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The Autobiography of a Maori

Chapter I — Early Years at Orutua

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Chapter I
Early Years at Orutua

I was born at Orutua, near East Cape, on April 11th, 1871, in the open air and under a peach tree, as Timi Kara1 was, so it is said, under a cabbage tree. My father and mother, in order to be near their kumara cultivation and to save my mother a long walk, were camping out when I first saw the light.

The Orutua valley was then closed in by wooded hills on three sides, open to the Pacific Ocean on one and in the middle of it, fed by several mountain torrents, the Orutua winds its sluggish course to the sea. A bar of papa rocks stretches across the mouth of the river, holding back the water and turning it into a strip of a lake. Both banks of the river were lined with large and gnarled pohutukawa trees, which when in flower enhanced the beauty of a beautiful valley.

Not a week ago I had crossed the Orutua. Piled up along the beaches were logs of all sizes, brought down by flood, and boulders and debris hurled over the rocky bar by the force of flood waters had filled up the space between the bar and the sea. I noticed with deep regret that the beautiful pohutukawa which grew on the left bank of the river near its mouth, and others further up, had wholly disappeared, torn up from their roots by the weight of the logs piled up against them by the flood. All my life, I had known these trees, and one of them I had particular reason to remember. Now, my trees are gone—gone for ever. They were strewn on the beach, like dead soldiers on a battlefield.

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Here in this valley I was born, and here I spent the earliest days of my life.

Before I write down my recollections of this period of my life, first, I should explain why my people came to East Cape and later to Horoera and Orutua. This would naturally necessitate a brief sketch of my leading forbears and events which occurred before I was born.

1 Sir James Carroll.

Hauhau Troubles on the East Coast

My mother, Henarata Pereto, belonged to Horoera, and my father, Hone Hiki, was one of a large family, and the eldest child of Mokena Kohere, a chief of the Ngati-Porou tribe, who in 1865 led the friendly Maoris against the Hauhaus. After the brutal murder of the Rev. Carl Volkner at Opotiki, the Hauhaus, led by emissaries from Taranaki, made their way towards East Cape, drawing in sub-tribes as they went along. At Mangaone stream, near Tikitiki in the Waiapu valley, they met with resistance, chiefly at the hands of the Aowera sub-tribe, who inhabited the district at the foot of Mount Hikurangi. Armed as they were with primitive weapons, the Aowera suffered at the hands of the rebels, losing amongst others two of their chiefs, Henare Nihoniho and Makoare. Elated with their success, the Hauhaus occupied Pukemaire, the tableland above Tikitiki.

Here sub-tribes who sympathised with the Hauhau movement came to swell its number. Wai-o-Matatini, just across the Waiapu river, had been the centre of the Kingite movement, and therefore readily threw in its lot with the rebels. Ngati-Hokopu, led by Mokena Kohere, alone remained loyal of the immediate sub-tribes. By sheer force of number, Mokena Kohere was driven towards the sea, and entrenched himself with a small garrison in the Hatepe pa. The chiefs Wiki Matauru, Pine Tuhaka and Arapeta Haenga joined page 17him. Mokena Kohere would have been crushed in Hatepe if white troops had not come to his relief. The Hauhaus were ousted from Pakairomiromi, then from Pukemaire, and took up their last stand at Hungahungatoroa, in the Karaka-tuwhero valley. Mokena Kohere, recognising that the position of the rebels was desperate, and taking pity on his fellow-tribesmen who were in the pa, pleaded with them to surrender and thereby to save themselves. On his second attempt to save the doomed rebels he succeeded. As his fellow-tribesmen trooped out their instigators from Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty followed on their heels and slid down a steep bank and disappeared in the dense wood and so escaped.1

Mokena Kohere took upon himself to pardon the rebels, to resist confiscation of the Ngati-Porou lands, a policy which has been proved to be wise and statesmanlike.

1 I give a more detailed account of the incident in The Story of a Maori Chief.

Maori Soldiers were not Paid

At the conclusion of the campaign on the East Coast there was a shortage of food and both rebels and friendlies suffered alike. It may be mentioned here that Maoris who fought for the Government were not paid anything. My grandfather and his family moved to Horoera where sea-food was plentiful. They later moved to Orutua, where my grandfather built a weatherboard house. My second birthday was a great event and people in hundreds attended the celebration at Orutua. The principal food eaten and enjoyed was what is called doughboy, that is, flour boiled and stirred in water and sweetened with sugar or wild honey. Potfuls of the preparation were poured out into canoes around which sat the guests, each armed with mussel and paua shells. My page 18grandfather made an occasion of my second birthday because I was the senior grandson in the family, or even the senior grandchild.

My grandfather was the only one for miles around who owned a flock of sheep which had survived the war on the East Coast. The flock provided us and our neighbours with meat. It was my father's habit when he went round to look at the sheep, to put me on the back of a favourite horse while he led it. It was on one such occasion I had my first fall off a horse and my father was so anxious about me that he kept me in cold water until I suffered more from the cold than from the effects of the fall.

Escaped Drowning

When I was about four years old, I had a more serious fall which nearly terminated my young life. One of the pohutukawa trees I have already mentioned grew aslant over the Orutua. I climbed up this and fell into deep water. My young companion had sense enough to realise I was in mortal danger. He hurried into the house and, seeing my mother, began pulling her skirt; at the same time pointing towards the river. My mother instinctively gathered I was in trouble. She arrived just in time to save me, although there was grave doubt whether I would come round.

