Old New Zealand: Being Incidents of Native Customs and Character in the Old Times by A Pakeha Maori
A Wrestling Match.—Beef against Melons.—The Victor gains a Loss.—“Our Chief.”—His Speech.—His status in the Tribe.—Death of “Melons.”—Rumours of Peace and War.—Getting the Pa in Fighting Order.—My Friend the “Relation Eater.”—Expectation and Preparation.—Arrival of doubtful Friends.—Sham Fight.—The “Taki.”—The War Dance.—Another Example of Maori Hospitality.—Crocodile's Tears.—Loose Notions about Heads.—Tears of Blood.—Brotherly Love.—Capital Felony.—Peace.
Something between a cheer, a scream, and a roar, greets our arrival on the sand. An English voice salutes me with “Well, you served that fellow out.” One half of my coat hangs from my right elbow, the other from my left; a small shred of the collar is still around my neck. My hat, alas! my hat is gone. I am surrounded by a dense mob of natives, laughing, shouting, and gesticulating, in the most grotesque manner. Three Englishmen are also in the crowd; they seem greatly amused at something, and offer repeated welcomes.
At this moment, up comes my salt-water acquaintance, elbowing his way through the page 29 crowd; there is a strange serio-comic expression of anger in his face; he stoops, makes horrid grimaces, quivering at the same time his left hand and arm about in a most extraordinary manner, and striking the thick part of his left arm with the palm of the right hand. “Hu!” says he, “hu! hu!” “What can he mean?” said I. “He is challenging you to wrestle,” cried one of the Englishmen; “he wants utu.” “What is utu?” said I. “Payment.” “I won't pay him.” “Oh, that's not it, he wants to take it out of you wrestling.” “Oh, I see; here's at him; pull off my coat and boots: I'll wrestle him. ‘His foot is in his own country, and his name is’—what?” “Sir, his name in English means ‘An eater of melons:’ he is a good wrestler; you must mind.” “Water-melons, I suppose! Beef against melons for ever, hurrah! Here's at him.”
Here the natives began to run between us to separate us, but seeing that I was in the humour to “have it out,” and that neither self nor friend were actually out of temper—and, no doubt, expecting to see the pakeha floored—they stood to one side and made a ring. A wrestler soon recognizes another, and my friend soon gave me some hints that showed me I had some work before me. I was a youngster in those days, all bone and sinew, full of animal spirits, and as tough as leather. page 30 A couple of desperate main strength efforts soon convinced us both that science or endurance must decide the contest. My antagonist was a strapping fellow of about five-and-twenty, tremendously strong, and much heavier than me. I, however, in those days actually could not be fatigued: I did not know the sensation, and I could run from morning till night. I therefore trusted to wearing him out, and avoiding his ta and wiri. All this time the mob were shouting encouragement to one or other of us. Such a row never was seen. I soon perceived I had a “party.” “Well done, pakeha!” “Now for it, Melons!” “At him again!” “Take care the pakeha is a taniwha! the pakeha is a tino tangata!” “Hooray!” (from the British element). “The pakeha is down!” “No, he isn't!” (from English side). Here I saw my friend's knees beginning to tremble. I made a great effort, administered my favourite remedy, and there lay the “Eater of Melons” prone upon the sand.
I stood a victor; and, like many other conquerors, a very great loser. There I stood, minus hat, coat, and pistols; wet and mauled, and transformed very considerably for the worse since I left the ship. When my antagonist fell, the natives gave a great shout of triumph, and congratulated me in their own way with the greatest page 31 good will. I could see I had got their good opinion, though I scarcely could understand how. After sitting on the sand some time, my friend arose, and with a very graceful movement, and a smile of good-nature on his dusky countenance, he held out his hand and said in English, “How do you do?” I was much pleased at this; the natives had given me fair play, and my antagonist, though defeated both by sea and land, offered me his hand, and welcomed me to the shore with his whole stock of English—“How do you do?”
But the row is not half over yet. Here comes the chief in the ship's boat. The other is miles off with its one man crew still pulling no one knows, or at all cares, where. Some one has been off in a canoe and told the chief that “Melons” and the “New Pakeha” were fighting like mad on the beach. Here he comes, flourishing his mere ponamu. He is a tall, stout fellow, in the prime of life, black with tatooing, and splendidly dressed, according to the splendour of those days. He has on a very good blue jacket, no shirt or waistcoat, a pair of duck trousers, and a red sash round his waist; no hat or shoes, these being as yet things beyond a chief's ambition. The jacket was the only one in the tribe; and amongst the surrounding company I saw only one other pair of trousers, which had a large hole at each knee; page 32 but this was not considered to detract at all from its value.
