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Henry Ancrum: A Tale of the Last War in New Zealand, Volume 1

Chapter VI

page 73

Chapter VI.

Before Henry Ancrum joins his regiment, it may be interesting to the reader of this veracious history to learn a few details of the country in which he now found himself, a country which will one day be of such vast importance, a country which so nearly resembles our own islands in size, in climate, and in soil; for the Northern Island of the New Zealand group is rather larger than Ireland, and the main or Middle Island larger than England. The climate, as a general rule, though milder in winter and query warmer in summer, still resembles our own; and the page 74soil will grow the same productions as those of the old country.

The Northern Island, of which we shall chiefly speak, is evidently of recent old volcanic origin. The craters of extinct volcanoes are to be found all over the country, more particularly near the Bay of Islands, in the neighbourhood of Auckland, and in a line extending from Mount Egmont, near Taranaki, to White Island, not very far from the settlement of Tauranga on the east coast, where there is still an active volcano. Fragments of volcanic glass are also to be found thickly strewn over the surface of the soil; and this glass, before the advent of Europeans, was the chief implement which the Maoris possessed for cutting purposes, such as hollowing out their canoes, making their wooden war implements, &c.

Earthquakes are said to have occurred ever since the arrival of the Maoris in the page 75northern island of New Zealand, and even since its settlement by the English they have very frequently taken place at Nelson and Wellington, more particularly at the latter place, where in 1848 and 1855 some most severe shocks were felt & elsewhere.

A general idea prevails in England that the northern island of New Zealand is densely wooded, but this is by no means the case. Forests there are here and there, dense forests, in which enormous trees grow, and where the solitude is like that of the American woods; but the general features of the country are hills, more or less steep and high, covered with tall ferns, and with marshes at their bases; and such a solitude! such a silence! no beasts of the field, no birds, scarcely any insects; in fact a country to which in the first instance everything must be brought, but which will then produce abundantly. Even its greatest page 76river, the Waikato, contains no fish save eels and some little things looking like tittlebats; but there is little doubt that trout and salmon would flourish there if once placed in its waters.

With regard to the land, it will grow the same crops and vegetables as are produced in England. And adverting to the feathered tribes, pheasants and other birds which have been imported into the northern island have thriven and multiplied amazingly.

Of the origin of the natives or Maoris little is positively known, but all their traditions state that they came in canoes from another country, called Hawaiki; and besides they possess and repeat the sayings of wise men who lived before the period at which they landed in the country.

Almost all writers on New Zealand appear to agree in opinion that the Maoris page 77are originally of Malay origin, and it seems most probable that the Hawaiki above-mentioned is the "Savii" of the Navigators' Islands, and that the present natives of the northern island migrated from that island (Savii) to Rarotonga, an island in Harvey's group, and thence to New Zealand. This opinion appears supported by the facts that the inhabitants of Rarotonga also state that their ancestors came from Hawaiki, and that Rarotonga is still mentioned by the Maoris as being on the road to Hawaiki and on the New Zealand side of it. The story of the way in which New Zealand was first peopled is told as follows.

A chief of the name of Ngahue, having got into some trouble in Hawaiki was forced to abandon his country with some faithful friends, and like Ulysses for some time

"Wandering from clime to clime, observant strayed,
Their manners noted, and their state surveyed,"

page 78until chance threw him on the northern island of New Zealand, where he remained for some time; but after a while getting, as we all do, rather home-sick, he returned to Hawaiki, where he gave such grand accounts of New Zealand in every way that a large body of the inhabitants of the island determined to emigrate to that country. It is necessary here to mention that the canoes used by the aborigines at this period were large double ones, capable of holding about fifty persons.

After some time had been occupied in preparing the canoes and freighting them with sweet potatoes, karaka berries, gourds, taros, &c., and various seeds, the fleet, which consisted of about fourteen or fifteen canoes, started on their expedition.

The names of the canoes have all been preserved, the principal ones being the Arawa, Tainui, Matatoua, &c.

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During the voyage a storm arose, and the fleet was dispersed in all directions, in consequence of which it would appear that each canoe reached New Zealand separately.

The Tainui canoe landed in the Haurakei Gulf, near Auckland, and its passengers appear to have been the ancestors of the Waikato and Thames Nations.

The Matatoua canoe first reached the shore at Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty, and from her crew several of the east coast tribes are supposed to descend.

The voyagers in the Arawa canoe, after touching at several places, settled at Maketu on the east coast, where their descendants show a clump of trees to this day, which they say grew originally from the wood of this canoe, which brought their ancestors to the present abode of the page 80race, and it is a singular fact, that nowhere else in the neighbourhood are the same description of trees to be found.

