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Maoria: A Sketch of the Manners and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Zealand.

Chapter VII

page 116

Chapter VII.

In the stone age of Maoria, the forest was the scene of the heaviest labour of the hardy sons of the land. The first duty of existence, the production of food, and the second, which they considered of equal importance, the defence of freedom and of life, required that man should fell the giant pines and umbrageous cypress-trees, shape them into immense war and fishing canoes, or, as piles for their eel-weirs, drive them into the lakes and rivers. The universal law which makes the whole male creation combatants, and man, as he is the highest, the most pugnacious creature on the globe, also requires him to erect defensive works; the forest was therefore laid under contribution for the palisades of their great hill forts, the remains of which are marvellous monuments of the early industry of a fast disappearing race. When "the black skins" have finally disappeared, and with them the hatred of race engendered by their at least equal bravery as soldiers, and more than equal page 117skill as military engineers to "the red skins," as they term the Europeans before whom they are disappearing; then, but not till then, will posterity rightly estimate the imperishable monuments presented by the terraced hills of Maoria, and, comparing them to the wonders of Italy or Syria, rank them as works which history will never reproduce.

Every few years a tribe put forth all its strength to obtain a supply of timber. Trees of the required description were innumerable, but it was no easy matter to find a sufficient number growing near one another, and not too far from a river side; this last being, as may easily be perceived, a most important condition. The trees growing beside every small stream, on which a canoe could float in the rainy or winter season, were thoroughly well known, and groves near the water side, which contained suitable timber, were marked for felling in after years.

When the spot had been decided upon, the first step was to erect a Pa for the defence of the working party; the greatest chiefs considering it as much a part of their duty to guide the tribe, and to encourage it by their example in all works of toil, as it was their privilege to lead and command it in time of war. The Pa being constructed, some of the neighbouring ground was cleared and fallowed for kumira and taro cultivation. In their far-off home of Hawaiki the taro grew spontaneously; in the Isles of Oceania the cocoanut-tree makes man a lethargic idler; and on the vast continent of America a bountiful nature provided page 118countless herds of deer and buffalo for the food of the Red Indian, thereby making him a mere hunter. In Maoria, nature required to be wooed before she would yield her gifts, and the Maoris were the only race who were agriculturists on a large scale, while yet ignorant of the use of metal. In their land the taro and the kumira were exotics, and it was only to careful cultivation that they yielded an abundant harvest. If any proof were requisite of the immense extent of the kumira cultivations, and consequent great population of the country, it is afforded by the countless pits and quarries with which the central plain of the Waitebuna basin is studded, and from which gravel and sand were taken to mix with the top-soil for the purposes of kumira cultivation. Even fern-root, the great spontaneous growth of the open lands, required a large amount of labour before it was fit for food. Dug up with a pointed stick from an average depth of two feet, it required to be carefully dried in the sun, and, before it could be eaten, to be pounded bit by bit with a mallet; so dry and unpalatable however was an exclusive diet of fern-root, that there was a proverb applicable to any peculiarly disagreeable work, that it was "eating fern-root without a relish." This hankering after "a relish" is universal, and a Maori naturally considered it hard times when his fern-root or kumiras were not seasoned with fish, fresh or dried. It is true that in autumn and winter birds were in season, but they were never sufficiently numerous to be more than a luxury.

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Hard and wearisome was the toil necessary to construct a war canoe, as hard perhaps as the labour required to build one of those impregnable forts in which the present iron age goes forth to battle upon the seas. Could valour be estimated as accurately as weight of metal or thickness of iron plating, it may be questioned whether the ironclads, hurling sulphurous missiles at one another from a distance, have on board men more filled with the rapture of strife and the contempt of death than those in the canoes, which dashed with furious valour upon one another to decide the battle in hand-to-hand combat "by the light of their enemies' eyes."