The chief jumps ashore; he begins his oration, or rather to “blow up,” all and sundry, the tribe in general, and poor “Melons” in particular. He is really vexed, and wishes to appear to me more vexed than he really is. He runs gesticulating and flourishing his mere about ten steps in one direction, in the course of which ten steps he delivers a sentence; he then turns and runs back the same distance, giving vent to his wrath in another sentence, and so back and forward, forward and back, till he has exhausted the subject, and tired his legs. The Englishmen were beside me, and gave a running translation of what he said.
“Pretty work this,” he began, “good work; killing my pakeha: look at him! (here a flourish in my direction with the mere.) I won't stand this; not at all! not at all! not at all! (the last sentence took three jumps, a step, and a turn-round, to keep correct time.) Who killed the pakeha? It was Melons. You are a nice man, are you not? (this with a sneer.) Killing my pakeha! (in a voice like thunder, and rushing savagely, mere in hand, at poor Melons, but turning exactly at the end of the ten steps and coming back again.) It will be heard of all over page 33 the country; we shall be called the ‘pakeha killers;’ I shall be sick with shame; the pakeha will run away, and take all his taonga along with him: what if you had killed him dead, or broken his bones? his relations would be coming across the sea for utu. (Great sensation, and I try to look as though I would say ‘of course they would.’) What did I build this pa close to the sea for?—was it not to trade with the pakehas?—and here you are killing the second that has come to stop with me! (Here poor Melons burst out crying like an infant.) Where is the hat?—where the koti roa?—where the shoes?—(Boots were shoes in those days.) The pakeha is robbed! he is murdered! (Here a howl from Melons, and I go over and sit down by him, clap him on the bare back, and shake his hand.) Look at that,—the pakeha does not bear malice; I would kill you if he asked me: you are a bad people, killers of pakehas; be off with you, the whole of you, away!”
This command was instantly obeyed by all the women, boys, and slaves. Melons also, being in disgrace, disappeared; but I observed that “the whole of you” did not seem to be understood as including the stout, able-bodied, tattooed part of the population, the strength of the tribe—the warriors, in fact, many of whom counted them- page 34 selves to be very much about as good as the chief. They were his nearest relations, without whose support he could do nothing, and were entirely beyond his control.
I found afterwards that it was only during actual war that this chief was perfectly absolute, which arose from the confidence the tribe had in him, both as a general and a fighting man, and the obvious necessity that in war implicit obedience be given to one head. I have, however, observed in other tribes, that in war they would elect a chief for the occasion, a war chief, and have been surprised to see the obedience they gave him, even when his conduct was very open to criticism. I say with surprise, for the natives are so self-possessed, opinionated, and republican, that the chiefs have at ordinary times but little control over them; except in very rare cases, where the chief happens to possess a singular vigour of character, or some other unusual advantage, to enable him to keep them under.
I will mention here that my first antagonist, “The Eater of Melons,” became a great friend of mine. He was my right-hand man and manager when I set up house on my own account, and did me many friendly services in the course of my acquaintance with him. He came to an unfortunate end some years later. The tribe page 35 were getting ready for a war expedition; poor Melons was filling cartridges from a fifty pound barrel of gunpowder, pouring the gunpowder into the cartridges with his hand, and smoking his pipe at the time, as I have seen the natives doing fifty times since: a spark fell into the cask, and it is scarcely necessary to say that my poor friend was roasted alive in a second. I have known three other accidents of the same kind, from smoking whilst filling cartridges. In one of these accidents three lives were lost, and many injured; and I really do believe that the certainty of death will not prevent some of the natives from smoking for more than a given time. I have often seen infants refuse the mother's breast, and cry for the pipe till it was given to them; and dying natives often ask for a pipe, and die smoking. I can clearly perceive that the young men of the present day are neither so tall, or stout, or strong, as men of the same age were when I first came to the country; and I believe that this smoking, from their infancy, is one of the chief causes of this decrease in strength and stature.
