Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sketches of Early Colonisation in New Zealand and its Phases of Contact with the Maori Race

A Maori Duchess and the Tug of War

page 119

A Maori Duchess and the Tug of War.

The fifties were well advanced at the time the following amusing incident, which I am about to relate, took place.

The Provincial Institutions of the Colony were then in full vigour, and the Superintendents and Provincial Governments of each Province were bidding high for immigration into their respective territories, affording every inducement, by liberal land laws, to secure the occupation of the soil, and, in some cases, paying part, if not the whole, of the passage money of intending immigrants from Britain to settle within their provincial boundaries.

This exceedingly liberal and advanced policy on the part of the provinces had the effect of inducing a portion of the congested population of Britain to take advantage of the very favourable inducements held out to them to emigrate to New Zealand (a country of diversified and unlimited resources), and of which the greater portion of these same colonists, in after years, had reason to be grateful, for many of them have risen to great comfort, if not affluence, by change of country.

Amongst those thus induced to leave their native home and land was a young gentleman whom I shall, for obvious reasons, name White.

Mr. White was the eldest son of a most respectable and industrious North of Ireland farmer, who, from the income of his small holding, had all his work cut out to bring up in comfort and respectability as well as educate, a numerous family, after accomplishing which, left little or no surplus for the settlement in life of the branches thereof afterwards.

page 120

Mr. White when he arrived in the Colony, was about twenty-one years of age, of robust physique, and what is, perhaps, of greater moment to make a successful colonist, was endowed with perseverance and strict business habits, being also fortunate in having a primary initiation into the drapery business, in the old country, and which he afterwards followed successfully in the land of his adoption, rising to the position of senior partner and manager in one of the largest and most enterprising import warehouses in the Colony

Be it said, to his honour, that this good son and brother was not, in prosperity, neglectful of his duty to his aged parents nor yet his family, for his purse strings were at all times opened wide so as to afford worldly comfort during his parents' declining years, whilst, at the same time, financially placing it within the power of all his brothers and sisters starting themselves in their various vocations of life.

Mr. White brought with him to Auckland several letters of introduction to relatives of the writer, soliciting their interest and friendship on his behalf (a practice seldom now made use of, and properly so for cogent reasons), receiving at their hands that friendly attention and courtesy the letters solicited

Through their influence a situation was secured for him, which he filled with credit to himself and those concerned, quickly rising to a position of trust, which he retained for years, ultimately starting in business for himself.

The Maoris then (that was before the unfortunate wars of the sixties was dreamt of, which left such disastrous effects upon the native people), were, to a very great extent, the providers of the Auckland market, conveying their various productions to the city, consisting of fish, pork, wheat, Indian corn, potatoes, vegetables, poultry, and fruit in great abundance and variety, the greater portion of which was conveyed by canoe, boat, or schooner, many of the coastal tribes being possessed of these latter hand craft, which were manned and sailed by their native owners to their credit and profit.

The natives, who, on this particular occasion, had arrived in great numbers from the coast as well as inland, with produce in abundance for sale, were filling the page 121pockets of the storekeepers with the proceeds of the same, who, like children, were purchasing whatever the whim of the moment dictated, no matter what the cost might be, little thinking whether it was a judicious purchase or be of future benefit to them.

Their women, in particular, were profuse in the purchase of finery (but where is there not one of the fair sex but would do the same thing if she had the means or opportunity), decking themselves out in the most expensive apparel, not even omitting jewelry, which many of the chiefs wives could, indeed boast of possessing.

These Maori visitors were evidently bent upon enjoying themselves to the full, their pockets for the time being plethoric, which enabled them to satisfy their cravings for the present.

Under these peculiarly favourable circumstances, to see the Maori away from the surroundings of his forest home and amongst civilization, trying his best to copy his Pakeha brother (in dress at least if in nothing else), was my friend Wilson introduced to them, I having been deputed by my relatives to show him all that might be off interest to a "new chum" in town or suburb.

When upon the Queen street wharf I pointed out and explained to him the rapid advance which had been made by the Maoris in civilization within the past few years, they being then the possessors of several fine coastal sailing vessels, all being kept in full and profitable employment by themselves, explaining also the extent and volume of the native trade, a most important element in the commercial development of the Auckland province then.

