Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter XXIII. Takori's Kainga—The Belle of the Hapu—An Invincible Warrior—The Green Lizard—Kapai Te Tohunga Pakeha
Chapter XXIII. Takori's Kainga—The Belle of the Hapu—An Invincible Warrior—The Green Lizard—Kapai Te Tohunga Pakeha.
While Monsieur d'Estrelles was thus entertamed at Motu Arohia, the Captain and party were not having a very high time of it at the settlement of Takori Hiko-o-te-rangi. This kainga was situated, as has been said, at a bend some distance up a small stream whose waters found an outlet in the bay. The village was prettily located, nestling amid forest foliage, which here richly clothed spur and gorge, and contrary to the others the Frenchmen had seen unfortified. Contiguous to it. however, near the apex of a conical hill rising barely out of the heavy forest growth around, was a large and well fortified pah, in which signs of active life could be discerned between the triple palisading. The huts near the stream were not very numerous, nor so lavishly decorated, as those in the other kaingas visited, and from various signs it was concluded that this was the fair-weather residence of a portion of the hapu, which, in the stronghold of the hill, had a safe haven of refuge in case of hostile invasion.
This supposition was confirmed by Naku-roa, whose canoe had accompanied the boats up stream. The young chief, like many another Maori blade, was enamoured of Takori's lovely daughter. But the affection of her father had so far combined with the pride of her people to retain the young girl in single blessedness, although of marriageable age, for she was not only the belle of her hapu, but beauty queen of the country side, and as such not to be lightly disposed of, especially as, being nobly born, and the child of a redoubtable warrior, she could choose her own time without any fear of being shelved at last. But the weightiest reason of all was perhaps the fact that in her infancy the beautiful Rau-kata-mea had been betrothed to a rangatira of the highest rank dwelling further inland, who, besides being as ugly as sin, was many years older than her own father. That he had not pressed his claim might have been due to the fact that he had already somewhere about a dozen wives, the older ones withered as witches, and may be he felt some dread of the caterwauling likely to ensue upon his bringing home a round-limbed maid of such seductive charms. Anyway, he had been patient, and as Takori knew his pet would hang herself rather than resign her lovely form to the embraces of her wizened fiance, notwith- page 110 standing his mana (power, influence), he had not pressed on the match, though secretly desiring it.
Of course she had many adorers, but with her people it was usual for the first tokens of preference to emanate from the softer sex, and as though agreeable with all, she gave encouragement to none, not one of her admirers—who, of course, knew of her betrothal—dared venture upon more than general attentions. Naku-roa had once or twice fancied that she returned his ardent gaze with more of warmth than she bestowed on others, but until she should press his hand* he might not speak of love. One very great obstacle had latterly been removed, probably even more to Rau-kata-mea's relief than his own. Her ancient and much married lover had fallen in the recent northern foray. His sacred body, yet breathing, had been secured when the foe was put to rout and brought back to his people, by which time the spirit had fled. There was a great tangi: the two oldest wives hung themselves, the others cut their bodies into mince-meat, and Rau-kata-mea shed tears, but they were tears of joy at her own deliverance. She had ever since been somewhat coy, but it was early days yet, and Naku-roa bade himself hope.
The crowding masses watching curiously the white strangers landing proved the hapu numerous, the physique of the tangatas showed it powerful; for, as in all primitive races, the true wealth of the ancient Maori consisted of trained muscle, their real power hinged on the personal strength and prowess of their fighting men. The mana of Takori was great, not only because he was a great rangatira and personally full of electric energy, but because he could at any moment bring into action a numerous band of trained and well nigh invincible warriors. It will be remembered that he had been one of the chiefs to board the captain's vessel on their arrival in the bay, and since then the strangers had heard him spoken of with so much of respect that they were prepared to examine more attentively his personal peculiarities, and, by the variety and number of their gifts, to engage his goodwill.
Their approach was signalized by the usual ‘Haere mai,’ echoed by hundreds of voices, waving of mats, and eager cries of women and children. As they drew near the assembly house, about which a large crowd had collected, the dusky magnate was distinguished squatting in a clear central space on a large mat. He seemed somewhat glum of demeanour, was enveloped in the ample folds of a dogskin wrapper formed of alternate stripes of black and white, and received his visitors without altering his position, and without evincing any very extravagant pleasure at the meeting.
* Ropa, a squeezing of the hand by the young wahine, gave her lover license to pop the question.
Food had been got ready for the strangers*, and they were now invited to feast, Takori rising to attend them. But the chief had scarcely got upon his legs, when, with an irrepressible groan, he sank again upon his mat. The invincible warrior was evidently ill, and the dark faces around were full of anxiety as they bent towards him, desirous to relieve his pain, but fearing to approach too near. In whispers the truth came out. ‘Tu-tangata-kino had frowned upon him—Tu-tangata-kino, the lizard god, the cause of all pain in the stomach!’ In plain English the old fellow had the colic105, and had it pretty bad too, that was evident, for struggle how he would to keep up appearances, he had to succumb, and with his dark suffering face buried between his knees and his topuni (dogskin) gathered tightly about him, he was observed to quiver from head to foot as the spasms seized him, although stoically suppressing all vocal evidence of pain.
Here was a go. The visitors wished themselves anywhere else, and no doubt their host wished them in the darkest chambers of Po.†
* The ancient Maori was nothing if not hospitable. Even his enemy, if hungry was fed; if athirst, given drink, the giver always reserving the right to eat the other's dead body when in fair fight he should conquer him.
† The reign of darkness where spirits languish till their final extinction.
And so it was. With a detachment of grave, silent rangatiras to bear them company, the strangers were expected to surfeit themselves with the delicacies provided by their now afficted host. They made but a show of eating, but the circumstances required them to take a long time over it, and when they had done Takori had vanished, and neither tohunga nor satellites were to be seen.
