Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

A Maori Heroine

A Maori Heroine.

Instances are not uncommon in Maoriland of heroic deeds and stoical sayings of Maori warriors worthy to rank with those of western civilization, or with the utterances of men in dire straits and situations that very often meant cruel tortures or even death—and to the ancient Maori death was to be preferred to torture—but for the possibilities of being cooked and eaten by an enemy. The law of tapu was more strictly observed by the Maoris than the Sinaitic law was observed by the "Children of Israel," and the worst, if not the only, offenders in Old Wairoa, were the Europeans, or members of other races, who scoffed at this custom, and as a consequence caused themselves and others to suffer dire perils. Out of many such instances in this district I can only select one, and the story has a woman as the central figure. As far back as the late 'thirties there were still found in the land many of Nature's noblemen and noblewomen, and the unassuming exploit of one of the latter must never be forgotten.

page 89

At the time of which I write, four great chiefs held sway in the Wairoa district, men whose mana, or influence, extended from Napier to Poverty Bay. These were Paora Rerepu, at Mohaka; Te Apatu, at Waihirere; Rangi-Mataeo, at Hikawai (the old mill site); and Ihaka Whaanga, at Mahia. Someone may think I should have included Kopu, but he was not of chieftain descent, but a born war-lord of this part of Maoriland. A young Hindu whaler, nicknamed "Black Harry," had given mortal offence to Te Apatu by a breach of the law of tapu, already referred to, and the consequences to the offender bid fair to prove very serious. According to one authority it came about in this way: At the time of which I am writing it was still not an uncommon thing for girls of high birth, who were intended to be mated to chiefs of high rank, to be set aside, or protected even from birth, by being placed under the protection of tapu after an elaborate ceremony by the tohungas of the tribe, who also had the power of invoking dire consequences on the authors of any infringement, in which case the whole tribe took up the woman's cause. By some means or other the young whaler infringed the tapu in respect to a girl belonging to the pa, and her cause was taken up by the daughter of Te Apatu and the Hindu was condemned to die. Another version was that the infringement was not in respect to the girl, but that the young man had killed and eaten a pig, which had been made tapu because it had been seen feeding in the wahi tapu, or sacred burying-ground, of the Maoris. I am rather inclined to believe the first version, as the offence page 90was somewhat common and entailed serious penalties; besides which the girl might have had a soft spot in her heart for the black man. Be that as it may, immediate death faced the whaler, but unknown to him succour was at hand. Just before his intended seizure at the command of Te Apatu the latter's daughter, Rawinia, a girl then in her teens—the favourite daughter of Te Apatu and the hapu—conveyed the whaler to a whata, a structure raised on stout piles a considerable height from the ground, and used as a storehouse for food and whaling gear. When the war-party came to execute the sentence of death, Rawinia planted herself in the doorway, armed with a formidable weapon (a whale-lance). Placing the doomed man in the whata behind her she defied all-comers, even her own father, and it is certain that had she not herself been a chieftainess death would have reached her also in seeking the life of the whaler. The defence lasted several days and nights, the girl succeeding in conveying food to the man and keeping his enemies at bay until she had almost tired them out. At a critical time in the defence Rawinia turned the tapu to good effect by casting around the whaler her own dress-mat, which had for some reason or other been made tapu, and then he also was protected, as much as if he had laid hold of the horns of the altar in one of the Israelitish cities of refuge. Then she managed, with the aid of some other women, to smuggle him into the bush, and eventually placing him aboard a small craft he escaped. Subsequent to this, Rawinia married a whaler named Christy, who became the page 91"Pakeha," of the settlement. Bishop Williams performed the ceremony, and I believe baptized her at the same time. She died at Waihirere in 1909 at the reputed age of 103. She gave a son to die for the Queen, at Marumaru, on 25th December, 1865. One of Nature's noblewomen is now crumbling into dust but her deeds still live. The last of the race of Te Apatu and the last link between the old Wairoa and the new was severed when Rawinia Apatu ceased to breathe her native air, and her spirit set out on its long journey to the Reinga of Maori tradition.