People have often asked me the cause of the large scar on my right wrist. I was watching a man putting a rope round the neck of a new-born calf and, as the calf cried, its mother became very excited and kept running about. I ran into a shed and instead of standing on the flat ground, of course, I stood on a round log. As the cow became excited, I grew more excited and lost my balance and, in falling, I put out my right hand to support myself and put it on the broken bottom of a bottle. The broken bottle with its sharp edges stuck into my wrist. When my page 19mother pulled it out it left a nasty cut in my wrist. I remember honey was used as a remedy to heal the wound and it quickly healed.

My Dog Fights an Octopus

I must relate the battle that was fought between my dog, Taake, and, of all enemies of a dog, a young octopus. (By the way, I have already written in the present volume two stories about octopuses) I had been sailing my little boat in a pool in the rocks when I saw an octopus in a small round pool. Its eyes were almost dropping out of its ugly head with fright. The creature looked so hideous that I felt a very strong repugnance to it. With delight I set my dog on to it. The dog seemed to share my animosity for the octopus, for it leaped on the enemy, his and mine. There was a battle royal and I was the sole eyewitness. As the octopus entwined the dog with its tentacles, the latter became more furious and began tearing the body of the octopus until the water of the pool became discoloured with matter from its torn body. Taake was conqueror, and he was lucky the octopus was no bigger than it was or it would have gone hard with him.

My grandfather left for Wellington to take his seat in the Legislative Council in 1872. I was too young, of course, to remember the occasion of his departure. The Government steamer Luna picked him up, otherwise, I do not know how he could have got to Wellington. When I was a little older, I remember standing on the beach and gazing seawards at a small steamer coming in. The vessel was the Luna, bringing back my grandfather. The arrival of the boat always excited the people for it not only brought back my grandfather, but also, with him, a large quantity of flour, biscuits and sugar, much of which was given by the Government under Sir George Grey's scheme.

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Family Superstitions

My family, for Maoris, were remarkably free from superstitions. My grandfather had one pet superstition, that was the itching of his nose. His nose led him.

I was often told how my grandmother rebuffed my grandfather when making love to her because he was older than she, and, besides, she did not like his tattooed face. When grandfather waxed persistent in his advances, my grandmother thought her safety lay in flight; thereupon, without letting anybody know of her intention, she fled to some unknown spot where she could remain in hiding and unmolested. When my grandfather found out that his stubborn sweetheart had given him the slip he betook him to a tohunga who could cast a spell over the fugitive and so bring her back to him. My grandmother often related how she was caught in a whirlwind which turned her right round to the way in which she came and suddenly she felt her soul yearn for her despised lover.

The Love-sick Periwinkle

Here I would introduce the legend of Te Aoputaputa1 and Niho-makuru, although it is more than probable it has been recorded. For short, I would call the two Te Ao and Niho, quite a Maori custom to abbreviate names. Te Ao and Niho lived together in Titirangi pa, on the left bank of the Turanganui river. Te Ao grew up to be a pretty maiden and was admired by all the young men around. Niho was no exception to Te Ao's charms; on the contrary, he fostered the emotions of his heart and avowed his love for Te Ao quite openly. She, however, did not view things in the same light as did Niho. She could not encourage

1 In another version of the legend, Te Aoputaputa is called Taoputaputa. The former version is correct. Taoputaputa should be correctly written T' Aoputaputa, with the vowel "e" elided.

page 21him and she had to tell him to desist, but Niho persisted. Then Te Ao, in desperation fled to Opotiki, in the Bay of Plenty. Niho waited and waited for Te Ao to return, and, despairing of ever seeing her again, he descended the steep hill down to the beach below where he picked up a periwinkle. Into it he poured his love-sick soul and heart and bade it speed on its way with its message of love.

The tide was good and women were diving for crayfish where the dainty crustaceans were usually found in large number. When the other women's kits bulged with crayfish, they left the water and warmed themselves with a fire on which had been thrown small crayfish. Meanwhile, Te Ao was desperately looking for crayfish for she dreaded going home with an empty kit, but not one could she find. Everywhere she looked even in caverns, where crayfish were usually found, the only object that met her eyes was a solitary periwinkle. To return home with an empty kit would be a disgrace and would form a lively topic for gossip. The tide was coming in fast and she had not a crayfish. She dived once more and, sure enough, the periwinkle was there. Disgusted and ashamed, she put it in her kit and waited for her companions to leave for home, lest they should see her empty kit. She walked slowly towards the fire and, pushing the sticks together, she threw the fateful periwinkle on the fire. As it became heated, it began to sing1, to sing such a sweet song as she had never in all her life heard. The plaintive song entered her soul; in truth, Niho's soul, which had been poured into the periwinkle had entered hers and, although they were miles apart in body, in soul and spirit they were one, eternally one. As Te Ao had fled from Niho, now she, borne on the wings of love, sped to his arms, ready to receive her at Titirangi.

1 Readers may be aware that shell-fish, like a periwinkle, when heated in the fire, do sing.

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The story of Te Aoputaputa and Nihomakuru, if it has been written already, I am sure, can stand repetition.

The name, Nihomakuru, appears amongst those of my ancestors. The ancestors of Ngati-Porou once lived in Titirangi pa as they did also at Whangara, It may also be mentioned that the larger southern boundary of the Ngati-Porou Tribe is the Turanganui River, or, to be more correct, Te Toka-a-Taiau in the river, and it thus includes Titirangi pa. Taiau, after whom the rock was named, was an ancestor of the Ngati-Porou Tribe.