Upon one of the tributaries of the Rotorua Lake, the Ngatiroa had for three years been busy at work in the forest. The first year they had built a Pa for their protection, and cleared the brushwood from the ground upon the edge of the forest; the second year, when the crops planted had come to maturity, and they were saved from the great labour of carrying provisions into the woods, the tributary being only navigable after heavy rain, the work of felling trees had been undertaken. The third year had been passed in felling and dubbing down spars for repairing the forts and eel-weirs. Their labours were nearly ended, but a large raft which they had filled with timber, totara, konaka, and tanekawa, was aground just where the river merged into an extensive swamp which required heavy rain to move its dull tide; there it had lain for some months, the rainfall having been less than usual that year. The first month page 120(June) of the new year commenced with the first new moon after the appearance of the winter star, Puanga, in the morning. The raft had been ready in the second month (July), when heavy rain is usually expected; but the days went by, and the fifth month had arrived without the usual winter floods; should it not move in the course of a month, there would be little hope of stirring it till it was released by the next autumn rains. In few countries do the seasons vary so much as they do in Maoria; storms, gales, and rain follow almost without intermission in some winters; but in others, storms of wind seem to prevent the usual rain from falling. This had been the case in the season which had just passed away, and the delay was the cause of much anxiety, as the timber was urgently required at Rotorua and Ngutukaka. Rain had repeatedly fallen during the boisterous winter, but there was no heart in it; no heavy fall released the timber raft, and a deputation was upon the point of starting down the river to Ngutukaka to request the presence of the Tohunga in the emergency, when the chiefs of Rotorua were called to the fortress to witness the departure of their Ariki. At the earnest request of the magnates of Rotorua, Ngawhare had consented to go where his own inclinations led him, and upon being further importuned, to invoke the oracle. As we have already been present at a Maori séance, we need not closely follow the proceedings. When asked when the raft would float, the invoking spirit answered, "Twice eight! twice eight! twice eight!" a reply the To-page 121hunga professed himself unable to interpret. Days passed, and still the long wished-for rain held off. Ngawhare, with reluctance, again consented to consult the oracle, and this time he did so with more effect, The chiefs assembled in the house of the diviner had passed the night in a state of anxious expectation, without the spirit putting in an appearance; and, in reply to the anxious inquiries addressed to him, the Tohunga expressed the opinion that his familiar was angry at being twice troubled on the same subject. They still watched, however; and at last, when the morning star had risen, a sound, like a voice calling in the distance, was heard, and immediately afterwards the house resounded with a noise, as though some person had rushed against it and broken through its wall of reeds. As the shock died away, a voice from the roof saluted them, "Greetings to those present, to you Toe Toe, to you Kowhai, to you Ngawhare, and to all of you. Why am I again troubled?" Ngawhare returned the salutation, and said aloud, "When will float our raft of timber in the Pikopiko?" The voice answered sharply, "At the sound of the trumpet" (the war horn). This enigmatical reply was not considered satisfactory; but Ngawhare, having at the general desire addressed another question and received no reply, was deaf to all entreaty to question the spirit further; saying that it was angry, and that to give it further trouble would be to bring misfortune and bad luck upon them. He gave it as his own opinion that rain would fall before long, and that the raft would page 122float; but they must be ready, for they would have no second chance, and that if they did not then succeed in driving it down to the lake, they would have no further opportunity till the autumn rains fell. Thus urged, a strong party remained at Pikopiko ready for action. At last the long-desired rain fell; it commenced in the evening with the wind from the N.E., and rained heavily and steadily all night. It cleared off towards morning, and with the dawn the Tohunga rose, and, taking a small fast canoe, started by himself for Pikopiko. Long before he reached the swamp in which the raft was stranded, he heard the shouting of those engaged in trying to float it, and knew that the trumpet had not yet sounded. The hot sun was high in the heavens when he reached the raft; springing from his canoe, he seized a handspike from one of the workmen, and chanted the first line of an incantation. The workmen took up the refrain, and as they struck their poles into the ground and pushed together as one man, a peal of thunder, such as one hears once in a lifetime, accompanied by a blaze of fire, reverberated in the hills around. As it died away, the raft began to tremble, and glided gently down the stream. Dropping their handspikes, the men looked at one another, and muttered in awe-struck whispers, "The sound of the trumpet."