I am landed at last, certainly; but I am tattered and wet, and in a most deplorable plight: so, to make my story short—for I see, if I am too particular, I shall never come to the end of it—I returned to the ship, put myself to rights, and page 36 came on shore next day with all my taonga, to the great delight of the chief and tribe. My hospitable entertainer, Mr. —, found room for my possessions in his store, and a room for myself in his house; and so now that I am fairly housed we shall see what will come of it.
I have now all New Zealand before me to caper about in; so I shall do as I like, and please myself. I shall keep to neither rule, rhyme, nor reason, but just write what comes uppermost to my recollection of the good old days. Many matters which seemed odd enough to me at first, have long appeared such mere matters of course, that I am likely to pass them over without notice. I shall, however, give some of the more striking features of those delectable days, now, alas! passed and gone.
Some short time after this, news came that a grand war expedition, which had been absent nearly two years at the South, had returned. This party were about a thousand strong, being composed of two parties, of about five hundred men each, from two different tribes, who had joined their force for the purpose of the expedition. The tribe with which Mr. — and myself were staying, had not sent any men on this war party; but, I suppose to keep their hands in, had attacked one of the two tribes who had, and who page 37 were, consequently, much weakened by the absence of so many of their best men. It, however, turned out that after a battle—the ferocity of which has seldom been equalled in any country but this—our friends were defeated with a dreadful loss, having inflicted almost as great on the enemy. Peace, however, had afterwards been formally made; but, nevertheless, the news of the return of this expedition was not heard without causing a sensation almost amounting to consternation. The war chief of the party who had been attacked by our friends during his absence, was now, with all his men, within an easy day's march. His road lay right through our village, and it was much to be doubted that he would keep the peace, being one of the most noted war chiefs of New Zealand, and he and his men returning from a successful expedition.
All now was uproar and confusion; messengers were running like mad, in all directions, to call in stragglers; and the women were carrying fuel and provisions into the pa, or fortress, of the tribe. This pa was a very well built and strong stockade, composed of three lines of strong fence and ditch, very ingeniously and artificially planned; and, indeed, as good a defence as well could be imagined against an enemy armed only with musketry. All the men were now working like page 38 furies, putting this fort to rights, getting it into fighting order, mending the fences, clearing out the ditches, knocking down houses inside the place, clearing away brushwood and fern all around the outside within musket shot.
I was in the thick of it, and worked all day lashing the fence; the fence being of course not nailed, but lashed with toro-toro, a kind of tough creeping plant, like a small rope, which was very strong and well adapted for the purpose. This lashing was about ten or twelve feet from the ground, and a stage had to be erected for the men to stand on. To accomplish this lashing or fastening of the fence well and with expedition required two men, one inside the fence and another outside; all the men therefore worked in pairs, passing the end of the toro-toro from one to the other through the fence of large upright stakes and round a cross piece which went all along the fence, by which means the whole was connected into one strong wall. I worked away like fury, just as if I had been born and bred a member of the community; and moreover, not being in those days very particularly famous for what is called prudence, I intended also, circumstances permitting, to fight like fury too, just for the fun of the thing.
About a hundred men were employed in this page 39 part of the work, new lashing the pa. My vis-à-vis in the operation was a respectable old warrior of great experience and approved valour, whose name being turned into English meant “The eater of his own relations.” This was quite a different sort of diet from “melons;” and he did not bear his name for nothing, as I could tell you if I had time; but I am half mad with haste, lashing the pa. I will only say that my comrade was a most bloodthirsty, ferocious, athletic savage, and his character was depicted in every line of his tattooed face. About twenty men had been sent out to watch the approach of the dreaded visitors. The repairing of the stockade went on all one day and all one night, by torchlight and by the light of huge fires lit in the inside. No one thought of sleep. Dogs barking, men shouting, children crying, women screaming, pigs squealing, muskets firing (to see if they were fit for active service and would go off), and above all the doleful tetere sounding. This was a huge wooden trumpet six feet long, which gave forth a groaning, meaning sound, like the voice of a dying wild bull. Babel, with a dash of Pandemonium, will give a faint idea of the uproar.
All preparations having been at last made, and no further tidings of the enemy, as I may call them, I took a complete survey of the fort; my page 40 friend the “Relation Eater” being my companion and explaining to me the design of the whole. I learned something that day; and I, though pretty well “up” in the noble science of fortification, ancient and modern, was obliged to confess to myself that a savage who could neither read nor write—who had never heard of Cohorn or Vauban—and who was moreover avowedly a gobbler up of his own relations, could teach me certain practical “dodges” in the defensive art quite well worth knowing.