Proceeding from the wharf along Queen-treet [sic], and elbowing our way amongst the throng of Maoris there assembled, we at last found ourselves at the intersection of the latter street with Shortland-street, there to behold a sight that was, to say the least of it, rather novel to eyes unaccustomed to such scenes.

Coming out of one of the leading haberdashery establishments there situated, was to be seen a Maori lady swell, in the full blush of a new "rig out," the crinoline she wore (such being then in vogue), spreading out her dress to such proportions that she looked like a small inflated baloon [sic: balloon].

page 122

My friend's eye, with that "trade instinct" peculiar to the profession, was quick to detect this when he exclaimed thus:—

"By St. Patrick! Is she not a dandy, although a savage? Just look at her! Would not the girls in the Old Country turn red with envy if they could only get a glimpse of that swell Maori woman? Her old man must have grinned considerably with surprise when presented with the bill of cost for those fine clothes."

Here he enumerated the articles composing her attire, with the probable cost of each, in rapid succession, telling off the total in much quicker time than it takes to write down.

"Watch and gold chain, £20; the silk material necessary to cover that crinoline would take at least thirty yards, at 10s. per yard, which with trimmings and make-up added, £17 10s. (my eye, but that's a heavy item!); cloak, £3 3s.; Duchess of Devonshire hat and feather, the latter of which cost at least 30s., £2 10s.; parasol, 25s.; best kid gloves, 15s. Total, £45 3s. By the shamrocks of Ireland, have I ever seen such before? A neat sum entirely to cover a savage who, in her forest home, possibly might consider a blanket superfluous! Only think of it boys, £45 3s! Well I could never have believed it!"

Here a pause took place, the expression of his face, with surprise stamped in every lineament, was comical in the extreme, causing me to burst out in loud laughter.

But the fun was not over yet by any means.

With pride and dignity did this Maori belle sail along, conscious that the envious eyes of her sister Maori women were directed upon her every movement.

She had by this time well advanced across the street, and was nearing the opposite side, where the wooden kerbing was high, which necessitated her taking more than a usually high step, this act, of course, slightly lifting her dress in front, exposing her limbs beneath to the vulgar gaze of those near by.

My Irish friend was quick to detect this little misadventure, and, with the out-spoken impetuosity of his race, gave utterance to his thoughts thus:—

page 123

"By the great powers, boys, did you ever see the likes of that? Innocent of Balmoral boot and silk stocking or indeed underwear for the matter of that. I could not have believed it if I had not seen for myself. But, man, what a grip she takes of her native soil! This is civilization with a vengeance; why it can only be a veneer at best! Won't the old people at home split their sides with laughter when I write and tell them all about it."

The Maori witnesses of this little contre-temps treated it with the greatest nonchalance, their women especially, seeming to see nothing unusual about the matter looking upon it as if it were of an every day occurrence.

After witnessing the foregoing incidents we proceeded to view the most striking features of the city, of which he expressed himself as well pleased.

On our way to Mount Eden, we passed through the Government Domain, in which place the study of the varied and dense semi-tropical vegetation, with the strange foliage of its forest timber, afforded him the greatest pleasure.

Arriving at the foot of the mountain, we essayed its ascent, in the course of which my friend evinced a deep interest in traces of Maori fortifications of a past age, which were everywhere in evidence, the escarpments, trenches, and what had once been covered ways, and store-pits, though fallen in or overgrown, were yet in a wonderful state of recognition.

Several of the stone walls of these fortifications could still be traced with considerable accuracy, although the oldest living Maori could not tell when, or by whom, these were erected.

The Maori race show a wonderful aptitude in field engineering for warfare, and these traces of ancient fortifications in particular, have often called forth the highest commendations from those most capable of judging such matters.

It must have taken a much larger population than was then to be found to man these fortifications effectively, so extensive were they, the whole mountain appearing to be girt by them, line after line, from bottom to top.

page 124

During our ascent of the mountain I had been speaking of the peculiar mirage that was to be witnessed from the mouth of the crater (which is clothed with most beautiful verdure from throat to lip), and that if a cow were grazing at the bottom, although only a few hundred feet deep, she would appear no larger than an ordinary goat.

Upon our arrival at the top of the mountain and looking down into the crater, we beheld some half dozen cattle grazing contentedly on the sweet herbage there to be found.

Although all were not quite at the bottom, as a few were further up the sides, they all appeared no larger than goats, which fully confirmed my assertion.

