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Legends of the Maori

Land and Love. — A Tale of Disputed Titles

page 175

Land and Love.
A Tale of Disputed Titles

THE many years of struggle for ascendency between British and Maori were prolonged on the West Coast years after the greater number of the tribes of the island were subdued. The great fighting: chief, Titokowaru, who in 1868-9 carried his victorious warriors to within a few miles of the town of Whanganui, 60 miles from his tribal home, was at length driven into the mountain fastnesses of the interior, and only emerged a few years later a disciple of Te Whiti, who was called by the Natives the King of Peace. The old warrior was not tamed, but the Maori chiefs always knew that which European kings have discovered: that rulers exist by the will of the people. Te Whiti in 1869 saw that the struggle in arms could be maintained successfully no longer. He had become possessed of a large Bible, beautifully illustrated, the gift of a German missionary. The use made of the Book was not such as would appeal fervently to the missionary for assistance. The historical and prophetical parts of the Old Testament engrossed the whole attention of Te Whiti, to the neglect of the Gospel which the good missionary wished to spread. The researches of Te Whiti and his uncle, Tohu, led them to believe, from certain similarities between Jewish and Maori customs, that the tribes of New Zealand were descended from the Israelites of old, and were in verity the lost tribes of Israel. They therefore formed a kind of ritual on this basis, and in 1869, on a day they called the “day of promulgation” (re ra o te takahanga), Te Whiti published as much of his scheme as suited his patriotic purpose. He rapidly acquired an enormous following, and his village at Parihaka became the largest Maori town of New Zealand, inhabited by sections of all the tribes in the Island. The programme was strictly one of peace, which meant that no arms were to be used. But it was only one of obstruction to white settlement on land which of right belonged to the Maori.

At length the Government determined on the survey of the disputed territory, and parties of men, numerically strong but unarmed, were sent across the river boundary. These were distributed over the far-famed Waimate Plains in five parties. From July, 1878, to March, 1879, they worked practically unopposed, but in the latter month and year Titokowaru and his tribe went with bullock-drays and removed the surveyors’ instru- page 176 ments and camp equipage, and the surveyors followed across the Waingongoro.

The result of this was the immediate strengthening of the forces at Waihi and preparations for a resumption of the survey under armed protection. But acting under instructions from Te Whiti, Titokowaru carried on the agrarian war across the boundary on to the lands of the settlers near Hawera. Unarmed, the Maoris commenced ploughing the lawns near the homesteads, and the old pasture-fields of the farmers, the confiscated land which the native tribes considered their own. The Government arrested the aggressive ploughmen. The natives made no resistance save an inclination to cling to the plough and not look back. They went willingly to prison explaining nothing, but rejoicing that they were chosen to suffer for the cause and Te Whiti, the King of Peace. Hundreds were taken, and the gacls were full, whilst Te Whiti thought he was spoiling the enemy which must surely go bankrupt with the burden he imposed upon it.

The troops crossed the rivers on the northern and southern boundaries of the unsettled lands, making roads as they went. In a few months Te Whiti’s settlement at Parihaka was approached by a military road. The natives who had been sent to prison for aggressive ploughing had returned and were at Parihaka. Te Whiti welcomed them with a speech of commendation, taunting the Government by the enquiry, “O Grave, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting?” Parties of twenty and more natives with white plumes in their heads daily appeared on the road being made, in sight of all the troops, and proceeded to erect fences across the highway. These were arrested and on trial imprisoned, after the manner of the ploughing obstructions.

This may appear a long introduction to a short story, but it is a tale of the early days of a policy which lingered into modern days. The whole of the country which was a matter for dispute in ’78, is now thickly settled by industrious farmers, has large towns and many villages upon it, and surveyed native reserves Crown-granted to individual natives and occupied by them. Hawera has become a populous and thriving town. The Armed Constabulary Station of Waihi is a farm, its tall watch-tower vanished, and but a clump of eucalypti to attract attention to the graves of settlers and fallen soldiers which they shade, whilst snow-covered Egmont ever looks down calm and serene upon a picture of peace. And pakeha and Maori now are one.