A long shed of palm leaves had been also built at a safe and convenient distance from the fort. This was for the accommodation of the expected visitors, supposing they came in peaceful guise. A whole herd of pigs were also collected and tied to stakes driven into the ground in the rear of the fort. These were intended to feast the coming guests, according to their behaviour.
Towards evening a messenger from a neighbouring friendly tribe arrived to say that next day, about noon, the strangers might be expected; and also that the peace, which had been concluded with their tribe during their absence, had been ratified and accepted by them. This was satisfactory intelligence; but, nevertheless, no precaution must be neglected. To be thrown off guard would invite an attack, and ensure destruc- page 41 tion; everything must be in order: gun cleaning, flint fixing, cartridge making, was going on in all directions; and the outpost at the edge of the forest was not called in. All was active preparation.
The path by which these doubtful friends were coming led through a dense forest, and came out on the clear plain about half a mile from the pa; which plain continued and extended in every direction around the fortress to about the same distance, so that none could approach unperceived. The outpost, of twenty men, was stationed at about a couple of hundred yards from the point where the path emerged from the wood; and as the ground sloped considerably from the forest to the fort, the whole intervening space was clearly visible.
Another night of alarm and sleepless expectation, the melancholy moan of the tetere still continuing to hint to any lurking enemy that we were all wide awake; or rather, I should say, to assure him most positively of it, for who could sleep with that diabolical din in his ears? Morning came, and an early breakfast was cooked and devoured hurriedly. Then groups of the younger men might be seen here and there fully armed, and “getting up steam” by dancing the wardance, in anticipation of the grand dance of the page 42 whole warrior force of the tribe, which, as a matter of course, must be performed in honour of the visitors when they arrived: in honour, but quite as much in intimidation, or an endeavour at it, though no one said so. Noon arrived at last.
Anxious glances are turning from all quarters towards the wood, from which a path is plainly seen winding down the sloping ground towards the pa. The outpost is on the alert. Straggling scouts are out in every direction. All is expectation. Now there is a movement at the outpost. They suddenly spread in an open line, ten yards between each man. One man comes at full speed, running towards the pa, jumping and bounding over every impediment. Now something moves in the border of the forest,—it is a mass of black heads. Now the men are plainly visible. The whole taua has emerged upon the plain. “Here they come! here they come!” is heard in all directions. The men of the outpost cross the line of march in pretended resistance; they present their guns, make horrid grimaces, dance about like mad baboons, and then fall back with head-long speed to the next advantageous position for making a stand. The taua however comes on steadily; they are formed in a solid oblong mass. The chief at the left of the column leads them on. page 43 The men are all equipped for immediate action; that is to say, quite naked except their arms and cartridge boxes, which are a warrior's clothes. No one can possibly tell what this peaceful meeting may end in, so all are ready for action at a second's notice.
The taua still comes steadily on. As I have said, the men are all stripped for action, but I also notice that the appearance of nakedness is completely taken away by the tattooing, the colour of the skin, and the arms and equipments. The men in fact look much better than when dressed in their Maori clothing. Every man, almost without exception, is covered with tattooing from the knees to the waist; the face is also covered with dark spiral lines. Each man has round his middle a belt, to which is fastened two cartridge boxes, one behind and one before; another belt goes over the right shoulder and under the left arm, and from it hangs, on the left side and rather behind, another cartridge box, and under the waist-belt is thrust, behind, at the small of the back, the short-handled tomahawk for close fight and to finish the wounded. Each cartridge box contains eighteen rounds, and every man has a musket. Altogether this taua is better and more uniformly armed and equipped than ordinary; but they have been amongst the first who got pakehas page 44 to trade with them, and are indeed in consequence the terror of New Zealand.
On they come, a set of tall, athletic, heavymade men; they would, I am sure, in the aggregate weigh some tons heavier than the same number of men taken at random from the streets of one of our manufacturing towns. They are now half way across the plain; they keep their formation, a solid oblong, admirably as they advance, but they do not keep step; this causes a very singular appearance at a distance. Instead of the regular marching step of civilized soldiers, which may be observed at any distance, this mass seems to progress towards you with the creeping motion of some great reptile at a distance, and when coming down a sloping ground this effect is quite remarkable.
