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

Chapter XXIII. — Ruakaka

page 269

Chapter XXIII.

The wliarangi plant—Enormous ravines—Euakaka—Reception by the Hauhaus—The chief Pareoterangi—The parley—Hinepareoterangi —A repast—Rapid fall of country—The Manganuia a-te-Ao—Shooting the rapids—The natives—Religion—Hauhauism —Te Kooti's lament—A Hauhau hymn.

We struck camp at Dismal Swamp at daybreak, and travelled on for many miles through the same character of country we had been traversing for the past five days. Before leaving us, at the entrance to the forest, Te Wheu had warned us not to allow our horses to eat a certain shrub, called by the natives "wharangi," which we found growing for many miles along our course, with broad, oval-shaped, light-green leaves. This plant, when eaten by horses or cattle, is said to produce stupefaction, followed by convulsions and death, the only known cure being instant bleeding from the ears. Our own animals were now ready to eat anything, and made desperate efforts to devour the foliage of the trees, and, as we went along, we had great difficulty in keeping them away from this poisonous shrub, which they would devour greedily. During this journey the boggy creeks and fallen trees became more troublesome than before, and the hills page 270steeper and more difficult to climb. We passed along one ridge, with enormous ravines below, some of which, were of circular shape, and in appearance not unlike extinct craters, while deep down in their depths, all around their sides, and up to their very topmost ridges, nothing was to be seen but a luxuriant growth of the most varied and beautiful vegetation. Here, too, the geological character of the country changed, the trachytic rocks giving place to a sandstone formation, covered with a stratum of thick, marly earth, which was so slippery in places that we could hardly manage to get along.

During the greater part of the morning the rain had been pouring down in torrents, and what with the swollen condition of the creeks, the slippery nature of the soil, and the starved condition of our horses, our prospects of ever reaching Ruakaka seemed to be hopeless. At last, about two o'clock in the afternoon, we hailed with delight a break in the forest, and we came suddenly into a hilly region, where the tall fern grew higher than our horses' heads. After travelling a considerable distance through this country, we mounted to the top of a high hill, when we beheld, 200 feet beneath us, a fine, open valley, sunk like a pit, as it were, in the heart of a mountainous region, where enormous forests stretched away as far as the eye could reach on every side. Right down the centre of the valley, as far as we could see, we could trace the winding course of the Manganui-a-te- Ao, marked by precipitous cliffs of grey rock, which rose perpendicularly from the waters of the river to a height of 300 feet, while above these, again, on the page 271further side of the stream, were terraces of rounded hills, backed by conical mountains, which mounted, one above the other, to a height of 3000 or 4000 feet, covered from base to summits with a thick mantle of luxuriant vegetation. On the side where we had emerged from the forest the valley was bounded by round-topped, fern-clad hills and flat, terrace-like formations that descended, in the form of gigantic steps, into the plain below, where the whares and cultivations of the natives, stretching for miles along the course of the stream, appeared dotted about in the most picturesque way. Taken altogether, the whole place had a singularly wild appearance as we gazed upon it, and now that we could see everything from our point of vantage without being seen, we wondered what kind of a welcome we should meet with from the natives.

We led our horses down the steep, slippery track into the valley, and as we were now seen by some of the Maoris, there were loud shouts that pakehas had arrived, and the natives came out of the whares and awaited our approach in front of the wharepuni. We could see at a glance that the words of Te Wheu were correct, and that the natives, so far as we could discern by outward signs, were veritable Hauhaus, alike in dress and bearing, while both men and women had a singularly wild and even savage appearance when compared with all other tribes I had seen in different parts of the country. It was likewise clear that they did not welcome us at first with any demonstrations of cordiality, and upon Turner inquiring for the chief, they replied that he was away at a wild-pig hunt, and page 272that we must wait till he came. The natives then squatted around us, and scanned us narrowly, while we looked on with an air of apparent indifference.