* * * *

The story of the love of one of Te Whiti’s unarmed warriors, whose weapons were ploughs and fences, is a true one. A very staid and sedate page 177 native was Rangiwahia, of Punehu, a widower withal and a staunch follower of Te Whiti. After the death of his wife he became more frequent in his attendance at Parihaka, and his belief in the efficacy of Te Whiti’s scheme for the rehabilitation of his people approached somewhat nearer fanaticism than formerly. All-absorbing as were the oratorical efforts of the prophet, and much as his teachings engaged the attention of our Maori hero, he yet found time to listen to the whispers of the rosy god who rules with greater power over a wider community than Te Whiti. Rangiwahia fell in love—not the love of a beardless stripling, not hot in its initiative and cooling gradually with success; but the well-rooted love of a man who has passed his fortieth year, who had had profound experience and was consequently careful (if any can be careful in love) upon whom he bestowed his regard. Rangi loved and not in vain.

When Te Whiti engaged in his contention with Colonel Roberts and his Armed Constabulary in the matter of the fences, Rangi wished to go to the scene of operations and demonstrate his fealty to his chief and his trust in his power by exposing himself to the certainty of arrest in the cause. Having regard for the affection of his beloved, he mentioned the intention to her with reluctance, fearing restraint—love—begotten on her part. But with misgiving as to the danger of standing aloof from the all-powerful mandates of Te Whiti, the maiden at length consented to be separated for an indefinite time from her betrothed. She bade him farewell in the pa, bidding him to be true to the faith, patient in adversity, and forbearing under provocation. The damsel assured Rangi of her unchangeable affection, and taking a dainty silken kerchief from her neck she bade him treasure it in remembrance of her—precious as the parchment deed of the Europeans which secured their lands—the “Crown grant” of their mutual love.

As such, Rangi received the gift. He departed with his companions unarmed to meet the warriors of the pakeha. They erected their fence across the road and it was immediately destroyed by the Constabulary. Rangiwahia remonstrated with the Colonel for destroying the fence they had erected for the protection of their wheat, but the Colonel was deaf to his remarks, merely saying that such a fence should be erected parallel to the road and not across it.

In the evening the natives sorrowfully returned to Parihaka. Arrived there, Rangi sought not his betrothed, for had he not parted from her in the morning? And he knew that sooner or later his arrest was certain, hence he shrank from opening the wound afresh and aggravating the grief of each by repeated partings.

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In the dual control of Parihaka, Te Whiti made the balls and Tohu fired them. So Rangi went to Tohu’s meeting-house. He there expressed regret that he had returned. Tohu told him that the question of his arrest rested entirely with himself and his behaviour in the face of the enemy when in action at the fence. If they exhibited determination to maintain the fence, they would surely be arrested, but care must be taken to engage in no struggle with the troops lest a blow should be struck and trouble ensue, which they wished to avoid.

Next morning the party again erected their fence across the road. When the Constabulary advanced to destroy it they clung manfully to the stakes forming it, and were only dragged away by main force. They persisted all day, making fence after fence, often destroyed only to be renewed. They were arrested and conveyed to camp. Fresh candidates for gaol day by day appeared. When a sufficient number had been collected they were sent to New Plymouth, tried and convicted. Rangi and his companions were sent on board the Government steamer Hinemoa and taken to Lyttelton, where they were imprisoned on an island in the harbour.

Now, Rangi had made a small bag in which to preserve the keepsake of his sweetheart. This he hung round his neck by a very slender cord. Next his heart it reposed, secure from all prying eyes, his only. solace during the long days of imprisonment. The prisoners were searched when first received into their prison, and also every day after their usual two hours’ exercise, lest they should smuggle matches into their rooms. But Rangi had taken precautions for the safety of his treasure. On his breast, under his shirt, the gage d’amour lay. Each day. in anticipation of the daily search, Rangi asked one of his comrades to run his hands over his person in imitation of the gaolers prosecuting their investigations. By thus making sure that nothing was perceptible to the sense of touch, Rangi preserved his treasure throughout the many searches to which he had to submit.

