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

Chapter IX

page 163

Chapter IX.

The day following the battle the tawa commenced its short march homewards, sorrowful though victorious. Nothing human is perfect, or bought without a price. They had gained a victory great beyond their dreams, but they had paid for it. The remains of many of their dead were concealed in the swamp of Onéwhero; they brought back a train of corpses and wounded men, and, worst grief of all, their General was numbered amongst the latter. Karaka with difficulty was persuaded to husband his strength, and submit to be carried upon a litter, but at length he yielded to the entreaties of his friends. Upon the army reaching the bank of the Onéwhero stream, Nini, the Ariki of the Rarawa, announced that he should go no further. Upon being brought before Karaka, he said, "I have come to the boundary of my land; I shall die here." It was without effect that Karaka said, "I have treated you kindly; come with page 164me to Ngutukaka, and there I shall release you." Nini answered, "Never shall it be said that I entered Ngutukaka as a prisoner. My country is now grieving for my death; I will save my tribe from the shame of my having been a prisoner." His captors were therefore obliged to content themselves with exhibiting his head upon their triumphal entry into Ngutukaka. It was late in the day when the army reached the wide sandy beach from which the fortress was plainly visible. The sight of it appeared to revive the consciousness of the giant Te Taniwha; he had hitherto been driven along like a dumb beast, and, indeed, had not spoken since his capture. He looked long at the great hill fort, then, suddenly rushing through those who were between him and the ocean, plunged into the surf, into which none of his captors cared to follow him. He then boldly struck out to sea, his huge frame rising on the crests of the rollers. The army halted spontaneously, and gazed after him as long as he was in sight; even his balked tormentors, as he rose on the crests of the waves, cheering him and calling out, "He is a taniwha!" "Well done the taniwha!" That night the army remained at Kauroa, the dead and wounded being quietly sent on to the fortress; and on the following day the victors made their triumphant entry into Ngutukaka, every soul in the place coming forth to welcome the conquerors.

The maidens, waving green branches, sang songs of triumph, hailing by name those who had distinguished themselves; and the name of the young warrior who page 165had "taken the first" in the skirmish of the advanced guards was more frequently on their lips than that of any other warrior who had exhibited his prowess in the great battle. Matuku, the hero of the day, had, alas! a great misfortune, which, even in the hour of his triumph, threatened to deprive him of the reward for the hope of which he had fought so bravely. He had a sad blot on his escutcheon; he was the son of a slave. In early life, when Karaka was learning the trade of war under his father, Te Au o te Rangi, at the sack of a town upon the east coast, he burst into a house, and pronounced the dreadful words, which have carried dismay and doom for God alone knows how many thousand years, or to how many myriads of human hearts, "You are my slaves!" Among his captives he found a young lady of surpassing beauty. Some said that she had touched the heart of her captor; but when this report reached his ear, which was upon the following day, he silenced it by presenting the lady to a friend who had greatly admired her beauty.

In the course of time the lady gave birth to a son at Ngutukaka, who soon displayed a surprising resemblance to the man who had taken his mother captive. Female gossips, who remarked the likeness, were forced to attribute it to one of those caprices of nature, which occasionally stamp upon the offspring a mark or resemblance to some person or thing seen by the mother. If any of Karaka's companions in arms could have given a reason why the boy was page 166like Karaka, he would have scorned to betray a secret of no public importance, and which an honoured chief had buried in oblivion. The reputed father of the lad, a man of no mean rank, had a family by the fair stranger; but, of course, they occupied a very different position to that which they would have had he married a lady of his own tribe; in plain language, they were considered illegitimate. Matuku grew up a fine stalwart fellow, and was looked upon as "a promising young man," which meant that he was a strong able youth, a good runner, a master of the spear exercise, and that he ought to turn out a stout warrior. This indeed was the height of his own ambition, until Love, the great master, entered into his heart and told him to strive to distinguish himself, and that if he succeeded he would gain her he desired for his wife, or if not, he would find relief in death, which was better than life without the woman he loved.

