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Old New Zealand: Being Incidents of Native Customs and Character in the Old Times by A Pakeha Maori

Chapter I

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Chapter I

Introductory.—First View of New Zealand.—First Sight of the Natives, and First Sensations experienced by a mere Pakeha.—A Maori Chief's Notions of Trading in the Old Times.—A Dissertation on “Courage.”—A few Words on Dress.—The Chief's Soliloquy.—The Maori Cry of Welcome.

Ah! those good old times, when first I came to New Zealand, we shall never see their like again. Since then the world seems to have gone wrong, somehow. A dull sort of world this, now. The very sun does not seem to me to shine as bright as it used. Pigs and potatoes have degenerated; and everything seems “flat, stale, and unprofitable.” But those were the times!—the “good old times”—before Governors were invented, and law, and justice, and all that. When every one did as he liked,—except when his neighbours would not let him, (the more shame for them,)— page 2 when there were no taxes, or duties, or public works, or public to require them. Who cared then whether he owned a coat?—or believed in shoes or stockings? The men were bigger and stouter in those days; and the women,—ah! Money was useless and might go a-begging. A sovereign was of no use, except to make a hole in and hang it in a child's ear. The few I brought went that way, and I have seen them swapped for shillings, which were thought more becoming.

What cared I? A fish-hook was worth a dozen of them, and I had lots of fish-hooks. Little did I think in those days that I should ever see here towns and villages, banks and insurance offices, prime ministers and bishops; and hear sermons preached, and see men hung, and all the other plagues of civilization. I am a melancholy man. I feel somehow as if I had got older. I am no use in these dull times. I mope about in solitary places, exclaiming often, “Oh! where are those good old times?” and echo, or some young Maori whelp from the Three Kings, answers from behind a bush,—No hea.

I shall not state the year in which I first saw the mountains of New Zealand appear above the sea; there is a false suspicion getting about that I am growing old. This must be looked down, so I will at present avoid dates. I always held a page 3 theory that time was of no account in New Zealand, and I do believe I was right up to the time of the arrival of the first Governor. The natives hold this opinion still, especially those who are in debt; so I will just say, it was in the good old times, long ago, that from the deck of a small trading schooner, in which I had taken my passage from somewhere, that I first cast eyes on Maori land. It was Maori land then; but, alas! what is it now? Success to you, O King of Waikato. May your mana never be less;—long may you hold at bay the demon of civilization, though fall at last I fear you must. Plutus with golden hoof is trampling on your land-marks. He mocks the war-song, but should I see your fall, at least one Pakeha Maori shall raise the tangi; and with flint and shell as of old shall the women lament you.

Let me, however, leave these melancholy thoughts for a time, forget the present, take courage, and talk about the past. I have not got on shore yet; a thing I must accomplish as a necessary preliminary to looking about me, and telling what I saw. I do not understand the pakeha way of beginning a story in the middle; so to start fair, I must fairly get on shore, which, I am surprised to find, was easier to do than to describe.

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The little schooner neared the land, and as we came closer and closer, I began in a most unaccountable manner to remember all the tales I had ever heard of people being baked in ovens, with cabbage and potato “fixins.” I had before this had some considerable experience of “savages,” but as they had no regular system of domestic cookery of the nature I have hinted at, and being, as I was in those days, a mere pakeha (a character I have since learned to despise), I felt, to say the least, rather curious as to the then existing demand on shore for butchers' meat.

The ship sailed on, and I went below and loaded my pistols; not that I expected at all to conquer the country with them, but somehow because I couldn't help it. We soon came to anchor in a fine harbour before the house of the very first settler who had ever entered it, and to this time he was the only one. He had, however, a few Europeans in his employ; and there was at some forty miles distance a sort of nest of English, Irish, Scotch, Dutch, French, and American runaways from South Sea whalers, with whom were also congregated certain other individuals of the pakeha race, whose manner of arrival in the country was not clearly accounted for, and to inquire into which was, as I found afterwards, considered extremely impolite, and a great breach page 5 of bienséance. They lived in a half-savage state, or, to speak correctly, in a savage and-a-half state, being greater savages by far then the natives themselves.

I must, however, turn back a little, for I perceive I am not on shore yet.

The anchoring of a vessel of any size, large or small, in a port of New Zealand, in those days, was an event of no small importance; and, accordingly, from the deck we could see the shore crowded by several hundreds of natives, all in a great state of excitement, shouting and running about, many with spears and clubs in their hands, and altogether looking to the inexperienced newcomer very much as if they were speculating on an immediate change of diet. I must say these, at least, were my impressions on seeing the mass of shouting, gesticulating, tatooed fellows, who were exhibiting before us, and who all seemed to be mad with excitement of some sort or other.

