Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Chapter II

page 16

Chapter II

The Market Price of a Pakeha.—The Value of a Pakeha “as such.”—Maori Hospitality in the Good Old Times.—A respectable Friend.—Maori Mermaids.—My Notions of the Value of Gold.—How I got on Shore.

Here I must remark that in those days the value of a pakeha to a tribe was enormous. For want of pakehas to trade with, and from whom to procure gunpowder and muskets, many tribes or sections of tribes were about this time exterminated, or nearly so, by their more fortunate neighbours who got pakehas before them, and who consequently became armed with muskets first. A pakeha trader was therefore of a value say about twenty times his own weight in muskets. This, according to my notes made at the time, I find to have represented a value in New Zealand something about what we mean in England when we talk of the sum total of the national debt. A book-keeper, or a second-rate pakeha, not a trader, might be valued at, say, his weight in tomahawks; an enormous sum also. The poorest labouring page 17 pakeha, though he might have no property, would earn something—his value to the chief and tribe with whom he lived might be estimated at, say, his weight in fish-hooks, or about a hundred thousand pounds or so: value estimated by eagerness to obtain the article.

The value of a musket was not to be estimated to a native by just what he gave for it: he gave all he had, or could procure, and had he ten times as much to give, he would have given it, if necessary; or if not, he would buy ten muskets instead of one. Muskets! muskets! muskets! nothing but muskets, was the first demand of the Maori: muskets and gunpowder, at any cost.

I do not, however, mean to affirm that pakehas were at this time valued “as such,”—like Mr. Pickwick's silk stockings, which were very good and valuable stockings, “as stockings;” not at all. A loose straggling pakeha—a runaway from a ship for instance, who had nothing, and was never likely to have anything—a vagrant straggler passing from place to place,—was not of much account, even in those times. Two men of this description (runaway sailors) were hospitably entertained one night by a chief, a very particular friend of mine, who, to pay himself for his trouble and outlay, ate one of them next morning.

Remember, my good reader, I don't deal in page 18 fiction; my friend ate the pakeha sure enough, and killed him before he ate him: which was civil, for it was not always done. But then, certainly, the pakeha was a tutua, a nobody, a fellow not worth a spike-nail; no one knew him; he had no relations, no goods, no expectations, no anything: what could be made of him? Of what use on earth was he except to eat? And, indeed, not much good even for that—they say he was not good meat. But good well-to-do pakehas, traders, ship-captains, labourers, or employers of labour, these were to be honoured, cherished, caressed, protected—and plucked: plucked judiciously (the Maori is a clever fellow in his way), so that the feathers might grow again. But as for poor, mean, mere Pakeha tutua, e aha te pai?

Before going any farther I beg to state that I hope the English reader or the new-comer, who does not understand Maori morality—especially of the glorious old time—will not form a bad opinion of my friend's character, merely because he ate a good-for-nothing sort of pakeha, who really was good for nothing else. People from the old countries I have often observed to have a kind of over-delicacy about them, the result of a too effeminate course of life and over-civilization; which is the cause that, often starting from premises which are true enough, they will, page 19 being carried away by their over-sensitive constitution or sickly nervous system, jump at once, without any just process of reasoning, to the most erroneous conclusions. I know as well as can be that some of this description of my readers will at once, without reflection, set my friend down as a very rude ill-mannered sort of person. Nothing of the kind, I assure you. You never made a greater mistake in your life. My friend was a highly respectable person in his way; he was a great friend and protector of rich, well-to-do pakehas; he was, moreover, a great warrior, and had killed the first man in several different battles. He always wore, hanging round his neck, a handsome carved flute (this at least showed a soft and musical turn of mind), which was made of the thigh-bone of one of his enemies; and when Heke, the Ngapuhi, made war against us, my friend came to the rescue, fought manfully for his pakeha friends, and was desperately wounded in so doing. Now can any one imagine a more respectable character?—a warrior, a musician, a friend in need, who would stand by you while he had a leg to stand on, and would not eat a friend on any account whatever—except he should be very hungry.

