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History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840

Te Ariki, the plague of 1820

Te Ariki, the plague of 1820.

New Zealand has been visited twice (at least) by some serious disease which ran through the country like wild-fire, carrying off many thousands. The first scourge is believed to have occurred in 1795. The second one, called by the Taranaki people "Te Ariki," occurred about the end of 1820. The following brief account of it was given to Mr. Skinner and myself by old Watene Taungatara of Waitara in 1897. He said this was introduced by the ship "Coromandel," which discovered the harbour of that name in Hauraki Gulf in August, 1820. This plague, or whatever it was, spread from the crew amongst the Maoris, and passed on from tribe to tribe until it reached Taranaki. It swept down the page 311coast, taking village after village and pa after pa in its course, killing a large number of people. No sooner had the survivors in one place began to recover a little than the next place was attacked. So severe was it that in some cases there were not enough people left alive to bury the dead. The tohungas proceeded to try by their arts to stop the mischief. As the evil was of European origin, they first made a representation of a ship in sand, with masts aud rigging such as had been described to them, for at that time none had seen any vesssels. Over these imitation ships, as a tuāhu, or altar, they repeated their karakias, but alas! they could not stop the evil. Many thousands are said to have perished in this district.