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Ngamihi; or The Maori Chief's Daughter

Chapter XLVI. The Tapu Fruit and Water

page 190

Chapter XLVI. The Tapu Fruit and Water.

As my arm was now better, Captain Snell gave me orders to take out twenty men, and do a couple of days patrol duty. The young chief, Taipua, asked permission to accompany me, and Hoani attended as guide. Although I knew the country fairly well by this time, the latter was useful in finding short cuts or tracking enemies.

I had several conversations with Taipua on different subjects, and was surprised at his intelligence. As his confidence in the teaching of the tohungas was now shaken, I had no difficulty in showing him how erroneous his former opinions were.

"One of the men," he said, "told me that Te Pehi's daughter is staying in Wairuara. Her name was Ngamihi when she was a child, but she was afterwards called Zada."

"Yes," I answered, "she is staying with some friends of mine, and they hope to keep her altogether; not as a servant, but as a friend and companion. Zada is a good girl, and is fitted for far better things than a savage life."

"Kapai" (good) he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, "Zada will do well to stop with her pakeha friends. A tangata page 191kino (a nobody) called Kiapo intends to take her way by force and make her his wife. Te Pehi has given him mana do so."

"He will have to spell 'able' first, as the school boys say, Taipua. Zada however, deserves a better fate. What sort of man is this Kiapo? It seems that you are a friend of his. Do you know him?"

"Taipua knows him, but he is no friend; he is a "taurekareka," (slave) said the young chief clenching his fists.

"Does he intend to make his attempt soon, Taipua?" I asked.

"Don't know," said he, shaking his head, "Kiapo never tells his thoughts to anyone. Taipua spoke to Te Pehi about giving his daughter to Kiapo, but he answered 'eahu mau (what's that to you)? and that he was giving her to a man with plenty of taonga.'"

Having selected a comfortable camp for the evening among the rata trees, Taipua entertained me with some legends of this country, and I was greatly surprised and interested at some of the stories which he related regarding the early history of New Zealand.

Next morning we started on our return home, and on the way the young chief showed me a good place for wild ducks. I took special note of it for future reference, and told Hoani to take its bearings. Towards the afternoon, I was greatly surprised on coining to a small flat, to find that it was well planted with fruit trees of different kinds. The peaches were the largest I had ever seen, and apples and pears were growing in the greatest profusion. As it was near dinner time we decided to halt, and soon the men were busily engaged plucking the fruit page 192to carry back to camp. Taipua, however, I noticed, appeared to be uneasy, and refused to join us. He walked some distance away and sat down by himself, watching us with a rather peculiar expression on his face. I felt some little surprise at this strange conduct, but as I was enjoying the fruit I did not for the moment pay him much attention.

"We musn't forget the lay of this camp boys," said one of the men, "and if we get the chance we will come here again."

"Bet your boots, sonny boy! I've got the latitoode and longtitoode," said Blowhard, "I've never had such a tuck in of fruit since I wor in Jamakey, I remember one time I was——"

"Fall in men," I called out.

On our way back to Wairuara, I asked Taipua the reason why he did not join us at the fruit grove.

"The fruit was tapu and Taipua could not eat it, as the ground also was tapu," he answered gravely.

"What do you mean Taipua?" I asked, a little surprised.

"The place was at one time an old burying ground. When the pakehas first commenced fighting with the sons of te ike a maui, a great battle was fought there, and many pakehas and Maoris were slain. The dead were buried among the young trees, and since that time it has been held tapu by the Maoris. The pakeha's are the only people who will eat the fruit now."

"You have some most peculiar customs, Taipua," I answered, "but for my part I thought the fruit excellent, and surely after such a length of time the tapu ought to be now removed. I have heard of similar places elsewhere. Can you tell me anything about them?"

page 193

"At the foot of the great burning mountain Tuhora," said Taipua with a serious face, "there was a celebrated Wahi Tapu of the Maoris. The ground was divided into many sections for each tapu. After some time when the bones became dry, they were exhumed and carried up the mountain and deposited in large caves. At last the mountain was blown up by a great fire, and the bones were scattered far and wide. A river flowed from the mountain, and another stream joined it lower down from another place, and the two became one and flowed through the country to the sea. The water from Tuhora kept by itself, although in the same bed, and would not mix with the other, and the two went down with the same current, one a dirty white in colour, while the other was pure and fresh. The Maoris who lived on the banks of the river had to cross in canoes to the other side to procure their supplies of fresh water, because the water nearest them was tapu.

"I really cannot understand this tapu of yours," I remarked. "It seems to me that superstition is the root of it all."