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

Chapter IX. — The Cup and the Lip

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Chapter IX.
The Cup and the Lip.

Meanwhile strange events were happening in the Patea village, where we left Matariki no te Nama, a bound and helpless prisoner in the hands of his enemies, lying in a filthy whare, unable to move hand or foot, and having the pleasant prospect of being led out to a painful, prolonged, and ignominious torture and death.

It is probable that, had nothing occurred to alter the course of events, the sentence of torture and death, given in a moment of passion, would never have been carried out, inasmuch as Rehua would hardly have dared, after a minute's reflection, to seal the ruin of his own tribe by bringing down upon them the speedy vengeance of the combined Te Namas and Waimates, the one in revenge for the outrage on the son of their chief, and the other for the infringement of the jealously-guarded privilege or right of Aukati.

But now the war had broken out, and the Pateas were allied offensively and defensively with what was considered the overwhelming power of the tribes who had embraced Hau-Hauism, the case was different, and Rehua and his equally ferocious brother, Titokiti, felt themselves at liberty, without fear of results, to gratify their bloodthirsty cravings on their hapless victim.

The order of torture had been somewhat altered, the sentence being that the prisoner should have his nails torn out by the roots, his arms and legs broken, and a fire lighted on his abdomen, that being the first part of the programme. Then his eyes should be plucked out, his hands and feet hacked off, the moko of his face cut away, and he should be otherwise dishonored. Lastly, a stake should be driven through his body, and his head should be severed from the trunk, and hung up at the Kuwaha of Rehua's Whare.

Truly, in the refinement of cruelty the Maoris are adepts, and may fairly vie with any other nation under the sun, and take high honors. The torture was fixed for noon, and by that time the whole of the Patea tribe had assembled in a large square in the Kainga, or village outside the Pah, in order to assist, as the French say, at the festivities.

Betting, or its Maori equivalent, was freely indulged in on the chances of the prisoner exhibiting cowardice or bravery, terror or defiance, as to at what part of the proceedings he would scream in his agony, as to whether he would remain alive until the coup de grace, and other similar minutiæ which are looked upon by these children of Nature in the light of sporting events, worthy to be wagered about.

At noon precisely he was led forth, or rather dragged to the arena, the particulars of his punishment having previously been minutely detailed to him. He preserved a calm and unruffled demeanor, and smiled scornfully at the yells and objurgations levelled at him, chiefly by the women and children.

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“Good,” said Rehua to him in a tone of mockery; “good, Matariki no te Nama is a brave warrior, he fears not death nor pain, and therefore shall his torture be agonizing and lingering, as it befits a brave warrior it should. A torture shall it be which shall set all the Atuas of his tribe howling with rage and envy. Has Matariki no word to say?”

Matariki looked at his tormentor with calm contempt as he answered coolly and deliberately, “Only this, that Rehua is a dog and a coward, and I spit in his face. That is my word.”

“Enough,” yelled the chief; “let the torture begin.”

The prisoner was partly unbound, stripped, his arms and legs extended and tied to stakes, somewhat in the form of a St. Andrew's Cross. The torturers stood at his hands and feet, ready to commence the fiendish work of tearing out his nails, and waiting but the signal to fall to. Rehua looked round on the assembled crowd with a diabolical grin on his face, and slowly raised his mere.

Suddenly there was a wild commotion among the crowd, and they fell back in apparent awe and silent terror.


Who had spoken? An old woman, clad in wild attire, advanced from a lane which had been made for her through the ring of spectators to the feet of the victim, and stood erect and still as a statue, her eyes blazing with prophetic fury, and her skinny and wrinkled arm pointing directly at Rehua, who stood with features distorted with astonishment and passion. At her feet cowered a misshapen dwarf, who mowed and gibbered at the crowd with his tongueless mouth, as though he had been some huge monkey. It was Matutira Te Taipo—Te Ruawahine—Te Makutu—Matutira, the witch of the cave, and her familiar, the dumb slave, Katipo.

“Stop!” she repeated. “Are ye all mad? Know you what you would do? Oh! it is well that you should wreak your paltry vengeance on this youth, the only son of Marutuahua no te Nama, and at such a time too, when the Maori land is threatened with subjugation, and the Maori people with extermination. When the pale-faced Pakehas threaten to drive you into the sea, to destroy your pahs and kaingas with their artillery, and to seize on your fields and woods with the strong arm and the sharp sword. Now, when all the tribes should join hand in hand, and heart to heart, to repel the invader, you would breed discord and dissention in our very midst by these petty quarrels among yourselves. Think you this is the way to win over the friendlies, as they call them, and the waverers, and the neutrals, to make common cause against the pale-faced Pakeha? Oh! you are very brave, and very wise.”

She spoke with such deep concentration of passion and such intensity of scorn, and, withal, her argument was so palpably true, that there was a dead silence in the vast assemblage, and even Rehua himself was at a loss for a reply.

