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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter I. General Character and Superstition of the Maoris

page 11

Chapter I. General Character and Superstition of the Maoris.

The incidents here related occurred in New Zealand during the second Maori war, nearly thirty years ago, and as some of the principal persons concerned are still living, I will content myself with supplying fictitious names and altering the localities.

I was a non-commissioned officer in the 1st T——Rifles, and bore my share of the hardships and dangers connected with the savage warfare during the early settlement of New Zealand. The Maoris are a fine race of people, brave and hardy, but extremely sensitive to insult, and ever ready to defend their rights. Their code of honour naturally differs from ours, but in general warfare they take no mean advantage of a foe, and I know of instances where they have rendered aid to some of our wounded soldiers by giving them water to drink.

Throughout the whole campaign the war generally was of a skirmishing description and I do not know of one single instance where the combatants met on equal conditions. Sometimes a small number of Maoris would be entrenched in a pah besieged by a force of soldiers almost double their number, whilst at others a small party of troops would be set upon by a band of page 12rebels at odds of almost three to one. Nevertheless the fact cannot be denied that the natives are a brave and intrepid race, and the skill with which they extricated themselves from the most perilous positions has been the theme of admiration from even their bitterest foes. This is the dictum of a celebrated chief: "I have stood live successive engagements with the soldiers belonging to the greatest white nation in the world; the soldiers, that we have been told, would fight until every man was killed. But I am now perfectly satisfied that they are men, and not gods; and had they nothing but muskets like ourselves, I should have been in my pah at the present time."

The custom of tattooing the face and parts of the body is still common among the Maoris, though it is not so much practised now as formerly.

New Zealanders of advanced age, even at the present time are often found elaborately ornamented with graceful circles and Vandyke patterns all over the body, particularly the face. A well tattooed Maori in his ample flax cloak is quite a stately looking personage. These cloaks are covered with peculiar squares and broken zig-zag lines in red, black and white, so beautifully regular that Europeans have copied them in many ways. When a Maori is injured by a pakeha (European) it sometimes happens that an innocent person is made to suffer for it. Little provocation is required to excite a quarrel, the most trivial occurrence will do for a Casus Belli. Instance the affair at Wanganui in 1845, through an accidental shot from a mid-shipman. Until utu (compensation) is satisfied the injury is handed down from father to son like the Corsican Vendetta.

Habit is a second nature with the Maoris as with most of us. Fighting and a disregard of life is to them a virtue. Cuvier page 13says "that it takes forty generations to make a wild duck a tame one," and with the same reasoning it would take some time to cool a Maori's wild blood. I have known Maoris who were up-right, honourable men, and friendly to the whites, yet their sons assisted to build the pahs, and used the "tupara" (double-barrelled gun) against the English on every possible occasion, and frequently to with fatal effect.

The rapidity with which they construct pahs of heavy timber for a permanent defence, and of erecting lighter pickets to prevent their rifle pits in the rear of their stockade from being rushed; also their power in paddling and their skill in managing their canoes, either for warlike or peaceable purposes, demand admiration.

There are many stories told of the Maoris' courage during times of danger and pain. I have heard of a Maori who was mortally wounded by a cannon ball, which came through a fence and knocked his leg off. When he saw his leg was off, he cried out. "Look here, the iron has run away with my leg, what playful creatures these cannon balls are!" He immediately afterwards fell back and died smiling.

The missionaries in general were firm friends of the Maoris. A good story is told of the late Bishop Selwyn, who was well-known during his university days as a devotee of the noble art of self-defence. He incurred a great deal of animosity from a certain section owing to his sympathy with the Maoris during the war. One day he was asked by a rough, in one of the back streets of Auokland, if he was "the Bishop who backed up the Maoris." Receiving a reply in the affirmative, the rough, with a "take that, then," struck his lordship on the face. "My friend." said the Bishop, "my Bible tells me that if a man smite thee on page 14one cheek, turn to him the other," and he turned his head slightly the other way. His assailant, slightly bewildered, and wondering what was coming next, struck him again. "Now," said his lordship, "having done my duty to God, I will do my duty to man," and taking off his coat and hat, he forthwith gave the anti-Maori champion a most scientific thrashing.

The Maoris think it unjust to punish a soldier for cowardice or desertion. They say that if a man is a coward it is a sign that he will be killed, either in war or by some other violent means. It is not well they say to disregard omens. When a man feels courageous let him fight, and he will be fortunate. The original religion of the Maoris was of a very vague description. They believe in an "atua" or great spirit, and also in a water god.

Like all savage races superstition is rampant among them. The "Tohungas" (high priests) are the chief men, even the leading chiefs being subordinate to them. Mr. J. White of "Wanganui, an authority on these matters, thus describes a fanatical incident that took place during the struggle with the British.

"Kaitaki pah, a very strong position held by the rebels about ten miles south of New Plymouth was taken by Colonel Warre and a combined force of regulars and local forces on the 24th of March 1864. The native works were taken possession of, and occupied by a detachment of the 57th regiment, under Captain Lloyd. A few days afterwards that officer with a force of 100 men, was scouring the spurs of the adjacent hills to see if there were any cultivations in that direction with the view of destroying them. Having traversed a considerable distance without seeing any traces of Maoris on the move, his men appear to have got into loose order, when they were suddenly set page 15upon by a body of rebels, who came over a ridge, and were completely defeated and routed, with a loss of seven killed and nine wounded. Captain Lloyd, who exhibited great gallantry was among the killed. The Maoris drank the blood of those who fell, and cut off their heads, burying for the time the heads and bodies in separate places. A few days afterwards, according to the native account, the angel Gabriel appeared to those who had partaken of the blood, and by the medium of Captain Lloyd's spirit ordered his head to be exhumed, cured by a peculiar process, and taken throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand; and from henceforth this head should be the medium of man's communication with Jehovah. These injunctions were carefully obeyed, and immediately the head was taken up, the spirit appointed Te Ua to be high priest, and Rangitauria, Hepaniah, and another to be assistants, and communicated to them in the most solemn manner the tenets of the new religion."

This body of fanatics were termed Hauhaus, and became a source of much hindrance to the peaceable settlement of New Zealand. Te Kooti, the famous warrier chief, who for many years resisted all the efforts of the Imperial Government to capture him, and who in the end was finally pardoned by the New Zealand Government, became the head of this band after his escape from the Chatham Islands, and continued so up to the time of his death. His followers implicity believed that it was impossible for a bullet to penetrate Te Kooti's body, and also that he could prophesy future events. The power of "Makutu" (witchcraft) was laid to his charge, and many mysterious deaths have been attributed to his supernatural powers. The Hauhaus have decreased considerably of late years, but remnants of them are yet to be found in the North Island.