Triumphant stood the Tohunga in the centre of the raft, directing her course; representing in the eyes of his deluded followers superhuman power, not what he in reality was, an incarnation of evil hypocrisy. Not a page 123man among those present who possessed a marriageable daughter or sister but would have felt honoured by a connection with the great Tohunga. We may therefore suppose that he was not unsuccessful in his wooing of the widow, the real object of his visit to Rotorua.

A few days before the Tohunga floated the raft and the Ngatiroa left Pikopiko, one of those waifs who sometimes came to the surface of Maori life, made her appearance, attracted by the smoke of the Pa, amongst them. When a woman dreaded being forced into an uncongenial marriage, or more frequently when she had quarrelled with her husband, she would sometimes fly with the intention "to lose herself in the forest." If quickly missed and followed by a person she respected, the chief of her family (hapu), or, maybe, her husband, so strong was the force of habit, she would return when she heard his voice calling to her to come-back. Otherwise, the chances were fewer of her being again seen than the unfortunate, who has jumped from Waterloo bridge, has of being dragged alive out of old Father Thames. The tribe to which this waif belonged would have been known by her accent had she not possessed sufficient intellect, which she did, to declare it. Displaying the usual crossness and snappishness, and making the grimaces of insanity, she told her incoherent tale. She belonged to the Maniawhere tribe, which dwelt near the source of the river, and she had lost herself in the forest because she had had a dispute with her husband, she knew not how many moons ago.

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She had ascended Pakekawa, the great mountain at the back of her settlement, upon the top of which she had seen the Patupaihere, great hairy giants, building a Pa. While she was watching them at their work, one of them saw her and made her prisoner; he did not treat her unkindly; on the contrary, the warmth of his attentions led her to attempt her escape, which at last she had succeeded in effecting. Such was her tale, related in fragments, between which she perpetually crooned the following song, which she declared she had learnt from the too affectionate Patupaihere.

"I was born, I was born,
In the dark cloudy sky;
   I live, I live,
   On the mountains high.
On the earth, on the earth,
I ne'er die, I ne'er die."

The raftmen laughed at her tale, but gave the poor creature shelter, and the refrain of her song, issuing from a hundred stentorian throats, soon woke the echoes of the river as the great raft swang slowly down the stream with the swelling waters.

The Tohunga knew from experience that if matrimony increased his happiness, it also, by enlarging the number of his relatives, increased his troubles. Like all well-to-do gentlemen, he had relatives with whom he could easily have dispensed—relatives if not of himself, at least of his numerous wives; and for the purpose of giving trouble, a man's wife's relations are as effective as his own. While the love-fit lasted, no one could be page 125more uxorious; and his new wife did not allow the honeymoon to pass away without asking him to perform his promise and assist her brother, who was deeply in love. A party of the Ngatiroa had lately returned from a visit to the powerful tribe of the Mania; among them was Taipari, a handsome young fellow, a general favourite, and the brother of the lady who had been the last to captivate the fickle affections of Ngawhare. Taipari had declared his passion in the usual Maori fashion when his party left the settlement of the Maniawhere. He had, after rowing a short time, laid down in the bottom of the canoe, saying he was sick. After a time, in reply to reiterated inquiries, he answered, "I have fallen, I have fallen." Pressed to name the lady, he had at length named Te Pia, a young lady of the Mania tribe, of great rank, but of remarkably plain personal appearance. This did not lessen the difficulty of the case, for the companions of Taipari knew that one man could be as madly in love with the plainest and smallest woman, as another with "a woman tall and fine," as they expressed their ideas of female beauty; and there was no reason to hope that a demand for the hand of the lady would prove successful. Of old times in Maoria, when a man formed a hopeless attachment, it often terminated fatally. If no warlike expedition was on foot to distract his attention, and give him the opportunity of curing himself by the excitement of battle, or by seeking death at the hands of his enemies, he would either pine away, or by his own rash act end his pain. Taipari was pining away when page 126his sister, who loved him dearly, made it the condition of her consent that her husband should obtain for her brother the hand of the lady for whom he was dying.

