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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

The Maori Aristocrat

page 86

The Maori Aristocrat.

Has anyone ever seen a Maori tramping the roads, carrying a swag or begging for food? I have not, and the Maori knows he need not do so. His communal rights are far higher than those once provided in Russia by Stalin or Lenin. He was born on the land, lived on it, fought for it and drew his sustenance from it—the tribe will see he does not starve, though at times, in very tight corners, he might be hungry. The great Kahungunu exhibited his prowess as a food-provider instead of engaging in warlike deeds, and in this manner secured several of his wives. The land was his father and his mother, hence the common Maori phrase, "Let me die on the land." It must have been a heart-breaking thing to many of the old-time Maoris to sell the Wairoa Borough land, which they styled "The gem of the Wairoa." The sale negotiations were spun out a long time, and Mr. Donald McLean mentioned a curious reason given by Te Koare for not including in the sale a certain portion of the town flat. He said that on one occasion his ancestors were travelling from Maungaharuru to Te Wairoa and during the journey they became very hungry and were not offered any food till they reached Wairoa. In gratitude he made over the land to the benefactors, therefore he could not sell. On this same occasion Putoko was a very fierce opponent of land selling, embellishing his speech with many fierce gestures and runs. The meeting was held at Kairakau, to the north of Grey Street as it is at present. Putoko was observed by page 87Mr. McLean to be intensely ragged and he presented him with a new pair of trousers. Never was such a change in any man's attitude. "Let the Wairoa go to sea" (or be sold), he said, and to sea it went, the price being £12,000 instead of £30,000 asked. It included the land that Te Koare said he had given away for the food supplied to his ancestors. At the same time that the Maori was entitled to his food by communal custom he was also expected to work for it, and the question was often put to such, "Where were you when the riroriro (the grey warbler) was trilling in the bushes?" Meaning, where were you at the planting of the kumara and the taro? So that even in Maoriland, if a man will not work neither shall he eat. That there were Maori aristocrats in Wairoa in the olden days no one can deny. Have not I seen the Waiau chiefs traversing Marine Parade, when the Maori population was twenty to one European. With the taiaha held aloft they walked with dignity and proud bearing, scorning to even glance at a Pakeha, and no one dared to question them! Ihaka Whaanga, too, was a chieftain of a lordly type, and a loyalist as well. Though his mana, or influence, centred round Mahia and Nuhaka, he was a good friend to Wairoa, and a staunch supporter of Kopu, though the latter was not a chief. As in England, so in Maoriland, any mediocre man might rule in peace time, but when war came it was a real warrior that led the taua to battle. Such was Taraia, while Kahungunu philandered at the pa with the ladies; and so might be the Duke of So-and-so at the head of the British army, while Wellington fought page 88the battles. Such was Kopu, who fought for Wairoa when the great stress came.

And should I forget Sir James Carroll, an orator, indeed born of two parents famed for oratory—the Irishman and the Maori? How could I omit Sir James, for though dead "His name liveth for evermore."