Legends of the Maori
A Shot in the Dark — The Woman or the Land: a Memory of the — Upper Waitara
A Shot in the Dark
The Woman or the Land: a Memory of the
IN the mid-Seventies of last century, the Ngati-Maru tribe, of the Upper Waitara district, North Taranaki, was torn into factions by the dissensions of those who wanted to sell land to the Government and those who opposed that policy. The leader of the land sellers was Te Rangiakeihu, a little undersized man with a tattooed face, an immense power of persuasion, and a great gift of oratory. Students of Maori history would be reminded of Karanama Kapukai, husband of Rakapa, who was a sister of Matene Te Whiwhi, a noted chief of the Rauparaha era. The influence of both chiefs, owing to the qualities mentioned, led to their gathering a large following, but how different was this influence used? In the case of Karanama this great gift of oratory was used in the consolidation of the people to resist the inroads of the pakeha. In the case of Te Rangiakeihu similar gifts were used in undermining the patriotism of his tribe and handing over to the pakeha the tribal lands for the consideration of from one and sixpence to two and sixpence per acre. Such was the despicable head of the land sellers. He of course was considered by the Government the true friend of the Europeans.
And now for the other side. Ihakara Ranga Whenua was head of the Conservatives. He had long been a leader of the tribe. He was a man who stood six feet two on feet which never knew a shoe or sock. His name was graven as guardian on the niu, or sacred pole, of Te Aotawa, around which tribes from many parts of the Island had danced in the fanaticism of the Hauhau religion. But those fantasies he had discarded. He was simply the head of his tribe, to whose kindness every religion was welcomed. He strongly opposed all alienation of native lands, but he had from our point of view his little failings, although those failings were not considered remarkable in the morals of a tribe of a past generation of Maoris.
Te Hau Tei Kii was one of the Land Sellers. He was a tall thin man with a countenance which pronounced him a poltroon. He could never look an honest man in the face. In short, he was a tutua. He had a wife named Te Piki. There were two Piki’s in the tribe: One was Pikipiki Potae, from the fact that she always wore a handkerchief over her head, and for years page 124 no living man ever saw her hair. It was a most beautiful head of wavy chestnut hair. When at last it was seen she attracted smiles and speedily was married. Pikipiki Maunga, wife of Te Hau Tei Kii, acquired her name, “The Mountain Climber,” through an established habit she had of disappearing from her village and the arms of Te Hau Tei Kii on tours among the hills of the neighbourhood in the company of Ranga Whenua. After two or three weeks’ tour in the wooded ranges she always returned to the whare of her husband. This complacent individual was used to remonstrate with her thus wise: “It’s too bad of you, Piki, to leave me by myself too long,” and to Ranga Whenua he would say: “What do you take her away for? Why don’t you leave her to cook food for us?” Ranga Whenua never answered a word; the argument was beneath him.
About this time a pakeha with his Maori wife had arrived in the district. He had a bitter quarrel with the Government on account of the quasi purchase of a block of land called Teramouku. This pakeha took possession of the land in defiance of the Government. The land was situated about six miles from where Ranga Whenua lived. The pakeha had built a house on the top of a little hill commanding a view to all the open land of the Teramouku Valley. His wife had a large claim to the Teramouku Valley; this claim was never disputed by natives, either Conservatives or Land Sellers, but had been ignored by the Government. The pakeha took possession with one mate, a glorious tattooed native, who, with the pakeha, would like to see what white man was going to put them out of it. Ranga Whenua recognised the kindred spirit and came to live in this grand clearing a little way further down the stream above which rose the hill whereon the pakeha had built his house. Ranga Whenua lived alone in his solitary whare beside the brook called Komako-tangi-ata (the bellbird that sings at dawn).
One day the pakeha, greatly to his surprise, as he looked down the creek saw that Ranga Whenua had a female companion. Ranga Whenua came up in the evening and said it was Piki, and that they were on their way to Parihaka. He told the pakeha that the Land Selling party were offering to the Government a block of land called Mangaotuku. The pakeha’s wife had a large interest in this land, and Ranga Whenua asked the pakeha to write a letter to Mr. Commissioner Parris, Land Purchase Officer of the Government, protesting against the alienation of this land, as the chiefs of the tribe and the principal owners objected to the sale; they would rather have an acre of it than eighteen-pence. The pakeha did so and Ranga Whenua placed his mark to his signature.