They found upon enquiry that the former had been conveyed to his own whare, four personal slaves taking his mat by the corners. The ceremonies had ended and all were now awaiting the upshot. ‘He was very sick. Tu-tangata-kino was pinching him sorely, but—he might recover.’ All was gloom and anxious foreboding. Around his whare were gathered relations and friends, conspicuous among them his beautiful daughter, weeping silently, and near her a wrinkled crone, her mother, clasping her knees and rocking herself to and fro.
Naku-roa sidled off and planted himself near the former, but she vouchsafed him never a glance. The Europeans, upset by this contretemps106, and perplexed how to act, stood about in groups, speaking low, around them congregated, at a retreating distance, scores of inquisitive brown-skinned urchins, looking askance, and attended each by a kuri (native dog) with erect ears, and a howl by way of bark.
‘I wonder,’ whispered Arnaud to his neighbour, ‘if that old demon priest is in the hut. If I thought Takori was alone I'd soon cure his colic. I have a specific more efficacious than a shipload of prayer,’
‘Suppose we take a stroll past the whare and look in?’
The tohunga was there, sitting on his hams, and Takori, doubled up, was groaning audibly.
‘Ciel107!’ exclaimed Arnaud. ‘I have a mind to brave the priest's wrath.’ And after a few moments' irresolution, during which their feelings were harrowed by the distressful moans of the sick man, he put his half-formed resolve into practice, first, however, stepping to where Naku-roa squatted observing the pakeha motions. A low toned colloquy ensued, and then the young chief, rising irresolutely, advanced by Arnaud's side to the door of the whare. Here he appeared again to hesitate, and drew back with gestures of dissent; but Arnaud's reasoning or magnetism prevailed, and, bending down, the young man addressed the sufferer. The old tohunga, bounding to his feet, ejaculated [gap — reason: unclear]!’ (begone.)page 114
But Takori's ear had caught some of the young chief's words, and, lifting up a haggard face, he interposed. The priest fell back muttering incantations, and Naku-roa, keeping at a respectful distance, explained that his pakeha friend—a great medicine man with his own people—would, if permitted, administer a remedy which would relieve the pain immediately. Naku-roa's little fiction—scarcely to be called such, for from his new friend's varied skill and singular gifts he imagined him to be, like the tohungas of his own people, a combination of sorcerer, priest, and doctor, and Arnaud was at no pains to dispossess him of the notion. This little fiction seemed to the old chief to be borne out by the valet's singular appearance. Standing in Naku-roa's rear, his slim supple figure bent forward to see into the hut through the low entrance, his three-cornered hat just exposing enough of his silver peruke to contrast with his swarthy skin, his eyes hidden behind huge green goggles, he looked so different from the ordinary pakeha that a savage might well have supposed him in some way distinct from his fellows.
Takori-himself a tohunga-trusted in his country's gods, and likewise, feared to offend them, but he was well nigh in extremis. The distemper had developed into cholera, but he believed himself bewitched. That morning he had seen a lizard—a green lizard—and though he made haste to get out of its way, the thought of it pursued him. An enemy had sent it across his path, and now that same enemy had moved Tu-tangata-kino to distress him. Sure as his father was in heaven* that lizard, making itself invisible, had slid down his throat with his drink, and now was busy gnawing at his vitals. Incantations had so far proved vain, and Kahu-kura had turned a deaf ear to his prayers. He felt in his anguish like giving up the ghost, but he did not want to die just yet. It wasn't convenient. He had to seek utu from Te Kaki of Waikawau for cooking his wife's cousin's half-brother. He owed a drubbing to Puku-nui of Mata-kana for a raid upon some fishing preserves during the tribe's last call at his part of the coast, and another to Pai-kea of Waiheke for speaking slightingly of his father's bones. From these people he must have blood. And, besides, he had many minor matters to settle which could not be attended to while his inside was being devoured by the green lizard. Perchance the pakeha was a sorcerer more potent than Ihu-puku (knob on the nose), able though he was. He looked at Arnaud fiercely with wild red eyes, then, ‘Ho mai108,’ he whispered hoarsely.
* The ancient Maori had a heaven, situated like that of Christendom somewhere in ‘upper’ regions, to which only the superlatively good were admitted.
His complete recovery was now only a question of time. He was exhausted, of course, but free from pain soon began to recuperate, and Arnaud—whose opportune service had secured him a fast friend—remained in attendance until by repeated doses he had set him on his feet again.
The subsequent stay of the pakehas was brief, although long enough to include a visit to the hill fortification which they found to be almost impregnable, and capable of accommodating many hundreds. The outer palisading was of thick posts nearly ten feet high; the two inner, of stout poles more than twice that height firmly lashed together. A ditch intervened between each palisading, and in each there was but one small hole of entrance. At the corners were quadrangles, from which to sling hot stones or hurl projectiles at possible besiegers. The whares, thickly set, were as substantially built as the materials allowed, and everywhere signs of native opulence abounded. The base of the offside of the hill was densely wooded, as were all the ranges in the neighbourhood, some of the timber attaining colossal dimensions. Straight massive trunks rising eighty and ninety feet ere forking into branches, supplied the Frenchmen with something to wonder at.
One thing, however, they did not see, though ever, with quick ob servant eyes, seeking its gleam, and that was the yellow gold, which in so many hearts had been the secret motif of their courageous enterprise. They had not expected a coinage among barbarians, but they had hoped to see in personal or house adornment some sign of the precious metal. Its utter absence proclaimed, either that it was unknown to the natives, or else that, unacquainted with its appearance, they regarded it as worthless—an alternative the Frenchmen could not suppose possible among human beings, whatever their colour.