Shortly after we came to anchor, a boat came off, in which was Mr. —, the settler I have mentioned, and also the principal chief of the tribe of natives inhabiting this part of the country. Mr. — gave me a hearty welcome to New Zealand, and also an invitation to his house, telling me I was welcome to make it my home for any unlimited time, till I had one of page 6 my own. The chief also, having made some inquiries first of the captain of the schooner—such as, whether I was a rangatira, if I had plenty of taonga (goods) on board, and other particulars; and having been answered by the captain in the most satisfactory manner,—came up to me and gave me a most sincere welcome. (I love sincerity). He would have welcomed me, however, had I been as poor as Job, for pakehas were, in those days, at an enormous premium. Even Job, at the worst (a pakeha Job), might be supposed to have an old coat, or a spike nail, or a couple of iron hoops left on hand, and these were “good trade” in the times I speak of; and under a process well understood at the time by my friend the chief, were sure to change hands soon after his becoming aware of their whereabouts.

His idea of trade was this:—He took them, and never paid for them till he took something else of greater value, which, whatever it might be, he never paid for till he made a third still heavier haul. He always paid just what he thought fit to give, and when he chose to withdraw his patronage from any pakeha who might be getting too knowing for him, and extend it to some newer arrival, he never paid for the last “lot of trade;” but, to give him his due, he allowed his pakeha friends to make the best bargain they could with the rest of the tribe, page 7 with the exception of a few of his nearest relations, over whose interests he would watch. So, after all, the pakeha would make a living; but I have never heard of one of the old traders who got rich by trading with the natives; there were too many drawbacks of the nature I have mentioned, as well as others unnecessary to mention just yet, which prevented it.

I positively vow and protest to you, gentle and patient reader, that if ever I get safe on shore, I will do my best to give you satisfaction; let me get once on shore, and I am all right: but, unless I get my feet on terra firma, how can I ever begin my tale of the good old times? As long as I am on board ship I am cramped and crippled, and a mere slave to Greenwich time, and can't get on. Some people, I am aware, would make a dash at it, and manage the thing without the aid of boat, canoe, or life preserver; but such people are, for the most part, dealers in fiction, which I am not: my story is a true story, not “founded on fact,” but fact itself, and so I cannot manage to get on shore a moment sooner than circumstances will permit.

It may be that I ought to have landed before this; but I must confess I don't know any more about the right way to tell a story, than a native minister knows how to “come” a war dance. I page 8 declare the mention of the war dance calls up a host of reminiscences, pleasurable and painful, exhilarating and depressing, in such a way as no one but a few, a very few, pakeha Maori can understand. Thunder!—but no; let me get ashore; how can I dance on the water, or before I ever knew how? On shore I will get this time, I am determined, in spite of fate—so now for it.

The boat of my friend Mr.—being about to return to the shore, leaving the chief and Mr.—on board, and I seeing the thing had to be done, plucked up courage, and having secretly felt the priming of my pistols under my coat, got into the boat.

I must here correct myself. I have said “plucked up courage,” but that is not exactly my meaning. The fact is, kind reader, if you have followed me thus far, you are about to be rewarded for your perseverance. I am determined to make you as wise as I am myself on at least one important subject, and that is not saying a little, let me inform you, as I can hardly suppose you have made the discovery for yourself on so short an acquaintance. Falstaff, who was a very clever fellow, and whose word cannot be doubted, says, “The better part of valour is discretion.” Now, that being the case, what in the name of Achilles,—(he was a rank coward though, for he went page 9 about knocking people on the head, being himself next thing to invulnerable, as he could not be hurt till he turned his back to the enemy. There is a deep moral in this same story about Achilles, which, perhaps, by-and-by, I may explain to you)—what, I say again, in the name of everything valorous, can the worser part of valour be, if “discretion” be the better? The fact is, my dear sir, I don't believe in courage at all, nor ever did: but there is something far better, which has carried me through many serious scrapes with éclat and safety; I mean the appearance of courage. If you have this, you may drive the world before you. As for real courage, I do not believe there can be any such thing. A man who sees himself in danger of being killed by his enemy and is not in a precious fright, is simply not courageous but mad. The man who is not frightened because he cannot see the danger, is a person of weak mind—a fool—who ought to be locked up lest he walk into a well with eyes open; but the appearance of courage—or rather, as I deny the existence of the thing itself, that appearance which is thought to be courage—that is the thing will carry you through! get you made K.C.B., Victoria Cross, and all that! Men by help of this quality do the most heroic actions, being all the time ready to die of mere fright, but keeping up a good countenance all the time.

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Here is the secret—pay attention, it is worth much money—if ever you get into any desperate battle or skirmish, and feel in such a state of mortal fear that you almost wish to be shot to get rid of it, just say to yourself—“If I am so preciously frightened, what must the other fellow be?” The thought will refresh you; your own self-esteem will answer that, of course, the enemy is more frightened than you are, consequently the nearer you feel to running away the more reason you have to stand. Look at the last gazette of the last victory, where thousands of men at one shilling per diem, minus certain very serious deductions, “covered themselves with glory.” The thing is clear: the other fellows ran first; and that is all about it! My secret is a very good secret; but one must of course do the thing properly: no matter of what kind the danger is, you must look it boldly in the face and keep your wits about you, and the more frightened you get the more determined you must be—to keep up appearances—and half the danger is gone at once. So now, having corrected myself, as well as given some valuable advice, I shall start again for the shore, by saying that I plucked up a very good appearance of courage and got on board the boat.

