But the task which was undertaken, was neither to be done so easily, nor yet so quickly as they had calculated upon that it should be. Their extra hands, of course, made them perceptibly gain ground, but what they gained was tiresomely slow and vexatiously worrying. As nearer they drew, another startling surprise awaited them—none of their old friends were in the canoe that they were beating up to. What does such mean? All that could be made out was, that it was guided by a strange man and woman! What a cruelly vile trick was this, either Whero or his servants were here playing freaks with them? For the hold of their own canoe to be occupied with a strange tangati and a strange wahine! At first when this extraordinary event was unveilled, for a few moments the crew shrank from pursuing further. Such was but a few moments, however, and then they pushed on towards the objects which they wished to haul, yet at the same time dreaded!—At weary length, and when too, nearly the sun had completed its descent, these two canoes once more came together. Then all the circumstances connected with the seizure and the chase were truthfully explained. The then present occupants of the canoe were, who should ever have dreamed of it? Nanahu and Runa! ! !