The Autobiography of a Maori
A Sad Day at East Cape
A Sad Day at East Cape
Here I should like to record a very sad page in our family history. Before referring to it, however, I mention a case of gross carelessness committed by one of my brothers who was regarded as a model of commonsense and carefulness. He arrived from Rangitukia and borrowed my gun to do a little shooting. He came back without firing a shot, but, instead of taking the live cartridge out of the gun and putting both out of the children's reach, he left the loaded gun on a low platform and came to see us while we were working in the gardens. As soon as the children saw the gun, three of them—a boy and his two little sisters—of course, made for it. The boy got hold of it and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, miraculously missing the two little girls. When we heard the noise of the shot my brother cried out, "That's my gun." I knew the children were about so I ran towards the back of the house and under a platform I could see three pairs of little legs and so I knew that the three children were safe. After the gun had gone off the boy threw it away and was expecting some punishment, but, of course, he could not be blamed for the incident.
One afternoon in 1946 Kate and I harnessed up the farm cart to take the children to the watermelon patch. We went first to the kumara cultivation to get some kumara for tea. The little children pulled up the page 121runners and dug up the tubers. Turiri, Heni's two-year-old son, was one of the diggers and helped to take the kumara runners to the cows waiting outside the fence. From the kumara patch we went towards the watermelons which were then ripe. That, was the main objective and it was looked forward to with the keenest interest. Arriving at the garden, I put a strong rope around the horse's neck and tied the other end to a post. What I should have done—wise now, after the event—was to have undone the trace-chains, but I thought everything was secure. We had gathered a heap of watermelons and, to cover this, I called out to the biggest boy asking him to fetch some rushes, but instead of bringing an armful he picked up a whole bush which had been uprooted, and placed it on his head like an umbrella. The horse saw him approaching and became restive, but the boy, his sight blinded by the rushes, could not see the effect his umbrella was having on the horse. The nearer he approached the more restive the horse became. I tried to quieten the animal but to no avail. I could not, of course, see what was frightening it. At last, it tugged on the rope and broke the post. I clung to the rope and was dragged some distance. However, the children were so far safe, for the horse, with the cart behind it, made for the gate. One of my sons went after it and I heard him yell, "Look after the children," for the horse was coming through the tall maize and I couldn't see it. I ran forward to try to divert its dangerous course. I thought the children were safe, but when I looked back I saw my wife dragging Turiri. The tall grass impeded her and both fell down, the little boy falling right in the path of one of the wheels of the cart. It passed over his body and injured his kidneys, and he died the same night. Turiri was a lovable little boy with a shy look in his eyes. His mother and father, who lived nearby, used to let him visit us almost every page 122day, so his death caused deep gloom in our family.
I shall now mention some of the more pleasant sides of our life at East Cape; two of my neighbours, one on my right and the other on my left, share with me the opinion I am about to express. The three of us consider our homes to be the best places in the world, not that we claim to be correct, but that is nonetheless our opinion. Provided a man is happy in his home it follows that it must be a good home, no matter what other people think of it. We can truly sing, "Home, Sweet Home, there's no place like home."
With such a state of mind and such an attitude towards life, I may, unconsciously, introduce some elements of self-praise and conceit. At any rate, I am confident that the life that my wife, our children and myself live here at East Cape is the proper life for a Maori family to live if they wish to be happy. It may be argued that I have been fortunate in receiving an education, denied to most of my race. All the education I ever received has not helped to give me a living wage or salary. The highest salary I received as a tutor in a college was no more than £150 per annum. For three years I worked at Te Araroa for a mere pittance of £75 a year, and on that amount I kept an open house and brought up a large family. Life then was a terrible struggle and even at present, on my own sheep station, I have been compelled to live on the old age benefit. For some years we somehow managed to live on my own benefit, without the addition of my wife's.
By the loss of our ancestral land at Kautuku, my family and I were crushed.
It may sound incredible that in spite of difficulties and drawbacks we, as a family, are happy and contented, for we have been fortunate to secure this lovely spot where I pen these lines.
At present, my wife and I are passing rich with page 123two age benefits a year. We have dependants and often entertain visitors. This, I hope, will not be taken as a hint that our friends are not wanted on the premises. We have managed to keep our heads above water only by saving money and living a simple life.
We live in a really fine large house which some people have dubbed, not ironically, a mansion. The old house does look very beautiful with its walls of cream and roof of red. It may be old fashioned, but, nevertheless, its gables give it a stylish appearance. The inside, though not grand, is simple and pleasing. The bay window, carved by a visitor and decorated by my wife and myself is the admiration of everybody who sees it. The house has every convenience but one, an important exception which I need not mention. I hope soon to rectify this one defect in our home which is lighted by electricity and is supplied with water from a spring.