Here was to be witnessed a varied panorama of unequalled loveliness, for almost at your feet lay the harbour of the Waitemata, with its innumerable and beautiful bays and boat harbours eating into the land in all directions, a land-locked sheet of water which, for beauty, extent, or safety is not to be excelled by any other thoughout these colonies.

Here, right in front of you, and looking over the peninsula of the North Shore, was to be seen a portion of the Great Hauraki Gulf (with numerous islands dotting its usually placid bosom), until the vision becomes at last lost in the distant horison.

Returning again to the land and gazing to the right of the North Head, the eye will again and yet again rest with no little awe upon the rocky chests of the triple peaks of Rangitoto (Mountain of the bloody sky), a name suggestive of the terrible grandeur of nature in its volcanic throes.

As you stand thus over eighty extinct volcanic cones surround you within the radius of the eye, awe-inspiring evidence of the mighty majesty of active volcanic life that here reigned supreme upon some remote period of the earth's history.

Turning round and looking landwards, the eye becomes bewildered with the ever varying beauties of the scene, for spead out, just beneath your feet, your gaze is rivited upon a land dotted with neat and comfortable homes and beautiful gardens adorned with superb flowers in infinite variety; upon green pastures and cultivations, page 125where all the varied vegetable productions of Europe could be seen growing to perfection; upon orchards teeming with the most exquisite and luscious of fruits; and upon plantations luxuriant with semi-tropical vegetation.

From here, also, the Great Manakau Estuary (the Western Port of Auckland), spreads out before your astonished gaze, its many tentacle arms, like an octapus, eating into the land everywhere.

One is struck, when looking upon it, with the apparent ease with which of the waters of the eastern and western oceans could be made to connect, as little more than a mile of excavations with some dredging being necessary to permit of this forming a continuous water-way from the Waitemata on the east to the Manakau on the west.

No doubt this is a possible feat, that, at no distant date will happen, which must place Auckland on the pinnacle as the chief commercial and distributing port of the Colony.

My friend was enraptured with all he had witnessed, which can be better understood by here repeatng his remarks:—

"That any person possessing an eye for scenic beauty and views unsurpassed from this position of vantage, might spend hour upon hour dwelling upon a panorama changing with every turn you took."

The day having now far advanced and as evening was approaching, it was considered expedient to return homewards.

Upon our road back by way of Parnell, Mechanics' Bay, and Shortland Crescent, and proceeding from thence towards Lower Queen street, we were surprised upon beholding a considerable number of Maoris, both men and women there congregated, an extraodinary state of excitement pervading them, whilst all were gesticulating or talking loudly in the most voluble manner.

I moved over and mixed with the crowd to elicit the cause of the disturbance, and upon enquiring, in the native language, was told that it was an aroha wakatete (love quarrel).

page 126

Making further enquiries I ascertained that a young Maori man, of the Ngapuhi nation, from the north, on a visit to a village of the Ngatipaoa tribe, situated upon the Piako river, had made desperate love to a young native woman there, and been accepted.

Her relatives and friends being utterly opposed to her having anything to do with a member of a tribe who only a few years back had been their own tribe's most deadly enemies, threw every obstacle in the way of their union; and, considering also, that she was sought after by an eligible young man of her own people, they desired her to have him instead, offering her every inducement by promises of "worldly pelf" (such as they possessed), if she would comply with their request, but all to no purpose.

I suppose love all the world over is the same, and as the old story has it "laughs at locksmiths," for so it appeared on this occasion.

The young woman was determined to have the one of her choice, and, to accomplish that desired end, resolved to run away with, her lover to the Maori's "Gretna Green," that is, to his village and people, where they had been living together as man and wife for some time.

It is not to be supposed that the Maori troubles himself much about the marriage ceremony as we whites understand it; that custom was afterwards introduced by the acceptance and practice of christianity and civilization.

The Maori marriage custom is simplicity itself, the bridegroom merely says to the bride heahea koe ra taku wahine, which simply means "will thou be my wife," and, if she consents, they embrace each other, being thence-forth recognised as man and wife.

But in addition to this the young wife often takes her husband's were (garment or blanket) and wrapping herself in its folds, sits down in some conspicuous place in the village, so that it could be seen she had clothed herself with her husband's mana (power), thereby acknowledging him her husband.