The boat darts on; she touches the edge of a steep rock; the “haere mai” has subsided; six page 20 or seven “personages”—the magnates of the tribe—come gravely to the front to meet me as I land. There are about six or seven yards of shallow water to be crossed between the boat and where they stand. A stout fellow rushes to the boat's nose, and “shows a back,” as we used to say at leap-frog. He is a young fellow of respectable standing in the tribe, a far-off cousin of the chief's, a warrior, and as such has no back: that is to say, to carry loads of fuel or potatoes. He is too good a man to be spoiled in that way; the women must carry for him; the able-bodied men of the tribe must be saved for its protection; but he is ready to carry the pakeha on shore—the rangatira pakeha—who wears a real koti roa (a long coat) and beaver hat! Carry! He would lie down and make a bridge of his body, with pleasure, for him. Has he not half a shipful of taonga?

Well, having stepped in as dignified a manner as I knew how, from thwart to thwart, till I came to the bow of the boat, and having tightened on my hat and buttoned up my coat, I fairly mounted on the broad shoulders of my aboriginal friend. I felt at the time that the thing was a sort of failure—a come down; the position was not graceful, or in any way likely to suggest ideas of respect or awe, with my legs projecting a yard or so from page 21 under each arm of my bearer, holding on to his shoulders in the most painful, cramped, and awkward manner: to be sacked on shore thus, and delivered like a bag of goods thus, into the hands of the assembled multitude, did not strike me as a good first appearance on this stage. But little, indeed, can we tell in this world what one second may produce. Gentle reader, fair reader, patient reader! The fates have decreed it; the fiat has gone forth; on that man's back I shall never land in New Zealand. Manifold are the doubts and fears which have yet to shake and agitate the hearts and minds of all my friends as to whether I shall ever land at all, or ever again feel terra firma touch my longing foot. My bearer made one step; the rock is slippery; backwards he goes; back, back! The steep is near—is passed! down, down, we go! backwards, and headlong to the depths below!

The ebb tide is running like a sluice; in an instant we are forty yards off, and a fathom below the surface; ten more fathoms are beneath us. The heels of my boots, my polished boots, point to the upper air—ay, point; but when, oh, when again, shall I salute thee, gentle air; when again, unchoked by the saline flood, cry Veni, aura? When, indeed! for now I am wrong end uppermost, drifting away with the tide, and ballasted page 22 with heavy pistols, boots, tight clothes, and all the straps and strings of civilization. Oh, heavens! and oh, earth! and oh, ye little thieves of fishes who manage to live in the waters under the earth (a miserable sort of life you must have of it)! oh, Maori sea nymphs! who, with yellow hair—yellow? egad—that's odd enough, to say the least of it: how ever the Maori should come to give their sea nymphs or spirits yellow hair is curious. The Maori know nothing about yellow hair; their hair is black. About one in a hundred of them have a sort of dirty brown hair; but even if there should be now and then a native with yellow hair, how is it that they have come to give this colour to the sea-sprites in particular?—who also “dance on the sands, and yet no footstep seen.” Now I confess I am rather puzzled and struck by the coincidence. I don't believe Shakspeare ever was in New Zealand; Jason might, being a seafaring man, and if he should have called in for wood and water, and happened to have the golden fleece by any accident on board, and by any chance put it on for a wig, why the thing would be accounted for at once.

