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Hine-Ra, or The Maori Scout: A Romance of the New Zealand War.

Chapter V. — The Haupapa

Chapter V.
The Haupapa.

Mataraki, the son of Marutuahua, the Rangitira, or chief of Te Nama tribe, the youth with regard to whose absence from the pah Hine-Ra, his sister, had expressed her concern and alarm, was a young Maori of about the same age as Frank Burnett, and had, ever since he and his father had come to dwell with the tribe, been his constant companion, and, to a considerable extent, his tutor in the wild woodcraft and sea-craft of the dark-skinned Maoris.

Mataraki, brought up as the only son of their chief, and as, there fore, their future ruler, had been carefully educated in all the laws and observances of the race by the priests, and in its manly sports and exercises by the best hunters and fishermen and the most noted warriors.

All that a Maori knew he knew, all that a Maori could do he could do. He was an adept in the use of every one of the native weapons; every snare for birds, every net for fish, every implement of war was known, every fruit, fern, tree, and root familiar to him. No voice louder than his in the Hari, the Ngeri, or the Totowake; no one more agile in the Haka, Tokaro, Poi, or Tutungarah; no limbs more fleet in the race, no eye more keen, no ear more acute, no sense more fine for the thousand and one signs of the heavens the sea, and the forest.

More, too, than this he knew. He could track with an unerring instinct the pathless wilds, could dive and swim like a waitoreke (otter), and, thanks to the elder Burnett, who had presented him with a rifle, and had taught him how to use it, was an unerring marksman, rather an extraordinary accomplishment for a Maori who is usually an indifferent shot.

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On the same day that Frank Burnett had been attacked by the treacherous Tainui, Mataraki had wandered into the bush in an opposite direction, and farther from the pah than was his wont. He had been out in search of a kotuku, having promised to shoot one for his sister, but had met with no success, and had gone on in a south-easterly direction almost unsconsciously, until, after crossing the Kaipokonui stream, and within a little distance of the Waimaté pah, the shades of evening had overtaken him, and he had, after a short pause of indecision, turned to retrace his footsteps.

He knew that he was on neutral ground, but he also knew that while the territory of the Waimates was open to him, it was equally open to the Pateas, between whom and his clan a tribal war had been proclaimed, if it were not in active operation.

But although he was aware of the risk he ran of meeting some wandering party of his enemies single-handed, he felt no fear, for he also knew that the Pateas entertained a wholesome dread of his deadly rifle. Besides that, he thought the Pateas, even in force, would never venture, although they saw him, to attack him on neutral ground, for fear of embroiling themselves with the Waimates, who, although at peace with both parties, were a powerful tribe, and one which could easily turn the scale against either of them if they chose.

Therefore, without a thought of danger, he strode boldly through the growing darkness in the direction of home, heedless of the harsh rasping and crackling of the fern and undergrowth that he trod underfoot. Once, as he neared the stream he had crossed, he fancied he saw, through the dusk, a dark shadow flit across the path at some distance ahead of him. He stopped, listened. There was nothing, save the ordinary sounds of the forest at evening, and the dull boom of the breakers against the blue clay cliffs on his left.

Nevertheless, he advanced more cautiously, keeping a sharp lookout on both sides, and his rifle over his arm ready for use. But as he passed a thick patch of flax and brushwood that bordered the river, a net was suddenly thrown over his head, and at the same moment he felt himself seized by a dozen powerful hands, and rendered helpless. His rifle, which he had fired aimlessly and uselessly amongst his captors was torn from his grasp, and in a few seconds he lay bound hand and foot with an aho of twisted flax, and totally unable to move, a prisoner in the power of his fierce enemies, who, with loud yells of savage exultation, performed a haka of triumph round his prostrate form.

One, who seemed to be a kind of leader in the party, a gigantic and ferocious-looking Maori, deeply tattooed from the forehead to the chin with the well-known Moko of the Pateas, at length signed for silence, and, approaching the captive, and spurning him with his foot, said tauntingly:

“This is Matariki, the great warrior of Te Nama. This is the clever Matariki, who walks into the Haupapa like a baby or a blind puppy. Where are now the big words he spoke against the Pateas?”

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“The Pateas are dogs,” was the scornful reply; “they are very brave when they are ten to one. They can boast when they have Te Nama a bound captive, but let them meet Te Nama free and in the daylight, when they can look upon his Moko, and they will run like pigs, they will cry like women, they will hide like Kiwis.”

“Te Nama speaks boldly. We shall see what he will say when his hand is hung upon the Kuwaha of Rehua's Wharè, when the Patea girls spit in his face, and the old women burn him with firebrands.”

“Rehua, like all his tribe, is a Tutua, or he would know better than think to frighten the son of Marutuahua with threats of the torture. Enough, the Pateas are traitors. They have broken the Aukati, and the Namas shall sweep them from the face of the earth as the whirlwind scatters the dried flax sticks. I have spoken.”

The captors of Mataraki knew well enough that that expression meant that he would say no more, nor heed any taunts or insults that might be levelled at him, and although, in accordance with Maori usage, they showered filthy invective and coarse threats on him, still it was in a half-hearted sort of way, for his hint as to their having violated the Aukati was not without some weight. They knew that their neighbors the Waimates, on whose land the outrage had been perpetrated, were a proud and jealous race, and that this infringement on territorial rights might be made a cause of war, and for the Waimates to join, or even to assist, the Namas might be, and doubtless would be, a very serious matter for them.

Still the capture had been made, and if the worst came to the worst it only remained for the aggressors to aver that it had taken place a point further on, and on the Te Nama side of the tribal boundary. Certainly, the Pateas were notorious liars, but Matariki out of the way, there would be none to contradict the statement, even did the matter come to the korero.

