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Mahoe Leaves; Being a Selection of Sketches of New Zealand and Its Inhabitants, and Other Matters Concerning Them

Our Pah

page 14

Our Pah.

Two very natural questions may arise from the heading of this article, the first being what is a pah? And the second why do I style it pah? As regards the signification of the term pah, I might confine myself to recommending the reader to look in the dictionary of the “Maori language,” by Archdeacon Williams, where he will find half a dozen meanings for the word. A pah is strictly a fortified village, but it has ceased to be applied to a fortified one only, and a collection of huts forming a native settlement, is generally termed a pah now a days, and the pah I refer to as “Our pah” has no signs of fortifications about it. I term it “Our pah,” not because I am part owner of it, nor do I, I am happy to say, reside there, but as its inhabitants form our next door neighbours, I term it “Our Pah,” upon the same principle that Miss Mitford spoke of “Our Village,” though she lived outside of it.

Our pah is a very picturesque place, at a distance, standing as it does on the banks of a winding river, that meanders through a long range of broken country, in about the roughest spot of which our pah is situated. Had Europeans selected a spot for a settlement, perhaps, one of the first points they would have looked at, would have been a locality where page 15 means of transit either by land or water would have been tolerably easy. The inhabitants of our pah appear to have gone on the diametrically opposite principle, by selecting a spot the most inconvenient, in that point of view, they could well have found. The river is barely navigable for their canoes, not-withstanding the small draught of water they draw, and by any vehicle, it is next to impossible to get at it. The situation is damp, and as I look down upon it in the shades of evening, it gradually fades from my vision in a fog. Yet it is a pretty place, at a distance. I know no pleasanter change for the eye, than after roaming over a country brown with scrub and bush, when it lights upon the little green patches that form their cultivations, an oasis amidst the wilds.

On a bright sunny day our pah appears to great advantage; and as in stormy weather it lies nestling under the cover of the cliffs behind it, it is a comfort to look at a spot sheltered from the driving gales and squalls for which the country is so remarkable.

Our pah does not improve, however, on closer acquaintance. This, however, is a private opinion, and if the reader has no objection, we will pay a visit to it, and form the acquaintance of one or two of the inhabitants thereof. We have had a peep at it from a distance, from the top of the hill in fact, and now we will go down.

If you should not happen to have nails in your boots, the descent is not very easy; in winter there is a tendency to mud and slippery clay, and the gradient in places being about one in four, it is not rendered the more easy.

We have descended the hill, and, thanks to high topped boots, crossed a swamp safely and dry. A crew of pigs of very undefinable breed, but of an page 16 agricultural turn of mind, pause in the midst of their digging for roots to take a look at us, and having satisfied themselves that we do not belong to the quadruped order, bolt in all directions. As a general rule, pigs and horses are the only kind of stock the Maories care about, and the fact of their being unmistakeably individuals of each respective genus, is, it would appear, perfectly satisfactory to the owners. They care very little about improving the breeds, and are by no means connoisseurs.

Arrived at the bank of the river, we shall hail a Charon; observe the sensation our appearance causes; but do not imagine that for the last half hour they have been in ignorance of our advent. Had I been alone, it is not probable that above one or two would have troubled themselves to look outside the door: but you have been espied as a stranger, and their inquisitive nature has been aroused to the utmost. Your features and dress will go through a course of scrutiny that would do credit to a first class detective, and if you want to be saved the trouble of hopelessly attempting to answer half a dozen questions at once, I should recommend you, if you can speak the language, to keep your knowledge to yourself.

I may further remark, that it is very often extremely convenient to appear to be ignorant of the language in travelling, as they are thrown off their guard, and you may successfully foil a great many little tricks they are in the habit of playing on travellers, which they will unfold to one another, under the delusion that you are perfectly ignorant of what they are talking about. But this is by the way.

