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


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There is no mistake about it! I read it myself in the Maori Messenger, and I congratulate the country on it. Jeremiah is made a magistrate! Elected, I am led to understand, without opposition.

He received the intelligence of his appointment one day, and commenced active duty the next; and for the space of one month, he has been constantly at magisterial work—like a “clocken hen,” he has been perpetually “sitting.” With the exception of his policeman (an intensely dirty man who rejoices in the name of Absalom), and his clerk, I think he has summoned and tried everybody in his pah, and has fined the parties to the tune of some thousands of pounds,—about four times the value of the whole of the district, at present unalienated. This looks like work! And, I repeat it, I congratulate the country upon the appointment. As for Parnapa, whose services have been called into requisition, (he being the only man about here who can write legibly), he has amassed such a pile of documents that if this work goes on, I anticipate a rise in the paper market before long. I cannot say that I feel any regrets at the “stirring up” that Jeremiah is at present giving his people, as my private opinion is, page 51 that the natives about here would be no worse for a system of partial crucifixion being brought into operation, and in default of that extreme course, I rather chuckle at the spectacle of old Jeremiah “coming down upon them” pretty stiffly in his Court. His fines indeed may be great “myths,” and in all probability they are; but even if he gets the costs of his summonses, which I have an idea that he does, and that is about all—why, it is something.

These enormous fines, however, that Parnapa enters in his book, look very imposing, though considering that the sinners who are mulcted in them are worth nothing, perhaps a trifle absurd

Amphora cœpit,

Justitui currente rota, cur urcecus exit?

would be a capital quotation to inscribe on Jeremiah’s rostrum.

I have only attended one case as yet before the Courts, and as I shall not inconvenience myself by attending another, I purpose devoting a few lines to a description of it.

The facts out of which the case arose were briefly these. A lady of the name of Lavinia, who for some time had labored under the stigma of being no better than she should be, was supposed to have committed herself, in the absence of her husband, (a long shanked fellow of the name of Abraham), who had gone on a pilgrimage to a neighbouring settlement, to attend a judicial inquiry touching the virtue of his aunt. Malachi, (also the Kaiwhakawa of “Our Pah,”) to whose ears the frail conduct of Madame Lavinia officially came, at once summoned her, and her Lothario before his court, and fined the pair some twenty pounds.

Upon Abraham’s return, the circumstances were page 52 duly reported to him; after first denouncing the authority of the Court, to take cognizance of the matter in his absence; he forthwith called a large “runanga,” composed of the Whakawas of the neighbouring tribes, (including old Jeremiah) and sued thereat for a divorce, a mensa et toro toro.

A case of such importance as this, was the signal for a general gathering from all parts, of young and old; and a great slaughtering of pigs, and collection of potatoe kits, was at once undertaken by Malachi and his people.

The possibility of an enquiry into the justice of his decision in this case, appeared to have presented itself to the mind of that enlightened man previously. For he, with the assistance of Parnapa had examined and re-examined the witnesses to such an extent, that the possibility of a “break down” in the evidence, seemed a sheer impossibility. Independent of this, hosts of outsiders had been set to work to engage them in private conversations, and to report the same to Parnapa, who forthwith took copies of the same; and as these living examples of the “oratio obliqua” had to be likewise examined and cross-examined, I need hardly say that the case was thoroughly “got up.” The day, however arrived at last, for the grand hearing, before the collection of judicial wisdom of the district, and with it came old Jeremiah in a great state of fuss followed by all his people. As he passed my door on his way down, he confidentially informed me, “that Malachi and Parnapa, were a pair of fools, and that he would put them to the right about” very shortly. He appeared to be thoroughly up to the plaintiffs case at all events, as indeed he might be having given Abraham a private hearing of his case which lasted two whole nights and the part of a day. page 53 He assured me that there were some awful lies told somewhere, at present a mystery which he was destined to shortly unravel, and bring the culprits to an unparalleled amount of grief.

The case had been going on for some two days and nights, when curiosity prompted me to pay a visit to the court.

The whare Whakawa (Court House) was tolerably full when I arrived, but business was temporarily suspended, it appeared.

A group of dissipated young fellows were playing draughts in one corner, the board being marked out on the floor, and the men composed of slices of potatoes, the black ones ingeniously marked with a burnt stick. As however their dirty fingers by constant handling had made the whites nearly black, some dispute seemed arising respecting the ownership of a king.

A number of old women were sitting jabbering round the fire, engaged in roasting maize in the ashes. One of the magistrates was busily at work patching his shirt with a piece of old print and some flax in one corner. Another was engaged with one of the jury at an exciting game of “all fours,” played with an almost illegible pack of cards, and kept constantly vociferating (To Ti-aki) “Your Jack”! as he dabbled down a greasy piece of pasteboard, with the faint outlines of a King of Hearts impressed thereon, it being one of the few court cards the pack seemed to possess. A brother “beak” lay fast asleep in another corner, emitting a stentorian noise from that feature of his face corresponding with his “slang” official name, and the rest of the company, including old Jeremiah, sat in great state, wrapped in their blankets, awaiting another call to duty.

