Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.
Chapter III. — The Witch's Cave
The Witch's Cave.
Frank Burnett—as the reader will have guessed the youth who had so narrowly escaped death at the hands of his savage enemy was none other—came to himself with a dull consciousness of an aching and throbbing brain, and a sharp tingling pain in every part or his body, a sensation as if thousands of red-hot needles were being plunged into his flesh.
For a little while he lay in a semi-comatose state, utterly regardless of where he was, or what was going on around him, but as reason and memory once more asserted their sway, he became aware of a human voice reciting, or rather chanting, in a low monotonous tone, the words of a Maori charm which he had heard used only by the Arikis of the tribe with whom he sojourned.
Opening his eyes, he found himself lying on a kind of rude couch or bed composed of the tassels of the toi-toi reed, and covered with a feather mat, his own and other mats being used as a covering for himself.
Looking round, and as his eyes became accustomed to the semidarkness, he perceived that he was in a somewhat roomy, rocky cavern, the floor of which was of smooth sand, and with an entrance or mouth opening to a small sandy beach on which the waters of the sea beyond lapped and rippled with a soft murmur. Further in and near the extremity of the cave, a small fire was burning, over which crouched a female form intoning the spell spoken of, and intent on an earthen kettle, the contents of which simmered briskly over the flame.
For a while he lay silent, wondering how he came into so strange a place, and into the companionship of so singular a being, and striving to recall to memory what had lately passed. But in vain. All he could recollect was kneeling to drink of the Opunake stream. Beyond that was a blank, except that he had a dim idea of pain and deadly peril, although of what or how he had no conception.
As he lay thus, vainly striving to concentrate the thoughts that fleeted through his aching head, and watching the moonlight as it danced on the waters and silvered the little beach before him, the woman rose from the fire, and, mingling the boiling contents of the pot with cold water to cool them, approached him.
As she stepped forward into the comparative light he caught a glimpse of her features, and in a tone of surprise, not unmingled with alarm, and even with terror, ejaculated, “Matutira te Taipo?”
“Koia (yes), Matutira te Taipo.”
This singular woman was a mysterious being, well known to all the tribes of that part of the country, and was as heartily dreaded as she was universally known, personally or by repute. The Maori, like all other uncivilized or only partially civilized peoples, is essentially superstitious, and is always apt to put down the strange page 20 and abnormal to the supernatural. He has an almost childish belief in good and bad spirits or gods, Atuas, as he calls them, the spirits of his forefathers and of departed heroes, and a profound reverence for the Arikis and Tohungas, the chief priests and sorcerers who are practically the rulers of the tribes, and who have not only the potent power of tapu (making sacred), but, to a great extent, that of life and death, in their hands. He believes implicitly in various kinds of signs and omens, and in spells, charms, and conjurations, and it is therefore not to be wondered at that Frank Burnett, who had passed so many of his youthful and therefore impressionable years among the Maoris, should have, to a very considerable extent, become imbued with their superstitions and the nameless terrors of their singular system of priestcraft.
Amongst those who exercised this kind of influence over the tribe was this extraordinary woman, Matutira te Taipo, or te Ruawahine, that is to say, the prophetess, witch, female dreamer, or priestess of the third rank, who possessed a power over the Maoris little inferior to that of the chief, Marutuahua himself, and who shared with Hoturoa, the Ariki, or chief priest of the tribe, the awe and veneration accorded to their spiritual guides by these children of nature.
Matutira was a woman of great eloquence and some insanity, who was regarded by the Maoris, not only of her own, but of the other tribes in the vicinity, in the double light of a conjuror and prophetess, and this role she filled to perfection, being invested in an atmosphere of religion and mystery. In a word, she embodied the genius of her race, intensified by a little madness, that only added to her supernatural personality in the eyes of her followers.
She was an old woman, at any rate old enough to have so far outlived the friends of her youth, that her admirers found it easy to invest her origin in marvellous fables, without having any envious persons to disprove them.
Her habits in life were odd and uncanny. She lived alone—or alone save for an old slave as odd and uncanny as herself—in a solitary cavern by the sea shore, with no visible means of support except the offerings of fish, birds, and vegetables which were regularly laid near the entrance to her dwelling by those who wished to court her favor, or to avert her displeasure.
Amongst other awful gifts accorded to her by popular belief was the power somewhat resembling what is known in Europe as that of “casting the evil eye,” meaning that, being more or less in league with the unseen world, she could exercise a good or malign influence over persons, places, and things. In a word, she was a reputed witch, whose spells for good or evil were of potent power, and were to be sought or avoided as the case might be.