The world is mad now-a-days about gold, so no one cares a fig about what is called “golden hair:” nuggets and dust have the preference; but this is a grand mistake. Gold is of no use, or page 23 very little, except in so far as this—that through the foolishness of human beings, one can purchase the necessaries and conveniences of life with it. Now, this being the case, if I have a chest full of gold (which I have not), I am no richer for it, in fact, until I have given it away in exchange for necessaries, comforts, and luxuries, which are, properly speaking, riches or wealth; but it follows from this, that he who has given me this same riches or wealth for my gold, has become poor, and his only chance to set himself up again, is to get rid of the gold as fast as he can, in exchange for the same sort and quantity of things, if he can get them: which is always doubtful. But here lies the gist of the matter—how did I, in the first instance, become possessed of my gold? If I bought it, and gave real wealth for it, beef, mutton, silk, tea, sugar, tobacco, ostrich feathers, leather breeches, and crinoline,—why, then, all I have done in parting with my gold, is merely to get them back again, and I am, consequently, no richer by the transaction; but if I steal my gold, then I am a clear gainer of the whole lot of valuables above mentioned. So, upon the whole, I don't see much use in getting gold honestly, and one must not steal it: digging it certainly is almost as good as stealing, if it is not too deep, which fully accounts for so many employing them- page 24 selves in this way; but then the same amount of labour would raise no end of wheat and potatoes, beef and mutton: and all farmers, mathematicians, and algebraists will agree with me in this—that after any country is fully cultivated, all the gold in the world won't force it to grow one extra turnip, and what more can any one desire? So now Adam Smith, McCulloch, and all the rest of them may go and be hanged. The whole upshot of this treatise on political economy and golden hair (which I humbly lay at the feet of the Colonial Treasurer), is this:—I would not give one of your golden locks, my dear, for all the gold, silver, pearls, diamonds, mere ponamus—stop, let me think: a good mere ponamu would be a temptation.

I had once a mere, a present from a Maori friend, the most beautiful thing of the kind ever seen. It was nearly as transparent as glass; in it there were beautiful marks like fern leaves, trees, fishes—and I would not give much for a person who could not see almost anything in it. Never shall I cease to regret having parted with it. The Emperor of Brazil, I think, has it now; but he does not know the proper use of it. It went to the Minister many years ago. I did not sell it. I would have scorned to do that: but I did expect to be made Knight of the Golden Pig-knife, or page 25 Elephant and Watch-box, or something of that nature: but here I am still, a mere pakeha Maori—and, as I recollect, in desperate danger of being drowned.

Up we came at last, blowing and puffing like grampuses. With a glance I “recognized the situation:” we had drifted a long way from the landing-place. My hat was dashing away before the land breeze towards the sea, and had already made a good “offing.” Three of the boat's crew had jumped overboard, had passed us a long distance, and were seemingly bound after the hat; the fourth man was pulling madly with one oar, and consequently making great progress in no very particular direction. The whole tribe of natives had followed our drift along the shore, shouting and gesticulating, and some were launching a large canoe, evidently bent on saving the hat, on which all eyes were turned. As for the pakeha, it appears they must have thought it an insult to his understanding to suppose he could be drowned anywhere in sight of land. “‘Did he not come from the sea?’ Was he not a fish? Was not the sea solid land to him? Did not his fire burn on the ocean? Had he not slept on the crests of the waves?” All this I heard afterwards; but at the time, had I not been as much at home in the water as anything not amphibious could be, I page 26 should have been very little better than a gone pakeha. Here was a pretty wind up! I was going to “astonish the natives,” was I?—with my black hat and my koti roa?

But the villain is within a yard of me—the rascally cause of all my grief. The furies take possession of me! I dart upon him like a hungry shark! I have him! I have him under! Down, villain! down to the kraken and the whale, to the Taniwha cave!—down! down! down! As we sank I heard one grand roar of wild laughter from the shore: the word utu I heard roared by many voices, but did not then know its import. The pakeha was drowning the Maori for utu for himself, in case he should be drowned. No matter: if the Maori can't hold his own, it's fair play; and then, if the pakeha really does drown the Maori, has he not lots of taonga to be robbed of?—No, not exactly to be robbed of, either; let us not use unnecessarily bad language—we will say to be distrained upon.

Crack! What do I hear? Down in the deep I felt a shock, and actually heard a sudden noise. Is it the “crack of doom?” No, it is my frock-coat gone at one split “from clue to earing”—split down the back. Oh, if my pistols would go off, a fiery and watery death shouldst thou die, Caliban. Egad! they have gone off—they are both gone to page 27 the bottom! My boots are getting heavy! Humane Society, ahoy! where is your boat-hook?—where is your bellows? Humane Society, ahoy! We are now drifting fast by a sandy point, after which there will be no chance of landing,—the tide will take us right out to sea. My friend is very hard to drown—I must finish him some other time. We both swim for the point, and land.

And this is how I got ashore on Maori land.