Here comes Teopera to put us across; look at that wretched pack of mongrel curs at his heels! no pah is complete without a pack of dogs; not one of page 17 which is worth anything, and are rarely used for anything but pig hunting; a proceeding extremely unfair so far as the pig is concerned; he fights the whole crew, not one of which dare tackle him, and while thus employed, is, if he be of a tame kind, pinned by the hind leg by his crafty owner, or if he be wild, treacherously tomahawked from the rear.

Teopera in the meantime you see has launched the canoe; look at the expert manner he handles that long pole as he stands in the nose of it! Owing to the freshet he can barely touch the bottom in some places, and so strong is the current, he will have to pole up the other side for a few chains, and then shooting out into the middle of the stream, he will drift across close to where we stand. So while he is working his way across, I will tell you an anecdote respecting him.

When I first came here, I used to have great difficulty in discovering the English names of those natives that had espoused them, by reason of their their pronunciation. But I managed to make out most of them, except this fellow’s. Teopera! Teopera! I thought, what English scriptural name corresponds with such a word? An Englishman who resided near here, and who had been many years in the colony, I thought I would ask to explain the matter. So one day in the course of conversation I asked him what the meaning of Teopera was. “Teopera!” said he. “Don’t you know?—why it is Jupiter!” “Jupiter,” said I, “why what missionary would christen a man Jupiter?” “Ah! well,” said he, “you may rely upon it, it is Jupiter!” I could not for the life of me reconcile the matter, but I called him “Jupiter,” for all that, at which he did not seem at all astonished. But when I got a little more used to the language, I thought page 18 I would ask him if his name was in the Testament? “Oh, yes,” said he. “Well,” said I, handing him a Testament, “find it for me.” In a few minutes he found it, and handing me the book, pointed out the passage in the Acts of the Apostles, “The former treatise have I made O Theophilus,” (O Teopera). But my neighbour calls him “Jupiter,” I believe, to this day.

So now that he has arrived, we will step into his canoe and go across.

This canoe you see is hewn out of a solid tree, it is almost thirty feet long, not more than thirty inches wide, and scarcely that depth; but were you to stand upon the edge, you could not capsize it. And the fact is, plain as they look, in expert hands, they not only carry large cargoes for their size, but will stand in far rougher water than you would imagine. In one of these canoes (only much larger) I was once fishing on the coast, when a squally caught us, and a very nasty sea began to get up before we reached land—we landed through the breakers without taking a drop of water aboard, while a whaleboat that was out with us, though very fairly manned and steered, had a very narrow chance of being capsized, and the crew as it was were very much drenched. The art, I believe, is always to catch the seas on the quarter, and on no account to lay the head on.

This, however, is a digression.

Now that we are landed, that we may not meet with the fate of Actæon, we will arm ourselves with a stick a piece, and examine the pah.

What with barking of dogs, chattering of women, yelling of men, and crying of children, our first five minutes are passed in confusion. But as I have explained to them that we have merely come to see the place and the good folks in it, and not for pur-page 19poses of trade, you observe curiosity is abated, and we have a little more leisure to look about. The huts you observe are built and situated without any particular regard either to symmetry, or order, their ends and sides are placed promiscuously to the eye; some in a straight line of sight and some oblique—the small courtyards attached to many of them, are put up with very slight ideas of geometry, some rectangular, some rhomboidal, and others quadrilateral, and that is all. A few peach trees, or Indian corn stalks, are all that appear growing about them, except docks and sow thistle, the latter systematically cropped to the roots by trespassing pigs. A melancholy fowl or two kept in a perpetual state of activity to avoid the attacks of children and dogs, poke about these yards, but except these specimens of animated life, little appears outside.

When the company is confined to a limited space, Maories, are not generally speaking, the most agreable society, having a tendency to that habit of person for which Edie Ochiltree was so remarkable; however, as we have come to see the pah, we will waive our objections of a personal nature, and call upon old Ropiha. His house is this on the right, and is, if anything rather a favourable specimen of a Maori dwelling.