In the meanwhile a messenger had been despatched for the chief, whose name, we now learned, was Te Pareoterangi, and after a short delay he appeared before us, with half a dozen wild-looking natives, carrying a double-barrelled gun over his shoulder. He was a man below medium height, but of singularly massive build, broad-chested and broad-shouldered, with a well-formed head, and singularly well moulded features. Indeed, his heavily-knit frame, intelligent air, and almost oriental cast of countenance made him stand out in marked contrast to the other natives, who were, for the most part, unlike the generality of their race, remarkable for their diminutive stature and ungainly appearance.

When Te Pareoterangi came up, he squatted down with a sullen air, without going through any form of salutation, and then, after a pause, asked us what we had come for, and upon Turner telling him that he had brought the pakeha, who was travelling for pleasure, a titter ran round the circle, for, if we did not look it, we felt half-starved, we were drenched to the skin, and covered from head to foot with mud, and the chief, evidently realizing all the unpleasant features of our position, naively remarked, "How can the pakeha travel for pleasure through such a forest as you have come?" At which an old tattooed savage observed, "Their horses are only rats; how did they get here? These pakehas have singular ways." This was said with a sinister smile from the old man, and page break
ruakaka. [Page 272.

[Page 272.

page 273in anything but a complimentary tone. Many other questions were put to us, and the parleying kept on, by fits and starts, for a good half-hour, during which time the natives displayed no token of friendship, the only manifestations we received in this respect being from the dogs and pigs, the latter even going so far as to scratch their backs against our legs.
At last an old woman, who had been watching the proceedings keenly, and whose appearance reminded me of one of the witches in "Macbeth," suddenly rose, and stepping with an excited air into the middle of the circle, waved her bare right arm round her head, and shouted at the top of her voice, "Haeremai! Haeremai! Haeremai!"1 And then turning to the natives, in an equally excited way, said, "The pakehas have been following up the rivers of great names, and have come to our homes; they are hungry, and we must give them food." The words of this weird dame, whom we afterwards found was the chieftainess Hinepareoterangi, and mother of the chief of the hapu, acted like magic upon the natives, who at once took charge of our horses, while the women hastened to prepare a meal, old Hinepareoterangi opening the feast by presenting us with some of the finest apples I had ever tasted.2 In a short time we

1 Haeremai is the usual cry of welcome with the Maoris.

2 When afterwards we asked the natives how it was they appeared to be mistrustful of us when we first arrived, they replied that they had always been suspicious of half-castes and pakehas, especially since the capture of Winiata by Barlow. That Te Takaru, the murderer of Moffat, came there sometimes, and they thought we were after him. They then related to us the circumstances of Moffat's death. It would appear that the murdered man, on his last journey, came to Ruakaka, and induced several of the natives to accompany [gap — reason: illegible] him to the Tuhua country. Moffat, who had been driven from that district by the natives, had been warned not to enter it again; but, notwithstanding this caution, he determined to revisit it, in order to prospect for gold. The party left by one of the bush tracks, and when it had nearly reached its destination, Moffat was fired upon by a native from behind a tree, and mortally wounded in the back. At the same moment he fell from his horse, when another native jumped forward, and split his skull open with a tomahawk.

page 274were invited into the wharepuni, and a big tin dish of potatoes and pork was set before us, the old chieftainess remarking, "Yon are now in a 'Tongariro country,' and must not look for such delicacies as bread." As we had only had two meals for the past two days, and those of the most visionary description, we found this repast most acceptable. The pork, which had been preserved by being rendered down in its own fat, was delicious, while the potatoes were of the finest kind.

Owing to the heavy rain and the flooded state of the Manganui-a-te-Ao, we were compelled to wait at Ruakaka for two days, during which time we visited many parts of the district. I found that the altitude of Ruakaka was 800 feet above the level of the sea, and it is worthy of remark, as showing the rapid fall of the country in this direction, that, in order to reach this place from the great central table-land where we had at first entered the forest, we had descended by the circuitous way we had come no less than 1600 feet in about forty miles.