About mid-day a party came over from the Kawau Pa to the house of the pakeha, headed by Te Matangi-a-Rupe, and containing in its numbers Te Hau Tei Kii and his nephew. All had guns in their hands and business was evidently meant. Te Piki had been missed, and therefore it was surmised that Ranga Whenua had not alone returned to his whare at Tera-mouku. The Parihaka meeting was close at hand, and many surmised- especially those of the Land Selling party—that Ranga Whenua might have a word to say to the Land Purchase Commissioner at New Plymouth which might frustrate their scheme. The visitors were offered food by the pakeha and his wife, but they appeared to be in a great hurry. The spokesman, addressing the pakeha, asked if Ranga Whenua had gone. The pakeha said, “Oh! yes, at peep of day.” “Ah!” said Rupe; “he’ll be out by this evening!” “Oh, yes!” said the pakeha, “If it were I, I should be out easy in the time.”
But here was interposed the irrepressible tongue of the woman. The pakeha’s wife said, “Oh! no; Piki told me they would sleep on the road.” Not another word was said. Te Hau Tei Kii and his nephew immediately arose and, gun in hand, took their way down the valley towards the ford, which marked the point of departure, to the track over the bush hills which led to the sea. The rest of the party, recognising the seriousness of the situation but not caring to interfere, made their way back to the Kawau without a word to the pakeha and his companions.
After they had left the pakeha and his mate Hihimua consulted on the situation. It was one which in times past had led to bloodshed and feuds innumerable. The Maori was for staying where he was and not moving. Although both had been out all the morning in a fatiguing hunt after wild cattle, the pakeha suggested that they should, by taking a road straight through the bush, arrive at the track which Te Hau Tei Kii had taken at a point which he had not had time to pass. But to this the Maori would not agree.
They had seen that Te Hau Tei Kii, when he arrived half way to the ford, had sent back his nephew, and he had followed the others back to the pa. The pursuer was afraid that the nephew, on catching sight of the fugitives, would raise the cry of warning. This confirmed the pakeha in his idea that murder was intended. All in his house spent a most uncomfortable night. At mid-day Te Hau Tei Kii returned with Piki his wife. They sat down near the open door of the house, Te Hau Tei Kii having his page 128 double-barrel gun across his knees. Te Hau said, “I have killed Ranga Whenua.”
The pakeha immediately reached for his gun, still loaded with ball from yesterday’s cattle hunting. His Maori companion interposed between the pakeha and the door and said, “No! we don’t know how Te Whiti of Parihaka, having preached the doctrine of peace, would consider such an act of retaliation.”
Now the Maori companion of the pakeha was but a feather-weight, but the white man dare not cause a disturbance in the house while Te Hau Tei Kii was fully in sight. In the room were his wife with their infant daughter in her arms and a girl, a daughter by a previous husband, at her side; any disturbance giving Te Hau Tei Kii a sight of the pakeha struggling to get out with a gun in his hand would have led Te Hau Tei Kii to fire into the house. The pakeha subsided, and the murderer with his woman went away. As these crossed the open land towards the bush the pakeha tried to persuade his Maori companion to follow after and shoot the murderer, but his mate, pleading Parihaka policy, refused. The whole party immediately took the track of six miles of hilly ground which separated Teramouku from Te Kawau, the headquarters of the tribe of Ngati-Maru. On arriving there Hihimua described the whole transaction to the people. After his speech Te Amo, head chief of the tribe, walked over to the pakeha and shook him heartily by the hand. He said, “You did very well, but you would have killed the woman also, wouldn’t you?” The pakeha replied, “Well, I do not know so much about that.”
As for Tei Kii, he and his woman came near no settlement of Ngati-Maru, but, calling at a temporarily abandoned village, took an iron pot and whatever else they required, and travelled away southward through the forest. After many days they emerged at Ketemarae, the pa of Heke-Pepe, near Normanby. There we leave them.