We have to bend double to get through the little door, and as the walls are only four feet high, when we get inside, standing up is quite out of the question, more especially as he persists, like all his countrymen, in burning his fire on the floor.

Ropiha is a great character in his way, and deeply learned in the art of tatooing both the human face, aud all sorts of wooden arms, utensils, ornaments and implements that are usually subject to the process.

The former barbarous custom, I am happy to say, page 20 is fast falling into decay. It was not only a frightfully painful, but a most laborious operation, lasting many days, and subjecting the unfortunate individuals to a further pain for some weeks after the process by reason of the parts festering. However, I must refer you for further information to Messers. Angas or Rutherford, for I never saw any Maori undergoing the operation.

Ropiha, you see, is at present engaged in carving the handle of a scoop, for bailing out water from a canoe, termed a “tiheru.” Look at his tools! three superannuated screw drivers filed and rasped down to guage, and an old bradawl! Yet with these unpromising looking tools he will write in hieroglyphics the whole genealogical tree of his particular “hapu” or branch of the tribe that he belongs to. How long it may take him is another matter. Time, however, with these old men is no object, and he after all, is perhaps as well employed this way as any other.

You are right; there are fleas about, so let us get outside and be thankful that we have made acquaintance with no other species of vermin.

This miserable looking old creature who has just arrived with some very offensive looking and smelling mess in a basket is no other than Ropiha’s wife. A word respecting her first.

Look at her features smoke dried and shrivelled, her back half bent double! her wretched hands and feet attenuated and shrunk till they look more like the claws of some horried bird than a human being; hear her speak, and the quivering hissing notes she produces as she whines out “Tenakoe Ekoro,”!! Put that old woman as she now appears in that dirty dimity wrapper, and her head bound up with that musty, threadbare, black handkerchief, in the British Museum at night; and tell me, candidly, if the porter who unlocks the doors of the galleries in the early page 21 morning, would not start back at the singular apparition, and search for an empty glass case from whence some Egyptian Mummy had effected its escape!—Mummies! Some Mummies that I have seen are Venuses compared with her! How old is she, you ask. Ah! that is a question. Ignorant of any data or incident beyond thirty years ago, it is very difficult to arrive at any idea on the point; I, however, myself believe, that at sixty years of age they are decrepit; the style of living, and the hard labor the women undergo, tend to age them fast, and I myself have known young girls of not more than sixteen years of age, who have married, had one or two children and whom I have met four years after looking women of forty.

Here are a number of young girls you see coming this way; Marys, Carolines, and Sophys. I assure you that we have some most aristocratic names amongst them. You see a very fair sample of the aboriginal girls before you. One or two very pretty, with good teeth, eyes, hands, feet, and symmetrical figures, their worst points being their hair and lips, which are generally coarse. I believe them to be capable of forming strong attachments; but they are by no means a lovable order of damsels, and as a general rule are not disposed to value their virtue at so great a price, as the philanthropist would wish. I have no idea how they are wooed and won, or whether in matrimonial matters they are allowed much choice.

By the way, as girls do put everything else out of one’s head, I will now answer your query respecting that villainous looking stuff, Mrs. Ropiha has in her kit.

That mess, which is nothing but putrified Indian corn, and as you somewhat strongly observe, “does stink most horribly,” is called by the natives “ko page 22 paki-paki.” I cannot say that it is dirty, for the process of bringing it to that condition, is simply soaking in water until it goes rotten. In that state it is boiled in water, and made into “stir-a-bout,” and I have been told has a strong taste of old Stilton cheese. Stilton cheese, however, taken in the form of soup, might not bo so palatable as in its solid form; and judging from the particularly unpleasant effluvia emitted from the pot as it undergoes the process of cooking, and the (if possible) still more offensive scent that hangs about those who have partaken of it, I do not argue very strongly in favor of its delicious properties. I may mention, by the way, that this method of putrifying food in water is applied to other articles besides maize. Small potatoes, termed “kotero,” and the berries of the karaka tree, (corynocarpus lœvigata), are both subject to the process, and in a state of decomposition, considered great delicacies. I never had the curiosity to taste either.

