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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Ropata's Version of Traditions

Ropata's Version of Traditions

An entertaining account of some native traditions held to relate to Cook's visit to Tolaga Bay is given in an article written by Major Ropata and published in Te Waka Maori-o-Nui Tirani in 1874. It opens with some references to the Poverty Bay natives' refusal of hospitality to Cook and then proceeds:

“Then Capt. Cook sailed to Uawa and there he saw the chief Whakatatare-o-te-Rangi [one of Te Kani-a-Takirau's grandfathers]; He called out to him: ‘Tatare! Tatare! Give me some provisions!’ and a supply was given to him accordingly. Then said Capt. Cook: ‘Tatare is a chief!’—words, which, afterwards, became a proverb. Cook then gave Tatare a bright red scarf, a musket, a keg of powder and a flat lump of lead. Cook invited Tatare to make trial of his skill by firing off the musket. The gun was loaded, and the chief held it close to his cheek and fired it off, but he became so alarmed at the report that he dashed the gun down on the stones and it was broken, and then he threw it into the water.
“Afterwards, the natives broke open the keg of powder, and came to the conclusion that it was turnip seed. So they cleared away the page 58 bushes, prepared a plot of ground, and planted the supposed turnip seed. Then the people rejoiced and said: ‘Our women and children will be satisfied (fed) for the seed of food is in the ground!’ Others said: ‘Yes, true! No wonder if we rejoice! It is all so very jolly!’ And afterwards, when it rained, they said: ‘This will bring up our seed!’
“Out of the lead they formed an adze, which they sharpened carefully and put a nicely-made handle to it. And the fame of this adze possessed by Tatare spread far and wide among the tribes. At length, many assembled to examine it and witness the trial of its capabilities. On the first blow being struck upon the wood, lo and behold! it bent and doubled up. Then all the people, as if with one voice, exclaimed: 'Oh! it has not been subjected to the influence of fire. If it were heated in the fire, it would become hard. Then they said: ‘Right! Bring some wood for a fire. Let it be given much wood that the fire may burn long and the adze be well hardened!’
“So they lighted a fire and cast the adze upon it. But, wonder of wonders, it melted! Then arose a shout: ‘Drag it from the fire! We must consider some plan to perfect this adze!’ Quite a number rushed to the fire and attempted to pick out the remains of the adze with sticks; but it separated into many parts and was abandoned. And so ignorance came to its natural result!”

It seems a pity to introduce anything which might spoil such a good story, but it requires to be pointed out that no mention is made in any of the narratives of the voyage of a gift of a musket at Tolaga Bay. Polack says (New Zealand: Travels and Adventures, Vol. 2, p. 129) that, in 1835, he was given to understand that Cook made a present of some powder whilst he was there, and that it was mistaken for turnip seed and planted. The earliest record of a gift of powder is D'Urville's in 1827, but it is certain that the natives were then acquainted with its use. Colour is lent to that portion of Ropata's story which states that a piece of lead was among Cook's gifts by the claim that, after it had been fashioned into an axe-head, it was subjected to fire. The natives might have imitated the Endeavour's armourer, who did some forge work ashore.