The mimic opposition is now discontinued; the outpost rushes in at full speed, the men firing their guns in the air as they run. “Takina! takina!” is the cry, and out spring three young men, the best runners of our tribe, to perform the ceremony of the taki. They hold in their hands some reeds to represent darts or kokiri. At this moment a tremendous fire of ball cartridge opens from the fort; the balls whistle in every direction, over and around the advancing party, who steadily and gravely come on, not seeming to know that a page 45 gun has been fired; though they perfectly well understand that this salute is also a hint of full preparation for any unexpected turn things may take. Now, from the whole female population arises the shrill “haere mai! haere mai!” Mats are waving, guns firing, dogs barking; the chief roaring to “fall in,” and form for the war dance. He appears half mad with excitement, anxiety, and something very like apprehension of a sudden onslaught from his friends.
In the midst of this horrible uproar off dart the three runners. They are not unexpected. Three young men of the taua are seen to tighten their waist-belts and hand their muskets to their comrades. On go the three young men from the fort. They approach the front of the advancing column; they dance and caper about like mad monkeys, twisting their faces about in the most extraordinary manner, showing the whites of their eyes, and lolling out their tongues. At last, after several feints, they boldly advance within twenty yards of the supposed enemy, and send the reed darts flying full in their faces: then they turn and fly as if for life. Instantly, from the stranger ranks, three young men dart forth in eager pursuit; and behind them comes the solid column, rushing on at full speed. Run now, O “Sounding Sea,” (Tai Haruru), for the “Black Cloud” (Kapua page 46 Mangu), the swiftest of the Rarawa, is at your back: run now, for the honour of your tribe and your own name, run! run! It was an exciting scene.
The two famous runners came on at a tremendous pace, the dark mass of armed men following close behind at full speed, keeping their formation admirably, the ground shaking under them as they rushed on. On come the two runners (the others are left behind and disregarded). The pursuer gains upon his man; but they are fast nearing the goal, where, according to Maori custom, the chase must end. Run, “Sounding Sea;” another effort! your tribe are near in full array, and armed for the war dance; their friendly ranks are your refuge: run! run! On came the headlong race. When within about thirty yards of the place where our tribe was now formed in a solid oblong, each man kneeling on one knee, with musket held in both hands, butt to ground, and somewhat sloped to the front, the pursuing native caught at the shoulder of our man, touched it, but could do no more. Here he must stop; to go farther would not be “correct.” He will, however, boast everywhere that he has touched the shoulder of the famous “Sounding Sea.” Our man has not, however, been caught, which would have been a bad omen.
At this moment the charging column comes page 47 thundering up to where their man is standing; instantly they all kneel upon one knee, holding their guns sloped before their faces, in the manner already described. The élite of the two tribes are now opposite to each other, all armed, all kneeling, and formed in two solid oblong masses, the narrow end of the oblong to the front. Only thirty yards divide them; but the front ranks do not gaze on each other: both parties turn their eyes towards the ground, and with heads bent downwards, and a little to one side, appear to listen. All is silence; you might have heard a pin drop. The uproar has turned to a calm; the men are kneeling statues; the chiefs have disappeared—they are in the centre of their tribes.
The pakeha is beginning to wonder what will be the end of all this; and also to speculate on the efficacy of the buck shot with which his gun is loaded, and wishes it was ball. Two minutes have elapsed in this solemn silence; the more remarkable as being the first quiet two minutes for the last two days and nights. Suddenly from the extreme rear of the strangers' column is heard a scream—a horrid yell. A savage, of herculean stature, comes, mere in hand, and rushing madly to the front. He seems hunted by all the furies. Bedlam never produced so horrid a visage. Thrice, as he advances, he gives that horrid cry; and page 48 thrice the armed tribe give answer with a long-drawn gasping sigh. He is at the front; he jumps into the air, shaking his stone weapon; the whites only of his eyes are visible, giving a most hideous appearance to his face; he shouts the first words of the war song, and instantly his tribe spring from the ground. It would be hard to describe the scene which followed. The roaring chorus of the war song; the horrid grimaces; the eyes all white; the tongues hanging out; the furious, yet measured, and uniform gesticulation, jumping, and stamping. I felt the ground plainly trembling.