Under this domestic pressure Ngawhare proclaimed a "tawa tango," a tawa for carrying off a woman. An indispensable preliminary to every description of tawa, whether a tawa muru, a tawa to confiscate, a tawa tango, a tawa for carrying off a woman, or a tawa toto, a tawa to kill and destroy, was to send and give notice, otherwise it would have been stigmatised as a "kohoru," a murder or act of treachery.

The notice once given, the march of the raiding party might follow immediately, or be delayed for an indefinite time, which was sometimes done with the view of throwing the enemy off his guard.

Ngawhare selected as his ambassadress a lady of the highest rank, accustomed to act as envoy upon such occasions. Te Rangi Oha, the daughter of Te Au O Te Rangi, and sister of the ruling Ariki, was not less distinguished for her high birth than for her generosity and hospitality; indeed, she practised these virtues to an extent which, even in Maori eyes, bordered upon excess. Everything that she possessed she immediately gave away, and so fully occupied was she upon public affairs, that she had little or no time to bestow upon her own. In one respect she almost usurped a function of the ruder sex, for she was capable, nay fond of speaking in public, an unusual accomplishment in a Maori female. But, while taking a large share in public affairs, she re-page 127tained a simplicity which, no less than her hospitality and generosity, endeared her to her countrymen. Enshrined in these virtues the old lady performed journeys and visited distant tribes in safety, when a less known and honoured envoy would never have been allowed to return home. These public virtues, it may readily be supposed, were not accompanied by the lesser domestic graces. Te Oha was not fortunate in her matrimonial ventures; for the fourth time she was a widow. Two of her husbands had been killed in battle, one drowned, and one had disappeared no one knew where. Scandal did whisper that they had all sought death to escape the infliction of listening to her, but no great public character ever was, or will be, without detractors. In the multiplicity of her public engagements she had found time to give birth to one daughter, the Tui whose acquaintance we have already made, and as the girl approached womanhood she acquired sufficient influence over the old lady to keep her more at home. It was thus that Tui had persuaded her mother to teach her the skilled weaving the old lady had learned during a visit to the far distant south.

Te Oha was to start upon her mission in a kopapa, a small canoe, which barely held the old lady and the two female attendants who were to accompany her. Her daughter was standing upon the bank to witness the departure of the ambassadress, who appeared to be more interested in taking leave of some friends who were about starting in a canoe up the lake, than in thinking about either her child or her mission. The page 128day was showery, and, while she was talking to an old chief who was seated in the stern of the other canoe, the rain again began to fall. The old gentleman, like herself, was indifferently protected from the weather, and her restless bright eye glanced over all the lookers-on upon the bank and settled upon her daughter, who was enveloped in a comfortable large pureki, no one there being more appropriately dressed for the season. The old lady briskly slipping out of her canoe, stripped off her daughter's cloak and threw it to her old acquaintance, amidst the laughter and applause of the bystanders.