The places at which all the other canoes reached the northern island of New Zealand, are still remembered in the traditions of the various tribes who descended from their crews, and not only is this the case, but quarrels and occurrences which took place during the voyage have also been handed down from mouth to mouth, even to the present day.

The quarrels appear to have arisen chiefly about women, and there were also disputes about which way the canoes should be steered. Moreover, it would appear that some of the canoes touched at islands on their passage, where they were hauled on shore, and repairs executed to them.

The chief food of the Maoris before New Zealand was discovered by Captain Cook, page 81appears to have been kumara or sweet potato, the Hae Hue or calabash, taro, gourds, and fern root. Also fish, including seals, caught in the sea, and eels in the rivers. The fern root they have a mode of improving by constantly burning the fern, which makes the root increase in size.

The tribes that resided on the sea coast also depended, and still depend a good deal, on shellfish as an article of food, particularly on a description called "pipis," the mode of obtaining which is rather singular. When the tide is running strong either in or out of a river, the women, having previously divested themselves of all clothing, proceed into the water with small nets, and holding the net before them kick up the shellfish with their feet, when the force of the water carries the said shellfish into the net.

AboutIn 1642, the great navigator Abel page 82Tasman, from whom Tasmania is now named, discovered New Zealand, and sailed along the coast; but it is related that the appearance of the natives who were observed on the shore was so fierce and warlike, that he thought it more prudent not to land, and continued his voyage; other accounts, however, state that three of his crew were murdered by the natives. Afterwards, in the years 1769 and 1777, Caption Cook reached the islands, and presented the islanders with potatoes, and also with cabbage and turnip seed, and a few pigs.

The Maories, who are a very intelligent race, cultivated the potato, and it has ever since been their chief article of food. The pigs also increased and multiplied in course of time, and added much to their stock of provisions.

The Maories, as is well-known, were cannibals, and after a battle, used to eat page 83their slain enemies; but it is not so generally known that they have a superstition amongst them that the virtues of a dead warrior would pass into the person of the happy individual who made a dinner off him; thus, if a Maori killed a chief known for his bravery and talents, and ate him, the bravery and talents of the dead man would pass into the soul of the living one.

On one occasion, when three traders were murdered by Maories, one of them cried bitterly for mercy; the natives did not eat him, as they thought by doing so they might become cowardly.

Those who only see the Maories who resort to the towns of the white man, know little of the pride of this haughty race as it exists amongst themselves; as a proof of which, it may be mentioned that one Maori will hardly ever work for another page 84for fear of being considered as his servant or slave; and this feeling generally prevents families combining for agricultural purposes.

Again, if a Maori were to stumble over a stump of a tree on a journey, he would not think of removing the obstacle, or even if he had an axe in his hand of cutting it down, as a native of any other country would do. Oh, no; he would do nothing of the kind, as by such an action he would consider he was acting as a servant or slave of the next person who might come along the path.

A Maori was once building a warree whare or house for a British officer, when he suddenly paused in his work, and coming up to the officer, said—

"I am a chief (Rangitira), and you are a chief; so it is all right."

The officer was puzzled, but on referring page 85to a gentleman who had lived nearly all his life in New Zealand, the latter explained that he was certain the Maori's meaning was—

"It is true I am building a house for you, and you pay me money for so doing, but I am not therefore your servant or your slave; we are both equal. I am a chief, and you arc a chief."

It is strange with all this pride that the Maories have not the feelings of reserve or jealousy with regard to their women which Eastern nations (from which stock they evidently derive their origin) always display.

To the credit of the missionaries be it said, that they have strenuously endeavoured to introduce marriage amongst the natives, and perhaps women that are thus married may be constant to their husbands; but it must be admitted that the Maories, as a page 86people, are not moral, and it is this immorality which is one of the causes of the decadence of their race.

The young women become mothers at a very early age, and after producing one or two children often produce no more.

It may here be mentioned that the half-castes who in India are physically an inferior race, are here a very fine one, the men being strong and muscular, and the women often very pretty, with very little trace of dark blood about them. The Maori, in fact, though probably of Malay origin, has by residence for generations in a country, the climate of which is better than that of England, gradually lost his dark hue; and many of the race, when dressed in European clothes, might be taken for natives of the southern part of that portion of the globe, being certainly page 87not darker than some Spaniards and Italians.