For the honour and glory of the British nation, of which I considered myself in some degree a page 11 representative on this momentous occasion, I had dressed myself in one of my best suits. My frock-coat was, I fancy, “the thing;” my waistcoat was the result of much and deep thought, in cut, colour, and material; I may venture to affirm that the like had not been often seen in the southern hemisphere. My tailor has, as I hear, long since realized a fortune and retired, in consequence of the enlightenment he at different times received from me on the great principles of, not clothing, but embellishing the human subject. My hat looked down criticism, and my whole turn-out was such as I calculated would “astonish the natives,” and create awe and respect for myself individually and the British nation in general; of whom I thought fit to consider myself no bad sample.

Here I will take occasion to remark that some attention to ornament and elegance in the matter of dress is not only allowable but commendable. Man is the only beast to whom a discretionary power has been left in this respect: why then should he not take a hint from nature, and endeavour to beautify his person? Peacocks and birds of paradise could no doubt live and get fat though all their feathers were the colour of a Quaker's leggings, but see how they are ornamented! Nature has, one would say, exhausted herself in beautifying them. Look at the tiger page 12 and leopard! Could not they murder without their stripes and spots?—but see how their coats are painted! Look at the flowers—at the whole universe—and you will see everywhere the ornamental combined with the useful. Look, then, to the cut and colour of your coat, and do not laugh at the Maori of past times, who, not being “seised” of a coat, because he has never been able to seize one, carves and tatooes legs, arms, and face.

The boat is, however, darting towards the shore, rapidly propelled by four stout natives. My friend — and the chief are on board. The chief has got his eye on my double gun, which is hanging up in the cabin. He takes it down and exmaines it closely. He is a good judge of a gun. It is the best tupara he has ever seen, and his speculation run something very like this:—“A good gun, a first-rate gun; I must have this; I must tapu it before I leave the ship:—[here he pulls a piece of the fringe from his cloak and ties it round the stock of the gun, thereby rendering it impossible for me to sell, give away, or dispose of it in any way to any one but himself]—I wonder what the pakeha will want for it? I will promise him as much flax or as many pigs as ever he likes for it. True, I have no flax just now, and am short of pigs, they were almost all killed at the page 13 last hahunga; but if he is in a hurry he can buy the flax or pigs from the people, which ought to satisfy him. Perhaps he would take a piece of land!—that would be famous. I would give him a piece quite close to the kainga, where I would always have him close to me. I hope he may take the land; then I should have two pakehas, him and —. All the inland chiefs would envy me. This — is getting too knowing; he has taken to hiding his best goods of late, and selling them before I knew he had them. It's just the same as thieving, and I won't stand it. He sold three muskets the other day to the Ngatiwaki, and I did not know he had them, or I should have taken them. I could have paid for them some time or another. It was wrong, wrong, very wrong, to let that tribe have those muskets. He is not their pakeha; let them look for a pakeha for themselves. Those Ngatiwaki are getting too many muskets—those three make sixty-four they have got, besides two tupara. Certainly we have a great many more, and the Ngatiwaki are our relations; but then there was Kohu, we killed, and Patu, we stole his wife. There is no saying what these Ngatiwaki may do if they should get plenty of muskets; they are game enough for anything. It was wrong to give them those muskets; wrong, wrong, wrong!” After ex- page 14 perience enabled me to tell just what the chief's soliloquy was, as above.

But all this time the boat is darting to the shore; and as the distance is only a couple of hundred yards, I can hardly understand how it is that I have not yet landed. The crew are pulling like mad, being impatient to show the tribe the prize they have made,—a regular pakeha rangatira as well as a rangatira pakeha (two very different things), who has lots of tomahawks, and fish-hooks, and blankets, and a tupara, and is even suspected to be the owner of a great many “pots” of gunpowder! “He is going to stop with the tribe, he is going to trade, he is going to be a pakeha for us.” These last conclusions were, however, jumped at; the “pakeha” not having then any notions of trade or commerce, and being only inclined to look about and amuse himself.

The boat nears the shore, and now arises from a hundred voices the call of welcome,—“Haere mai! haere mai! hoe mai! hoe mai! haere mai, e-te-pa-ke-ha, haere mai!” Mats, hands, and certain ragged petticoats put into requisition for that occasion, all at the same time waving in the air in sign of welcome. Then a pause. Then, as the boat came nearer, another burst of haere mai! But unaccustomed as I was then to the Maori salute, I disliked the sound. There was a wailing page 15 melancholy cadence that did not strike me as being the appropriate tone of welcome; and as I was quite ignorant up to this time of my own importance, wealth, and general value as a pakeha, I began, as the boat closed in with the shore, to ask myself whether possibly this same “haere mai” might not be the Maori for “dilly, dilly, come and be killed.” There was, however, no help for it now; we were close to the shore, and so, putting on the most unconcerned countenance posssible, I prepared to make my entrée into Maori land in a proper and dignified manner.