Like many another plenipotentiary, Te Oha was ignorant of the real intentions of her principal, or she would have scorned being used as an instrument of deception. Two large canoes full of armed men impatiently waited her departure to follow her; and it was arranged that the tawa should remain for that very indefinite period "a day or two" at a friendly settlement, while the old lady preceded it and gave the indispensable notice of its approach. Te Oha saw the tawa hospitably received at the friendly village of Kawau-nui, and pushed straight on to Orakau, the settlement of the Mania, where she was received with great respect and distinction; nor was there the slightest change made in the manner of her hosts when she announced that a tawa from Rotorua would be there the following day, or the day after (the old lady had passed one night on the river), for the purpose of carrying off Te Pia, for the love of whom Tai-page 129pari was dying. "Of whom did the tawa consist?" she was asked in reply. "Of from eighty to ninety pairs in two canoes under the command of Ngawhare." The Mania made no answer; they felt rather offended at so small a tawa coming to attempt the abduction of one of their maidens. The only thing that troubled them was that Ngawhare was coming in command; for a man of his reputation was very unlikely to undertake the accomplishment of an ill-considered project. The tawa had left Rotorua but a few hours when Toe Toe, either seized with remorse for allowing so small a tawa to leave upon such a difficult expedition, or acting upon a secret understanding with Ngawhare, shouted his war cry, "A tawa! A tawa! come with me! come with me!" and very soon followed the two canoes, which had already started, with seven more, full of men. One of these he dropped a little above the entrance to the Rotorua River, with orders, in case any of the other tribes should send off an express to give notice to the Mania, to intercept it. The others pulled hard all that night, and day was breaking when they landed below Orakau, and took up a position in a gully close below the fort. As the sun rose the two canoes under Ngawhare approached the fort, their bows in line; the bowmen, standing in the stems, with song and uplifted paddle giving the time to which the other paddles all flashed in unison. But a single impulse seemed to propel the two canoes, and their harmonious rhythm gave them the appearance of two huge centipedes moving upon the face of the waters. The page 130Maniawhere, having reconnoitred and seen that there were but two canoes approaching, opened the gates of their Pa, and, like civic authorities caught napping upon the approach of royalty, made frantic efforts to get their pageantry into order. The women greeted the strangers with shouts of welcome, and the chiefs having marshalled their men, performed the customary dance of welcome. The Ngatiroa, who had landed below the Pa, formed in a long oblong phalanx, the rear of which rested upon the gully in which their friends lay concealed, and, upon the conclusion of the dance of the Mania, commenced their share in the performance. The oblong wedge, the Maori order of battle, advanced, singing in a low tone, and gesticulating in what they would have called a mild manner. On they advanced, the movement raising no suspicion in the breasts of their adversaries, it being part of the customary ritual of the war dance, until the thin end of the phalanx overlapped the Mania, and stood between them and the gates of the Pa. Suddenly a change was visible in the antics of the Ngatiroa; their gesticulations became violent, their eyes protruded, their heads were thrown back, and their throats uttered a mighty shout. As the cry passed their lips, a stream of warriors rushed up the banks of the gully, and joined the cluster of their comrades, now swollen to a compact mass of six hundred men. When the Mania realised the ruse practised upon them, they never for a moment thought of giving up the fair cause of the incursion without a struggle. Into the page 131Pa poured both parties, the Mania to rally round the bride, if we may call her so; the Ngatiroa, except the small party expressly told off to carry away the lady, seeking every man an opponent to wrestle with. Each party was anxious to avoid bloodshed, both being "Tribes of the River." The uproar was therefore greater than had they been engaged in actual warfare, it being more difficult to master a man by strength of muscle than to knock a hole through him. At length superior numbers prevailed. Those who fought around the lady were dragged away; she was roughly seized: and such a tugging and hauling ensued that had she not been to the manner born, she must have been rent in pieces. At last but one young man, a secret admirer of the lady, retained his hold. An active young fellow, he had so twisted his hands and arms into the girl's hair, and fought so vigorously with his legs, that he could not be removed until he was knocked down senseless.

The contest ended and the bride borne in triumph to the canoes, both parties proceeded to pick up their weapons and smooth their feathers, ruffled in the violent exercise in which they had been engaged. Everything had been conducted in the most honourable and satisfactory manner. The Ngatiroa had duely declared their intention, and, if they had surprised the Mania, the latter had learnt a lesson, and had only succumbed to superior numbers. No lives had been lost; only a few bones broken, which would soon mend, and it would be their turn next time. In the meantime page 132their own characters required them to fulfil the duties of hospitality, and the tawa was requested to remain until food was cooked and placed before it. What did the well-mauled bride think of all this? When she heard that the tawa was approaching to try and carry her off, her heart beat the faster at the compliment paid to her. "Those tall girls who think so much of themselves want the indescribable something which is so attractive, besides Taipari is such a handsome young man." As we have said, the lady was to the manner born, and, somehow or other, habit accustoms us to anything or everything, even to the chance of having one's throat cut in the cool of early morning. In a veracious history it must not be omitted that in less than a month the young lady was so violently jealous of Taipari that she could not for a moment trust him out of her sight.