To get out of the tainted atmosphere occasioned by the old lady’s cookery, we will look at another sort of house called a whare-puni. This house you see has no walls at all, but is little more than a long trench with a roof thrown over it. These wretched dwellings are the hot-beds of one-half the evils, cutaneous and asthmatical, that more particularly affect the Maories. In these horrid places they sleep huddled up together, with a roaring fire, and sweltering in their own steam, they will, when they awake half suffocated, rush out naked, or nearly so, and squat ouside on the damp ground; and consequently, though they do not meet with the fate of the immortal Mrs. Gamp’s progeny, who had “damp door steps settled on their lungs,” they lay the seeds of all those evils, that end in consumption or confirmed asthma.

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After this description, we need not go inside. This long building alongside, as the inscription which Mr. Barnabas (Parnapa) is chiselling on the door informs us, serves the double purpose of Chapel and Court House.

Parnapa is a great character here, and I shall subsequently tell you more of him; he is acting Church Minister, Clerk to the Bench, and general scribe and letter writer. If you look in at the door, you will see the centre cut out of an old canoe reared on end for a pulpit, and a bit of board nailed across the top for holding the books, making it look like the segment of an ale hogshead; there are no pews, as the congregation never do anything but squat, unless a minister be present who insists on orthodox devotions. Here you see is Parnapa’s iron pot slung by one leg to serve as a bell, and hard by is a lump of wood, with which Parnapa hammers it night and morning to call the Natives to matins or vespers. The children have found it out, so he says, and have insisted in ringing the bell at ungodly seasons, and thereby causing much confusion in the clerical and magisterial arrangements. So you see he is putting a door on the house to keep the small fry out. “Too much o te tamaiti,” says he, with ineffable disgust, as he tells me about it.

The word “too much,” by the way, is one of those English expressions picked up by the Natives, the meaning of which they do not know, but which they introduce most comically occasionally; it invariably signifies disgust. And apropros of the expression,—I was travelling once with Parnapa on foot, late at night, when we were overtaken by a thick fog, so that we could not see a yard before us. After wandering about half the night, we by some great luck came upon a stock—yard belonging to an outsettler, and in the milking shed, we put up for the page 24 night. We found a few bundles of straw, and I made up a sort of litter on which to recline till break of day. Parnapa had a blanket, but I had not, and objecting to lying too near him, I (luckily as it happened) left a good space between us. He was soon snoring; but he kept waking up during the night, to complain, that rain was coming in in heavy drops on him; I never felt any, and rather chuckled at my having kept so far from him. “Eho” he would “exclaim” too much o tenei, whare!” (‘Too much of this house’) “Aue, aue, kei taku upoko.” “Oh dear, dear, it is coming down on my head.” Daylight at last broke, and I peeped out of the straw at Parnapa. I shall never forget it; he was sound asleep, and I soon found out what the rain was he had been complaining of, for casting my eyes upwards, I beheld about thirty turkeys, beneath whose perches he had pitched his bed! What he looked like and what he said when I awoke him, perhaps the least said the better! But none of those turkeys overslept themselves that morning, the nimbleness with which they came off those perches was surprising! Ah! see how quick he is at finding out what we are talking about! Listen to him! “Ai koia too much ’o te turkey, nei? (“It was too bad of the turkeys! was not it?” “He moenga kino.” (A bad bed!)

Let us, however, leave our factotum friend to the duties of his sacred office, and pay a visit to the adjacent cultivation, where I espy a crew hard at work among their potatoes.

The individual that you see in the red shirt and destitute of his nether garments, under the aboriginal impression that an airiness of the lower extremities is conducive to industry, is no other than the chief of this tribe, and his name is Malachi. page 25 These hobbledhoys of lads who are supposed to be assisting him in his field operations are his sons, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but who in native parlance are termed Matiu, Maka, Eruka and Hone, and from what I know of them, the Evangelists are by no means complimented by the assumption of their names by those young scamps.