At last the war dance ended; and then my tribe (I find I am already beginning to get Maorified), starting from the ground like a single man, endeavoured to out-do even their amiable friends' exhibition. They end; then the newcomers perform another demon dance; then my tribe give another. Silence again prevails, and all sit down. Immediately a man from the new-arrivals comes to the front of his own party; he runs to and fro; he speaks for his tribe; these are his words:—“Peace is made! peace is made! peace is firm! peace is secure! peace! peace! peace!” This man is not a person of any particular consequence in his tribe, but his brother was killed by our people in the battle I have mentioned, and this gives him the right to be the page 49 first to proclaim peace. His speech is ended and he “falls in.” Some three or four others “follow on the same side.” Their speeches are short also, and nearly verbatim what the first was.
Then who, of all the world, starts forth from “ours,” to speak on the side of “law and order,” but my diabolical old acquaintance the “Relation Eater.” I had by this time picked up a little Maori, and could partly understand his speech. “Welcome! welcome! welcome! Peace is made! not till now has there been true peace! I have seen you, and peace is made!” Here he broke out into a song, the chorus of which was taken up by hundreds of voices, and when it ended he made a sudden and very expressive gesture of scattering something with his hands, which was a signal to all present that the ceremonial was at an end for the time.
Our tribe at once disappeared into the pa, and at the same instant the strangers broke into a scattered mob, and made for the long shed which had been prepared for their reception, which was quite large enough, and the floor covered thickly with clean rushes to sleep on. About fifty or sixty then started for the border of the forest to bring their clothes and baggage, which had been left there as incumbrances to the movements page 50 of the performers in the ceremonials I have described. Part, however, of the “impedimenta” had already arrived on the backs of about thirty boys, women, and old slaves; and I noticed amongst other things some casks of cartridges, which were, as I thought, rather ostentatiously exposed to view.
I soon found the reason my friend of saturnine propensities had closed proceedings so abruptly was, that the tribe had many pressing duties of hospitality to fulfil, and that the heavy talking was to commence next day. I noticed also that to this time there had been no meeting of the chiefs, and, moreover, that the two parties had kept strictly separate: the nearest they had been to each other was thirty yards when the war dancing was going on, and they seemed quite glad, when the short speeches were over, to move off to a greater distance from each other.
Soon after, the dispersion of the two parties, a firing of muskets was heard in and at the rear of the fort, accompanied by the squeaking, squealing, and dying groans of a whole herd of pigs. Directly afterwards a mob of fellows were seen staggering under the weight of the dead pigs, and proceeding to the long shed already mentioned, in front of which they were flung down, sans ceremonie, and without a word spoken. I page 51 counted sixty-nine large fat pigs flung in one heap, one on the top of the other, before that part of the shed where the principal chief was sitting; twelve were thrown before the interesting savage who had “started” the war dance; and several single porkers were thrown without any remark before certain others of the guests. The parties. however, to whom this compliment was paid, sat quietly saying nothing, and hardly appearing to see what was done. Behind the pigs was placed, by the active exertion of two or three hundred people, a heap of potatoes and kumera, in quantity about ten tons, so there was no want of the raw material for a feast.
The pigs and potatoes having been deposited, a train a of women appeared—the whole, indeed, of the young and middle-aged women of the tribe. They advanced with a half-dancing, half-hopping sort of step, to the time of a wild but not unmusical chant, each woman holding high in both hands a smoking dish of some kind or other of Maori delicacy, hot from the oven. The groundwork of this feast appeared to be sweet potatoes and taro, but on the top of each smoking mess was placed either dried shark, eels, mullet, or pork, all “piping hot.” This treat was intended to stay our guests' stomachs till they could find time to cook for themselves. The women having page 52 placed the dishes, or, to speak more correctly, baskets, on the ground before the shed, disappeared; and in a miraculously short time the feast disappeared also, as was proved by seeing the baskets flung in twos, threes, and tens, empty out of the shed.
Next day, pretty early in the morning, I saw our chief (as I must call him for distinction) with a few of the principal men of the tribe, dressed in their best Maori costume, taking their way towards the shed of the visitors. When they got pretty near, a cry of haere mai! hailed them. They went on gravely, and observing where the principal chief was seated, our chief advanced towards him, fell upon his neck, embracing him in the most affectionate manner, and commenced a tangi, or melancholy sort of ditty, which lasted a full half-hour; during which, both parties, as in duty bound and in compliance with custom, shed floods of tears. How they managed to do it is more than I can tell to this day; except that I suppose you may train a man to do anything. Right well do I know that either party would have almost given his life for a chance to exterminate the other with all his tribe; and twenty-seven years afterwards I saw the two tribes fighting in the very quarrel which was pretended to have been made up that day. Before this, page 53 however, both these chiefs were dead, and others reigned in their stead.
