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Legends of the Maori

Te Pokiha’s Farewell. — A Memory of Maketu

page 223

Te Pokiha’s Farewell.

A Memory of Maketu.

The morning breaks,
The myriad stars are dimmed;
Kopu alone beams forth—
Perhaps in yon bright shining one
My chieftain lives again!

But he is gone!
Lost is my greenstone jewel,
My treasured pride.
Torn from his grasp the spear,
Silent his voice.
As falls the forest-tree
So prone he lies.

—Arawa Lament for Te Pokiha.

A Grey old tattooed man, by name Te Pokiha Taranui, was the high chief of Ngati-Pikiao. The seaside village of Maketu was his headquarters. He had a village also on the shores of Lake Rotoiti, the kainga called Taheke. There at Taheke for many a year stood Pokiha’s pride, the beautiful carved house of assembly called “Rangitihi,” after a long-gone Arawa warrior celebrated for his valour and his indifference to hard knocks. Pokiha used to live for several months of the year at Taheke, which was, so to say, his country house. But Maketu he loved best; there his ancestors for full five hundred years had lived and been gathered again to the earth; and this green-hill village by the Bay of Plenty shore was his permanent home, his kainga tuturu.

Te Pokiha* was the best of the Arawa fighting chiefs who took the field in the Sixties against the Kingite and Hauhau tribes. He fought on the Government side from 1864 to 1870, and distinguished himself by his vigour and dash on the war-path and his disregard for heavy odds. He was given a Major’s commission and was presented with a sword of honour, a Highland claymore, sent him in the name of Queen Victoria, a trophy which was proudly waved by the veteran in the parade before the Queen’s grandson at Rotorua in 1901. Major Ropata, Major Kemp and the other page 224 soldier chiefs who received similar rewards, had passed away; Major Pokiha was the last survivor of that band of the Queen’s faithful swordsmen. He rose from a sick bed in June of 1901 to welcome the mokopuna of the Queen, and died very soon afterwards.

The story of the old Major’s last days is characteristic of the Maori of the grand old type. When Pokiha lay on his sick-bed at Taheke, he bethought himself of the tangihanga (the wake), when hundreds of tribes-people and visitors from afar would arrive and lament over his dead body laid out in state, feathers in hair and his good sword in his cold grasp. The mourners must be received in fitting style and generously feasted. And sadly the old man remembered that he and his family had not the means for the obsequies of a Maori chieftain; the providing for the throngs of mourning guests often cost hundreds of pounds. The thought of a miserly wake, which visitors might afterwards ridicule as a poor, mean affair, sorely troubled the dying rangatira. In his extremity it came to his mind that a great friend of his, a pakeha comrade, had often asked him to sell his carved house, cunningly decorated by the cleverest of woodworkers. The house had now been taken to pieces, but the carved slabs, panels and posts were still in his possession.

Te Pokiha sent a message to his old friend. “Bid him come to me quickly,” he said to his wife, who took the message. “The spirits of my ancestors are calling me.”

The pakeha rode in to the village and giving his horse over to a lad entered the warrior’s house. Tears flowed down Pokiha’s tattooed cheeks as his friend stooped over him and pressed his nose to his old comrade’s, and murmured a greeting.

The chief explained his anxious wishes in a few words.

“Friend of my younger days!” he said. “The weeds of death are on my head, and I have not the money to pay for the mourning that befits a chief of the Arawa and a descendant of Hou-mai-Tawhiti. Now, son, you have often asked me to sell my whare-whakairo, to be placed in the gazing-house of the Europeans. This is my farewell word to you: Take the house, take it. But, in return, see that my eyes are closed in fitting fashion. Is it well, my friend?”

E pai ana” (“It is well”) said the pakeha, and he pressed his old friend’s shrunken hand.

“I am content,” said the chief, as he lay back on his mat. “I go now to the house of my many ancestors. Farewell, friend of mine. Hai kona! Farewell!”

And the worn old chief, his mind now at ease about his funeral, for his wake would be generous, lay in calm content. But at the last, when his spirit told him that his wairua would soon flit out of the warrior body and page 225 fly to the nether-world, a great longing came over him for his old home at Maketu, many miles away. He had but recently led his tribesmen in wardance array before the royal pair at Rotorua, and laid before them his model carved canoe, a chieftainlike gift in token of love and fealty. And now he must end his days in his birthplace.

To Maketu the chieftain was taken. When he dismounted at the foot of the pa hill, he said to his family, “Lead me to the threshold of ‘Kawa-tapu-a-Rangi.’”

Slowly and painfully he climbed the steep path to the fenced village, a pa strongly palisaded in his fighting days. There, in front of the carved meeting-house of Maketu, he sat down, facing the village green, where the tribespeople of Ngati-Pikiao were gathered in sorrowful reverence for the home-bringing of the chief.

“Tena koutou, e te iwi, tena koutou!” (“Greetings, O my tribe, my greetings to you all.”) His soul was satisfied, for he had come home to his own country, every foot of which had its sacred memory.

“Tanumia ahau ki konei,” he said, “hei tote mo nga whenua o taku toa” (“Bury me here, as salt for the land on which I fought my battles”). He leaned back in his wife’s arms and with a sigh of content he murmured, “I have looked upon my grandchild”—by this the old man meant the Prince, who is the present King—”and now I go!” And in a little while he died.

Then guns were fired and the wailing women wreathed their black flowing hair with funeral sprays of koromiko and weeping-willow, and the death-chant went up as they cried their dead chieftain to the ghost-land. And the hundreds of the people came, and were mightily feasted, and Pokiha’s tangihanga was a great and fitting one. And the orators arose and with speech and song bewailed their hero.

“Go, old man,” cried they, apostrophising the stern-faced remains of him who was once their leader, “Go to the world of spirits, to thy resting-place. Thou that wert our shelter, our giant rata tree that protected us from the stormy blasts. Go thou to that last great dwelling of us all! Depart, depart to that place, That Place!”

* Te Pokiha = “The Fox.” Taranui was so named, or named himself, after Sir William Fox (then Mr. Fox), a pioneer statesman of the Dominion prominent in the war days.