Ora and Te Maire had avoided one another, as it were, by a mutual understanding. They had not spoken during her stay at Rotorua; she had, however, too high a spirit to leave the lake without coming to an explanation with the dreaded keeper of the eel-weir. A party being about starting down the river, which she intended accompanying, she said, "Na! behold! before I leave this I shall go to Maire and see if he is strong enough to dare to refuse my right to take eels." As she approached the eel-weir, from the precincts of which the keeper was never absent, he advanced to meet her, muttering to himself inarticulate words; but when they had drawn page 133near to one another, he sat down saying, "My dear child, we have not met since we lost our Ariki;" an invitation, under the crcumstances, to lament together the lost ruler. This was done by rubbing faces, embracing, and in exclamations, broken by sobs, bewailing the departed. Their embrace was of the shortest, for no sooner did the old man place his hand upon the girl's arm than she started hack crying, "You have hurt me; you have pinched my arm." She returned in tears to the house she had left, and her arm shortly commenced to swell. No mark was visible, but in a few hours it had become of an immense size. Surrounded by her crying companions, moaning with pain, and saying she was bewitched and was going to die, the poor girl passed the night; and the next day, about the hour she had made her luckless visit to the jealous guardian of the eel-weir, she passed away—killed by her frantic, unfounded fears, or by the machinations of Te Maire.

Has man ever occult power over his fellows? The Pakeha scornfully answers, "Never!" Yet nearly the whole of what we are pleased to call the uncivilized world answers that he has, and it is difficult to deny that many men and women exercise influences which are unaccountable.

It is not only in India that "the evil eye" is dreaded, or only in Maoria that people die because they believe that they are bewitched.

The death of Ora caused no more sensation than page 134would have attended it had it been caused by disease. Te Maire, they said, had bewitched and killed another person, making full thirty whose death he had caused. But then, he was a great chief, and no one had ever managed the eel-weir with equal success, or been so strict and fair in distributing the fish. No matter the number of visitors, it was impossible to find him without a good supply of dried eels. The death of the girl was a most unfortunate occurrence, but it could not be helped. Had he been an ordinary person, of course he would have been killed for payment; as it was, the lady had, doubtless, given him provocation, so the less said about the matter the better. Public opinion in Rotorua had, however, not rightly estimated the effect of the death of a favourite daughter upon the feelings of an angry father. When the express sent to tell Tomo reached Ngutukaka, he said little, merely giving orders where he wished his child to be buried. A few days passed, during which he appeared to be outwardly little affected. He then summoned four of his most trusted adherents, and proceeded secretly to Rotorua, timing his arrival so that he reached the Pa in the night. Otane, a strong, powerful man, who acted as his lieutenant upon the occasion, demanded admittance, inventing an excuse for the untimely arrival of the party. Upon their gaining admission, they went straight to the house of Te Maire. Greeting him with words of salutation, Otane approached the sleeping-place of page 135the sorcerer and his wife: suddenly he seized the old man by the throat and uttered a low cry; his companions rushed in, and, without any alarm being raised in the Pa, the two practisers of abominable arts were sent to their account.

Quickly the avengers, taking the corpses with them, proceeded to the nearest cooking-house, and, having lighted the oven, threw the bodies upon the hot stones. This was done by way of further "payment," and to disgrace the remains of the sorcerers. Having effected their object the executioners left the Pa, telling the guard at the gate that they would find something they had left in the cooking-house.

Had the execution of the sorcerers been the act of another tribe, the Ngatiroa would, as a matter of course, have felt bound in honour to resent their death. Being killed, as they were, by some of the highest members of their own tribe, under circumstances of great provocation, the tribe as a body looked upon the matter as an affair concerning themselves only, and one to which exactly applied the expressive word "tohungia"—"do not touch it." Moreover, the number of deaths attributed to the keeper and his wife caused a large proportion of the jury, composed of the whole of the inhabitants of the Rotorua River, to find the verdict of, "Served them right."