This young woman had complied with the custom, yet her people were not content, and persisted in trying to thwart her purpose.

page 127

Amongst the numerous Maori visitors who had come to the city, were the bride and bridegroom, accompanied by some of their relatives as well as by a considerable number of other natives of both sexes from their own and neighbouring villages of the north, who all had brought with them a large and varied assortment of native produce for sale, from the proceeds of which they were enjoying themselves to the full.

They (the young couple) had been in town a couple of days, and nothing untoward had happened to mar their happiness, but trouble was in store for them, and that only too soon for their comfort.

There had arrived in town that forenoon a large party of the Ngatipaoa tribe, by canoes, from the Piako, amongst whom was the discarded lover of the bride.

This young fellow, with others of his people, had been promenading the principal streets of the city, shortly after their arrival, when they suddenly came upon the lovers, and thereupon the "row" commenced.

This had its origin in the fact of the disconsolate lover rushing forward, and frantically seizing the bride round the waist, and then trying to carry her away by force.

Naturally enough the husband resented such interference, and the young fellow received some rather rough handling at his hands.

Of course the relatives and friends of each party concerned espoused the cause of their side, and matters were beginning to look rather serious.

The police, who had been attracted to the spot by the disturbance, were standing close by, silent but observant spectators of events, their services not as yet being required as the law so far was unbroken.

There were several Maoris in the police force then, but their duty only concerned the natives themselves, as these native police were not permitted to interfere where whites were concerned except when called upon by a white constable in the execution of his duty to help him if found necessary to do so.

This was how matters stood when we arrived upon the scene, and moving to one side, the better to watch the proceedings, but little indeed anticipating the serioludicrous spectacle that we were about to witness.

page 128

We had scarcely taken up our position of observation, when lo! from out the throng of surrounding natives emerged our quandam Maori Duchess of the forenoon.

It was quite apparent to us that this lady possessed great influence over the crowd, for all showed her the utmost deference and respect by making way for her on all sides.

As she approached with stately and dignified mien she gave out meanwhile, in the most authoritative manner, several orders, which we were surprised to see obeyed without a murmur.

Upon enquiring who she was I elicited the fact that she was the wife of a leading Ngapuhi chief, and herself a "blue blooded chieftainess" of the highest rank and from the same hapu (village) as the bridegroom.

She had now approached close to the originator of the disturbance, whereupon she commenced to upbraid him with all the volubility of a woman's tongue, telling him that he had no right or authority to behave in such manner, but at the same time she informing him that he and his friends would be permitted to contest for the ownership of the young woman, but, that if he lost the contest, he must never again molest either of them at his peril.

All this time the husband protected his wife by placing himself between her and the discarded lover, whilst the latter stood close by, watching for an opportunity to seize her once more if such should offer.

The chieftainess now ordered twelve men of the relatives or friends of each party to draw up on either side, after which she passed down their ranks, and examined them critically to see that they were as evenly matched as possible; but perceiving one big burly fellow o her own people, who had no representative amongst the other faction in any way approaching him in weight or strength, immediately ordered him to withdraw, evidently intending to replace him by one more suitable.

To this proceeding that individual strenuously demurred, but she, the chieftainess, was as determined he should obey, and, raising high her closed-up parasol, commenced to give him several hard knocks upon the page 129head and shoulders which compelled him to obey, this causing a spontaneous outburt of applause from all beholders.

This act, on her part, called forth expressions of approval from both sides, and raised her immensely in the estimation of all those who witnessed her impartial conduct.

Having satisfied herself that all was correct, she ordered the young men each to grasp the girl round the middle, whilst she (the young wife) was to place her hands upon the top of her own head, and ordered to keep them there all through the contest, so as to afford no help to either party.

The friends were now ordered to fall in each one to grasp the other in similar manner to the first, until a perfect chain of humanity was formed on either side, the on-lookers moving some little distance away so as to give unobstructed space for the contest.

She also told them that when she gave the order they were to give a roa kume, kaha kume, me he kume, kotoa tahi, that is a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together for victory.