The women having welcomed the victors, the garrison performed a dance of welcome, which was followed by the event of the day, the war dance of the conquerors, many of whom held in their hands human heads, the lips of which, but two days before, had breathed defiance to their slayers. Ah, war! miserable war! The savage instinct which impels man to battle is the same in the highly educated man, fighting with all the appliances of science, and in the savage, fighting with his primitive wooden weapons. Whether the combatants are clad in aprons to hide their nakedness, or decked out in gold and silver, their object is the same—to inflict death page 167upon the greatest possible number of their fellows. Indeed, the savage has the advantage, for he has no fear of death, and consequently more thoroughly enjoys the excitement of the conflict.

No entreaties could prevent Karaka from assuming his place at the head of the war dance. His absence, he said, would have a bad effect both upon his friends and upon his enemies. He remained dancing until his leg swelled to such a size that he was compelled to leave off. He then announced that he would hold a war court for the decision of all disputes which had arisen during the late brief campaign.

There must be disputes among the victors after a battle, whether they be for ribbons, stars, and medals, of for Banda and Kirwee prize money, to be decided in luminous language by an eloquent old judge, assisted by an army of lawyers, fourteen years after its capture; or whether they occur among half-naked barbarians for the honour of having killed this or that man, and the right to keep his spoil, consisting of a shark's tooth or a green stone. Certainly the barbarians had the advantage of prompt and impartial justice, so long withheld, in the instance of Kirwee, from those who fought in scarlet, for the Maori war chief heard and settled upon the spot every claim brought forward.

Many sought the Tohunga in his tapu grove, and rich were the presents he received. Had not his promise of an easy victory been fully realized, and does not man ever seek to gain the good-will of those who are supposed to be endowed with powers beyond this earth?

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Matuku te Taniwha sought the Tohunga, and laid before him the choicest spoils of the battle.

"Go, my son," said the soothsayer, who had penetrated the young man's secret, "ask now and be successful."

Proudly the young man stepped forth from the grove, and approached the tribune upon which Karaka was seated, administering justice. The youthful likeness of the old chief stood before him.

"E Pa! (Oh, Sir!) give me my wife!"

"Give you who?" said the chief, regarding the young man with kindly eyes.

"Give me Tui for my wife."

"Give you my child Tui, the best of our maidens?" said the chief, his looks falling, and regarding the young man with no favourable glance.

Father and son harshly regarded one another; then the chief looked round upon the multitude by whom he was surrounded. The request grated upon his feelings, for he loved Tui as though she were his own child, and, moreover, Maoris had a strong dislike to the marriage of first cousins. He pondered; to refuse was to sentence to death the proud young man, who, he well knew, would not survive the disgrace of a public refusal; to reject the suit of the hero of the day, and cause him to take a leap from the tapu grove and fall a mangled corpse upon the rocks beneath, would be to deprive the tribe of an accomplished young warrior; while, above all, Nature pleaded with him to grant the page 169request. He yielded, and yielded nobly; sacrificing with his consent the secret of his life.

"My son, my own, my undoubted son, she is thine, now and for ever!" "Tui," continued he, "come hither."

The trembling maiden advanced from amongst her companions, and stood before her uncle. Then, addressing her as the all-powerful war chief of the tribe;

"Tui," said he, "here is your husband; you are tapued to Matuku; you are his while you live, and after you have returned to the earth."

A deep drawn breath of applause stirred the assembly, and murmurs of "Well done, Karaka! just like Karaka!" might have been distinguished.

The chief proceeded, "Listen! I have not finished. Te Rawhitu, come hither. I have long rejected your suit for my daughter Hira. You fought stoutly in the front; my daughter loves you, you have gained her for your wife."

Again a murmur of applause shook the vast audience, happy in possessing a leader capable of sacrificing his private feelings for the public good. Let not the reader suppose that these sudden marriages were the cause of much violence being offered to the feelings of the young ladies. Hira and Te Rawhitu had long loved; and though Te Taniwha was declared to be the husband of Tui, in point of fact Karaka's assent merely amounted to a betrothal. Te Taniwha had acquired the right to woo the lady, with the privilege of spearing any man who presumed to bestow upon her a loving glance. He might page 170affect the society of his betrothed, and offer her every attention in his power, above all things taking care not to be obtrusive; and in a few weeks, months, or years, he might persuade his bride "to turn to him." Should he weary of the pursuit, and "turn" to another woman, the probability was that the lady, being of great rank, would obtain a divorce. Strange and absurd as it may appear, in marriages made by the relations of the parties, and in state marriages, if the term may be applied to alliances made between the families of the ruling chiefs of different tribes, it was not always the lady who was the reluctant, or apparently reluctant party; sometimes the husband usurped the privilege always conceded to the wife, of showing "how virtuous she was," and insisted upon retaining his bachelor freedom. It is almost unnecessary to add that these were exceptional cases.