These figures will give some idea of the swift current of the Manganui-a-te-Ao, which, taking its rise near the north-western side of Ruapehu, cuts its way through a mountainous country in a deep, rock-bound channel, and receives the waters of innumerable tribu-page 275taries along its entire course. The volume of water poured down by this impetuous stream, especially in the rainy season, and during the melting of the snows of Ruapehu, is something prodigious, while I believe the rapidity of its current is unequalled by any other river in New Zealand. Along its entire length its rocky bed is strewn with large boulders and masses of rock of colossal size, while its precipitous cliffs, crowned with towering, forest-clad mountains, impart to it a singularly grand and wild appearance. Besides its rapid course, it is remarkable for its windings and dangerous rapids. We found that the river was known by three native names—viz. Manganui-a-te-Ao, or "great river of light;" Te Waitahupara, and Te Wairoahakamanamana-a-Rongowaitahanui, or "the river of ever-dancing waters and steep, echoing cliffs"—while the Whanganui, into which it fell, was not only known by the latter name, but likewise as Te Wainui-a-Tarawera, or the "great waters of Tarawera."

The two rivers form the principal means of communication for the natives of Ruakaka with the outer world. From the Manganui-a-te-Ao they travel in canoes to the Whanganui, and thence southward to the coast. The distance is accomplished in a few days, owing to the rapid current, but the journey up stream often takes over a month. The natives are experienced "canoemen," as they must be in order to navigate their frail canoes over the many rapids and winding turns that mark the whole course of the river, as well as that of the Whanganui. At most of the rapids the water shoots over enormous boulders and between narrow channels, and the canoes, guided by poles, are page 276carried over the treacherous places with, wonderful dexterity. As may well be imagined, the frail craft often gets upset, but the natives, who are expert swimmers, right them again with little difficulty.

During our stay at Ruakaka we were guests of Pareoterangi and his family, which consisted of the old chieftainess, Hinepareoterangi, or the "woman of the heavenly crest," as her name implied; Ani, wife of Pareoterangi, a tall, gaunt woman with blunt features, and who wore her hair in short, thick ringlets about her head; Te Ahi, her daughter; and Toma, the tattooed savage who had called our horses "rats." We took up our quarters in the wharepuni with these people, but the dismal, and, I may say, dirty, tenement was constantly filled with the natives, who kept continually dropping in to chat or to have a look at us. In this way we had a good opportunity of studying the manners and customs of the Hauhaus of Ruakaka, and, all things considered, they seemed to be following about the same mode of life as they must have done before the arrival of Cook, their manners still presenting that mixture of rude freedom and simplicity suggestive of the infancy of society, before art had taught men to restrain the sentiments of their nature, or to disguise the original features of their character. Shut up in the midst of their forest wilderness, and having little or no connection with the outer world, they seemed to know nothing or to care for nothing beyond their own day-to-day existence. We learned that since time immemorial this wild and secluded valley had been a place of settlement for different hapus of the tribes inhabiting the region of the Whanganui page 277River, and that those at present dwelling there were the Ngatihau, Ngatiapa, Ngatimaringi, Ngatitamakana, Ngatiatamira, Ngatiruakopiri, Ngatiikewaia, and Ngatitara. We were informed that their common ancestor was Uenuku, and that their forefathers came from Hawaiki in the Tainui, Arawa, and Aotea canoes. In former times the whole valley of the Manganui-a-te-Ao was fortified with formidable pas, so that it was impossible for an enemy to get up the river. During the troubled times of the great war with the Europeans Ruakaka was always considered as a safe meeting-place for the Hauhau tribes of this part of the country, since the pakehas did not know of its existence; and even if they had, as the natives reasonably remarked, they would never have attempted to penetrate into its fastnesses with any prospect of returning alive.

