Legends of the Maori
I TAKE it whakamomori means not only the straight-out suicide, but also the faculty natives appear to possess of giving themselves up to death in despair and dying accordingly. Horowhenua has been much before the public of Maoriland, and the history of that land and its claimants, truthfully written, would make entertaining reading. Here I shall give one incident which touches upon the curious phase of whakamomori mentioned, in connection with Moutere, the sentinel hill which rises solitary from the plain on the ocean side of Horowhenua lake and it is not fiction.
The triangulation of the West Coast north of Otaki was in the hands of a surveyor well known in both islands, whose ability was commensurate with the stately form which subsequently had its spark of life extinguished in the treacherous water of chill Waitaki, which separates Canterbury from Otago. There was much apprehension that the erection of the trig, station at Moutere for the triangulation of the Horowhenua section would not be allowed to proceed without interruption. There had been for some time quarrels between the two tribes in respect to the ownership of the land. The tribe once owning it had been reduced to insignificant numbers by the persistent attacks of Te Rauparaha, and the miserable remnant had been rescued from slaughter and saved to serve as bondsmen by one of his lieutenants, the chief Te Whatanui of Ngati-Raukawa, who settled on the land in consummation of conquest. But the Muaupoko, the conquered tribe, had relations among kindred tribes further north who had lately come into prominence from the assistance they had given the Europeans in the war against Titokowaru. These, when the war concluded, had still possession of the arms served out to them and seemed inclined to assist the Muaupoko to resist the completion of the title of the conquerors by every means. The two chiefs of the northern tribes were by one parent, each of Muaupoko blood; they had therefore the direct tribal interest. It was from Muaupoko, certain of support, that the interference came.
The heavy sawn timber was carried up the hill by native and half-caste labourers. A European who knew both tribes intimately was with the surveyor. The chief of the Muaupoko was a man named Noa, and he had a son named Heta, an insignificant but exceedingly troublesome native. This man had been detected pilfering goods from a store in Foxton a few days page 105 before, and the fact was known to the surveyor. Before the erection of the pyramidal structure had proceeded far, Heta, with about a dozen of his tribe, came and demanded a cessation of the work. The surveyor refused to listen, or to acknowledge in any way the right of Heta to interfere. Heta grew more angry; the surveyor, always cool, got cooler. The interpreter told the native what the surveyor said with full appreciation, for he had been manager of a run rented from the conquering tribe and held the Muaupoko in contempt.
Heta persisting, Mitchinson said to the interpreter: “Tell Heta I will listen to a chief if one is sent to me and explain matters, but I utterly refuse to hold any converse with a man who has lately been detected in petty theft.”
When Heta heard this he answered not a word, but, calling his followers, departed down the hill and no further interruption took place. What followed is the more peculiar as showing that even years of subjection will fail to obliterate from the native mind the feeling of superiority and pride of mana, which is the constant attribute of a native chief, and Heta was a chief by descent.
Early next morning, as the interpreter was waiting for the departure of the work party, a native come up and asked him whether he knew that Heta was ill. It appeared that Heta went straight to his whare, took off his pants and boots, wrapped his blanket round him and lay down on his mat, speaking to no one. He refused food and replied to no questions from man, woman or child, relation, friend or stranger.
The natives came to the conclusion that he had been operated upon by a tohunga and was under the law of makutu (bewitched). An enquiry from Heta’s companions as to what had happened at Moutere led them to the conclusion that the agents who had cast an evil spell on Heta were the surveyor and interpreter.
The interpreter said he would go and see Heta and try to rouse him from his lethargy. He would tell him not to be a fool and urge him to pull himself together. Heta was only sulky and afraid, perhaps, of punishment for his delinquencies at the store—he would go and set matters right. So both the pakeha set forth.
The broad expanse of Horowhenua Lake lay in placid loveliness beneath the shadows of the forest-clad foothills, a dark green contrast to the brown, barren heights of Tararua. The clumps of tall cabbage palms, whose faintly trembling fronds sparkled in the sunlight, gave some tropic page 106 beauty to the scene. In the centre of the lake two or three canoes lay motionless. In each canoe statuesque forms of bronze-coloured natives stood upright, poising the hooked pole with which they captured the enormous eels that, at this season, floated on the surface of the lake. The tui pealed its mellow notes in the forest; the wild ducks sported beneath the shadows of the brilliant green raupo reeds. It was a scene of peaceful charm as they approached the whare near the lake-shore, and, lifting the latch, called, “E Heta!”
But Heta was dead.page 107 page break