After a hasty consultation, therefore, the prisoner was lifted up and carried down stream by his captors, until, arriving at the boulder-strewn entrance, he was roughly deposited in the bottom of a large canoe which had been drawn up on a small spit at the sea mouth.

At a word from their leader, the entire party hastily shoved off the craft, jumped into her, and, taking their oars, pulled sturdily away to the south eastward across the Waimate (or, as it is now called, the South Taranaki) bight, and, stealing away into the darkness which covered the tranquil sea, were soon out of sight of land, and beyond the reach of pursuit, even had any been instituted.

It was a pull of about 25 miles in a straight line from the Kaipokonui stream, whence the young Maori had been so unceremoniously carried off, to the Patea river, on whose bank the pah, or stronghold of the tribe, was situated, but the dark-skinned rowers bent steadily to their work, and the canoe shot over the water with surprising rapidity.

Already the moon was high in the heavens, kissing the dancing page 28 waves with refulgent light, as she entered the wide reach that forms the embouchure of this, one of the most important rivers on the coast. Not a sound was to be heard save the grating of the canoe on the shingle as she was moored below the pah, not a sign of life to be seen but the smouldering fires glimmering through the trees, and yet the canoe was eagerly waited and watched for. Scarcely had the leader of the boat expedition leapt ashore than two dusky forms confronted him, apparently springing out of the ground, and accosted him in hurried accents. The reply, whatever it was, soon created no little commotion in the settlement. Fires sprung up on every side as if by magic, and the coast and bush along the line of route was rapidly lined with a host of dusky forms, eager to see the famous young chieftain of whom they knew so much by repute as a skilful hunter, an accomplished bushman, and a brave and fearless warrior.

But although the excitement in the settlement was intense, there was, as yet, no undue noise, nor any sounds of rejoicing or acclamation. Maori etiquette forbade the appearance either of the Rangitira or any of the chief men of the tribe, for curiosity or a display of unwonted interest in either person or occurrence was looked upon as a weakness only permitted in women and children. Therefore came it that, although between a double line of scowling faces, it was amidst an ominous silence that Mataraki was partly carried, partly dragged, through the bush to a small raupo hut outside the pah, into which, bound as he was, he was ignominiously thrust, a coarse mat thrown over him, and, surrounded by a cordon of guards, was left to sleep, or to ruminate on the unlucky chance which had left him a bound prisoner in the hands of his enemies.

The sun had scarcely risen above the mountain tops in the morning when the loud cry of the herald, resounding through the pah, warned him that the principal men of the tribe were being assembled to the Kerero, and after an hour or so (for the Maori likes to do everything with due deliberation), the prisoner was led forth, bound as he was, to the Wharekura, or house of council, to confront his captors, who waited there to meet him.

The fierce Rehua, the chief, his equally ferocious brother Titotiki, and all the priests and head men of the tribe, were inside the house, while outside, and forming two dense lines, were the rest of the Pateas, the men standing silent with scowling faces, and the women and children rending the air with their shrill cries of triumph over, and objurgation at, their hated foe.

Bound, and sore and stiff almost to numbness in all his joints, he strode boldly forward, wearing upon his impassive countenance no expression, except a smile of contempt at the vituperation with which he was assailed. His entrance into the Wharekura, which was made with a proud step, and a calm, fearless look, was the signal for a profound silence.

At length Rehua spoke, in a soft, silky tone, unusual in him, and one foreboding no good to its object. Looking round at the assembled page 29 Arikis and others, he said, as if half in doubt:—“Surely there must be some mistake here. They told me they had captured me a warrior of Te Nama, one whose name was Matariki, the son of the great chief Marutuahua, one whose deeds had been spoken of in the Korero, and of whose valour even my bravest warriors were afraid. And they mock me with a boy, a stripling, a slave for aught I know. Pish! let him be unbound, and let the women beat him forth with rods. I war not against babies.”

The hot blood flushed to the prisoner's face at this, to a Maori, the direst insult, and he answered in a harsh, constrained voice.

“You do well, Rehua o Patea, you do well to insult one who is in your power. But it is all one. The Pateas were always blackguards and barbarians. They know no better, and must be taught.”

“Ha! barks the mongrel cur so loud?” ejaculated the chief, stung to the quick by this contemptuous reply. “Has then the Patea forgotten how to curb the tongue of insolent youth?”

“The Patea has not forgotten, because he never knew,” said Matariki, coolly.

“Be it so. I would have spared this braggart, I would have given him a whipping, and sent him whimpering home. But not now. Listen. Let the moko be cut from his face, let him receive the torture of the maripa and the firebrand, let him be dishonored, and let his body be cast outside the kainga for the wild pigs to cat. It is my word.”

The doom of Matariki was sealed, and the dread sentence of the chief would have been carried out on the instant but that there occurred an event, totally unexpected, which for a time interrupted the proceedings. Even as Rehua spoke, a Maori scout or runner burst into the place, breathless with haste, and bathed in perspiration, and, regardless of etiquette, rushed to the chief and rapidly poured a few words into his ear. The effect was electric.

“Good,” he cried; “better and better. Now we shall see. Take hence this prisoner, bind him still more securely, and bring him before me at noon. Be content, oh, Arikis; I will wreak such a vengeance on him and his as shall make the Atuas of his tribe pale with rage and impotent fury. I have spoken. Away with him! Brethren, remain, I have a word to say.”

Matariki was hurried away on the moment, and was once more thrust into the whare whence he had been brought, and the Korero or council of the principal men of the tribe again proceeded.