"The fall of the leaf," as summer is called in Maoria, for it is then that the leaves wither and die, had passed, and the crops were secured and stored in the magazines before the scouts brought tidings that the Northern tribes were again assembling in great strength upon the southern side of the firth. Who, alas! should now lead the Ngatiroa forth to victory, for Karaka, the great soldier of the river, lay dying of his wound. He could no longer conceal, what he had known from the first, that the wound in his breast was mortal. Calmly he was sinking to his rest, nursed with untiring affection by his children Hira and Matuku. Though no longer able to walk, he persisted in performing the duties page 171of his great office, upon the due execution of which depended the safety of his native land. Daily, when the weather permitted, carried upon a litter, he made the rounds of the fort, inspecting the magazines of food, and conversing cheerfully with his chiefs, who anxiously looked for a word of recognition. He bade them be of good courage, and never to leave the fort; and then they might do as their ancestors did before them, laugh to scorn all attempts of hostile feet to enter the renowned citadel. Confidence and comfort were inspired by the words of the dying warrior; and, while all felt the greatness of their impending loss, it was a satisfaction to resolve loyally to follow his parting advice. Upon the night previous to his departure, he expressed the wish to see his brother, Te Wira, alone. Long they sat together in silence; Karaka wished to say that he blamed himself for not accepting the chieftainship of the tribe, but when it came to the point, he found that he could not utter words which might hurt the feelings of his brother. He therefore commenced by speaking of their father, and of the days of their early life. At length he told Te Wira, that he was haunted by the dying words of their parent— "Beware of the sea;" he feared that from the ocean would come their destruction. Still, if they went not to the sea, the sea could not come to them; he therefore cautioned his brother to attempt no sortie, should the virgin fortress have to suffer a siege, and, embracing him, entreated him to forgive him if he had ever unintentionally hurt his feelings in the execution of page 172his office. Te Wira, much moved, promised to follow his advice, and assured him that never had man had a better, a kinder, or a more considerate brother. The following day Karaka was carried into the public square, that he might take his departure for the land of spirits after the manner of his nation. He demanded of the breathless multitude whether any man was suffering from any unredressed injury caused by himself. There was no reply. He then conjured them to be unceasing in vigilance, and in obedience to his brother Te Wira, who would be, both their Ariki, and their war chief. Let them imitate the virtues of their forefathers, and the renown of Ngutukaka would increase throughout the Island. No people in the world were so brave and virtuous as the Maoris, and no tribe surpassed in valour or in virtue the Ngatiroa. He left them in time of war, but that was the natural state of man; until all the tribes in the Island and all the Islands in the world made peace, war would not cease upon the earth; and if ever that peace came, man, in a few generations, would increase with such rapidity, that, like the fish in the sea, the strong would soon again pray upon and devour the weak. Never would man resign the delightful excitement of the war dance and the other preparations for battle, the delirium of the strife, and the glory of the conqueror, which death itself was powerless to destroy. Man would cease to make love before he ceased to make war, and woe to the unprepared! Their preparations were so complete, that his heart was at ease, and he had nothing to wish for but page 173for the happy time, when, with their allies at their back, they would invade the north. Their allies had kept back, but they were looking on; and if the war proved, as they expected, a long one, their allies could no more continue to look on without joining in the strife, than the fort-dogs, called together by two of their number fighting, could for long peaceably watch the struggle. He felt assured that before long their allies would afford them effectual succour. He was exhausted, but with his last breath he felt irresistibly impelled to repeat the dying words of his father, "Beware of the great sea! beware of the treacherous sea!" So saying, he went away. Then arose from earth to heaven a long lasting wail of anguish. All deeply felt the irreparable loss of their accomplished general in the hour of danger as a personal misfortune; and the women of the tribe, by an unconcerted and spontaneous movement, cut off and strewed their hair round the bier of their beloved chief. With a powerful enemy daily expected in front of the fortress, there was little time for displays of state. They therefore obeyed the thoughtful directions of the departed Karaka, and at once carried away his remains and concealed them in a cave in the mountains.