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The Autobiography of a Maori

I Attend Gisborne Central

I Attend Gisborne Central

My attendance at the Gisborne Central school for a year and a half was really the turning point in my life. Even then a man was so unkind as to tell me that I was too old to learn anything and that my best plan would be to go home and look for a wife.

Paora Parau was a fine-looking old man. He was fully tattooed but always dressed like a European and was always neat. His son, Epiha, was also a fine specimen, well-educated and moved in the best pakeha circles. Unfortunately, he later got into bad company and was led astray, his beautiful wife being broken-hearted over the sad incident. They both died soon afterwards.

During my sojourn in Gisborne I learned much more than the three R's—I learned other things which I would not have learned had I gone home. For instance, I learned to cook and to wash up, something that I was never permitted to do at home. As there were two of us in the house who were attending school, it fell upon us to get up early in the morning to light the fire and prepare the breakfast. Fortunately, there were no cows for us to milk.

On the first morning, my father himself took me to the school where I met Mr. Triomas Morgan, the headmaster. I owe much to this gentleman, much more than he could ever have realised. With his cheery and encouraging words, he won my young heart and I felt that although I was only a green Maori boy who had been suddenly taken out of his natural surroundings and dropped in the midst of pakehadom, I had a friend in this headmaster.

I was first put into the infant school, although I was by no means an infant. The headmistress, Miss Daw-page 68son, showed much interest in my welfare—I both saw it and felt it—and so was encouraged. When I stood in line with other children, I towered over them as did Gulliver over the Lilliputians. Strangely enough, due to the encouragement I received from the staff, Miss Dawson, Mr. Fred Faram and others, I did not feel my position. Mr. Morgan led me to understand that he considered it an honour that I, a descendant of a chief, and a distinguished one at that, should be in his school. Despite the handicap of a strange language, I progressed remarkably well. I was moved from the infant school to the second standard and placed under the charge of Miss McIntosh. She was a strict Scotswoman, but she never once showed anger with me and perhaps that was for the best for I found that I was now making rapid progress.

Among some Maori boys who attended the school were Pare Keiha, Lady Carroll's brother, and Albert Karaitiana, the latter being reputed to be wealthy. They were, of course, in the senior classes and I wondered if I would ever be able to speak English as well as they did, never dreaming that I should one day be writing my own life story in that language. Albert Karaitiana, who was envied by the whole school because he had a bicycle of the bone-shaker type, later married a white girl. He died early in life, but Pare Keiha lived until quite recently.

Only once did my father come to the school to see me. He took the trouble to bring me a kitful of kao or dried kumaras, and also brought my pony, Karakara, and later sent my little model boat to me by Skinner's schooner. I think somebody must have told my father that I was making good progress with my lessons for he seemed very pleased. He gave me his Rotherham watch which I mention here because I later had the sad experience of losing it. I was wearing a shirt into the pocket of which I had placed the watch without page 69fastening the chain to the shirt. I was standing on the Gisbome wharf watching a schooner leave when a man on board called to me to let go the hawser. As I stooped to untie the rope, my watch slipped from my pocket and dropped into the water. I was stricken with grief over the loss of my treasure and that night, when the tide was out, I actually took my clothes off, though nobody saw me, and went into the water to look for my watch. In spite of my efforts I did not recover it and I nursed my sorrow for days.

Every Sunday, a number of students from Te Rau Theological College came to take divine services in the old church. I enjoyed their hymn-singing, especially that of Hone Papahia of Ngapuhi. He came from one of the leading families of the north and was much loved by his people. Young though I was, I felt instinctively that I was listening to and seeing a great man, as indeed he was. Years later I entered Te Rau College as a tutor and edited the Te Pipiwharauroa, which, in later years, chronicled the life and death of Hone Papahia.