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Legends of the Maori


page 145


ONCE again and forever peace was established between the great Anglo-Celtic race and the warriors of New Zealand. The Maori saw at last the advantage of commerce and education, and though reluctant in yielding to most of the European ways, yet many parents sent their children to school. Already the youths were showing signs of intelligence equal to that of their more favoured brethren.

The great chief Kirimokomoko saw his people like a stream drying up before the summer’s sun—civilisation. Te Rauparaha, the Napoleon of the Southern Cross, had now nominally accepted Christianity, and to demonstrate his sincerity had built a massive and beautiful decorated church at Otaki. He, too, saw the tide of civilisation sweeping all before it, and heeding its ever-present watchword, “onward,” sent his only son to the colleges of England.

It was about this time that there dwelt a most beautiful chieftainess in a village of the fighting Ngati-Toa tribe by the sea of Kiwa. She was of aristocratic blood, and enough of the white in it to soften her wild, free nature, for she was a half-caste. Her beauty was known far and near, for was she not as pure and beautiful as the snow-white heron, the kotuku? In the same village there lived a young chief. For years they had lived and played in childhood’s innocent ways. They grew up together-their lives entwined each other, their people were one, their blood one. They loved as never lovers did.

There came a time of parting. The man must seek the knowledge of the paleface; the girl must wait. “Pono tonu aké aké” (“True for time and for eternity, my rata bloom”) were his last words. Rata was her name. They parted amidst the wild flowers and spreading nikau palms that were kissed by the island breezes. A cloud hid the face of marama, the moon, an ill-omen; the night birds sang a mournful song, the rivulet murmured plaintively by the rocks; and the blue Pacific heaved a long, deep sigh.

Hoki hoki tonu mai to wairua, e hine, he awhi reinga ki tenei kiri” (“Your spirit will ever return to me and thus in dreamland we’ll meet and caress the hours of night away”). So sang the youth.

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Rata replied, “E paru i te tinana e ma i te wai, e paru i te aroha e mau tonu e au” (“Dust may settle on our bodies, but water can wash it away. When love envelops us it remains for ever”).

He braved the great ocean, crossed rivers, deserts, mountains, all for her sake and for the people whom he longed to enlighten. He sat at the feet of the great philosophers of the age; he breathed the air of wisdom and drank deep from the fountains of knowledge, and soon his thirst was partly allayed. All these years the one star which guided him, the one inspiration which filled his heart—the one spur which urged him on—was the name of his rata bloom.

Five times did the leaves fall in the wake of Father Time. With honours he had left all his classes. One day the mail brought the knife which severed his heart in twain. Rata had wedded.

For days, weeks and months he forsook his friends, and many a time could he be seen alone by the shores of the great Atlantic, either gazing upon a peaceful, retiring sun, or facing the fury of an English gale. “Forgiven, but never forgotten,” he breathed into the rushing wind. “The name of Rata is and ever shall be a bright star in the night sky of memory.” How could he forget when the blushing sunlight tints spelt her name in glittering letters on worlds of clouds and the setting sun awoke memories of his island home, and the murmuring waters whispered “Rata.”

* * *

The day is cloudy and dark, the bitter cold winds rattle the window panes, and the young man lies motionless on his dying bed. The doctor has quietly stepped in; the nurses hurried to and fro, and now in whispering tones they talk with the aged physician. He fears the worst has come at last. With a gentle and sympathetic touch, such as women alone can give, the nurse bathes his brow. Somehow he awakes and a cold drink is given him. He motions for them to raise him up, and then with a voice as sweet and deep as the Wairua Falls he says:

“Tell her she is forgiven, but never forgotten; I go to the land of peace and love, where our fathers await me. Ere the night shall take its flight I will be on the mountains of Wai-e-hoki-mai* (the Returning Waters). With the host of Heaven I shall welcome her, when she comes upon the flood tide of time—true for time and eternity.”

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Love in the Nikau Palm Grove.

Love in the Nikau Palm Grove.

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The body of the chieftain was there, but the breath had vanished, And Rata? She, having been infatuated by the promises and wooings of a pakeha, had married, but when she heard of the death and words of her old lover, the coals of love covered by the ashes of time glowed once again and she pined away. The flower of Ngati-Toa gradually faded. One day she was a mother, and with her fond caresses she named her little boy “Pono” (true for time and for eternity). She lived but a few weeks and then her troubled spirit flitted to the realms of peace and love, where her lover awaited her with the innumerable multitudes. “Pono tonu ake ake”— True for time and for eternity.

* Wai-e-hoki-mai was believed by the natives to be the place where the spirits went after death to mourn over their past before entering spirit land. It was in the northernmost part of New Zealand.