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Legends of the Maori

The Escape of Tuiti — A Tale of Taranaki

page 143

The Escape of Tuiti
A Tale of Taranaki

THERE was a chief named Tuiti, who lived at Mamaroa ten generations ago. He and his clan-section incautiously dwelt in an ordinary unfenced village; they thought they had no need to build an entrenched and stockaded pa for safety. But Tuiti had a dangerous enemy and his name was Ka.

One night Ka and his men stealthily surrounded Tuiti’s village, and before any of the people were aware of it Ka had climbed on to the thatched roof of Tuiti’s house. He climbed on to the ridgepole and standing on it just behind the tekoteko, the carved figure which crowns the junction of the front gable barge-boards, he shouted a triumphant war-song.

Tuiti and his tribesfolk came to their doors in great fear, knowing that their foe would give them no mercy. Most of the people were gathered in the large wharepuni. Tuiti shouted to Ka, asking whose war party it was. When he was told who his assailant was, he said: “You have come here to attack me by night. Had you come in the daylight you would have seen the power of Tuiti.”

Ka descended from the house and he and his war party, having danced their battle dance and shouted war songs, gathered material to place around the large house and set it on fire.

Tuiti’s men considered in great haste what they should do to save the life of their chief, who was a man revered by them all. They knew that in a little while the house would be in flames. With frantic labour they dug a large and deep hole in the earth in the middle of the house, and into this Tuiti and his child alone descended and was covered over. The diggers placed slabs of carved wood torn from the walls, and other timbers, over the top of the pit, and over this they laid the earth dug from the pit.

The enemy set fire to this assembly house, and to all the other houses in the village, and as the occupants dashed out in an effort to escape, they were attacked and most of them slain by the foe.

Tuiti, though nearly smothered in his covered-in rua, was saved. The enemy thought they had burned him and his son; but no, Tuiti lived. Many of his people were burned to death, some were killed, but forty-seven page 144 of them escaped the slaughter, and when the enemy had gone they returned and found Tuiti safe, unscathed by fire or patu, him and his child.

Tuiti profited by this night attack. He and his tribe lived no more in a defenceless pa but built a strong fortified village, with its trenches and stockades, on a commanding hill, and thenceforward they dwelt in the midst of security. And the saying is: “A carved house in an unfenced place may become a prey to the flames (of war), but a carved house in a palisaded fort is the fitting abode of a chief.”

The child of Tuiti was named Whakaweru-pounamu. The famous chief Wiremu Kingi te Rangitaake, of Te Atiawa tribe, who fought the British troops in 1860, was a descendant, seven generations from Tuiti.