My friend asked for an explanation of the strange proceedings going on, and having told him the meaning of it, with a translation of the last order, he thereupon became quite excited, and, with Celtic impetuosity declared—

"What? the savages! Are they going to kill the poor girl by pulling her asunder like the wild beasts they are? Oh! If I only had half-a-dozen of my countrymen here, with cudgels in their hands, there would be more broken heads than compressed ribs, and serve them right, the brutes! Oh, but this is awful to witness, and I feel sick already at the thoughts of it. Can no one prevent, this savage cruelty being perpetrated?"

I tried to pacify him by saying that no doubt it would not be so bad as it looked, and be over in a few minutes, whereupon both parties would fraternise by rubbing noses as if nothing of the kind had happened, which information in some little way mollified him.

page 130

However, his manner and speech had attracted the attention of some of the surrounding natives who understood sufficient English to be able to translate it to others, who all received it with an outburst of laughter, causing him to be observed of all observers unknown to himself.

Now was about to commence "the tug of war" in real earnest, for the chieftainess stepped back a few paces, and, commanding silence on all around, commenced to deliberately move her hand backwards and forwards, as if she were counting one, two, and three, when suddenly she cried out in a loud voice ainie timata, that is now commence.

As one man these powerful fellows instantly sprang to the contest, each side evidently thinking that by a sudden and powerful jerk, they could pull the object contested for with them.

In this they signally failed, but you could distinctly hear some of their joints crack during the effort, just the same as if you were pulling your finger ends, but much louder.

The strain was terrible, and neither side seemed to gain any advantage over the other, for if one side lost a few inches one instant they regained it the next, and so on.

The partisans of either side kept calling out continually Aeanie nokona; kuma, kuma atangata; kuma katoa tahi, that is to say "Now then; pull, pull men; pull all together" which had an encouraging effect upon each side in the desperate struggle.

Language fails to describe the sufferings and agony which the young woman must have endured whilst this most extraordinary and barbarous contest was taking place.

Placed between these two powerful factions, she formed the central pivot in the contest of strength, the one object for which they both contested so resolutely.

Each pull they took, greater than the other, only added to her cup of suffering—the surprise being that she remained intact and was not torn assunder by these brutes in human form.

page 131

Her screams were heart rending in the extreme, and she often appealed the human chain for mercy and to let her go, but the appeal was to closed ears and harts [sic] of adamant, so determined were each party to secure the coveted trophy and victory.

Several of the white onlookers felt disposed to interfere and put an ends to the cruelty, but fortunately restrained themselves, preferring, and rightly so, to let the police take the initiative first before doing so.

The law had, of necessity, to be very elastic then, when dealing with Maoris and their affais, for fear of dire consequences should they take umbrage at a too strict reading of the same; for the Government was not, as yet, stong enough, nor the whites numerous enough, to enable the guardians of the peace to act up to the strict letter of the law where natives were concerned.

I experienced the greatest difficulty in restraining my Irish friend from rushing in and felling to the ground some of those who held the young woman, for grinding his teeth with excitement and suppressed passion, he uttered aloud—

"Unmanly, cowardly dogs of savages, to treat a woman so! Oh how I should like to smash you, one and all!"

His impassioned language and excited manner drew many wondering eyes of the surrounding natives upon himself.

But the contest did not last long now, for staying power is not to be found in the Maori constitution; they are very good for a short and quick struggle, but that is all.

After a few more well sustained pulls, in which it was apparent that the Ngapuhi were having it all their own way, when suddenly, and with an irresistable dash, they completely tore the girl from the Ngatipaoa's grasp, causing the latter to stagger and then fall all-of-a-heap.

This victory was received by the Ngapuhi with loud and prolongued peals of laughter and yells of derision, but by the other side in sullen silence.

Both parties, however, united in acknowledging that it was conducted perfectly fair and quite correct in all its details.

page 132

Next day a feast was got up in honour of the bride and bridegroom by their relatives and the Ngapuhi generally, which was held at their encampment at Judges' Bay, to which was specially invited all of the Ngatipaoa then in town, and to which they quite readily responded, invitations being also given to any other natives who might wish to attend.

The bride appeared amongst the guests all smiles and radiant with joy, apparently nothing the worse from the terrible ordeal through which she had passed the day before.

Profuse quantities of provisions of all kinds were provided for the occasion, with a little "something stronger" to wash down the more solid of the feast.

Everything connected therewith passed off successfully, and was most creditable to all concerned.

Each visitor, upon departing after the festivities were ended, received a small present of some kind, for which all appeared grateful.