As is usually the case with native parents, their children are not under the least control, and at a very early age they usurp the functions of their fathers; who do most part of the drudgery in the field, and are rewarded for their industry by the fruits thereof being devoured by their offspring.

However far, though, Malachi may fail in ruling his own household, he is no mean authority among his tribe, of which he is the local magistrate, and leading character; and as in all cases of dispute, there exists no appeal against his decisions, he might use his power much more arbitrarily than he does. His old father is still in the land of the living, and you may see him yonder scraping up little mounds of earth with his skinny fingers and planting pumpkin seeds in them. I believe if every man had his due, this old boy ought to be King of the lot, instead of that, he seems to be doomed to more drudgery than any of them. If an obstinate pig has to be driven for a few miles, old Lazarus is the man called upon to do it; which task he usually undertakes with the greatest possible philosophy, should the distance be long, encamping with his charge behind a flax bush, and making time no object whatever. He no doubt has been a notorious old cannibal in his day, and probably used his own father worse than his children use him, otherwise one might express sympathy for him in his grey hairs, as outwardly he reminds one strongly of our youthful imagina-page 26tions of Pius Æneas. As it is, a standing butt for the children to play pranks on, and a drudge for the older people, he presents on the whole a rather deplorable aspect.

Were we to go over and enter into conversation with Malachi and the youthful Evangelists, there would be no more work to day, as they work by fits and starts, going at it “like a bull at a gate” for half an hour,—stopping to smoke their pipes for the next, working another ten minutes, then getting something to eat, and so on. One starts up a song and all the spades dive into the soil together, now at a great rate and again scarcely moving: somehow or other, however, they manage to get through it; but as few cultivate more than half an acre, and that by no means very thoroughly, in the course of the year they manage to scuffle some sort of a crop into the ground, and trust to scraping about it with a hoe and keeping the weeds down. I have seen old men sitting on the ground and digging over their gardens, so how far they turn it over you may judge.

In employing them as labourers, Europeans generally calculate on getting a good day’s work done the first day, a moderate one the second, and an inferior one the third. It is therefore not generally politic to keep them at the same style of work for more than two or three days; but by judiciously changing, they are many of them very fair workmen, especially when the axe is used.

I might enter into a long account of Malachi in his capacity of Magistrate and furnish you with a ludicrous description of the manner of holding Courts with Parnapa as chief clerk, but I shall leave it for another time; and we may just as well take our leave of the pah, and again call the services of Jupiter to our aid.

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Here is his house, and for curiosity’s sake we will take a look inside. We might catalogue the contents hung about the hut as Prince Henry and Poins did Falstaff’s pockets. Here, an old pair of trowsers patched and mended till the original material is a matter of doubt and uncertainty to discover. There a canoe paddle, an old shattered flint and steel musket, (date I imagine anterior to the Peninsular war, nothing should induce me to fire out of it,) a tin pannakin, a testament and an iron pot appear to be the personal chattels and effects of Teopera. If in the course of his magisterial duty it should fall to the lot of Malachi to issue a distress warrant, the effects of our friend Jupiter, I fear, would not cover court expenses. Here he is, however, ready with his long pole to ferry us over, and we may say good-bye to our pah.

In the good time that is coming, a Sanitary Commission may perchance find its way down here, or that individual Maori, as yet unborn, (if we do not pin our faith on Dr. Cumming,) who is to contemplate London in a state of decay from one of the bridges (according to the lamented Lord Macaulay,) may probably be there for the purpose of taking a lesson from the shade of Mr. Thwaite, who is sure to haunt the mouths of metropolitan sewers. Anyhow, let us hope that the interior arrangements of pahs may improve in succeeding generations, and at present rest contented with viewing them at a distance.