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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter III. Zada, the Maori Chief's Daughter

page 19

Chapter III. Zada, the Maori Chief's Daughter.

The company that I belonged to, commanded by Captain Wilson and Lieutenant Boyd, were ordered to Wairuara, a small township surrounded by a thick forest of kauri pine (Dammara Australis) and suple-jacks. The latter is a kind of vine that climbs to the top of the highest trees and hangs down, taking root again when it touches the ground, and so on making a network so thick in places that it is a very difficult matter to get through it. Suple-jacks have been more troublesome to bushmen and the cause of more tall swearing than any other plant in New Zealand. We were several days on the march and suffered no end of hardships as the weather was showery and the ground very boggy. On the second day's march we discovered two Maori girls camping contentedly under a tree, and on seeing us they attempted to run away, but we soon captured them. One of the girls was extremely good looking and much lighter in complexion than her companion. She wore a short skirt of native flax cloth, or matting, closely covered with split quills of different colours, which shone in the sun like a coat of mail. The upper part of her body was draped in a toga-like scarf, also of native cloth, covered with fantastic patterns, Her companion seemed of lower caste, and was much darker and coarser in features. She carried on her back a bag made of flax page 20full of potatoes and karakas (a native wild fruit); she had also a couple of Maori hens in her hand. A Maori hen is a kind of wild fowl that runs about the forest and swamps, and many of the settlers put them in their fowlyards to breed with the other fowls, and the cross produces a bird of singular Appearance. We did not intend illtreating the Maori girls when we made them prisoners; on the contrary they were treated with the greatest respect. We usually detained stray Maoris for the sake of getting all the information possible regarding the movements of the enemy.

On one occasion I was scouting with one of our men, when we came across an old Maori woman, asleep. Waking her up we asked her questions on some important points which we believed she could answer. We tried in vain for some time, and even offered her money. At the sight of the money her eyes glistened, but she still kept silence. My companion pretended to get into a furious rage, and took out a large clasp knife, which he commenced sharpening on his boot.

"Be the girl that loves me in Ireland; I will cut your ugly old body into pieces if you don't answer me at once; do you hear that?" said Regan.

The old woman thought her last hour had come. The threat had evidently unloosened her tongue, and she began to talk volubly.

We got the information we wanted in broken English, and sent her on her way rejoicing through our unexpected gift of two shillings. The information we received led to some very good results. In Regan's opinion the five pound note we afterwards shared between us was the best part of it.*

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The girls were brought before our captain, who spoke to them in an affable manner. He asked the light coloured girl her name and she answered proudly:

"Zada, I am the daughter of the great chief Te Pehi, who will make the pakehas tremble and wish they had never entered the land of the Moa."

"We are not as bad as you think, my girl," answered the Captain, "are there many of your people near here?"

"Zada will not answer questions about her people," she proudly replied.

"Supposing I make you?"

"You can kill me, but you cannot make me speak."

Captain Wilson concealed his chagrin and tried other means to get the information he required, but without success.

While Zada and the Captain were speaking, the other Maori girl was crouching on the ground keenly watching her mistress.

"Well Zada," said Captain Wilson, "I have no wish to harm you, and as you won't give me the information I required, you and your companion can go now. I hope you will excuse me for detaining you."

The two girls instantly glided away over the green turf, but after they had gone about twenty yards, Zada stopped, hesitated for a moment and returned. Walking over to Captain Wilson, who appeared much astonished at her return, she said earnestly. "Pakeha, I thank you, I believe now that you are not all bad. Zada and Hema are two—I will save two Pakehas in return."

Before Captain Wilson could recover from his surprise the two girls had disappeared among the trees.

* The Government often gave small rewards in such cases.