“What hast thou done, E Rehua no Patea?” she went on after a page 45 short pause. “What hast thou done? Thou hast broken the sacred Aukati of the proud Waimates. Who shall answer that? Thou hast, by foul means, stolen away the first-born, and therefore the Ariki of Te Nama. Who shall answer that? Thou hast stopped the way of our warriors from Taranaki to Wanganui. Who shall answer that? Thou hast, in thy mad fury and wilful and foolish blindness, played into the hands of the Pakehas, whose very strength is our discord and consequent weakness. Who shall answer that? And when our great warrior chiefs, who would see the Whenua o Maori for the Maoris, ask, ‘What hast thou done for the cause?’ what will be thy answer? ‘I have bred discord when there should have been unity. I have fomented quarrels when there should have been friendship. I have created war between those who should have been at peace.’ Well was it that I was in the Reinga last night. Well was it that the Irirangi and the Atuakikokiko have spoken, and told me of the rash deed thou wert about to do. I tell thee, E Rehua, that the Atuas are angry with thee and with thy tribe, and when the Atuas are angry they punish.”

A shudder of apprehension and alarm passed through the crowd at this, to them, terrible threat.

“Are these words mine? Not so. Behold!” and she pointed to the North East, “the Atua of Atuas himself is awaking. What does that portend?”

True enough, in the distance, in the direction of Mount Ruapehu, where the Great Ruler of all is supposed to dwell, the sky shone with a dull lurid glow, caused probably by the bursting forth of a stream of lava or an eruption from that well-known volcano.

The effect was electric. The vast assemblage, with dismay depicted on their countenances, rushed madly from the square with loud yells of terror, and sought refuge from the vengeance of the God in their whares or wherever else they could find shelter, leaving Matutira, the prisoner, Rehua and his brother, Titokiti, and a few of the priests behind.

Even the chief himself was visibly awed, and spoke in a low, anxious voice as he said:—“E Whaea, what would you have me do?”

“I know not. My eyes are closed to aught further. To-morrow one will come, so the Pipiwharauroa has told me, whose spells are more wonderful than mine. He will work wonders, and tell thee what to do. Meanwhile, unbind this youth, and treat him well. Remember. That is my word.”

So saying, she turned and left the place.

“Unbind the youth, and treat him well,” muttered Rehua, looking after her. “She did not say ‘Let him go,’ though, for all that. Titokiti, take off his bonds, convey him into the Wharekura, place a strong guard inside and out, and mind he does not escape. I must think this matter out. Oh, I have it. I will send to Hepanaia and Kereopa. On their advice will I act,” and muttering to himself he took the direction of the pah in deep thought, and was soon buried in the seclusion of his own whare.

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To be the Rangitira of a powerful Maori tribe, and to command and sustain the influence which is necessary, requires a man of no common order.

A weak-minded, vacillating, uncertain man could rarely hold the position for long. He would be swept away by the bolder, fiercer intriguers (for intrigue is essentially one of the features of Maori political life), as the cobweb is swept out of the corner. In Maoriland, of all other places, the weak must go to the wall, and it needs all the diplomacy, tact, and skill of fence, mental and physical, that can be brought to bear for the chief to hold his own.

The divine right of primogeniture is acknowledged certainly, with restrictions; but the King must have, not only the right and the will, but the power, to rule. To put it into common colloquial English, “His arm must guard his head.”

Rehua, the Rangitira of the Pateas, was no common man. He was placed, by birthright, at the head of a numerous, warlike, and turbulent tribe; and, although he commanded, or appeared to command, the full confidence of those over whom he ruled, as being an astute counsellor and a mighty warrior, no one knew better than he did the uncertain tenure by which he held his office. No one knew better than he that, even on the slightest provocation, the Arikis, and other head men of the sept, would declare for his more ambitious and vindictive brother, the terrible Titokiti, whose bloodthirsty instincts, and hatred and jealousy of other, and, it might be, opposing tribes, were well known, and were more in accord with ordinary Maori feeling.

Rehua, in view of what had just occurred, and of the effect of the words of the witch, Matutira, felt himself, as it were, between the devil and the deep sea. He was in a most unenviable frame of mind. To tell the plain truth, he was in a state of what is graphically termed “funk”; for while, on the one hand, he felt that he had shown weakness, and consequently lowered himself in the estimation of his people, by giving way to the solicitations, or rather threats, of the witch, he was also fully aware that he had placed himself in a critical position as regarded the neighboring tribes, and the Hau-Hau leaders, whose policy was undoubtedly to conciliate them.

All as one for that, he had no immediate idea of allowing his prisoner to go. His pride, and to do him justice, the honor of his tribe, forbade his so far eating the leek; and he, therefore, kept him a captive, unbound, it is true, but not the less a captive, trusting to the chapter of accidents to enable him to escape from the embarrassing position of having a prisoner he did not want, yet could not part with, with becoming dignity, and without the loss of that self-respect and self-assertion which forms so material a part of the state and function of a Maori Chieftain.