Mention has been made of the decadence of the Maori race; that decadence has other causes besides the one above alluded to. The Maories build their warrees whare of raupo (a sort of very large reed) and rushes, which materials of course grow in swamps, and, to avoid carrying them to a distance, the village is often constructed in the unhealthy low land; this of course has a tendency to produce fever and other diseases, which carry off a large number of the children; in fact the reason why the Maories appear to Europeans to be so strong and muscular a race, is because only the very healthy and robust children live.

Whilst on this subject, it may be mentioned that the Maories never appear to correct or punish their children. From page 88the earliest age they are to be seen in the very scantiest of scanty clothing, playing in groups about the warrees, paddling in the marshes, and, in fact, doing exactly what comes into their infantine heads, without any restraint whatever.

Another fact prejudicial to health is, that the warrees are often built very low, with scarcely height enough for a person to stand up in them, even in the centre, and that the small interior space they contain is frequently crowded with human beings of both sexes and all ages, to such an extent as to render the air they breathe most unwholesome.

One British custom, that of deliberations in Parliament, the Maories have adopted to a ludicrous extent. Every village or kainga may be said to have its parliament, consisting of all its inhabitants. At any time of the day or night a native page 89letter may be received, or news may be brought, and immediately the hopper or horn will be sounded, and such of the inhabitants as choose will assemble at some large warree, built for the purpose, to have a korero or talk; and these koreros will sometimes be prolonged through an entire night, as there is nothing a Maori is so fond of as making speeches. Sometimes the subjects debated on are most absurd, as on one occasion, when a native letter was received at a village, a long discussion took place as to whether it was proper etiquette for the letter to be opened by the President of the Runuanga or Assembly, and first read by him, or whether it should be opened by the secretary to the Rununga, and first read by him; or again, whether it ought to be opened and at once read to the whole assembly, and if so, whether by the president or secretary.

page 90

But in time of war they have more serious matters to discuss; and as they are a people very fond of letter-writing, and much given to the circulation and perhaps occasionally fabrication of news, we have known periods when in certain villages (or perhaps it would be more correct to designate them as pahs pa as in time of war the natives all retire to fortified villages) scarcely a night passed without, the hopper sounding, and the Runuanga assembling.

At such times of danger too, it is curious to listen to the words of the village watchman. Of a dark night he will call out—

"Ah ha, I see you! You cannot hide yourself from me. Come and fight! Come on. The so and so (mentioning his supposed enemy) is a dog. He is afraid to fight," &c., &c.

In speaking of the Maori race, one im-page 91portant point must not be forgotten—namely, their mode of dressing themselves. In India, and in the East generally, all the different races have some distinctive mode of dress which they have been accustomed to use for centuries, and which there is little doubt they will never change for another.

The Mussulman of India differs from the Hindoo, and the Parsee from both. And again who would not know John Chinaman when he met him? But with the Maori man or woman it is not so; having probably had originally no national dress of their own to speak of, they have adopted the English style whenever they have had the opportunity.

The poorer Maories, and those up the country, have generally only been able to supply themselves with blankets; but the richer ones, and those residing near towns, page 92may be seen dressed in complete European costume, particularly in Auckland, where Maories may be observed walking about dressed exactly like English gentlemen, including the tall chimney-pot hat, watch and gold chain, &c., and the Maori women copying the very latest fashions which have reached the colony.

This latter custom is sometimes rather annoying to our fair countrywomen—as, for instance, on one occasion the wife of a Militia officer up the country had procured a charming dress which she thought would rather astonish the other three or four white ladies at the station; but alas, to her horror, after a short interval some of the richer Maori women were seen one fine Sunday sailing off to the Church warree in garments exactly similar to her own.

This habit of copying is an essential characteristic of the Maori character, and page 93one which might be turned to great advantage were it not for another characteristic, that of extreme fickleness and changeableness of purpose. Some project founded on a European idea will be taken up by a tribe, pursued zealously for a time, and then dropped. The Maori has become tired of it.

Five sections of a tribe on the east coast thought that it would be a fine thing to have schooners like the Europeans, to trade, &c. Great excitement prevailed; koreros or long talks took place; money was collected; the schooners were bought, and all went well for a time, but soon the natives got tired of their playthings. Three of the schooners were stranded in the Bay of Maketu, and there they lay going gradually to ruin, with the tide flowing in and out of them.

And here we may point out another page 94feature of Maori manners and customs, these schooners might have been repaired and sold for the benefit of their owners; but here, unfortunately, the tribal system came in, each schooner had been bought by a tribe. Some members of the tribe were ready to pay for repairing their schooner, others were not. These who wished to pay, would of course not do so for the others who did not, so the three schooners were gradually broken up; a fourth was luckily for its owners employed during the last war by government, and the fifth having gone down the coast was destroyed by hostile natives.