While the tangi was going on between the two principals, the companions of our chief each selected one of the visitors, and, rushing into his arms, went through a similar scene. Old “Relation Eater” singled out the horrific savage who had begun the war dance, and these two tender-hearted individuals, for a full half-hour, seated on the ground, hanging on each other's necks, gave vent to such a chorus of skilfully modulated howling as would have given Momus the blue devils to listen to.
After the tangi was ended, the two tribes seated themselves in a large irregular circle on the plain; into this circle strode an orator, who, having said his say, was followed by another, and so the greater part of the day was consumed. No arms were to be seen in the hands of either party, except the green stone mere of the principal chiefs; but I took notice that about thirty of our people never left the nearest gate of the pa, and that their loaded muskets, although out of sight, were close at hand, standing against the fence inside the gate: I also perceived that under their cloaks or mats they wore their cartridge boxes and tomahawks. This caused me to observe the other party more closely. They also, I perceived, page 54 had some forty men sleeping in the shed; these fellows had not removed their cartridge boxes either, and all their companions' arms were carefully ranged behind them in a row, six or seven deep, against the back wall of the shed.
The speeches of the orators were not very interesting, so I took a stroll to a little rising ground at about a hundred yards distance, where a company of natives, better dressed than common, were seated. They had the best sort of ornamented cloaks, and wore in their heads, feathers, which I already knew “commoners” could not afford to wear, as they were only to be procured some hundreds of miles to the south. I therefore concluded these were magnates or “personages” of some kind or other, and determined to introduce myself. As I approached, one of these splendid individuals nodded to me in a very familiar sort of manner, and I, not to appear rude, returned the salute. I stepped into the circle formed by my new friends, and had just commenced a tena koutou, when a breeze of wind came sighing along the hill-top; my friend nodded again, and his cloak blew to one side. What do I see?—or rather what do I not see? The head has nobody under it! A number of heads had been stuck on slender rods, a cross stick being tied on to represent the shoulders, and the cloaks thrown over page 55 all in such a natural manner as to deceive any one at a short distance; but a green pakeha, who was not expecting any such matter, to a certainty.
I fell back a yard or two, so as to take a full view of this silent circle, and felt that at last I had fallen into strange company. I began to look more closely at my companions, and to try to fancy what their characters in life had been. One had undoubtedly been a warrior; there was something bold and defiant about the look of the head. Another was the head of a very old man, grey, shrivelled, and wrinkled. I was going on with my observations when I was saluted by a voice from behind with, “Looking at the eds, sir?” It was one of the pakehas formerly mentioned. “Yes,” said I, turning round just the least possible thing quicker than ordinary. “Eds has been a getting scarce,” says he. “I should think so,” says I. “We an't ad a ed this long time,” says he. “The devil!” says I. “One o' them eds has been hurt bad,” says he. “I should think all were rather so,” says I. “Oh, no, only one on 'em,” says he; “the skull is split, and it won't fetch nothin',” says he. “Oh, murder! I see, now,” says I. “Eds was werry scarce,” says he, shaking his own “ed.” “Ah!” said I. “They had to tattoo a slave a bit ago,” says he, “and the villain ran away, tattooin' and all!” says page 56 he. “What?” said I. “Bolted afore he was fit to kill,” says he. “Stole off with his own head?” says I. “That's just it,” says he. “Capital felony!” says I. “You may say that, sir,” says he. “Good morning,” said I, and walked away pretty smartly. “Loose notions about heads in this country,” said I to myself; and involuntarily putting up my hand to my own, I thought somehow the bump of combativeness felt smaller, or indeed had vanished altogether. “It's all very funny,” said I.