It had not taken long for the news of the murder to reach Rauraupoto, the residence of Ranga Whenua. His daughter and her husband and family immediately came down to Te Kawau. The daughter, Te Haurangi, was afterwards called Te Mate Kohuru, from the ruthless murder of her father. She was a splendid specimen of Maori womanhood. Her hair was what is called by the Maori kehu; that is the sunny tinge on the black hair which tells of the Caucasian forefather. In form she was almost perfect, but of a very full habit. Her skin was almost as white as a European’s, and that skin she bared to the view of the people as far as her waist, whilst with heartrending cries of lament she excoriated her body with sharp shells till blood streamed over her bosom.page 129
Next day a party proceeded, headed by Haurangi, to find the body. Half-way between Teramouku and Urenui, on the top of Koputauaki, they found the camp of the couple. Under a thin layer of the soil of the fireplace they found the body. A bullet had entered the centre of his forehead. In the middle of the night he had risen to light his pipe. The lurking murderer seized the opportunity, and as the flicker of the fire lightened the face of the chief of Ngati-Maru he fired and the result was fatal. The husband and wife had between themselves cut up the roots and buried the victim beneath a few inches of soil.
Te Haurangi had an enclosure made round the spot and had a slab erected with an inscription that here was buried Ihakara Ranga Whenua. But she did not bury her father there, she took him down the side of the hill and excavated, the last resting-place for the chief in a precipitous cliff. So she defeated the enemies who might dig up and defile her father. There we leave him, and we leave in sorrow a good man.
The party returned to Te Kawau. There the natives insisted that the pakeha should take Te Haurangi to wife, notwithstanding that the pakeha had a wife and Te Haurangi had a husband and children. The pakeha didn’t consent.
This was not the only home the white settler had. He had a house on the Waimate Plains, close to the pa of Titokowaru. There he went in the mid-summer to cut cocksfoot grass for the seed belonging to himself and the tribe. One evening, after a day’s threshing grass, as the principal members of the tribe were seated around Titokowaru in his large whare, a messenger appeared, travel-stained and weary, having ridden more than post haste from the Ngati-Maru country. He handed a letter to Titokowaru. This stated that Hana, the wife of the pakeha, lay at death’s door, having been assaulted and pretty nearly stranged to death by Te Haurangi because she had given her father over to his death by her impetuous and unconsidered words. Titokowaru handed the letter to the pakeha. The pakeha said not a word. Titokowaru said, “Go; if she is alive bring her here at once. If she is dead come back at once and at the back of the mountain of Taranaki a war-party shall go and obliterate Ngati-Maru.” The pakeha went and reached the Ngati-Maru country in record time. He brought his wife and child down to his home by the side of Titokowaru.
Here one might stop, but a few considerations need attention. I have said that Te Hau Tei Kii reached the kainga of Heke-Pepe at Normanby. He did not stay there long. He was an incubus to the chief, who did not want him, but could not deny him hospitality—so sacred a rite in the Maori page 130 race. He was related to the people of Otakeiho and the chief Te Rama afforded him protection. While he was living there his wife Piki incidentally met the pakeha and told him that the letter Ranga Whenua was taking to Mr. Parris had been entrusted to her by Ranga Whenua and she had given it to Te Rama, who then had it. Does not this point to the conclusion that the warning to the Commissioner, and not the honour of the wife, prompted the murderous deed?
All this time the pakeha was on the look-out for the felon. He always carried a double-barrel gun (as was not unusual in those unsettled days). There was also another individual who sought utu for a relation killed. This was Tihirua; he was not bloodthirsty, but sought the ordinary utu. And so time passed on, the parties never meeting till, spring coming round, Titokowaru, according to custom, called a meeting of the tribes to celebrate the firstfruits of the year and return thanks to the Atua for the plentitude vouchsafed. There went the pakeha; there also was Te Hau Tei Kii. On the pakeha’s entrance Titokowaru called to him saying, “E ta, on this day let all enmity cease between you and Te Hau Tei Kii, for my sake.”
And now I ask, why did Ranga Whenua die; for the land or for the woman? And why, if this outrage had been a legitimate retaliation according to Maori ethics, did Te Haurangi, acceding to the wish of the tribe, assume the name of Te Mate Kohuru (a treacherous death)?