Rangiwahia was a very orderly and amenable prisoner. When any of his companions were inclined to mutiny against an order which appeared to them harsh, Rangi would quell the rising disturbance. If any objected to perform the menial offices necessary to their position, Rangi would do them himself rather than any trouble should arise, and these were the things which were so repulsive to the dignity of a chief. He was content to bear all in patience, for he ever wore the parting gift of his beloved—a pledge of affection to solace him in prison, the anchor of his hope which sprang eternal in his breast, the guarantee of a life of happiness when captivity should be but as a dreadful dream.

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And how fared it with the object of so much love and affection? All the widows, grass and otherwise, were the objects of special care and honour at Parihaka during the absence of husbands and sweethearts, and the betrothed of Rangi had special attention. At first she grieved much for the absence of her lover, but as time moved on and other suitors pressed their attentions upon her, she gradually forgot that faithful heart whose only solace in prison was the hope of returning to her.

Among those who sought her was Apitia, chief of Ngati-Tama, of the Chatham Islands, a man rich in flocks and herds, having houses and lands; a man of wealth who could purchase her regard with presents dear to women. He sent to the Islands for money, and gave her gifts of finery of many hues, bedecked with the snowy plumage of the birds of the ocean. He brought cargoes of the luscious eel and of the great albatross preserved in oil, which he presented to Te Whiti and his people. And Apitia became a great man at Parihaka for the heart of the gathering lay in its stomach.

Now, when the fickle fair one saw that Apitia was a man of quality she became to him a wife among others. Te Whiti and his people, bought with the lavish gifts of Apitia, noticed not the flirting of that chief with the betrothed of Rangiwahia, and the latter was forgotten by all as they feasted on the fat of Wharekauri.

At length the time came for Rangiwahia’s liberation, and in company with many others he was landed at Taranaki and returned to Parihaka. They all marched direct to the large meeting-houses of Te Whiti and Tohu for their public reception. Rangi sought not his bride. Had he not come and would she not know it and hasten to his side? And as soon as his duty to his chief and the people was performed, the pressure of the token on his heart told him he would not have far to seek for his betrothed. He had never doubted her for a moment, and he asked question of none, neither was information volunteered by those who had remained at Parihaka.

The ceremony of reception lasted all day, and at nightfall only did Te Whiti speak of the woman. He told Rangi that his love was bride to Apitia.

Then was Rangiwahia very wroth and he bitterly upbraided Te Whiti. Of Apitia, he said, nothing better could be expected, for, had he not been a robber from his youth, and his fathers before him robbers also? Did he not, with his tribe, forsake his home in the north, and make war against Ngati-Kahungunu, from whom they took the land around Wellington? And later did not they obtain passage on board a British brig by fraud and deceit, and sailing to the Chatham Islands slaughter an inoffensive people, the armless Moriori of Wharekauri, and deprive them page 180 of their lands, making them slaves and beasts of burden? And was it not from the spoils of these lands that Apitia obtained the wherewithal to bribe his bride to falsity, and Te Whiti and his people to deceit, to their everlasting shame?

“But you, Te Whiti,” said Rangiwahia, “of you I am ashamed, and your further service I scorn. To do you bidding I cheerfully went to prison, leaving the lives and fortunes of myself and companions unreservedly in your hands, so great was our trust in you. And this is our reward; sold for a mess of savoury meat! You promised to protect our lands from spoilation; and you have stood calmly by and seen me deprived of the only piece of land I valued; the only piece of mother earth I held dear; that which I prized above liberty and life itself, and the hope of obtaining which has been my sole solace in imprisonment.”

And Te Whiti said he did not know she was Rangiwahia’s property.

“Mine! of course she was mine,” answered Rangi, “and here is the Crown Grant.”

With that he drew from his breast the bag containing the silken gage of a plighted troth so carefully preserved.

“But,” added Rangi, “as the land is gone the Crown Grant is Worthless, and I return it to the purpose for which it was originally made.” And he handed the silken kerchief to his niece, and Harirota placed the Crown Grant of Rangiwahia around her neck as Rangi lapsed into silence.