I walked down into the plain, and saw in one place a crowd of women, boys, and others. There was a great noise of lamentation going on. I went up to the crowd, and there beheld, lying on a clean mat, which was spread on the ground, another head. A number of women were standing in a row before it, screaming, wailing and quivering their hands about in a most extraordinary manner, and cutting themselves dreadfully with sharp flints and shells. One old woman, in the centre of the group, was one clot of blood from head to feet, and large clots of coagulated blood lay on the ground where she stood. The sight was absolutely horrible, I thought at the time. She was singing or howling a dirge-like wail. In her right hand she held a piece of tuhua, or volcanic glass, as sharp as a razor: this she placed deliberately page 57 to her left wrist, drawing it slowly upwards to her left shoulder, the spouting blood following as it went, and from the left shoulder downwards, across the breast to the short ribs on the right side; she then shifted the rude but keen knife from the right hand to the left, placed it to the right wrist, drawing it upwards to the right shoulder, and so down across the breast to the left side, thus making a bloody cross on the breast. And so the operation went on all the time I was there; the old creature all the time howling in time and measure, and keeping time, also with the knife, which at every cut was shifted from one hand to the other, as I have described. She had scored her forehead and cheeks before I came; her face and body were one mass of blood, and a little stream was dropping from every finger: a more hideous object could scarcely be conceived. I took notice that the younger women, though they screamed as loud, did not cut near so deep as the old woman; especially about the face.
This custom has been falling gradually out of use; and when practised now, in these degenerate times, the cutting and maiming is a mere form: slight scratching to draw enough blood to swear by; but, in “the good old times,” the thing used to be done properly. I often, of late years, have felt quite indignant to see some degenerate hussy page 58 making believe with a piece of flint in her hand, but who had no notion of cutting herself up properly as she ought to do. It shows a want of natural affection in the present generation, I think; they refuse to shed tears of blood for their friends as their mothers used to do.
This head, I found on inquiry, was not the head of an enemy. A small party of our friends had been surprised, and two brothers were flying for their lives down a hill-side; a shot broke the leg of one of them and he fell. The enemy were close at hand; already the exulting cry “Na! na! mate rawa!” was heard; and the wounded man cried to his brother, “Do not leave my head a plaything for the foe.” There was no time for deliberation. The brother did not deliberate; a few slashes with the tomahawk saved his brother's head, and he escaped with it in his hand, dried it, and brought it home. The old woman was the mother, the young ones were cousins: there was no sister, as I heard, when I inquired. All the heads on the hill were heads of enemies, and several of them are now in museums in Europe.
With reference to the knowing remarks of the pakeha who accosted me on the hill on the state of the head market, I am bound to remark that my friend Mr. — never speculated in this “article;” but the skippers of many of the page 59 colonial trading schooners were always ready to deal with a man who had “a real good head,” and used to commission such men as my companion of the morning to “pick up heads” for them. It is a positive fact that some time after this the head of a live man was sold and paid for beforehand, and afterwards honestly delivered “as per agreement.”
The scoundrel slave who had the conscience to run away with his own head after the trouble and expense had been gone to to tattoo it to make it more valuable, is no fiction either. Even in “the good old times” people would sometimes be found to behave in the most dishonest manner. But there are good and bad to be found in all times and places.
Now if there is one thing I hate more than another it is the raw-head-and-bloody-bones style of writing, and in these random remmiscences I shall avoid all particular mention of battles, massacres, and onslaughts; except there be something particularly characteristic of my friend the Maori in them. As for mere hacking and hewing, there has been enough of that to be had in Europe, Asia, and America of late; and very well described too, by numerous “our correspondents.” If I should have to fight a single combat or two, just to please the ladies, I shall do my page 60 best not to get killed; and I hereby promise not to kill any one myself, if I possibly can help it. I, however, hope to be excused for the last two or three pages, as it was necessary to point out that in the good old times, if one's own head was not sufficient, it was quite practicable to get another.
I must, however, get rid of our visitors. Next day, at daylight, they disappeared: canoes from their own tribe had come to meet them (the old woman with the flint had arrived in these canoes), and they departed sans ceremonie, taking with them all that was left of the pigs and potatoes which had been given them, and also the “fine lot of eds.” Their departure was felt as a great relief; and though it was satisfactory to know peace was made, it was even more so to be well rid of the peacemakers.
Hail, lovely peace, daughter of heaven! meekeyed inventor of Armstrong guns and Enfield rifles; you of the liquid-fire-shell, hail! Shooter at “bulls'-eyes,” trainer of battalions, killer of wooden Frenchmen, hail! (A bit of fine writing does one good.) Nestling under thy wing, I will scrape sharp the point of my spear with a pipi shell; I will carry fern-root into my pa; I will cure those heads which I have killed in war, or they will spoil and “won't fetch nothin'”: for these are thy arts, O peace!