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The King Country; or, Explorations in New Zealand. A Narrative of 600 Miles of Travel through Maoriland.

Chapter I. — The King's Camp

Chapter I.
The King's Camp.

Alexandra—Crossing the frontier—Whatiwhatihoe—The camp—King Tawhiao—The chiefs—"Taihoa".

Alexandra, the principal European settlement on the northern frontier of the King Country, lies about one hundred miles distant from Auckland, and a little less than eight miles to the west of the Te Awamutu terminus of the southern line of railway.

I reached Alexandra along a delightful road lined with the hawthorn and sweetbriar, and through a picturesque country, where quiet homesteads, surrounded by green meadows filled with sleek cattle and fat sheep, imparted to the aspect of nature an air of contentment and quiet repose. Indeed, when doing this journey in a light buggy drawn by a pair of fast horses, it seemed difficult to realize the fact that I was fast approaching the border-line of European settlement, and that a few minutes more would land me on the frontier of a vast territory which formed the last home of perhaps the boldest and most intelligent race page 18of savages the world had ever seen. In fact, when approaching Alexandra from the Te Awamutu road, with its neat white houses, embowered amidst gardens and groves of trees, and with its church-spire pointing towards heaven, I seemed to be entering a quiet English village; and had it not been that the eye fell now and again upon a dark, statuesque figure, wrapped in a blanket, and with a touch of the "noble savage" about it, it would have been somewhat difficult to dispel the pleasant illusion.

The township was not large, and a school-house, two hotels, several stores, a public hall, commodious constabulary barracks surrounded by a redoubt, a postal and telegraph station, a blacksmith's forge, and about fifty houses, built for the most part of wood, formed its principal features of Anglo-Saxon civilization.

On the day following my arrival at Alexandra I left, in company with a native interpreter, for Whatiwhatihoe, to present my credentials to the Maori king. Our ride across the frontier into Maoriland was a most delightful one. The steep, wooded heights of Mount Pirongia had cast off their curtain of mist, and stood revealed in their brightest hues; while the green, rolling hills at its base formed a pleasant contrast with the more sombre, fern-clad banks of the Waipa River, as it wound its devious course from the direction of of Mount Kakepuku, which rose above the plain beyond in the form of a gigantic cone. The country for miles around lay stretched before the gaze, forming a varied picture of delightful scenery, and all nature appeared budding into life; while the prickly gorse, with its page 19golden-yellow flowers, encircled Whatiwhatihoe like a chevaux de frise. The primitive whares1 of the natives imparted a rustic appearance to the scene, as they stood scattered about the country to the south, while, as the eye wandered in the direction of the north, the white homesteads of the settlers served to mark the aukati2—frontier-line—separating the King Country from the territory of the pakeha.3

The king's settlement of Whatiwhatihoe was situated on the west or opposite bank of the Waipa from Alexandra, and on a broad alluvial plain running along the base of a range of fern-clad hills. As a rule the whares were built entirely of raupo,4 and were scattered about the flat and on the low hills in its vicinity without any regard to regularity, and while some had a neat and even a clean look, others were less attractive both in their designs and general surroundings. They were mostly oblong in shape, with slanting roofs, which projected a few feet at one end of the building in the form of a recess, where the entrance, consisting of a low narrow doorway, was placed. Windows, in the form of small square apertures, were the exception and not the rule, and consequently the interior of these primitive domiciles was badly ventilated. A few blankets and native mats formed the principal articles of furniture, save where the owner, profiting by the advance of civilization, had gone in for articles de vertu

1 Whare is the native name for a house or hut.

2 The aukati signifies the boundary of a tapued or sacred district.

3 Pakeha is a term used by the Maoris to designate Europeans; it means a stranger, or a person from a distant country.

4 For a synopsis of the principal flora met with during the journey, see Appendix.

page 20on which the "Brummagem" hall-mark might be distinctly traced.

As we approached the camp the whole place presented a very animated appearance; horsemen were riding about in every direction; long cavalcades of natives, men, women, and children, were arriving from all parts of the country, to take part in the korero1 to be held on the morrow; while many old tattooed savages, swathed in blankets, and plumed with huia feathers to denote their chieftainship, were squatting about, puffing at short pipes with a stolid air, as they listened in mute attention to one of their number as, gesticulating wildly, and walking to and fro between two upright poles set a few paces apart, he delivered a fiery harangue upon the momentous question of throwing open their Country to the advancing tide of civilization. Bevies of women and girls were busily engaged in preparing for the coming feast, and troops of children played and fought with countless pigs and innumerable mongrel dogs.

While pushing our way among the assembled crowds we were met by the king's henchman, a half-caste of herculean proportions, who conducted us to the whare runanga, or meeting-house, an oblong structure about eighty feet long by forty broad, solidly built out of a framework of wood, and thatched with raupo. It was capable of holding a large number of people, and the white rush mats covering the floor gave it a clean and comfortable appearance.