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Upon enquiry of that worthy, I found out that they had not got all the witnesses examined yet, and that there was little prospect of their getting through that day. Roused, however, by my desire to hear something of the case, Jeremiah turned out his dirty constable, who was fast asleep behind some potatoe kits, who, after shaking himself, forthwith commenced roaring at the top of his voice through the hopper of an old wheat mill, summoning all the parties to attend the court, while at the same time, Parnapa proceeded to beat the “devil’s tatoo” upon his iron pot, in the midst of which clamour, the audience collected.

The draughts and cards were put aside, the magistrates, presided over by the gentleman with the dilapidated shirt, took their seats at one end of the building, Parnapa squatted himself down with an old gin case between his knees, arranged his documents, and the examination re-commenced.

The witness, an old woman with a cracked voice, similar in tone to a demented guinea fowl, proceeded with great gesticulation to give her evidence, which appeared to amount to what somebody had told her, some other party had said they had heard that another individual had stated, or something to that effect, equally important; which individuals were presently to be produced. In reply to leading questions from Parnapa, she began by stating time and place, where she had been told this story, which appeared to be “about the middle of the day, in some adjoining cultivation.”

Jeremiah here asked the witness “what she was doing there”? to which she replied “Going to gather potatoes.” A doubt was here expressed by another old woman among the spectators, “whether the witness had any potatoes belonging to her there page 55 abouts,” upon which Jeremiah gave it as his opinion “that the old woman was there for the purpose of stealing potatoes,” and insisted on a summons being issued against her at once.

At this accusation the old woman waxed furious, and equally urged the propriety of Jeremiah himself being summoned for korero kino, (slander.) Thereupon a regular row ensued, which lasted for about half-an-hour, and only terminated by the old woman being summarily bundled out by old Parnapa.

The next witness, an old man, who did not appear to have any collected ideas upon any subjects, was examined touching a similar point as his predecessor, and managed to get himself so inextricably involved in about half an hour, that the Bench became perfectly bewildered, and Parnapa’s deposition a mass of confusion. An adjournment was therefore proposed for the purpose of refreshment, and a general scramble for the provision ensued on the part of the Bench, witnesses, jury, spectators and constables.

I had the pleasure of having seen a similar exhibition to this some time before, and I therefore adjourned myself home. After spending the whole of that day and night, and the greater portion of the ensuing day in examining and re-examining the witnesses, including a searching cross-examination of both plaintiff and defendant, I heard that there was a probability of a decision being arrived at, and judgment given that evening, and I went down to hear it.

The consultation was going on when I arrived, and as I entered the whare whakawa, there sat the magistrates and their clerk in a state of blank amazement; the depositions lay scattered about the page 56 floor, and if ever perfect imbecility and bewilderment were expressed on human faces, it was on theirs. They had talked and droned away over the case until I really believe that they had not the faintest idea of anything respecting it.

Finding out that I was intruding, I passed a little way down from the Court House, and discovered the plaintiff, defendant, and co-respondent, in a state of semi-stupefaction. They had been badgered and brow-beaten to the confines of lunacy.

Later on in the evening the Bench, however, gave judgement, (what the jury were for I could never make out). They found Lavinia guilty, fined her and her admirer some two or three hundred pounds (which it is to be hoped they will get), and decreed a judicial divorce.

Parnapa was despatched to acquaint the plaintiff with the decision, he went to the hut, and peeping in, there lay the two divorced fast asleep under the only blanket they possessed! while gravely smoking his pipe in a blisssful state of mental abberration, at their feet, sat the co-respondent.

Excessive was Parnapa’s disgust at this discovery. Here was the plaintiff making all this hubbub, only to make fools of the Runanga!—What a climax! I hear that he is to be tried for this and no end of witnesses to be prosecuted for perjury; at any rate if old Jeremiah is allowed to work his wicked will on them I have no doubt that condign punishment awaits these reptiles. How many people were gathered together I really cannot tell, or how Malachi’s herd of pigs and potatoe heaps have diminished, but somebody will have to pay for it I expect.

Now, this case has no romance about it. It in reality occurred as here pourtrayed, and is in point page 57 of absurdity, but one out of scores that have been tried here during the last six months. Yet, this is the infancy of an Institution that is to be worked upon for the benefit of the Native race—at least, so say savans—be it so. If an occasional fit of temporary idiocy is beneficial to the native mind, by all means encourage the village Whakawa. How a race that cannot concentrate their faculties upon one single topic for an hour, without wandering into fifty others, are to prove a blessing to our Legislative Councils and Courts of Justice, I am at a loss to conceive; or how the internal magisterial appointments are to be advantageous to the natives themselves when they are allowed universal suffrage on the matter, I shan’t here dilate upon, for “Brutus says they will, and Brutus is an able man.” But I cannot forbear stating that from nearly eleven years’ acquaintance with the Native race, I am strongly of opinion that they are at present utterly unfit for any legislatorial or judicial functions; and considering the utter contempt the rising generation exhibit for education, in future years they will prove still more so. This system of establishing petty courts among themselves, though their own idea, has proved of no use whatever; more harm than good in fact. It has sown a great amount of discord and jealousy amongst them. Adulterous cases are chiefly what they delight in investigating—the more indelicate the better; and it is very rarely that any others are heard of. As a check upon any other crimes, it appears to me utterly to fail, and the decisions can no more be carried out by the authorities amongst themselves, than we can do for them. Reform the village Whakawa by all means if you like, but let the features it at present presents, be utterly effaced in the picture of the future.