I was anxious to test the religious principles of our Hauhau friends, just to see whether a ray of Christianity was to be found in this wild valley, and during an evening sitting, when the wharepuni was heated like a furnace, and all the motley crowd were assembled together, I got Turner to sound the old tattooed man, who had been a noted fighting-chief during the war, upon the present and upon the hereafter. This grim, antiquated warrior would sit and listen for hours to everything that was said, but he would never venture a remark. Now and again a diabolically sinister smile would pass over his blue-lined countenance, and he would mutter a word with a puff of smoke, but beyond this he was silent. When, however, the question as to his religious scruples was put straight to him, he spoke page 278outfrankly, and said, with an air of singular naïveté, "At one time I thought there were two saints in the island—Tawhiao and Te Whiti—and I waited a long time to see if they would be taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, but I have waited so long that I am tired, and now I think that there are no saints in heaven or on earth." Old Hinepareoterangi, who was always a good talker, and displayed at all times a facetious spirit, laughed heartily at the admission of the old man, and then, looking us full in the face, she exclaimed in her wild, weird way, "We believe in nothing here, and get fat on pork and potatoes." This brought down roars of laughter from the assembled Hauhaus, and we dropped the religious question.

It was, in fact, very clear that these natives were as deeply wrapped in the darkness of heathenism as were their forefathers centuries ago, and beyond a superstitious species of Hauhauism, no germ of religious teaching appeared to have found its way into their breasts. They were, however, always ready to sing Hauhau chants to the glorification of Te Whiti and Te Kooti, who appeared to be the presiding deities of these wild tribes. At night, when the wind and rain raged without, and the river rushed through its rockbound channel with a noise like thunder, both men and women would chant these wild refrains in droning, melancholy notes, but in perfect harmony, the airs in most cases being exceedingly pretty and touching.

The two following chants were sung to us by Te Pareoterangi and other natives in chorus, and were taken down in Maori verbatim by Turner. I am page 279indebted for their spirited translation to the able pen of Mr. C. O. Davis.

Te Kooti's Lament.

I stood alone awhile, then moving round
I heard of Taranaki's doings. The rumours
Reached me here, and then I raised
My hand to Tamarura,1 that deity
Above Ah me! 't twas on the third
Of March that suffering came,
For then, alas! Waerangahika2 fell;
And I was shipped on board a vessel,
And borne along upon the ocean.
We steer for Waikawa,3 and then we bear
Away to Ahuriri,4 to thee, McLean.5
Ah, now I'm seated on St. Kilda's6 deck,
And looking back to gaze upon the scene
My tears like water freely flow; now
Whanganui's7 Whanganui and Whangaroa—names of places on the Chatham Islands. shore is seen, now Whangaroa,8
Where mountain waves are raising up their crests
Near Wharekauri.9 O, my people,
Rest ye at home; arise and look around,
And northward look. The lightsome clouds
Are lingering in the sky, and wafted hither
Day by day, yes, from my distant home,
Turanga, from which I now am separated,
Separated now from those I love.

1 Tamarura—probably a supposed angel recognized by the Hauhau parties.

2 Waerangahika—one of the pas at Poverty Bay, which was taken by our forces.

3 Waikawa—now known as Open Bay.

4 Ahuriri—the great Maori name of Hawke's Bay.

5 The late Sir Donald McLean, the Superintendent of the province of Hawke's Bay (Napier).

6 St. Kilda was the name of the vessel in which Te Kooti was transported to the Chatham Islands.

7 Whanganui and Whangaroa—names of places on the Chatham Islands.

8 Whanganui and Whangaroa—names of places on the Chatham Islands.

9 Wharekauri is the native name of the Chatham Islands.

page 280 O, my people! respect the queen's authority,
That we may prosper even to the end.
Suffice the former things thrown in our path
As obstacles. Uphold the governor's laws
To mitigate the deeds of Rura, who brought
Upon us all our troubles.

Hauhau Hymn.

Let us arise, O people!—the whole of us arise.
Lo, Tohu and Te Whiti now have reached
The pits of darkness—the house of Tangaroa,1
And gateway of the spirit-world of Miru,2
Where men are bound all seasons of the year.
The offspring, too, of David they would bind.
The bright and morning star, Peace, at the end
Will come, and in the times of David
Feelings of vindictiveness will cease.
'Tis not from thee; it is from Moses
And the Prophets—from Jesus Christ
And His Apostles, that lines of demarcation
Were set up to shield thee from man's wrath.
The termination comes by thee, O Tohu!
And while it wears a pleasing aspect,
I am lighted into day.

1 The god of the sea, and guardian of fishes.

2 Supposed being armed with authority in Hades.