In the centre of this spacious hall sat the king

1 The word korero (to speak) is here applied as a general term to the meeting.

page 21flanked by his four wives, the principal and most attractive of whom was Pare Hauraki, a fine buxom woman with oval features and artistically tattooed lips, habited in native costume, with a korowhai, or cape, bound with kiwi feathers, thrown carelessly across her shoulders, over which her dark raven hair fell in thick, waving clusters. A number of chiefs of the various tribes
the maori queen pare hauraki.

the maori queen pare hauraki.

assembled, squatted in a semicircle in front of the king, who rose from his seat—a rush mat—as I approached, and motioned for me to be seated in front of him.

Tawhiao was habited in European attire, consisting of a pair of dark trousers, patent leather boots, and a grey frock-coat trimmed with red braiding about the sleeves, and which at the first glance reminded me page 22of the redingote gris affected by Napoleon I., and which obtained for him the sobriquet of the "little corporal." A black huia feather tipped with white adorned his hair, and in his left ear he wore a large piece of roughly polished greenstone,1 and in his right a shark's tooth. In stature he was a little below the medium height, sparely made, but keenly knit, with a round, well-formed head; while his features, which were elaborately tattooed in a complete network of blue curved lines, were well defined in the true Maori mould; and although he had a cast in the left eye, his countenance was pleasant, and as he spoke in a slow deliberate way, he invariably displayed in his conversation a good deal of cool, calculating shrewdness.

Among the principal rangatiras, or chiefs, present were Tu Tawhiao, the king's son, Major Te Wheoro, Manga Rewi, Te Tuhi, Te Ngakau, Wahanui, Whitiora, Hone Te Wetere, and Hone Te One. Tu Tawhiao was a tall, slim youth, with a thin, sleek face and dark moustache, and with a meek expression of countenance. He affected European costume, and had none of the strong Maori type of feature so characteristic of his father. He did not appear to be a very gifted youth, but he had a pleasing manner, and might be considered as a fair type of the anglicized Maori. Major Te Wheoro was a short, thick-set man, with heavy features and a somewhat shrewd look. He ranged himself on

1 The pounamu, or greenstone (nephrite), a species of jade, is much prized by the Maoris as an ornament, either for the neck or ears. It is only found on the west coast of the Middle Island, the native name for which is Wahipounamu, or Land of the Greenstone.

page 23the European side during the war, when he gained his commission, and at the time of which I write he was one of the four Maori members of the House of Representatives. Manga Rewi, like Tawhiao, was a Maori of the old school, and with all the physical characteristics of the race about him. His chief influence appeared to arise from the fact that during the war he was one of the principal Kingite leaders. Te Ngakau was remarkably thick-set and muscular, with a firm-looking yet intelligent face. He was dressed half as a Maori and half as a European, and was remarkable for nothing so much as for the enormous development of the calves of his legs. Whitiora was an antiquated, tattooed warrior, who during the war had won his laurels when gallantly defending the Rangiriri Pa against the Imperial forces, while Hone Te Wetere was known to fame in a somewhat doubtful way in connection with the White Cliffs massacre.

The most notable, however, of all the chiefs present was undoubtedly Wahanui, of the Ngatimaniapoto tribe. Standing over six feet, and of enormous build, he had a peculiar air about him which seemed to mark him as one born to command. His features, slightly tattooed about the mouth—which was singularly large —bore a remarkable appearance of intelligence, while his head, covered with thick white hair, was round and massively formed. He impressed me very favourably during the interview, and when speaking, as he did at some length upon the political condition of the King Country, he seemed to possess not only a great power of language, but a singularly persuasive manner which was at once both courteous and dignified. He ap-page 24pread to exercise a weighty influence over the king, and to act in all matters as the "power behind the throne," but he had evidently a conservative turn of mind, and had he been born in England, I think he would have developed into a nobleman of very pronounced Tory principles.

wahanui.(Chief of the Ngatimaniapoto Tribe.)

(Chief of the Ngatimaniapoto Tribe.)

When the king had learned the object of my mission, and that I had come to obtain his authority to explore the Maori territory, he was careful to inquire what other countries I had visited, and whether I had before travelled in other parts of the world with no other view than to see mountains, rivers, and plains. "The page 25Maori," he remarked, "never undergoes fatigue for such a purpose as that, but I know," he continued, with a slight touch of na?veté, "the pakeha is different to the Maori, he has the 'earth hunger,' and likes to see new places. If you wish to go into the country, you
manga rewi.((A. Chief of the Maniapoto Tribe.)

manga rewi.
((A. Chief of the Maniapoto Tribe.)

may do so when the meeting is over, but it is not good that you should go until the Maori has spoken with the pakeha at the korero, therefore I say wait, 'taihoa.'"

The latter word sounded somewhat unpleasant to page 26my ears, as I knew with the Maoris it was their gospel, and was synonymous with the Spanish proverb, "Never do to-day what may be done to morrow." I took the king at his word, but before I left his presence I mentally recorded a vow that, if I could not get into the King Country at the north, I would get into it at the south, which I eventually did a few months afterwards, as the sequel of this narrative will show.