As Matutira advanced toward the couch on which Frank Burnett lay, he partially raised himself on his elbow, and asked huskily, “Where am I? What is the meaning of this? What would you with me?”page 21
“Ekoro (oh, young man), son of the Pakeha, fear not,” was the reply; “thou art safe. Thou art here by the command of the great Atuas whose servant I am. He is Atuakikokiko, and from thy mouth, even from the mouth of the alien, shall come the Irirangi. Was it for nothing that the god Pipiwharauroa spread across the sky in a cloud yesterday to tell me to prepare for a stranger? Not so. I had the Moehewa (a dream). I was in the Reinga (abode of spirits) last night, and I spoke with the Atuas of my ancestors. ‘Go,’ said they, ‘to the Opunake stream, and save the life of the Waraki (European), who is in deadly peril. The means thou wilt find. Go.’ I went, and found it even as the Irirangi (voice of a deity) had spoken. Thou layest bound and helpless, tortured by the Naenaes. Already had thy would-be murderer lifted his hand to strike the fatal knife into thy heart, when with thy rifle I slew him. Did I do well to take the life of one of my own people to save thine? I did but as I was bidden, and the Atuas know best.”
“I owe you my thanks, Ekui (mother), but how came I to this place?”
“In my canoe I brought thee hither to preserve thy spark of life. Not I, but the gods, willed it. Thy assailant I left for dead in the bush.”
“And he—who was he who sought my death?”
“No matter whom. He was a Maori. He hated thee, and where the Maori hates, he kills.”
“Hated me—wherefore? I never gave a Maori cause to hate me.”
“No? Ask thine own heart, Pakeha. Is it then nothing that there is a fair face and bright eyes in the tribe that thou hast dared to aspire to, ay, and that looks on thee with favor too. And shall our young men suffer the pale-faced Whanako (thief) to steal, not only their land, but their women?”
“Good mother, I know not what you mean.”
“Indeed? Is then Matutira te Taipo blind? Hast thou not cast eyes of love on Hine-Ra?”
“Ay, Hine-Ra, the daughter of our chief, the princess of our tribe.”
“Upon my soul, you do me wrong. That I do like and admire Hine-Ra—love her, if you choose—I admit, but only with the love & brother might bear to a sister.”
“Yes, yes, so thou sayest, so perchance thou thinkest, but what says the proverb? ‘He kokonga whare e taea te rapurapu; he kokonga ngakau ehore e taea.’ (We can touch every corner of a house, but the corner of the heart we cannot.) Enough of this, kati (be quiet). I have here a decoction of the poroporo (solanum lacincatum), which will heal thy wounds. That is my word.”
So saying, she laid down the hake or bowl she had in her hand near the couch, and going to the entrance of the cave, emitted a kind of whistle or hiss, in response to which, from his lair outside, shambled page 22 in a being who at the first view looked more like some misshapen animal than a man.
A veritable Caliban in this wild place he looked, with a large apelike head, covered with a thick shock of coarse black hair. His eyes, which were black and bloodshot, rolled wickedly on each side a nose of the wide African type, and he was deeply tattooed all over the face, showing that he was a slave captured in war, for slaves born or taken young are left tipai, that is, untattooed on the face. His mouth was a huge cavity, displaying an irregular set of enormous yellow tusks, and he was not only ngutiriwa, or hare-lipped, but, as was not unfrequently the custom with slaves, he was whatero, that is to say, he had had his tongue cut out, so that he could only emit a few unintelligible and hideous sounds.
His legs were bowed almost into a circle, and were, even at that, absurdly short for his body, while his arms were as abnormally long, both, however, being tremendously muscular, exhibiting tokens of vast strength, and being covered with thick black hair. In short, this deformed dwarf resembled nothing so much as a huge chimpanzee, or a gorilla, the likeness being more striking from the fact of his us ing his hands in locomotion, going, in a manner, on all fours.
The name of this repulsive object was Katipo, a word signifying a venomous kind of spider, and never was name so aptly applied, for he was as malignant in disposition as he was horrible in appearance. He was clad in a short ahumehume, or kilt, and his shoulders and body were covered with an old worn out and tattered dogskin mat. He paused at the entrance to the cavern, resting on his hams and claw-like fingers, and, with a hideous grin that displayed his tiger-like fangs, crouched, looking up into the face of his mistress for commands.